(48) Why did he say, “And let the child, every male child, be circumcised at eight days old?” (#Ge 17:12). He orders the freeborn to be circumcised, which, in the first place, was permitted on account of diseases that might arise; for it is more difficult to heal a disease in the genitals, and it is commonly done by burning by fire those parts over which a membrane grows, but this rarely affects those who have been circumcised. And in truth, if it were possible that other infirmities also could be avoided by amputating any member or any part of the body, so that though it was amputated still the operation of each necessary part would not be hindered, then without the knowledge of mortal man he would be transmitted into immortality. But that here it was thought fit that man should be circumcised out of a provident care for his mind without any previous infirmity is plain, since not the Jews alone, but also the Egyptians, and Arabians, and Ethiopians, and nearly all the nations who live in the southern parts of the world, down to the torrid zone are circumcised. What then is the chief reason of this fact? except that in those districts, and especially in the summer, when the genitals are protected with a skin, it burns and is injured by inflammation, but when that covering is laid bare by circumcision it is cooled, and the disease is repelled; and on this account the northern nations and others, to whom the cooler portion of the habitable earth has been allotted, are not circumcised, for not only is the solar heat moderate in those regions, but so is also all inflammatory disease which affects the membranes of the members. Let every one take a firm judgment, and from that time when the disease comes in more vigorously; for it never comes at all in the winter, but in the summer it shows itself and flourishes and ripens; for it loves, if I may so say, like fire to burn in those parts. In the second place, it was not only from a regard to sound health that our ancestors diligently employed this method of cure, but also from a regard to the multiplication of the human race, seeing that nature was very vivacious and too eager to propagate the human species. Therefore they knew, like wise men, how the seed when poured over the folds of the membrane is often accustomed to be wasted and so to become unfruitful; but if no impediment arises then it would easily be able to arrive at the situation suited to receive it. On which account also those nations which adopt the practice of circumcision have grown into an exceedingly numerous population: and our legislator, weighing the consequences also, commanded the circumcision of infants to be performed at an earlier age, keeping in view the same effect of circumcision with regard to the population. Therefore it is in truth, as it seems to me, that the Egyptians also in the fourteenth year of their children’s age, in which the desire to propagate the species usually begins, have said that it is suitable to circumcise them, with the view of increasing the population; but it was better and more carefully done in our nation, where the circumcision of infants was ordained, since perhaps the man when grown up would delay the operation out of fear, because he then has a will of his own. In the third place, he says this with a view to cleanliness in the sacred oblations; for in truth those who enter into the courts of the temples are made clean by sprinkling and ablutions. Moreover the Egyptians scrape the whole body, removing all the hairs which cover and envelop the body, so as to appear white all over; but the circumcision of the skin is no small assistance towards cleanliness, otherwise everyone would abhor it when he beheld it as it is in itself. In the fourth place, there are in us two generative principles, one in the soul and one in the body; the generative principle of the soul is the intellect, and that of the body is the corporeal organ; therefore the ancients chose to refer the generative principle of the body to an imitation of the intellect which is rather the generative principle of the heart. And in truth there is nothing to which it is found more like than the circumcision of the heart; these therefore are real facts like the celebrated reasons for things which have been investigated. But we must now speak of those which have greater symbols belonging to them and which exhibit a certain principle. Therefore the circumcision of the skin is said to be a symbol, but as one indicating that it is proper to cut away all superfluous and extravagant desires, by studying continence and religion; for as the skin of the prepuce is quite superfluous for generation, and is moreover especially injurious by reason of the disease of inflammation which burns within it, so also an over abundance of desire is as superfluous as it is pernicious, superfluous because it is not necessary, and pernicious because it is the cause of diseases to both body and soul; and by the greater desire he also warns us that all the other desires are likewise to be cut off. And that is called the greater desire which has a regard to the matrimonial connexion of the male and the female; since it is the beginning of a great thing, namely, of generation; and since it creates a great affection on the part of the father towards her who is to bring forth; for it is natural for them both to be influenced by love and affection for their offspring. Therefore, he here warns us to cut away not only all the superfluous desires, but also pride, as being a great wickedness and an associate of wickedness. For pride, as the language of the ancients tells us, is what keeps men back and hinders them in their improvement; since it will not exhibit that honesty which it really possesses, thinking that it is itself an adequate cause for anything. Moreover it naturally influences those who think themselves the causes of generation; so that they scarcely ever turn their minds at all to behold the true Father of the universe. For he is in truth the one real and genuine Father of all; and we, who are called fathers, are only instruments of his, serving to generation; since, as in a wonderful resemblance, all things which are represented in appearance are yet in reality inanimate, but that which strengthens the nerves is invisible, and yet is itself the cause of virtue, and of motion, and of sight. So, in like manner, from everlasting and invisible space there extends the Creator of the universe, and we, like so many puppets, are strengthened by him with nerves for the purpose which belongs to us, namely, sowing seed and raising a generation; unless we choose to fancy that a flute is blown by itself, and is not made by an artist in a way adapted for the production of harmony, by whom it was constructed as an instrument for service and for its own necessary end.