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.