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The Gnostic Society Library

Thrice-Greatest Hermes - Volume 3

by G.R.S. Mead

p. 34



(Title from Patrizzi (p. 44); preceded by “Of Thrice-greatest Hermes.”

Text: Stob., Phys., xxxv. 6, under the heading: “From the [Sermons] to Tat”; G. pp. 284-291; M. i. 198-203; W. i. 284-289.

Ménard, Livre IV., No. ii. of “Fragments from the Books of Hermes to his Son Tat,” pp. 231-237.)

1. Tat. Rightly hast thou explained these things, O father [mine]. Now give me further teaching as to those.

For thou hast said somewhere 1 that science and that art do constitute the rational’s energy. 2

But now thou say’st that the irrational lives, 3 through deprivation of the rational, are and are called ir-rational.

According to this reasoning, [therefore], it follows of necessity that the irrational lives are

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without any share in science or in art, through deprivation of the rational.

2. Her. [It follows] of necessity, [my] son.

Tat. How, then, O father, do we see some of irrational [creatures] using [both] intelligence, and art?—the ants, for instance, storing their food for winter, and in like fashion, [too,] the creatures of the air building their nests, and the four-footed beasts [each] knowing their own holes. 1

Her. These things they do, O son, neither by science nor by art, but by [the force of] nature.

Science and art are teachable; but none of these irrationals is taught a thing.

Things done by nature are [so] done by reason of the general energy of things.

Things [done] by art and science are achieved by those who know, [and] not by all.

Things done by all are brought into activity 2 by nature.

3. For instance, all look up [to heaven]; but all [are] not musicians, or [are] all archers, or hunters, or the rest.

But some of them have learned one thing,

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[paragraph continues] [others another thing], science and art being active 1 [in them].

In the same way, if some ants only did this thing, and others not, thou would’st have rightly said they acted by [the light] of science, and stored their food by means of art.

But if they all without distinction are driven by their nature to [do] this, though [it may be] against their will,—’tis plain they do not do it or by science or by art.

4. For Tat, these energies, though [in themselves] they are incorporal, are [found] in bodies, and act through bodies.

Wherefore, O Tat, in that they are incorporal, thou sayest that they are immortal; but, in so far as without bodies they cannot manifest activity, 2 I say that they are ever in a body.

Things once called into being for some purpose, or some cause, things that come under Providence and Fate, can never stay inactive of their proper energy.

For that which is, shall ever be; for that this [being] is [the very] body and the life of it.

5. It follows from this reason, [then,] that these are always bodies.

Wherefore I say that “bodying” 3 itself is an eternal [exercise of] energy.

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If bodies are on earth, they’re subject unto dissolution; yet must these [ever] be [on earth to serve] as places and as organs for the energies.

The energies, however, [are] immortal, and the immortal is eternally,—[that is, that] body-making, if it ever is, 1 is energy.

6. [The energies] accompany the soul, though not appearing all at once.

Some of them energize the man the moment that he’s born, united with the soul round its irrational [parts]; whereas the purer ones, with change of age, 2 co-operate with the soul’s rational part.

But all these energies depend on bodies. From godly 3 bodies they descend to mortal [frames], these body-making [energies]; each one of them is [ever] active, either around the body or the soul.

Yea, they are active with the soul itself without a body. They are for ever in activity.

The soul, however, is not for ever in a mortal body, for it can be without the body; whereas the energies can never be without the bodies.

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This is a sacred saying (logos), son: Body apart from soul cannot persist; its being can. 1

7. Tat. What dost thou mean, O father [mine]?

Her. Thus understand it, Tat! When soul leaves body, body itself remains.

But [even] the body so abandoned, 2 as long as it remains, is in activity, being broken up and made to disappear.

For body without [the exercise of] energy could not experience these things. 3

This energy, accordingly, continues with the body when the soul has gone.

This, therefore, is the difference of an immortal body and a mortal one,—that the immortal doth consist of a one single matter, but this [body does] not.

The former’s active, and the latter’s passive.

