1. Since, in our investigation of matters of such importance, not satisfied with the common opinions, and with the clear evidence of visible things, we take in addition, for the proof of our statements, testimonies from what are believed by us to be divine writings, viz., from that which is called the Old Testament, and that which is styled the New, and endeavour by reason to confirm our faith; and as we have not yet spoken of the Scriptures as divine, come and let us, as if by way of an epitome, treat of a few points respecting them, laying down those reasons which lead us to regard them as divine writings. And before making use of the words of the writings themselves, and of the things which are exhibited in them, we must make the following statement regarding Moses and Jesus Christ—the lawgiver of the Hebrews, and the Introducer of the saving doctrines according to Christianity.
For, although there have been very many legislators among the Greeks and Barbarians, and teachers who announced opinions which professed to be the truth, we have heard of no legislator who was able to imbue other nations with a zeal for the reception of his words; and although those who professed to philosophize about truth brought forward a great apparatus of apparent logical demonstration, no one has been able to impress what was deemed by him the truth upon other nations, or even on any number of persons worth mentioning in a single nation.
And yet not only would the legislators have liked to enforce those laws which appeared to be good, if possible, upon the whole human race, but the teachers also to have spread what they imagined to be truth everywhere throughout the world. But as they were unable to call men of other languages and from many nations to observe their laws, and accept their teaching, they did not at all attempt to do this, considering not unwisely the impossibility of such a result happening to them. Whereas all Greece, and the barbarous part of our world, contains innumerable zealots, who have deserted the laws of their fathers and the established gods, for the observance of the laws of Moses and the discipleship of the words of Jesus Christ; although those who clave to the law of Moses were hated by the worshippers of images, and those who accepted the words of Jesus Christ were exposed, in addition, to the danger of death.
2. And if we observe how powerful the word has become in a very few years, notwithstanding that against those who acknowledged Christianity conspiracies were formed, and some of them on its account put to death, and others of them lost their property, and that, notwithstanding the small number of its teachers, it was preached everywhere throughout the world, so that Greeks and Barbarians, wise and foolish, gave themselves up to the worship that is through Jesus, we have no difficulty in saying that the result is beyond any human power, Jesus having taught with all authority and persuasiveness that His word should not be overcome.
So that we may rightly regard as oracular responses those utterances of His, such as,
You shall be brought before governors and kings for My sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles; and,
Many shall say unto Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not eaten in Your name, and drunk in Your name, and in Your name cast out devils? And I shall say unto them, Depart from Me, you workers of iniquity, I never knew you. Now it was perhaps (once) probable that, in uttering these words, He spoke them in vain, so that they were not true; but when that which was delivered with so much authority has come to pass, it shows that God, having really become man, delivered to men the doctrines of salvation.
3. And what need is there to mention also that it was predicted of Christ that then would the rulers fail from Judah, and the leaders from his thighs, when He came for whom it is reserved (the kingdom, namely); and that the expectation of the Gentiles should dwell in the land? For it is clearly manifest from the history, and from what is seen at the present day, that from the times of Jesus there were no longer any who were called kings of the Jews; all those Jewish institutions on which they prided themselves— I mean those arrangements relating to the temple and the altar, and the offering of the service, and the robes of the high priest having been destroyed. For the prophecy was fulfilled which said,
The children of Israel shall sit many days, there being no king, nor ruler, nor sacrifice, nor altar, nor priesthood, nor responses.
And these predictions we employ to answer those who, in their perplexity as to the words spoken in Genesis by Jacob to Judah, assert that the Ethnarch, being of the race of Judah, is the ruler of the people, and that there will not fail some of his seed, until the advent of that Christ whom they figure to their imagination. But if
the children of Israel are to sit many days without a king, or ruler, or altar, or priesthood, or responses; and if, since the temple was destroyed, there exists no longer sacrifice, nor altar, nor priesthood, it is manifest that the ruler has failed out of Judah, and the leader from between his thighs. And since the prediction declares that
the ruler shall not fail from Judah, and the leader from between his thighs, until what is reserved for Him shall come, it is manifest that He has come to whom (belongs) what is reserved— the expectation of the Gentiles. And this is clear from the multitude of the heathen who have believed on God through Jesus Christ.
4. And in the song in Deuteronomy, also, it is prophetically made known that, on account of the sins of the former people, there was to be an election of foolish nations, which has been brought to pass by no other than by Jesus.
For they, He says,
moved Me to jealousy with that which is not God, they have provoked Me to anger with their idols; and I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people, and will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation. Now it is possible to understand with all clearness how the Hebrews, who are said to have moved God to jealousy by that which is not God, and to have provoked Him to anger by their idols, were (themselves) aroused to jealousy by that which was not a people— the foolish nation, namely, which God chose by the advent of Jesus Christ and His disciples.
We see, indeed,
our calling, that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble (are called); but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and base things, and things that are despised, has God chosen, and things that are not, to bring to nought the things which formerly existed; and let not the Israel according to the flesh, which is called by the apostle
flesh, boast in the presence of God.
5. And what are we to say regarding the prophecies of Christ in the Psalms, there being a certain ode with the superscription
For the Beloved, whose tongue is said to be the
pen of a ready writer, who is fairer than the sons of men, since
grace was poured on His lips? For a proof that grace was poured on His lips is this, that although the period of His teaching was short— for He taught somewhere about a year and a few months— the world has been filled with his teaching, and with the worship of God (established) through Him. For there arose
in His days righteousness and abundance of peace, which abides until the consummation, which has been called the taking away of the moon; and He continues
ruling from sea to sea, and from the rivers to the ends of the earth. And to the house of David has been given a sign: for the Virgin bore, and was pregnant, and brought forth a son, and His name is Emmanuel, which is,
God with us;
And as the same prophet says, the prediction has been fulfilled,
God (is) with us; know it, O nations, and be overcome; you who are strong, be vanquished: for we of the heathen have been overcome and vanquished, we who have been taken by the grace of His teaching. The place also of His birth has been foretold in (the prophecies of) Micah:
For you, Bethlehem, he says,
land of Judah, art by no means the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come forth a Ruler, who shall rule My people Israel. And according to Daniel, seventy weeks were fulfilled until (the coming of) Christ the Ruler. And He came, who, according to Job, has subdued the great fish, and has given power to His true disciples to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and all the power of the enemy, without sustaining any injury from them.
And let one notice also the universal advent of the apostles sent by Jesus to announce the Gospel, and he will see both that the undertaking was beyond human power, and that the commandment came from God. And if we examine how men, on hearing new doctrines, and strange words, yielded themselves up to these teachers, being overcome, amid the very desire to plot against them, by a divine power that watched over these (teachers), we shall not be incredulous as to whether they also wrought miracles, God bearing witness to their words both by signs, and wonders, and various miracles.
6. And while we thus briefly demonstrate the deity of Christ, and (in so doing) make use of the prophetic declarations regarding Him, we demonstrate at the same time that the writings which prophesied of Him were divinely inspired; and that those documents which announced His coming and His doctrine were given forth with all power and authority, and that on this account they obtained the election from the Gentiles. We must say, also, that the divinity of the prophetic declarations, and the spiritual nature of the law of Moses, shone forth after the advent of Christ. For before the advent of Christ it was not altogether possible to exhibit manifest proofs of the divine inspiration of the ancient Scripture; whereas His coming led those who might suspect the law and the prophets not to be divine, to the clear conviction that they were composed by (the aid of) heavenly grace.
And he who reads the words of the prophets with care and attention, feeling by the very perusal the traces of the divinity that is in them, will be led by his own emotions to believe that those words which have been deemed to be the words of God are not the compositions of men. The light, moreover, which was contained in the law of Moses, but which had been concealed by a veil, shone forth at the advent of Jesus, the veil being taken away, and those blessings, the shadow of which was contained in the letter, coming forth gradually to the knowledge (of men).
7. It would be tedious now to enumerate the most ancient prophecies respecting each future event, in order that the doubter, being impressed by their divinity, may lay aside all hesitation and distraction, and devote himself with his whole soul to the words of God. But if in every part of the Scriptures the superhuman element of thought does not seem to present itself to the uninstructed, that is not at all wonderful for, with respect to the works of that providence which embraces the whole world, some show with the utmost clearness that they are works of providence, while others are so concealed as to seem to furnish ground for unbelief with respect to that God who orders all things with unspeakable skill and power. For the artistic plan of a providential Ruler is not so evident in those matters belonging to the earth, as in the case of the sun, and moon, and stars; and not so clear in what relates to human occurrences, as it is in the souls and bodies of animals,— the object and reason of the impulses, and phantasies and natures of animals, and the structure of their bodies, being carefully ascertained by those who attend to these things.
