FRAGMENTS OF THE BOOK OF HERMES TO HIS SON TATIOS

Hermes Trismegistos

PART I.

Trismegistos.
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.

Tatios.
O father, if nothing here below be real, how can one wisely employ one’s life?

Trismegistos.
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.

Tatios.
What meanest thou, my father?

Trismegistos.
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.

PART II.

Tatios.
THOU hast well explained to me these things, my father, but instruct me yet again concerning this. Thou hast told me that know-ledge and art are activities of the reason; and now thou sayest that brute animals are so called because they have no reason. Whence it must necessarily follow that they have neither knowledge nor art.

Trismegistos.
It necessarily so follows, my son.

Tatios.
How then is it, father, that we behold certain animals making use of scientific and constructive knowledge; as, for instance, the ants who store up provisions for the winter, the birds who devise nests, the cattle who know their stables and return thither?

Trismegistos.
It is neither science nor art that directs them, my son, but nature. Science and art are acquired, but these creatures have acquired nothing. That which is naturally performed is the product of the universal activity; science and art belong only to those who have acquired them. Functions which are the common heritage are natural functions. Thus, all men can make use of their eyes, but not all are musicians, archers, hunters, and so forth. Some only among the many learn a science or an art, and exercise it. If in like manner certain ants only did what other ants do not, then thou mightest say with reason that they possess the science or the art of storing provisions. But all act in the same way under the impulsion of Nature and without deliberate intent; whence it is evident that neither science nor art directs them. Activities, O Tatios, are incorporeal, and are exercised in the body and by the body. Insomuch as they are incorporeal, thou mayest indeed call them immortal; insomuch as they cannot be exercised but by means of a body, I say that they are always in a body. That of which the end and cause are determined by providence and necessity cannot remain inactive. That which is shall still be, therein is its body and its life.

For which reason there will always be bodies; wherefore the creation of bodies is an eternal function. For terrestrial bodies are corruptible; nevertheless, bodies are necessary as abodes and as instruments for the energies. Now, the energies are immortal, and that which is immortal is always active. The creation of bodies is, then, a function, and an eternal function.

The energies or faculties of the soul are not all at once manifest; certain of them are manifest from the time of the birth of man, in the non-rational part of his soul; and as the reasonable part develops itself with age, the loftier faculties also lend their assistance. The faculties are attached to bodies. They descend from divine forms into mortal forms, and by them bodies are created. Each of the faculties exercises a function either of the body or of the soul, but they subsist in the soul independently of the body. For the energies are eternal, but the soul is not always imprisoned in a mortal body. She can live without it, yet the faculties cannot manifest themselves unless in a body. This, my son, is an arcane discourse. The body cannot remain without the soul, but being can.

Tatios.
What meanest thou, my father?

Trismegistos.
Understand me, O Tatios. When the soul is separated from the body, the body indeed remains, but it is undermined by interior dissolution, and ends by disintegrating. Such an effect cannot be produced without an active cause; therefore, there remains some energy in the body after the withdrawal of the soul. Between an immortal entity and a mortal entity there is this difference: that the first is formed of simple substance, but not so the second. One is active, the other passive. All active being dominates, all passive being obeys; one is free, and governs; the other is in servitude, and subject to impulsion.

Now, the energies are not only in animate bodies, but in inanimate, such as wood, stone, and other like things. By means of the energies these things increase, fructify, ripen, decompose, dissolve, putrefy, disintegrate, and undergo all those changes of which inanimate bodies are susceptible. For energy is that which produces change, or becoming. And becoming is multiple, or rather universal.

Never will anything capable of birth be wanting to the universe, because beings are continually brought forth by it and continually destroyed. All energy is then indestructible, no matter of what nature or in what body it is manifest. But among the energies, some are exerted in divine entities, some in mortal entities; some are universal, others special; some act upon species, others on individuals pertaining to these. Divine energies are exerted in eternal entities, and are perfect as these. Partial energies act by means of living beings; special energies in everything which exists. Whence it results, my son, that the whole universe is full of energies. For since energies necessarily manifest in bodies, there are many bodies in the universe. Nevertheless, the energies are more numerous than the bodies, for often there exist one, two, three energies in a body, without counting those which are universally distributed. I call those universal energies which are inseparable from bodies and which manifest themselves by sensations and movements, and without which no body could exist. Far otherwise are those special energies which manifest themselves in human minds by art, science, and labour. The sensations accompany the energies, or rather are the consequence of these last.

Understand, O my son, the difference there is between the energies and the sensations. Energy comes from above; sensation is of the body, and from the body has its being. It is the seat of the energy, which manifests by means of it, and from which it obtains, as it were, a vehicle. For this reason I say that sensations are corporeal and mortal; their existence is bound up with that of the body, they are born therewith, and therewith they die. Immortal energies have not sensation, precisely because of the nature of their essence; for there can be no other sensation than that of some good or some evil which happens to a body or which departs therefrom, and immortal entities are not subject to these accidents.

Tatios.
Sensation, then, is experienced by all bodies?

Trismegistos.
Yes, my son, and in all bodies the energies act.

