Christian Platonism

Rediscovering Ancient Wisdom

Archive for the ‘Sapiential eschatology’ Category

Your Greatest Psychological Enemy

leave a comment »

Dorees engler

Today my readings took me to St. Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians, and an interesting passage where he warns them against what he calls the great Rebel (2 Thess. 2:3) This is in a modern (Jerusalem Bible) translation. The King James Version renders the Greek expression (anthropos hamartia) as that man of sin. Usually I am wary of modern translations, but here one suspects that the international team of scholars who translated the Jerusalem Bible had good grounds for their more evocative choice of words.

In any case this reading serves as a welcome stimulus to address a topic I have too long delayed. I wish to call attention to the reality of this great Rebel as a psychological phenomenon , and as a major obstacle to human happiness.

Now as to whether Satan, in the traditional sense, exists or not does not concern me here. What is of concern is a satanic principle as it exists within the psyche of each individual. That I am convinced does exist.   And it is this inner satanic principle which is, I believe, our most immediate concern, and perhaps ultimately our greatest adversary and obstacle to well-being.

What is the evidence for this? To begin with, I call attention to the psychological theories of Carl Jung. Jung’s theories are not always right, and much of what he wrote is either inconsistent with — or has been interpreted (perhaps wrongly) in ways that make it inconsistent with — Christianity. However, points of incorrectness or disagreement should never make us hesitate to accept whatever else is true and useful. And there is indeed much true and useful in Jung’s theories.

In this case, Jung’s theories make a very strong case that the Bible, as well as the sacred writings and myths of all cultures, (1) can be interpreted psychologically, and (2) that this can be done more or less along the same lines as one interprets dreams psychologically.

One proviso or explanation must be made immediately: to say that the Bible can be interpreted psychologically in no way denies that it has other levels of meaning. Most importantly, it does not deny that the New Testament is literally true. (Whether the Old Testament is literally true is, of course, another matter.) Thus, rather than detract from the grandeur of the Bible, this view actually enhances it: it allows that God, the Supreme Author, uses all modes of meaning which literature may carry — literal and symbolic — to communicate with our souls.   But having stated this, I will not further defend the premise here, having done so elsewhere. In any case, many readers will be willing to accept this key premise prima facie.

A corollary of this premise is that each figure in the Bible has some counterpart, and thus serves as a symbol for some part or process of the individual psyche. Again, many, especially those already familiar with Jungian theory, will accept this without further explanation. It is a standard element of psychological interpretation of dreams, as well as of mythology, art and literature.

However, from the preceding, fairly unimpressive propositions, logic leads us necessarily to a momentous one: this means that the figure of Satan — or the great Rebel — must also correspond to something within the individual psyche.

If true, this is a huge concern. It means that, at virtually all times, in whatever we do or think, in whatever way we seek to improve ourselves on the road of virtue, or to love others, or to contribute to a better word, something within us opposes our efforts. Moreover this energy, force, or principle of opposition is extremely strong, crafty, utterly callous and unloving, devoid of virtue, and, in every way corresponds to the figure of Satan in the Bible!

Evidence of the reality of this adversarial principle can be found in ancient philosophy. I refer, in particular, to the writings of the Jewish Middle Platonist, Philo of Alexandria (c. 25 BC–c.50 AD). Philo is most famous for his complex and amazingly astute psychological interpretations of Genesis and Exodus. However in the process of his interpreting Scripture he contributed quite a bit of philosophical and psychological theory as well. In particular, Philo sees human nature as containing two opposed energies — one salvific and salutary, which he calls soteria (so-tay-ree’-ah; the Greek work for salvation), and the other, its antithesis: a destructive force, which he calls phthorá (fthor-ah’; Liddell-Scott; Strong G5356).

Even this much is quite valuable to know. Now we have a name for this opposing principle, our great enemy: phthorá. This is a great advance over not having a name, in which case we must simply experience the effects of this force. With a term, however, we have the ability to form a definite concept, to associate that concept with other concepts, and to think rationally and productively about it.

There would appear to be at least a vague connection between this negative principle and Freud’s concept of death wish, or thanatos. However, for reasons I won’t go into here, I think that phthorá is something more — and more problematic for us — than the Freudian death wish.

As would be expected for something of such vital and fundamental psychological importance, this principle is represented in the world’s mythologies. In Greek mythology, for example, it corresponds to the god Typhon, a many-headed serpent of inconceivable strength and virulence, who is also the god of storms (hence our word, typhoon.)

Each of us is concerned, both each day and moment to moment, with constructing a stable, integrated personality. This corresponds to the state of unity or harmony discussed in my previous article on the monomyth of fall and restoration. Phthorá is that force within us which actively seeks our fall, and, once we’ve fallen, prevents us from rising again to wholeness.

At a phenomenological level, this is experienced as disturbing thoughts which agitate our mind, and distract us from positive, creative, loving and productive cognition. In a very real sense, at least phenomenologically speaking, life is virtually the same as clear and whole awareness of our outer and inner experience. If we look at a meadow and our mind is tranquil, we see the beauty, the details —we are alive to it. The more our mind is agitated, the more our experience comes to approximate semi- and even un-consciousness — and, in that degree, we are only partly alive. In a state of complete mental agitation we could be said to be dead, in the sense that, if we are conscious at all of our surroundings or inner life, the mental impressions are devoid of vitality and vividness (i.e., of life)

I wish to do no more here than to expose this deadly foe by naming him (or her or it). Knowing phthorá exists alone will not stop it. But better to know your foe than to let it wreak havoc unobserved.