But as (the doctrine of) providence is not at all weakened (on account of those things which are not understood) in the eyes of those who have once honestly accepted it, so neither is the divinity of Scripture, which extends to the whole of it, (lost) on account of the inability of our weakness to discover in every expression the hidden splendour of the doctrines veiled in common and unattractive phraseology. For we have the treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power of God may shine forth, and that it may not be deemed to proceed from us (who are but) human beings. For if the hackneyed methods of demonstration (common) among men, contained in the books (of the Bible), had been successful in producing conviction; then our faith would rightly have been supposed to rest on the wisdom of men, and not on the power of God; but now it is manifest to everyone who lifts up his eyes, that the word and preaching have not prevailed among the multitude
by persuasive words of wisdom, but by demonstration of the Spirit and of power.
Wherefore, since a celestial or even a super-celestial power compels us to worship the only Creator, let us leave the doctrine of the beginning of Christ, i.e., the elements, and endeavour to go on to perfection, in order that the wisdom spoken to the perfect may be spoken to us also. For he who possesses it promises to speak wisdom among them that are perfect, but another wisdom than that of this world, and of the rulers of this world, which is brought to nought. And this wisdom will be distinctly stamped upon us, and will produce a revelation of the mystery that was kept silent in the eternal ages, but now has been manifested through the prophetic Scriptures, and the appearance of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
1. Having spoken thus briefly on the subject of the divine inspiration of the holy Scriptures, it is necessary to proceed to the (consideration of the) manner in which they are to be read and understood, seeing numerous errors have been committed in consequence of the method in which the holy documents ought to be examined; not having been discovered by the multitude. For both the hardened in heart, and the ignorant persons belonging to the circumcision, have not believed on our Saviour, thinking that they are following the language of the prophecies respecting Him, and not perceiving in a manner palpable to their senses that He had proclaimed liberty to the captives, nor that He had built up what they truly consider the city of God, nor cut off
the chariots of Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, nor eaten butter and honey, and, before knowing or preferring the evil, had selected the good.
And thinking, moreover, that it was prophesied that the wolf— the four-footed animal— was to feed with the lamb, and the leopard to lie down with the kid, and the calf and bull and lion to feed together, being led by a little child, and that the ox and bear were to pasture together, their young ones growing up together, and that the lion was to eat straw like the ox: seeing none of these things visibly accomplished during the advent of Him who is believed by us to be Christ, they did not accept our Lord Jesus; but, as having called Himself Christ improperly, they crucified Him.
And those belonging to heretical sects reading this (statement),
A fire has been kindled in Mine anger; and this,
I am a jealous God, visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation; and this,
I repent of having anointed Saul to be king; and this,
I am a God that makes peace, and creates evil; and, among others, this,
There is not wickedness in the city which the Lord has not done; and again this,
Evils came down from the Lord upon the gates of Jerusalem; and,
An evil spirit from the Lord plagued Saul; and countless other passages like these— they have not ventured to disbelieve these as the Scriptures of God; but believing them to be the (words) of the Demiurge, whom the Jews worship, they thought that as the Demiurge was an imperfect and unbenevolent God, the Saviour had come to announce a more perfect Deity, who, they say, is not the Demiurge, being of different opinions regarding Him; and having once departed from the Demiurge, who is the only uncreated God, they have given themselves up to fictions, inventing to themselves hypotheses, according to which they imagine that there are some things which are visible, and certain other things which are not visible, all which are the fancies of their own minds.
And yet, indeed, the more simple among those who profess to belong to the Church have supposed that there is no deity greater than the Demiurge, being right in so thinking, while they imagine regarding Him such things as would not be believed of the most savage and unjust of mankind.
2. Now the cause, in all the points previously enumerated, of the false opinions, and of the impious statements or ignorant assertions about God, appears to be nothing else than the not understanding the Scripture according to its spiritual meaning, but the interpretation of it agreeably to the mere letter. And therefore, to those who believe that the sacred books are not the compositions of men, but that they were composed by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, agreeably to the will of the Father of all things through Jesus Christ, and that they have come down to us, we must point out the ways (of interpreting them) which appear (correct) to us, who cling to the standard of the heavenly Church of Jesus Christ according to the succession of the apostles.
Now, that there are certain mystical economies made known by the holy Scriptures, all— even the most simple of those who adhere to the word— have believed; but what these are, candid and modest individuals confess that they know not. If, then, one were to be perplexed about the intercourse of Lot with his daughters, and about the two wives of Abraham, and the two sisters married to Jacob, and the two handmaids who bore him children, they can return no other answer than this, that these are mysteries not understood by us.
Nay, also, when the (description of the) fitting out of the tabernacle is read, believing that what is written is a type, they seek to adapt what they can to each particular related about the tabernacle,— not being wrong so far as regards their belief that the tabernacle is a type of something, but erring sometimes in adapting the description of that of which the tabernacle is a type, to some special thing in a manner worthy of Scripture. And all the history that is considered to tell of marriages, or the begetting of children, or of wars, or any histories whatever that are in circulation among the multitude, they declare to be types; but of what in each individual instance, partly owing to their habits not being thoroughly exercised— partly, too, owing to their precipitation— sometimes, even when an individual does happen to be well trained and clear-sighted, owing to the excessive difficulty of discovering things on the part of men—the nature of each particular regarding these (types) is not clearly ascertained.
3. And what need is there to speak of the prophecies, which we all know to be filled with enigmas and dark sayings? And if we come to the Gospels, the exact understanding of these also, as being the mind of Christ, requires the grace that was given to him who said,
But we have the mind of Christ, that we might know the things freely given to us by God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teaches, but which the Spirit teaches. And who, on reading the revelations made to John, would not be amazed at the unspeakable mysteries therein concealed, and which are evident (even) to him who does not comprehend what is written? And to what person, skilful in investigating words, would the Epistles of the Apostles seem to be clear and easy of understanding, since even in them there are countless numbers of most profound ideas, which, (issuing forth) as by an aperture, admit of no rapid comprehension?
And therefore, since these things are so, and since innumerable individuals fall into mistakes, it is not safe in reading (the Scriptures) to declare that one easily understands what needs the key of knowledge, which the Saviour declares is with the lawyers. And let those answer who will not allow that the truth was with these before the advent of Christ, how the key of knowledge is said by our Lord Jesus Christ to be with those who, as they allege, had not the books which contain the secrets of knowledge, and perfect mysteries. For His words run thus:
Woe unto you, you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge: you have not entered in yourselves, and them that were entering in you hindered.
4. The way, then, as it appears to us, in which we ought to deal with the Scriptures, and extract from them their meaning, is the following, which has been ascertained from the Scriptures themselves. By Solomon in the Proverbs we find some such rule as this enjoined respecting the divine doctrines of Scripture:
And portray them in a threefold manner, in counsel and knowledge, to answer words of truth to them who propose them to you.
The individual ought, then, to portray the ideas of holy Scripture in a threefold manner upon his own soul; in order that the simple man may be edified by the
flesh, as it were, of the Scripture, for so we name the obvious sense; while he who has ascended a certain way (may be edified) by the
soul, as it were. The perfect man, again, and he who resembles those spoken of by the apostle, when he says,
We speak wisdom among them that are perfect, but not the wisdom of the world, nor of the rulers of this world, who come to nought; but we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom, which God has ordained before the ages, unto our glory, (may receive edification) from the spiritual law, which has a shadow of good things to come. For as man consists of body, and soul, and spirit, so in the same way does Scripture, which has been arranged to be given by God for the salvation of men.
And therefore we deduce this also from a book which is despised by some— The Shepherd— in respect of the command given to Hermas to write two books, and after so doing to announce to the presbyters of the Church what he had learned from the Spirit. The words are as follows:
You will write two books, and give one to Clement, and one to Grapte. And Grapte shall admonish the widows and the orphans, and Clement will send to the cities abroad, while you will announce to the presbyters of the Church.
Now Grapte, who admonishes the widows and the orphans, is the mere letter (of Scripture), which admonishes those who are yet children in soul, and not able to call God their Father, and who are on that account styled orphans—admonishing, moreover, those who no longer have an unlawful bridegroom, but who remain widows, because they have not yet become worthy of the (heavenly) Bridegroom; while Clement, who is already beyond the letter, is said to send what is written to the cities abroad, as if we were to call these the
souls, who are above (the influence of) bodily (affections) and degraded ideas,— the disciple of the Spirit himself being enjoined to make known, no longer by letters, but by living words, to the presbyters of the whole Church of God, who have become grey through wisdom.
