Chapter 11. The Question Stated

The subject, therefore, concerning which thou makest thy next enquiry, is a common theme of discussion with everybody, both those who are proficient in the sacred learning and those less skilled in such matters am speaking in regard to Sacrifices: “What utility or power they possess in the world and with the gods, and for what reason they are performed appropriate for the beings thus honored, and advantageously for the persons who present the gifts.”

There is also added in the same connection another opposing remark: “The gods also require that interpreters of the oracles observe strict abstinence from animal substances, in order that they may not be made impure by the fumes from the bodies, yet they themselves are allured most of all by the fumes of the sacrifices of animals.”

It is easy enough, therefore, for any one to dispose of the conflict which thou suggestest. He has simply to point out the excellence of wholes as compared to the incomplete natures and to call attention to the absolute superiority of the gods to human beings. What I now affirm is the following theorem: That for the Universal Soul to preside over the world-body of the Universe and for the gods of the sky to take the celestial body (or sphere) for a vehicle, is neither injurious as a receptacle of passions nor an impediment to the conceptions of mind, but that for the imperfect soul to be in partnership with a body is unprofitable in both these respects. <sup>1</sup> Suppose, then, this being perceived, some difficult problem is suggested, like this, for example: That if the body is a fetter to our soul, it will also be a fetter to the soul of the universe; and if the imperfect soul is turned to the body with reference to generation, so also the world-soul will be affected in like manner. Any one may reply to this by declaring that such an objection does not regard the superiority of the higher races to human beings and of the wholes to parts. As, therefore, the converse propositions relate to matters diverse from each other, they do not in any way constitute matters for dispute.

Here, therefore, the same reasoning is enough. With us the enjoyment incident to bodies conjoined with the soul imparts dullness of mind and actual defilement, and likewise engenders voluptuousness and produces many different maladies of the soul. <sup>2</sup> In the case, however, of the gods, and of the creators (causes) of the universe and all things, however, the exhalation from the victims going up in a manner proper in religious rites, and likewise encompassed and not encompassing, and itself joined to the all, but in no sense joining the universe and the gods with itself, is itself. adapted to the superior races and the universal causes, but never restrains them or adapts them to itself.

For if the matter is rightly understood, there is by no means any difficulty like that which suggests itself to thee and about which thou contendest in relation to Abstinence from Animal Food. For they who conduct the worship of the gods do not abstain from animal food in order that the gods may not be defiled by the fumes from the animals. For what exhalation from the bodies will come near the beings who, before anything material reaches them by any possibility, put matter away from touching them? Not because their power removes everything that causes the bodies to disappear without coming near them; but on the contrary the celestial body (the planet) is unmingled with all material constituents. <sup>3</sup> It does not receive anything into itself from without, and it does not give forth any particle from itself to things foreign to it. How, then, can any earthly vapor which does not rise five stadia (six hundred feet) from the earth, before it sinks down to it again, come near the sky, or nourish the revolving and non-material body, or, in short, produce in it any defilement or other condition? For it is acknowledged that the ætherial etherial body is outside of every contrary influence, and likewise that it is free from all change; that it is entirely pure from every possibility of being transformed into something else, and, besides this, is utterly without any impulse toward the center or from the center. Hence it is stationary in one place, or it revolves in an orbit. There is not, therefore, any common nature, or power, or exhalation of the bodies which consist of different forces and motions, that are variously modified, moving upward or downward, which may become mingled with the bodies in the sky. Because, therefore, these essences are entirely separate and diverse from them, they effect nothing in regard to them. These, being unbegotten, cannot undergo any change in themselves from those that are generated and subject to change. How, then, may the essence of the divine beings be defiled from such fumes when, as we may say, they put quickly away at a single impulse the vapors from all matter and bodies composed of matter?

It is not proper, therefore, to conjecture this; but rather to reflect that things which are distributed into parts can have a certain relation to each other, actively or passively, the material to the non-material, and, in short, like natures to like natures. Those, however, that are of another essence, and such as are entirely superior, and which likewise are endowed with other natures and faculties, are not capable of such things as acting upon others or receiving anything from others. The defilement proceeds, therefore, from material objects to those that are held by a material body. It is necessary, accordingly, for those to be purified from these things who are likely to be contaminated from matter. They, however, who are completely free from a divisible nature, who are entirely without the power of receiving conditions from matter into themselves, how can they become contaminated by material things? How can the divine nature, which is preexistent and superior to human infirmity, and has nothing in common with us, be affected from my emotions or those of any other human being?