For every thing that maketh active is the stronger; and [every thing] that is made active is the weaker.

The stronger, too, being in authority and free, doth lead; the [weaker] follows [as] a slave.

8. The energies, then, energize not only bodies that are ensouled, but also [bodies] unensouled,

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[paragraph continues] —stocks, stones, 1 and all such things;—both making [them] to grow, and to bear fruits, and ripening [them], dissolving, melting, rotting and crumbling [them], and setting up [in them] all like activities which bodies without souls can undergo.

For energy’s 2 the name, O son, for just the thing that’s going on,—that is becoming.

And many things needs must for ever be becoming; nay, rather, all things [must].

For never is Cosmos bereft of any of existent things, but being borne 3 for aye in its own self, it bears existent things,—[things] that shall never cease from being destroyed again. 4

9. Know, then, that energy of every kind is ever free from death,—no matter what it is, or in what body.

And of the energies, some are of godly bodies, and some of those which are corruptible; some [are] general, and some special. Some [are] of genera, and some are of the parts of every genus.

The godly ones, [accordingly], are those that exercise their energies through everlasting bodies. And these are perfect [energies], in that [they energize] through perfect bodies.

But partial [energies are] those [that energize] through each one of the [single] living things.

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And special [energies are those that energize] through each one of existent things.

10. This argument, accordingly, O son, deduces that all things are full of energies.

For though it needs must be that energies should be in bodies,—and there be many bodies in the Cosmos,—I say that energies are many more than bodies.

For often in one body there is [found] one, and a second and a third [activity],—not counting in the general ones that come with it.

By general ones I mean the purely corporal ones, that exercise themselves through the sensations 1 and the motions [of the body].

For that without these energies the body [of an animal] can not persist.

11. The souls of men, however, have a second class of energies,—the special ones [that exercise themselves] through arts, and sciences, and practices, and [purposed] doings. 2

For that the feelings 3 follow on the energies or rather are completions 4 of the energies.

Know, then, O son, the difference of energy and of sensation.

[Thus] energy is sent down from above; whereas sensation, being in the body and having its existence from it, receives the energy

p. 41

and makes it manifest, as though it did embody it.

Wherefore I say sensations are both corporal and mortal, and last as long as doth the body [only].

Nay, rather, its sensations are born together with the body, and they die with it.

12. But the immortal bodies in themselves have no sensation,—[not even an] immortal [one], as though they were composed out of some essence of some kind.

For that sensation doth arise entirely from naught else than either from the bad or else the good that’s added to the body, or that is, on the contrary, taken [from it] again.

But with eternal bodies there is no adding to nor taking from.

Wherefore, sensation doth not occur in them.

13. Tat. Is, then, sensation felt in every body?

Her. In every body, son; and energies are active in all [bodies, too].

Tat. Even in bodies without souls, O father [mine]?

Her. Even in them, O son. There are, however, differences in the sensations.

The feelings of the rationals occur with reason; those of irrationals are simply corporal; as for the things that have no soul, they [also] have

p. 42

sensations, but passive ones,—experience of increase [only] and decrease. 1

Moreover, passion and sensation depend from one [same] head, 2 and they are gathered up again into the same, and that, too, by the energies.

14. Of lives 3 with souls there are two other energies which go with the sensations and the passions,—grief and joy.

And without these, an ensouled life, and most of all a rational one, could not experience sensation.

Wherefore, I say that there are forms of passions,—[and] forms that dominate the rational lives more [than the rest].

The energies, then, are the active forces [in sensations], while the sensations are the indications of the energies.

15. Further, as these 4 are corporal, they’re set in motion by the irrational parts of [a man’s] soul; wherefore, I say that both of them are mischievous.

For that both joy, though [for the moment] it provides sensation joined with pleasure, immediately becomes a cause of many ills 5 to

p. 43

him who feeleth it; while grief [itself] provides [still] greater pains and suffering.

Wherefore, they both would seem [most] mischievous.

16. Tat. Can, then, sensation be the same in soul and body, father [mine]?

Her. How dost thou mean,—sensation in the soul, [my] son?

