A Concise Exposition of Chaldaic Dogma
by Psellus, with additional explanation by Thomas Taylor,
extracted from “Collection of the Chaldean Oracles,” Classical Journal,
December, 1817; March, June, 1818
“They assert that there are seven corporeal worlds, one Empyrean and the first; after this, three etherial, and then three material worlds,1 the last of which is said to be terrestrial, and the hater of life: and this is the sublunary place, containing likewise in itself matter, which they call a profundity. They are of opinion, that there is one principle of things; and this they celebrate as the one, and the good.2 After this, they venerate a certain paternal profundity,3 consisting of three triads; but each triad contains, father, power, and intellect. After this is the intelligible Iynx,4 then the Synoches, of which one is empyrean, the other etherial, and the third material. The Teletarchæ follow the Synoches. After these succeed the fontal fathers,5 who are also called Cosmagogi, or leaders of the world. Of these, the first is called once beyond, the second is Hecate, and the third is twice beyond. After these are the three Amilicti;6 and, last of all, the Upezokus. They likewise venerate a fontal triad of faith, truth, and love. They asserts that there is a ruling sun from a solar fountain, and an archangelic sun; that there is a fountain of sense, a fontal judgment, a thundering fountain, a dioptric fountain, and a fountain of characters, seated in unknown impressions. And, again, that there are fontal summits of Apollo, Osiris, and Hermes. They likewise assert that there are material fountains of centers and elements; that there is a zone of dreams, and a fontal soul.
“After the fountains, they say, the principles7 succeed: for fountains are superior to principles. But of the vivific8 principles, the summit is called Hecate, the middle ruling soul, and the extremity ruling virtue. They have likewise azonic Hecatæ, such as the Chaldaic Triecdotis, Comas, and Ecklustike. But the azonic9 gods, according to them, are Serapis, Bacchus, the series of Osiris, and of Apollo. These gods are called azonic, because they rule without restraint over the zones, and are established above the apparent gods. But he zonic gods are those which revolve round the celestial zones, and rule over sublunary affairs, but not with the same unrestrained energy, as the azonic. For the Chaldeans consider the zonic order as divine; as distributing the parts of the sensible world; and as begirding the allotments about the material region.
“The inerratic circle succeeds the zones, and comprehends the seven spheres in which the stars are placed. According to them, likewise, there are two solar worlds; one, which is subservient to the etherial profundity; the other zonaic, being one of the seven spheres.
“Of human souls they establish a twofold fontal cause, viz. the paternal intellect,10 and the fontal soul;11 and they consider partial12 souls, as proceeding from the fontal, according to the will of the father. Souls of this kind, however, possess a self-begotten, and self-vital essence: for they are not like alter-motive natures. Indeed, since according to the Oracle, a partial soul is a portion of divine fire, a splendid fire, and a paternal conception, it must be an immaterial and self-subsistent essence; for every thing divine is of this kind; and of this the soul is a portion. They assert too, that all things are contained in each soul; but that in each there is an unknown characteristic of an effable and ineffable impression. They are of opinion, that the soul often descends into the world, through many causes; either through the defluxion of its wings,13 or through the paternal will. They believe the world to be eternal, as likewise the periods of the stars. They multifariously distribute Hades, at one time calling it the leader of a terrene allotment, and at another the sublunary region. Sometimes they denominate it, the most inward of the etherial and material worlds; at another time, irrational14 soul. In this, they place the rational soul, not essentially, but according to habitude, when it sympathises with it, and energises according to partial reason.
“They consider ideas, at one time, as the conceptions of the father;15 at another time, as universal reasons, viz. physical, psychical, and intelligible; and again, as the exempt hyparxes (or summits) of beings. They assert that magical operations are accomplished through the intervention of the highest powers, and terrene substances; and that superior natures sympathise with inferior, and especially with those in the sublunary region. They consider souls, as restored after death to their pristine perfection, in the wholes16 of the universe, according to the measures of their peculiar purifications; but some souls are raised by them to a supermundane condition of being. They likewise define souls to be media between impartible and partible natures. With respect to these dogmas, many of them are adopted by Plato17 and Aristotle: but Plotinus, Porphyry, Iamblichus, Proclus, and their disciples, adopt the whole of them, and admit them without hesitation, as doctrines of a divine origin.”
Thus far Psellus: I add, for the sake of those readers that are unacquainted with the scientific theology of the ancients, that as the highest principle of things is a nature truly ineffable and unknown, it is impossible that this visible world could have been produced by him without media; and this not through any impotency, but, on the contrary, through transcendency of power. For if he had produced all things without the agency of intermediate beings, all things must have been like himself, ineffable and unknown. It is necessary, therefore, that there should be certain mighty powers between the supreme principle of things and us: for we, in reality, are nothing more than the dregs of the universe. These mighty powers, from their surpassing similitude to the first God, were very properly called by the ancients gods; and were considered by them as perpetually subsisting in the most admirable and profound union with each other, and the first cause; yet so as amidst this union to preserve their own energy distinct from that of the highest god. For it would be absurd in the extreme, to allow, that man has a peculiar energy of his own, and to deny that this is the case with the most exalted beings. Hence, as Proclus beautifully observes, the gods may be compared to trees rooted in the earth: for as these, by their roots, are united with the earth, and become earthly in an eminent degree, without being earth itself; so the gods, by their summits, are profoundly united to the first cause, and by this means are transcendently similar to, without being, the first cause.
Lines too, emanating from the centre of a circle, afford us a conspicuous image of the manner in which these mighty powers proceed from, and subsist in, the ineffable principle of things. For here, the lines are evidently things different from the centre, to which, at the same time, by their summits, they are exquisitely allied. All these summits too, which are indescribably absorbed in centre, are yet no parts (i.e. powers) of it; for the centre has a subsistence prior to them, as being their cause.
1. These three material worlds, are the inerratic sphere, the seven plantary spheres, and the sublunary region.
2. So Plato.
3. This is called, by the Platonists, the intelligible triad; and is celebrated by Plato in the Philebus, under the names of bound, infinite, and the mixed; and likewise of symmetry, truth, and beauty, which triad, he says, is seated in the vestibule of the good.
4. The Iynx, Synoches, and Teletarchæ of the Chaldeans, compose that divine order which is called, by the Platonists, the intelligible, and, at the same time, intellectual order; and is celebrated by Plato in the Phædrus, under the names of the supercelestial place, Heaven, and the subcelestial arch.
5. These fontal fathers compose the intellectual triad of the Greeks, and are Saturn, Rhea, Jupiter.
6. The three Amilicti are the same with the unpolluted triad, or Curetes, of the Greeks. Observe, that a fontal subsistence means a subsistence according to cause.
7. These principles are the same with the Platonic supermundane order of the gods.
8. The vivific triad consists, according to the Greek Theologists, of Diana, Proserpine, and Minerva.
9. The azonic gods are the same with the liberated order of the Greek Theologists, or that order which is immediately situated above the mundane gods.
10. The Jupiter of the Greeks, the articifer of the universe.
11. Called by the Greeks, Juno.
12. That is, such souls as ours.
13. So Plato: see my translation of the Phædrus.
14. Hades is with great propriety thus called: for the rational, when giving itself up to the dominion of the irrational soul, maybe truly said to be situated in Hades, or obscurity.
15. i.e. Jupiter, or the Demiurgus.
16. That is to say, the celestial and sublunary spheres.
17. Indeed, he who has penetrated the profundity of Plato’s doctrines, will find that they perfectly accord with these Chaldaic dogmas; as is every where copiously shown by Proclus.