Index  Previous  Next 

The Gnostic Society Library

Thrice-Greatest Hermes - Volume 2

by G.R.S. Mead

p. 213



This Sermon has as its subject the Common or General Mind—Great Mind, Good Mind, Good Daimon. For Mind, as we are told (§ 2), is the Benefactor of men (εὐεργέτης ἀνθρώπων); He is the Good Shepherd, the Good Husbandman, the Good Physician, as He is called in different tractates.

From a critical standpoint, the point of greatest interest is that our Hermes in no less than three places (§§ 1, 8, 13) quotes certain Sayings of the Good Daimon.

Now the first of these quotations (§ 1)—“Gods are immortal men, and men are mortal Gods”—is one of the most cited Sayings of Heracleitus. 1 Hermes, however, does not mean to say that Heracleitus was Agothodaimon, but that Heracleitus was the mouthpiece of the Good Mind when he uttered this “word” (logos).

Nor was this the opinion of Hermes only; it was the belief apparently of Heracleitus himself when he declared:

“Not because you hear me say so, but because you hear the Reason (Logos) so declare, is it wise to confess that All are One.” 2

At any rate the term Logos, as used by Heracleitus, in connection with such a declaration, is taken by Hippolytus 3 to mean the All-pervading Reason, and not the normal reason of man.

What, then, is our surprise to find the second of

p. 214

[paragraph continues] Hermes’ quotations of a Saying of the Good Daimon qualified by the words (§ 8): “And had He set it down in written words” or “in writing,” when that quotation begins with the words: “All are One” 1—the root-formula of Heracleitus.

Such Sayings of Heracleitus must have been the common property of all the philosophers of the time and of their pupils. But the quotation of Hermes does not end with the formula of Heracleitus; it continues, how far exactly it is difficult to determine. Reitzenstein (p. 127) would apparently make it end with the word “Æon,” but I am inclined to think it goes to the end of § 8. In either case it includes the term “Æon.”

If, now, we turn to the third quotation from the Sayings of the Good Daimon (§ 13), we are at once struck with its remarkable resemblance to the form of teaching in C. H., xi. (xii.) 4. Though there is no precise verbal agreement, there is a striking identity of style of formula.

In our treatise, however, the Saying is used in authoritative illustration of the meaning of the Reason (Logos), whereas in the “Mind to Hermes,”—that is, in the Sermon of the Good Daimon Himself to Hermes—Reason is omitted, Mind and Reason being there transcended by Æon and Mind.

Moreover, the whole style of what follows this quotation in our treatise is exactly the same as the style of instruction in C. H., xi. (xii.)—short categorical formulæ; and, further, the previous quotation (§ 8) contains the key-word Æon, which characterizes the teaching of the “Mind to Hermes.”

I therefore conclude that our Hermes is using a more

p. 215

intimate instruction, known only to the Hermes-grade, and not published for the Tat-degree; and that this is the meaning of his saying that it has not been written down. He means simply that it has not yet been allowed to be published for those in the Tat-stage.

There were, then, other treatises now lost of the same type as that of the “Mind to Hermes”; in them there were quotations from the Sayings of Heracleitus; the “Obscure Philosopher” being regarded as one who had come into direct contact with the Logos or Mind, and as one, therefore, who spoke with the authority of direct revelation.


The next point of critical interest is the sentence in § 7:

“I meant not that, but that the Mind-led man, my son, though not a fornicator, will suffer just as though he had committed fornication, and though he be no murderer, as though he had committed murder.”

If we now turn to the quotation which Clement of Alexandria 1 gives us from Book XXIII. of the Exegetica, of Basilides, we read:

“For just as the babe, who, although it hath done no wrong previously, or actively committed any sin, yet hath the capacity of sin in it,—whenever it is subjected to suffering, is advantaged and reaps many benefits, which otherwise are difficult to gain; in just the selfsame way is it, that although a perfect man may not have sinned in act, and yet doth suffer pains, he suffereth them in just the selfsame fashion as a babe; having within himself the tendency to sin, but refusing to embrace the opportunity to sin, he doth not

p. 216

sin. So that even for such a man as this we ought not to suppose the incapacity for sin.

“For just as it is the will to commit fornication that constitutes the fornicator, even though he does not find the opportunity of actually committing fornication, and the will to commit murder that constitutes the murderer, although he may not be actually able to effect his purpose; so also in the case of the ‘sinless’ man I mean, if I see him suffering, even if he has actually done no sin, I shall say he is evil by his will to sin. For I will say anything rather than that Providence is evil.” 1

Providence, as in our treatise, is here the instrument of the Good (§ 14), of the Will of God; it is the will of man that is the source of evil, as we learn from C. H., iv. (v.) 8: “For ’tis not God, ’tis we who are the cause of evil things, preferring them to good.”

