Saturday, January 26, 2013

"Sober Intoxication"

At his most inspired, Philo of Alexandria, also known as Philo Judaeus (c. 10 BCE - c. 50 CE), a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher who merged the Septuagint with Platonism, paints an ecstatic mystical vision of unsurpassed beauty.  Here the human mind, molded in the image of God, aspires with "sober intoxication" to approach the Divine Intellect:
And again, being raised up on wings, and so surveying and contemplating the air, and all the commotions to which it is subject, [the mind that exists in each individual] is borne upwards to the higher firmament, and to the revolutions of the heavenly bodies.  And also being itself involved in the revolutions of the planets and fixed stars according to the perfect laws of music, and being led on by love, which is the guide of wisdom, it proceeds onwards till, having surmounted all essence intelligible by the external senses, it comes to aspire to such as is perceptible only by the intellect: and perceiving in that, the original models and ideas of those things intelligible by the external senses which it saw here full of surpassing beauty, it becomes seized with a sort of sober intoxication like the zealots engaged in the Corybantian festivals, and yields to enthusiasm, becoming filled with another desire, and a more excellent longing, by which it is conducted onwards to the very summit of such things as are perceptible only to the intellect, till it appears to be reaching the great King himself. And while it is eagerly longing to behold him pure and unmingled, rays of divine light are poured forth upon it like a torrent, so as to bewilder the eyes of its intelligence by their splendour.

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