5. But as there are certain passages of Scripture which do not at all contain the
corporeal sense, as we shall show in the following (paragraphs), there are also places where we must seek only for the
soul, as it were, and
spirit of Scripture. And perhaps on this account the water-vessels containing two or three firkins a-piece are said to lie for the purification of the Jews, as we read in the Gospel according to John: the expression darkly intimating, with respect to those who (are called) by the apostle
Jews secretly, that they are purified by the word of Scripture, receiving sometimes two firkins, i.e., so to speak, the
spiritual sense; and sometimes three firkins, since some have, in addition to those already mentioned, also the
corporeal sense, which is capable of (producing) edification. And six water-vessels are reasonably (appropriate) to those who are purified in the world, which was made in six days— the perfect number.
6. That the first
sense, then, is profitable in this respect, that it is capable of imparting edification, is testified by the multitudes of genuine and simple believers; while of that interpretation which is referred back to the
soul, there is an illustration in Paul’s first Epistle to the Corinthians. The expression is,
You shall not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treads out the grain; to which he adds,
Does God take care of oxen? Or says He it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this was written: that he that ploughs should plough in hope, and that he who threshes, in hope of partaking. And there are numerous interpretations adapted to the multitude which are in circulation, and which edify those who are unable to understand profounder meanings, and which have somewhat the same character.
But the interpretation is
spiritual, when one is able to show of what heavenly things the Jews
according to the flesh served as an example and a shadow, and of what future blessings the law contains a shadow. And, generally, we must investigate, according to the apostolic promise,
the wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the world for the glory of the just, which
none of the princes of this world knew. And the same apostle says somewhere, after referring to certain events mentioned as occurring in Exodus and Numbers,
that these things happened to them figuratively, but that they were written on our account, on whom the ends of the world have come. And he gives an opportunity for ascertaining of what things these were patterns, when he says:
For they drank of the spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.
And in another Epistle, when sketching the various matters relating to the tabernacle, he used the words:
You shall make everything according to the pattern showed you in the mount. Moreover, in the Epistle to the Galatians, as if upbraiding those who think that they read the law, and yet do not understand it, judging that those do not understand it who do not reflect that allegories are contained under what is written, he says:
Tell me, you that desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? For it is written, Abraham had two sons; the one by the bond-maid, the other by the free woman. But he who was by the bond-maid was born according to the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants, and so on. Now we must carefully observe each word employed by him. He says:
You who desire to be under the law, not
You that are under the law; and,
Do you not hear the law?—
hearing being understood to mean
And in the Epistle to the Colossians, briefly abridging the meaning of the whole legislation, he says:
Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a festival, or of a new moon, or of Sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come. Moreover, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, discoursing of those who belong to the circumcision, he writes:
who serve for an ensample and shadow of heavenly things. Now it is probable that, from these illustrations, those will entertain no doubt with respect to the five books of Moses, who have once given in their adhesion to the apostle, as divinely inspired; but do you wish to know, with regard to the rest of the history, if it also happened as a pattern? We must note, then, the expression in the Epistle to the Romans,
I have left to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to Baal, quoted from the third book of Kings, which Paul has understood as equivalent (in meaning) to those who are Israelites according to election, because not only were the Gentiles benefited by the advent of Christ, but also certain of the race of God.
7. This being the state of the case, we have to sketch what seem to us to be the marks of the (true) understanding of Scriptures. And, in the first place, this must be pointed out, that the object of the Spirit, which by the providence of God, through the Word who was in the beginning with God, illuminated the ministers of truth, the prophets and apostles, was especially (the communication) of ineffable mysteries regarding the affairs of men (now by men I mean those souls that make use of bodies), in order that he who is capable of instruction may by investigation, and by devoting himself to the study of the profundities of meaning contained in the words, become a participator of all the doctrines of his counsel.
And among those matters which relate to souls (who cannot otherwise obtain perfection apart from the rich and wise truth of God), the (doctrines) belonging to God and His only-begotten Son are necessarily laid down as primary, viz., of what nature He is, and in what manner He is the Son of God, and what are the causes of His descending even to (the assumption of) human flesh, and of complete humanity; and what, also, is the operation of this (Son), and upon whom and when exercised. And it was necessary also that the subject of kindred beings, and other rational creatures, both those who are divine and those who have fallen from blessedness, together with the reasons of their fall, should be contained in the divine teaching; and also that of the diversities of souls, and of the origin of these diversities, and of the nature of the world, and the cause of its existence. We must learn also the origin of the great and terrible wickedness which overspreads the earth, and whether it is confined to this earth only, or prevails elsewhere.
8. Now, while these and similar objects were present to the Spirit, who enlightened the souls of the holy ministers of the truth, there was a second object, for the sake of those who were unable to endure the fatigue of investigating matters so important, viz., to conceal the doctrine relating to the previously mentioned subjects, in expressions containing a narrative which conveyed an announcement regarding the things of the visible creation, the creation of man, and the successive descendants of the first men until they became numerous; and other histories relating the acts of just men, and the sins occasionally committed by these same men as being human beings, and the wicked deeds, both of unchastity and vice, committed by sinful and ungodly men.
And what is most remarkable, by the history of wars, and of the victors, and the vanquished, certain mysteries are indicated to those who are able to test these statements. And more wonderful still, the laws of truth are predicted by the written legislation;— all these being described in a connected series, with a power which is truly in keeping with the wisdom of God. For it was intended that the covering also of the spiritual truths— I mean the
bodily part of Scripture— should not be without profit in many cases, but should be capable of improving the multitude, according to their capacity.
9. But since, if the usefulness of the legislation, and the sequence and beauty of the history, were universally evident of itself, we should not believe that any other thing could be understood in the Scriptures save what was obvious, the word of God has arranged that certain stumbling-blocks, as it were, and offenses, and impossibilities, should be introduced into the midst of the law and the history, in order that we may not, through being drawn away in all directions by the merely attractive nature of the language, either altogether fall away from the (true) doctrines, as learning nothing worthy of God, or, by not departing from the letter, come to the knowledge of nothing more divine.
And this also we must know, that the principal aim being to announce the
spiritual connection in those things that are done, and that ought to be done, where the Word found that things done according to the history could be adapted to these mystical senses, He made use of them, concealing from the multitude the deeper meaning; but where, in the narrative of the development of super-sensual things, there did not follow the performance of those certain events, which was already indicated by the mystical meaning, the Scripture interwove in the history (the account of) some event that did not take place, sometimes what could not have happened; sometimes what could, but did not. And sometimes a few words are interpolated which are not true in their literal acceptation, and sometimes a larger number.
And a similar practice also is to be noticed with regard to the legislation, in which is often to be found what is useful in itself, and appropriate to the times of the legislation; and sometimes also what does not appear to be of utility; and at other times impossibilities are recorded for the sake of the more skilful and inquisitive, in order that they may give themselves to the toil of investigating what is written, and thus attain to a becoming conviction of the manner in which a meaning worthy of God must be sought out in such subjects.
It was not only, however, with the (Scriptures composed) before the advent (of Christ) that the Spirit thus dealt; but as being the same Spirit, and (proceeding) from the one God, He did the same thing both with the evangelists and the apostles—as even these do not contain throughout a pure history of events, which are interwoven indeed according to the letter, but which did not actually occur. Nor even do the law and the commandments wholly convey what is agreeable to reason.
1. For who that has understanding will suppose that the first, and second, and third day, and the evening and the morning, existed without a sun, and moon, and stars? And that the first day was, as it were, also without a sky? And who is so foolish as to suppose that God, after the manner of a husbandman, planted a paradise in Eden, towards the east, and placed in it a tree of life, visible and palpable, so that one tasting of the fruit by the bodily teeth obtained life? And again, that one was a partaker of good and evil by masticating what was taken from the tree? And if God is said to walk in the paradise in the evening, and Adam to hide himself under a tree, I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance, and not literally.
Cain also, when going forth from the presence of God, certainly appears to thoughtful men as likely to lead the reader to inquire what is the presence of God, and what is the meaning of going out from Him. And what need is there to say more, since those who are not altogether blind can collect countless instances of a similar kind recorded as having occurred, but which did not literally take place?
Nay, the Gospels themselves are filled with the same kind of narratives; e.g., the devil leading Jesus up into a high mountain, in order to show him from thence the kingdoms of the whole world, and the glory of them. For who is there among those who do not read such accounts carelessly, that would not condemn those who think that with the eye of the body— which requires a lofty height in order that the parts lying (immediately) under and adjacent may be seen— the kingdoms of the Persians, and Scythians, and Indians, and Parthians, were beheld, and the manner in which their princes are glorified among men? And the attentive reader may notice in the Gospels innumerable other passages like these, so that he will be convinced that in the histories that are literally recorded, circumstances that did not occur are inserted.
