|« Prev||Chapter IV. The Attempts of the Gnostics to…||Next »|
THE ATTEMPTS OF THE GNOSTICS TO CREATE AN APOSTOLIC DOGMATIC, AND A CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY; OR, THE ACUTE SECULARISING OF CHRISTIANITY.
§ I. The Conditions for the Rise of Gnosticism.
The Christian communities were originally unions for a holy life on the ground of a common hope, which rested on the belief that the God who has spoken by the Prophets has sent his Son Jesus Christ, and through him revealed eternal life, and will shortly make it manifest. Christianity had its roots in certain facts and utterances, and the foundation of the Christian union was the common hope, the holy life in the Spirit according to the law of God, and the holding fast to those facts and utterances. There was, as the foregoing chapter will have shewn, no fixed Didache beyond that.301301We may consider here once more the articles which are embraced in the first ten chapters of the recently discovered Διδαχὴ τῶν ἀποστόλων, after enumerating and describing which, the author continues (11. 1): ὃς ἃν οὖν ἐλθών διδάξῃ ὑμᾶς ταῦτα πάντα τὰ προειρημένα, δέξασθε αὐτόν. There was abundance of fancies, ideas, and knowledge, but these had not yet the value of being the religion itself. Yet the belief that Christianity guarantees the perfect knowledge, and leads from one degree of clearness to another, was in operation from the very beginning. This conviction had to be immediately tested by the Old Testament, that is, the task was imposed on the majority of thinking Christians, by the circumstances in which the Gospel had been proclaimed to them, of making the Old Testament intelligible to themselves, in 224other words, of using this book as a Christian book, and of finding the means by which they might be able to repel the Jewish claim to it, and refute the Jewish interpretation of it. This task would not have been imposed, far less solved, if the Christian communities in the Empire had not entered into the inheritance of the Jewish propaganda, which had al-ready been greatly influenced by foreign religions (Babylonian and Persian, see the Jewish Apocalypses), and in which an extensive spiritualising of the Old Testament religion had already taken place. This spiritualising was the result of a philosophic view of religion, and this philosophic view was the outcome of a lasting influence of Greek philosophy and of the Greek spirit generally on Judaism. In consequence of this view, all facts and sayings of the Old Testament in which one could not find his way were allegorised. “Nothing was what it seemed, but was only the symbol of something invisible. The history of the Old Testament was here sublimated to a history of the emancipation of reason from passion.” It describes, however, the beginning of the historical development of Christianity, that as soon as it wished to give account of itself, or to turn to advantage the documents of revelations which were in its possession, it had to adopt the methods of that fantastic syncretism. We have seen above that those writers who made a diligent use of the Old Testament had no hesitation in making use of the allegorical method. That was required not only by the inability to understand the verbal sense of the Old Testament, presenting diverging moral and religious opinions, but, above all, by the conviction that on every page of that book Christ and the Christian Church must be found. How could this conviction have been maintained unless the definite concrete meaning of the documents had been already obliterated by the Jewish philosophic view of the Old Testament?
This necessary allegorical interpretation, however, brought into the communities an intellectual philosophic element, γνώσις, which was perfectly distinct from the Apocalyptic dreams, in which were beheld angel hosts on white horses, Christ with eyes as a flame of fire, hellish beasts, conflict and 225victory.”302302It is a good tradition which designates the so-called Gnosticism simply as Gnosis, and yet uses this word also for the speculations of non Gnostic teachers of antiquity (e.g., of Barnabas). But the inferences which follow have not been drawn. Origen says truly (c. Celsus III. 12): “As men, not only the labouring and serving classes, but also many from the cultured classes of Greece, came to see something honourable in Christianity, sects could not fail to arise, not simply from the desire for controversy and contradiction, but because several scholars endeavoured to penetrate deeper into the truth of Christianity. In this way sects arose which received their names from men who indeed admired Christianity in its essence, but from many different causes had arrived at different conceptions of it.” In this γνώσις, which attached itself to the Old Testament, many began to see the specific blessing which was promised to mature faith, and through which it was to attain perfection. What a wealth of relations, hints, and intuitions seemed to disclose itself, as soon as the Old Testament was considered allegorically, and to what extent had the way been prepared here by the Jewish philosophic teachers! From the simple narratives of the Old Testament had already been developed a theosophy, in which the most abstract ideas had acquired reality, and from which sounded forth the Hellenic canticle of the power of the Spirit over matter and sensuality, and of the true home of the soul. Whatever in this great adaptation still remained obscure and unnoticed, was now lighted up by the history of Jesus, his birth, his life, his sufferings and triumph. The view of the Old Testament as a document of the deepest wisdom, transmitted to those who knew how to read it as such, unfettered the intellectual interest which would not rest until it had entirely transferred the new religion from the world of feelings, actions and hopes, into the world of Hellenic conceptions, and transformed it into a metaphysic. In that exposition of the Old Testament which we find, for example, in the so-called Barnabas, there is already concealed an important philosophic, Hellenic element, and in that sermon which bears the name of Clement (the so-called second Epistle of Clement), conceptions such as that of the Church, have already assumed a bodily form and been joined in marvellous connections, while, on the contrary, things concrete have been transformed into things invisible.226
But once the intellectual interest was unfettered, and the new religion had approximated to the Hellenic spirit by means of a philosophic view of the Old Testament, how could that spirit be prevented from taking complete and immediate possession of it, and where, in the first instance, could the power be found that was able to decide whether this or that opinion was incompatible with Christianity? This Christianity, as it was, unequivocally excluded all polytheism, and all national religions existing in the Empire. It opposed to them the one God, the Saviour Jesus, and a spiritual worship of God. But at the same time it summoned all thoughtful men to knowledge by declaring itself to be the only true religion, while it appeared to be only a variety of Judaism. It seemed to put no limits to the character and extent of the knowledge, least of all to such knowledge as was able to allow all that was transmitted to remain, and at the same time abolish it by transforming it into mysterious symbols. That really was the method which every one must and did apply who wished to get from Christianity more than practical motives and super earthly hopes. But where was the limit of the application? Was not the next step to see in the Evangelic records also new material for spiritual interpretations, and to illustrate from the narratives there, as from the Old Testament, the conflict of the spirit with matter, of reason with sensuality? Was not the conception, that the traditional deeds of Christ were really the last act in the struggle of those mighty spiritual powers whose conflict is delineated in the Old Testament, at least as evident as the other, that those deeds were the fulfilment of mysterious promises? Was it not in keeping with the consciousness possessed by the new religion of being the universal religion, that one should not be satisfied with mere beginnings of a new knowledge, or with fragments of it, but should seek to set up such knowledge in a complete and systematic form, and so to exhibit the best and universal system of life as also the best and universal system of knowledge of the world? Finally, did not the free and yet so rigid forms in which the Christian communities were organised, the union of the mysterious with a wonderful publicity, of the spiritual with 227significant rites (baptism and the Lord’s Supper), invite men to find here the realisation of the ideal which the Hellenic religious spirit was at that time seeking, viz., a communion which, in virtue of a Divine revelation, is in possession of the highest knowledge, and therefore leads the holiest life; a communion which does not communicate the knowledge by discourse, but by mysterious efficacious consecrations and by revealed dogmas? These questions are thrown out here in accordance with the direction which the historical progress of Christianity took. The phenomenon called Gnosticism gives the answer to them.303303The majority of Christians in the second century belonged no doubt to the uncultured classes and did not seek abstract knowledge, nay, were distrustful of it; see the λόγος ἀληθής of Celsus, especially III. 44, and the writings of the Apologists. Yet we may infer from the treatise of Origen against Celsus, that the number of “Christiani rudes” who cut themselves off from theological and philosophic knowledge, was about the year 240 a very large one; and Tertullian says (Adv. Prax. 3): “Simplices quique, ne dixerim imprudentes et idiotæ, quæ major semper credentium pars est,” cf. de jejun. 11: “Major pars imperitorum apud gloriosissimam multitudinem psychicorum.”
§ 2. The Nature of Gnosticism.
The Catholic Church afterwards claimed as her own those writers of the first century (60-160) who were content with turning speculation to account only as a means of spiritualising the Old Testament, without, however, attempting a systematic reconstruction of tradition. But all those who in the first century undertook to furnish Christian practice with the foundation of a complete systematic knowledge, she declared false Christians, Christians only in name. Historical enquiry cannot accept this judgment. On the contrary, it sees in Gnosticism a series of undertakings, which in a certain way is analogous to the Catholic embodiment of Christianity, in doctrine, morals, and worship. The great distinction here consists essentially in the fact that the Gnostic systems represent the acute secularising or hellenising of Christianity, with the rejection of the Old Testament;304304Overbeck (Stud. z. Gesch. d. alten Kirche. p. 184) has the merit of having first given convincing expression to this view of Gnosticism. while the Catholic system, on the 228other hand, represents a gradual process of the same kind with the conservation of the Old Testament. The traditional religion on being, as it were, suddenly required to recognise itself in a picture foreign to it, was yet vigorous enough to reject that picture; but to the gradual, and one might say indulgent remodelling to which it was subjected, it offered but little resistance, nay, as a rule, it was never conscious of it. It is therefore no paradox to say that Gnosticism, which is just Hellenism, has in Catholicism obtained half a victory. We have, at Ieast, the same justification for that assertion—the parallel may be permitted—as we have for recognising a triumph of 18th century ideas in the first Empire, and a continuance, though with reservations, of the old regime.
From this point of view the position to be assigned to the Gnostics in the history of dogma, which has hitherto been always misunderstood, is obvious. They were, in short, the Theologians of the first century.305305The ability of the prominent Gnostic teachers has been recognised by the Church Fathers: see Hieron. Comm. in Osee. II. to, Opp. VI. 1: “Nullus potest hæresim struere, nisi qui ardens ingenii est et habet dona naturæ quæ a deo artifice sunt creata: talis fait Valentinus, talis Marcion, quos doctissimos legimus, talis Bardesanes, cujus etiam philosophi admirantur ingenium.” It is still more important to see how the Alexandrian theologians (Clement and Origen) estimated the exegetic labours of the Gnostics and took account of them. Origen undoubtedly recognised Herakleon as a prominent exegete, and treats him most respectfully even where he feels compelled to differ from him. All Gnostics cannot, of course, be regarded as theologians. In their totality they form the Greek society with a Christian name. They were the first to transform Christianity into a system of doctrines (dogmas). They were the first to work up tradition systematically. They undertook to present Christianity as the absolute religion, and therefore placed it in definite opposition to the other religions, even to Judaism. But to them the absolute religion, viewed in its contents, was identical with the result of the philosophy of religion for which the support of a revelation was to be sought. They are therefore those Christians who, in a swift advance, attempted to capture Christianity for Hellenic culture, and Hellenic culture for Christianity, and who gave up the Old Testament in order to facilitate the conclusion of the covenant between the two powers, and make it possible to 229assert the absoluteness of Christianity.—But the significance of the Old Testament in the religious history of the world lies just in this, that, in order to be maintained at all, it required the application of the allegoric method, that is, a definite proportion of Greek ideas, and that, on the other hand, it opposed the strongest barrier to the complete hellenising of Christianity. Neither the sayings of Jesus, nor Christian hopes, were at first capable of forming such a barrier. If, now, the majority of Gnostics could make the attempt to disregard the Old Testament, that is a proof that, in wide circles of Christendom, people were at first satisfied with an abbreviated form of the Gospel, containing the preaching of the one God, of the resurrection and of continence,—a law and an ideal of practical life.306306Otherwise the rise of Gnosticism cannot at all be explained. In this form, as it was realised in life, the Christianity which dispensed with “doctrines” seemed capable of union with every form of thoughtful and earnest philosophy, because the Jewish foundation did not make its appearance here at all. But the majority of Gnostic undertakings may also be viewed as attempts to transform Christianity into a theosophy, that is, into a revealed metaphysic and philosophy of history, with a complete disregard of the Jewish Old Testament soil on which it originated, through the use of Pauline ideas,307307Cf. Bigg, “The Christian Platonists of Alexandria,” p. 83: “Gnosticism was in one respect distorted Paulinism” and under the influence of the Platonic spirit. Moreover, comparison is possible between writers such as Barnabas and Ignatius, and the so-called Gnostics, to the effect of making the latter appear in possession of a completed theory, to which fragmentary ideas in the former exhibit a striking affinity.
