Christian Platonism

Rediscovering Ancient Wisdom

Philo on the temptation of Adam and Eve

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ALLEGORICAL INTERPRETATION, II{*}

II. (4) …”For I will make him,” says God, “a help-meet for him.” And, in the second place, is younger than the object to be helped; for, first of all, God created the mind [i.e., Adam], and subsequently he prepares to make its helper [Eve, as we shall see]. But all this is spoken allegorically, in accordance with the principles of natural philosophy; for external sensation and the passions of the soul are all younger than the soul, and how they help it we shall see hereafter, but at present we will consider the fact of their being helpers younger than the object helped.

[Philo argues that Eve represents sensation, one of two helpers to the intellect.]

III. … (7) But now let us see how that part, which was postponed before, acts as an assistant: how does our mind comprehend that such and such a thing is black or white, unless it employs sight as its assistant? and how does it know that the voice of the man who is singing to his harp is sweet, or, on the contrary, out of tune, if it has not the assistance of the faculty of hearing to guide it? And how can it tell that exhalations are fragrant or foul-smelling, unless it makes use of the sense of smell as its ally? How again does it judge of the different flavors, except through the instrumentality of its assistant, taste? (8) How can it distinguish between what is rough and what is smooth, except by touch? …

[The second category of assistants are the passions, represented by animals.]

IV. (9) Now of assistants there are two kinds, the one consisting in the passions and the other in the sensations. … (11) But the passions he compares to beasts and birds, because they injure the mind, being untamed and wild, and because, after the manner of birds, they descend upon the intellect; for their onset is swift and difficult to withstand; …

[He next explains why the creation of animals is mentioned twice: first before the creation of man (Gen 1:20-25), and then after man (Gen 2:19 ); he suggests that the former represent the genera of passions — e.g., anger itself, whereas the latter represent species or instances of passion — a specific angry thought, for instance.]

V. (14) This therefore he denominated the species of assistants, but the other part of the creation, the description, that is, of the formation of the external sensations, was postponed till he began to form the woman;…

VI. (16) But the moral meaning of this passage is as follows:–We often use the expression ti instead of dia ti; (why?) as when we say, why (ti) have you washed yourself? why (ti) are you walking? why (ti) are you conversing? for in all these cases ti is used instead of dia ti; when therefore Moses says, “to see what he would call them,” you must understand him as if he had said dia ti (why), instead of ti (what): and the mind will invite and embrace each of these meanings. Is it then only for the sake of what is necessary that the mortal race is of necessity implicated in passions and vices? or is it also on account of that which is immoderate and superfluous? And again, is it because of the requirements of the earth-born man, or because the mind judges them to be most excellent and admirable things; (17) as for instance, is it necessary for every created thing to enjoy pleasure? But the bad man flies to pleasure as to a perfect good, but the good man seeks it only as a necessary; for without pleasure nothing whatever is done among the human race. Again, the bad man considers the acquisition of riches as the most perfect good possible; but the good man looks upon riches only as a necessary and useful thing. (18) Very naturally, therefore, God desires to see and to learn how the mind denominates and appreciates each of these things, whether it looks upon them as good, or as things indifferent, or as evil in themselves, but nevertheless in some respects necessary. On which account, thinking that everything which he invited towards himself, and embraced as a living soul, was of equal value and importance with the soul, this became the name, not only of the thing which was thus invited, but also of him who invited it: as for instance, if the man embraced pleasure, he was called a man devoted to pleasure; if he embraced appetite, he was called a man of appetite; if he invited intemperance, he himself also acquired the name of intemperate; if he admitted cowardice, he was called cowardly; and so on in the case of the other passions. For as he who has any distinctive qualities according to the virtues, is called from that virtue with which he is especially endowed, prudent, or temperate, or just, or courageous, as the case may be; so too in respect of the vices, a man is called unjust, or foolish, or unmanly, when he has invited and embraced these habits of mind and conduct.