2. And if we come to the legislation of Moses, many of the laws manifest the irrationality, and others the impossibility, of their literal observance. The irrationality (in this), that the people are forbidden to eat vultures, although no one even in the direst famines was (ever) driven by want to have recourse to this bird; and that children eight days old, which are uncircumcised, are ordered to be exterminated from among their people, it being necessary, if the law were to be carried out at all literally with regard to these, that their fathers, or those with whom they are brought up, should be commanded to be put to death. Now the Scripture says:
Every male that is uncircumcised, who shall not be circumcised on the eighth day, shall be cut off from among his people.
And if you wish to see impossibilities contained in the legislation, let us observe that the goat-stag is one of those animals that cannot exist, and yet Moses commands us to offer it as being a clean beast; whereas a griffin, which is not recorded ever to have been subdued by man, the lawgiver forbids to be eaten. Nay, he who carefully considers (the famous injunction relating to) the Sabbath,
You shall sit each one in your dwellings: let no one go out from his place on the seventh day, will deem it impossible to be literally observed: for no living being is able to sit throughout a whole day, and remain without moving from a sitting position.
And therefore those who belong to the circumcision, and all who desire that no meaning should be exhibited, save the literal one, do not investigate at all such subjects as those of the goat-stag and griffin and vulture, but indulge in foolish talk on certain points, multiplying words and adducing tasteless traditions; as, for example, with regard to the Sabbath, saying that two thousand cubits is each one’s limit. Others, again, among whom is Dositheus the Samaritan, condemning such an interpretation, think that in the position in which a man is found on the Sabbath day, he is to remain until evening. Moreover, the not carrying of a burden on the Sabbath day is an impossibility; and therefore the Jewish teachers have fallen into countless absurdities, saying that a shoe of such a kind was a burden, but not one of another kind; and that a sandal which had nails was a burden, but not one that was without them; and in like manner what was borne on one shoulder (was a load), but not that which was carried on both.
3. And if we go to the Gospel and institute a similar examination, what would be more irrational than (to take literally the injunction),
Salute no man by the way, which simple persons think the Saviour enjoined on the apostles? The command, moreover, that the right cheek should be smitten, is most incredible, since everyone who strikes, unless he happen to have some bodily defect, smites the left cheek with his right hand. And it is impossible to take (literally, the statement) in the Gospel about the
offending of the right eye. For, to grant the possibility of one being
offended by the sense of sight, how, when there are two eyes that see, should the blame be laid upon the right eye? And who is there that, condemning himself for having looked upon a woman to lust after her, would rationally transfer the blame to the right eye alone, and throw it away?
The apostle, moreover, lays down the law, saying,
Is any man called, being circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. In the first place, anyone will see that he does not utter these words in connection with the subject before him. For, when laying down precepts on marriage and purity, how will it not appear that he has introduced these words at random? But, in the second place, who will say that a man does wrong who endeavours to become uncircumcised, if that be possible, on account of the disgrace that is considered by the multitude to attach to circumcision.
4. All these statements have been made by us, in order to show that the design of that divine power which gave us the sacred Scriptures is, that we should not receive what is presented by the letter alone (such things being sometimes not true in their literal acceptation, but absurd and impossible), but that certain things have been introduced into the actual history and into the legislation that are useful in their literal sense.
But that no one may suppose that we assert respecting the whole that no history is real because a certain one is not; and that no law is to be literally observed, because a certain one, (understood) according to the letter, is absurd or impossible; or that the statements regarding the Saviour are not true in a manner perceptible to the senses; or that no commandment and precept of His ought to be obeyed—we have to answer that, with regard to certain things, it is perfectly clear to us that the historical account is true; as that Abraham was buried in the double cave at Hebron, as also Isaac and Jacob, and the wives of each of them; and that Shechem was given as a portion to Joseph; and that Jerusalem is the metropolis of Judea, in which the temple of God was built by Solomon; and innumerable other statements. For the passages that are true in their historical meaning are much more numerous than those which are interspersed with a purely spiritual signification.
And again, who would not say that the command which enjoins to
honour your father and your mother, that it may be well with you, is useful, apart from all allegorical meaning, and ought to be observed, the Apostle Paul also having employed these very same words? And what need is there to speak of the (prohibitions),
You shall not commit adultery,
You shall not kill,
You shall not steal,
You shall not bear false witness?
And again, there are commandments contained in the Gospel which admit of no doubt whether they are to be observed according to the letter or not; e.g., that which says,
But I say unto you, Whosoever is angry with his brother, and so on. And again,
But I say unto you, Swear not at all. And in the writings of the apostle the literal sense is to be retained:
Warn them that are unruly, comfort the feeble-minded, support the weak, be patient towards all men; although it is possible for those ambitious of a deeper meaning to retain the profundities of the wisdom of God, without setting aside the commandment in its literal meaning.
5. The careful (reader), however, will be in doubt as to certain points, being unable to show without long investigation whether this history so deemed literally occurred or not, and whether the literal meaning of this law is to be observed or not. And therefore the exact reader must, in obedience to the Saviour’s injunction to
search the Scriptures, carefully ascertain in how far the literal meaning is true, and in how far impossible; and so far as he can, trace out, by means of similar statements, the meaning everywhere scattered through Scripture of that which cannot be understood in a literal signification.
Since, therefore, as will be clear to those who read, the connection taken literally is impossible, while the sense preferred is not impossible, but even the true one, it must be our object to grasp the whole meaning, which connects the account of what is literally impossible in an intelligible manner with what is not only not impossible, but also historically true, and which is allegorically understood, in respect of its not having literally occurred. For, with respect to holy Scripture, our opinion is that the whole of it has a
spiritual, but not the whole a
bodily meaning, because the bodily meaning is in many places proved to be impossible. And therefore great attention must be bestowed by the cautious reader on the divine books, as being divine writings; the manner of understanding which appears to us to be as follows:—
6. The Scriptures relate that God chose a certain nation upon the earth, which they call by several names. For the whole of this nation is termed Israel, and also Jacob. And when it was divided in the times of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, the ten tribes related as being subject to him were called Israel; and the remaining two, along with the tribe of Levi, being ruled over by the descendants of David, were named Judah. And the whole of the territory which the people of this nation inhabited, being given them by God, receives the name of Judah, the metropolis of which is Jerusalem,— a metropolis, namely, of numerous cities, the names of which lie scattered about in many other passages (of Scripture), but are enumerated together in the book of Joshua the son of Nun.
Such, then, being the state of the case, the apostle, elevating our power of discernment (above the letter), says somewhere,
Behold Israel after the flesh, as if there were an Israel
according to the Spirit. And in another place he says,
For they who are the children of the flesh are not the children of God; nor are
they all Israel who are of Israel;
he a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is that ‘circumcision’ which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew who is one ‘inwardly;’ and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter. For if the judgment respecting the
Jew inwardly be adopted, we must understand that, as there is a
bodily race of Jews, so also is there a race of
Jews inwardly, the soul having acquired this nobility for certain mysterious reasons. Moreover, there are many prophecies which predict regarding Israel and Judah what is about to befall them. And do not such promises as are written concerning them, in respect of their being mean in expression, and manifesting no elevation (of thought), nor anything worthy of the promise of God, need a mystical interpretation? And if the
spiritual promises are announced by visible signs, then they to whom the promises are made are not
7. And not to linger over the point of the Jew who is a Jew
inwardly, nor over that of the Israelite according to the
inner man— these statements being sufficient for those who are not devoid of understanding— we return to our subject, and say that Jacob is the father of the twelve patriarchs, and they of the rulers of the people; and these, again, of the other Israelites. Do not, then, the
corporeal Israelites refer their descent to the rulers of the people, and the rulers of the people to the patriarchs, and the patriarchs to Jacob, and those still higher up; while are not the
spiritual Israelites, of whom the
corporeal Israelites were the type, sprung from the families, and the families from the tribes, and the tribes from some one individual whose descent is not of a
corporeal but of a better kind—he, too, being born of Isaac, and he of Abraham—all going back to Adam, whom the apostle declares to be Christ? For every beginning of those families which have relation to God as to the Father of all, took its commencement lower down with Christ, who is next to the God and Father of all, being thus the Father of every soul, as Adam is the father of all men. And if Eve also is intended by the apostle to refer to the Church, it is not surprising that Cain, who was born of Eve, and all after him, whose descent goes back to Eve, should be types of the Church, inasmuch as in a pre-eminent sense they are all descended from the Church.
8. Now, if the statements made to us regarding Israel, and its tribes and its families, are calculated to impress us, when the Saviour says,
I was not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, we do not understand the expression as the Ebionites do, who are poor in understanding (deriving their name from the poverty of their intellect—
poor in Hebrew), so as to suppose that the Saviour came specially to the
carnal Israelites; for
they who are the children of the flesh are not the children of God.
Again, the apostle teaches regarding Jerusalem as follows:
The Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. And in another Epistle:
But you have come unto mount Zion, and to the city of the living God, to the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and to the Church of the firstborn which are written in heaven.
