XLIX. (262) We must consider what great prudence and philosophical wisdom is displayed in this law; for nearly all other persons are besprinkled with pure water, generally in the sea, some in rivers, and others again in vessels of water which they draw from fountains. But Moses, having previously prepared ashes which had been left from the sacred fire (and in what manner shall be explained hereafter), appointed that it should be right to take some of them and to put them in a vessel, and then to pour water upon them, and then, dipping some branches of hyssop in the mixture of ashes and water, to sprinkle it over those who were to be purified. (263) And the cause of this proceeding may very probably be said to be this:–The lawgiver’s intention is that those who approach the service of the living God should first of all know themselves and their own essence. For how can the man who does not know himself ever comprehend the supreme and all-excelling power of God? (264) Therefore, our bodily essence is earth and water, of which he reminds us by this purification, conceiving that this result–namely, to know one’s self, and to know also of what one is composed, of what utterly valueless substances mere ashes and water are–is of itself the most beneficial purification. (265) For when a man is aware of this he will at once reject all vain and treacherous conceit, and, discarding haughtiness and pride, he will seek to become pleasing to God, and to conciliate the merciful power of that Being who hates arrogance. For it is said somewhere with great beauty, “He that exhibits over proud words or actions offends not men alone but God also, the maker of equality and of every thing else that is most excellent.” (266) Therefore, to us who are amazed and excited by this sprinkling the very elements themselves, earth and water, may almost be said to utter distinct words, and to say plainly, we are the essence of your bodies; nature having mixed us together, divine art has fashioned us into the figure of a man. Being made of us when you were born, you will again be dissolved into us when you come to die; for it is not the nature of any thing to be destroyed so as to become non-existent; but the end brings it back to those elements from which its beginnings come.

L. (267) But now it is necessary to fulfil our promise and to explain the peculiar propriety involved in this use of ashes. For they are not merely the ashes of wood which has been consumed by fire, but also of an animal particularly suited for this kind of purification. (268) For the law Orders{36}{#nu 19:1.} that a red heifer, which has never been brought under the yoke, shall be sacrificed outside of the city, and that the high priest, taking some of the blood, shall seven times sprinkle with it all the things in front of the temple, and then shall burn the whole animal, with its hide and flesh, and with the belly full of all the entrails. And when the flame begins to pour down, then it commands that these three things shall be thrown into the middle of it, a stick of cedar, a stick of hyssop, and a bunch of saffron; and then, when the fire is wholly extinguished, it commands that some man who is clean shall collect the ashes, and shall again place them outside of the city in some open place. (269) And what figurative meanings he conceals under these orders as symbols, we have accurately explained in another treatise, in which we have discussed the allegories. It is necessary, therefore, for those who are about to go into the temple to partake of the sacrifice, to be cleansed as to their bodies and as to their souls before their bodies. For the soul is the mistress and the queen, and is superior in every thing, as having received a more divine nature. And the things which cleanse the mind are wisdom and the doctrines of wisdom, which lead to the contemplation of the world and the things in it; and the sacred chorus of the rest of the virtues, and honourable and very praiseworthy actions in accordance with the virtues. (270) Let the man, therefore, who is adorned with these qualities go forth in cheerful confidence to the temple which most nearly belongs to him, the most excellent of all abodes to offer himself as a sacrifice. But let him in whom covetousness and a desire of unjust things dwell and display themselves, cover his head and be silent, checking his shameless folly and his excessive impudence, in those matters in which caution is profitable; for the temple of the truly living God may not be approached by unholy sacrifices. (271) I should say to such a man: My good man, God is not pleased even though a man bring hecatombs to his altar; for he possesses all things as his own, and stands in need of nothing. But he delights in minds which love God, and in men who practise holiness, from whom he gladly receives cakes and barley, and the very cheapest things, as if they were the most valuable in preference to such as are most costly. (272) And even if they bring nothing else, still when they bring themselves, the most perfect completeness of virtue and excellence, they are offering the most excellent of all sacrifices, honouring God, their Benefactor and Saviour, with hymns and thanksgivings; the former uttered by the organs of the voice, and the latter without the agency of the tongue or mouth, the worshippers making their exclamations and invocations with their soul alone, and only appreciable by the intellect, and there is but one ear, namely, that of the Deity which hears them. For the hearing of men does not extend so far as to be sensible of them.