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The Gnostic Society Library

Thrice-Greatest Hermes - Volume 2

by G.R.S. Mead

[IX. M.] And 1 since our sermon treats of the relationship and intercourse 2 of men and Gods,—learn, Asclepius, the power and strength of man!

[Our] Lord and Father, or what is Highest God,—as He’s Creator of the Gods in Heaven, so man’s the maker of the gods who, in the temples, suffer man’s approach, and who not only have light poured on them, but who send forth [their] light [on all]; not only does a man go forward towards the God[s], but also he confirms the Gods [on earth]. 3

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Art thou surprised, Asclepius; nay is it not that even thou dost not believe?

2. Asc. I am amazed, Thrice-greatest one; but willingly I give assent to [all] thy words. I judge that man most blest who hath attained so great felicity.

Tris. And rightly so; [for] he deserves our wonder, in that he is the greatest of them all.

As for the genus of the Gods in Heaven,—’tis plain from the commixture 1 of them all, that it has been made pregnant from the fairest part of nature, 2 and that the only signs [by which they are discerned] are, as it were, before all else their heads. 3

3. Whereas the species of the gods which humankind constructs is fashioned out of either nature,—out of that nature which is more ancient and far more divine, and out of that which is in men; that is, out of the stuff of which they have been made and are configured, not only in their heads alone, but also in each limb and their whole frame.

And 4 so mankind, in imaging Divinity, stays

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mindful of the nature and the source of its own self.

So that, just as [our] Sire and Lord did make the Gods æonian, that they might be like Him; so hath mankind configured its own gods according to the likeness of the look of its own self. 1


1. Asc. Thou dost not mean their statues, dost thou, O Thrice-greatest one?

Tris. [I mean their] statues, O Asclepius,—dost thou not see how much thou even, doubtest?—statues, ensouled with sense, and filled with spirit, which work such mighty and such [strange] results,—statues which can foresee what is to come, and which perchance can prophesy, foretelling things by dreams and many other ways,—[statues] that take their strength away from men, or cure their sorrow, if they do so deserve.

Dost thou not know, Asclepius, that Egypt is the image of the Heaven 2; or, what is truer still, the transference, or the descent, of all that are in governance or exercise in Heaven? And if more truly [still] it must be said,—this land of ours is Shrine of all the World.

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2. Further, in that ’tis fitting that the prudent should know all before, it is not right ye should be ignorant of this.

The time will come when Egypt will appear to have in vain served the Divinity with pious mind and constant worship 1; and all its holy cult will fall to nothingness and be in vain.

For that Divinity is now about to hasten back from Earth to Heaven, and Egypt shall be left; and Earth, which was the seat of pious cults, shall be bereft and widowed of the presence of the Gods.

And foreigners shall fill this region and this land; and there shall be not only the neglect of pious cults, but—what is still more painful,—as though enacted by the laws, a penalty shall be decreed against the practice of [our] pious cults and worship of the Gods—[entire] proscription of them.

3. Then shall this holiest land, seat of [our] shrines and temples, be choked with tombs and corpses. 2

O Egypt, Egypt, of thy pious cults tales only will remain, as far beyond belief for thy own sons [as for the rest of men]; words only will be left cut on thy stones, thy pious deeds recounting!

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And Egypt will be made the home of Scyth 1 or Indian, or some one like to them,—that is a foreign neighbour. 2

Ay, for the Godly company 3 shall mount again to Heaven, and their forsaken worshippers shall all die out; and Egypt, thus bereft of God and man, shall be abandoned.

4. And now I speak to thee, O River, holiest [Stream]! I tell thee what will be. With bloody torrents shalt thou overflow thy banks. Not only shall thy streams divine be stained with blood; but they shall all flow over [with the same].

The tale of tombs shall far exceed the [number of the] quick; and the surviving remnant shall be Egyptians in their tongue alone, but in their actions foreigners.


1. Why dost thou weep, Asclepius? Nay, more than this, by far more wretched,—Egypt herself shall be impelled and stained with greater ills.

For she, the Holy [Land], and once deservedly

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the most beloved by God, by reason of her pious service of the Gods on earth,—she, the sole colony 1 of holiness, and teacher of religion [on the earth], shall be the type of all that is most barbarous.