We have hitherto tacitly presupposed that in Gnosticism the Hellenic spirit desired to make itself master of Christianity, or more correctly of the Christian communities. This conception may be, and really is still contested. For according to the accounts of later opponents, and on these we are almost exclusively dependent here, the main thing with the Gnostics seems to have been the reproduction of Asiatic Mythologoumena of all kinds, so that we should rather have to 230see in Gnosticism a union of Christianity with the most remote Oriental cults and their wisdom. But with regard to the most important Gnostic systems the words hold true, “The hands are the hands of Esau, but the voice is the voice of Jacob.” There can be no doubt of the fact, that the Gnosticism which has become a factor in the movement of the history of dogma, was ruled in the main by the Greek spirit, and determined by the interests and doctrines of the Greek philosophy of religion,308308Joel, “Blick in die Religionsgesch.” Vol I. pp. 101-170, has justly emphasised the Greek character of Gnosis, and insisted on the significance of Platonism for it. “The Oriental element did not always in the case of the Gnostics originate at first hand, but had already passed through a Greek channel.” which doubtless had already assumed a syncretistic character. This fact is certainly concealed by the circumstance that the material of the speculations was taken now from this, and now from that Oriental religious philosophy, from astrology and the Semitic cosmologies. But that is only in keeping with the stage which the religious development had reached among the Greeks and Romans of that time.309309The age of the Antonines was the flourishing period of Gnosticism. Marquardt (Römische Staatsverwaltung, vol. 3, p. 81) says of this age: “With the Antonines begins the last period of the Roman religious development, in which two new elements enter into it. These are the Syrian and Persian deities, whose worship at this time was prevalent not only in the city of Rome, but in the whole empire, and at the same time Christianity, which entered into conflict with all ancient tradition, and in this conflict exercised a certain influence even on the Oriental forms of worship. The cultured, and these primarily come into consideration here, no longer had a religion in the sense of a national religion, but a philosophy of religion. They were, however, in search of a religion, that is, a firm basis for the results of their speculations, and they hoped to obtain it by turning themselves towards the very old Oriental cults, and seeking to fill them with the religious and moral knowledge which had been gained by the Schools of Plato and of Zeno. The union of the traditions and rites of the Oriental religions, viewed as mysteries, with the spirit of Greek philosophy is the characteristic of the epoch. The needs, which asserted themselves with equal strength, of a complete knowledge of the All, of a spiritual God, a sure and therefore very old revelation, 231atonement and immortality, were thus to be satisfied at one and the same time. The most sublimated spiritualism enters here into the strangest union with a crass superstition based on Oriental cults. This superstition was supposed to insure and communicate the spiritual blessings. These complicated tendencies now entered into Christianity.
We have accordingly to ascertain and distinguish in the prominent Gnostic schools, which, in the second century on Greek soil, became an important factor in the history of the Church, the Semitic-cosmological foundations, the Hellenic philosophic mode of thought, and the recognition of the redemption of the world by Jesus Christ. Further, we have to take note of the three elements of Gnosticism, viz., the speculative and philosophical, the mystic element connection with worship, and the practical, ascetic. The close connection in which these three elements appear,310310It is a special merit of Weingarten (Histor. Ztschr. Bd. 45. 1881. p. 441 f.) and Koffmane (De Gnosis nach ihrer Tendenz und Organisation, 1881) to have strongly emphasised the mystery character of Gnosis, and in connection with that, its practical aims. Koffmane, especially, has collected abundant material for proving that the tendency of the Gnostics was the same as that of the ancient mysteries, and that they thence borrowed their organisation and discipline. This fact proves the proposition that Gnosticism was an acute hellenising of Christianity. Koffmane has, however, undervalued the union of the practical and speculative tendency in the Gnostics, and, in the effort to obtain recognition for the mystery character of the Gnostic communities, has overlooked the fact that they were also schools. The union of mystery-cultus and school is just, however, their characteristic. In this also they prove themselves the forerunners of Neoplatonism and the Catholic Church. Moehler in his programme of 1831 (Urspr. d. Gnosticismus Tübingen), vigorously emphasised the practical tendency of Gnosticism, though not in a convincing way. Hackenschmidt (Anfänge des katholischen Kirchenbegriffs, p. 83 f.) has judged correctly. the total transformation of all ethical into cosmological problems, the upbuilding of a philosophy of God and the world on the basis of a combination of popular Mythologies, physical observations belonging to the Oriental (Babylonian) religious philosophy, and historical events, as well as the idea that the history of religion is the last act in the drama-like history of the Cosmos—all this is not peculiar to Gnosticism, but rather corresponds to a definite stage of the general development. It may, however, be asserted that Gnosticism anticipated the general development, and that not 232only with regard to Catholicism, but also with regard to Neoplatonism, which represents the last stage in the inner history of Hellenism.311311We have also evidence of the methods by which ecstatic visions were obtained among the Gnostics: see the Pistis Sophia, and the important role which prophets and Apocalypses played in several important Gnostic communities (Barcoph and Barcabbas, prophets of the Basilideans; Martiades and Marsanes among the Ophites; Philumene in the case of Apelles; Valentinian prophecies; Apocalypses of Zostrian, Zoroaster, etc.). Apocalypses were also used by some under the names of Old Testament men of God and Apostles. The Valentinians have already got as far as Jamblichus. The name Gnosis, Gnostics, describes excellently the aims of Gnosticism, in so far as its adherents boasted of the absolute knowledge, and faith in the Gospel was transformed into a knowledge of God, nature and history. This knowledge, however, was not regarded as natural, but in the view of the Gnostics was based on revelation, was communicated and guaranteed by holy consecrations, and was accordingly cultivated by reflection supported by fancy. A mythology of ideas was created out of the sensuous mythology of any Oriental religion, by the conversion of concrete forms into speculative and moral ideas, such as “Abyss,” “Silence,” “Logos,” “Wisdom,” “Life,” while the mutual relation and number of these abstract ideas were determined by the data supplied by the corresponding concretes. Thus arose a philosophic dramatic poem similar to the Platonic, but much more complicated, and therefore more fantastic, in which mighty powers, the spiritual and good, appear in an unholy union with the material and wicked, but from which the spiritual is finally delivered by the aid of those kindred powers which are too exalted to be ever drawn down into the common. The good and heavenly which has been drawn down into the material, and therefore really non-existing, is the human spirit, and the exalted power who delivers it is Christ. The Evangelic history as handed down is not the history of Christ, but a collection of allegoric representations of the great history of God and the world. Christ has really no history. His appearance in this world of mixture and confusion is his deed, and the enlightenment of the spirit about itself is the result which springs out of that deed. This 233enlightenment itself is life. But the enlightenment is dependent on revelation, asceticism and surrender to those mysteries which Christ founded, in which one enters into præsens numen and which in mysterious ways promote the process of raising the spirit above the sensual. This rising above the sensual is, however, to be actively practised. Abstinence therefore, as a rule, is the watchword. Christianity thus appears here as a speculative philosophy which redeems the spirit by enlightening it, consecrating it, and instructing it in the right conduct of life. The Gnosis is free from the rationalistic interest in the sense of natural religion. Because the riddles about the world which it desires to solve are not properly intellectual, but practical, because it desires to be in the end γνῶσις σωτηρίας, it removes into the region of the supra-rational the powers which are supposed to confer vigour and life on the human spirit. Only a μάθησις, however, united with μυσταγωγία resting on revelation leads thither, not an exact philosophy. Gnosis starts from the great problem of this world, but occupies itself with a higher world, and does not wish to be an exact philosophy, but a philosophy of religion. Its fundamental philosophic doctrines are the following: (1) The indefinable, infinite nature of the Divine primeval Being exalted above all thought. (2) Matter as opposed to the Divine Being, and therefore having no real being, the ground of evil. (3) The fulness of divine potencies, sons, which are thought of partly as powers, partly as real ideas, partly as relatively independent beings, presenting in gradation the unfolding and revelation of the Godhead, but at the same time rendering possible the transition of the higher to the lower. (4) The Cosmos as a mixture of matter with divine sparks, which has arisen from a descent of the latter into the former, or, as some say, from the perverse, or at least merely permitted undertaking of a subordinate spirit. The Demiurge, therefore, is an evil, intermediate, or weak, but penitent being; the best thing therefore in the world is aspiration. (5) The deliverance of the spiritual element from its union with matter, or the separation of the good from the world of sensuality by the Spirit of Christ which operates through knowledge, asceticism, 234and holy consecration: thus originates the perfect Gnostic, the man who is free from the world, and master of himself, who lives in God and prepares himself for eternity. All these are ideas for which we find the way prepared in the philosophy of the time, anticipated by Philo, and represented in Neoplatonism as the great final result of Greek philosophy. It lies in the nature of the case that only some men are able to appropriate the Christianity that is comprehended in these ideas, viz., just as many as are capable of entering into this kind of Christianity, those who are spiritual. The others must be considered as non-partakers of the Spirit from the beginning, and therefore excluded from knowledge as the profanum vulgus. Yet some—the Valentinians, for example—made a distinction in this vulgus, which can only be discussed later on, because it is connected with the position of the Gnostics towards Jewish Christian tradition.
The later opponents of Gnosticism preferred to bring out the fantastic details of the Gnostic systems, and thereby created the prejudice that the essence of the matter lay in these. They have thus occasioned modern expounders to speculate about the Gnostic speculations in a manner that is marked by still greater strangeness. Four observations shew how unhistorical and unjust such a view is, at least with regard to the chief systems. (1) The great Gnostic schools, wherever they could, sought to spread their opinions. But it is simply incredible that they should have expected of all their disciples, male and female, an accurate knowledge of the details of their system. On the contrary, it may be shewn that they often contented themselves with imparting consecration, with regulating the practical life of their adherents, and instructing them in the general features of their system.312312See Koffmane, beforementioned work, p. 5 f. (2) We see how in one and the same school—for example, the Valentinian—the details of the religious metaphysic were very various and changing. (3) We hear but little of conflicts between the various schools. On the contrary, we learn that the books of doctrine and edification passed from one school to 235another.313313See Fragm. Murat. V. 81 f.; Clem. Strom. VII. 17. 108; Orig. Hom. 34. The Marcionite Antitheses were probably spread among other Gnostic sects. The Fathers frequently emphasise the fact that the Gnostics were united against the Church: Tertullian de præscr. 42: “Et hoc est, quod schismata apud hæreticos fere non sunt, quia cum Sint, non parent. Schisma est enim unitas ipsa.” They certainly also delight in emphasising the contradictions of the different schools; but they cannot point to any earnest conflict of these schools with each other. We know definitely that Bardasanes argued against the earlier Gnostics, and Ptolemæus against Marcion. (4) The fragments of Gnostic writings which have been preserved, and this is the most important consideration of the four, shew that the Gnostics devoted their main strength to the working out of those religious, moral, philosophical and historical problems which must engage the thoughtful of all times.314314See the collection, certainly not complete, of Gnostic fragments by Grabe (Spicileg.) and Hilgenfeld (Ketzergeschichte). Our books on the history of Gnosticism take far too little notice of these fragments as presented to us, above all, by Clement and Origen, and prefer to keep to the doleful accounts of the Fathers about the “Systems,” (better in Heinrici: Valent. Gnosis, 1871). The vigorous efforts of the Gnostics to understand the Pauline and Johannine ideas, and their in part surprisingly rational and ingenious solutions of intellectual problems, have never yet been systematically estimated. Who would guess, for example, from what is currently known of the system of Basilides, that, according to Clement, the following proceeds from him, (Strom. IV. 12. 18): ὡς αὐτός φησιν ὁ Βασιλείδης, ἓν μέρος ἐκ τοῦ λεγομένου θελήματος τοῦ θεοῦ ὑπειλήφαμεν, τὸ ἡγαπηκέναι ἅπαντα. ὅτι λόγον ἀποσώζουσι πρὸς τὸ πᾶν ἅπαντα· ἕτερον δὲ τὸ μηδενὸς ἐπιθυμεῖν, καὶ τὸ τρίτον μισείν μηδὲ ἕν? and where do we find, in the period before Clement of Alexandria, faith in Christ united with such spiritual maturity and inner freedom as in Valentinus, Ptolemæus and Heracleon? We only need to read some actual Gnostic document, such as the Epistle of Ptolemæus to Flora, or certain paragraphs of the Pistis Sophia, in order to see that the fantastic details of the philosophic poem can only, in the case of the Gnostics themselves, have had the value of liturgical apparatus, the construction of which was not of course matter of indifference, but hardly formed the principle interest. The things to be proved and to be confirmed by the aid of this or that very old religious philosophy, were certain religious and moral fundamental convictions, and a correct conception of God, of the sensible, of the creator of the world, of Christ, of the Old Testament, and the evangelic tradition. Here were actual dogmas. But how the grand fantastic union of all the 236factors was to be brought about, was, as the Valentinian school shews, a problem whose solution was ever and again subjected to new attempts.315315Testament of Tertullian (adv. Valent. 4) shews the difference between the solution of Valentinus, for example, and his disciple Ptolemæus. “Ptolemæus nomina et numeros Æonum distinxit in personales substantias, sed extra deum determinatas, quas Valentinus in ipsa summa divinitatis ut sensus et affectus motus incluserat.” It is, moreover, important that Tertullian himself should distinguish this so clearly. No one to-day can in all respects distinguish what to those thinkers was image and what reality, or in what degree they were at all able to distinguish image from reality, and in how far the magic formulæ of their mysteries were really objects of their meditation. But the final aim of their endeavours, the faith and knowledge of their own hearts which they instilled into their disciples, the practical rules which they wished to give them, and the view of Christ which they wished to confirm them in, stand out with perfect clearness. Like Plato, they made their explanation of the world start from the contradiction between sense and reason, which the thoughtful man observes in himself. The cheerful asceticism, the powers of the spiritual and the good which were seen in the Christian communities, attracted them and seemed to require the addition of theory to practice. Theory without being followed by practice had long been in existence, but here was the as yet rare phenomenon of a moral practice which seemed to dispense with that which was regarded as indispensable, viz., theory. The philosophic life was already there; how could the philosophic doctrine be wanting, and after what other model could the latent doctrine be reproduced than that of the Greek religious philosophy?316316There is nothing here more instructive than to hear the judgments of the cultured Greeks and Romans about Christianity, as soon as they have given up the current gross prejudices. They shew with admirable clearness the way in which Gnosticism originated. Galen says (quoted by Gieseler, Church Hist. 1. 1. 4): “Hominum plerique orationem demonstrativam continuam mente assequi nequeunt, quare indigent, ut instituantur parabolis. Veluti nostro tempore videmus, homines illos, qui Christiani vocantur, fidem suam e parabolis petiisse. Hi tamen interdum talia faciunt, qualia qui vere philosophantur. Nam quod mortem contemnunt, id quidem omnes ante oculos habemus; item quod verecundia quadam ducti ab usu rerum venerearam abhorrent. Sunt enim inter eos feminas et viri, qui per totam vitam a concubitu abstinuerint; sunt etiam qui in animis regendis coërcendisque et in accerrimo honestatis studio eo progressi sint, ut nihil cedant vere philosophantibus.” Christians, therefore, are philosophers without philosophy. What a challenge for them to produce such, that is to seek out the latent philosophy! Even Celsus could not but admit a certain relationship between Christians and philosophers. But as he was convinced that the miserable religion of the Christians could neither include nor endure a philosophy, he declared that the moral doctrines of the Christians were borrowed from the philosophers (I. 4). In course of his presentation (V. 65: VI. 12, 15-19, 42: VII. 27-35) he deduces the most decided marks of Christianity, as well as the most important sayings of Jesus from (misunderstood) statements of Plato and other Greek philosophers. This is not the place to shew the contradictions in which Celsus was involved by this. But it is of the greatest significance that even this intelligent man could only see philosophy where he saw something precious. The whole of Christianity from its very origin appeared to Celsus (in one respect) precisely as the Gnostic systems appear to us, that is, these really are what Christianity as such seemed to Celsus to be. Besides, it was constantly asserted up to the fifth century that Christ had drawn from Plato’s writings. Against those who made this assertion, Ambrosius (according to Augustine, Ep. 31. C. 8) wrote a treatise, which unfortunately is no longer in existence. That the Hellenic 237spirit in Gnosticism turned with such eagerness to the Christian communities and was ready even to believe in Christ in order to appropriate the moral powers which it saw operative in them, is a convincing proof of the extraordinary impression which these communities made. For what other peculiarities and attractions had they to offer to that spirit than the certainty of their conviction (of eternal life), and the purity of their life? We hear of no similar edifice being erected in the second century on the basis of any other Oriental cult—even the Mithras cult is scarcely to be mentioned here—as the Gnostic was on the foundation of the Christian.317317The Simonian system at most might be named, on the basis of the syncretistic religion founded by Simon Magus. But we know little about it, and that little is uncertain. Parallel attempts are demonstrable in the third century on the basis of various “revealed” fundamental ideas (ἡ ἐκ λογίων φιλοσοφία). The Christian communities, however, together with their worship of Christ, formed the real solid basis of the greater number and the most important of the Gnostic systems, and in this fact we have, on the very threshold of the great conflict, a triumph of Christianity over Hellenism. The triumph lay in the recognition of what Christianity had already performed as a moral and social power. This recognition found expression in bringing the highest that one possessed as a gift to be consecrated 238by the new religion, a philosophy of religion whose end was plain and simple, but whose means were mysterious and complicated.