If, then, Israel is among the race of souls, and if there is in heaven a city of Jerusalem, it follows that the cities of Israel have for their metropolis the heavenly Jerusalem, and it consequently is the metropolis of all Judea.
Whatever, therefore, is predicted of Jerusalem, and spoken of it, if we listen to the words of Paul as those of God, and of one who utters wisdom, we must understand the Scriptures as speaking of the heavenly city, and of the whole territory included within the cities of the holy land. For perhaps it is to these cities that the Saviour refers us, when to those who have gained credit by having managed their
pounds well, He assigns the presidency over five or ten cities.
9. If, therefore, the prophecies relating to Judea, and Jerusalem, and Israel, and Judah, and Jacob, not being understood by us in a
carnal sense, indicate some such mysteries (as already mentioned), it will follow also that the predictions concerning Egypt and the Egyptians, Babylon and the Babylonians, Tyre and the Tyrians, Sidon and the Sidonians, or the other nations, are spoken not only of these
bodily Egyptians, and Babylonians, and Tyrians, and Sidonians, but also of their
spiritual (counterparts). For if there be
spiritual Israelites, it follows that there are also
spiritual Egyptians and Babylonians. For what is related in Ezekiel concerning Pharaoh king of Egypt does not at all apply to the case of a certain man who ruled or was said to rule over Egypt, as will be evident to those who give it careful consideration.
Similarly, what is said about the ruler of Tyre cannot be understood of a certain man who ruled over Tyre. And what is said in many places, and especially in Isaiah, of Nebuchadnezzar, cannot be explained of that individual. For the man Nebuchadnezzar neither fell from heaven, nor was he the morning star, nor did he arise upon the earth in the morning.
Nor would any man of understanding interpret what is said in Ezekiel about Egypt— viz., that in forty years it should be laid desolate, so that the footstep of man should not be found thereon, and that the ravages of war should be so great that the blood should run throughout the whole of it, and rise to the knees— of that Egypt which is situated beside the Ethiopians whose bodies are blackened by the sun.
Let us see, however, whether the above passages may not be more worthily interpreted as follows. Just as there is a heavenly Jerusalem and Judaea, and not doubt a people dwelling therein who are called Israel, so it is possible that near to these there exist certain other places, which apparently are called Egypt, or Babylon, or Tyre or Sidon; and the princes of these places and the souls, if there are any, who dwell in them, may be called Egyptians, Babylonians, Tyrians and Sidonians. From among these souls, in accordance wit the manner of life which they lead there, a kind of captivity would seem to have taken place, as a result of which they are said to have gone down from higher and better places into Egypt, or to have been scattered among the other nations.
10. And perhaps as those here, dying according to the death common to all, are, in consequence of the deeds done here, so arranged as to obtain different places according to the proportion of their sins, if they should be deemed worthy of the place called Hades; so those there dying, so to speak, descend into this Hades, being judged deserving of different abodes— better or worse— throughout all this space of earth, and (of being descended) from parents of different kinds, so that an Israelite may sometimes fall among Scythians, and an Egyptian descend into Judea. And yet the Saviour came to gather together the lost sheep of the house of Israel; but many of the Israelites not having yielded to His teaching, those from the Gentiles were called.
It would appear to follow from this that the prophecies which are uttered concerning the various nations ought rather to be referred to souls and the different heavenly dwelling places occupied by them. Moreover, in regard to the record of events that are said to have happened to the nation of Israel, or to Jerusalem or Judaea, when they were assailed by this people or that, there is need of careful inquiry and examination, seeing that in very many cases the event did hot happen in a physical sense, to discover in what way these event are more suitably ascribed to those nations of souls who once dwelt in that heaven which is said to “pass away” or who may be supposed to dwell there even now.
(And since we have compared the souls who travel from this world to the lower regions to those souls who by a kind of death come from the height of heaven to our dwelling places, we must thoughtfully inquire whether we may make this latter assertion in regard to the birth of every single soul. For in that case souls that are born on this earth or ours would either come from the lower world again to the higher place and assume a human body, in consequence of their desire for better things, and by others who fallen from the heavenly places to the firmament and yet have not sinned deeply enough to be thrust into the lower places in which we dwell.)
11. And these points, as we suppose, have been concealed in the histories. For
the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hid in a field; the which when a man has found, he hides, and for joy thereof goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field. Let us notice, then, whether the apparent and superficial and obvious meaning of Scripture does not resemble a field filled with plants of every kind, while the things lying in it, and not visible to all, but buried, as it were, under the plants that are seen, are the hidden treasures of wisdom and knowledge; which the Spirit through Isaiah calls dark and invisible and concealed.
God alone being able to break the brazen gates that conceal them, and to burst the iron bars that are upon the gates, in order that all the statements in the book of Genesis may be discovered which refer to the various genuine kinds, and seeds, as it were, of souls, which stand nearly related to Israel, or at a distance from it; and the descent into Egypt of the seventy souls, that they may there become as the
stars of heaven in multitude. But since not all who are of them are the light of the world—
for not all who are of Israel are Israel — they become from seventy souls as the
sand that is beside the sea-shore innumerable.
12. This descent of the holy fathers into Egypt will appear as granted to this world by the providence of God for the illumination of others, and for the instruction of the human race, that so by this means the souls of others might be assisted in the work of enlightenment. For to them was first granted the privilege of converse with God, because theirs is the only race which is said to see God; this being the meaning, by interpretation, of the word
Israel. And now it follows that, agreeably to this view, ought the statement to be accepted and explained that Egypt was scourged with ten plagues, to allow the people of God to depart, or the account of what was done with the people in the wilderness, or of the building of the tabernacle by means of contributions from all the people, or of the wearing of the priestly robes, or of the vessels of the public service, because, as it is written, they truly contain within them the
shadow and form of heavenly things. For Paul openly says of them, that
they serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things. There are, moreover, contained in this same law the precepts and institutions, according to which men are to live in the holy land. Threatenings also are held out as impending over those who shall transgress the law; different kinds of purifications are moreover prescribed for those who required purification, as being persons who were liable to frequent pollution, that by means of these they may arrive at last at that one purification after which no further pollution is permitted.
The very people are numbered, though not all; for the souls of children are not yet old enough to be numbered according to the divine command: nor are those souls who cannot become the head of another, but are themselves subordinated to others as to a head, who are called
women, who certainly are not included in that numbering which is enjoined by God; but they alone are numbered who are called
men, by which it might be shown that the women could not be counted separately, but were included in those called men.
Those, however, especially belong to the sacred number, who are prepared to go forth to the battles of the Israelites, and are able to fight against those public and private enemies whom the Father subjects to the Son, who sits on His right hand that He may destroy all principality and power, and by means of these bands of His soldiery, who, being engaged in a warfare for God, do not entangle themselves in secular business, He may overturn the Kingdom of His adversary; by whom the shields of faith are borne, and the weapons of wisdom brandished; among whom also the helmet of hope and salvation gleams forth, and the breastplate of brightness fortifies the breast that is filled with God. Such soldiers appear to me to be indicated, and to be prepared for wars of this kind, in those persons who in the sacred books are ordered by God’s command to be numbered.
But of these, by far the more perfect and distinguished are shown to be those of whom the very hairs of the head are said to be numbered. Such, indeed, as were punished for their sins, whose bodies fell in the wilderness, appear to possess a resemblance to those who had made indeed no little progress, but who could not at all, for various reasons, attain to the end of perfection; because they are reported either to have murmured, or to have worshipped idols, or to have committed fornication, or to have done some evil work which the mind ought not even to conceive.
I do not consider the following even to be without some mystical meaning, viz., that certain (of the Israelites), possessing many flocks and animals, take possession by anticipation of a country adapted for pasture and the feeding of cattle, which was the very first that the right hand of the Hebrews had secured in war. For, making a request of Moses to receive this region, they are divided off by the waters of the Jordan, and set apart from any possession in the holy land. And this Jordan, according to the form of heavenly things, may appear to water and irrigate thirsty souls, and the senses that are adjacent to it.
In connection with which, even this statement does not appear superfluous, that Moses indeed hears from God what is described in the book of Leviticus, while in Deuteronomy it is the people that are the auditors of Moses, and who learn from him what they could not hear from God. For as Deuteronomy is called, as it were, the second law, which to some will appear to convey this signification, that when the first law which was given through Moses had come to an end, so a second legislation seems to have been enacted, which was specially transmitted by Moses to his successor Joshua, who is certainly believed to embody a type of our Saviour, by whose second law— that is, the precepts of the Gospel— all things are brought to perfection.
