This sermon, which bears no proper title, but has been headed by some editor with the enunciation of the subject taken from the opening sentence of the treatise itself, belongs to the Asclepius-group.
Reitzenstein (p. 194) thinks that this tractate and the previous Asclepius-Dialogue—C. H., ii. (iii.)—may very well have formed part of the same collection of Asclepiana.
The teaching of our sermon is apparently dualistic; but is it not only formally so, and as an exercise to raise the thought of the pupil away from the “things he has grown used to”? For at the end Hermes declares:
“Such are the things that men call good and beautiful, Asclepius—things which we cannot flee or hate; for hardest thing of all is that weve need of them and cannot live without them.”
This is a clear advance on the formal Tat-teaching as to “hating” the body given in C. H., iv. (v.) 6, and points clearly to an instruction in which the cosmos was not regarded as the plērōma of bad, in spite of the formal and emphatic statement in § 4:
“ὁ γὰρ κόσμος πλήρωμά ἐστι τῆς κακίας.”
Moreover, if we turn to C. H., ix. (x.), 4—another treatise of Hermes to Asclepius, and curiously enough having as superscription almost the same proposition as heads our present treatise we read:
“χωρίον γὰρ αὐτῆς [κακίας] ἡ γῆ, οὐχ ὁ κόσμος, ὡς ἔνιοι ποτὲ ἐροῦσι βλασφημοῦντες.”
“Bads place is earth, and not the world, as some will sometimes say with impious tongue.”
Here we have a formal denial in an Asclepius-tractate of the formal proposition in our Asclepius-sermon.
The cosmos is not evil; it is the beautiful world-order. Evil is a thing connected with the earth; there is no such thing as a πλήρωμα of evil; evil has at best only a χωρίον. They who say such things blaspheme.
This is strong language, and there seems no other conclusion to be drawn from it but that there were various schools within the Trismegistic tradition, and that they wrangled theologically together.
Is it, however, possible that the Hermes of our treatise is only speaking metaphorically, so that he may intensify the ideal of the Good, and that he was subsequently taken as speaking literally? For he must have known that the Cosmos was regarded as the Son of God, par excellence, the fairest and best-beloved of all, Gods Very Image.
On the other hand, we know that in the Trismegistic doctrine the “cosmic man” was opposed to the “essential man,” that, in fact, the term “cosmic” was used in the nomenclature of the time in a theological as well as in a philosophical sense. This was especially the case in Christianity. Many instances could be cited from the New Testament documents; and we have also a striking example of the use of “cosmos” in this sense in the second logion of the First Oxyrhynchus Fragment:
“Jesus saith: Except ye fast to the world (τὸν κόσμον), ye shall in no wise find the Kingdom of God.”
As, moreover, we nowhere else find mention of a “pleroma of evil,” we may permissibly conclude that it is here not intended to be taken literally, but only as a metaphorical expression.
“God is the Pleroma of Good, and Good is the Pleroma of God.”
And so, speaking of the Triumphant Christ as the Cosmic Logos, Paul writes:
“And Him hath He (God) given as Head over all things unto the Church, 1 which is His Body—the Fullness (Plērōma) of Him who doth fulfil all things in all.” 2
The thought-atmosphere in which the idea of the “Church” as the Pleroma arose may be sampled from Philo, De Prœm. et Pœn., § xi. (M. ii. 418, p. 920; Ri. v. 232):
“And thus the soul, becoming a Pleroma of virtues by means of the three best [blessings]—nature, instruction (mathēsis) and practice (askēsis),—leaving no vacant spot in her for entrance of aught else, brings unto birth a perfect number,—her two hexads of sons, a miniature and copy of the circle of the types of life, 3 for the improvement of the things down here.
“This is the House 4 that naught can harm, the perfect and continual in the public scriptures, and also in the secret meanings of the mystic ones,—the House that won the prize, as I have said, of lordship oer the tribes of its [own] race.”
“It was thus from this House in course of time, as it increased and became populous, that well-regulated cities were established, yea, disciplines of wisdom and of righteousness and holiness, in which the
transmutation (μεταποίησις) of the rest of virtue was sought out in manner worthy of so high a work.”
In the Trismegistic tradition, however, the idea is simpler, as we learn from “The Definitions of Asclepius,” C. H. (xvi.) 3:
“For that the Fullness of all things is One and is in One,—this latter One not coming as a second One, but both being One. . . .
“For should one try to separate what seems to be both All and One and Same from One,—he will be found to take his epithet of All from the idea of multitude and not from that of fullness (plērōma),—which is impossible; for if he put All for the One, he will destroy the All.”
Nevertheless, the Pleroma 1 of Life is more specially the Cosmos as the Son of God—that is, as the Logos. Thus in C. H., xii. (xiii.) 15, we read:
“Matter is one; and the World-order (Cosmos), as a whole,—the Mighty God and Image of the Mightier One, both with Him unified, and the Conserver of the Will and Order of the Father,—is Lifes Fullness (Plērōma). . . .
“How then, O son, could there be in the God,—the Image of the Father, the Plenitude (Plērōma) of Life, 2—dead things?”
And again in C. H., ix. (x.) 7:
“For [Cosmos] being a most wise Breath, bestows their qualities on bodies together with the one Pleroma—that of Life.”
5. This Pleroma of God is the Good and Beautiful. The Path to this True Good is one of balance,—for it
is the Way of Devotion united unto Gnosis—in Sanskrit terms, the Bhakti-Mārga and Jñāna-Mārga combined. 1
6. Finally we learn, though inferentially, that things are not bad in themselves; the evil is that men are content with the little goods they have and cling desperately to these, in ignorance of the greater blessings to which they could attain, did they but open their spiritual eyes for the True Vision of the Good. For even the psychic visions of the soul, in spite of their beauty, give man no hint of that Most Blessed Sight of All.
117:1 τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ, that is, the Spiritual Body of the “Elect.”
117:2 Eph. i. 23. Cf. Col. ii. 19: “In Him dwelleth the whole Fullness of the Godhead as in a body.”
117:3 Sc. the Zodiac.
117:4 Sc. of God.
118:1 Cf. John i. 16: “Of His Fullness we have all received, and grace on grace.”
118:2 Cf. John i. 4: “In Him was Life and the Life was the Light of men.”
119:1 Compare C. H., i. 27: “And I began to preach to men the beauty of Devotion and of Gnosis.”