The Gospel of Thomas is arguably the most prominent scripture in Gnosticism. In addition, this text widely appeals to other heterodox faiths because of its universal and mystical tenor. But few know of another esoteric “sayings” text that appears in the Nag Hammadi library called The Sentences of Sextus.
In the introduction to The Sentences of Sextus in The Nag Hammadi Scriptures, Paul-Hubert Poirier details how this scripture was popular in Christendom from its early days all the way through the Middle Ages. Even within Pagan circles it was extensively read and commented upon throughout the Roman Empire. There are actually other preserved copies beyond the one found in the Hag Hammadi library.
Poirier puts The Sentences of Sextus under the category of a gnomology, “a collection of sentences, or aphorisms, put in the mouth of an unnamed spiritual master addressing an undesignated audience.” This collection contains 610 sayings!
Although the sayings are attributed to a certain Sextus, the author’s identity is historically unknown. The first quoting of The Sentences of Sextus was by the Church Father Origen in the third century; and he simply refers to Sextus as a “wise and faithful man.”
Poirier proposes that many or perhaps all of the sayings could be originally Pagan, since they are found in such works as Clitarchus’ Pythagorean Sentences and Porphyry’s Letter to Marcella. He further speculates that “either these sentences were originally Christian and were secondarily de-Christianized, or, on the contrary, they were pagan from the beginning and later underwent a Christian rewriting.”
Regardless of its origin, The Sentences of Sextus is heavily based on Middle Platonic and Neoplatonic philosophy. The sayings concern the dynamic relationship between man and God, the importance of nurturing the soul through ethical living and righteous thought, and the eventual unification with the divine realm.
Here are some of the most inspiring sayings in The Sentences of Sextus:
Everything God possesses, the wise man has also.
Love the truth, and treat falsehood like a lie.
Let the moment come before your words.
The untimely word exposes an evil heart.
When you should act, don’t say a word.
While it is a skill to speak, it is also a skill to be silent.
Only in a great crisis is a lie necessary.
Wisdom guides the soul to the place of God.
When you are faithful, saying what is right is no greater than listening.
Do not seek goodness in flesh.
The fear of death grieves man because of the ignorance of the soul.
You cannot receive understanding unless you know first that you possess it. In every thing there is again this sentence.
Speak concerning the word about God as if you were saying it in the presence of God.
A man who is worthy of God, he is God among men, and he is the son of God.
God does not need anything, but he rejoices over those who give to the needy.
If you do not do evil to anyone, you will not be afraid of anyone.
Promise everything rather than to say “I am wise.”
A pleasure-loving man is useless in everything.
There is no kinsman of the truth except Wisdom.
Someone who says, “I believe,” and spends a great deal of time faking it, will not endure but will fall. As your heart is, so your life will be.
Don’t let an ungrateful person make you stop doing good.
You cannot acquire understanding unless you first know you do not have it.
Say in your heart that the body is the garment of your soul. Keep it pure, since it is innocent.
Let your deeds of love for God come before all your words about God.
It is for God to save whom he wishes, but it is for the godly to pray that God may save everyone.
If you harm no one, you will fear no one.
Death cannot destroy…
Although perhaps not as poetic or mystically allegorical like such ancient “listicles” as The Gospel of Thomas or The Gospel of Phillip, there is a practical simplicity in The Sentences of Sextus that can benefit any individual irrespective of their religious background. After all, spiritual teachings are often complicated and result in further complicating an already complicated world. Thus, The Sentences of Sextus can be extremely useful for seekers needing to create a basic ethical and moral foundation before taking astral flights to the domains of Sophia and the Logos.
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