§ 3. History of Gnosticism and the forms in which it appeared.
In the previous section we have been contemplating Gnosticism as it reached its prime in the great schools of Basilides and Valentinus, and those related to them,318318Among these I reckon those Gnostics whom Irenæus (I. 29-31) has portrayed, as well as part of the so-called Ophites, Peratæ, Sethites and the school of the Gnostic Justin (Hippol. Philosoph. V. 6-28). There is no reason for regarding them as earlier or more Oriental than the Valentinians, as is done by Hilgenfeld against Baur, Möller, and Gruber (the Ophites, 1864). See also Lipsius, “Ophit. Systeme,” i. d. Ztschr. f. wiss. Theol. 1863. IV. 1864, I. These schools claimed for themselves the name Gnostic (Hippol. Philosoph V. 6). A part of them, as is specially apparent from Orig. c. Celsus. VI., is not to be reckoned Christian. This motley group is but badly known to us through Epiphanius, much better through the original Gnostic writings preserved in the Coptic language. (Pistis Sophia and the works published by Carl Schmidt. Texte u. Unters. Bd. VIII.) Yet these original writings belong, for the most part, to the second half of the third century (see also the important statements of Porphyry in the Vita Plotini. c. 16), and shew a Gnosticism burdened with an abundance of wild speculations, formulæ, mysteries, and ceremonial. However, from these very monuments it becomes plain that Gnosticism anticipated Catholicism as a ritual system (see below). at the close of the period we are now considering, and became an important factor in the history of dogma. But this Gnosticism had (1) preliminary stages, and (2) was always accompanied by a great number of sects, schools and undertakings which were only in part related to it, and yet, reasonably enough, were grouped together with it.
To begin with the second point, the great Gnostic schools were flanked on the right and left by a motley series of groups which at their extremities can hardly be distinguished from popular Christianity on the one hand, and from the Hellenic and the common world on the other.319319On Marcion, see the following Chapter. On the right were communities such as the Encratites, which put all stress on a strict asceticism, in support of which they urged the example of Christ, but which here and there fell into dualistic ideas.320320We know that from the earliest period (perhaps we might refer even to the Epistle to the Romans) there were circles of ascetics in the Christian communities who required of all, as an inviolable law, under the name of Christian perfection, complete abstinence from marriage, renunciation of possessions, and a vegetarian diet. (Clem. Strom. III. 6. 49: ὑπὸ διαβόλου ταύτην παραδίδοθσαι δογματίζουσι, μιμεῖσθαι δ᾽ αὐτοὺς οἱ μεγάλαυχοί φασι τὸν κύριον μήτε γήμαντα, μήτε τι ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ κτησάμενον μᾶλλον παρὰ τοὺς ἄλλους νενοηκέναι τὸ εὐαγγέλιον καυχόμενοι—Here then, already, imitation of the poor life of Jesus, the “Evangelic” life, was the watchword. Tatian wrote a book, περὶ τοῦ κατὰ τὸν σωτῆρα καταρτισμοῦ, that is, on perfection according to the Redeemer: in which he set forth the irreconcilability of the worldly life with the Gospel). No doubt now existed in tht; Churches that abstinence from marriage, from wine and flesh, and from possessions, was the perfect fulfilling of the law of Christ (βαστάζειν ὅλον τὸν ζυγὸν τοῦ κύριου). But in wide circles strict abstinence was deduced from a special charism, all boastfulness was forbidden, and the watchword given out: ὅσον δύνασαι ἁγνεύσεις, which may be understood as a compromise with the worldly life as well as a reminiscence of a freer morality (see my notes on Didache, c. 6: 11, 11 and Prolegg. p. 42 ff.). Still, the position towards asceticism yielded a hard problem, the solution of which was more and more found in distinguishing a higher and a lower though sufficient morality, yet repudiating the higher morality as soon as it claimed to be the alone authoritative one. On the other hand, there were societies of Christian ascetics who persisted in applying literally to all Christians the highest demands of Christ, and thus arose, by secession, the communities of the Encratites and Severians. But in the circumstances of the time even they could not but be touched by the Hellenic mode of thought, to the effect of associating a speculative theory with asceticism, and thus approximating to Gnosticism. This is specially plain in Tatian, who connected himself with the Encratites, and in consequence of the severe asceticism which he prescribed, could no longer maintain the identity of the supreme God and the creator of the world (see the fragments of his later writings in the Corp. Apol. ed. Otto. T. VI.). As the Pauline Epistles could furnish arguments to either side, we see some Gnostics, such as Tatian himself, making diligent use of them, while others, such as the Severians, rejected them. (Euseb. H. E. IV. 29, 5, and Orig. c. Cels. V. 65). The Encratite controversy was, on the one hand, swallowed up by the Gnostic, and on the other hand, replaced by the Montanistic. The treatise written in the days of Marcus Aurelius by a certain Musanus (where?) which contains warnings against joining the Encratites (Euseb. H. E. VI. 28) we unfortunately no longer possess. There were, further, whole communities which, for decennia, drew their 239views of Christ from books which represented him as a heavenly spirit who had merely assumed an apparent body.321321See Eusebius, H. E. VI. 12. Docetic elements are apparent even in the fragment of the Gospel of Peter recently discovered. There were also individual teachers who brought forward peculiar opinions without thereby causing any immediate stir in the Churches.322322Here, above all, we have to remember Tatian, who in his highly praised Apology had already rejected altogether the eating of flesh (c. 23) and set up very peculiar doctrines about the spirit, matter, and the nature of man (c. 12 ff.). The fragments of the Hypotyposes of Clem. of Alex. show how much one had to bear in some rural Churches at the end of the second century. On the left there were schools such as the Carpocratians, in which the philosophy and communism of Plato 240were taught, the son of the founder and second teacher Epiphanes honoured as a God (at Cephallenia), as Epicurus was in his school, and the image of Jesus crowned along with those of Pythagoras, Plato and Aristotle.323323See Clem. Strom. III. 2. 5; Ἐπιφάνης, ὑιὸς Καρποκράτους, ἔζησε τὰ πάντα ἔτη ἑπτακαίδεκα καί θεὸς ἐν Σαμῃ τῆς Κεφαλληνίας τετίμηται, ἔνθα αὐτῷ ἱερὸν ῥυτῶν λίθων, βωμοί, τεμένη, μουσεῖον, ᾠκοδόμηταί τε καί καθιέρωται, καὶ συνιόντες εἰς τὸ ἱερὸν οἱ Καφαλλῆνες κατὰ νουμηνίαν γενέθλιον ἀποθέωσιν θύουσιν Ἐπιφάνει, ππένδουσι τε καὶ εὐωχοῦνται καί ὕμνοι λέγονται. Clement’s quotations from the writings of Epiphanes shew him to be a pure Platonist: the proposition that property is theft is found in him. Epiphanes and his father, Carpocrates, were the first who attempted to amalgamate Plato’s State with the Christian ideal of the union of men with each other. Christ was to them, therefore, a philosophic Genius like Plato, see Irenæus. I. 25. 5: “Gnosticos autem se vocant, etiam imagines, quasdam quidem depictas, quasdam autem et de reliqua materia fabricatas habent et eas coronant, et proponent eas cum imaginibus mundi philosophorum, videlicet cum imagine Pythagoræ et Platonis et Aristotelis et reliquorum, et reliquam observationem circa eas similiter ut gentes faciunt.” On this left flank are, further, swindlers who take their own way, like Alexander of Abonoteichus, magicians, soothsayers, sharpers and jugglers, under the sign-board of Christianity, deceivers and hypocrites who appear using mighty words with a host of unintelligible formulæ, and take up with scandalous ceremonies in order to rob men of their money and women of their honour.324324See the “Gnostics” of Hermas, especially the false prophet whom he portrays, Maud XI., Lucian’s Peregrinus, and the Marcus, of whose doings Irenæus (I. 13 ff.) gives such an abominable picture. To understand how such people were able to obtain a following so quickly in the Churches, we must remember the respect in which the “prophets” were held (see Didache XI.). If one had once given the impression that he had the Spirit, he could win belief for the strangest things, and could allow himself all things possible (see the delineations of Celsus in Orig. c. Cels. VII. 9. 11). We hear frequently of Gnostic prophets and prophetesses: see my notes on Herm. Mand. XI. 1. and Didache XI. 7. If an early Christian element is here preserved by the Gnostic schools, it has undoubtedly been hellenised and secularised as the reports shew. But that the prophets altogether were in danger of being secularised is shewn in Didache XI. In the case of the Gnostics the process is again only hastened. All this was afterwards called “Heresy” and “Gnosticism,” and is still so called.325325The name Gnostic originally attached to schools which had so named themselves. To these belonged above all, the so-called Ophites, but not the Valentinians or Basilideans. And these names may be retained, if 241we will understand by them nothing else than the world taken into Christianity, all the manifold formations which resulted from the first contact of the new religion with the society into which it entered. To prove the existence of that left wing of Gnosticism is of the greatest interest for the history of dogma, but the details are of no consequence. On the other hand, in the aims and undertakings of the Gnostic right, it is just the details that are of greatest significance, because they shew that there was no fixed boundary between what one may call common Christian and Gnostic Christian. But as Gnosticism, in its contents, extended itself from the Encratites and the philosophic interpretation of certain articles of the Christian proclamation as brought forward without offence by individual teachers in the communities, to the complete dissolution of the Christian element by philosophy, or the religious charlatanry of the age, so it exhibits itself formally also in a long series of groups which comprised all imaginable forms of unions. There were churches, ascetic associations, mystery cults, strictly private philosophic schools,326326Special attention should be given to this form, as it became in later times of the very greatest importance for the general development of doctrine in the Church. The sect of Carpocrates was a school. Of Tatian, Irenæus says (I. 28. 1): Τατίανος Ἰουστινου ἀκροατὴς γεγονώς . . . . μετὰ δὲ τὴν ἐκείνου μαρτυρίαν ἀποστὰς τῆς ἐκκλησίας, οἰήματι διδασκάλου ἐπαρθεὶς . . . . ἴδιον χαρακτῆρα διδασκαλείου συνεστήσατο. Rhodon (in Euseb. H. E. V. 13. 4) speaks of a Marcionite διαασκαλεῖον. Other names were: “Collegium” (Tertull. ad Valent. 1); “Secta,” the word had not always a bad meaning; αἵρεσις, ἐκκλησία (Clem. Strom. VII. 16. 98; on the other hand, VII. 15. 92: Tertull. de præscr. 42: plerique nec Ecclesias habent); θίασος (Iren. I. 13, 4, for the Marcosians), συναγωγή, σύστημα, διατριβή, αἱ ἀθρώπιναι συνηλύσεις, factiuncula, congregatio, conciliabulum, conventiculum. The mystery-organisation most clearly appears in the Naassenes of Hippolytus, the Marcosians of Irenæus, and the Elkasites of Hippolytus, as well as the Coptic-Gnostic documents that have been preserved. (See Koffmane, above work, pp. 6-22). free unions for edification, entertainments by Christian charlatans and deceived deceivers, who appeared as magicians and prophets, attempts at founding new religions after the model and under the influence of the Christian, etc. But, finally, the thesis that Gnosticism is identical with an acute secularising of Christianity in the widest sense of the word, is confirmed by the study of its own literature. The early Christian production 242of Gospel and Apocalypses was indeed continued in Gnosticism, yet so that the class of “Acts of the Apostles” was added to them, and that didactic, biographic and “belles lettres” elements were received into them, and claimed a very important place. If this makes the Gnostic literature approximate to the profane, that is much more the case with the scientific theological literature which Gnosticism first produced. Dogmatico-philosophic tracts, theologico-critical treatises, historical investigations and scientific commentaries on the sacred books, were, for the first time in Christendom, composed by the Gnostics, who in part occupied the foremost place in the scientific knowledge, religious earnestness and ardour of the age. They form in every respect the counterpart to the scientific works which proceeded from the contemporary philosophic schools. Moreover, we possess sufficient knowledge of Gnostic hymns and odes, songs for public worship, didactic poems, magic formulæ, magic books, etc., to assure us that Christian Gnosticism took possession of a whole region of the secular life in its full breadth, and thereby often transformed the original forms of Christian literature into secular.327327The particulars here belong to church history. Overbeck (“Ueber die Anfänge der patristischen Litteratur” in d. hist. Ztschr. N. F. Bd. XII. p. 417 ff.) has the merit of being the first to point out the importance, for the history of the Church, of the forms of literature as they were gradually received in Christendom. Scientific, theological literature has undoubtedly its origin in Gnosticism. The Old Testament was here, for the first time, systematically and also in part historically criticised; a selection was here made from the primitive Christian literature; scientific commentaries were here written on the sacred hooks (Basilides and especially the Valentinians, see Heracleon’s comm. on the Gospel of John [in Origen]; the Pauline Epistles were also technically expounded; tracts were here composed on dogmatico-philosophic problems (for example, περὶ δικαιοσύνης—τερὶ προσφυοῦς ψυχῆς—ἡθικὰ—περὶ ἐγκρατείας ἡ περὶ εὐνουχίας), and systematic doctrinal systems already constructed (as the Basilidean and Valentinian); the original form of the Gospel was here first transmuted into the Greek form of sacred novel and biography (see, above all, the Gospel of Thomas, which was used by the Marcosians and Naassenes, and which contained miraculous stories from the childhood of Jesus); here, finally, psalms, odes and hymns were first composed (see the Acts of Lucius, the psalms of Valentinus, the psalms of Alexander the disciple of Valentinus, the poems of Bardesanes). Irenæus, Tertullian and Hippolytus have indeed noted that the scientific method of interpretation followed by the Gnostics, was the same as that of the philosophers (e.g., of Philo). Valentinus, as is recognised even by the Church Fathers, stands out prominent for his mental vigour and religious imagination; Heracleon for his exegetic theological ability; Ptolemy for his ingenious criticism of the Old Testament and his keen perception of the stages of religious development (see his Epistle to Flora in Epiphanius, hær. 33. c. 7). As a specimen of the language of Valentinus one extract from a homily may suffice (in Clem. Strom. IV. 13. 