Neither of these, accordingly, makes any difference to the gods. No matter is it that we are endowed with bodies from the sphere of matter, for there is nothing, in short, of this with them; and, as they are entirely pure and unmingled essences, they are not deified from our stains, nor is it of any consequence if material exhalations of bodies are given off around the earth, for these are the farthest remote from their essence and powers. Hence if there exists no part of it in respect to the gods, the whole hypothesis of contrariety (which has been put forth) is completely destroyed. For how may that which is absolutely non-existent (without an external substance) have any conflict in itself? By vainly conjecturing such things, so absurd and unworthy of gods, thou bringest up questions which may not reasonably be adduced in respect to good men. For no man possessing intelligence and undisturbed by passion – much less one of the superior races-would ever be allured by the exhalations of vapors from a sacrifice.

These things, however, will be made the topic of discourse a little later. But for the present the notion of contrariety of nature, having been controverted by many refutations, we will leave off reasoning in respect to the first topic of discussion.

But the question is more important, and relates to things of greater consequence. How will I be able to answer thee briefly and fully what is difficult and requires a long explanation? I will attempt to reply, nevertheless, and will not be backward in zeal for promptness. I will also endeavor to follow the points which thou hast concisely indicated and go onward to some of special significance.

I will accordingly set forth to thee, so far as I may, the dogma Concerning Sacrifices; that it is by no means to offer them for the sake of honor along in the same way that we honor benefactors; nor for the sake of grateful acknowledging of benefits which the gods have bestowed upon us; nor yet as a first-fruit or gift by way of recompense for older gifts which the gods have made to us. For these are things common also to mankind, and are likewise received from the c6mmon administration; but they by no means establish beyond question the supremacy of the gods and their rank as specific causes.

That, however, which is of the greatest importance should now be considered. I mean, the efficacy of the Sacrifices, why they effect so much. But for them there would come neither cessations from pestilence, nor from famines, nor from unproductive seasons; neither would there be showers of rain, nor the things which are more precious than these, such as conduce to purification of the soul, or to perfection, <sup>4</sup> or to liberation from the conditions of generated existence. Indeed, such modes of sacrificing do not exhibit these results at all. Hence, therefore, as they do not set forth properly in these rites the divine cause of the performances, we cannot justly approve of them. But if they are to be approved at all, it will be only after a secondary manner and as being dependent upon the primary and most ancient divine causes.

The matter under consideration requires, therefore, that we shall set forth the principle according to which the sacrifices are adapted to the events, and have relation to the gods that are the causes precedent to the things that take place. Suppose, then, we may say that by having one life everywhere, the same in the whole universe as in a single living being, there is a participation of similar forces, or a repulsion of opposing ones, or a certain affinity of the active to the passive, which moves the things that are similar and in affinity at the same time, operating in them in like manner by one common sympathy and existing in the most distant as in the nearest. There is then something thus stated of things that are true, and that of necessity belong with the sacrifices. Yet the true purpose of the sacrifices is not thereby shown. For the essence of the gods is in no way dependent upon the realm of nature and upon natural necessities, so as to be aroused by natural passions or by the forces which extend through all the realm of nature. On the other hand it is established by itself outside of these, having nothing in common with them-neither according to essence, nor according to power, nor according to any other thing whatever.



  • 1. Stobaeos has preserved the following fragment by Iamblichos, setting forth the same concept: “All souls do not have the same common relation to bodies, but the Universal Soul, as it seemed to Plotinus, issues forth by itself and comprises the body in itself, but it does not couple with the body nor is it encompassed by it. Imperfect souls (such as human beings are endowed with), however, come to the bodies and are born with them.”
  • 2. Androkydes, the Pythagorean, says: “Wine and the enjoyments of flesh make the body vigorous, but the soul more sluggish.”
  • 3. Proklos describes a celestial body or planet as containing the highest principles of the elements and as characterized by vivific unburning fire; in other words, a vitalized principle extended.
  • 4. The Magians and Theurgic priests entertained 'the notion that it was not in reason for the soul to be made pure by corporeal sacrifices, but Porphyry is said to have conceded that the inferior part of the soul, the “mortal soul,” might be thereby purified to a certain degree, though not sufficiently for it to attain immortality. The “teleôsis” here spoken of was understood by Proklos to consist in the union of the soul to the Divine Father, by means of the “perfective rite” or initiation: but Porphyry affirmed, as Augustine declared, that those who were thus purified, did not return to the Father or Supreme Divinity, but dwelt above the aerial region among the gods of the æther.