Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
From the ‘Guide of the Perplexed’
By Moses Maimonides (1135–1204)
A Proof of the Unity of God

IT has been demonstrated by proof that the whole existing world is one organic body, all parts of which are connected together; also, that the influences of the spheres above pervade the earthly substance and prepare it for its forms. Hence it is impossible to assume that one deity be engaged in forming one part, and another deity in forming another part, of that organic body of which all parts are closely connected together. A duality could only be imagined in this way: either that at one time the one deity is active, the other at another time; or that both act simultaneously, nothing being done except by both together. The first hypothesis is certainly absurd, for many reasons: if at the time the one deity be active the other could also be active, there is no reason why one deity should then act and the other not; if on the other hand it be impossible for the one deity to act when the other is at work, there must be some other cause [besides these deities] which [at a certain time] enables the one to act and disables the other. [Such difference would not be caused by time,] since time is without change, and the object of the action likewise remains one and the same organic whole. Besides, if two deities existed in this way, both would be subject to the relations of time, since their actions would depend on time; they would also in the moment of acting pass from potentiality to actuality, and require an agent for such transition; their essence would besides include possibility [of existence]. It is equally absurd to assume that both together produce everything in existence, and that neither of them does anything alone; for when a number of forces must be united for a certain result, none of these forces acts of its own accord, and none is by itself the immediate cause of that result, but their union is the immediate cause. It has furthermore been proved that the action of the Absolute cannot be due to a [an external] cause. The union is also an act which presupposes a cause effecting that union, and if that cause be one, it is undoubtedly God; but if it also consists of a number of separate forces, a cause is required for the combination of these forces, as in the first case. Finally, one simple being must be arrived at, that is the cause of the existence of the universe, which is one whole; it would make no difference whether we assumed that the First Cause had produced the universe by creatio ex nihilo, or whether the universe co-existed with the First Cause. It is thus clear how we can prove the Unity of God from the fact that this universe is one whole.  1
An Argument Concerning the Incorporeality of God

  EVERY corporeal object is composed of matter and form (Prop. xxii.); every compound of these two elements requires an agent for effecting their combination. Besides, it is evident that a body is divisible and has dimensions; a body is thus undoubtedly subject to accidents. Consequently nothing corporeal can be a unity, because everything corporeal is either divisible or a compound,—that is to say, it can logically be analyzed into two elements; for a body can only be said to be a certain body when the distinguishing element is added to the corporeal substratum, and must therefore include two elements: but it has been proved that the Absolute admits of no dualism whatever.
  Among those who believe in the existence of God, there are found three different theories as regards the question whether the universe is eternal or not.  3
  First Theory.—Those who follow the Law of Moses our teacher hold that the whole universe (i.e., everything except God) has been brought by him into existence out of non-existence. In the beginning God alone existed, and nothing else; neither angels, nor spheres, nor the things that are contained within the spheres existed. He then produced from nothing all existing things such as they are, by his will and desire. Even time itself is among the things created; for time depends on motion,—i.e., on an accident in things which move,—and the things upon whose motion time depends are themselves created beings, which have passed from non-existence into existence. We say that God existed before the creation of the universe, although the verb “existed” appears to imply the notion of time; we also believe that he existed an infinite space of time before the universe was created: but in these cases we do not mean time in its true sense. We only use the term to signify something analogous or similar to time. For time is undoubtedly an accident, and according to our opinion, one of the created accidents, like blackness and whiteness; it is not a quality, but an accident connected with motion. This must be clear to all who understand what Aristotle has said on time and its real existence.  4
  Second Theory.—The theory of all philosophers whose opinions and works are known to us is this: It is impossible to assume that God produced anything from nothing, or that he reduces anything to nothing; that is to say, it is impossible that an object consisting of matter and form should be produced when that matter is absolutely absent, or that it should be destroyed in such a manner that that matter be absolutely no longer in existence. To say of God that he can produce a thing from nothing or reduce a thing to nothing is, according to the opinion of these philosophers, the same as if we were to say that he could cause one substance to have at the same time two opposite properties, or produce another being like himself, or change himself into a body, or produce a square the diagonal of which should be equal to its side, or similar impossibilities. The philosophers thus believe that it is no defect in the Supreme Being that he does not produce impossibilities, for the nature of that which is impossible is constant; it does not depend on the action of an agent, and for this reason it cannot be changed. Similarly there is, according to them, no defect in the greatness of God when he is unable to produce a thing from nothing, because they consider this as one of the impossibilities. They therefore assume that a certain substance has coexisted with God from eternity, in such a manner that neither God existed without that substance nor the latter without God. But they do not hold that the existence of that substance equals in rank that of God; for God is the cause of that existence, and the substance is in the same relation to God as the clay is to the potter, or the iron to the smith: God can do with it what he pleases; at one time he forms of it heaven and earth, at another time he forms some other thing. Those who hold this view also assume that the heavens are transient; that they came into existence though not from nothing, and may cease to exist although they cannot be reduced to nothing. They are transient in the same manner as the individuals among living beings, which are produced from some existing substance that remains in existence. The process of genesis and destruction is, in the case of the heavens, the same as in that of earthly beings.  5
  Third Theory.—Viz., that of Aristotle, his followers and commentators. Aristotle maintains, like the adherents of the second theory, that a corporeal object cannot be produced without a corporeal substance. He goes further, however, and contends that the heavens are indestructible. For he holds that the universe in its totality has never been different, nor will it ever change: the heavens, which form the permanent element in the universe, and are not subject to genesis and destruction, have always been so; time and motion are eternal, permanent, and have neither beginning nor end; the sublunary world, which includes the transient elements, has always been the same, because the materia prima is itself eternal, and merely combines successively with different forms,—when one form is removed another is assumed. This whole arrangement, therefore, both above and here below, is never disturbed or interrupted; and nothing is produced contrary to the laws or the ordinary course of Nature. He further says—though not in the same terms—that he considers it impossible for God to change his will or conceive a new desire; that God produced this universe in its totality by his will, but not from nothing. Aristotle finds it as impossible to assume that God changes his will or conceives a new desire as to believe that he is non-existing or that his essence is changeable. Hence it follows that this universe has always been the same in the past, and will be the same eternally.  6
The Object of Law