89). Ἀπ᾽ ἀρχῆς ἀθάνατοί ἐστε καὶ τέκνα ζωῆς ἐστε αἰωνίας, καὶ τὸν θάνατον ἡθέλετε μερίσασθαι εἰς ἐαυτούς, ἵνα δαπανήσιτε αὐτὸν καὶ ἀναλώσητε, καὶ ἀποθάνή ὁ θάνατος ἐν ὑμῖν καὶ δι᾽ ὑμῶν, ὅταν γὰρ τὸν μὲν κόσμον λύητε, αὐτοι δὲ μὴ κατλύησθε, κυριεύετε τῆς κρίσεως καὶ τῆς φθορᾶς ἀπάσης. Basilides falls into the background behind Valentinus and his school. Yet the Church Fathers, when they wish to summarise the most important Gnostics, usually mention Simon Magus, Basilides, Valentinus, Marcion (even Apelles). On the relation of the Gnostics to the New Testament writings and to the New Testament, see Zahn, Gesch. des N. T.-lichen Kanons. I. 2. p. 718. If, 243however, we bear in mind how all this at a later period was gradually legitimised in the Catholic Church, philosophy, the science of the sacred books, criticism and exegesis, the ascetic associations, the theological schools, the mysteries, the sacred formulæ, the superstition, the charlatanism, all kinds of profane literature, etc., it seems to prove the thesis that the victorious epoch of the gradual hellenising of Christianity followed the abortive attempts at an acute hellenising.
The traditional question as to the origin and development of Gnosticism, as well as that about the classification of the Gnostic systems, will have to be modified in accordance with the foregoing discussion. As the different Gnostic systems might be contemporary, and in part were undoubtedly contemporary, and as a graduated relation holds good only between some few groups, we must, in the classification, limit ourselves essentially to the features which have been specified in the foregoing paragraph, and which coincide with the position of the different groups to the early Christian tradition in its connection with the Old Testament religion, both as a rule of practical life, and of the common cultus.328328Baur’s classification of the Gnostic systems, which rests on the observation of how they severally realised the idea of Christianity as the absolute religion in contrast to Judaism and Heathenism, is very ingenious and contains a great element of truth. But it is insufficient with reference to the whole phenomenon of Gnosticism, and has been carried out by Baur by violent abstractions.
As to the origin of Gnosticism, we see how, even in the earliest period, all possible ideas and principles foreign to Christianity force their way into it, that is, are brought in 244under Christian rules, and find entrance, especially in the consideration of the Old Testament.329329The question, therefore, as to the time of the origin of Gnosticism as a complete phenomenon cannot be answered. The remarks of Hegesippus (Euseb. H. E. IV. 22) refer to the Jerusalem Church, and have not even for that the value of a fixed datum. The only important question here is the point of time at which the expulsion or secession of the schools and unions took place in the different national churches. We might be satisfied with the observation that the manifold Gnostic systems were produced by the increase of this tendency. In point of fact we must admit that in the present state of our sources, we can reach no sure knowledge beyond that. These sources, however, give certain indications which should not be left unnoticed. If we leave out of account the two assertions of opponents, that Gnosticism was produced by demons330330Justin Apol. 1. 26. and—this, however, was said at a comparatively late period—that it originated in ambition and resistance to the ecclesiastical office, the episcopate, we find in Hegesippus, one of the earliest writers on the subject, the statement that the whole of the heretical schools sprang out of Judaism or the Jewish sects; in the later writers, Irenæus, Tertullian and Hippolytus, that these schools owe most to the doctrines of Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, Zeno, etc.331331Hegesippus in Euseb. H. E. IV. 22, Iren. II. 14. 1 f., Tertull. de præscr. 7, Hippol. Philosoph. The Church Fathers have also noted the likeness of the cultus of Mithras and other deities. But they all agree in this, that a definite personality, viz., Simon the Magician, must be regarded as the original source of the heresy. If we try it by these statements of the Church Fathers, we must see at once that the problem in this case is limited—certainly in a proper way. For after Gnosticism is seen to be the acute secularising of Christianity the only question that remains is, how are we to account for the origin of the great Gnostic schools, that is, whether it is possible to indicate their preliminary stages. The following may be asserted here with some confidence: Long before the appearance of Christianity, combinations of religion had taken place in Syria and Palestine,332332We must leave the Essenes entirely out of account here, as their teaching, in all probability, is not to be considered syncretistic in the strict sense of the word, (see Lucius, “Der Essenismus,” 1881,) and as we know absolutely nothing of a greater diffusion of it. But we need no names here, as a syncretistic, ascetic Judaism could and did arise everywhere in Palestine and the Diaspora. 245especially in Samaria, in so far, on the one hand, as the Assyrian and Babylonian religious philosophy, together with its myths, as well as the Greek popular religion with its manifold interpretations, had penetrated as far as the eastern shore of the Mediterranean, and been accepted even by the Jews; and, on the other hand, the Jewish Messianic idea had spread and called forth various movements.333333Freudenthal’s a Hellenistische Studien” informs us as to the Samaritan syncretism; see also Hilgenfeld’s “Ketzergeschichte,” p. 149 ff. As to the Babylonian mythology in Gnosticism, see the statements in the elaborate article, “Manichäismus,” by Kessler (Real-Encycl. für protest. Theol., 2 Aufl.). The result of every mixing of national religions, however, is to break through the traditional, legal and particular forms.334334Wherever traditional religions are united under the badge of philosophy a conservative syncretism is the result, because the allegoric method, that is, the criticism of all religion, veiled and unconscious of itself, is able to blast rocks and bridge over abysses. All forms may remain here under certain circumstances, but a new spirit enters into them. On the other hand, where philosophy is still weak, and the traditional religion is already shaken by another, there arises the critical syncretism in which either the gods of one religion are subordinated to those of another, or the elements of the traditional religion are partly eliminated and replaced by others. Here, also, the soil is prepared for new religious formations, for the appearance of religious founders. For the Jewish religion syncretism signified the shaking of the authority of the Old Testament by a qualitative distinction of its different parts, as also doubt as to the identity of the supreme God with the national God. These ferments were once more set in motion by Christianity. We know that in the Apostolic age there were attempts in Samaria to found new religions, which were in all probability influenced by the tradition and preaching concerning Jesus. Dositheus, Simon Magus, Cleobius, and Menander appeared as Messiahs or bearers of the God-head, and proclaimed a doctrine in which the Jewish faith was strangely and grotesquely mixed with Babylonian myths, together with some Greek additions. The mysterious worship, the breaking up of Jewish particularism, the criticism of the Old Testament,—which for long had had great difficulty in retaining its authority in many circles, in consequence of the 246widened horizon and the deepening of religious feeling,—finally, the wild syncretism, whose aim, however, was a universal religion, all contributed to gain adherents for Simon.335335It was a serious mistake of the critics to regard Simon Magus as a fiction, which, moreover, has been given up by Hilgenfeld (Ketzergeschichte, p. 163 ff.), and Lipsius (Apocr. Apostelgesch. II. 1),—the latter, however, not decidedly. The whole figure as well as the doctrines attributed to Simon (see Acts of the Apostles, Justin, Irenæus, Hippolytus) not only have nothing improbable in them, but suit very well the religious circumstances which we must assume for Samaria. The main point in Simon is his endeavour to create a universal religion of the supreme God. This explains his success among the Samaritans and Greeks. He is really a counterpart to Jesus, whose activity can just as little have been unknown to him as that of Paul. At the same time it cannot be denied that the later tradition about Simon was the most confused and biassed imaginable, or that certain Jewish Christians at a later period may have attempted to endow the magician with the features of Paul in order to discredit the personality and teaching of the Apostle. But this last assumption requires a fresh investigation. His enterprise appeared to the Christians as a diabolical caricature of their own religion, and the impression made by the success which Simonianism gained by a vigorous propaganda even beyond Palestine into the West, supported this idea.336336Justin. Apol. 1 26: Καὶ σχεδὸν πάντες μὲν Σαμαρεις, ὀλίγοι δὲ καὶ ἐν ἄλλοις ἔθνεσιν, ὡς τὸν πρῶτον θεὸν Σίμωνα ὁμολογοῦντες, ἐκεῖνον καὶ προσκυνοῦσιν (besides the account in the Philos. and Orig. c. Cels. 1. 57: VI. II). The positive statement of Justin that Simon came even to Rome (under Claudius) can hardly be refuted from the account of the Apologist himself, and therefore not at all. (See Renan, “Antichrist”.) We can therefore understand how, afterwards, all heresies were traced back to Simon. To this must be added that we can actually trace in many Gnostic systems the same elements which were prominent in the religion proclaimed by Simon (the Babylonian and Syrian), and that the new religion of the Simonians, just like Christianity, had afterwards to submit to be transformed into a philosophic, scholastic doctrine.337337We have it as such in the Μὲγάλη Ἀπόφασις which Hippolytus (Philosoph. VI. 19. 20) made use of. This Simonianism may perhaps have related to the original, as the doctrines of the Christian Gnostics to the Apostolic preaching. The formal parallel to the Gnostic doctrines was therewith established. But even apart from these attempts at founding new religions, Christianity in Syria, under the influence of foreign religions and speculation on the philosophy of religion, gave a powerful impulse to the criticism of the law and the prophets which 247had already been awakened. In consequence of this, there appeared, about the transition of the first century to the second, a series of teachers who, under the impression of the Gospel, sought to make the Old Testament capable of furthering the tendency to a universal religion, not by allegorical interpretation, but by a sifting criticism. These attempts were of very different kinds. Teachers such as Cerinthus clung to the notion that the universal religion revealed by Christ was identical with undefiled Mosaism, and therefore maintained even such articles as circumcision and the Sabbath commandment, as well as the earthly kingdom of the future. But they rejected certain parts of the law, especially, as a rule, the sacrificial precepts, which were no longer in keeping with the spiritual conception of religion. They conceived the creator of the world as a subordinate being distinct from the supreme God, which is always the mark of a syncretism with a dualistic tendency; introduced speculations about Æons and angelic powers, among whom they placed Christ, and recommended a strict asceticism. When, in their Christology, they denied the miraculous birth, and saw in Jesus a chosen man on whom the Christ, that is, the Holy Spirit, descended at the baptism, they were not creating any innovation, but only following the earliest Palestinian tradition. Their rejection of the authority of Paul is explained by their efforts to secure the Old Testament as far as possible for the universal religion.338338The Heretics opposed in the Epistle to the Colossians may belong to these. On Cerinthus, see Polycarp in Iren. III. 3. 2, Irenæus (I. 26. 1: III. 11. I), Hippolytus and the redactions of the Syntagma, Cajus in Euseb. III. 28. 2, Hilgenfeld, Ketzergeschichte, p. 411 ff. To this category belong also the Ebionites and Elkasites of Epiphanius. (See Chap. 6.) There were others who rejected all ceremonial commandments as proceeding from the devil, or from some intermediate being, but yet always held firmly that the God of the Jews was the supreme God. But alongside of these stood also decidedly anti-Jewish groups, who seem to have been influenced in part by the preaching of Paul. They advanced much further in the criticism of the Old Testament, and perceived the impossibility of saving it for the Christian universal religion. 