Tat. Surely it cannot be that soul’s incorporal, and that sensation is a body, father,—sensation which is sometimes in a body and sometimes not, [just as the soul]?

Her. If we should put it in a body, son, we should [then] represent it as like the soul or [like] the energies. For that we say these 1 are incorporals in bodies.

But [as] sensation’s neither energy nor soul, nor any other thing than body, according to what has been said above, it cannot, therefore, be incorporal.

And if it’s not incorporal, it must be body.

For of existing things some must be bodies and the rest incorporal.


Again, as with the last excerpt, the earlier editions of Stobæus have Asclepius and Tat as the persons of

p. 44

the dialogue instead of Hermes and Tat. Wachsmuth gives them correctly.

The second sentence is of great interest, for it refers us presumably to C. H., x. (xi.), 22: “God’s rays, to use a figure, are his energies; the Cosmos’s are natures; the arts and sciences are man’s.” Seeing, however, that “The Key” is an Epitome of the General Sermons to Tat, the statement may also have been made in one of these sermons.

In either case the existence of these General Sermons is presupposed, and, therefore, it may be that our excerpt is, again, one of the Expository Sermons to Tat.

The beginning of the Sermon has clearly been omitted by Stobæus, and apparently the end also.


34:1 That is in some previous sermon.

34:2 Action or operation,—ἐνέργειαν εἶναι τοῦ λογικοῦ. Cf. § 11 below.

34:3 Or animals.

35:1 καὶ τὰ ἀέρια ζῶα ὁμοίως καλιὰς ἑαυτοῖς συντιθέντα, τὰ δὲ τετράποδα γνωρίζοντα τοὺς φωλεοὺς τοὺς ἰδίους. Compare Matt. viii. 20 = Luke ix. 58 (word for word): αἱ ἀλώπεκες φωλεοὺς ἔχουσιν καὶ τὰ πετεινὰ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ κατασκηνώσεις—“The foxes have holes and the birds of the air nests.” The first and third Evangelists here copy verbally from their “Logia” source.

35:2 Or energized.

36:1 Or energizing.

36:2 Lit. energize.

36:3 σωμάτωσιν,—cf. Ex. vii. 2; cf. also the ψύχωσις of K. K., 9.

37:1 That is, if it goes on continually.

37:2 κατὰ μεταβολὴν τῆς ἡλικίας,—generally supposed to be the seventh year. Compare the apocryphal logos: “He who seeks me shall find me in children from the age of seven years”—quoted by the Christian Overwriter of the Naassene Document from the Gospel according to Thomas (Hipp., Philos., v. 7; § 7 in “Myth of Man”).

37:3 Or divine,—the bodies of the Gods, the heavenly bodies, or the spiritual and immortal bodies of the soul.

38:1 συνεστάναι μὲν σῶμα χωρὶς ψυχῆς οὐ δύναται, τὸ δὲ εἶναι δύναται,—“its being” presumably refers to the abstract “bodying” (σωμάτωσις) referred to above.

38:2 Lit. this body.

38:3 Sc. dissolution and disappearance.

39:1 Cf. Naassene Document, § 4, and § 13 below.

39:2 Or activity.

39:3 Or conceived.

39:4 Reading αὖθις for αὐτοῦ, with Heeren.

40:1 Or feelings.

40:2 ἐνεργημάτων,—cf. § 1 above.

40:3 Or sensations.

40:4 Or effects—ἀποτελέσματα.

42:1 Cf. § 8 above, and note.

42:2 ἀπὸ μιᾶς κορυφῆς ἤρτηνται. Compare this with Plato, Phædo, i. 60 B, where Socrates speaks of the pleasant and the painful as “two (bodies) hanging from one head” (ἐκ μιᾶς κορυφῆς συνημμένω).

42:3 Or animals.

42:4 That is, the sensation of pleasure and pain.

42:5 Sc. by contrast.

43:1 That is, soul and energies.

Next: Excerpt IX. Of the Decans and the Stars