VII. (19) “And God cast a deep trance upon Adam, and sent him to sleep; and he took one of his ribs,” and so on. The literal statement conveyed in these words is a fabulous one; for how can any one believe that a woman was made of a rib of a man, or, in short, that any human being was made out of another? And what hindered God, as he had made man out of the earth, from making woman in the same manner? For the Creator was the same, and the material was almost interminable, from which every distinctive quality whatever was made. And why, when there were so many parts of a man, did not God make the woman out of some other part rather than out of one of his ribs? Again, of which rib did he make her? And this question would hold even if we were to say, that he had only spoken of two ribs; but in truth he has not specified their number. Was it then the right rib, or the left rib? (20) Again, if he filled up the place of the other with flesh, was not the one which he left also made of flesh? and indeed our ribs are like sisters, and akin in all their parts, and they consist of flesh. What then are we to say? (21) ordinary custom calls the ribs the strength of a man; for we say that a man has ribs, which is equivalent to saying that he has vigor; and we say that a wrestler is a man with strong ribs, when we mean to express that he is strong: and we say that a harp player has ribs, instead of saying that he has energy and power in his singing. (22) Now that this has been premised we must also say, that the mind, while naked and free from the entanglement of the body (for our present discussion is about the mind, while it is as yet entangled in nothing) has many powers, namely, the possessive power, the progenitive power, the power of the soul, the power of reason, the power of comprehension, and part of others innumerable both in their genus and species. Now the possessive power is common to it with other inanimate things, with stocks and stones, and it is shared by the things in us, which are like stones, namely, by our bones. And natural power extends also over plants: and there are parts in us which have some resemblance to plants, namely, our nails and our hair: (23) and nature is a habit already put in motion, but the soul is a habit which has taken to itself, in addition, imagination and impetuosity; and this power also is possessed by man in common with the irrational animals; and our mind has something analogous to the soul of an irrational animal.

Again, the power of comprehension is a peculiar property of the mind; and the reasoning power is perhaps common to the more divine natures, but is especially the property of the mortal nature of man: and this is a twofold power, one kind being that in accordance with which we are rational creatures, partaking of mind; and the other kind being that faculty by which we converse. (24) There is also another power in the soul akin to these, the power of sensation, of which we are now speaking; for Moses is describing nothing else on this occasion except the formation of the external sense, according to energy and according to reason.

VIII. For immediately after the creation of the mind it was necessary that the external sense should be created, as an assistant and ally of the mind; therefore God having entirely perfected the first, proceeded to make the second, both in rank and power, being a certain created form, an external sense according to energy, created for the perfection and completion of the whole soul, and for the proper comprehension of such subject matter as might be brought before it. (25) How then was this second thing created? As Moses himself says in a subsequent passage, when the mind was gone to sleep: for, in real fact, the external sense then comes forward when the mind is asleep. And again, when the mind is awake the outward sense is extinguished; and the proof of this is, that when we desire to form an accurate conception of anything, we retreat to a desert place, we shut our eyes, we stop up our ears, we discard the exercise of our senses; and so, when the mind rises up again and awakens, the outward sense is put an end to. (26) Let us now consider another point, namely, how the mind goes to sleep: for when the outward sense is awakened and has become excited, when the sight beholds any works of painting or of sculpture beautifully wrought, is not the mind then without anything on which to exercise its functions, contemplating nothing which is a proper subject for the intellect? What more? When the faculty of hearing is attending to some melodious combination of sound, can the mind turn itself to the contemplation of its proper objects? by no means. And it is much more destitute of occupation, when taste rises up and eagerly devotes itself to the pleasures of the belly; (27) on which account Moses, being alarmed lest some day or other the mind might not merely go to sleep, but might become absolutely dead, says in another place, “And it shall be to you a peg in your girdle; and it shall be, that when you sit down you shall dig in it, and, heaping up earth, shall cover your Shame.”{2}{Deuteronomy 23:13.} Speaking symbolically, and giving the name of peg to reason which digs up secret affairs; (28) and he bids him to bear it upon the affection with which he ought to be birded, and not to allow it to slacken and become loosened; and this must be done when the mind, departing from the intense consideration of objects perceptible by the intellect, is brought down to the passions, and sits down, yielding to, and being guided by, the necessities of the body: (29) and this is the case when the mind, being absorbed in luxurious associations, forgets itself, being subdued by the things which conduct it to pleasure, and so we become enslaved, and yield ourselves up to unconcealed impurity. But if reason be able to purify the passion, then neither when we drink do we become intoxicated, nor when we eat do we become indolent through satiety, but we feast soberly without indulging in folly. (30) Therefore, the awakening of the outward senses is the sleep of the mind; and the awakening of the mind is the discharge of the outward senses from all occupation. Just as when the sun arises the brightness of all the rest of the stars becomes invisible; but when the sun sets, they are seen. And so, like the sun, the mind, when it is awakened, overshadows the outward senses, but when it goes to sleep it permits them to shine.