248They rather connected this religion with the cultus-wisdom of Babylon and Syria, which seemed more adapted for allegorical interpretations, and opposed this formation to the Old Testament religion. The God of the Old Testament appears here at best as a subordinate Angel of limited power, wisdom and goodness. In so far as he was identified with the creator of the world, and the creation of the world itself was regarded as an imperfect or an abortive undertaking, expression was given both to the anti-Judaism and to that religious temper of the time which could only value spiritual blessing in contrast with the world and the sensuous. These systems appeared more or less strictly dualistic, in proportion as they did or did not accept a slight co-operation of the supreme God in the creation of man; and the way in which the character and power of the world-creating God of the Jews was conceived, serves as a measure of how far the several schools were from the Jewish religion and the Monism that ruled it. All possible conceptions of the God of the Jews, from the assumption that he is a being supported in his undertakings by the supreme God, to his identification with Satan, seem to have been exhausted in these schools. Accordingly, in the former case, the Old Testament was regarded as the revelation of a subordinate God, in the latter as the manifestation of Satan, and therefore the ethic—with occasional use of Pauline formulæ—always assumed an antinomian form compared with the Jewish law, in some cases antinomian even in the sense of libertinism. Correspondingly, the anthropology exhibits man as bipartite, or even tripartite, and the Christology is strictly docetic and anti-Jewish. The redemption by Christ is always, as a matter of course, related only to that element in humanity which has an affinity with the Godhead.339339The two Syrian teachers, Saturninus and Cerdo, must in particular be mentioned here. The first (See Iren. I. 24. 1. 2, Hippolyt. and the redactions of the Syntagma) was not strictly speaking a dualist, and therefore allowed the God of the Old Testament to be regarded as an Angel of the supreme God, while at the same time he distinguished him from Satan. Accordingly, he assumed that the supreme God co-operated in the creation of man by angel powers—sending a ray of light, an image of light, that should be imitated as an example and enjoined as an ideal. But all men have not received the ray of light. Consequently, two classes of men stand in abrupt contrast with each other. History is the conflict of the two. Satan stands at the head of the one, the God of the Jews at the head of the other. The Old Testament is a collection of prophecies out of both camps. The truly good first appears in the Æon Christ, who assumed nothing cosmic, did not even submit to birth. He destroys the works of Satan (generation, eating of flesh), and delivers the men who have within them a spark of light. The Gnosis of Cerdo was much coarser. (Iren. I. 27. 1, Hippolyt. and the redactions.) He contrasted the good God and the God of the Old Testament as two primary beings. The latter he identified with the creator of the world. Consequently, he completely rejected the Old Testament and everything cosmic and taught that the good God was first revealed in Christ. Like Saturninus he preached a strict docetism; Christ had no body, was not born, and suffered in an unreal body. All else that the Fathers report of Cerdo’s teaching has probably been transferred to him from Marcion, and is therefore very doubtful.249
It is uncertain whether we should think of the spread of these doctrines in Syria in the form of a school, or of a cultus; probably it was both. From the great Gnostic systems as formed by Basilides and Valentinus they are distinguished by the fact that they lack the peculiar philosophic, that is Hellenic, element, the speculative conversion of angels and /Eons into real ideas, etc. We have almost no knowledge of their effect. This Gnosticism has never directly been a historical factor of striking importance, and the great question is whether it was so indirectly.340340This question might perhaps be answered if we had the Justinian Syntagma against all heresies; but in the present condition of our sources it remains wrapped in obscurity. What may be gathered from the fragments of Hegesippus, the Epistles of Ignatius, the Pastoral Epistles and other documents, such as, for example, the Epistle of Jude, is in itself so obscure, so detached and so ambiguous that it is of no value for historical construction. That is to say, we do not know whether this Syrian Gnosticism was, in the strict sense, the preparatory stage of the great Gnostic schools, so that the schools should be regarded as an actual reconstruction of it. But there can be no doubt that the appearance of the great Gnostic schools in the Empire, from Egypt to Gaul, is contemporaneous with the vigorous projection of Syrian cults westwards, and therefore the assumption is suggested, that the Syrian Christian syncretism was also spread in connection with that projection, and underwent a change corresponding to the new conditions. We know definitely that the Syrian Gnostic, Cerdo, came to Rome, wrought there, and exercised an influence 250on Marcion. But no less probable is the assumption that the great Hellenic Gnostic schools arose spontaneously, in the sense of having been independently developed out of the elements to which undoubtedly the Asiatic cults also belonged, without being influenced in any way by Syrian syncretistic efforts. The conditions for the growth of such formations were nearly the same in all parts of the Empire. The great advance lies in the fact that the religious material as contained in the Gospel, the Old Testament, and the wisdom connected with the old cults, was philosophically, that is scientifically, manipulated by means of allegory, and the aggregate of mythological powers translated into an aggregate of ideas. The Pythagorean and Platonic, more rarely the Stoic philosophy, were compelled to do service here. Great Gnostic schools, which were at the same time unions for worship, first enter into the clear light of history in this form, (see previous section), and on the conflict with these, surrounded as they were by a multitude of dissimilar and related formations, depends the progress of the development.341341There are, above all, the schools of the Basilideans, Valentinians and Ophites. To describe the systems in their full development lies, in my opinion, outside the business of the history of dogma and might easily lead to the mistake that the systems as such were controverted, and that their construction was peculiar to Christian Gnosticism. The construction, as remarked above, is rather that of the later Greek philosophy, though it cannot be mistaken that, for us, the full parallel to the Gnostic systems first appears in those of the Neoplatonists. But only particular doctrines and principles of the Gnostics were really called in question their critique of the world, of providence, of the resurrection, etc.; these therefore are to be adduced in the next section. The fundamental features of an inner development can only be exhibited in the case of the most important, viz., the Valentinian school. But even here we must distinguish an Eastern and a Western branch. (Tertull. adv. Valent. I.: “Valentiniani frequentissimum plane collegium inter hæreticos.” Iren. 1. I.; Hippol. Philos. VI. 35; Orig. Hom. II. 5 in Ezech. Lomm. XIV. p. 40: “Valentini robustissima secta”.)
We are no longer able to form a perfectly clear picture of how these schools came into being, or how they were related to the Churches. It lay in the nature of the case that the heads of the schools, like the early itinerant heretical teachers, devoted attention chiefly, if not exclusively, to those who were already Christian, that is, to the Christian 251communities.342342Tertull. de præscr. 42: “De verbi autem administratione quid dicam, cum hoc sit negotium illis, non ethnicos convertendi, sed nostros evertendi? Hanc magis gloriam captant, si stantibus ruinam, non si jacentibus elevationem operentur. Quoniam et ipsum opus eorum non de suo proprio ædificio venit, sed de veritatis destructione; nostra suffodiunt, ut sua ædificent. Adime illis legem Moysis et prophetas et creatorem deum, accusationem eloqui non habent.” (See adv. Valent. I. init.) This is hardly a malevolent accusation. The philosophic interpretation of a religion will always impress those only on whom the religion itself has already made an impression. From the Ignatian Epistles, the Shepherd of Hermas (Vis. III. 7. 1: Sim. VIII. 6. 5: IX. 19. and especially 22), and the Didache (XI. I. 2) we see that those teachers who boasted of a special knowledge and sought to introduce “strange” doctrines, aimed at gaining the entire churches. The beginning, as a rule, was necessarily the formation of conventicles. In the first period therefore, when there was no really fixed standard for warding off the foreign doctrines—Hermas is unable even to characterise the false doctrines—the warnings were commonly exhausted in the exhortation: κολλᾶσθε τοῖς ἁγίοις, ὅτι οἱ κολλώμενοι αὐτοῖς ἁγιασθήσονται, [“connect yourselves with the saints, because those who are connected with them shall be sanctified”]. As a rule, the doctrines may really have crept in unobserved, and those gained over to them may for long have taken part in a two-fold worship, the public worship of the churches, and the new consecration. Those teachers must of course have assumed a more aggressive attitude who rejected the Old Testament. The attitude of the Church, when it enjoyed competent guidance, was one of decided opposition towards unmasked or recognised false teachers. Yet Irenæus’ account of Cerdo in Rome shews us how difficult it was at the beginning to get rid of a false teacher.343343Iren. III. 4. 2: Κέρδων εἰς τὴν ἐκκλησίαν ἐλθῶν καὶ ἐξομολογούμενος, οὕτως διετέλεσε, ποτὲ μὲν λαθροδιδασκαλῶν ποτὲ δὲ πάλιν ἐξομολογούμενος, ποτὲ δὲ ἐλεγγόμενος ἐφ᾽ οἷς ἐδίδασκε κακῶς, καὶ ἀφιστάμενος τῆς τῶν ἀδελφῶν συνοδίας; see besides the valuable account of Tertull. de præscr. 30. The account of Irenæus (I. 13) is very instructive as to the kind of propaganda of Marcus, and the relation of the women he deluded to the Church. Against actually recognised false teachers the fixed rule was to renounce all intercourse with them (2 Joh. 10. 11; Iren. ep. ad Florin on Polycarp’s procedure, in Euseb. H. E. V. 20. 7; Iren. III. 3. 4). But how were the heretics to be surely known? For Justin, about the year 150, the 252Marcionites, Valentinians, Basilideans and Saturninians are groups outside the communities, and undeserving of the name “Christians.”344344Among those who justly bore this name he distinguishes those of οἱ ορθεγνώμενες κατὰ πάντα χριστανοί εἰσιν (Dial. 80). There must therefore have been at that time, in Rome and Asia Minor at least, a really perfect separation of those schools from the Churches (it was different in Alexandria). Notwithstanding, this continued to be the region from which those schools obtained their adherents. For the Valentinians recognised that the common Christians were much better than the heathen, that they occupied a middle position between the “pneumatic” and the “hylic,” and might look forward to a kind of salvation. This admission, as well as their conforming to the common Christian tradition, enabled them to spread their views in a remarkable way, and they may not have had any objection in many cases, to their converts remaining in the great Church. But can this community have perceived, everywhere and at once, that the Valentinian distinction of “psychic” and “pneumatic” is not identical with the scriptural distinction of children and men in understanding? Where the organisation of the school (the union for worship) required a long time of probation, where degrees of connection with it were distinguished, and a strict asceticism demanded of the perfect, it followed of course that those on the lower stage should not be urged to a speedy break with the Church.345345Very important is the description which Irenæus (III. 15. 2) and Tertullian have given of the conduct of the Valentinians as observed by themselves (adv. Valent. 1). “Valentiniani nihil magis curant quam occultare, quod prædicant; si tamen prædicant qui occultant. Custodiæ officium conscientiæ officium est (a comparison with the Eleusinian mysteries follows). Si bona fide quæras, concreto vultu, suspenso supercilio, Altum est, aiunt. Si subtiliter temptes per ambiguitates bilingues communem fidem adfirmant. Si scire to subostendas negant quidquid agnoscunt. Si cominus certes, tuam simplicitatem sua cæde dispergunt. Ne discipulis quidem propriis ante committunt quam suos fecerint. Habent artificium quo prius persuadeant quam edoceant.” At a later period Dionysius of Alex. in Euseb. H. E. VII. 7, speaks of Christians who maintain an apparent communion with the brethren, but resort to one of the false teachers (cf. as to this Euseb. H. E. VI. 2. 13). The teaching of Bardesanes influenced by Valentinus, who, moreover, was hostile to Marcionitism, was tolerated for a long time in Edessa (by the Christian kings), nay, was recognised. The Bardesanites and the “Palutians” (catholics) were differentiated only after the beginning of the third century. But after the creation of the 253catholic confederation of churches, existence was made more and more difficult for these schools. Some of them lived on somewhat like our freemason-unions; some, as in the East, became actual sects (confessions), in which the wise and the simple now found a place, as they were propagated by families. In both cases they ceased to be what they had been at the beginning. From about 210 they ceased to be a factor of the historical development, though the Church of Constantine and Theodosius was alone really able to suppress them.
§ 4. The most important Gnostic Doctrines.
