De Moor V:28: The Sublimity of the Doctrine of the Trinity, Part 3


Tarquin and the Sibyl

They Object, 2. the Authority of Hermes Trismegistus,[1] the Sibyls,[2] Plato, etc. Thus ATHANASIUS KIRCHER[3] out of HERMES TRISMEGISTUS sets forth what things he believes to have regard to this: yet Kircher does not hence conclude in favor of the natural knowledge of this Mystery; but he maintains that Hermes Trismegistus was of Canaanite stock, a σύγχρονον/contemporary to Abraham, instructed in the more divine doctrines of the first Patriarchs, with whom he was living. Similarly this doctrine is observed to have been clearly delivered by the SIBYLS. And also in PLATO, Epistle II ad Dionysium, are found things that are able to be referred to this, concerning the first, second, and third principio or God: compare ALTING’S Dissertation V Heptadis Sextæ, Dissertationibus Academicis, § 27-36, where he contends that Plato and the Platonists did not draw their knowledge of the Trinity from Moses, but from nature, and especially from their soul, which was contemplated internally.


Responses: α. If some of these knew the doctrine of the Trinity by Tradition, their words are of no value in proving that this Mystery is also known naturally without Revelation.


β. Nevertheless, learned Men judge that the words of PLATO do not have regard to this, but rather are to be understood either concerning three Essences, or concerning three Ideas, which are not true hypostases: compare PETAVIUS’ Dogmata theologica, volume I, tome 2, book I, chapter I, pages 15-18; WALCH’S Miscellanea Sacra, book III, Exercitation III, § 20, page 595, where in the notes several that deserve to be consulted concerning the Platonic Trinity are commended. But even if some things, clearer and manifestly to be referred to this, occur in Plato and Platonic Porphyry,[4] these things, by no means rightly understood by the Philosopher himself with his followers, undoubtedly ought to be referred to Tradition received from Moses and the Prophets: see TRIGLAND’S Dissertationum Syllogen, Dissertationem in Hebrew 1:3, § 15, 16, pages 278-281; BULL’S primitivam et Apostolicam Traditionem de Divinitate Jesu Christi, chapter V, pages 24-29; BUDDEUS’ Institutiones Theologiæ dogmaticæ, book II, chapter I, § 55, tome 1, pages 434-438, and his Isagogen ad Theologiam universam, book II, chapter III, § 5, tome 2, pages 556-558.


γ. That the twofold writing that is circulated under the name of HERMES TRISMEGISTUS, entitled Poimander ad Adlocuta ad Asclepium, in the former of which the Trinity and several Mysteries of the Christian faith are clearly discussed, is full of fraudulent material, learned Men have already shown. Seeing that, a. that most ancient Mercury, the son of Menes, first King of the Egyptians, wrote no Books, but engraved only certain pillars or columns in the sacred dialect. From which, b. the second Mercury, more recent than Moses, is said to have patched together his books, which were teaching Medicine, Astrology, and the Sacred Rites of the Egyptians, that is, the trappings of the vainest superstition; in which there is nothing close to those things that Kircher asserts with such zeal. c. Indeed, those things show themselves to be of no Mercury, from which Kircher drew his things concerning Unity and Trinity. While the genuine books of Mercury, if there were any, perished long ago; fraudulent were also some time ago obtruded upon the world under that name; which is not strange, since all the sciences are believed to have proceeded from Mercury Trismegistus. But Poimander has very evident signs of νοθείας/spuriousness; and CASAUBON, in Exercitation I in Baronium, chapter X, pages 65-80, shows that the teaching contained in this Book is not of the Egyptians; but partly Greek, drawn from the books of Plato and the Platonists; partly Christian, taken from the Sacred Books: whence it is judged to have been written by a Christian Platonist, so that under this fictitious title he might commend the Mysteries of Christianity. Indeed, if all those things that are contained in Poimander were declared to the Egyptians by Mercury with in such plain words, learned Men note that the Israelites would have had nothing surpassing the other Nations in the Knowledge of true Religion. Seeing that those things that the Egyptians philosophized concerning the comparison of the Trinity to a Triangle, rather show that they acknowledged no other Divinity than the World; since they say that a more excellent and divine nature, τὴν κρείττονα καὶ θειοτέραν φύσιν, consists of three, ἐκ τριῶν εἶναι, the intelligible, τῷ νοητῷ, and the material, καὶ τῇ ὕλῃ, and the composite of these, καὶ τῷ ἐκ τούτων, which is called the World, κόσμος: see WITSIUS, in Ægyptiacis, book I, chapters II, III, book II, chapters IV, V; PETAVIUS’ Dogmata theologica, volume I, tome 2, book I, chapter II, pages 18-20; SALDENUS’ Otia Theologica, book I, Exercitation I, § 6, 16; BUDDEUS’ Historiam ecclesiasticam Veteris Testamenti, period I, section III, § 22, tome I, pages 343-349.