We have to see, however, whether this deeper meaning may not perhaps be indicated, viz., that as in Deuteronomy the legislation is made known with greater clearness and distinctness than in those books which were first written, so also by that advent of the Saviour which He accomplished in His state of humiliation, when He assumed the form of a servant, that more celebrated and renowned second advent in the glory of His Father may not be pointed out, and in it the types of Deuteronomy may be fulfilled, when in the kingdom of heaven all the saints shall live according to the laws of the everlasting Gospel; and as in His coming now He fulfilled that law which has a shadow of good things to come, so also by that (future) glorious advent will be fulfilled and brought to perfection the shadows of the present advent. For thus spoke the prophet regarding it:
The breath of our countenance, Christ the Lord, to whom we said, that under Your shadow we shall live among the nations; at the time, viz., when He will more worthily transfer all the saints from a temporal to an everlasting Gospel, according to the designation, employed by John in the Apocalypse, of
an everlasting Gospel.
But if we continue our inquiries as far as the passion, to seek for this in the heavenly places will seen a bold thing to do. Yet if there are ‘spiritual hosts of wickedness’ in the heavenly places, consider whether, just as we are not ashamed to confess that he was crucified here in order to destroy those whom he destroyed through his suffering, so that we should not fear to allow that a similar event also happens there and will happened in the ages to come until the end of the whole world.
14. But let it be sufficient for us in all these matters to adapt our understanding to the rule of religion, and so to think of the words of the Holy Spirit as not to deem the language the ornate composition of feeble human eloquence, but to hold, according to the scriptural statement, that
all the glory of the King is within, and that the treasure of divine meaning is enclosed within the frail vessel of the common letter. And if any curious reader were still to ask an explanation of individual points, let him come and hear, along with ourselves, how the Apostle Paul, seeking to penetrate by help of the Holy Spirit, who searches even the
deep things of God, into the depths of divine wisdom and knowledge, and yet, unable to reach the end, so to speak, and to come to a thorough knowledge, exclaims in despair and amazement,
Oh the depth of the riches of the knowledge and wisdom of God! Now, that it was from despair of attaining a perfect understanding that he uttered this exclamation, listen to his own words:
How unsearchable are God’s judgments! And His ways, how past finding out! For he did not say that God’s judgments were difficult to discover, but that they were altogether inscrutable; nor that it was (simply) difficult to trace out His ways, but that they were altogether past finding out.
For however far a man may advance in his investigations, and how great soever the progress that he may make by unremitting study, assisted even by the grace of God, and with his mind enlightened, he will not be able to attain to the end of those things which are the object of his inquiries. Nor can any created mind deem it possible in any way to attain a full comprehension (of things); but after having discovered certain of the objects of its research, it sees again others which have still to be sought out. And even if it should succeed in mastering these, it will see again many others succeeding them which must form the subject of investigation. And on this account, therefore, Solomon, the wisest of men, beholding by his wisdom the nature of things, says,
I said, I will become wise; and wisdom herself was made far from me, far further than it was; and a profound depth, who shall find? Isaiah also, knowing that the beginnings of things could not be discovered by a mortal nature, and not even by those natures which, although more divine than human, were nevertheless themselves created or formed; knowing then, that by none of these could either the beginning or the end be discovered, says,
Tell the former things which have been, and we know that you are gods; or announce what are the last things, and then we shall see that you are gods.
For my Hebrew teacher also used thus to teach, that as the beginning or end of all things could be comprehended by no one, save only our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, so under the form of a vision Isaiah spoke of two seraphim alone, who with two wings cover the countenance of God, and with two His feet, and with two do fly, calling to each other alternately, and saying,
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of Sabaoth; the whole earth is full of Your glory. That the seraphim alone have both their wings over the face of God, and over His feet, we venture to declare as meaning that neither the hosts of holy angels, nor the
holy seats, nor the
dominions, nor the
principalities, nor the
powers, can fully understand the beginning of all things, and the limits of the universe. But we are to understand that those
saints whom the Spirit has enrolled, and the
virtues, approach very closely to those very beginnings, and attain to a height which the others cannot reach; and yet whatever it be that these
virtues have learned through revelation from the Son of God and from the Holy Spirit— and they will certainly be able to learn very much, and those of higher rank much more than those of a lower— nevertheless it is impossible for them to comprehend all things, according to the statement,
The most part of the works of God are hid. Sirach 16:21
And therefore also it is to be desired that every one, according to his strength, should ever stretch out to those things that are before,
forgetting the things that are behind, both to better works and to a clearer apprehension and understanding, through Jesus Christ our Saviour, to whom be glory for ever!
15. Let every one, then, who cares for truth, be little concerned about words and language, seeing that in every nation there prevails a different usage of speech; but let him rather direct his attention to the meaning conveyed by the words, than to the nature of the words that convey the meaning, especially in matters of such importance and difficulty: as, e.g., when it is an object of investigation whether there is any
substance in which neither colour, nor form, nor touch, nor magnitude is to be understood as existing visible to the mind alone, which any one names as he pleases; for the Greeks call such ἀσώματον, i.e.,
incorporeal, while holy Scripture declares it to be
invisible, for Paul calls Christ the
image of the invisible God, and says again, that by Christ were created all things
visible and invisible. And by this it is declared that there are, among created things, certain
substances that are, according to their peculiar nature, invisible. But although these are not themselves
corporeal, they nevertheless make use of bodies, while they are themselves better than any bodily substances. But that
substance of the Trinity which is the beginning and cause of all things,
from which are all things, and through which are all things, and in which are all things, cannot be believed to be either a body or in a body, but is altogether incorporeal.
And now let it suffice to have spoken briefly on these points (although in a digression, caused by the nature of the subject), in order to show that there are certain things, the meaning of which cannot be unfolded at all by any words of human language, but which are made known more through simple apprehension than by any properties of words. And under this rule must be brought also the understanding of the sacred Scripture, in order that its statements may be judged not according to the worthlessness of the letter, but according to the divinity of the Holy Spirit, by whose inspiration they were caused to be written.
Summary (of Doctrine) Regarding the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and the Other Topics Discussed in the Preceding Pages.
1. It is now time, after the rapid consideration which to the best of our ability we have given to the topics discussed, to recapitulate, by way of summing up what we have said in different places, the individual points, and first of all to restate our conclusions regarding the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Seeing God the Father is invisible and inseparable from the Son, the Son is not generated from Him by
prolation, as some suppose. For if the Son be a
prolation of the Father (the term
prolation being used to signify such a generation as that of animals or men usually is), then, of necessity, both He who
prolated and He who was
prolated are corporeal.
For we do not say, as the heretics suppose, that some part of the substance of God was converted into the Son, or that the Son was procreated by the Father out of things non-existent, i.e., beyond His own substance, so that there once was a time when He did not exist; but, putting away all corporeal conceptions, we say that the Word and Wisdom was begotten out of the invisible and incorporeal without any corporeal feeling, as if it were an act of the will proceeding from the understanding. Nor, seeing He is called the Son of (His) love, will it appear absurd if in this way He be called the Son of (His) will.
Nay, John also indicates that
God is Light, and Paul also declares that the Son is the splendour of everlasting light. As light, accordingly, could never exist without splendour, so neither can the Son be understood to exist without the Father; for He is called the
express image of His person, and the Word and Wisdom. How, then, can it be asserted that there once was a time when He was not the Son? For that is nothing else than to say that there was once a time when He was not the Truth, nor the Wisdom, nor the Life, although in all these He is judged to be the perfect essence of God the Father; for these things cannot be severed from Him, or even be separated from His essence. And although these qualities are said to be many in understanding, yet in their nature and essence they are one, and in them is the fullness of divinity.
But it is not right, nor is it safe for us in our weakness to rob God, so far as in us lies, of his only begotten Word who ever dwells with him, who is his wisdom in whom he rejoiced. For if we do this, we shall think of him as not always rejoicing
Now this expression which we employ—
that there never was a time when He did not exist— is to be understood with an allowance. For these very words
never have a meaning that relates to time, whereas the statements made regarding Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are to be understood as transcending all time, all ages, and all eternity. For it is the Trinity alone which exceeds the comprehension not only of temporal but even of eternal intelligence; while other things which are not included in it are to be measured by times and ages. This Son of God, then, in respect of the Word being God, which was in the beginning with God, no one will logically suppose to be contained in any place; nor yet in respect of His being
Truth, or the
Redemption: for all these properties do not require space to be able to act or to operate, but each one of them is to be understood as meaning those individuals who participate in His virtue and working.