We have still to measure and compare with the earliest tradition those Gnostic doctrines which, partly at once and partly in the following period, became important. Once more, however, we must expressly refer to the fact that the epoch-making significance of Gnosticism for the history of dogma must not be sought chiefly in the particular doctrines, but rather in the whole way in which Christianity is here conceived and transformed. The decisive thing is the conversion of the Gospel into a doctrine, into an absolute philosophy of religion, the transforming of the disciplina Evangelii into an asceticism based on a dualistic conception, and into a practice of mysteries.346346There can be no doubt that the Gnostic propaganda was seriously hindered by the inability to organise and discipline Churches, which is characteristic of all philosophic systems of religion. The Gnostic organisation of schools and mysteries was not able to contend with the episcopal organisation of the Churches; see Ignat. ad Smyr. 6. 2; Tertull. de præscr. 41. Attempts at actual formation of Churches were not altogether wanting in the earliest period; at a later period they were forced on some schools. We have only to read Iren. III. 15. 2 in order to see that these associations could only exist by finding support in a Church. Irenæus expressly remarks that the Valentinians designated the Common Christians καθολικοί (communes) καὶ ἐκκλησιαστικοί, but that they, on the other hand, complained that “we kept away from their fellowship without cause, as they thought like ourselves.” We have now briefly to shew, with due regard to the earliest tradition, how far this transformation was of positive or negative significance for the following period, that is, in what respects the following development was anticipated by 254Gnosticism, and in what respects Gnosticism was disavowed by this development.347347The differences between the Gnostic Christianity and that of the Church, that is, the later ecclesiastical theology, were fluid, if we observe the following points. (1) That even in the main body of the Church the element of knowledge was increasingly emphasised, and the Gospel began to be converted into a perfect knowledge of the world (increasing reception of Greek philosophy, development of πίστις to γνῶσις. (2) That the dramatic eschatology began to fade away. (3) That room was made for docetic views, and value put upon a strict asceticism. On the other hand we must note: (i) That all this existed only in germ or fragments within the great Church during the flourishing period of Gnosticism. (2) That the great Church held fast to the facts fixed in the baptismal formula (in the Kerygma) and to the eschatological expectations, further, to the creator of the world as the supreme God, to the unity of Jesus Christ, and to the Old Testament, and therefore rejected dualism. (3) That the great Church defended the unity and equality of the human race, and therefore the uniformity and universal aim of the Christian salvation. (4) That it rejected every introduction of new, especially of Oriental, Mythologies, guided in this by the early Christian consciousness and a sure intelligence. A deeper, more thorough distinction between the Church and the Gnostic parties hardly dawned on the consciousness of either. The Church developed herself instinctively into an imperial Church, in which office was to play the chief role. The Gnostics sought to establish or conserve associations in which the genius should rule, the genius in the way of the old prophets or in the sense of Plato, or in the sense of a union of prophecy and philosophy. In the Gnostic conflict, at least at its close, the judicial priest fought with the virtuoso and overcame him.
(1) Christianity, which is the only true and absolute religion, embraces a revealed system of doctrine (positive).
(2) This doctrine contains mysterious powers, which are communicated to men by initiation (mysteries).
(3) The revealer is Christ (positive), but Christ alone, and only in his historical appearance—no Old Testament Christ (negative); this appearance is itself redemption: the doctrine is the announcement of it and of its presuppositions (positive).348348The absolute significance of the person of Christ was very plainly expressed in Gnosticism (Christ is not only the teacher of the truth, but the manifestation of the truth), more plainly than where he was regarded as the subject of Old Testament revelation. The pre-existent Christ has significance in some Gnostic schools, but always a comparatively subordinate one. The isolating of the person of Christ, and quite as much the explaining away of his humanity, is manifestly out of harmony with the earliest tradition. But, on the other hand, it must not be denied that the Gnostics recognised redemption in the historical Christ: Christ personally procured it (see under 6. h.).
(4) Christian doctrine is to be drawn from the Apostolic 255tradition, critically examined. This tradition lies before us in a series of Apostolic writings, and in a secret doctrine derived from the Apostles (positive).349349In this thesis, which may be directly corroborated by the most important Gnostic teachers, Gnosticism shews that it desires in thesi (in a way similar to Philo) to continue on the soil of Christianity as a positive religion. Conscious of being bound to tradition, it first definitely raised the question, What is Christianity? and criticised and sifted the sources for an answer to the question. The rejection of the Old Testament led it to that question and to this sifting. It may be maintained with the greatest probability, that the idea of a canonical collection of Christian writings first emerged among the Gnostics (see also Marcion). They really needed such a collection, while all those who recognised the Old Testament as a document of revelation, and gave it a Christian interpretation, did not at first need a new document, but simply joined on the new to the old, the Gospel to the Old Testament. From the numerous fragments of Gnostic commentaries on New Testament writings which have been preserved, we see that these writings then enjoyed canonical authority, while at the same period we hear nothing of such an authority nor of commentaries in the main body of Christendom (see Heinrici, “Die Valentinianische Gnosis, u. d. h. Schrift,” 1871). Undoubtedly sacred writings were selected according to the principle of apostolic origin. This is proved by the inclusion of the Pauline Epistles in the collections of books. There is evidence of such having been made by the Naassenes, Peratæ, Valentinians, Marcion, Tatian and the Gnostic Justin. The collection of the Valentinians and the Canon of Tatian must have really coincided with the main parts of the later Ecclesiastical Canon. The later Valentinians accommodated themselves to this Canon, that is, recognised the books that had been added (Tertull. de præscr. 38). The question as to who first conceived and realised the idea of a Canon of Christian writings, Basilides, or Valentinus, or Marcion, or whether this was done by several at the same time, will always remain obscure, though many things favour Marcion. If it should even be proved that Basilides (see Euseb. H. E. IV. 7. 7) and Valentinus himself regarded the Gospels only as authoritative, yet the full idea of the Canon lies already in the fact of their making these the foundation and interpreting them allegorically. The question as to the extent of the Canon afterwards became the subject of an important controversy between the Gnostics and the Catholic Church. The Catholics throughout took up the position that their Canon was the earlier, and the Gnostic collection the corrupt revision of it (they were unable to adduce proof, as is attested by Tertullian’s de præscr.). But the aim of the Gnostics to establish themselves on the uncorrupted apostolic tradition gathered from writings, was crossed by three tendencies, which, moreover, were all jointly operative in the Christian communities, and are therefore not peculiar to Gnosticism. (1) By faith in the continuance of prophecy, in which new things are always revealed by the Holy Spirit (the Basilidean and Marcionite prophets). (2) By the assumption of an esoteric secret tradition of the Apostles (see Clem. Strom. VII. 17. 106. 108; Hipp. Philos. VII. 20; Iren. I. 25. 5: III. 2. 1; Tertull. de præscr. 25. Cf. the Gnostic book, Πίστις Σοφία, which in great part is based on doctrines said to be imparted by Jesus to his disciples after his resurrection). (3) By the inability to oppose the continuous production of Evangelic writings, in other words, by the continuance of this kind of literature and the addition of Acts of the Apostles (Gospel of the Egyptians (?), other Gospels, Acts of John, Thomas, Philip, etc. We know absolutely nothing about the conditions under which these writings originated, the measure of authority which they enjoyed, or the way in which they gained that authority). In all these points which in Gnosticism hindered the development of Christianity to the “religion of a new book,” the Gnostic schools shew that they stood precisely under the same conditions as the Christian communities in general (see above Chap. 3. § 2). If all things do not deceive us, the same inner development may be observed even in the Valentinian school as in the great Church, viz., the production of sacred Evangelic and Apostolic writings, prophecy and secret gnosis falling more and more into the background, and the completed Canon becoming the most important basis of the doctrine of religion. The later Valentinians (see Tertull. de præscr. and adv. Valent.) seem to have appealed chiefly to this Canon, and Tatian no less (about whose Canon, see my Texte u. Unters. I. 1. 2. pp. 213-218). But finally we must refer to the fact that it was the highest concern of the Gnostics to furnish the historical proof of the Apostolic origin of their doctrine by an exact reference to the links of the tradition (see Ritschl, Entstehung der altkath. Kirche. 2nd ed. p. 338 f.). Here again it appears that Gnosticism shared with Christendom the universal presupposition that the valuable thing is the Apostolic origin (see above p. 160 f.), but that it first created artificial chains of tradition, and that this is the first point in which it was followed by the Church: (see the appeals to the Apostolic Matthew, to Peter and Paul, through the mediation of “Glaukias” and “Theodas,” to James and the favourite disciples of the Lord, in the case of the Naassenes, Ophites, Basilideans and Valentinians, etc.; see, further, the close of the Epistle of Ptolemy to Flora in Epistle H. 33. 7: Μαθήσῃ ἑξῆς καὶ τὴν τούτου ἀρχήν τε καὶ γέννησιν, ἀξιουμένη τῆς ἀποστολικῆς παραδόσεως, ἣ ἐκ διαδοχῆς καὶ ἡμεῖς παρειλήφαμεν, μετὰ καιροῦ [sic] κανονίσαι πάντας τοὺς λόγους τῇ τοῦ σωτῆρος διδασκαλίᾳ, as well as the passages adduced under 2). From this it further follows that the Gnostics may have compiled their Canon solely according to the principle of Apostolic origin. Upon the whole we may see here how foolish it is to seek to dispose of Gnosticism with the phrase, “lawless fancies.” On the contrary, the Gnostics purposely took their stand on the tradition—nay, they were the first in Christendom who determined the range, contents and manner of propagating the tradition. They are thus the first Christian theologians.256
As exoteric it is comprehended in the regula fidei350350Here also we have a point of unusual historical importance. As we first find a new Canon among the Gnostics, so also among them (and in Marcion) we first meet with the traditional complex of the Christian Kerygma as a doctrinal confession (regula fide), that is, as a confession which, because it is fundamental, needs a speculative exposition, but is set forth by this exposition as the summary of all wisdom. The hesitancy about the details of the Kerygma only shews the general uncertainty which at that time prevailed. But again we see that the later Valentinians completely accommodated themselves to the later development in the Church (Tertull. adv. Valent. I.: “communem fidem adfirmant”), that is, attached themselves, probably even from the first, to the existing forms; while in the Marcionite Church a peculiar regula was set up by a criticism of the tradition. The regula, as a matter of course, was regarded as Apostolic. On Gnostic regulæ, see Iren. I. 21. 5, 31. 3: II. præf.: II. 19. 8: III. 11. 3: III. 16. 1. 5: Ptolem. ap. Epiph. h. 33. 7; Tertull. adv. Valent. 1. 4: de præscr. 42: adv. Marc. I. 1: IV. 5. 17; Ep. Petri ad Jacob in Clem. Hom. c. 1. We still possess, in great part verbatim, the regula of Apelles, in Epiphan. h. 44. 2. Irenæus (I. 7. 2) and Tertull. (de carne, 20) state that the Valentinian regula contained the formula, “γεννηθέντα διὰ Μαρίας”; see on this, p. 205. In noting that the two points so decisive for Catholicism, the Canon of the New Testament and the Apostolic regula, were first, in the strict sense, set up by the Gnostics on the basis of a definite fixing and systematising of the oldest tradition, we may see that the weakness of Gnosticism here consisted in its inability to exhibit the publicity of tradition and to place its propagation in close connection with the organisation of the churches. 257(positive), as esoteric it is propagated by chosen teachers.351351We do not know the relation in which the Valentinians placed the public Apostolic regula fide to the secret doctrine derived from one Apostle. The Church, in opposition to the Gnostics, strongly emphasised the publicity of all tradition. Yet afterwards, though with reservations, she gave a wide scope to the assumption of a secret tradition.
(5) The documents of revelation (Apostolic writings), just because they are such, must be interpreted by means of allegory, that is, their deeper meaning must be extracted in this way (positive).352352The Gnostics transferred to the Evangelic writings, and demanded as simply necessary, the methods which Barnabas and others used in expounding the Old Testament (see the samples of their exposition in Irenæus and Clement. Heinrici, l.c.). In this way, of course, all the specialities of the system may be found in the documents. The Church at first condemned this method (Tertull. de præcr. 17-19. 39; Iren. I. 8. 9), but applied it herself from the moment in which she had adopted a New Testament Canon of equal authority with that of the Old Testament. However, the distinction always remained, that in the confrontation of the two Testaments with the views of getting proofs from prophecy, the history of Jesus described in the Gospels was not at first allegorised. Yet afterwards the Christological dogmas of the third and following centuries demanded a docetic explanation of many points in that history.
(6) The following may be noted as the main points in the Gnostic conception of the several parts of the regula fide:
(a) The difference between the supreme God and the creator of the world, and therewith the opposing of redemption and creation, and therefore the separation of the Mediator of revelation from the Mediator of creation.353353In the Valentinian, as well as in all systems not coarsely dualistic, the Redeemer Christ has no doubt a certain share in the constitution of the highest class of men, but only through complicated mediations. The significance which is attributed to Christ in many systems for the production or organisation of the upper world may be mentioned. In the Valentinian system there are several mediators. It may be noted that the abstract conception of the divine primitive Being seldom called forth a real controversy. As a rule, offence was taken only at the expression.258
(b) The separation of the supreme God from the God of the Old Testament, and therewith the rejection of the Old Testament, or the assertion that the Old Testament contains no revelations of the supreme God, or at least only in certain parts.354354The Epistle of Ptolemy to Flora is very instructive here. If we leave out of account the peculiar Gnostic conception, we have represented in Ptolemy’s criticism the later Catholic view of the Old Testament, as well as also the beginning of a historical conception of it. The Gnostics were the first critics of the Old Testament in Christendom. Their allegorical exposition of the Evangelic writings should be taken along with their attempts at interpreting the Old Testament literally and historically. It may be noted, for example, that the Gnostics were the first to call attention to the significance of the change of name for God in the Old Testament; see Iren. II. 35. 3. The early Christian tradition led to a procedure directly the opposite. Apelles, in particular, the disciple of Marcion, exercised an intelligent criticism on the Old Testament; see my treatise, “de Apellis gnosi,” p. 71 sq., and also Texte u. Unters. VI. 3, p. 111 ff. Marcion himself recognised the historical contents of the Old Testament as reliable and the criticism of most Gnostics only called in question its religious value.
