LET us begin to speak of Mind and of other similar things. In the beginning were God and Hylè--it is thus that the Greeks term the first matter or substance of the universe. The Spirit was with the universe, but not in the same manner as with God. The things which constitute the universe are not God, therefore before their birth they were not in existence, but they were already contained in that from which they were produced. For besides and without created things is not only that which is not yet born, but that also which has no generative fecundity, and which can bring forth nothing. Everything which has the power of generating contains in germ all that can be born of it, for it is easy to that which is brought forth to bear that which shall bring forth. But the eternal God cannot and never could be born; He is, He has been, He will be always. The nature of God is to be His own Principle. But matter, or the nature of the world, and mind, although appearing to be brought forth from the beginning, possess the power of birth and of procreation--fecundative energy. For the beginning is in the quality of Nature, who possesses in herself the potentiality of conception and of production. She is then, without any foreign intervention, the principle of creation. It is otherwise with that which possesses only the power of conception by means of mixing with a second nature. The matrix of the universe and of all that it contains appears not to have been itself born, holding however, within it, potentially, all Nature. I call that the matrix which contains all things, for they could not have been without a vehicle to contain them. Everything which exists must exist in some place (or vehicle), neither qualities nor quantities, nor positions, nor effects could be distinguished in things having no place and being nowhere. Thus the world, although not having been born, has in it the principle of all birth; since it affords all things a fitting matrix for conception. It is, then, the sum-total of qualities and of matter susceptible of creation, although not yet created.
Matter, being fecund in all attributes, is able also to engender evil. I put aside, therefore, O Asclepios and Ammon, the question asked by many:--"Could not God hinder evil in the nature of things?" There is absolutely nothing to say to them; but for you I will pursue the discourse begun, and I will give the explanation. They affirm that God ought to have preserved the world from evil; now, evil is in the world as an integral part of it. The sovereign God indeed provided against it inasmuch as was reasonable and possible, when He bestowed upon humanity sentiment, knowledge, and intelligence. By these faculties solely, which place us above other animals, we may escape the snares of evil and vice. The man who is wise and protected by divine intelligence, knows how to preserve himself from such immediately he beholds them, and before he has been entrapped thereby. The foundation of knowledge is supreme goodness. Spirit governs and gives life to all that is in the world; it is an instrument employed by the will of the sovereign God. Thus we ought to comprehend, by intelligence alone, the supreme Intelligible called God. By Him is directed that secondary sensible God (the universe), who contains all spaces, all substances, the matter of all that engenders and produces,--in a word, all that is. As for the spirit (or Mind), it moves and governs all individual beings in the world according to the nature which God has assigned to them. Matter--Hylè, or the Kosmos--is the receptacle, the motion, the replication of everything which God directs, dispensing to each of them that which is necessary to it, and filling them with spirit according to their qualities.
The form of the universe is that of a hollow sphere, having in itself the cause of its quality or of its figure, wholly invisible; if, choosing any given point of its surface, one should seek to behold its depths, one would be unable to see anything. It appears visible only by means of those special forms whose images appear graven upon it, it shows itself only in effigy; but in reality it is always invisible in itself. Therefore, the centre, the depths of this sphere--if indeed one may call it a place--is in Greek named Hades, the invisible, from eidein, to see, because the centre of a sphere, cannot be seen from without. Moreover, the types or formative appearances were called Ideas, because they are the forms of the Invisible. This interior of the sphere which the Greeks call Hades, because it is invisible, the Latins name Hell (Inferno), on account of its profound position. These are the primordial principles, the first sources, of all things. Everything is in them, or by them, or comes forth from them.
These principles are, then, O Trismegistos, the universal substance of all individual appearances?
The world nourishes bodies, the spirit nourishes souls. Thought, the heavenly gift which is the happy privilege of humanity, nourishes intelligence, but few men only have an intelligence capable of receiving such a benefit. Thought is a light which illuminates the intelligence, as the sun illuminates the world. And even more, for the light of the sun may be intercepted by the moon, or by the earth when night comes; but when thought has once penetrated into the human soul, it mingles intimately with her nature, and the intelligence can never again be obscured by any cloud. Therefore, with reason, it has been said that the souls of the Gods are intelligences. As for me, I say not this of all of them, but of the great supernal Gods.
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