THE Master of Eternity is the first God, the world is the second, man is the third. God, Creator of the world and of all that it contains, governs all this universe and subjects it to the rule of man. And man makes of it the object of his special activity. So that the world and man become the appendage one of the other, and it is with reason that in Greek the world is called Kosmos. Man knows himself and knows the world; he should, therefore, distinguish that which is in accord with himself, that which is for his use and that which has a right to his worship. While addressing to God his praises and his acts of grace, he should venerate the world which is the image of God; remembering that he is himself the second image of God. For God has two similitudes: the world and man. The nature of man being complex, that part of him which is composed of soul, of consciousness, of mind, and of reason is divine, and from the superior elements seems able to mount to heaven; while his cosmic and mundane part, formed of fire, water, earth, and air, is mortal and remains upon the earth; so that what is borrowed from the world may be restored to it.
It is thus that mankind is composed of a divine part and of a mortal part, to wit, the body. The law of this dual being, man, is religion, whose effect is goodness. Perfection is attained when the virtue of man preserves him from desire, and causes him to despise all that is foreign to himself. For terrestrial things, of which the body desires the possession, are foreign to all parts of the divine Thought. Such things may indeed be called possessions, for they are not born with us, they are acquired later. They are then foreign to man, and even the body itself is foreign to man, in such wise that man ought to disdain both the object of desire, and that whereby he is made accessible to desire.
It is the duty of man to direct his soul by reason, so that- the contemplation of the divine may lead him to take but small account of that mortal part which has been joined to him for the sake of the preservation of the lower world. In order that man should be complete in both his parts, observe that each of these possesses four binary subdivisions--to wit, the two hands and the two feet, which, with the other organs of the body, place him in relation with the inferior and terrestrial world. And, on the other hand, he possesses four faculties: sensibility, soul, memory, and foresight, which permit him to know and perceive divine things. He is able, therefore, to include in his investigations, differences, qualities, effects, and quantities. But if he be too much hindered by the weight of the body, he will be unable to penetrate into the true reason of things.
When man, thus formed and constituted, having received for his function from the supreme God, the government of the world and the worship of Divinity, acquits himself well of this double duty, and obeys the holy Will, what should be his recompense? For, if the world is the work of God, he who by his care sustains and augments its beauty, is the auxiliary of the divine Will, employing his body and his daily labour in the service of the work produced by the hands of God. What should be his recompense, if not that which our ancestors have obtained? May it please divine goodness to accord this recompense also to us; all our aspirations and all our prayers tend towards its attainment; may we, delivered from the prison of the body, and from our mortal bonds, return, sanctified and pure, to the divine heritage of our nature!
What thou sayest is just and true, O Trismegistos! Such indeed is the price of piety towards God, and of care bestowed on the maintenance of the world. But return to the heavens is denied to those who have lived impiously; upon them is imposed a penance which holy souls escape, to wit, migration into other bodies. The end of this discourse, O Trismegistos, brings us to the hope of an eternal future for the soul, as the result of her life in the world. But this future is for some difficult to believe; for others it is a fable; for others, again, perhaps a subject of derision. For it is a sweet thing to enjoy what one possesses in the corporeal life. Therein lies the evil, which, as one may say, turns the soul's head, attaches her to her mortal part, hinders her from knowing her divine part, and is envious of immortality. For I say unto thee, by a prophetic inspiration, no man after us will choose the simple way of philosophy, which lies wholly in application to the study of divine things, and in holy religion. The majority of men obscure philosophy with diverse questions. How come they to encumber it with sciences which ought not to be comprehended in it, or after what manner do they mingle in it diverse questions?
O Asclepios, they mingle in it, by means of subtleties, a diversity of sciences which belong not to it--arithmetic, music, geometry. But pure, philosophy, whose proper object is holy religion, ought to occupy itself with other sciences only in so far as to admire the regular phases of the stars, their positions and their courses, determined by calculation; the dimensions of the earth, its qualities and quantities; the depth of the sea; the power of fire; and to know the effects of all these things, and Nature; to adore Art, the artist, and his divine intelligence. As for music, that is apprehended when one apprehends reason and the divine order of things. For this order by which everything is ranged singly in the unity of the whole, is indeed an admirable harmony and a divine melody.
What then, after us, will men become?
Misled by the subtleties of the sophists, they will turn aside from the true, pure and holy philosophy. To adore God in the simplicity of thought and of the soul, to venerate His works, to bless His will, which alone is the fulness of good--this is the only philosophy which is not profaned by the idle curiosity of the mind. But enough on this matter.
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