2. Now, if any one were to say that, through those who are partakers of the
Word of God, or of His
Wisdom, or His
Truth, or His
Life, the Word and Wisdom itself appeared to be contained in a place, we should have to say to him in answer, that there is no doubt that Christ, in respect of being the
Wisdom, or all other things, was in Paul, and that he therefore said,
Do you seek a proof of Christ speaking in me? and again,
I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me. Seeing, then, He was in Paul, who will doubt that He was in a similar manner in Peter and in John, and in each one of the saints; and not only in those who are upon the earth, but in those also who are in heaven? For it is absurd to say that Christ was in Peter and in Paul, but not in Michael the archangel, nor in Gabriel. And from this it is distinctly shown that the divinity of the Son of God was not shut up in some place; otherwise it would have been in it only, and not in another. But since, in conformity with the majesty of its incorporeal nature, it is confined to no place; so, again, it cannot be understood to be wanting in any.
But this is understood to be the sole difference, that although He is in different individuals as we have said— as Peter, or Paul, or Michael, or Gabriel— He is not in a similar way in all beings whatever. For He is more fully and clearly, and, so to speak, more openly in archangels than in other holy men. And this is evident from the statement, that when all who are saints have arrived at the summit of perfection, they are said to be made like, or equal to, the angels, agreeably to the declaration in the Gospels. Whence it is clear that Christ is in each individual in as great a degree as the amount of his deserts allows.
3. Having, then, briefly restated these points regarding the nature of the Trinity, it follows that we notice shortly this statement also, that
by the Son are said to be created
all things that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him, and for Him; and He is before all, and all things consist by Him, who is the Head. In conformity with which John also in his Gospel says:
All things were created by Him; and without Him was not anything made. And David, intimating that the mystery of the entire Trinity was (concerned) in the creation of all things, says:
By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the Spirit of His mouth.
After these points we shall appropriately remind (the reader) of the bodily advent and incarnation of the only-begotten Son of God, with respect to whom we are not to suppose that all the majesty of His divinity is confined within the limits of His slender body, so that all the
word of God, and His
essential truth, and
life, was either rent asunder from the Father, or restrained and confined within the narrowness of His bodily person, and is not to be considered to have operated anywhere besides; but the cautious acknowledgment of a religious man ought to be between the two, so that it ought neither to be believed that anything of divinity was wanting in Christ, nor that any separation at all was made from the essence of the Father, which is everywhere. For some such meaning seems to be indicated by John the Baptist, when he said to the multitude in the bodily absence of Jesus,
4. Let no one, however, suppose that by this we affirm that some portion of the divinity of the Son of God was in Christ, and that the remaining portion was elsewhere or everywhere, which may be the opinion of those who are ignorant of the nature of an incorporeal and invisible essence. For it is impossible to speak of the parts of an incorporeal being, or to make any division of them; but He is in all things, and through all things, and above all things, in the manner in which we have spoken above, i.e., in the manner in which He is understood to be either
wisdom, or the
word, or the
life, or the
truth, by which method of understanding all confinement of a local kind is undoubtedly excluded. The Son of God, then, desiring for the salvation of the human race to appear unto men, and to sojourn among them, assumed not only a human body, as some suppose, but also a soul resembling our souls indeed in nature, but in will and power resembling Himself, and such as might unfailingly accomplish all the desires and arrangements of the
wisdom. Now, that He had a soul, is most clearly shown by the Saviour in the Gospels, when He said,
No man takes my life from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay down my life, and I have power to take it again. And again,
My soul is sorrowful even unto death. And again,
Now is my soul troubled. For the
Word of God is not to be understood to be a
sorrowful and troubled soul, because with the authority of divinity He says,
I have power to lay down my life. Nor yet do we assert that the Son of God was in that soul as he was in the soul of Paul or Peter and the other saints, in whom Christ is believed to speak as He does in Paul. But regarding all these we are to hold, as Scripture declares,
No one is clean from filthiness, not even if his life lasted but a single day. But this soul which was in Jesus, before it knew the evil, selected the good; and because He loved righteousness, and hated iniquity, therefore God
anointed Him with the oil of gladness above His fellows. He is anointed, then, with the oil of gladness when He is united to the
word of God in a stainless union, andby this means alone of all souls was incapable of sin, because it was capable of (receiving) well and fully the Son of God; and therefore also it is one with Him, and is named by His titles, and is called Jesus Christ, by whom all things are said to be made.
Of which soul, seeing it had received into itself the whole wisdom of God, and the truth, and the life, I think that the apostle also said this:
Our life is hidden with Christ in God; but when Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall we also appear with him in glory. For what other Christ can be here understood, who is said to be hidden in God, and who is afterwards to appear, except Him who is related to have been anointed with the oil of gladness, i.e., to have been filled with God essentially, in whom he is now said to be hidden? For on this account is Christ proposed as an example to all believers, because as He always, even before he knew evil at all, selected the good, and loved righteousness, and hated iniquity, and therefore God anointed Him with the oil of gladness; so also ought each one, after a lapse or sin, to cleanse himself from his stains, making Him his example, and, taking Him as the guide of his journey, enter upon the steep way of virtue, that so perchance by this means, as far as possible we may, by imitating Him, be made partakers of the divine nature, according to the words of Scripture:
He that says that he believes in Christ, ought so to walk, as He also walked.
word, then, and this
wisdom, by the imitation of which we are said to be either wise or rational (beings), becomes
all things to all men, that it may gain all; and because it is made weak, it is therefore said of it,
Though He was crucified through weakness, yet He lives by the power of God. Finally, to the Corinthians who were weak, Paul declares that he
knew nothing, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.
5. Some, indeed, would have the following language of the apostle applied to the soul itself, as soon as it had assumed flesh from Mary, viz.,
Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but divested Himself (of His glory) taking upon Himself the form of a servant; since He undoubtedly restored it to the form of God by means of better examples and training, and recalled it to that fullness of which He had divested Himself.
As now by participation in the Son of God one is adopted as a son, and by participating in that wisdom which is in God is rendered wise, so also by participation in the Holy Spirit is a man rendered holy and spiritual. For it is one and the same thing to have a share in the Holy Spirit, which is (the Spirit) of the Father and the Son, since the nature of the Trinity is one and incorporeal. And what we have said regarding the participation of the soul is to be understood of angels and heavenly powers in a similar way as of souls, because every rational creature needs a participation in the Trinity.
Respecting also the plan of this visible world— seeing one of the most important questions usually raised is as to the manner of its existence— we have spoken to the best of our ability in the preceding pages, for the sake of those who are accustomed to seek the grounds of their belief in our religion, and also for those who stir against us heretical questions, and who are accustomed to bandy about the word
matter, which they have not yet been able to understand; of which subject I now deem it necessary briefly to remind (the reader).
6. And, in the first place, it is to be noted that we have nowhere found in the canonical Scriptures, up to the present time, the word
matter used for that substance which is said to underlie bodies. For in the expression of Isaiah,
And he shall devour ὕλη, i.e., matter,
like hay, when speaking of those who were appointed to undergo their punishments, the word
matter was used instead of
sins. And if this word
matter should happen to occur in any other passage, it will never be found, in my opinion, to have the signification of which we are now in quest, unless perhaps in the book which is called the Wisdom of Solomon, a work which is certainly not esteemed authoritative by all. In that book, however, we find written as follows:
For your almighty hand, that made the world out of shapeless matter, wanted not means to send among them a multitude of bears and fierce lions. Very many, indeed, are of opinion that the matter of which things are made is itself signified in the language used by Moses in the beginning of Genesis:
In the beginning God made heaven and earth; and the earth was invisible, and not arranged: for by the words
invisible and not arranged Moses would seem to mean nothing else than shapeless matter. But if this be truly matter, it is clear then that the original elements of bodies are not incapable of change.
For those who posited
atoms— either those particles which are incapable of subdivision, or those which are subdivided into equal parts— or any one element, as the principles of bodily things, could not posit the word
matter in the proper sense of the term among the first principles of things. For if they will have it that matter underlies every body— a substance convertible or changeable, or divisible in all its parts— they will not, as is proper, assert that it exists without qualities. And with them we agree, for we altogether deny that matter ought to be spoken of as
uncreated, agreeably to our former statements, when we pointed out that from water, and earth, and air or heat, different kinds of fruits were produced by different kinds of trees; or when we showed that fire, and air, and water, and earth were alternately converted into each other, and that one element was resolved into another by a kind of mutual consanguinity; and also when we proved that from the food either of men or animals the substance of the flesh was derived, or that the moisture of the natural seed was converted into solid flesh and bones—all which go to prove that the substance of the body is changeable, and may pass from one quality into all others.
7. Nevertheless we must not forget that a substance never exists without a quality, and that it is by an act of the understanding alone that this (substance) which underlies bodies, and which is capable of quality, is discovered to be matter. Some indeed, in their desire to investigate these subjects more profoundly, have ventured to assert that bodily nature is nothing else than qualities. For if hardness and softness, heat and cold, moisture and aridity, be qualities; and if, when these or other (qualities) of this sort be cut away, nothing else is understood to remain, then all things will appear to be
qualities. And therefore also those persons who make these assertions have endeavoured to maintain, that since all who say that matter was uncreated will admit that qualities were created by God, it may be in this way shown that even according to them matter was not uncreated; since qualities constitute everything, and these are declared by all without contradiction to have been made by God.