IX. (31) After this preface we must now proceed to explain the words: “The Lord God,” says Moses, “cast a deep trance upon Adam, and sent him to sleep.” He speaks here with great correctness, for a trance and perversion of the mind is its sleep. And the mind is rendered beside itself when it ceases to be occupied about the things perceptible only by the intellect which present themselves to it. And when it is not energizing with respect to them it is asleep. And the expression, “it is in a trance,” is very well employed, as it means that it is perverted and changed, not by itself, but by God, who presents to it, and brings before it, and sends upon it the change which occurs to it. (32) For the case is this:–if it were in my own power to be changed, then whenever I chose I should exercise this power, and whenever I did not choose I should continue as I am, without any change. But now change attacks me from an opposite direction, and very often when I am desirous to turn my intellect to some fitting subject, I am swallowed up by an influx contrary to what is fitting: and on the other hand, when I conceive an idea respecting something unseemly, I discard it by means of pleasant notions while God by his own grace pours into my soul a sweet stream instead of the salt flood. (33) It is necessary therefore, that every created thing should at times be changed. For this is a property of every created thing, just as it is an attribute of God to be unchangeable. But of these beings who have been changed, some remain in their altered state till their final and complete destruction, though others are only exposed to the ordinary vicissitudes of human nature; and they are immediately preserved. (34) On which account Moses says that “God will not suffer the destroyer to enter into your houses to smite them.”{3}{Exodus 12:23.} For he does permit the destroyer (and change is the destruction of the soul) to enter into the soul, in order to exhibit the peculiar characteristic of the created being. But God will not permit the offspring of the seeing Israel to be changed in such a manner as to be stricken down by the change; but he will compel it to emerge and rise up again like one who rises up from the deep, and so he will cause it to be saved.

X. (35) “He took one of his ribs.” He took one of the many powers of the mind, namely, that power which dwells in the outward senses. And when he uses the expression, “He took,” we are not to understand it as if he had said, “He took away,” but rather as equivalent to “He counted, He examined;” as he says in another place, “Take the chief of the spoils of the captivity.”{4} {Numbers 31:26.} What, then, is it which he wishes to show? (36) Sensation is spoken of in a twofold manner; –the one kind being according to habit, which exists even when we are asleep, and the other being according to energy. Now, in the former kind, the one according to habit, there is no use: for we do not comprehend any one of the objects presented to our view by its means. But there is use in the second, in that which exists according to energy; for it is by means of this that we arrive at a comprehension of the objects perceptible by the outward senses.

(37) Accordingly, God, having created the former kind of sensation, that existing according to habit, when he was creating the mind (for he was furnishing that with many faculties in a state of rest), desires now to complete the other kind which exists according to energy. And this one according to energy is perfected when the one which exists according to habit is put in motion, and extended as far as the flesh and the organs of sense. For as nature is perfected when the seed is put in motion, so, also, energy is perfected when the habit is put in motion.

XI. (38) “And he filled the space with flesh instead of it.” That is to say, he filled up that external sense which exists according to habit, leading it on to energy and extending it as far as the flesh and the whole outward and visible surface of the body. In reference to which Moses adds that “he built it up into a woman:” showing by this expression that woman is the most natural and felicitously given name for the external sense. For as the man is seen in action, and the woman in being the subject of action, so also is the mind seen in action, and the external sense, like the woman, is discerned by suffering or being the subject of action. (39) And it is easy to learn this from the way in which it is affected in practice. Thus the sight is affected by these objects of sight which put it in motion, such as white and black, and the other colors. Again, hearing is affected by sounds, and taste is disposed in such or such a way by flavors; the sense of smell by scents; and that of touch by hardness or softness. And, on the other hand all the outward senses are in a state of tranquility until each is approached from without by that which is to put it in motion.