Tatios.
Even in inanimate bodies, my father?

Trismegistos.
Even in inanimate bodies. Sensations are of different kinds; those of reasonable beings are accompanied by reason; those of beings without reason are purely corporeal; those of inanimate beings are passive, and consist only in growth and decay. Starting from one principle and arriving at one end, passion and sensation are alike the product of the energies. In animate beings, there are two other energies which accompany the passions and the sensations to wit, joy and sorrow. Without these, the animated being, and, above all, the reasonable being, would feel nothing; they may then be considered as modes of the affections in reasonable beings, or indeed in all living beings. They are activities manifested by the sensations, corporeal movements produced by the irrational parts of the soul. Joy and sorrow are alike evil; for joy that is, the sensation accompanied by pleasure draws after it great evils; sorrow, likewise, involves penalties and suffering, yet more severe. Both joy and sorrow, then, are evil.

Tatios.
Is sensation the same thing in the soul and in the body, my father?

Trismegistos.
What meanest thou, my child, by the sensation of the soul?

Tatios.
The soul is truly incorporeal. But sensation is as a body, my father, for it exists in a body.

Trismegistos.
If we place it in the body, my son, we indeed assimilate it either to the soul or to the energies, which, although in the body, are incorporeal. But sensation is neither an energy nor a soul, nor anything distinct from the body; it is not, therefore, incorporeal. If it be not incorporeal, it must necessarily be corporeal, for there is nothing which is neither corporeal nor incorporeal.

PART III.

The Lord, the Creator of immortal forms, O Tatios, after having accomplished His work, made nothing further, nor does He now make anything. Once consigned to themselves and united to one another, these eternal forms move without having need of anything; or if, indeed, they are necessary one to another, they have at least no need of any extraneous impulsion, since they are immortal. Such ought, indeed, to be the nature of the creations of the supreme God. But our (immediate) maker has a body; he has brought us forth, and unceasingly he brings forth, and will bring forth dissoluble and mortal bodies, for he ought not to imitate his own Creator, and, moreover, he cannot. For the first has evolved His creations from His own essence, primordial and incorporeal; the second has formed us of that which is corporeal and engendered. Whence it follows naturally, that heavenly forms born of incorporeal essence are imperishable, while our bodies, being constituted of corporeal matter, are consequently weak in themselves, and need extraneous assistance.

For how, indeed, could the combination which composes our bodies be sustained, if it were not continually fed and supported by elements of the same nature? The earth, the water, the fire, and the air flow into us and renew our covering. We are so weak that we cannot even endure a single day of movement. Thou knowest well, my son, that without the repose of the night our bodies would not resist the day’s toil. For this reason our good creator, in his universal providence, has ensured the continual life of his creatures by devising sleep, the restorer of movement, and by assigning to repose an equal or even longer time (than to labour).

Meditate, my son, on this virtue of sleep, opposed to that of the soul, and not less energetic. For if the function of the soul be movement, bodies cannot live without slumber, which loosens and unbinds the yoke of the organism, and by its restoring action dispenses to it the matter which it needs, giving water to the blood, earth to the bones, air to the nerves and vessels, fire to the eyes. And hence the great pleasure which the body finds in sleep.

PART IV.

Great and divine power is established, O my son, in the midst of the universe, beholding all that is done by men upon earth. In the divine order all is governed by providential Necessity; among men the same function belongs to Justice. The first of these governments includes celestial things, for the Gods neither will, nor can, transgress; not being subject to error, which is the source of sin, they are sinless. The second, Justice, is charged to correct, upon earth, the evil which happens among men. The human race, being mortal, and formed of corruptible matter, is subject to fall away when the sight of divine things does not sustain it (in virtue). Herein Justice exerts its action. By means of the energies which he draws from Nature, man is subject to Destiny; by the errors of his life, to Justice.

PART V.

Here, then, is that which can be said of the three tenses. They are not by themselves, and they are not bound together; again, they are bound together and are by themselves. Can the present be supposed without the existence of the past? One cannot exist without another, for the present is generated by the past, and from the present the future comes forth. If we wish to go to the root of the matter, we must reason thus: The past tense is withdrawn into that which no longer is; the future is not so long as it has not become present; the present, in its turn, ceases to be itself the instant that it remains. Can that which does not endure for an instant and which has no fixed centre be called present when it cannot even be said to exist? Moreover, since the past is indistinguishable from the present, and the present from the future, they become one. There is among them identity, unity, continuity. Therefore time is continuous and divisible, even while it is one and identical.

PART VI.

O my son, matter becomes; formerly it was, for matter is the vehicle of becoming. 1 Becoming is the mode of activity of the uncreate and foreseeing God. Having been endowed with the germ of becoming, matter is brought into birth, for the creative force fashions it according to the ideal forms. Matter not yet engendered, had no form; it becomes when it is put into operation.

PART VII.

