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Chapter IX.—Reasons for Veiling the Truth in Symbols.
But, as appears, I have, in my eagerness to establish my point, insensibly gone beyond what is requisite. For life would fail me to adduce the multitude of those who philosophize in a symbolical manner. For the sake, then, of memory and brevity, and of attracting to the truth, such are the Scriptures of the Barbarian philosophy.
For only to those who often approach them, and have given them a trial by faith and in their whole life, will they supply the real philosophy and the true theology. They also wish us to require an interpreter and guide. For so they considered, that, receiving truth at the hands of those who knew it well, we would be more earnest and less liable to deception, and those worthy of them would profit. Besides, all things that shine through a veil show the truth grander and more imposing; as fruits shining through water, and figures through veils, which give added reflections to them. For, in addition to the fact that things unconcealed are perceived in one way, the rays of light shining round reveal defects. Since, then, we may draw several meanings, as we do from what is expressed in veiled form, such being the case, the ignorant and unlearned man fails. But the Gnostior apprehends. Now, then, it is not wished that all things should be exposed indiscriminately to all and sundry, or the benefits of wisdom communicated to those who have not even in a dream been purified in soul, (for it is not allowed to hand to every chance comer what has been procured with such laborious efforts); nor are the mysteries of the word to be expounded to the profane.
They say, then, that Hipparchus the Pythagorean, being guilty of writing the tenets of Pythagoras in plain language, was expelled from the school, and a pillar raised for him as if he had been dead. Wherefore also in the Barbarian philosophy they call those dead who have fallen away from the dogmas, and have placed the mind in subjection to carnal passions. “For what fellowship hath righteousness and iniquity?” according to the divine apostle. “Or what communion hath light with darkness? or what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what portion hath the believer with the unbeliever?”3050
It was not only the Pythagoreans and Plato then, that concealed many things; but the Epicureans too say that they have things that may not be uttered, and do not allow all to peruse those writings. The Stoics also say that by the first Zeno things were written which they do not readily allow disciples to read, without their first giving proof whether or not they are genuine philosophers. And the disciples of Aristotle say that some of their treatises are esoteric, and others common and exoteric. Further, those who instituted the mysteries, being philosophers, buried their doctrines in myths, so as not to be obvious to all. Did they then, by veiling human opinions, prevent the ignorant from handling them; and was it not more beneficial for the holy and blessed contemplation of realities to be concealed? But it was not only the tenets of the Barbarian philosophy, or the Pythagorean myths. But even those myths in Plato (in the Republic, that of Hero the Armenian; and in the Gorgias, that of Æacus and Rhadamanthus; and in the Phædo, that of Tartarus; and in the Protagoras, that of Prometheus and Epimetheus; and besides these, that of the war between the Atlantini and the Athenians in the Atlanticum) are to be expounded allegorically, not absolutely in all their expressions, but in those which express the general sense. And these we shall find indicated by symbols under the veil of allegory. Also the association of Pythagoras, and the twofold intercourse with the associates which designates the majority, hearers (ἀκουσματικοί), and the others that have a genuine attachment to philosophy, disciples (μαθηματικοί), yet signified that something was spoken to the multitude, and something concealed from them. Perchance, too, the twofold species of the Peripatetic teaching—that called probable, and that called knowable—came very near the distinction between opinion on the one hand, and glory and truth on the other.
The Ionic muses accordingly expressly say, “That the majority of people, wise in their own estimation, follow minstrels and make use of laws, knowing that many are bad, few good; but that the best pursue glory: for the best make choice of the everlasting glory of men above all. But the multitude cram themselves like brutes, measuring happiness by the belly and the pudenda, and the basest things in us.” And the great Parmenides of Elea is introduced describing thus the teaching of the two ways:—