XII. (40) “And he brought her to Adam. And Adam said, this is now bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh.” God leads the external sense, existing according to energy, to the mind; knowing that its motion and apprehension must turn back to the mind. But the mind, perceiving the power which it previously had (and which, while it was existing according to habit was in a state of tranquility), now have to become a complete operation and energy, and to be in a state of motion, marvels at it, and utters an exclamation, saying that it is not unconnected with it, but very closely akin to it. (41) For Adam says, “This now is bone of my bone;” that is to say, this is power of my power; for bone is here to be understood as a symbol of strength and power. And it is, he adds, suffering of my sufferings; that is, it is flesh of my flesh. For every thing which the external sense suffers, it endures not without the support of the mind; for the mind is its fountain, and the foundation on which it is supported. (42) It is also worth while to consider why Adam added the word “now,” for he says, “This now is bone of my bone.” The explanation is, external sensation exists now, having its existence solely with reference to the present moment. For the mind touches three separate points of time; for it perceives present circumstances, and it remembers past events, and it anticipates the future. (43) But the external sensations have neither any anticipation of future events, nor are they subject to any feeling resembling expectation or hope, nor have they any recollection of past circumstances; but are by nature capable only of being affected by that which moves them at the moment, and is actually present. As, for example, the eye is made white by a white appearance presented to it at the moment, but it is not affected in any manner by that which is not present to it. But the mind is agitated also by that which is not actually present, but which may be past; in which cast it is affected by its recollection of it; or it may be future, in which case it is, indeed, the influence of hope and expectation.

XIII. (44) “And she shall be called woman.” This is equivalent to saying, on this account the outward sensation shall be called woman, because it is derived from man who sets it in motion. He says “she;” why, then, is the expression “she” used? Why, because there is also another kind of outward sensation, not derived from the mind, but having been created, at the same moment with it. For there are, as I have said before, two different kinds of outward sensation; the one kind existing according to habit, and the other according to energy. (45) Now, the kind existing according to habit is not derived from the man, that is to say from the mind, but is created at the same time with him. For the mind, as I have already shown, when it was created was created with many faculties and habits; namely, with the faculty and habit of reasoning, and of existing, and of promoting what is like itself, as also with that of receiving impressions from the outward senses. But the outward sensation, which exists according to energy, is derived from the mind. For it is extended from the outward sensation which exists in it according to habit, so as to become the same outward sense according to energy. So that this second kind of outward sense is derive from the mind, and exists according to motion. (46) And he is but a foolish person who thinks that any thing is in true reality made out of the mind, or out of itself. Do you not see that even in the case of Rachel (that is to say of outward sensation) sitting upon the images, while she thought that her motions came from the mind, he who saw her reproved her. For she says, “Give me my children, and if you give them not to me I shall Die.”{5}{Genesis 30:1.} And he replied: “Because, O mistaken woman, the mind is not the cause of any thing, but he which existed before the mind; namely God.” On which account he adds: “Am I equal to God who has deprived you of the fruit of your womb?” (47) But that it is God who creates men, he will testify in the case of Leah, when he says, “But the Lord, when he saw that Leah was hated, opened her womb. But Rachel was Barren.”{6}{Genesis 29:31.} But it is the especial property of man to open the womb.

Now naturally virtue is hated by men. On which account God has honored it, and gives the honor of bearing the first child to her who is hated. (48) And in another passage he says: “But if a man has two wives, one of them being loved and one of them being hated, and if they bear him children, and if the first-born son be the child of her who is hated; he will not be able to give the honors of the birthright to the child of the wife whom he loves, overlooking the firstborn son the child of her who is Hated.”{7}{Deuteronomy 21:15.} For the productions of virtue which is hated, are the first and the most perfect, but those of pleasure, which is loved, are the last.

