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Chapter IV.—Divine Things Wrapped Up in Figures Both in the Sacred and in Heathen Writers.

But since they will believe neither in what is good justly nor in knowledge unto salvation, we ourselves reckoning what they claim as belonging to us, because all things are God’s; and especially since what is good proceeded from us to the Greeks, let us handle those things as they are capable of hearing. For intelligence or rectitude this great crowd estimates not by truth, but by what they are delighted with. And they will be pleased not more with other things than with what is like themselves. For he who is still blind and dumb, not having understanding, or the undazzled and keen vision of the contemplative soul, which the Saviour confers, like the uninitiated at the mysteries, or the unmusical at dances, not being yet pure and worthy of the pure truth, but still discordant and disordered and material, must stand outside of the divine choir. “For we compare spiritual things with spiritual.” 2995 Wherefore, in accordance with the method of concealment, the truly sacred Word, truly divine and most necessary for us, deposited in the shrine of truth, was by the Egyptians indicated by what were called among them adyta, and by the Hebrews by the veil. Only the consecrated—that is, those devoted to God, circumcised in the desire of the passions for the sake of love to that which is alone divine—were allowed access to them. For Plato also thought it not lawful for “the impure to touch the pure.”

Thence the prophecies and oracles are spoken in enigmas, and the mysteries are not exhibited incontinently to all and sundry, but only after certain purifications and previous instructions.

“For the Muse was not then
Greedy of gain or mercenary;
Nor were Terpsichore’s sweet,
Honey-toned, silvery soft-voiced
Strains made merchandise of.”

Now those instructed among the Egyptians learned first of all that style of the Egyptian letters which is called Epistolographic; and second, the Hieratic, which the sacred scribes practice; and finally, and last of all, the Hieroglyphic, of which one kind which is by the first elements is literal (Kyriologic), and the other Symbolic. Of the Symbolic, one kind speaks literally by imitation, and another writes as it were figuratively; and another is quite allegorical, using certain enigmas.

Wishing to express Sun in writing, they makea circle; and Moon, a figure like the Moon, like its proper shape. But in using the figurative style, by transposing and transferring, by changing and by transforming in many ways as suits them, they draw characters. In relating the praises of the kings in theological myths, they write in anaglyphs. 2996 Let the following stand as a specimen of the third species—the Enigmatic. For the rest of the stars, on account of their oblique course, they have figured like the bodies of serpents; but the sun, like that of a beetle, because it makes a round figure of ox-dung, 2997 and rolls it before its face. And they say that this creature lives six months under ground, and the other division of the year above ground, and emits its seed into the ball, and brings forth; and that there is not a female beetle. All then, in a word, who have spoken of divine things, both Barbarians and Greeks, have veiled the first principles of things, and delivered the truth in enigmas, and symbols, and allegories, and metaphors, and such like tropes. 2998 Such also are the oracles among the Greeks. And the Pythian Apollo is called Loxias. Also the maxims of those among the Greeks called wise men, in a few sayings indicate the unfolding of matter of considerable importance. Such certainly is that maxim, “Spare Time:” either because life is short, and we ought not to expend this time in vain; or, on the other hand, it bids you spare your personal expenses; so that, though you live many years, necessaries may not fail you. Similarly also the maxim “Know thyself” shows many things; both that thou art mortal, and that thou wast born a human being; and also that, in comparison with the other excellences of life, thou art of no account, because thou sayest that thou art rich or renowned; or, on the other hand, that, being rich or renowned, you are not honoured on account of your advantages alone. And it says, Know for what thou wert born, and whose image thou art; and what is thy essence, and what thy creation, and what thy relation to God, and the like. And the Spirit says by Isaiah the prophet, “I will give thee treasures, hidden, dark.” 2999 Now wisdom, hard to hunt, is the treasures of God and unfailing riches. But those, taught in theology by those prophets, the poets, philosophize much by way of a hidden sense. I mean Orpheus, Linus, Musæus, Homer, and p. 450 Hesiod, and those in this fashion wise. The persuasive style of poetry is for them a veil for the many. Dreams and signs are all more or less obscure to men, not from jealousy (for it were wrong to conceive of God as subject to passions), but in order that research, introducing to the understanding of enigmas, may haste to the discovery of truth. Thus Sophocles the tragic poet somewhere says:—

“And God I know to be such an one,
Ever the revealer of enigmas to the wise,
But to the perverse bad, although a teacher in few words,”—

putting bad instead of simple. Expressly then respecting all our Scripture, as if spoken in a parable, it is written in the Psalms, “Hear, O My people, My law: incline your ear to the words of My mouth. I will open My mouth in parables, I will utter My problems from the beginning.” 3000 Similarly speaks the noble apostle to the following effect: “Howbeit we speak wisdom among those that are perfect; yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought. But we speak the wisdom of God hidden in a mystery; which none of the princes of this world knew. For had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” 3001

The philosophers did not exert themselves in contemning the appearance of the Lord. It therefore follows that it is the opinion of the wise among the Jews which the apostle inveighs against. Wherefore he adds, “But we preach, as it is written, what eye hath not seen, and ear hath not heard, and hath not entered into the heart of man, what God hath prepared for them that love Him. For God hath revealed it to us by the Spirit. For the Spirit searcheth all things, even the deep things of God.” 3002 For he recognises the spiritual man and the Gnostic as the disciple of the Holy Spirit dispensed by God, which is the mind of Christ. “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit, for they are foolishness to him.” 3003 Now the apostle, in contradistinction to gnostic perfection, calls the common faith 3004 the foundation, and sometimes milk, writing on this wise: “Brethren, I could not speak to you as to spiritual, but as to carnal, to babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, not with meat: for ye were not able. Neither yet are ye now able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envy and strife, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” 3005 Which things are the choice of those men who are sinners. But those who abstain from these things give their thoughts to divine things, and partake of gnostic food. “According to the grace,” it is said, “given to me as a wise master builder, I have laid the foundation. And another buildeth on it gold and silver, precious stones.” 3006 Such is the gnostic superstructure on the foundation of faith in Christ Jesus. But “the stubble, and the wood, and the hay,” are the additions of heresies. “But the fire shall try every man’s work, of what sort it is.” In allusion to the gnostic edifice also in the Epistle to the Romans, he says, “For I desire to see you, that I may impart unto you a spiritual gift, that ye may be established.” 3007 It was impossible that gifts of this sort could be written without disguise.



1 Cor. ii. 13.


Bas relief.


[Elucidation II.]


[Prov. i. 6.]


Isa. xlv. 3.


Ps. 78:1, 2.


1 Cor. ii. 6-8.


1 Cor. 2:9, 10.


1 Cor. ii. 14.


[See cap. i. p. 444, note 6, supra.]


1 Cor. iii. 1-3.


1 Cor. iii. 10-13.


Rom. i. 11.

Next: Chapter V.—On the Symbols of Pythagoras.