In our treatise, then, the very same problem is treated as in the Exegetica of Basilides. Hermes speaks of the “Mind-led man,” the “man who has the Logos in him”; Basilides speaks of the “perfect man.” So also in C. H., iv. (v.) 4, the “perfect man” is he who has “received the Mind.”

The ideas of Hermes and of Basilides are practically identical; the words of both are strikingly similar when they cite fornication and murder as typical sins, and these and no others.

Compare again with this idea of the babe in Basilides the words of Hermes in C. H., x. (xi.) 15:

“Behold an infant’s soul, my son, that is not yet cut off, because its body is still small and not as yet come unto its full bulk. . . . A thing of beauty altogether is such a soul to see, not yet befouled with body’s passions, still all but hanging from the Cosmic Soul.”

p. 217

And with this compare what Hippolytus 1 tells us of Valentinus:

“Valentinus says that he once saw a babe that had only just been born, and that he proceeded to question it to find out who it was. And the babe replied and said it was the Logos.”

And also the Psalm of Valentinus quoted by the same heresiologist 2:

All things depending from Spirit I see;
All things supported by Spirit I view;
Flesh from Soul depending;
Soul by Air supported;
Air from Æther hanging;
Fruits borne of the Deep;
Babe borne of the Womb.

Here, then, as in other instances, we have intimate points of contact between the Hermetic and Christian Gnosis. Is there, however, any question of direct plagiarism? I think not; but that the Christian doctors and the Hermetic philosophers were both in contact with the same body of inner teaching.

4. With the action of the Mind on the soul in incarnation (§ 4) compare C. H., x. (xi.), 18, 19, where the office of the Mind in respect to the soul out of incarnation is graphically described.


6. In § 6 Hermes tells us that he has already spoken about Fate in others of his Sermons; while in §§ 14 and 21 he three times refers to Necessity and Providence.

In this connection it is to be noticed that Lactantius (D. I., vi. 25), in quoting the last two sentences of our

p. 218

treatise, says that he takes them from a Sermon by Hermes “On Justice.”

Now, Stobæus has preserved for us an Extract (xi.) from a Sermon dealing with Justice, Providence, Necessity and Fate; also an Extract (x.) from a Sermon of Hermes to Tat dealing with Fate, and ending with the words: “Such is the Sermon on the rule of Providence, Necessity and Fate.” We have also an Extract (xiii.) “Of Hermes from the Books to Ammon,” entitled “Of the General Economy,” which deals with Providence, Necessity and Fate.

There were, then, according to Hermes, already existing not one but several Sermons on Fate, and, as we learn from Stobæus, not only in the Tat-literature but also in the Ammon-literature. It seems, then, probable that in the collection used by Lactantius the Tat-Sermons on Fate immediately preceded our treatise, and that one of these sermons (the one immediately preceding our treatise, presumably) was entitled “On Justice,” thus confirming the title I have prefixed to the Stobæus Extract xi.


22. Finally, in § 22 it has to be noticed that with the express teaching that Matter and Body are so far from being evil that they are Energies of God—His materiality and corporality—the charge of dualism against our philosophers must for ever be abandoned. Their doctrine was that of pan-monism; and, therefore, wherever we find signs of dualism, or even distinct statements of an indubitably dualistic nature, we must understand that this was a formal convenience for the better insistence upon the need of strenuous exertion to solve the mystery of the opposites, rather than an essential doctrine of the Gnosis.


213:1 Diels, 62; Bywater, 67; Fairbanks, 67 (p. 40), which see for references to ancient authors who quote it.

213:2 Diels, 50; Bywater, 1; Fairbanks, 1 (p. 24).

213:3 Philos., ix. 9.

214:1 Cf. C. H., x. (xi.) 25, and xvi. (“Definitions of Asclepius”) 3; for references to the Magical and Alchemical literature, see R. 39, 1; 106, 5; 127, 3.

215:1 Strom., IV. xii., § 82 (P. 600; S. 217): Dindorf., ii. 363.

216:1 See F. F. F., 274, 275.

217:1 Philos., vi. 42 (D. and S., 302); F. F. F., p. 306.

217:2 Philos., vi. 37 (D. and S., 290); see emended text in Hilgenfeld (A.), Die Ketzergeschichte des Urchristenthums (Leipzig, 1884), p. 304; F. F. F., p. 307.

Next: XIII. (XIV.) The Secret Sermon on the Mountain