And then, out of our loathing for mankind, the World will seem no more deserving of our wonder and our praise.

All this good thing, 2—than which there has been fairer naught that can be seen, nor is there anything, nor will there [ever] be,—will be in jeopardy.

2. And it will prove a burden unto men; and on account of this they will despise and cease to love this Cosmos as a whole,—the changeless work of God; the glorious construction of the Good, comprised of multifold variety of forms; the engine of God’s Will, supporting His own work ungrudgingly; the multitudinous whole massed in a unity of all, that should be reverenced, praised and loved,—by them at least who have the eyes to see.

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For Darkness will be set before the Light, and Death will be thought preferable to Life. No one will raise his eyes to Heaven; the pious man will be considered mad, the impious a sage; the frenzied held as strong, the worst as best.

3. For soul, and all concerning it,—whereby it doth presume that either it hath been born deathless, or that it will attain to deathlessness, according to the argument I have set forth for you,—[all this] will be considered not only food for sport, 1 but even vanity.

Nay, [if ye will] believe me, the penalty of death shall be decreed to him who shall devote himself to the Religion of the Mind.

New statutes shall come into force, a novel law; naught [that is] sacred, nothing pious, naught that is worthy of the Heaven, or Gods in Heaven, shall [e’er] be heard, or [even] mentally believed.

4. The sorrowful departure of the Gods from men takes place; bad angels 2 only stay, who mingled with humanity will lay their hands on them, and drive the wretched folk to every ill of recklessness,—to wars, and robberies, deceits,

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and all those things that are opposed to the soul’s nature. 1

Then shall the Earth no longer hold together; the Sea no longer shall be sailed upon; nor shall the Heaven continue with the Courses of the Stars, nor the Star-course in Heaven.

The voice of every God 2 shall cease in the [Great] Silence that no one can break; the fruits of Earth shall rot; nay, Earth no longer shall bring forth; and Air itself shall faint in that sad listlessness.


1. This, when it comes, shall be the World’s old age, impiety,—irregularity, and lack of rationality in all good things.

And when these things all come to pass, Asclepius,—then He, [our] Lord and Sire, God First in power, and Ruler of the One God [Visible], 3 in check of crime, and calling error back from the corruption of all things unto good manners and to deeds spontaneous with His Will (that is to say God’s Goodness),—ending all ill, by either washing it away with water-flood, or burning it away with fire, or by the means of pestilent diseases, spread

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throughout all hostile lands,—God will recall the Cosmos to its ancient form 1; so that the World itself shall seem meet to be worshipped and admired; and God, the Maker and Restorer of so vast a work, be sung by the humanity who shall be then, with ceaseless heraldings of praise and [hymns of] blessing.

2. For this [Re-] birth of Cosmos is the making new 2 of all good things, and the most holy and most pious bringing-back again of Nature’s self, by means of a set course of time,—of Nature, which was without beginning, and which is without an end. For that God’s Will hath no beginning; and, in that ’tis the same and as it is, it is without an end.

Asc. Because God’s Nature’s the Determination 3 of the Will. Determination is the Highest Good; is it not so, Thrice-greatest one?

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3. Tris. Asclepius, Will is Determination’s child; nay, willing in itself comes from the Will.

Not that He willeth aught desiring it; for that He is the Fullness of all things, and wills what things He has.

He thus wills all good things, and has all that He wills. Nay, rather, He doth think and will all good.

This, then, is God; the World of Good’s His Image.


1. Asc. [Is Cosmos] good, Thrice-greatest one?

Tris. [’Tis] good, 1 as I will teach thee, O Asclepius.

For just as God is the Apportioner and Steward of good things to all the species, or [more correctly] genera, which are in Cosmos,—that is to say, of Sense, 2 and Soul, and Life,—so Cosmos is the giver and bestower of all things which seem unto [us] mortals good;—that is to say, the alternation of its parts, of seasonable fruits, birth, growth, maturity, and things like these.

And for this cause God doth transcend the height of highest Heaven, extending everywhere, and doth behold all things on every side.

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2. Beyond the Heaven starless Space doth stretch, stranger to every thing possessed of body.

The Dispensator who’s between the Heaven and Earth, is Ruler of the Space which we call Zeus [Above].

The Earth and Sea is ruled by Zeus Below 1; he is the Nourisher of mortal lives, and of fruit-bearing [trees].