To speak of the Real with certainty, O Tatios, is an impossible thing to man, himself an imperfect creature, composed of imperfect parts, and constituted of an assemblage of foreign particles; nevertheless, as much as it is possible and permissible to me, I affirm that Reality is only in eternal beings, the forms of which also are real. Fire is but fire and no more; earth is nothing else than earth; air is only air. Put our bodies are compounded of all these; we have in us fire, earth, water, and air, which yet are neither fire, nor earth, nor water, nor air, nor anything truly. If, then, from the beginning Reality is foreign to our constitution, how shall we behold Reality, or speak thereof, or even understand it, unless indeed by the Will of God?

Mundane things, O Tatios, are not then themselves real, but the simulacra of Reality, and not all are even such; some are but illusion and error, O Tatios, fantastic appearances, mere phantoms. When such an appearance receives an influx from above, then, indeed, it becomes a similitude of the Real, but without this superior influence it remains an illusion. In the same way a portrait is a painted image of a body, but not the body it represents. It appears to have eyes, but sees nothing; ears, but hears nothing; and so on of the rest of it. It is an image which deceives the sight; it appears a reality, and is but a shadow. Those who behold not the False behold the True; if, then, we understand and see everything as it truly is, we see the Real; but if we see that which is not, we can neither understand nor know anything of the Real.

Tatios.
There is, then, my father, a Real even upon earth?

Trismegistos.
Reality is not upon the earth, my son, and it cannot be thereon, but it can be comprehended by a few men to whom God vouchsafes the divine vision. Nothing on earth is real, there are only appearances and opinions on earth; yet all is real for intelligence and reason. Wherefore to think and to speak the truth this indeed may be called real.

Tatios.
What sayest thou? It is right to think and speak that which truly is, and yet nothing is true upon earth?

Trismegistos.
This certainly is true, that we know nothing of Truth. How should it be otherwise, my son? Truth is the supreme virtue, the sovereign Good which is not obscured by matter, nor circumscribed by the body; the naked Good, evident, unalterable, august, immutable. Now, the things which are here below thou seest, my son, are incompatible with the Good; they are perishable, changing, various, passing from form to form. That which is not even identical with itself, how can it be real? All that transforms itself is illusive, not only in itself, but by the appearances which it presents to us one after another.

Tatios.
Is not even man real, my father?

Trismegistos.
He is not real, my son, as man. The real consists solely in itself, and remains what it is. Man is composed of manifold elements, and does not continue identical with himself. So long as he inhabits a body he passes from one age to another, and from one form to another. Often, after but a short interval of time, parents no longer are able to recognize their children, nor children their parents. That which changes in such wise as to be no longer recognizable as itself, can it be a real thing, Tatios? Should we not rather think this succession of diverse appearances an illusion? Look only on the eternal and the Good as the Real. Man is transient, therefore he is not real; he is but appearance, and appearance is the supreme illusion.

Tatios.
Then the celestial bodies themselves are not real, my father, since they also vary.

Trismegistos.
That which is subject to birth and to change is not real, but the works of the great Father may receive from Him a real substance. Nevertheless, there is in them a certain falsity, seeing that they too are variable, for nothing is real save that which is identical with itself.

Tatios.
What, then, may we call indeed real, my father?

Trismegistos.
The sun, the only one of all creatures that changes not, and which remains the same. For this reason is confided to him alone the ordinance of the universe; he is the chief and the maker of everything; I venerate him and prostrate myself before his truth, and, after the first Unity, I recognize in him the creator.

Tatios.
And what, then, is the primordial Reality, O my father?

Trismegistos.
He Who is One and alone, O Tatios; He Who is not made of matter, nor in any body, Who has neither colour nor form, Who changes not, nor is transmuted, but who always Is.

That which is illusion is perishable, my son. The providence of the Real has limited and will limit by dissolution all mundane things, for dissolution is the condition of all births; all that is brought forth dissolves in order to be again brought forth. It is necessary that out of dissolution life should come into existence, and that life in its turn should decay, in order that the generation of creatures should never cease. Behold, then, in this perpetual birth, the Creator before all! Creatures born of dissolution are but shadows, they become at one time this, at another that; for they cannot be the same, and how is it possible for that which is not identical with itself, to be a real thing? Such must then, my son, be called appearances, and man must be regarded as an appearance of Humanity; as, also, a child is an appearance of childhood, a young man of adolescence, an adult of manhood, an old man of senility. For how shall it be said that a man is a man, a child a child, a youth a youth, a grown man a grown man, an old man an old man, since by incessant transformations they deceive us both as to what they were, and what they have become? Behold, then, in all these things, my son, only the illusive appearances of a superior Reality; and since, indeed, this is the case, I define Illusion as the expression of the Real.

PART VIII.

To understand God is difficult; to speak of God, impossible. For the corporeal cannot express the incorporeal; the imperfect cannot comprehend the perfect. How is the eternal to be associated with the transient? The first abides for ever, the other is fleeting; the first is the Real, the other is a reflected shadow. As much as weakness differs from strength, or smallness from greatness, so much the mortal differs from the divine. The distance which divides them one from the other obscures the vision of the beautiful. Bodies are visible to sight, and that which the eye beholds the tongue is able to express. But that which has not any body, nor appearance, nor form, nor matter, cannot be apprehended by sense. I understand, O Tatios, I understand that which it is impossible to define that is God.