I would only add a few additional points:

  1. As already noted, this force is opposed by soterias, the principle of self-actualization, which is stronger. In Christianity, Jesus Christ corresponds to (among having other meanings and levels of reality), or perhaps is, soterias. This means that remedy for phthorá is to be found in the complex system of mythos, religion, psychology and philosophy that surrounds the figure of Jesus Christ.
  1. There is possibly some legitimate reason, biologically and/or psychologically, for the existence of phthorá. Perhaps goodness needs an adversary to stay in trim and so that we can grow in virtue. Nevertheless, in this case a little goes a long way: if we need the devil, keep it chained, well guarded, and hopefully with Jesus Christ standing on its head.
  1. Again, it is very important to recognize how this force operates within us. Otherwise (as Jung pointed out), there is a strong tendency for us to project our own satanic tendencies onto others. Our great enemy, adversary and antagonist is within.   Whatever harm anyone else can do us is negligible in comparison with the ferocity and malice of this opponent.
  1. In keeping with everything said here, it follows that there is a serious danger our identifying with this principle, of becoming it. This, in fact, happens routinely. It occurs, for example, when we become so harshly condemning of others that we literally take the attitude of an avenging angel towards them. To take an example from today’s news, political conservatives may condemn progressives, angrily denouncing them and insisting they are great sinners, etc. But in doing this, in relinquishing the reign of love and goodness in their psyche, they become literally possessed by phthorá. And, of course, the exact same can be said of progressives who condemn, rather than try to engage or reason with conservatives.   But this is only an example; a hundred others could serve equally well as illustrations.

Psychology and the Beam in the Eye of Matthew 7:3

leave a comment »

Domenico Fetti - The Parable of the Mote and the Beam - 1619 detail

One of the more psychologically interesting and insufficiently studied passages found in the Gospels is:

 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?

Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

~ Matthew 7:3–5 (KJV)

 The reference to the beam in ones eye is an extremely powerful image. It’s a figure of speech, of course, since a roof beam (Greek word δοκς or dokos1, also translated ‘plank’, ‘log’ or ‘timber’) obviously cannot fit in an eye. The power of the statement comes by comparing it to a mote, a small speck of dust, which may be in another’s eye and impairing the other’s vision.  Jesus is saying: “Why worry about some small way in which another person’s views are limited.  Worry about the huge ways in which your own views are distorted.”  That’s how I take it, at any rate, and it seems like a reasonable interpretation.

This is one of those extremely canny sayings of Jesus Christ recorded in the Gospels.  If someone were to ask me what reasons there are for believing that Christianity is a divinely inspired religion, I would include on the list these canny sayings of Jesus.  They are incisive, cutting through layers of artifice and illusion to get to the heart of the things that really concern us as human beings.  Nothing else in the literature of the West can compare to them — not in Plato or the Greek tragedians, not even in the Old Testament do we find such an abundance of these sayings.2  There is something extraordinary, otherworldly about them.  One may recall the words of the Pharisees’ officers, sent to arrest Jesus but returning bewildered and empty-handed:  “Never man spake like this man.” (John 7:46; KJV)

This remarkable level of insight and honesty is evident in the passage above.  It speaks with extraordinary directness to a very real aspect of our experience.  Examining the meaning of words, and relating them to certain principles of modern psychology, we can appreciate even better the importance and relevance of the beam in the eye.

Perceptual and Cognitive Schematizing


This word-square and others like it, recently circulated around the internet.  The idea is that when you look at the square, one word, out of the dozens it contains, will leap out and present itself to awareness.  These squares have been presented in a casual way — as little more than a parlor game — to analyze ones personality or “what you want in life”.  However there are some serious psychological principles at work here.

If you experiment with one of these squares, you will find that your current state of mind affects what word leaps out at you.  If your mind is on work, or on a romantic relationship, or on philosophy, or on your faith — in each case a different word will appear.  This illustrates most strikingly the truth that ones intentions determine ones perceptions.  What your heart is set on at the moment, what you are most concerned about, what you desire — that will determine which word you see.

This principle of intention precedes perception is, of course, a general one in operation all the time.  It affects how you visually process information when walking outside, for example.  What strikes your attention — people, trees, buildings, whatever — will vary.  A boy with his mind on girls will walk on a city street and notice womens’ hemlines and the  contours of blouses.  An angry and combative man will walk down the same street and notice the physique and demeanor of other men, subconsciously sizing them up, as though to judge whether he could defeat them in a fight.  A guilty person may notice the expressions on other people’s faces, looking for signs of disapproval, or may notice policeman and guards.  There is nothing speculative about this. You can verify the phenomenon yourself any day by taking a walk.  What you see reflects the intentions you have at any time.

A corollary of this principle is that the stronger, more urgent, and more pronounced ones intentions are, the more that attention will selectively focus on certain kinds of objects.

It similarly follows that this principle must also affect our inward perceptions: those features of our interior mental life which we notice at any given time, and those we do not notice, depend on our intentions and desires.

Not only do intentions determine what ones sees, but what one doesn’t see.  If attention is on one thing, it cannot be on another.  And the more exaggerated ones intentions and desires are, the more one will filter out unrelated perceptions.  If one is driven by appetite, covetousness, fear, or anger, one may pass by dozens of smiling, friendly people without realizing it.  In a foul mood one does not see the flowers in bloom or notice the lovely countryside; these things might as well not exist.

This I believe is the meaning of the beam in the eye.  When ones intentions are disordered, ones perceptions are in chaos.  Instead of seeing the entire world as a harmonious whole, one perceives it fragmented and disjointed. One notices small pieces of the perceptual field which relate to sex or fear or anger or whatever — and  disregards the rest.

To the degree one is in such a disordered mental state, one is not really living in the world at all — not the world as it is.  Instead one is living in a kind of distorted caricature of the world.  It’s the world of the shadows on the wall of Plato’s cave;  not a vibrant world of life, spirit, meaning, happiness, and satisfaction.

What, then, is the alternative to the beam  in the eye?  Naturally we have intentions, and these change depending on time and situation.  But it stands to reason that, ideally, these intentions should be harmonious, one intention in balance with the others.  Moreover, as religious people — whether, Christians, Jews, Muslims, or Hindus — we believe in God’s superintending providence.  God guides all at once  — the world, events in our lives, our intentions, and our emotions — to  coincide and harmonize.  We do have free will, however, and must use this free will to moderate and purify our intentions, so as to keep them in balance.  We must keep our appetites within the bounds of what our nature requires at the present time.  This precludes letting any intention become unnaturally strong and dominant.2

This moderation of appetites and passions is not necessarily an easy thing to accomplish, but it is an attainable skill.  It comes from experience and practice, from self-insight, from the intellectual development supplied by philosophy, and by the moral growth produced by religion.

