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Origen: Most of these ideas are expressed in the story of Moses in a simpler form, because it is older. We find there Man made out of the slime of the earth, and that the fateful curiosity of a woman cursed mankind to the yoke of work and death.
Noumenios: Could you Origen, explain to us this story of the paradise, of the snake and the apple, as I know that you don’t contend yourself to the literal meaning like many of the Christians, you seek in the Hebrew mythology a hidden meaning.
Origen: The letter (literal meaning) kills; the spirit exhilarates; He who has ears hear. The Garden of Eden, is the state of the souls before their incarnation. Eve and the forbidden fruit, it is pleasure; the snake, it is the unruly attraction of desire and terrestrial passions. The soul, fallen by birth in the prison of the body, is bound to the slavery of sin and cannot be delivered only by the virtue of the Redeemer, who died on the cross for the fate of all mankind.
Cheremon: The liberation of the soul through pain and sacrifices has always been agreed by the Greeks; We, probably, would not say that Christ is more ancient than Prometheus, Herakles and Dionysos.
Valantinus: We can see in the religion of the Greeks, like in the religion of the Jews, a preparation to the Christian Truth. One can look at the Caucasus like an image of the Calvary and Herakles’s labors like a vague prophecy of the Passion.
As for Dionysos’s story, I find it quite obscure. Noumenios has asked you the meaning of the mythology of fire and wine; you have showed us the meaning of the first, we would now like to understand the meaning of the second one.
Cheremon: The religious language would be clearer if we would remember more that all the parts of the universe are animated by a divine life. Where today’s people see only inanimate things, the ancient recognized living energies, and these hidden powers were called by them, the Gods.
The active and vivifying force revealed at spring among the lightning from the storm, that bubbles in the sap of the vine and blossoms in autumn in golden grapes, we call it Dionysos, that is, in my view, the divine liquor. Soon the grape will be torn from its feeding branches and trampled, but the burning sap will rebirth under a new form in the sacred liquor of the libations; such is for me the meaning of the two birth of the God. His death is for us a source of life. This liquid fire warms the numb limbs and carries the spirit in an enchanted world. Spread on the altar he gives himself for us as a sacrifice and carries to the Gods men’s prayers. I know that there are other ways to explain these stories, but Porphyry, who is initiated to the orphic orgies and to the mysteries of Samothrace, can talk about them better than me, without unveiling what needs to remain hidden.
Porphyry: The meaning of symbols is multiple, O Cheremon. I recognize with you that Dionysos is the divine libation that is spreads and burns on the altar and becomes the type of the sacrifice. But this invisible flame that flows in the veins of the plants and ferments in the wine, has its source in the sun and as his action is mysterious and hidden, we recognize a higher form of Dionysos in the sun of the nocturnal hemisphere (the moon), that lights the dead and this is why we call him the choragus of the stars, the shepherd of the white stars. Like warmth and life he spreads in nature, disappears in winter to rebirth in spring, he is the symbol of the resurrection of the souls. They are also lights that only extinguish here to be reborn elsewhere.
The intoxication of desire makes them descend from the milky way, through the seven realms. When they arrive in the realm of the moon, they fall into birth and becoming, because the sublunary world is submitted to the law of growth and decay, like the moon itself, that holds the key of life and chairs, even though virgin, to birthing and to education.
As long as the soul stays chained in the bonds of desire, it cannot rise above earth, but if it tames desire, it can also chain it in turn and borrow its wings to reach back the superior world. Pleasure made it descend and pain brings it back. Dionysos hands the initiation cup where it drinks the mystical intoxication of ecstasy, and goes back purified to the dwelling of the light, in the motionless realm of the Gods.
Tat: The doctrine that you have just developed, is in great parts borrowed from the Egyptian religion. My ancestors called Osiris, the sun of the lowers regions, the judge and ruler of the dead. The Greeks, as early as the time of Herodotus, knew that Dionysos was the same God Osiris and have granted to the former what the Egyptians taught them of the later.
The stories of the Phoenicians about the death of Adonis, his descent into the hells and his resurrection, are also borrowings from Egypt, and the Christians seem to have borrowed to the same sources a few of their dogmas of their philosophy, such as ‘light that was contained in the darkness and was holding it’. Egypt is the antic mother of all religions; the Greeks admit that their most ancient philosophers all came to seek instruction from our priests. It is from them that Pythagoras learned what he was teaching about the transmigration of the souls and their successive cleansing.
It is difficult to believe that their incarnations have been voluntary. How could they have been so mad to prefer this enslaving to the free dwelling of the light in the great republic of the Gods? It is more suitable to reason to look at terrestrial life as the punishment of fault prior to their birth.
If someone reads you the books of Thoth, my master, whom the Greeks called Hermes Trimegistus, you will find the story of this punishment. After when the souls have been formed from the most pure portion of matter, the Craftsman let them the leftovers in order them to form, in their turn, the visible world. But proud of their creations, they trespassed the boundaries that he set for them. He exiled them on Earth and imprisoned them into bodies, giving as only condition for their return that they do not get attached to their prison. The souls, irritated from this exile and unable to do anything against the Gods, started fighting each other in mutual wars; the earth and the other elements were desecrated by the spilled blood and they complained to the Creator, begging him to send an emanation of Himself to regenerate the world. He sent Osiris, who taught to mankind religion, justice and science; his mission fulfilled he became the judge of the dead. Such is the story told by Isis to her son Horus.
Valentinus: Why all the allegories through which we try to explain the existence of evil, all point as originating from the perverse will of Man, before or after his birth? It’s confusing evil for sin.
Cheremon: Don’t you believe, Valentinus, that it is, in fact, the greatest of the evils for Man? As for me, I think, like all the stoics, that it is the only true evil, because for a being there is evil only when something is contrary to its nature.
Valentinus: Without doubt, but evil exists in the world outside of Man. Pain and Suffering are contrary to the nature of the animals, because they make a lot of efforts to escape them. Even plants seek to preserve their life by sucking the humidity by their roots and light by their leaves. Nevertheless all the terrestrial beings are corruptible and mortal, and life keeps up only through destruction. Who would say this is good? If we pretend that it is necessary, we place necessity above the creative force. If we pretend that matter by its own inertia resists the intentions of the Craftsman, we can then say the Craftsman was un-careful as He should have known in advance the reactions of the matter He will use. If on the contrary He did, He should have forecasted his work to be evil and should never have left his rest.
Origen: Such words, Valentinus, are to be commonly heard in your schools of Gnosis and they are enough to blame the Christians for being impious.
Valentinus: How can you admit that a same principle has produced two opposite effects, Good and Evil, spirit and matter? The world being evil, the Prince of this world can’t be good.
Tat: Earth is the dwelling of evil, but not the world, Valentinus. The celestial bodies aren’t they incorruptible and immortal?