(c) The doctrine of the independence and eternity of matter.
(d) The assertion that the present world sprang from a fall of man, or from an undertaking hostile to God, and is therefore the product of an evil or intermediate being.355355Ecclesiastical opponents rightly put no value on the fact that some Gnostics advanced to Pan-Satanism with regard to the conception of the world, while others beheld a certain justitia civilis ruling in the world. For the standpoint which the Christian tradition had marked out, this distinction is just as much a matter of indifference as the other, whether the Old Testament proceeded from an evil, or from an intermediate being. The Gnostics attempted to correct the judgment of faith about the world and its relation to God, by an empiric view of the world. Here again they are by no means “visionaries”, however fantastic the means by which they have expressed their judgment about the condition of the world, and attempted to explain that condition. Those, rather, are “visionaries” who give themselves up to the belief that the world is the work of a good and omnipotent Deity, however apparently reasonable the arguments they adduce. The Gnostic (Hellenistic) philosophy of religion at this point comes into the sharpest opposition to the central point of the Old Testament Christian belief, and all else really depends on this. Gnosticism is antichristian so far as it takes away from Christianity its Old Testament foundation, and belief in the identity of the creator of the world with the supreme God. That was immediately felt and noted by its opponents.
(e) The doctrine that evil is inherent in matter and therefore is a physical potence.356356The ecclesiastical opposition was long uncertain on this point. It is interesting to note that Basilides portrayed the sin inherent in the child from birth in a way that makes one feel as though he were listening to Augustine (see the fragment from the 23rd book of the Ἐξηγητικά, in Clem., Strom. VI. 12. 83). But it is of great importance to note how even very special later terminologies, dogmas, etc., of the Church, were in a certain way anticipated by the Gnostics. Some samples will be given below; but meanwhile we may here refer to a fragment from Apelles’ Syllogisms in Ambrosius (de Parad. V. 28): “Si hominem non perfectum fecit deus, unusquisque autem per industriam propriam perfectionem sibi virtutis adsciscit: non ne videtur plus sibi homo adquirere, quam ei deus contulit?” One seems here to be transferred into the fifth century.259
(f) The assumption of Æons, that is, real powers and heavenly persons in whom is unfolded the absoluteness of the Godhead.357357The Gnostic teaching did not meet with a vigorous resistance even on this point, and could also appeal to the oldest tradition. The arbitrariness in the number, derivation and designation of the Æons was contested. The aversion to barbarism also co-operated here, in so far as Gnosticism delighted in mysterious words borrowed from the Semites. But the Semitic element attracted as well as repelled the Greeks and Romans of the second century. The Gnostic terminologies within the Æon speculations were partly reproduced among the Catholic theologians of the third century; most important is it that the Gnostics have already made use of the concept “ὁμοούσιος”; see Iren., I. 5. I: ἀλλὰ τὸ μὲν πνευματικὸν μὴ δεδυνῆσθαι αὐτὴν μορφῶσαι, ἐπειδὴ ὁμοούσιον ὑπῆρχέν αὐτῇ (said of the Sophia): L. 5. 4, καὶ τοῦτον εἶναι τὸν κατ᾽ εἰκόνα καὶ ὁμοίωσιν γεγονότα· κατ᾽ εἰκόνα μὲν τὸν ὑλικὸν ὑπάρχειν, παραπλήσιον μὲν, ἀλλ᾽ οὐχ ὁμοούσιον τῷ θεῷ καθ᾽ ὁμοίωσιν δὲ τὸν ψυχικόν. I. 5. 5: τὸ δὲ κύημα τῆς μητρὸς τῆς “Ἀχαμώθ,” ὁμοούσιον ὑπάρχον τῇ μητρίς. In all these cases the word means “of one substance.” It is found in the same sense in Clem., Hom. 20. 7: see also Philos. VII. 22; Clem., Exc. Theod. 42. Other terms also which have acquired great significance in the Church since the days of Origen (e.g., ἀγέννητος) are found among the Gnostics, see Ep. Ptol. ad Floram, 5; and Bigg. (1. c. p. 58, note 3) calls attention to the appearance of τρίας in Excerpt. ex. Theod. § 80, perhaps the earliest passage.
(g) The assertion that Christ revealed a God hitherto unknown.
(h) The doctrine that in the person of Jesus Christ—the Gnostics saw in it redemption, but they reduced the person to the physical nature—the heavenly Æon, Christ, and the human appearance of that Æon must be clearly distinguished, and a “distincte agere” ascribed to each. Accordingly, there were some, such as Basilides, who acknowledged no real union between Christ and the man Jesus, whom, besides, they regarded as an earthly man. Others, e.g., part of the Valentinians, among whom the greatest differences prevailed,—see Tertull. adv. Valent. 39—taught that the body of Jesus was 260a heavenly psychical formation, and sprang from the womb of Mary only in appearance. Finally, a third party, such as Saturninus, declared that the whole visible appearance of Christ was a phantom, and therefore denied the birth of Christ.358358The characteristic of the Gnostic Christology is not Docetism in the strict sense, but the doctrine of the two natures, that is, the distinction between Jesus and Christ, or the doctrine that the Redeemer as Redeemer was not a man. The Gnostics based this view on the inherent sinfulness of human nature, and it was shared by many teachers of the age without being based on any principle (see above, p. 196 f.). The most popular of the three Christologies briefly characterised above was undoubtedly that of the Valentinians. It is found, with great variety of details, in most of the nameless fragments of Gnostic literature that have been preserved, as well as in Apelles. This Christology might be accommodated to the accounts of the Gospels and the baptismal confession; (how far is shewn by the regula of Apelles, and that of the Valentinians may have run in similar terms). It was taught here that Christ had passed through Mary as a channel; from this doctrine followed very easily the notion of the Virginity of Mary, uninjured even after the birth—it was already known to Clem. Alex. (Strom. VII. 16. 93). The Church also, later on, accepted this view. It is very difficult to get a clear idea of the Christology of Basilides, as very diverse doctrines were afterwards set up in his school as is shewn by the accounts. Among them is the doctrine, likewise held by others, that Christ in descending from the highest heaven took to himself something from every sphere through which he passed. Something similar is found among the Valentinians, some of whose prominent leaders made a very complicated phenomenon of Christ, and gave him also a direct relation to the demiurge. There is further found here the doctrine of the heavenly humanity, which was afterwards accepted by ecclesiastical theologians. Along with the fragments of Basilides the account of Clem. Alex. seems to me the most reliable. According to this, Basilides taught that Christ descended on the man Jesus at the baptism. Some of the Valentinians taught something similar: the Christology of Ptolemy is characterised by the union of all conceivable Christology theories. The different early Christian conceptions may be found in him. Basilides did not admit a real union between Christ and Jesus; but it is interesting to see how the Pauline Epistles caused the theologians to view the sufferings of Christ as necessarily based on the assumption of sinful flesh, that is, to deduce from the sufferings that Christ has assumed sinful flesh. The Basilidean Christology will prove to be a peculiar preliminary stage of the later ecclesiastical Christology. The anniversary of the baptism of Christ was to the Basilideans as the day of the ἐπιφάνεια, a high festival day (see Clem., Strom. I. 21. 146): they fixed it for the 6th (2nd) January. And in this also the Catholic Church has followed the Gnosis. The real docetic Christology as represented by Saturninus (and Marcion) was radically opposed to the tradition, and struck out the birth of Jesus, as well as the first 30 years of his life. An accurate exposition of the Gnostic Christologies, which would carry us too far here, (see especially Tertull., de carne Christi,) would shew that a great part of the questions which occupy Church theologians till the present day were already raised by the Gnostics; for example, what happened to the body of Christ after the resurrection? (see the doctrines of Apelles and Hermogenes); what significance the appearance of Christ had for the heavenly and Satanic powers? what meaning belongs to his sufferings, although there was no real suffering for the heavenly Christ, but only for Jesus? etc. In no other point do the anticipations in the Gnostic dogmatic stand out so plainly; (see the system of Origen; many passages bearing on the subject will be found in the third and fourth volumes of this work, to which readers are referred). The Catholic Church has learned but little from the Gnostics, that is, from the earliest theologians in Christendom, in the doctrine of God and the world, but very much in Christology; and who can maintain that she has ever completely overcome the Gnostic doctrine of the two natures, nay, even Docetism? Redemption viewed in the historical person of Jesus, that is, in the appearance of a Divine being on the earth, but the person divided and the real history of Jesus explained away and made inoperative, is the signature of the Gnostic Christology—this, however, is also the danger of the system of Origen and those systems that are dependent on him (Docetism) as well as, in another way, the danger of the view of Tertullian and the Westerns (doctrine of two natures). Finally, it should be noted that the Gnosis always made a distinction between the supreme God and Christ, but that, from the religious position, it had no reason for emphasising that distinction. For to many Gnostics, Christ was in a certain way the manifestation of the supreme God himself, and therefore in the more popular writings of the Gnostics (see the Acta Johannis) expressions are applied to Christ which seem to identify him with God. The same thing is true of Marcion and also of Valentinus (see his Epistle in Clem., Strom. II. 20. 114: εἷς δὲ ἐστιν ἀγαθός, οὗ πάρουσία ἡ διὰ τοῦ ὑιοῦ φανέρωσις). This Gnostic estimate of Christ has undoubtedly had a mighty influence on the later Church development of Christology. We might say without hesitation that to most Gnostics Christ was a πνεῦμα, ὁμοούσιον τῷ πατρί. The details of the life, sufferings and resurrection of Jesus are found in many Gnostics transformed, complemented and arranged in the way in which Celsus (Orig., c. Cels. I. II.) required for an impressive and credible history. Celsus indicates how everything must have taken place if Christ had been a God in human form. The Gnostics in part actually narrate it so. What an instructive coincidence! How strongly the docetic view itself was expressed in the case of Valentinus, and how the exaltation of Jesus above the earthly was thereby to be traced hack to his moral struggle, is shewn in the remarkable fragment of a letter (in Clem., Strom. III. 7. 59): Πάντα ὑπομείνας ἣγκρατὴς τὴν θεότητα Ἰησοῦς εἰργάζετο. ἣσθιεν γὰρ καὶ ἔπιεν ἰδίως οὐκ ἀποδιδοὺς τὰ βρώματα, ποσαύτη ἦν αὐτῷ τῆς ἐγκρατείας δύναμις, ὥστε καὶ μὴ φθαρῆναι τὴν τροφὴν ἐν αὐτῷ ἐπεὶ τὸ φθείρεσθαι αὐτὸς οῦκ εἶχεν. In this notion, however, there is more sense and historical meaning than in that of the later ecclesiastical aphtharto-docetism. 261Christ separates that which is unnaturally united, and thus leads everything back again to himself; in this redemption consists (full contrast to the notion of the ἀνακεφαλαίωσις.
(i) The conversion of the ἐκκλησία (it was no innovation to regard the heavenly Church as an Æon) into the college of the pneumatic, who alone, in virtue of their psychological endowment, are capable of Gnosis and the divine life, while the 262others, likewise in virtue of their constitution, as hylic perish. The Valentinians, and probably many other Gnostics also, distinguished between pneumatic, psychic and hylic. They regarded the psychic as capable of a certain blessedness, and of a corresponding certain knowledge of the supersensible, the latter being obtained through Pistis, that is, through Christian faith.359359The Gnostic distinction of classes of men was connected with the old distinction of stages in spiritual understanding, but has its basis in a law of nature. There were again empirical and psychological views—they must have been regarded as very important, had not the Gnostics taken them from the traditions of the philosophic schools—which made the universalism of the Christian preaching of salvation appear unacceptable to the Gnostics. Moreover, the transformation of religion into a doctrine of the school, or into a mystery cult, always resulted in the distinction of the knowing from the profanum vulgus. But in the Valentinian assumption that the common Christians as psychical occupy an intermediate stage, and that they are saved by faith, we have a compromise which completely lowered the Gnosis to a scholastic doctrine within Christendom. Whether and in what way the Catholic Church maintained the significance of Pistis as contrasted with Gnosis, and in what way the distinction between the knowing (priests) and the laity was there reached will be examined in its proper place. It should be noted, however, that the Valentinian, Ptolemy, ascribes freedom of will to the psychic (which the pneumatic and hylic lack), and therefore has sketched by way of by-work a theology for the psychical beside that for the pneumatic, which exhibits striking harmonies with the exoteric system of Origen. The denial by Gnosticism of free will, and therewith of moral responsibility, called forth very decided contradiction. Gnosticism, that is, the acute hellenising of Christianity, was wrecked in the Church on free will, the Old Testament and eschatology.