XIV. (49) “On this account a man will leave his father and his mother and will cleave to his wife; and they two shall become one flesh.” On account of the external sensation, the mind, when it has become enslaved to it, shall leave both its father, the God of the universe, and the mother of all things, namely, the virtue and wisdom of God, and cleaves to and becomes united to the external sensations, and is dissolved into external sensation, so that the two become one flesh and one passion. (50) And here you must observe that it is not the woman who cleaves to the man, but on the contrary, the man who cleaves to the woman; that is to say, the mind cleaves to the external sensations. For when that which is the better, namely, the mind, is united to that which is the rose, namely, the external sensation, it is then dissolved into the nature of flesh, which is worse, and into outward sensation, which is the cause of the passions. But when that which is the inferior, namely, the outward sensation, follows the better part, that is the mind, then there will no longer be flesh, but both will become one, namely, mind. And this is a thing of such a nature that it prefers the affections to piety. (51) There is also another being called by an opposite name, Levi; he who says to his father and mother: “He saw you not, and he did not recognize his brethren, and repudiated his Children.”{8}{Deuteronomy 33:9.} This man leaves his father and mother; that is to say, his mind and the material of his body, in order to have as his inheritance the one God; “For the Lord himself is his Inheritance.”{9}{Deuteronomy 10:9.} (52) And, indeed, suffering is the inheritance of him who is fond of suffering; but the inheritance of Levi is God. Do you not see that “he bids him on the tenth day of the months bring two goats as his share, one lot for the Lord and one lot for the scape-Goat.”{10}{Leviticus 16:7.} For the sufferings inflicted on the scape goat are in real truth the lot of him who is fond of suffering.

XV. (53) “And they were both naked, both Adam and his wife, and they were not ashamed; but the serpent was the most subtle of all the beasts that were upon the earth, which the Lord God had Made:”{11}{Genesis 2:25; 3:1.}–the mind is naked, which is clothed neither with vice nor with virtue, but which is really stripped of both: just as the soul of an infant child, which has no share in either virtue or vice, is stripped of all coverings, and is completely naked: for these things are the coverings of the soul, by which it is enveloped and concealed, good being the garment of the virtuous soul, and evil the robe of the wicked soul. (54) And the soul is made naked in these ways. Once, when it is in an unchangeable state, and is entirely free from all vices, and has discarded and laid aside the covering of all the passions. With reference to this Moses also pitches his tabernacle outside of the camp, a long way from the camp, and it was called the tabernacle of Testimony.{12}{Exodus 33:7.} (55) And this has some such meaning as this: the soul which loves God, having put off the body and the affections which are dear to it, and having fled a long way from them, chooses a foundation and a sure ground for its abode, and a lasting settlement in the perfect doctrines of virtue; on which account testimony is borne to it by God, that it loves what is good, “for it was called the tabernacle of testimony,” says Moses, and he has passed over in silence the giver of the name, in order that the soul, being excited, might consider who it is who thus bears witness to the dispositions which love virtue. (56) On this account the high priest “will not come into the holy of holies clad in a garment reaching to the feet; {13}{Leviticus 16:1.} but having put off the robe of opinion and vain fancy of the soul, and having left that for those who love the things which are without, and who honor opinion in preference to truth, will come forward naked, without colors or any sounds, to make an offering of the blood of the soul, and to sacrifice the whole mind to God the Savior and Benefactor; (57) and certainly Nadab and Abihu, {14}{Leviticus 10:1.} who came near to God, and left this mortal life and received a share of immortal life, are seen to be naked, that is, free from all new and mortal opinion; for they would not have carried it in their garments and borne it about, if they had not been naked, having broken to pieces every bond of passion and of corporeal necessity, in order that their nakedness and absence of corporeality might not be adulterated by the accession of atheistical reasonings; for it may not be permitted to all men to behold the secret mysteries of God, but only to those who are able to cover them up and guard them; (58) on which account Mishael and his partisans concealed them not in their own garments, but in those of Nadab and Abihu, who had been burnt with fire and taken upwards; for having stripped off all the garments that covered them, they brought their nakedness before God, and left their tunics about Mishael. But clothes belong to the irrational part of the animal, which overshadow the rational part. Abraham also was naked when he heard, (59) “Come forth out of thy land and from thy kindred;”{15} {Genesis 13:1.} and as for Isaac, he indeed was not stripped, but was at all times naked and incorporeal; for a commandment was given to him not to go down into Egypt, {16}{Genesis 26:2.} that is to say, into the body. Jacob also was fond of the nakedness of the soul, for his smoothness is nakedness, “for Esau was a hairy man, but Jacob,” says Moses, “was a smooth Man,”{17}{Genesis 25:25.} on which account he was also the husband of Leah.

