The Importance of the Concept of the Oneness of God in the Hermetica

He, being all things, is the One and being one, is all things. The totality of everything is one and is in One. There is no second here, for both are one.

Corpus Hermeticum

The Hermetica, a collection of philosophical and theological texts attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, offers profound insights into ancient wisdom and spirituality. Central to these writings is the concept of the Oneness of God, a theme that permeates both the Corpus Hermeticum and the Asclepius.

This idea is not only a cornerstone of Hermetic thought but also a bridge connecting various mystical and religious traditions with Hermeticism. Additionally, the Hermetica reflects elements of henotheism, recognizing the Oneness of a supreme God while acknowledging the existence of other divine entities that are also worthy of worship.

The Hermetic Understanding of Oneness

In the Hermetic worldview, God is understood as the ultimate source of all existence, encompassing and transcending all dualities and multiplicities. The notion of Oneness reflects a monistic philosophy, where all things are seen as interconnected and emanating from a single divine source.

Since the Creator made the whole cosmos, not with hands but by logos, understand that he is present and always is, creating all things, being one alone, and by his will producing all beings.

Corpus Hermeticum

In the Definitions Hermes Trismegistus teaches Asclepius:

Man and the gods and all things (exist) by God and because of man. God is everything and there is nothing outside God, even that which does not exist: since as to God, there is no such thing, even one single <that he is not himself>. Man (comes) from another man, the gods (exist) because of God. Man (exists) because of God; everything because of man. God rules over man; man over the whole.

From Hermes Trismegistus to Asclepius: Definitions

This lesson above suggests that Man reflects God. The Oneness of God implies that all distinctions and separations are ultimately illusory, with everything united in the divine reality.

Henotheism in the Hermetica

Everything must always be begotten at exactly the right place. The Creator is in everything. He does not dwell just in one thing, nor does He just create in one; He begets them all. His power being active is not separate from what He has begotten, for all that is begotten exists by reason of Him.

Corpus Hermeticum

While the Hermetica emphasizes the Oneness of a supreme God, it also contains elements of henotheism. Henotheism is the belief in and worship of one god without denying the existence or possible worship of other deities.

This perspective is evident in the Hermetic texts, where a supreme God is often discussed alongside other divine beings and powers. For instance:

His spiritual substance governs the heavens, the heavens govern the gods, and the powers, which are appointed by the gods, govern men. This is the host of gods and powers.
Through these instruments God by Himself creates all this, and all things partake of God; since this is so, they are God. Therefore in creating all things, he creates Himself

Corpus Hermeticum

This passage acknowledges a supreme God who bestows spiritual substance to His “instruments”, suggesting a hierarchy of divine beings with a single supreme source. The Hermetica thus integrates the concept of a singular, supreme God while recognizing the presence and roles of other divine “instruments”, like the “host of gods and powers”.

The gods as instruments of God

God sometimes acts without an intermediary and sometimes acts with an intermediary. In the latter case, He remains veiled behind the instrument through which He acts.

Some think that the act belongs properly to the instrument behind whom He veils Himself, like a power or a god, even if that instrument is only the form in which the act is perceived in a sensible mode. The act in truth belongs to God alone. The universe is nothing other than the acts of God [or His “words” if you see logos as divine speech].

You can contemplate God manifesting Himself as Agent, Maker, and Creator in all the atoms of the universe, without any way casting doubt on the sanctity and the transcendence which belong to Him by right. Every instrument manifests itself by its act. The acts of God have no reality other than in Him alone and it is inseparable from Him.

Some people imagine that the Cosmos is “other than Him” and that therefore His instruments, like the gods and powers, are also other than Him, but this is not so. In truth, the Cosmos, which is the creative and formative act of God, is only a concept devoid of all autonomous reality and has no existence except through the One God who accomplishes it.

Worship in the Hermetica

Because of this man is united to the gods in kinship and he therefore worships them through religion and through purity of mind.”

Asclepius

The Hermetica, especially the Asclepius, mentions the worship of gods but does so in broad and often vague terms. There is an emphasis on a general attitude of reverence and piety towards the gods rather than detailed descriptions of practical cultic forms. This suggests that Hermetic worship is more about cultivating a spiritual disposition of awe and respect for the divine rather than engaging in specific rituals or ceremonies.

Impiety is mankind’s greatest offence against the gods; for the gods’ work is to do good, men’s to show piety, and for the spiritual powers to serve.

Corpus Hermeticum

In the Corpus Hermeticum Hermes talks about honoring the gods through reverence and piety, suggesting that is an internal, personal state rather than an external practice. This aligns with the Hermetic emphasis on inner transformation and the pursuit of gnosis (knowledge), where the focus is on the internal realization of the divine rather than external forms of worship.

Hermeticism’s emphasis on inner enlightenment and personal spiritual growth resonates with the mystical and esoteric traditions within many religions. This inward journey towards understanding the divine essence within oneself and the universe complements and deepens the spiritual practices of various faiths. It enriches them by directing attention to the One Source of All, fostering a sense of unity, mutual respect, and a deeper understanding of the divine.

Philosophical and Theological Implications

“… either all things are of one, or they are one. The two propositions are so linked that it is impossible to separate one from the other.

Asclepius

The concept of the Oneness of God in the Hermetica carries profound philosophical and theological implications. Firstly, it posits that true knowledge (gnosis) involves recognizing the unity underlying apparent diversity.

This assertion implies that understanding the divine involves an inward journey of self-discovery and enlightenment. By realizing the divine nature of the mind, individuals can transcend their limited perceptions and attain a higher state of consciousness.

Secondly, the Oneness of God provides a basis for ethics and morality in Hermetic thought. Since all beings are interconnected through the divine, harming another is, in essence, harming oneself. This interconnectedness fosters a sense of universal compassion and responsibility, encouraging individuals to act in ways that promote harmony and unity.

Comparative Perspectives

It is plain that the One is unborn and not imagined and it is unmanifest, but it appears as all kinds of images, through all and in all…

Corpus Hermeticum

The Hermetic concept of divine Oneness and henotheism bears similarities to ideas found in other mystical and religious traditions. In Neoplatonism, for example, the notion of “The One” as the ultimate reality closely parallels the Hermetic understanding of God. Similarly, in Eastern philosophies such as Advaita Vedanta, the idea that all is Brahman (the ultimate reality) resonates with Hermetic monism.

In Christianity, although the conception of God is often more personal, the mystical tradition, especially as seen in the works of Meister Eckhart and the writings of the Desert Fathers, emphasizes the unity and oneness with God.

The Hermetic texts provide a syncretic perspective, blending elements from Greek, Egyptian, and other ancient traditions, highlighting the universality of the concept of divine Oneness.

Practical Applications

In practical terms, the Hermetic principle of Oneness encourages a holistic approach to life. It invites us to see beyond superficial differences and recognize the underlying unity in all things. This perspective can lead to greater tolerance, understanding, a sense of shared humanity, and a connection with nature and the cosmos.

The meditative and contemplative practices recommended in Hermetic texts, like the Holy Trisagion in the Corpus Hermeticum or the Prayer of Thanksgiving in the Asclepius, aim to facilitate the direct experience of this Oneness. By cultivating inner stillness and focusing on the divine within, we can attain a state of union with the divine, often described as mystical enlightenment.

Conclusion

The concept of the Oneness of God, combined with elements of henotheism, is a fundamental aspect of Hermetic philosophy, offering a profound vision of unity that transcends dualities and divisions.

By emphasizing the interconnectedness of all existence and the divine nature of the human mind, the Hermetica provides a framework for spiritual growth, ethical living, and a deeper understanding of nature and the cosmos.

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