XLVII. (162) And why need I dwell on the subject more, going through each of the senses and animals separately? For this point has been long agreed upon among all the most eminent historians and philosophers, who have all said that nature is the mother of the irrational animals, and the stepmother of men, perceiving the bodily weakness of men, and the surpassing strength of brute animals in everything. With great propriety, therefore, the artist pounded the calf to pieces; that is to say, dividing it into parts, he showed that all the things which the body has in abundance are very far removed from real good, and are in no respect different from those things which are scattered on the water. (163) On which account the scripture tells us that the calf, after having been pounded to pieces, was scattered on the water, to signify that no genuine plant of good can ever flourish in corruptible matter; for as a seed, when thrown into the stream of a river or into the sea, cannot display its proper powers; for it is impossible, unless it has once taken hold with its roots, as with anchors, of some firm portion of earth, that any branch should be firmly fixed or should shoot up, I do not say to any height, but even as a creeper along the ground, or that it should ever bring forth fruit at the periodical seasons of the year, for any great and violent rush of water coming on washes away all the germinating vigour of the seed. In the same manner all the superfluities contained in the vessel of the soul which are ever spoken of or celebrated are destroyed before they can have any existence, the corporeal substance continually flowing off from them. (164) For how can there be such things as disease and old age and all kinds of corruptions, if there were not a continual drawing off of words, which are theoretical streams; the hierophant, therefore, thinks it Right{68}{i have followed Mangey here in reading axioi, instead of apaxioi, though he prints the latter in the text as the reading of all the MSS.} to irrigate our minds with these words, for the sake of burning up the pleasures, of pounding to pieces and reducing to a thin and impalpable dust, and utterly destroying the system of the corporeal goods; and of making us recollect that the true good has never at any time germinated or blossomed from any one of them, just as nothing flourishes from seeds which are sown in water.

XLVIII. (165) But bulls, and rams, and goats, which Egypt holds in honour, and all other images of corruptible matter which, in report alone, are accounted God’s, have no real existence, but are all fictitious and false; for those who look upon life as only a tragedy full of acts of arrogance and stories of love, impressing false ideas on the tender minds of young men, and using the ears as their ministers, into which they pour fabulous trifles, waste away and corrupt their minds, compelling them to look upon persons who were never even men in their minds, but always effeminate creatures as God’s; (166) for the calf was not made of every description of female ornament, but only of the earrings of the women. The lawgiver showing us by this that nothing wrought with hands is a visible and true God, but only so by report, and as far as he is thought so, and that, too, the report of a woman and not of a man; for it is the conduct of a soul utterly enervated and rendered completely effeminate to receive such nonsense. (167) But he who is truly God is perceived, and felt, and recognised, not only by means of one’s ears, but also by the eyes of our mind, through his mighty works which are done in the world, and through the rapidity of his operations; on which account in the great song it is said (the speaker assuming the character of God), “Behold! behold! it is I!”{69}{#de 32:39.} as if that real existing God could be more easily conceived by the mind than proved by verbal demonstration; (168) but it is not correct to say that the living God is visible, that is rather an abuse of language, arising from referring God himself to his separate acts of power; for even in the passage cited above, he does not say, “Behold me,” for it is wholly impossible that God according to his essence should be perceived or beheld by any creature, but he says, “Behold! it is I,” that is to say, behold my existence; for it is sufficient for the reasoning powers of man to advance so far as to learn that there is and actually exists the great cause of all things, and to attempt to proceed further, so as to pursue investigations into the essence or distinctive qualities of God, is an absolute piece of folly; (169) for God did not grant this even to the all-wise Moses; not though he addressed innumerable requests to him, all having this object; but an oracle was delivered to him, telling him, “Thou shalt see my back parts, but my face thou shalt not See;”{70}{#ex 33:23.} and the meaning of this is, that all the things which are behind God are within the comprehension of a virtuous man, but he himself alone is incomprehensible; and he is incomprehensible by any direct and immediate access (for by such means it is only explained what kind of being he is), but he may be understood in his subsequent and consistent faculties; for they, by means of the works accomplished by them, declare not his essence, but his existence.