XVI. (60) This is the most excellent nakedness, but the other nakedness is of a contrary nature, being a change which involves a deprivation of virtue, when the soul becomes foolish and goes astray. Such was the folly of Noah when he was naked, when he drank Wine.{18}{Genesis 9:21.} But thanks be to God, that this change and this tripping naked of the mind according to the deprivation of virtue, did not extend as far as external things, but remained in the house; for Moses says, that “he was stripped naked in his house:” for even if a wise man does commit folly, he still does not run to ruin like a bad man; for the evil of the one is spread abroad, but that of the other is kept within bounds, and therefore he becomes sober again, that is to say, he repents, and as it were recovers from his disease. (61) But let us now more accurately examine the statement, “that the stripping of him naked took place in his house.” When the soul, being changed, only conceives some evil thing and does not put it in execution, so as to accomplish it in deed, then the sin is only in the private domain and abode of the soul. But if, in addition to thinking some wickedness it proceeds also to accomplish it and carry it into execution, then the wickedness is diffused over the parts beyond his house: (62) and on this account he curses Canaan also, because he related the change of his soul abroad, that is to say, he extended it into the parts out of doors, and gave it notoreity, adding to his evil intention an evil consummation by means of his actions: but Shem and Japhet are praised, because they did not attack his soul, but rather concealed its deterioration. (63) On this account also the prayers and vows of the soul are invalidated when “they are made in the house of one’s father or one’s husband, {19}{Genesis 25:25.} while the reasoning powers are in a state of quiescence, and do not attack the alteration which has taken place in the soul, but conceal the delinquency; for then also “the master of all things” will purify it: but he hears the prayer of the widow and of her who is divorced without revoking it; for “whatever,” says he, “she has vowed against her own soul shall abide to her,” and very reasonably; for if, after she has been put away, she has advanced as far as the parts out of the house, so that not only is her place changed, but that she also sins in respect of deeds that she has perfected, she remains incurable, having no communion of conversation with her husband, and being deprived also of the advocacy and consolation of her father. (64) The third description of stripping naked is the middle one, according to which the mind is destitute of reason, having no share in either virtue or vice; and it is with reference to this kind of nakedness which an infant also is partaker of, that the expression is used which says, “And the two were naked, both Adam and his wife;” and the meaning of it is this, neither did their intellect understand, nor did their outward senses perceive this nakedness; but the former was devoid of all power of understanding, and naked; and the latter was destitute of all perception.

XVII. (65) And the expression, “they were not ashamed,” we will examine hereafter: for there are three ideas brought forward in this passage. Shamelessness, modesty, and a state of indifference, in which one is neither shameless nor modest. Now shamelessness is the property of a worthless person, and modesty the characteristic of a virtuous one; but the state of being neither modest nor shameless, is a sign of a person who is void of comprehension, and who does not act from any settled opinion; and it is of such a one that we are now speaking: for he who has not yetacquired any comprehension of good or evil, is not able to be either shameless or modest, (66) therefore the examples of shamelessness are all the unseemly pieces of conduct, when the mind reveals disgraceful things, while it ought rather to cover them in the shade, instead of which it boasts of and glories in them. It is said also in the case of Miriam, when she was speaking against Moses, “If her father had spit in her face, ought she not to keep herself retired for seven Days?”{20}{Numbers 12:14.} (67) For the external sense, being really shameless and impudent, though considered as nothing by God the father, in comparison of him who was faithful in all his house, to whom God himself united the Ethiopian woman, that is to say, unchangeable and well-satisfied opinion, dared to speak against Moses and to accuse him, for the very actions for which he deserved to be praised; for this is his greatest praise, that he received the Ethiopian woman, the unchangeable nature, tried in the fire and found honest; for as in the eye, the part which sees is black, so also the part of the soul which sees is what is meant by the Ethiopian woman. (68) Why when, as there are many works of wickedness, does he mention one only, namely, that which is conversant about what is shameful, saying, “they were not ashamed:” but were they not doing wrong, or were they not sinning, or were they not acting indecorously? But the cause is at hand. No, by the only true God, I think nothing so shameful as to suppose that I comprehend with my intellect, or perceive by my outward sense. (69) Is my mind the cause of my comprehending? How so? for does it even comprehend itself, and know what it is, or how it came to exist? And are the outward senses the cause of man’s perceiving anything? How can it be said to be so, when it is neither understood by itself nor by the mind? Do you not see, that he who fancies that he comprehends is often found to be foolish in his acts of covetousness, in his drunkenness, in his deeds of folly? Where then is his intellectual capacity shown in these actions? Again, is not the outward sensation often deprived of the power of exercising itself? Are there not times when seeing we do not see, and hearing we do not hear, when the mind has its attention ever so little drawn off to some other object of the intellect, and is applied to the consideration of that? (70) As long as they are both naked, the mind naked of its power of exciting the intellect, and the outward sense of its power of sensation, they have nothing disgraceful in them; but the moment that they begin to display any comprehension, they become masked in shame and insolence: for they will often be found behaving with simplicity and folly rather than with any sound knowledge, and this not only in particular acts of covetousness, or spleen, or folly, but also in the general conduct of life: for when the outward sense has the dominion the mind is enslaved, giving its attention to no one proper object of its intellect, and when the mind is predominant, the untoward sense is seen to be without employment, having no comprehension of any proper object of its own exercise.