If we can learn this great virtue of moderation (which the Greeks called sophrosyne,  a virtue that doesn’t operate in isolation, but rather interacts in myriad ways with other virtues like courage, justice, wisdom, patience, piety, and humility) then we can remove the beam in the eye.

The resulting condition, I believe, corresponds to what the humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow (1970) called “B-cognition” or “Being cognition.”  One description of this state is one “in which the whole of the cosmos is perceived and everything in it is seen in relationship with everything else, including the perceiver” (Maslow, 1971, pp. 252–253).

I also believe that this is at least part of what Jesus means in the Gospels when he refers to the Kingdom of Heaven.  Upon saying this, I must be careful to point out that some ‘modern’ psychologists have said similar things but with a substantially different meaning.  That is, some have suggested that by the Kingdom of Heaven Jesus meant only a certain kind of happy human life; and from this they go on to claim that Jesus was not concerned with spiritual matters at all, and was saying nothing about an after-life; he was merely a social philosopher.  That is definitely not what I’m suggesting.  The Kingdom of Heaven in the sense I mean is not achieved by disconnecting our experience on earth from spiritual concerns, but precisely the opposite: by connecting it with spirituality.  A critical part of producing a state of harmonized intentions, by which we see the world fully and completely — in clear and rich detail, with full depth and meaning — is by ‘tuning in’ to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit.


1. dokos can also mean an opinion, so there may be a play on words here. In Plato’s dialogues one of Socrates’ main missions is to alert us to how severely our souls are distorted by a habitual mistaking of false opinions for true knowledge.

2. Another such saying, one which seems thematically related to Matt. 7:3, is the light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light (Matt. 6:22).  Indeed all of Matthew 6:19–34 appears relevant to the present theme.

3. We should keep in mind the possibility that exaggerated appetites come not from the body itself, but from a tendency of the mind to falsely interpret appetitive impulses.


Maslow, Abraham H. The Farther Reaches of Human Nature. New York: Viking, 1971.

Pollock, Robert C.  ‘The Single Vision‘.  In: Harold C. Gardiner (editor), American Classics Reconsidered: A Christian Appraisal, New York: Scribner, 1958 (pp. 15–58).  Reprinted as  and in Arthur S. Lothstein, Michael Brodrick (eds.), New Morning: Emerson in the Twenty-First Century, SUNY Press, 2008 (pp. 9–48).  Originally published as ‘A Reappraisal of Emerson’ in Thought, 32(1), 1957, pp. 86–132.

White, Rhea A. ‘Maslow’s Two Forms of Cognition and Exceptional Human Experiences.’  1997. < >  Accessed 15 November 2013.

Genius (Tutelary Spirit) – Article from Smith Dictionary

leave a comment »

Winged genius facing a woman with a tambourine and mirror, from southern Italy, about 320 BC.

(This useful article is from the famous Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology of Sir William Smith.  I’ve placed it here because it doesn’t seem to be available elsewhere as machine-readable text.)

GENIUS, a protecting spirit, analogous to the guardian angels invoked by the Church of Rome. The belief in such spirits existed both in Greece and at Rome. The Greeks called them δαίμονες, daemons, and appear to have believed in them from the earliest times, though Homer does not mention them. Hesiod (Op. et Dies, 235) speaks of δαίμονες, and says that they were 30,000 in number, and that they dwelled on earth unseen by mortals, as the ministers of Zeus, and as the guar­dians of men and of justice. He further conceives them to be the souls of the righteous men who lived in the golden age of the world. (Op. et Dies, 107 ; comp. Diog. Laert. vii. 79 ) The Greek philosophers took up this idea, and developed a complete theory of daemons. Thus we read in Plato (Phaedr. p. 107), that daemons are assigned to men at the moment of their birth, that thence­forward they accompany men through life, and that after death they conduct their souls to Hades.

Pindar, in several passages, speaks of a γενεθλιος δαίμων, that is, the spirit watching over the fate of man from the hour of his birth, which appears to be the same as the dii genitales of the Romans. (Ol. viii. 16, xiii. 101, Pyth. iv. 167; comp. Aeschyl. Sept. 639.) The daemons are further described as the ministers and companions of the gods, who carry the prayers of men to the gods, and the gifts of the gods to men (Plat Sympos. p. 202 ; Appul., de Deo Socrat. 7), and accordingly float in immense numbers in the space between heaven and earth. The daemons, however, who were exclusively the ministers of the gods, seem to have con­stituted a distinct class; thus, the Corybantes, Dactyls, and Cabeiri are called the ministering daemons of the great gods (Strab. x. p. 472) ; Gigon, Tychon, and Orthages are the daemons of Aphrodite (Hesych. s.v. Γιγνων; Tzetz. ad Lycophr. 538); Hadreus, the daemon of Demeter (Etym. Magn. s. v. ‘Αδρευςand Acratus, the dae­mon of Dionysus. (Paus. i.2. § 4.) It should, how­ever, be observed that all daemons were divided into two great classes, viz. good and evil daemons. The works which contain most information on this interesting subject are Appuleius, De Deo Socratis, and Plutarch, De Genio Socratis, and De Defectu Oraculorum. Later writers apply the term δαίμονες also to the souls of the departed. (Lucian, De Mort. Pereg. 36 ; Dorville, ad Chariton. 1. 4.)

The Romans seem to have received their theory concerning the genii from the Etruscans, though {p. 242} the name Genius itself is Latin (it is connected with gen-itus, γι-γν-ομαι, and equivalent in meaning to generator or father ; see August de Civ. Dei, vii. 13). The genii of the Romans are frequently confounded with the Manes, Lares, and Penates (Censorin. 3.) ; and they have indeed one great feature in common, viz. that of protecting mortals ; but there seems to be this essential differ­ence, that the genii are the powers which produce life (dii genitales), and accompany man through it as his second or spiritual self; whereas the other powers do not begin to exercise their influence till life, the work of the genii, has commenced. The genii were further not confined to man, but every living being, animal as well as man, and every place, had its genius. (Paul. Diac. p. 71 ; Serv. ad Virg. Georg. i. 302.) Every human being at his birth obtains (sortitur) a genius. Horace (Epist. ii. 2. 187) describes this genius as vutau mutabilis, whence we may infer either that he conceived the genius as friendly towards one person, and as hos­tile towards another, or that he manifested himself to the same person in different ways at different times, i. e. sometimes as a good, and sometimes as an evil genius. The latter supposition is con­firmed by the statement of Servius (ad. Aen. vi. 743), that at our birth we obtain two genii, one leading us to good, and the other to evil, and that at our death by their influence we either rise to a higher state of existence, or are condemned to a lower one. The spirit who appeared to Cassius, saying, “We shall meet again at Phlippi,” is ex­pressly called his evil spirit, κακadαιμων. (Val. Max. i. 7. § 7 ; Plut. Brut. 36.)