δ. Moreover, the Sibylline Oracles, as they are found at the present day comprehended in VIII Books, a number of rival learned Men have surrendered them as convicted of νοθείας/spuriousness, among whom also our AUTHOR in his Disputationibus XII concerning this matter, published together, most especially deserves to be read: in which he sets forth his opinion in these five principal Theses: 1. Neither from the Sibyls, all and each, nor from a certain one of them, did these Oracles proceed, which were famous among the Gentiles under the name of the Sibyls. Which nevertheless our AUTHOR wishes to be accepted concerning the Sibylline Oracles, as they are extant today, considered conjointly. 2. These Oracles are not to be considered to have been θεόπνευστα/God-breathed, or inspired by the Spirit of God. 3. The Sibylline Oracles were not extant as today before the Nativity of Christ, by whatever men they were ultimately written: but by Christians after the the preaching of the Gospel everywhere. 4. At the same time, with the Author’s precise point in time and sect unknown, they were written in such a way that it is especially probable that these Oracles were composed, collected, and augmented by diverse men in the first Centuries after the birth of Christ. 5. Whence he judges that they are not at all able to confirm doctrines of the faith, nor to convince the Gentiles; but that they only reveal somewhate that tenets of that age; and so they are to be place far behind the γνησίοις/genuine writings of the illustrious Doctors in the Church.


Concerning the Sibyls and the Sibylline Books, see also MARESIUS’ Dissertationem theologicam, in Sylloge Disputationum, part II, pages 482-497; and the many more whom CARPZOV[5] cites, Introductione ad Libros Propheticos Veteris Testamenti, chapter I, § 12, page 32. Concerning the writings that are circulated today under the name of the Sibylls and of Mercury, also read carefully BECMANN, Exercitationibus Theologicis, XIV, pages 219-230. In addition, see BULL discoursing concerning the Sibylline Oracles, in his primitiva et Apostolica Traditione de Divinitate Jesu Christi, chapter IV, pages 19-23, where in § 9, among other things, is: “If you ask, how were those Jewish oracles able to steal into those Sibylline books, kept on the Capitoline Hill in Rome? there is a response in readiness. The Books, called Sibylline, were of two sorts; some, were bought by Tarquin,[6] and kept on the Capitoline Hill until the times of Sulla,[7] when, with the Capitoline Hill burned,[8] these books were also consumed: it is necessary to conclude that these were dictated by the Devil, since it is evident out of Livy[9] that many impious and idolatrous superstitions were prescribed in them. But in addition to these there were others, sought by Three Legates (to whom the Roman Senate, after the Capitoline Hill was restored, entrusted that business) from Erythræ,[10] and deposited again finally at Rome on the Capitoline Hill. That these Oracles were a thousand in number, says Lactantius, book I, chapter VI. But also those sent by Octavius Augustus, which legates sought out other Oracles in diverse parts, as related by Cornelius Tacitus,[11]Annalibus, book VI…. And Suetonius,[12] “Augustus”, chapter 31…. Concerning this Collection Dionysius Halicarnassensis[13] thus writes in addition, Roman Antiquitities, book 4…. Now, in this search for Sibylline Prophecies, that many alien things, and these so very Jewish, were taken for Sibylline Oracles (just as whatever eminent Oracles, of which sort were these especially, were generally enjoying that celebrated name), and together with others were easily to be transported to Rome, who does not immediately see? For it was altogether impossible for Roman Priests, in such abundance of prophetic books, to judge with certainty which were genuine, and which not, etc. The αὐτόγραφον/autograph of the Sibylline Oracles perished in 671 UC, that is, 81 BC. Now, this draft was found at Rome in 741 UC, that is, 11 AD, etc.” § 10, “Thus the origin of the Sibylline Oracles, as they are called, concerning Christ appears sufficiently obvious to me: namely, those things proceeded from the Jews, etc.” § 11, “Now, all these things concerning the Sibylline Oracles, alleged by Justin, Clement, Theophilus, and those other more ancient Fathers, I wish especially to be understood; not in the meantime denying that certain things were inserted in the Sibylline books by Christians of later times, etc.” § 12, “The sum of this inquiry returns to this. First, it is certain that before Christ was born there were certain prophesies extant among the Gentiles, considered as Sibylline, in which the worship of the one God, and things pertaining to the future Kingdom of Messiah, were set forth: to which things Justin and other primeval Christians, in their disputations against the Gentiles, rightly and with the very best reason and right appealed. Second, it is altogether likely that those Oracles proceeded, not from those Sibyls, as it was thought, Heathen women, but from wise Men, who flourished after the Babylonian exile among the people of God, that is, the Jewish people: that they more fully and plainly explained the more obscure prophesies of the Prophets, there is no reason why we should marvel; especially if that divine counsel be more carefully weighed, whereby it happened that, with the times of the Gospel now drawing nigh, the promises and predictions of the Gospel were more brightly and clearly shining forth; that is, with God willing to send certain things before, like the dawn before the rising Sun. Finally, it is manifestly evident that others things were added to those Oracles afterwards, for clearer explanation, even things fabricated and composed by certain unoccupied and idle men professing the Christian name. That ancient serpent appears to have brought this to pass with this intention, that, since many false things were mixed with the true, doubt might also be instilled concerning the true, just as Molinæus has rightly judged, etc.”