XVIII. (71) “Now the serpent was the most subtle of all the beasts which are upon the earth, which the Lord God Made.”{21}{Genesis 3:1.} Two things having been previously created, that is, mind and outward sense, and these also having been stripped naked in the manner which has already been shown, it follows of necessity that pleasure, which brings these two together, must be the third, for the purpose of facilitating the comprehension of the objects of intellect and of outward sense: for neither could the mind, without the outward sense, be able to comprehend the nature of any animal or of any plant, or of a stone or of a piece of wood, or, in short, of any substance whatever; nor could the outward sense exercise its proper faculties without the mind. (72) Since, therefore, it was necessary for both these things to come together for the due comprehension of these objects, what was it which brought them together except a third something which acted as a bond between them, the two first representing love and desire, and pleasure not obtaining the dominion and mastery, which pleasure Moses here speaks of symbolically, under the emblem of the serpent. (73) God, who created all the animals on the earth, arranged this order very admirably, for he placed the mind first, that is to say, man, for the mind is the most important part in man; then outward sense, that is the woman; and then proceeding in regular order he came to the third, pleasure. But the powers of these three, and their ages, are different only in the night, for in point of time they are equal; for the soul brings forward everything at the same moment with itself: but some things it brings forward in their actuality, and others in their power of existing, even if they have not yet arrived at the end. (74) And pleasure has been represented under the form of the serpent, for this reason, as the motion of the serpent is full of many windings and varied, so also is the motion of pleasure. At first it folds itself round a man in five ways, for the pleasures consist both in seeing, and in hearing, and in taste, and in smell, and in touch. But the most vehement and intense are those which arise from connection with woman, through which the generation of similar beings is appointed by nature to be effected. (75) And yet this is not the only reason why we say that pleasure is various in appearance, namely, because it folds itself around all the divisions of the irrational part of the soul, but because it also folds itself with many windings around each separate part. For instance, the pleasures derived from sight are various, there is all the pleasure which arises from the contemplation of pictures or statues; and all other works which are made by art delight the sight. So also do the different stages through which plants go while budding and flowering and bearing fruit; and likewise the diversified beauty of the different animals. In the same manner the flute gives pleasure to the sense of hearing, as does the harp, and every kind of instrument, and the harmonious voices of the irrational animals, of swallows, of nightingales; and likewise the melody of such rational beings as nature has made musical, the tuneful voice of the harp-players, and of those who represent comedy, or tragedy, or any other historionic performance.

Cf. Questions on Genesis 1.38

(38) What is the meaning of the expression, “And she gave it to her husband to eat with her?” (Genesis 3:6). What has been just said bears on this point also, since the time is nearly one and the same in which the outward senses are influenced by the object which is presented to them, and the intellect has an impression made on it by the outward senses.

(39) What is the meaning of the expression, “And the eyes of both of them were opened?” (Genesis 3:7). That they were not created blind is manifest even from this fact that as all other things, both animals and plants, were created in perfection, so also man must have been adorned with the things which are his most excellent parts, namely, eyes. And we may especially prove this, because a little while before the earth-born Adam was giving names to all the animals on the earth. Therefore it is perfectly plain that he saw them before doing so. Unless, indeed, Moses used the expression “eyes” in a figurative sense for the vision of the soul, by which alone the perception of good and evil, of what is elegant or unsightly, and, in fact, of all contrary natures, arise. But, if the eye is to be taken separately as counsel, which is called the warning of the understanding, then again there is a separate eye, which is a certain something devoid of sound reason, which is called opinion.

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Written by John Uebersax

February 11, 2009 at 8:09 pm

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