(k) The rejection of the entire early christian eschatology, especially the second coming of Christ, the resurrection of the body, and Christ’s Kingdom of glory on the earth; and, in connection with this, the assertion that the deliverance of the spirit from the sensuous can be expected only from the future, while the spirit enlightened about itself already possesses immortality, and only awaits its introduction into the pneumatic pleroma.360360The greatest deviation of Gnosticism from tradition appears in eschatology, along with the rejection of the Old Testament and the separation of the creator of the world from the supreme God. Upon the whole our sources say very little about the Gnostic eschatology. This, however, is not astonishing; for the Gnostics had not much to say on the matter, or what they had to say found expression in their doctrine of the genesis of the world, and that of redemption through Christ. We learn that the regula of Apelles closed with the words: ἀνέπτη εἰς οὐρανὸν ὅθεν καὶ ἧκε, instead of ὅθεν ἔρχεται κρῖναι ζῶντας καὶ νεκρούς. We know that Marcion, who may already he mentioned here, referred the whole eschatological expectations of early Christian times to the province of the god of the Jews, and we hear that Gnostics (Valentinians) retained the words σαρκος ἀνάστασιν, but interpreted them to mean that one must rise in this life, that is perceive the truth (thus the “resurrectio a mortuis”, that is, exaltation above the earthly, took the place of the “resurrectio mortuorum”; see Iren. II. 31. 2: Tertull., de resurr. carnis, 19). While the Christian tradition placed a great drama at the close of history, the Gnostics regard the history itself as the drama, which virtually closes with the (first) appearing of Christ. It may not have been the opinion of all Gnostics that the resurrection has already taken place, yet for most of them the expectations of the future seem to have been quite faint, and above all without significance. The life is so much included in knowledge, that we nowhere in our sources find a strong expression of hope in a life beyond (it is different in the earliest Gnostic documents preserved in the Coptic language), and the introduction of the spirits into the Pleroma appears very vague and uncertain. But it is of great significance that those Gnostics who, according to their premises, required a real redemption from the world as the highest good, remained finally in the same uncertainty and religious despondency with regard to this redemption, as characterised the Greek philosophers. A religion which is a philosophy of religion remains at all times fixed to this life, however strongly it may emphasise the contrast between the spirit and its surroundings, and however ardently it may desire redemption. The desire for redemption is unconsciously replaced by the thinker’s joy in his knowledge, which allays the desire (Iren., III. 15. 2: “Inflatus est iste [scil. the Valentinian proud of knowledge] neque in cœlo, neque in terra putat se esse, sed intra Pleroma introisse et complexum jam angelum suum, cum institorio et supercilio incedit gallinacei elationem habens . . . . Plurimi, quasi jam perfecti, semetipsos spiritales vocant, et se nosse jam dicunt eum qui sit intra Pleroma ipsorum refrigerii locum”). As in every philosophy of religion, an element of free thinking appears very plainly here also. The eschatological hopes can only have been maintained in vigour by the conviction that the world is of God. But we must finally refer to the fact that, even in eschatology, Gnosticism only drew the inferences from views which were pressing into Christendom from all sides, and were in an increasing measure endangering its hopes of the future. Besides, in some Valentinian circles, the future life was viewed as a condition of education, as a progress through the series of the (seven) heavens; i.e., purgatorial experiences in the future were postulated. Both afterwards, from the time of Origen, forced their way into the doctrine of the Church (purgatory, different ranks in heaven). Clement and Origen being throughout strongly influenced by the Valentinian eschatology.263
In addition to what has been mentioned here, we must finally fix our attention on the ethics of Gnosticism. Like the ethics of all systems which are based on the contrast between the sensuous and spiritual elements of human nature, that of the Gnostics took a twofold direction. On the one hand, it sought to suppress and uproot the sensuous, and thus became strictly ascetic (imitation of Christ as motive of asceticism;361361See the passage Clem., Strom. III. 6, 49, which is given above, p. 239. 264Christ and the Apostles represented as ascetics);362362Cf. the Apocryphal Acts of Apostles and diverse legends of Apostles (e.g., in Clem. Alex.). on the other hand, it treated the sensuous element as indifferent, and so became libertine, that is, conformed to the world. The former was undoubtedly the more common, though there are credible witnesses to the latter; the frequentissimum collegium in particular, the Valentinians, in the days of Irenæus and Tertullian, did not vigorously enough prohibit a lax and world-conforming morality;363363More can hardly be said: the heads of schools were themselves earnest men. No doubt statements such as that of Heracleon seem to have led to laxity in the lower sections of the collegium: ὁμολογίαν εἶναι τὴν μὲν ἐν τῇ πίστει καὶ πολιτείᾳ, τὴν δὲ ἐν φωνῇ· ἡ μὲν οὐν ἐν φωνῇ ὁμολογια καὶ ἐπὶ τῶν ἐξουσιῶν γίνεται, ἥν μόνην ὁμολογίαν ἡγοῦνται εἶναι οἱ πολλοί, οὐχ ὑγιῶς δύνανται δὲ ταύτην τὴν ὁμολογίαν καὶ οἱ ὑποκρισαὶ ὁμολογεῖν. and among the Syrian and Egyptian Gnostics there were associations which celebrated the most revolting orgies.364364See Epiph. h. 26, and the statements in the Coptic Gnostic works. (Schmidt, Texte u. Unters. VIII, I. 2, p. 566 ff.) As the early Christian tradition summoned to a strict renunciation of the world and to self-control, the Gnostic asceticism could not but make an impression at the first; but the dualistic basis on which it rested could not fail to excite suspicion as soon as one was capable of examining it.365365There arose in this way an extremely difficult theoretical problem, but practically a convenient occasion for throwing asceticism altogether overboard, with the Gnostic asceticism, or restricting it to easy exercises. This is not the place for entering into the details. Shibboleths, such as φεύγετε οὐ τὰς φύσεις ἀλλὰ τὰς γνώμας τῶν κακὧν, may have soon appeared. It may be noted here, that the asceticism with gained the victory in Monasticism was not really that which sprang from early Christian, but from Greek impulses, without, of course, being based on the same principle. Gnosticism anticipated the future even here. That could be much more clearly proved in the history of the worship. A few points which are of importance for the history of dogma may be mentioned here: (1) The Gnostics viewed the traditional sacred actions (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper) entirely as mysteries, and applied to them the terminology of the mysteries (some Gnostics set them aside as psychic); but in doing so they were only drawing the inference from changes which were then in process throughout Christendom. To what extent the later Gnosticism in particular was interested in sacraments may he studied especially in the Pistis Sophia and the other Coptic works of the Gnostics, which Carl Schmidt has edited; see, for example, Pistis Sophia, p. 233. “Dixit Jesus ad suos μαθήτας: ἀμην, dixi vobis, haud adduxi quidquam in κόσμον veniens nisi hunc ignem et hanc aquam et hoc vinum et hunc sanguinem.” (2) They increased the holy actions by the addition of new ones, repeated baptisms (expiations), anointing with oil, sacrament of confirmation (ἀπολύτρωσις); see, on Gnostic sacraments, Iren. I. 20, and Lipsius, Apokr. Apostelgesch. I. pp. 336–343, and cf. the πυκνῶς μετανοοῦσι in the delineation of the Shepherd of Hermas. Mand XI. (3) Marcus represented the wine in the Lord’s Supper as actual blood in consequence of the act of blessing: see Iren., I. 13. 2: ποτήρια οἴνῳ κακραμένα προσποιούμενος εὐχαριστεῖν. Καὶ ἐπί πλέον ἐκτείνων τὸν λόγον τῆς ἐπικλῆσεως, πορφύρεα καὶ ἐρυθρὰ ἀναφαίνεσθαι ποιεῖ, ὡς δοκεῖν τὴν ἀπὸ τῶν ὑπὸρ τὰ ὅλα χάριν τὸ αἷμα τὸ ἑαυτῆς στάζειν ἐν ἐκείνῳ τῷ ποτηρίῳ διὰ τῆς ἐπικλήσεως αὐτοῦ, καὶ ὑπεριμείρεσθαι τοὺς παρόντας ἐξ ἐκείν9;υ γεύσασθαι τοῦ πόματος, ἵνα καὶ εἰς αὐτοὺς ἐπομβρήσῃ ἡ διὰ τοῦ μάγου τούτου κληϊζομένη χάρις. Marcus was indeed a charlatan; but religious charlatanry afterwards became very earnest, and was certainly taken earnestly by many adherents of Marcus. The transubstantiation idea in reference to the elements in the mysteries is also plainly expressed in the Excerpt. ex. Theodot. § 82: καὶ ὁ ἄρτος καὶ τὸ ἔλαιον ἁγιάζεται τῇ δύναμει τοῦ ὀνόματος οὐ τὰ αὐτὰ όντα κατὰ τὸ φαινόμενον οἷα ἐλήφθη, ἀλλὰ δυνάμει εἰς δύναμιν πνευματικήν μεταβέβληται (that is, not into a new super-terrestrial material, not into the real body of Christ, but into a spiritual power) οὕτως καὶ τὸ ὕδωρ καὶ τὸ ἐξορκιζόμενον καὶ τὸ βαπτίσμα γινόμενον οὐ μόνον χωρεῖ τὸ χεῖρον, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἀγιασμὸν πποσλαμβάνει. Irenæus possessed a liturgical handbook of the Marcionites, and communicates many sacramental formulæ from it (I. c. 13 sq.). In my treatise on the Pistis Sophia (Texte u. Unters. VII. 2. pp. 59–94) I think I have shewn (“The common Christian and the Catholic elements of the Pistis Sophia”) to what extent Gnosticism anticipated Catholicism as a system of doctrine and an institute of worship. These results have been strengthened by Carl Schmidt (Texte u. Unters. VIII. I. 2). Even purgatory, prayers for the dead, and many other things raised in speculative questions and definitely answered, are found in those Coptic Gnostic writings and are then met with again in Catholicism. One general remark may be permitted in conclusion. The Gnostics were not interested in apologetics, and that is a very significant fact. The πνεῦμα in man was regarded by them as a supernatural principle, and on that account they are free from all rationalism and moralistic dogmatism. For that very reason they are in earnest with the idea of revelation, and do not attempt to prove it or convert its contests into natural truths. They did endeavour to prove that their doctrines were Christian, but renounced all proof that revelation is the truth (proofs from antiquity). One will not easily find in the case of the Gnostics themselves the revealed truth described as philosophy, or morality as the philosophic life. If we compare, therefore, the first and fundamental system of Catholic doctrine, that of Origen, with the system of the Gnostics, we shall find that Origen, like Basilides and Valentinus, was a philosopher of revelation, but that he had besides a second element which had its origin in apologetics.265
Literature.—The writings of Justin (his syntagma against heresies has not been preserved), Irenæus, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Epiphanius, Philastrius and Theodoret; cf. Volkmar, Die Quellen der Ketzergeschichte, 1885.
Lipsius, Zur Quellenkritik des Epiphanios, 1875; also Die Quellen der altesten Ketzergeschichte, 1875.266
Harnack, Zur Quellenkritik d. Gesch. Gnostic, 1873 (continued i. D. Ztschr. f. d. hist. Theol. 1874, and in Der Schrift de Apellis gnosi monarch. 1874).
Of Gnostic writings we possess the book Pistis Sophia, the writings contained in the Coptic Cod. Brucianus, and the Epistle of Ptolemy to Flora; also numerous fragments, in connection with which Hilgenfeld especially deserves thanks, but which still require a more complete selecting and a more thorough discussion (see Grabe, Spicilegium T. I. II. 1700. Heinrici, Die Valentin. Gnosis, u. d. H. Schrift, 1871).
On the (Gnostic) Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles, see Zahn, Acta Job. 1880, and the great work of Lipsius, Die apokryphen Apostelgeschichten, I. Vol., 1883; II. Vol., 1887. (See also Lipsius, Quellen d. röm. Petrussage, 1872.)
Neander, Genet. Entw. d. vornehmsten gnostischen Systeme, 1818.
Matter, Hist. crit. du gnosticisme, 2 Vols., 1828.
Baur, Die Christl. Gnosis, 1835.
Lipsius, Der Gnosticismus, in Ersch. und Gruber’s Allg. Encykl. 71 Bd. 1860.
Moeller, Geschichte d. Kosmologie i. d. Griech. K. bis auf Origenes. 1860.
King, The Gnostics and their remains, 1873.
Mansel, The Gnostic heresies, 1875.
Jacobi, Art. “Gnosis” in Herzog’s Real Encykl. 2nd Edit.
Hilgenfeld, Die Ketzergeschichte des Urchristenthums, 1884, where the more recent special literature concerning individual Gnostics is quoted.
Lipsius, Art. “Valentinus” in Smith’s Dictionary of Christian Biography.
Harnack, Art. “Valentinus” in the Encykl. Brit.
Harnack, Pistis Sophia in the Texte und Unters. VII. 2. Carl Schmidt, Gnostische Schriften in koptischer Sprache aus dem Codex Brucianus (Texte und Unters. VIII. 1. 2).
Joël, Blicke in die Religionsgeschichte zu Anfang des 2 Christl. Jahrhunderts, 2 parts, 188o, 1883.
Renan, History of the Origins of Christianity. Vols. V. VI. VII.270
|« Prev||Chapter IV. The Attempts of the Gnostics to…||Next »|
►Proofing disabled for this book
► Printer-friendly version