Women called their genius Juno (Senec. Epist. 110; Tibull. iv. 6. 1 ) ; and as we may thus regard the genii of men as being in some way connected with Jupiter, it would follow that the genii were emanations from the great gods. Every man at Rome had his own genius, whom he worshipped as sanctus et sanctissimus deus, especially on his birthday, with libations of wine, incense, and garlands of flowers. (Tibull. ii. 2. 5 ; Ον. Trist, iii. 13. 18, v. 5, 11 ; Senec. Epist. 114; Horat. Oarm. iv. 11. 7.) The bridal bed was sacred to the genius, on account of his connection with generation, and the bed itself was called lectus genialis. On other merry occasions, also, sacrifices were offered to the genius, and to indulge in merriment was not unfrequently ex­pressed by genio indulgere, genium curare or placare. The whole body of the Roman people had its own genius, who is often seen represented on coins of Hadrian and Trajan. (Arnob. ii. 67 ; Serv. ad Aen. vi. 603 ; Liv. xxx. 12 ; Cic. pro Cluent. 5.) He was worshipped on sad as well as joyous occasions ; thus, e. g. sacrifices (ma­jores hostiac caesae quinque, Liv. xxi. 62) were offered to him at the beginning of the second year of the Hannibalian war. It was observed above that, according to Servius (comp. ad Aen. v. 95), every place had its genius, and he adds, that such a local genius, when he made himself visible, appeared in the form of a serpent, that is, the symbol of renovation or of new life.

The genii are usually represented in works of art as winged beings, and on Roman monuments a genius commonly appears as a youth dressed in the toga, with a patera or cornucopia in his hands, and his head covered ; the genius of a place appears in the form of a serpent eating fruit placed before him. (Härtung, Die Relig. der Rom. i. p. 32, &c. ; Schomann, de Diis Manibus, Laribus, et Genii, Greifswald, 1840.) [LS.]


Schmitz, Leonard. ‘Genius‘. In: William Smith (ed.), A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. Vol. 2. J. Murray, 1880. (pp. 241-2).

Philo on the Two Wives of the Soul

leave a comment »

Philo on the Two Wives of the Soul

This most remarkable treatise, an allegory on virtue and vice, is due to Philo of Alexandria. Owing to its omission in some critical editions (notably the Greek/Latin edition of Thomas Mangey [Mangey; 1745; Mangey & Pfeiffer, 1820])  there is some confusion about in which of Philo’s works it belongs. Some editions place it at the end of Special Laws I, but others place it in  Book 1 of On the Sacrifices of Cain and Abel.

Besides paralleling the Old Testament theme of the strange woman, it is reminiscent of “The Choice of Hercules”, found in Xenophon’s Memorobilia of Socrates 2.1.21-34.  There, Xenophon, who includes this narrative as an illustration of the ethical teachings of Socrates, paraphrases a lost treatise by the Athenian sophist, Prodicus.   Even by the standards of Philo, the work below is unusually prolix — although skillfully and with good effect; one might well imagine it having partly originated with the legendary rhetorician, Prodicus.

St. Ambrose of Milan’s work, On Cain and Abel (1.13 ff.) follows Philo’s text here closely.

The version here is as shown on the Early Christian Writings website, in On the Sacrifices of Cain and Abel, from the translation of Charles Duke Yonge, The Works of Philo Judeaus (Vol  3. “On the Wages of a Harlot”); the numbering supposes it’s placement in On the Sacrifices of Cain and Abel 1.5.21-34:

Book 1, Chapter V.

(19) And concerning this doctrine Moses also records a law, which he makes with great beauty and suitableness. And it runs thus, “If a man have two wives, the one of them beloved and the other hated; and if both the one who is beloved and the one who is hated have borne him children, and if the child of her who is hated is the firstborn, then it shall be in the day in which he divides the inheritance of his possessions among his sons that he shall not be able to give the inheritance of the first-born to the son of the wife that is beloved, overlooking his first-born son, the son of her who is hated; but he shall recognise the son of her who is hated as his first-born, to give him a double share of all the property that he has acquired; because he is the beginning of his children, and the right of the first-born is His.”[Deut. 21:15].

(20) Consider, O my soul, and know who it is who is hated, and who is the son of her who is hated, and immediately you shall perceive that the chief rights and chief honours belong to no one else but to him alone; for there are two wives cohabiting with each individual of us, hostile and inimical to one another, filling the abode of the soul with the contentions which arise from jealousy. Of these we love one, which is gentle and tractable, and which we think very affectionate and akin to ourselves, and its name is pleasure; but the other we hate, looking upon it as untameable, ungentle, fierce, and very hostile to us, and the name of this one is virtue. Now what mortal is ignorant of the great mysteries of that exceedingly beautiful and greatly contended for pleasure? And who could worthily describe the multitude or the greatness of the good things which are treasured up by Virtue? [Footnote 1]

(21) For two women live with each individual among us, both unfriendly and hostile to one another, filling the whole abode of the soul with envy, and jealousy, and contention; of these we love the one looking upon her as being mild and tractable, and very dear to and very closely connected with ourselves, and she is called pleasure; but the other we detest, deeming her unmanageable, savage, fierce, and most completely hostile, and her name is virtue. Accordingly, the one comes to us luxuriously dressed in the guise of a harlot and prostitute, with mincing steps, rolling her eyes about with excessive licentiousness and desire, by which baits she entraps the souls of the young, looking about with a mixture of boldness and impudence, holding up her head, and raising herself above her natural height, fawning and giggling, having the hair of her head dressed with most superfluous elaborateness, having her eyes pencilled, her eyebrows covered over, using incessant warm baths, painted with a fictitious colour, exquisitely dressed with costly garments, richly embroidered, adorned with armlets, and bracelets, and necklaces, and all other ornaments which can be made of gold, and precious stones, and all kinds of female decorations; loosely girdled, breathing of most fragrant perfumes, thinking the whole market her home; a marvel to be seen in the public roads, out of the scarcity of any genuine beauty, pursuing a bastard elegance.

