LET us speak now of that which is immortal and of that which is mortal. The multitude, ignorant of the reason of things, is troubled by the approach and the fear of death. Death occurs by the dissolution of the body, wearied with its toil. When the number which maintains unity is complete –for the binding-power of the body is a number--the body dies. And this happens when it can no longer support the burdens of life. Such, then, is death; the dissolution of the body, and the end of corporeal sensations. It is superfluous to trouble oneself about such a matter. But there remains another necessary law which human ignorance and unbelief despise.
What law is this which is thus ignored or unregarded?
Hearken, O Asclepios. When the soul is separated from the body, she passes under the supreme power of Deity, to be judged according to her merits. If found pious and just she is allowed to dwell in the divine abodes, but if she appears defiled with vice she is precipitated from height to depth, and delivered over to the tempests and adverse hurricanes of the air, the fire, and the water. Ceaselessly tossed about between heaven and earth by the billows of the universe, she is driven from side to side in eternal penance, her immortal nature gives endless duration to the judgment pronounced against her. 1 How greatly must we fear so dreadful a fate! They who now refuse to believe in such things will then be convinced against their will, not by words, but by beholding; not by menaces, but by the pains they will endure.
The faults of men, O Trismegistos, are not then punished only by human laws?
O Asclepios, all that is terrestrial is mortal. Those who live according to the corporeal state, and who fall short during their life of the laws imposed on this condition, are subjected after death to chastisement so much the more severe as the faults committed by them have remained hidden; for the universal prescience of God will render the punishment proportional to the transgression. 2
Who are they who deserve the greatest penalties, O Trismegistos?
Those who, condemned by human laws, die a violent death, in such wise that they appear not to have paid the debt they owe to Nature, but to have received only the reward of their actions. 1 The just man, on the contrary, finds in religion and in piety a great help, and God protects him against all evils. The Father and Lord of all things, Who alone is all, manifests Himself willingly to all; not that He shows any man His abode, nor His splendour, nor His greatness, but He enlightens man by intelligence alone, whereby the darkness of error is dissipated, and the glories of the truth revealed. By such means man is united to the Divine Intelligence; aspiring thither he is delivered from the mortal part of his nature, and conceives the hope of everlasting life. Herein is the difference between the good and the wicked. He who is illumined by piety, religion, wisdom, the service and veneration of God, sees, as with open eyes, the true reason of things; and, through the confidence of this faith, surpasses other men even as the sun the other fires of heaven. For if the sun enlightens the rest of the stars, it is not so much by his greatness and power as by his divinity and sanctity. Thou must see in him, O Asclepios, a secondary God, who rules the rest of the world, and illumines all its inhabitants, animate and inanimate.
If the world is an animated being which is, which has been, and which will be always living, nothing in it is mortal. Each of its parts is alive, for in a single creature always living there is no room for death. Thus is God the plenitude of life and of eternity, for He necessarily lives eternally; the sun is lasting as the universe, and governs perpetually all living creatures, being the fount and distributor of all vitality. God is, then, the ever-lasting Ruler of all things which receive life, and of all that give it, the eternal dispenser of the being of the universe. Now, He has once for all bestowed life on all living creatures by an immutable law which I will expound to thee. The movement of the universe is the life of eternity; the sphere of this motion is the eternity of life. The universe will never cease from movement, nor will it ever become corrupt; the permanence of eternal life surrounds it and protects it as a rampart. It dispenses life to all that is in its bosom; it is the bond of all things ordained under the sun. The effect of its motion is double; it is vivified by the eternity which encompasses it, and, in its turn, it vivifies all that it contains, diversifying everything according to certain fixed and determined numbers and seasons. All things are ordained in time by the action of the sun and the stars, according to a Divine law. Terrestrial periods are distinguished by the condition of the atmosphere, by the alternatives of heat and cold; celestial periods by the revolutions of the constellations, which return at fixed intervals of time to the same places in the heavens. The universe is the stage of time, the course and movement of which maintain Life. Order and time produce the renewal of all things in the world by recurring seasons.
77:1 This passage resembles a fragment of Empedocles, cited by Plutarch:--"The etherial force pursues them towards the sea, the sea vomits them forth upon its shores, the earth in turn flings them upward to the untiring sun, and the sun again drives them back into the whirl-wind of space. Thus all the elements toss them from one to another, and all hold them in horror." [It is needless to add that the whole of this passage is allegorical, and that the penance referred to is that of Purgatory, or Kama Loka--the intermediate state of purification.]
77:2 This passage qualifies the previous statement in Sect. IX., concerning the duration of the purgatorial state, and shows that it is not p. 78 to be regarded as eternal, but as proportional to the faults committed. Moreover, it supplies a reason for the Catholic custom of shriving the dying, seeing that unconfessed sin entails heavier penalty than sin confessed, and therefore no longer "hidden."
78:1 An obscure passage. Probably its meaning is that great sinners, cut off by violent means in the midst of their iniquity, have no time to work out their penance in life, and, being thus deprived of the opportunity of restitution and amendment, suffer the more acutely in purgatory. For since they cannot discharge their debt on earth, they are delivered to torment after death until the "uttermost farthing" is paid.
[The opinions expressed in the above, or other scholarly annotations herein, must be disclaimed being in any way necessarily accepted as expressive of, or identical with my own.
Robt. H. Fryar, Bath.]
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