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The Gnostic Society Library

Thrice-Greatest Hermes - Volume 3

by G.R.S. Mead

p. 226



i. Contra Valentinianos, xv.; Œhler (F.), ii. 402 (Leipzig, 1844).


(Writing sarcastically of the Gnostic Sophia-myth, Tertullian exclaims:)

Well, then, let the Pythagoreans learn, the Stoics know, [yea,] Plato even, whence matter—which they [sc. the Pythagoreans and the rest] would have to be ingenerable—derived its source and substance to [form] this pile of a world,—[a mystery] which not even the famous Thrice-greatest Hermes, the master of all physics, has thought out.

The doctrine of Hermes, and of Hellenistic theology in general, however, is that matter comes from the One God. It is remarkable that Tertullian keeps his final taunt for that school which was evidently thought the foremost of all—that of the “famous Thrice-greatest Hermes.”

p. 227

ii. De Anima, ii.; Œhler, ii. 558.


(Inveighing against the wisdom of the philosophers, Tertullian says:)

She [philosophy] has also been under the impression that she too has drawn from what they [the philosophers] consider “sacred” scriptures; because antiquity thought that most authors were gods (deos), and not merely inspired by them (divos),—as, for instance, Egyptian Hermes, with whom especially Plato had intercourse, 1 . . . [and others] . . . .

Here again, as with Justin, Hermes heads the list; moreover, in Tertullian’s mind, Hermes belongs to antiquity, to a more ancient stratum than Pythagoras and Plato, as the context shows; Plato, of course, depends on Hermes, not Hermes on Plato; of this Tertullian has no doubt. There were also “sacred scriptures” of Hermes, and Hermes was regarded as a god.

iii. Ibid., xxviii.; Œhler, ii. 601.


What then is the value nowadays of that ancient doctrine mentioned by Plato, 2 about the reciprocal migration of souls; how they remove hence and go thither, and then return hither and pass through life, and then again depart from this life, made quick again from the dead? Some will have it that this is a doctrine of Pythagoras; while Albinus 3 will have it to

p. 228

be a divine pronouncement, perhaps of Egyptian Hermes.

iv. Ibid., xxxiii.; Œhler, ii. 610.


(Arguing ironically against the belief in metempsychosis, Tertullian writes:)

Even if they [souls] should continue [unchanged] until judgment [is pronounced upon them] . . . a point which was known to Egyptian Hermes, when he says that the soul on leaving the body is not poured back into the soul of the universe, but remains individualized 1:


That it may give account unto the Father of those things which it hath done in body.

This exact quotation 2 is to be found nowhere in the existing remains of the Trismegistic literature, but it has every appearance of being genuine.

Œhler (note c) refers to C. H., x. (xi.) 7, but this passage of “The Key” is only a general statement of the main idea of metempsychosis.

A more appropriate parallel is to be found in P. S. A., xxviii. 1: “When, [then,] the soul’s departure from the body shall take place,—then shall the judgment and the weighing of its merit pass into its highest daimon’s power”—a passage, however, which retains far stronger traces of the Egyptian prototype of the idea than does that quoted by Tertullian.


226:1 Fl., c. 200-216 A.D.

227:1 Adsuevit.

227:2 Cf. Phædo, p. 70.

227:3 A Platonic philosopher, and contemporary of Galen (130-?200 A.D.).

228:1 Determinatam.

228:2 Tertullian marks it by an “inquit.”

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