  THE GENERAL object of the Law is twofold: the well-being of the soul and the well-being of the body. The well-being of the soul is promoted by correct opinions communicated to the people according to their capacity. Some of these opinions are therefore imparted in a plain form, others allegorically; because certain opinions are in their plain form too strong for the capacity of the common people. The well-being of the body is established by a proper management of the relations in which we live one to another. This we can attain in two ways: first by removing all violence from our midst; that is to say, that we do not do every one as he pleases, desires, and is able to do, but every one of us does that which contributes towards the common welfare. Secondly, by teaching every one of us such good morals as must produce a good social state.
  Of these two objects, the former—the well-being of the soul, or the communication of correct opinions—comes undoubtedly first in rank; but the other—the well-being of the body, the government of the State, and the establishment of the best possible relations among men—is anterior in nature and time. The latter object is required first; it is also treated [in the Law] most carefully and most minutely, because the well-being of the soul can only be obtained after that of the body has been secured. For it has always been found that man has a double perfection: the first perfection is that of the body, and the second perfection is that of the soul. The first consists in the most healthy condition of his material relations, and this is only possible when man has all his wants supplied as they arise: if he has his food and other things needful for his body,—e.g., shelter, bath, and the like. But one man alone cannot procure all this; it is impossible for a single man to obtain this comfort; it is only possible in society, since man, as is well known, is by nature social.  8
  The second perfection of man consists in his becoming an actually intelligent being; i.e., when he knows about the things in existence all that a person perfectly developed is capable of knowing. This second perfection certainly does not include any action or good conduct, but only knowledge, which is arrived at by speculation or established by research.  9
  It is clear that the second and superior kind of perfection can only be attained when the first perfection has been acquired; for a person that is suffering from great hunger, thirst, heat, or cold, cannot grasp an idea even if communicated by others, much less can he arrive at it by his own reasoning. But when a person is in possession of the first perfection, then he may possibly acquire the second perfection, which is undoubtedly of a superior kind, and is alone the source of eternal life. The true Law, which as we said is one, and beside which there is no other Law,—viz., the Law of our teacher Moses,—has for its purpose to give us the twofold perfection. It aims first at the establishment of good mutual relations among men, by removing injustice and creating the noblest feelings. In this way the people in every land are enabled to stay and continue in one condition, and every one can acquire his first perfection. Secondly, it seeks to train us in faith, and to impart correct and true opinions when the intellect is sufficiently developed. Scripture clearly mentions the twofold perfection, and tells us that its acquisition is the object of all Divine commandments. Cf. “And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive this day” (Deut. vi. 24). Here the second perfection is first mentioned because it is of greater importance; being, as we have shown, the ultimate aim of man’s existence. This perfection is expressed in the phrase “for our good always.” You know the interpretation of our sages: “‘that it may be well with thee’ (ibid., xxii. 7),—namely, in the world that is all good; ‘and thou mayest prolong thy days’ (ibid.),—i.e., in the world that is all eternal.” In the same sense I explain the words “for our good always” to mean “that we may come into the world that is all good and eternal, where we may live permanently”; and the words “that he might preserve us alive this day” I explain as referring to our first and temporal existence, to that of our body, which cannot be in a perfect and good condition except by the co-operation of society, as has been shown by us.  10
True Knowledge of God