It is by reason of the powers of all of these 2 that fruits, and trees, and earth, grow green.

The powers and energies of [all] the other [Gods] will be distributed through all the things that are.

3. Yea, they who rule the earth shall be distributed [through all the lands], and [finally] be gathered in a state, 3—at top of Egypt’s upper part, 4—which shall be founded towards the setting sun, and to which all the mortal race shall speed.

Asc. But now, just at this moment, where are they, Thrice-greatest one?

Tris. They’re gathered in a very large

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community, 1 upon the Libyan Hill. 2 And now enough concerning this hath been declared.


349:1 This sentence and the first half of the next, down to “suffer man’s approach,” is quoted word for word in Latin by Augustine, De Civitate Dei, xxiii.

349:2 Cf. C. H., x. (xi.) 22.

349:3 The Latin translation of this paragraph seems confused.

350:1 This is, apparently, the “star stuff” of which their bodies are made.

350:2 De mundissima parte naturæ esse prægnatum—whatever that means; but cf. p. 348, n. 1.

350:3 Cf. C. H., x. (xi.) 10, 11.

350:4 This sentence, together with the first five sentences of the next chapter, down to the words “and constant worship,” are quoted in Latin with two or three slight verbal variants by Augustine, De Civitate Dei, xxiii.

351:1 Cf. xxxvii. 2 below.

351:2 Cf. Comment, on K. K., 46-48.

352:1 Augustine’s quotation ends here.

352:2 Sepulchrorum erit mortuorumque plenissima. This sentence is quoted verbatim by Augustine, De Civitate Dei, xxvi.

353:1 Compare Colossians iii. 11: “Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.”

353:2 Vicina barbaria; lit. a neighbouring foreign country. Compare this with the previous note. It is strange the two, Scyth and barbarian, coming twice together.

353:3 Divinitas.

354:1 Deductio the technical term for leading out a colony from the metropolis or mother city. Compare Philo, De Vita Contemplativa, P. 892, M. 474 (Conybeare, p. 58): “In Egypt there are crowds of them [the Therapeuts] in every province, or nome as they call it, and especially at Alexandria. For they who are in every way the most highly advanced, lead out a colony (ἀποικίαν στέλλονται), as it were to the Therapeutic father-land”; and also the numerous parallel passages cited by Conybeare from Philo’s other writings.

354:2 Sc. the Cosmos.

355:1 Cf. xii. 2 above.

355:2 Nocentes angeli,—usually daimones in our tractates; still, as Lactantius (D. I., ii. 15) says that Hermes calls the daimones “evil angels” (ἀγγέλους πονηροὺς), he most probably took it from the Greek original of our sermon.

356:1 Cf. C. H., x. (xi.) 21.

356:2 Omnis vox divina; or, perhaps, the “whole Word of God.”

356:3 That is, Cosmos.

357:1 The above passage is cited in the original Greek by Lactantius (D. I., vii. 8) as from the “Perfect Sermon” of Hermes. As we might expect from what had been already said on this subject, it differs from our Latin translation, and runs as follows:

“Now when these things shall be as I have said, Asclepius, then will [our] Lord and Sire, the God and Maker of the First and the One God, look down on what is done, and making firm His Will, that is the Good, against disorder,—recalling error, and cleaning out the bad, either by washing it away with water-flood, or burning it away with swiftest fire, or forcibly expelling it with war and famine,—will bring again His Cosmos to its former state, and so achieve its Restoration.”

357:2 Cf. C. H., iii. (iv.) 1.

357:3 Consilium = βουλή.

358:1 This seems a formal contradiction of C. H., x. (xi.) 10, but is not really so.

358:2 Meaning higher sense, presumably; reading sensus for sensibus.

359:1 Jupiter Plutonius. Ménard suggests “Zeus souterrain (Sarapis?)”; the original was probably Zeus Aidoneus.

359:2 It is not clear who “these” are; perhaps all that have so far been mentioned, but this does not seem satisfactory. Doubtless the Latin translation is, as usual, at fault.

359:3 Or city.

359:4 In summo Ægypti initio.

360:1 Civitate.

360:2 In monte Libyco; lit. on a (or the) Libycan, or Libyan or African Hill or Mount. Compare with this xxxvii. below.

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