(22) And with her there walk as her most intimate friends, bold cunning, and rashness, and flattery, and trick, and deceit, and false speaking, and false opinion, and impiety, and injustice, and intemperance, in the middle of which she advances like the leader of the company, and marshalling her band, speaks thus to her mind, “My good friend, the treasuries of all human blessings and stores of happiness are in my power (for as for divine blessings they are all in heaven), and besides them you will find nothing.

(23) “If you will dwell with me I will open to you all these treasures, and will bestow on you for ever the most unsparing use and enjoyment of them. And I desire to inform you beforehand of the multitude of good things which I have stored up there, that if you are so inclined you may of your own accord live happily, and that if you refuse you may not decline them out of ignorance.

“There is in my power perfect relaxation, and exemption from all fear, and tranquillity, and a complete absence of all care and labour, and an abundant variety of colours, and most melodious intonations of the voice, and all kinds of costly viands and drinks, and plentiful varieties of the sweetest scents, and continual loves, and sports such as require no teacher, and connections which will never be inquired into, and speeches which will have no shade of reproof in them, and actions free from all necessity of being accounted for, and a life free from anxiety, and soft sleep, and abundance without any feeling of satiety.

(24) If therefore you are inclined to take up your abode with me, I will give you what is suitable for you of all the things which I have prepared, considering carefully by eating or drinking what you may be most thoroughly cheered, or by what sights addressed to your eyes, or by what sounds visiting your ears, or by the small of what fragrant odours you may be most delighted. “And nothing which you can desire shall be wanting to you; for you shall find what is produced anew more abundant than what is expended and consumed;

(25) for in the treasuries which I have mentioned there are ever-flourishing plants, blossoming and producing an incessant series of fruits, so that the beauty of those in their prime and fresh appearing overtakes and overshadows those which are already fully ripe; and no war, either domestic or foreign, has ever cut down these plants, but from the very day that the earth first received them it has cherished them like a faithful nurse, sending down into its lowest depths the roots to act like the strongest branches, and above ground extending its trunk as high as heaven, and putting forth branches which are by analogy imitations of the hand and feet which we see in animals, and leaves which correspond to the hair. I have prepared and caused that to blossom which shall be at the same time a covering and an ornament to you; and besides all this, I have provided fruit for the sake of which the branches and leaves are originally produced.”

(26) When the other woman heard these words (for she was standing in a place where she was out of sight but still within hearing), Bouguereau_The_Virgin_With_Angelsfearing lest the mind, without being aware of it, might be led captive and be enslaved, and so be carried away by so many gifts and promises, yielding also to the tempter in that she was arrayed so as to win over the sight, and was equipped with great variety of ingenuity for the purposes of deceit; for by all her necklaces and other appendages, and by her different allurements, she spurred on and charmed her beholders, and excited a wonderful desire within them; she in her turn came forward, and appeared on a sudden, displaying all the qualities of a native, free-born, and lady-like woman, such as a firm step, a very gentle look, the native colour of modesty and nature without any alloy or disguise, an honest disposition, a genuine and sincere way of life, a plain, honest opinion, an language removed from all insincerity, the truest possible image of a sound and honest heart, a disposition averse to pretence, a quiet unobtrusive gait, a moderate style of dress, and the ornaments of prudence and virtue, more precious than any gold.

(27) And she was attended by piety, and holiness, and truth, and right, and purity, and an honest regard for an oath, and justice, and equality, and adherence to one’s engagements and communion, and prudent silence, and temperance, and orderliness, and meekness, and abstemiousness, and contentment, and good-temper, and modesty, and an absence of curiosity about the concerns of others, and manly courage, and a noble disposition and wisdom in counsel, and prudence, and forethought, and attention, and correctness, and cheerfulness, and humanity, and gentleness, and courtesy, and love of one’s kind, and magnanimity, and happiness, and goodness. One day would fail me if I were to enumerate all the names of the particular virtues.

(28) And these all standing on each side of her, were her bodyguards, while she was in the middle of them.

And she, having assumed an appearance familiar to her, began to speak as follows: “I have seen pleasure, that worker of wonderous tricks, that conjuror and teller of fables, dressed in a somewhat tragic style, and constantly approaching you in a delicate manner; so that (for I myself do by nature detest everything that is evil) I feared lest, without being aware of it, you might be deceived, and might consent to the very greatest of evils as if they were exceeding good; and therefore I have thought fit to declare to you with all sincerity what really belongs to that woman, in order that you might not reject anything advantageous to you out of ignorance, and so proceed unintentionally on the road of transgression and unhappiness.

(29) “Know, then, that the very dress in which she appear to you wholly belongs to some one else; for of ten things which contribute to genuine beauty, not one is ever brought forward as being derived from or as belonging to her. But she is hung round with nets and snares with which to catch you with a bastard and adulterated beauty, which you, beholding beforehand, will, if you are wise, take care that her pursuit shall be unprofitable to her; for when she appears she conciliates your eyes, and when she speaks she wins over your ears; and by these, and by all other parts of her conduct, she is well calculated by nature to injure your soul, which is the most valuable of all your possessions; and all the different circumstances belonging to her, which were likely to be attractive to you if you heard of them, she enumerated; but all those which would not have been alluring she suppressed and made no mention of, but, meaning mischief to you, concealed utterly, as she very naturally expected that no one would readily agree with them.”