Concerning the Sibylline Oracles commended by the Fathers and read today, see in addition LARDNER’S[14] discussion, in his The Credibility of the Gospel History, part IV, chapter XXIX, § 2, pages 163-182. That the doctrine of the Malabar Indians concerning Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma, is compared most inappropriately with our doctrine of the Trinity, observes ZIEGENBALG,[15]in ’t 1ste Vervolg van ’t Bericht der Deensche Missionarissen in Oost-Indien, pages 22, 23.

[1] The Corpus Hermeticum is a collection of second century Greco-Egyptian wisdom texts, attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, or “Thrice-great”, a combination of the Greek Hermes and the Egyptian Thoth. Hermes was a messenger, one bringing knowledge and wisdom. [2] The Sibylline Oracles claim to be the work of ten pre-Christian Sibyls, prophesying of the coming of Christ and the spread of Christianity. They appear to have been the work of multiple authors of differing dates, and modified later by Jewish and Christian scribes. [3] Athanasius Kircher (c. 1601-1680) was a German Jesuit scholar, skilled in geology, medicine, and Oriental studies. His Oedipus Ægypticus is a large study of Egyptology and comparative religion. [4] Porphyry (c. 232-c. 304) studied in Rome under Plotinus. He endeavored to make the obscure Neoplatonism of Plotinus intelligible to the popular reader. [5] Johann Gottlob Carpzov (1679-1767) was a Lutheran divine and Old Testament scholar. He served at Leipzig as Professor of Theology (1713-1719), and Professor of Hebrew (1719-1730). [6] Lucius Tarquinius Superbus was the last of the kings of Rome, reigning from 535 to 509 BC. The accounts of him are mixed with legendary material. It is said of him that he was approached by the Cumæan Sibyl with an offer to buy nine books of prophecy at an exorbitant price. Tarquin refused, and she promptly burned three of the books. She offered the remaining six at the same price. Tarquin hesitated, and she burned another three. The Sibyl then offered him the remaining three at the same price. Tarquin accepted, and received the books. [7] Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix (138-78) was a Roman general and stateman, during the era of the Republic. He seized power by force, and revived the office of dictator, which he held from 82 to 79 BC. [8] In 83 BC, during the Roman civil war. [9] Titus Livius (c. 59 BC-17 AD) wrote a history of Rome, Ab Urbe Condita, from its founding to the time of Augustus. [10] Located on the western coast of Asia Minor. [11] Cornelius Tacitus (c. 56-c. 117) was a Roman historian. The information that he preserves about his era and its emperors is invaluable. [12] Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (c. 75- c. 130) was a Roman historian. [13] Dionysius Halicarnassensis (c. 60- c. 7 BC) was a Greek historian and rhetorician. [14] Nathaniel Lardner (1684-1768) was an English Presbyterian theologian, but heterodox on the doctrine of the Trinity. [15] Bartholomaus Ziegenbalg (1682-1719) was a German Lutheran Pietist, and missionary to India.

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