Those, again, who would make out that qualities are superimposed from without upon a certain underlying matter, make use of illustrations of this kind: e.g., Paul undoubtedly is either silent, or speaks, or watches, or sleeps, or maintains a certain attitude of body; for he is either in a sitting, or standing, or recumbent position. For these are
accidents belonging to men, without which they are almost never found. And yet our conception of man does not lay down any of these things as a definition of him; but we so understand and regard him by their means, that we do not at all take into account the reason of his (particular) condition either in watching, or in sleeping, or in speaking, or in keeping silence, or in any other action that must necessarily happen to men. If any one, then, can regard Paul as being without all these things which are capable of happening, he will in the same way also be able to understand this underlying (substance) without qualities. When, then, our mind puts away all qualities from its conception, and gazes, so to speak, upon the underlying element alone, and keeps its attention closely upon it, without any reference to the softness or hardness, or heat or cold, or humidity or aridity of the substance, then by means of this somewhat simulated process of thought it will appear to behold matter clear from qualities of every kind.
8. But some one will perhaps inquire whether we can obtain out of Scripture any grounds for such an understanding of the subject. Now I think some such view is indicated in the Psalms, when the prophet says,
My eyes have seen your imperfection; by which the mind of the prophet, examining with keener glance the first principles of things, and separating in thought and imagination only between matter and its qualities, perceived the imperfection of God, which certainly is understood to be perfected by the addition of qualities. Enoch also, in his book, speaks as follows:
I have walked on even to imperfection; which expression I consider may be understood in a similar manner, viz., that the mind of the prophet proceeded in its scrutiny and investigation of all visible things, until it arrived at that first beginning in which it beheld imperfect matter (existing) without
qualities. For it is written in the same boo of Enoch,
I beheld the whole of matter; which is so understood as if he had said:
I have clearly seen all the divisions of matter which are broken up from one into each individual species either of men, or animals, or of the sky, or of the sun, or of all other things in this world.
After these points, now, we proved to the best of our power in the preceding pages that all things which exist were made by God, and that there was nothing which was not made, save the nature of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit; and that God, who is by nature good, desiring to have those upon whom He might confer benefits, and who might rejoice in receiving His benefits, created creatures worthy (of this), i.e., who were capable of receiving Him in a worthy manner, who, He says, are also begotten by Him as his sons. He made all things, moreover, by number and measure. For there is nothing before God without either limit or measure.
Let no one take offence at this saying, if we put limits even to the power of God. For to encompass things that are endless is by nature an impossibility. But when once the things, which God himselfs grasps, have been bounded, necessity suffices as a boundary the right number of things has been bounded. For by His power He comprehends all things, and He Himself is comprehended by the strength of no created thing,
But if the Father comprehended all things, and the Son is among all things, it is clear that he comprehends the Son. But someone will inquire whether it is true that God is know by himself in the same way in which he known by the only-begotten, and he will decide that the saying, “My Father who sent me is greater than I,” is true in all aspects, so that even in his knowledge the Father is greater, and is known more clearly and perfectly by himself than in the Son. For that nature is known to itself alone. For the Father alone knows the Son, and the Son alone knows the Father, and the Holy Spirit alone searches even the deep things of God.
All created things, therefore, i.e., either the number of rational beings or the measure of bodily matter, are distinguished by Him as being within a certain number or measurement; since, as it was necessary for an intellectual nature to employ bodies, and this nature is shown to be changeable and convertible by the very condition of its being created (for what did not exist, but began to exist, is said by this very circumstance to be of mutable nature), it can have neither goodness nor wickedness as an essential, but only as an accidental attribute of its being. Seeing, then, as we have said, that rational nature was mutable and changeable, so that it made use of a different bodily covering of this or that sort of quality, according to its merits, it was necessary, as God foreknew there would be diversities in souls or spiritual powers, that He should create also a bodily nature the qualities of which might be changed at the will of the Creator into all that was required. And this bodily nature must last as long as those things which require it as a covering: for there will be always rational natures which need a bodily covering; and there will therefore always be a bodily nature whose coverings must necessarily be used by rational creatures, unless someone be able to demonstrate by arguments that a rational nature can live without a body. But how difficult— nay, how almost impossible— this is for our understanding, we have shown in the preceding pages, in our discussion of the individual topics. It must needs ve that the nature of bodies is not primary, but that it was created at intervals on account of certain falls that happened to rational beings, who came to need bodies; and again, that when their restoration is perfectly accomplished these bodies are dissolved into nothing, so that this is forever happening
9. It will not, I consider, be opposed to the nature of our undertaking, if we restate with all possible brevity our opinions on the immortality of rational natures. Every one who participates in anything, is unquestionably of one essence and nature with him who is partaker of the same thing. For example, as all eyes participate in the light, so accordingly all eyes which partake of the light are of one nature; but although every eye partakes of the light, yet, inasmuch as one sees more clearly, and another more obscurely, every eye does not equally share in the light. And again, all hearing receives voice or sound, and therefore all hearing is of one nature; but each one hears more rapidly or more slowly, according as the quality of his hearing is clear and sound. Let us pass now from these sensuous illustrations to the consideration of intellectual things.
Every mind which partakes of intellectual light ought undoubtedly to be of one nature with every mind which partakes in a similar manner of intellectual light. If the heavenly virtues, then, partake of intellectual light, i.e., of divine nature, because they participate in wisdom and holiness, and if human souls, have partaken of the same light and wisdom, and thus are mutually of one nature and of one essence—then, since the heavenly virtues are incorruptible and immortal, the essence of the human soul will also be immortal and incorruptible. And not only so, but because the nature of Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit, whose intellectual light alone all created things have a share, is incorruptible and eternal, it is altogether consistent and necessary that every substance which partakes of that eternal nature should last for ever, and be incorruptible and eternal, so that the eternity of divine goodness may be understood also in this respect, that they who obtain its benefits are also eternal. But as, in the instances referred to, a diversity in the participation of the light was observed, when the glance of the beholder was described as being duller or more acute, so also a diversity is to be noted in the participation of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, varying with the degree of zeal or capacity of mind. If such were not the case, we have to consider whether it would not seem to be an act of impiety to say that the mind which is capable of (receiving) God should admit of a destruction of its essence; as if the very fact that it is able to feel and understand God could not suffice for its perpetual existence, especially since, if even through neglect the mind fall away from a pure and complete reception of God, it nevertheless contains within it certain seeds of restoration and renewal to a better understanding, seeing the
inner, which is also called the
rational man, is renewed after
the image and likeness of God, who created him. And therefore the prophet says,
All the ends of the earth shall remember, and turn unto the Lord; and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before You.
10. If any one, indeed, venture to ascribe essential corruption to Him who was made after the image and likeness of God, then, in my opinion, this impious charge extends even to the Son of God Himself, for He is called in Scripture the image of God. Or he who holds this opinion would certainly impugn the authority of Scripture, which says that man was made in the image of God; and in him are manifestly to be discovered traces of the divine image, not by any appearance of the bodily frame, which is corruptible, but by mental wisdom, by justice, moderation, virtue, wisdom, discipline; in fine, by the whole band of virtues, which are innate in the essence of God, and which may enter into man by diligence and imitation of God; as the Lord also intimates in the Gospel, when He says,
Be therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful; and,
Be perfect, even as your Father also is perfect. From which it is clearly shown that all these virtues are perpetually in God, and that they can never approach to or depart from Him, whereas by men they are acquired only slowly, and one by one.
And hence also by these means they seem to have a kind of relationship with God; and since God knows all things, and none of things intellectual in themselves can elude His notice (for God the Father alone, and His only-begotten Son, and the Holy Spirit, not only possess a knowledge of those things which they have created, but also of themselves), a rational understanding also, advancing from small things to great, and from things visible to things invisible, may attain to a more perfect knowledge. For it is placed in the body, and advances from sensible things themselves, which are corporeal, to things that are intellectual. But lest our statement that things intellectual are not cognisable by the senses should appear unbecoming, we shall employ the instance of Solomon, who says,
You will find also a divine sense; by which he shows that those things which are intellectual are to be sought out not by means of a bodily sense, but by a certain other which he calls
And with this sense must we look on each of those rational beings which we have enumerated above; and with this sense are to be understood those words which we speak, and those statements to be weighed which we commit to writing. For the divine nature knows even those thoughts which we revolve within us in silence. And on those matters of which we have spoken, or on the others which follow from them, according to the rule above laid down, are our opinions to be formed.