(30) But I, stripping off all her disguises, will reveal her to you; and I will not myself imitate the ways of pleasure, so as to show you nothing in me but what is alluring, and to conceal and to keep out of sight everything that has any unpleasantness or harshness in it; but, on the contrary, I will say nothing about those matters which do of themselves give delight and pleasure, well knowing that such things will of themselves find a voice by their effects; but I will fully detail to you all that is painful and difficult to be borne about me, putting them plainly forward with their naked appellation, so that their nature may be visible and plain even to those whose sight is somewhat dim. For the things which, when offered by me, appear to be the greatest of my evils, will in effect be found to be more honourable and more beneficial to the users than the greatest blessings bestowed by pleasure. But, before I begin to speak of what I myself have to give, I will mention all that may be mentioned of those things which are kept in the back ground by her. John Waterhouse - Siren

(31) For she, when she spoke of what she had stored up in her magazines, such as colours, sounds, flavours, smells, distinctive qualities, powers relating to touch and to every one of the outward senses, and having softened them all by the allurements which she offered to the hearing, made no mention at all of those other qualities which are her misfortunes and diseases; which, however, you will of necessity experience if you choose those pleasures which she offers; that so, being borne aloft by the breeze of some advantage, you may be taken in her toils.

(32) Know, then, my good friend, that if you become a votary of pleasure you will be all these things: a bold, cunning, audacious, unsociable, uncourteous, inhuman, lawless, savage, illtempered, unrestrainable, worthless man; deaf to advice, foolish, full of evil acts, unteachable, unjust, unfair, one who has no participation with others, one who cannot be trusted in his agreements, one with whom there is no peace, covetous, most lawless, unfriendly, homeless, cityless, seditious, faithless, disorderly, impious, unholy, unsettled, unstable, uninitiated, profane, polluted, indecent, destructive, murderous, illiberal, abrupt, brutal, slavish, cowardly, intemperate, irregular, disgraceful, shameful, doing and suffering all infamy, colourless, immoderate, unsatiable, insolent, conceited, self-willed, mean, envious, calumnious, quarrelsome, slanderous, greedy, deceitful, cheating, rash, ignorant, stupid, inharmonious, dishonest, disobedient, obstinate, tricky, swindling, insincere, suspicious, hated, absurd, difficult to detect, difficult to avoid, destructive, evil-minded, disproportionate, an unreasonable chatterer, a proser, a gossip, a vain babbler, a flatterer, a fool, full of heavy sorrow, weak in bearing grief, trembling at every sound, inclined to delay, inconsiderate, improvident, impudent, neglectful of good, unprepared, ignorant of virtue, always in the wrong, erring, stumbling, ill-managed, ill-governed, a glutton, a captive, a spendthrift, easily yielding, most crafty, double-minded, double-tongued, perfidious, treacherous, unscrupulous, always unsuccessful, always in want, infirm of purpose, fickle, a wanderer, a follower of others, yielding to impulses, open to the attacks of enemies, mad, easily satisfied, fond of life, fond of vain glory, passionate, ill-tempered, lazy, a procrastinator, suspected, incurable, full of evil jealousies, despairing, full of tears, rejoicing in evil, frantic, beside yourself, without any steady character, contriving evil, eager for disgraceful gain, selfish, a willing slave, an eager enemy, a demagogue, a bad steward, stiffnecked, effeminate, outcast, confused, discarded, mocking, injurious, vain, full of unmitigated unalloyed misery.

(33) These are the great mysteries of that very beautiful and much to be sought for pleasure, which she designedly concealed and kept out of sight, from a fear that if you knew of them you would turn away from any meeting with her. But who is there who could worthily describe either the multitude or the magnitude of the good things which are stored up in my treasure houses? They who have partaken of them already know it, and those whose nature is mild will hereafter know, when they have been invited to a participation in the banquet, not the banquet at which the pleasures of the satiated belly make the body fat, but that at which the mind is nourished and at which it revels among the virtues, and exults and revels in their company.

Book 1, Chapter VI.

(34) Now, on account of these things, and because of what was said before, namely, that the things which are really pious, holy, and good do naturally utter a voice from themselves, even while they keep silence, I will desist from saying any more about them; for neither does the sun nor the moon require an interpreter, because they, being on high, fill the whole world with light, the one shining by day and the other by night. But their own brilliancy is an evidence in their case which stands in no need of witnesses, but which is confirmed by the eyes, which are more undeniable judges than the ears.

(35) But I will speak with all freedom of that point in virtue which appears to have the greatest amount of difficulty and perplexity, for this, too, does appear to the imagination, at their first meeting, to be troublesome; but, on consideration, it is found to be very pleasant and, as arising from reason, to be suitable. But labour is the enemy of laziness, as it is in reality the first and greatest of good things, and wages an irreconcilable war against pleasure; for, if we must declare the truth, God has made labour the foundation of all good and of all virtue to man, and without labour you will not find a single good thing in existence among the race of men.

(36) For, as it is impossible to see without light, since neither colours nor eyes are sufficient for the comprehension of things which we arrive at by means of sight (for nature has made light beforehand to serve as a link to connect the two, by which the eye is brought near and adapted to colour, for the powers of both eye and of colour are equally useless in darkness), so in the same manner is the eye of the soul unable to comprehend anything whatever of the actions in accordance with virtue, unless it takes to itself labour as a coadjutor, as the eye borrows the assistance of light; for this, being placed in the middle, between the intellect and the good object which the intellect desires, and understanding the whole nature of both the one and the other, does itself bring about friendship and harmony, two perfect goods between the two things on either hand of it.


1. “Sections 21-33 were misplaced in Yonge’s translation because the edition on whichYonge based his translation, Thomas Mangey, Philonis Iudaei opera omnia graece et latine ad editionem Thomae Mangey collatis aliquot mss. edenda curavit Augustus Fridericus Pfeiffer (Erlangae: In Libraria Heyderiana, 1820), lacked this material. The lines in Yonge’s edition were originally [i.e., in Yonge’s original edition] located in On the Special Laws 2.284ff.”

On this issue, F. H. Colson and G. H. Whitaker write (Philo, vol. 2, pp. 88-93; Loeb Classical Library,):

“The other [special point] is the history of the sections 21-32, which do not appear in this place in Mangey’s edition nor in Yonge’s translation. These sections containing the allegory of the two women had been incorporated in an otherwise spurious treatise, De Mercede Meretricis. In consequence the archetype of the MSS. from which Turnebus made his edition of 1552 omitted them here, and this was followed in subsequent editions. That their proper place is in this treatise is shown not only by their presence in other MSS., but also by the evidence that Ambrose, whose treatise on Cain and Abel draws largely from Philo, evidently had these sections before him.”