  AFTER a man has acquired the true knowledge of God, it must be his aim to surrender his whole being to him and to have his heart constantly filled with longing after him. Our intellectual power, which emanates directly from God, joins us to him. You have it in your power to strengthen that bond, or to weaken it until it breaks. It will be strengthened if you love God above all other things, and weakened if you prefer other things to him. All religious acts, such as the reading of Scripture, praying, and performing of ordinances, are only means to fill our mind with the thought of God and free it from worldliness. If however we pray with the motion of our lips and our face toward the wall, but think all the while of our business; read the Law, and think of the building of our house; perform ceremonies with our limbs only, whilst our hearts are far from God,—then there is no difference between these acts and the digging of the ground or the hewing of wood.
Superfluous Things

  THE SOUL, when accustomed to superfluous things, acquires a strong habit of desiring others which are neither necessary for the preservation of the individual nor for that of the species. This desire is without limit; whilst things which are necessary are few and restricted within certain bounds. Lay this well to heart, reflect on it again and again: that which is superfluous is without end, and therefore the desire for it also without limit. Thus you desire to have your vessels of silver, but gold vessels are still better; others have even vessels studded with sapphires, emeralds, or rubies. Those therefore who are ignorant of this truth, that the desire for superfluous things is without limit, are constantly in trouble and pain. They expose themselves to great dangers by sea voyages or in the service of kings. When they thus meet with the consequences of their course, they complain of the judgments of God; they go so far as to say that God’s power is insufficient, because he has given to this universe the properties which they imagine cause these evils.
Evil Things Contrasted with Good Things

  MEN frequently think that the evils in the world are more numerous than the good things; many sayings and songs of the nations dwell on this idea. They say that the good is found only exceptionally, whilst evil things are numerous and lasting. The origin of this error is to be found in the circumstance that men judge of the whole universe by examining one single person, believing that the world exists for that one person only. If anything happens to him contrary to his expectation, forthwith they conclude that the whole universe is evil. All mankind at present in existence form only an infinitesimal portion of the permanent universe. It is of great advantage that man should know his station. Numerous evils to which persons are exposed are due to the defects existing in the persons themselves. We seek relief from our own faults; we suffer from evils which we inflict on ourselves; and we ascribe them to God, who is far from connected with them. As Solomon explained it, “The foolishness of man perverteth his way, and his heart fretteth against the Lord” (Prov. xix. 3).
Thought of Sins

  THERE is a well-known saying of our sages: “The thoughts about committing a sin are a greater evil than the sin itself.” I can offer a good explanation of this strange dictum. When a person is disobedient, this is due to certain accidents connected with the corporal element in his constitution; for man sins only by his animal nature, whereas thinking is a faculty connected with his higher and essential being. A person who thinks sinful thoughts, sins therefore by means of the nobler portion of his self; just as he who causes an ignorant slave to work unjustly, commits a lesser wrong than he who forces a free man or a prince to do menial labor. That which forms the true nature of man, with all its properties and powers, should only be employed in suitable work,—in endeavoring to join higher beings,—and not to sink to the condition of lower creatures.
Low Speech Condemned

  YOU know we condemn lowness of speech, and justly so; for the gift of speech is peculiar to man, and a boon which God granted to him, that he may be distinguished from the rest of living creatures. This gift, therefore, which God gave us in order to enable us to perfect ourselves, to learn and to teach, must not be employed in doing that which is for us most degrading and disgraceful. We must not imitate the songs and tales of ignorant and lascivious people. It may be suitable to them, but it is not fit for those who are told—“And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation” (Ex. xix. 6).
Control Bodily Desires

  MAN must have control over all bodily desires. He must reduce them as much as possible, and only retain of them as much as is indispensable. His aim must be the aim of man, as man; viz., the formation and perfection of ideas, and nothing else. The best and the sublimest among them is the idea which man forms of God, angels, and the rest of the creation, according to his capacity. Such men are always with God, and of them it is said: “Ye are princes, and all of you are children of the Most High.” When man possesses a good sound body, that does not overpower nor disturb the equilibrium within him, he possesses a Divine gift. A good constitution facilitates the rule of the soul over the body; but it is not impossible to conquer a bad constitution by training, and make it subservient to man’s ultimate destiny.
The Moral Equipoise

  IT is true that many pious men in ages gone by have broken the universal rule, to select the just mean in all the actions of life; at times they went to extremes. Thus they fasted often, watched through the nights, abstained from flesh and wine, wore sackcloth, lived among the rocks, and wandered in the deserts. They did this, however, only when they considered it necessary to restore their disturbed moral equipoise; or to avoid, in the midst of men, temptations which at times were too strong for them. These abnegations were for them means to an end, and they forsook them as soon as that end was attained. Thoughtless men, however, regarded castigations as holy in themselves, and imitated them without thinking of the intentions of their examples. They thought thereby to reach perfection and to approach to God. The fools! as if God hated the body and took pleasure in its destruction. They did not consider how many sicknesses of soul their actions caused. They are to be compared to such as take dangerous medicines because they have seen that experienced physicians have saved many a one from death with them; so they ruin themselves. This is the meaning of the cry of the Prophet Jeremiah: “Oh that I had in the wilderness a lodging-place of wayfaring men, that I might leave my people and go from them.”

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.