IT is for the love of men and for the veneration of God, O my son, that I begin to write this. For there is no other true religion than to meditate on the universe and give thanks to the Creator; and these things I shall not cease to do.
O father, if nothing here below be real, how can one wisely employ one's life?
Be religious, my son; religion is lofty philosophy; without philosophy there is no lofty religion. He who instructs himself concerning the universe, its law, its principle, and its end, gives thanks for all things to the Creator as to a gracious father, a good protector, a faithful teacher. This is religion, and by means of it we know where truth is and what it is. Knowledge increases religion. For when once the soul, imprisoned within the body, has lifted herself to the perception of the real Good and of Truth, she cannot again fall back. The might of Love, and the oblivion of all evil things, forbid the soul who knows her Maker to separate herself from the Good. Herein, my son, is the aim of religion; if thou canst attain thereunto, thy life will be pure, thy death happy; thy soul will know whither she ought to direct her flight. Herein is the only way which leads to Truth, which, indeed, our ancestors trod, and by which they arrived at the attainment of the Good. This way is beautiful and even; nevertheless, it is difficult for the soul to walk therein so long as she is immured within the prison of the body. For, first, she must contend against herself, and having accomplished a division of herself, she must submit to that part of herself which is first in dignity. For the one struggles against the two, that would fain rise, but these would drag it downwards. 1 Nor is victory the same to both sides; for the one tends towards the Good, and the two towards Evil; the one would be free, the two cling to servitude. If the two be overcome, there remains a bulwark of defence for them and for their master; but if the one be the weaker, it is drawn away by the two, and punished in this life here below. It is this one, my son, which ought to be thy guide. See that thou anoint thyself with oil for the struggle, maintain the fight for life, and remain victorious.
And now, my son, I am about to sum up our principles; thou wilt understand my words by remembering that which thou hast learnt.
All beings are endowed with motion; non-being alone is motionless. All bodies transform themselves some only decompose. All creatures are not mortal nor are all immortal. That which is dissoluble is corruptible; that which is permanent is immutable; that which is immutable is eternal; that which is continually generated is continually corrupted, but that which is born but once is not corrupted and is not changed into any other thing. First God, then the Universe, and thirdly Man; the Universe for Man, and Man for God. The emotional part of the Soul is mortal; her rational part is immortal; all substance is immortal, all substance is subjected to change. All being is dual; no being is permanent. All things are not animated by soul, but all that is being is animated by soul. All that is passive is sentient; all that is sentient is transient. Everything that suffers and enjoys is a mortal creature; all that enjoys and suffers not is a being immortal. Not every body is subject to disease, but every body so subject is destructible. In God is Intelligence; in Man is Reason. Reason is in Intelligence, Intelligence is intransient. There is nothing real in the corporeal; nothing false in the incorporeal. Everything that is born changes, but not everything born corrupts. There is nothing perfect upon earth, nor anything evil in heaven. God is perfect; man is evil. The good comes by will; evil against will. The Gods chose the good as good. Time is divine; law is human. Evil is the pabulum of the world; Time is the destruction of man. All things in heaven are immutable; nothing is immutable on earth. In heaven, then, is no servitude; on earth there is no freedom. Nothing in heaven is unknown; on earth nothing is known. There is nothing in common between celestial things and things terrestrial. All is irreproachable in heaven; on earth nothing is without reproach. The immortal knows no mortality; nor does the mortal know immortality. That which is sown does not always come up; but that which comes up has always been sown. Corruptible bodies have two periods of existence: from conception to birth, and from birth to death; but the eternal entity has one period only from the moment of being. Dissoluble bodies increase and diminish. Dissoluble matter divides itself according to two contrary terms--destruction and birth; immortal substance divides itself either into itself or into its similars. The birth of man is a destruction; the destruction of man is an element of birth. That which ends begins; that which begins ends. Among beings, some are in bodies, some in forms, some in energies. The body is in forms; form and energy are in bodies. The immortal receives nothing from the mortal; but the mortal receives from the immortal. The mortal enters not into an immortal form; but the immortal enters into a mortal body. Energies tend not upward, but downward. That which is on earth profits not that which is in heaven; but all that is in heaven profits that which is on earth. Heaven contains immortal entities; earth contains perishable bodies. Earth is irrational; heaven is reasonable. Celestial things are under the power of heaven; terrestrial things are upon earth. Heaven is the primordial element. Divine providence is order; necessity is the instrument with which providence works. Fortuity is the vehicle of disorder, the false image of energy, a delusive seeming. What is God but immutable Good, or man but continual evil?
In remembering these principles, thou wilt easily recollect the things I have explained to thee more at length, and which are therein resumed. But avoid speaking of them to the multitude; not that I desire to prohibit the multitude from knowing these things, but that I would not have thee exposed to the mockeries of the vulgar. Like attracts like; but between dissimilars there is no fellowship. These discourses ought to have but a small number of auditors, else before long they will have none at all. There is, moreover, a special peril attaching to them, for by means of them the wicked may be instigated to do worse. Keep thyself, therefore, from the crowd, which cannot understand the virtue of these discourses.
What meanest thou, my father?
Hearken, my son. The human race is drawn to-wards evil. Evil is its nature, and pleases it. If men should learn that the world is created, that all is done according to providence and necessity, and that by necessity and destiny all things are governed, they would readily begin to despise all things because they are created; to attribute vice to destiny, and to give the rein to all manner of iniquity. Therefore, abstain from the crowd, so that by means of ignorance the vulgar may be kept within bounds, even through fear of the unknown.
121:1 With Plato, says Dr. Menard, Trismegistos here opposes Intelligence, the first part of the Soul, to the two other parts, Passion and Desire.
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