Written by John Uebersax

February 22, 2010 at 1:33 am

The ‘Strange Woman’ of Proverbs

with one comment

The ‘Strange Woman’ of Proverbs

The Book of Proverbs refers to the strange woman. For example, Chapter 5 says:

    [1] My son, attend unto my wisdom, and bow thine ear to my understanding:
    [2] That thou mayest regard discretion, and that thy lips may keep knowledge.
    [3] For the lips of a strange woman drop as an honeycomb, and her mouth is smoother than oil:
    [4] But her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword.
    (Proverbs 5:1-4)

Who is the strange woman mentioned in Proverbs and elsewhere in the Old Testament? A search of the web reveals few convincing efforts to answer this question. It seems like this ought to be discussed somewhere online, so we should make the effort to do so here.

It seems clear these verses represent something beyond the literal advice of a father to his son to stay away from prostitutes. That’s certainly good advice, but is a topic more suitable for an instruction manual for fathers than for inspired Holy Scripture.

The strange woman here appears to relate to some realm or dimension of ones own mental experience. In broad terms, she seems to correspond to a class of tempting thoughts, and perhaps also to a part of our nature that produces such thoughts.

To understand the strange woman, it will help to refer to Psalm 1, the preface to Psalms and an important interpretative key to the Wisdom Literature. [A psychological interpretation of Psalm 1 may be found here.]

Verses 1-2 of Psalm 1 tell us:

    [1] Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
    [2] But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.
    (Psalms 1:1-2)

The first verse summarizes in a few words the perils of our ordinary waking consciousness. Clearly we should be try to always remain on the right path of thinking and experience, the path of life. Our minds and hearts should be turned towards God. However, as is easily verified, we are continually opposed in this by three kinds of tempting or negative thoughts. Psalm 1 refers to these as (1) counsels of the ungodly, (2) the way of sinners, and (3) the seat of the scornful.

Counsels of the ungodly encompass all manner of vain, useless thoughts that run through our minds: schemes, plans, vague, pointless daydreams, and the like. The way of sinners, in contrast, refers to outright sinful thoughts. And we occupy the seat of the scornful when we engage in hateful, cynical, and inappropriately critical thoughts about others and the world. These are indeed three of the most serious obstacles we face on our spiritual journey.

The strange woman is another member of this rogues gallery. As already noted, there is a potential tendency to interpret this term too literally as a  seductive woman. So narrow an interpretation, however, robs the concept of its full spiritual significance. There is also a danger in adopting too broad an allegorical interpretation. Thus it is potentially going too far to see the strange woman as corresponding to every seductive false doctrine or every form of idolatry. (If such is the meaning, for example, then why assign the figure a specifically female gender?)

It seems more reasonable to assume the author had a particular meaning in mind in applying the analogy of a harlot. This certainly makes sense from a psychological standpoint. Along with the three forms of negative thinking alluded to in Psalm 1:1, sexual and sensual temptations round out a short list of the mental phenomena that psychologically assail us and against which we must maintain vigilance.

The strange woman seems to refers to our concupiscent nature, or, we might say, our concupiscent nature when it is disordered. She is the part of us that is too interested in and attached to sensual and, in particular, sexual pleasure; a part of us that not only enjoys such pleasure, but craves it, desires it, and schemes to get it.

The strange woman beckons and cajoles. She says, “let’s just make this one exception” or “this time won’t count as a sin”, or “we’ll just follow a tempting thought a little ways, then stop before it is a sin”. Or basically, “let’s direct our attention to pleasure, instead of anything good, productive, helpful, or uplifting.”

Beyond simply noting the existence of the strange woman, the author of Proverbs considers her motives. He explains that the agenda of the strange woman is specifically to draw us away from the path of life:

    [5] Her feet go down to death; her steps take hold on hell.
    [6] Lest thou shouldest ponder the path of life, her ways are moveable, that thou canst not know them.
    (Proverbs 5:1-4)

Not only does the strange woman divert us from the path of life, but she has ulterior motives. Her purpose is not really, as we might think, to obtain pleasure, but has the precise aim to divert us.

This observation fits with our with our actual experience. While sensual and sexual temptations promise pleasure, in reality they offer but little pleasure followed by longer lasting displeasure. One succumbs to temptation and self- indulgence only to find that, soon after, one feels depressed, disillusioned, and disoriented. Thus, by a strictly utilitarian calculus, nothing is gained by following the suggestions of the strange woman. Her promises are deceitful, and they have a darker aim than mere pleasure. The strange woman is a close companion of the wicked man, described in Proverbs 6:12-14, who soweth discord, a figure that represents the psychic principle which works to oppose psychological integration and salvation.

In Proverbs 5 the strange woman is contrasted with another female character, the wife of thy youth. Indeed, perhaps the real question to ask here is not who the strange woman is, but who the wife of thy youth is.

    15 Drink waters out of thine own cistern, and running waters out of thine own well.
    [16] Let thy fountains be dispersed abroad, and rivers of waters in the streets.
    [17] Let them be only thine own, and not strangers’ with thee.
    [18] Let thy fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth.
    [19] Let her be as the loving hind and pleasant roe; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times; and be thou ravished always with her love.
    (Proverbs 5:1-4)

It is again important not to restrict interpretation here to the literal level (otherwise, how would the “wife of thy youth” carry any meaning to the half of readers who are women?)

To drink waters from thine own cistern means to be mentally guided by the true inspirations which flow from God. This goes along with what Psalm 1 describes as following the path of life and with taking delight in the law or guidance of God. The temptations of the strange woman are likened to water that comes from a different, foreign cistern — one that we should not draw from.

The wife of thy youth could be understood in various ways. One interpretation is suggested by the analysis of Genesis 2 by the great exegete, Philo of Alexandria, which many Church Fathers followed. By this view, Eve, or the female aspect of human nature, corresponds to our feeling or sensual nature. She contrasts with Adam, who represents our intellective nature. The wife of thy youth, then, would correspond to our Eve “nature” before the fall — a companion, friend, and helpmate to our intellect. Our feelings and sensory nature — and by extension the body itself — are, if they are pure and properly ordered to support our relationship with God, helpful and a source of genuine enjoyment. Our body, in short, is a gift from God, to be enjoyed and used properly.

The wife of thy youth can also be interpreted as Wisdom, or the part of the psyche from which Wisdom springs.

Another interpretation is suggested by modern depth psychology. In Jungian psychology, positive female images — which would include the wife of thy youth, correspond to what Jung termed the anima. Like many terms in Jungian psychology, it’s difficult to define the anima precisely, but the term encompassss various aspects of the psyche which, like a mother or female friend, help, support, nurture, and guide the ego. The wife of thy youth, then, would correspond to certain unconscious aspects of the personality which inspire, guide, and help the ego.

In a more general sense, we might say that the wife of thy youth corresponds to the virginal innocence of ones youth, lost, but recoverable. She represents an element of our personality that we knew in our youth, that delighted us, took care of us, and satisfied our need for companionship. A child takes delight simply in being alive, in the thrill and joy of existence, and in learning, discovering, and knowing. Concerning people, a child enjoys simply being with another human being; of making another smile or laugh; of engaging another in play or games; in learning or teaching something.

The contrast between the strange woman and the wife of thy youth presents a choice between two kinds pleasures. On the one hand are the gross, dull, and ephemeral sensual pleasures offered by the strange woman. On the other are pure, eternal, and transcendent pleasures offered by the wife of thy youth — things like spiritual joy, wisdom, and virtue. The latter are the fruits of Eden and the jewels that adorn the heavenly city and the crown of victory. Clearly we should prefer these to sensual pleasures. The strange woman offers only inferior pleasures, and leads us away from the path of life, the path by which we may obtain the truer and better pleasures which God in His great love desires for us.

Philo on the temptation of Adam and Eve

leave a comment »


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.

Written by John Uebersax

February 11, 2009 at 8:09 pm

Commentary on Psalm 71 (72)

leave a comment »

Psalm 71 (72)

This is a magnificent psalm. Here an interpretation is offered following depth-psychological framework developed in several of these posts.

To begin, we recall a primary principle of depth-psychological exegesis: that every element in the scripture corresponds to some element of the  self, psyche, or personality.

The Messiah’s royal power

Give the king your judgement, O God,

The king is the personality after salvation is attained. This is attested to by (1) our earlier understanding of what the Kingdom of Heaven implies, by (2) associations with the idea of a philosopher king in Plato’s Republic, and (3) the symbolism of the king in Alchemical writings and iconography.

give the king’s son your righteousness.

Here is something new. There is both a king and a king’s son! What the king’s son is not clear. One might thing this is the Christ Archetype. However, it seems more likely that the king is the Christ Archetype; that is  because, above, a distinction was made between the king and God. However, we are not dealing with literal logic here, and perhaps, in some sense, the king and the king’s son refer to the same entity.

Let him judge your people with justice

Is it the king or the king’s son who judges? Since it is the king’s son who receives righteousness (a quality associated with justice), this suggests that the king’s son is referred to. As the distinction between king and king’s son is not maintained in the psalm, we shall provisionally assume that these are, basically, two facets or functions of the same entity.

As repeatedly mentioned in these posts, the psyche or self includes components or facets that can be likened to peoples, nations, tribes, etc.

and your poor ones with wisdom.

Some of these ‘people’ are poor. These would correspond to neglected or suffering parts of the total person. In a sense, this also refers to the empirical ego –( i.e., you, the reader, as you see yourself) — because it is the suffering ego that is drawn to the psalms and seeks salvation.

Let the mountains bring peace to your people,

What are the mountains? This is something perhaps for future consideration.

let the hills bring righteousness.

He will give his judgement to the poor among the people,

he will rescue the children of the destitute,

Expanding on earlier statements.

he will lay low the false accuser.

The false accuser is our primary adversary and source of negative thoughts. Related to doubt, anxiety, fear. This is to the Christ Archetype what King Herod is to the infant Jesus.

He will endure with the sun, beneath the moon,

Sun and moon here surely have iconic significance — relating to the solar and lunar aspects of the psyche. Much has already been written about this.

from generation to generation.

Our personality/ego continually changes. These ‘versions’ might be likened to generations.

He will come down like rain on the pasture,

As in the form of grace.

like a shower that waters the earth.

In his time, righteousness will flourish

and abundance of peace,

until the moon itself is no more.

The last statement is interesting; note that the author does not say “until the sun and moon are no more”, but only “until the moon itself is no more.”

He will rule from coast to coast,

from the world’s centre to its farthest edge.

The desert-dwellers will cast themselves down before him;

his enemies will eat dust at his feet.

The kings of Tharsis and the islands will bring tribute,

the kings of Arabia and Sheba will bring gifts.

All the kings will worship him,

Potentially there is some significance to the specific references to kings of Tharsis, Arabia, Sheba, and the islands. In general we see reference to the same theme as the Adoration of the Magi.

The Magi were kings, magicians, who came to prostrate themselves to Jesus Christ. This implies there are elements of our psyche or our personality — Magi analogs — which revere and subordinate themselves to the Christ Archetype. What are these Magi analogs? This is a worthy subject for speculation. We can say this much: the Magi are presented in the Bible as wise and noble. This implies there are wise and noble elements of our personality — let us suggest, perhaps, elements that, like the Christ Archetype, seek our integration and improvement, and accomplish good things towards that. But these eventually must see themselves as inferior and subordinate to the Christ Archetype.

all nations will serve him.

Because he has given freedom to the destitute who called to him,

to the poor, whom no-one will hear.

He will spare the poor and the needy,

he will keep their lives safe.

He will rescue their lives from oppression and violence,

their blood will be precious in his sight.

He will live long, and receive gifts of gold from Arabia;

they will pray for him always,

bless him all through the day.

There will be abundance of grain in the land,

it will wave even from the tops of the mountains;

its fruit will be richer than Lebanon.

The people will flourish as easily as grass.

Let his name be blessed for ever,

let his name endure beneath the sun.

All the nations of the earth will be blessed in him,

all nations will acclaim his greatness.

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,

who alone works wonders.

Let his majesty be blessed for ever;

let it fill all the earth. Amen, amen.

To emphasize the special importance of this psalm, the author concludes with not one, but two Amens. Let it be! Let it be!

via Universalis: Office of Readings.

Written by John Uebersax

January 6, 2009 at 8:26 am