« Prev § II. Dualistic heresies in Crete, at Colosse,… Next »

§ II. Dualistic heresies in Crete, at Colosse, and at Ephesus.

Judaizing heresy was not the only form of error which presented itself in the path of St. Paul. In the Churches of Crete, of Colosse, and of Ephesus he found himself confronted with the old oriental dualism so powerful at that period, not only because it contained the final utterance of the pagan systems of religion and philosophy, but also because it seemed to hold in reserve precious treasures of wisdom, and to guard under the vail of its mysteries the last resource of humanity. We have elsewhere so fully described this form of dualism that we shall not now do more than exhibit the special aspect it assumes on its first contact with Christianity. The island of Crete was a very favorable sphere for the development of dualistic heresy, for Pythagorean ideas had there obtained much currency. Epimenides, the Cretan poet, quoted by St. Paul, had made them the theme of his muse. Ephesus had become, as we know, the metropolis of Asia Minor, and an important religious center for the confluence of East and West. Of Colosse, we have only to remember that it was a Phrygian city, in order to understand the early appearance of heresy in the Church which had been there founded by a disciple of Paul. Before 318 tracing the history of the false doctrines indicated by the Apostle, we must recall the first-known attempt made to combine Christianity with the theosophy of the East. We refer to the system of Simon Magus. The discovery of the "Philosophoumena" has confirmed the unanimous opinion of the "Fathers," who regarded Simon as the first heretic. We have already analyzed his strange system under its original form, as he had devised it before he became acquainted with the new religion. It only remains for us now to study it in its later aspect, while briefly recalling its fundamental principles. This explanation will help us better to understand the heresies of Colosse and of Ephesus, for they belong to the same current of ideas.

We have seen that the first principle of all things in this extraordinary system is an obscure and mysterious power, a sort of infinite potentiality.346346Ἀπέραντον δὲ εἶναι δύναμιν ὁ Σίμων προσαγορεύει τῶν ὅλων τὴν ἀρχήν. " Philos.," 163. This first principle is fire; it is at first hidden and invisible, purely potential, but it is destined to pass from the virtual to the actual, and to become a reality.347347Αλλὰ γὰρ εἶναι τὴν τοῦ πυρὸς διπλῆν τινὰ τὴν φυσιν, καὶ τῆς διπλῆς ταύτης καλεὶ τὸ μέν τι κρωπτὸν, τὸ δἐ τι φανερόν. "Philos.," 163. Simon compares it to a tree; the roots going down into the earth correspond to the hidden and potential fire; the trunk, the branches, and the leaves, to the fire in manifestation.348348"Philos.," 164. In the infinite potentiality are contained all the roots, all the germs of the world, and primarily the two great opposing principles which constitute dualism; the male, active spiritual principle, or the mind; the feminine, receptive principle, or 319the idea.349349Νοῦν καὶ ἐπὶνοιαν. "Philos.," 116. The mind is the active principle, the idea the passive principle. Simon counted six roots of things divided into couples: the mind and the idea, the voice and the name, conclusion and reflection. In passing from the potential to the actual they take other names, and we have thus three fresh couples: heaven and earth, sun and moon, air and water. The mind represents the active principle, the idea the passive principle. In passing from the potential to the actual, the mind becomes heaven, the idea becomes earth. Creation is a necessary manifestation of the former principle; by it, it passes from possibility to reality;350350Τὸ πνεῦμα ἐὰν μὴ ἐξεικονισθῇ μετὰ τοῦ κοσμου ἀπολεῖται, δυνὰμει μεῖνον μὸνον καὶ μη ἐνεργείᾳ γενόμενον. " Philos.," 167. if it was not thus realized it would remain in the state of the purely potential, like geometry in the mind of the geometer, or grammar in the mind of the grammarian.351351Ἑστὼς ἄνω, ἐν τῇ ἀγεννήτῳ δυνάμει, στὰς κάτω ἐν τῇ ῥωῇ τῶν ὑδάτων, ἐν εἰκονι γεννεθεὶς, στησομενο ἄνω, παρὰ τὴν μακαρίαν ἀπέραντον δύναμιν ἐᾶν ἑξεικονισθῇ. "Philos.," 171. There is in every being a blessed and immortal germ which has been, which is, and which is to be. It is a particle of that first principle, which was the potential energy, which is power and reality in the world, and which in its essential potentiality perpetually takes an infinity of new forms. This first principle is the one force, diffused above and below, giving birth to itself, seeking, losing, recovering itself; it is its own mother, father, sister, daughter; the one sole root of all things, the male and female principle.352352Ἀυτῆς μήτηρ, ἀυτὴς ἀδελφὴ ἀυτῆς σύζυγος ἀυτὴς θυγὰτηρ. "Philos.," 171. Ἀρσενόθηλυς δύναμις. "Philos.," 173. Man is an epitome of the world; he is a perfect microcosm; he contains the potential fire, and realizes it in his double element.

It was impossible to give bolder expression to 320pantheism. Simon Magus clothed these ideas in sacred symbols borrowed from the Old Testament. He endeavored to make his theories accord with the account of the creation. He saw in the six days of the creative work the six roots of the universe comprised in the infinite potentiality. The seventh day represented the first principle when it found itself manifested in the universe. The heaven and the earth expressed the first duality of the mind and the idea.353353"Philos.," 167. The description of Paradise became in his view the allegorical history of the creation of man contained in the Pentateuch.354354"Philos.," I68, I69. Thus we find in this father of Gnosticism that tendency of all the Gnostic heretics to interpret revelation as a cosmogony. But Simon was not satisfied with distorting the meaning of the Old Testament to sustain his system; he made the same misuse of the words of Christ. It appears that he had blended with his pantheism some ill-digested notions of the emanation theory.

The transition from the virtual to the actual was not, it seems, effected without confusion; after the mind by its union with the idea had given birth to the angels, these in jealousy took possession of their mother, and made her captive in the fetters of the body.355355Here there is a gap in the "Philosophoumena." There are merely these words: μετενσωματουμένην ὑπο τῶν ἀγγέλων, (p. 174, I.) Irenæus, whose sketch of the whole system is very incomplete, gives us a commentary on this phrase: "Eunoiam generare angelos et potestates a quibus et mundum hunc factum dixit. Posteaquam generavit eos hæc detenta est ab ipsis propter invidiam quoniam nollent progenies alterius cujusdam putari esse." Irenæus, "Contr. Hæres.," I, c. xxiv. Compare Epiphanes, i, 21. Kept a prisoner in the lower world, she is 321 said to have become personified as a woman of remarkable beauty, and reappears in history under various names from time to time. Thus she took the features of the famous Helena, whose fatal beauty occasioned the Trojan war. We have seen that Simon pretended to recognize her in a courtezan of Tyre, whom he made his companion. He declared himself to be the incarnation of the rational principle, whose destiny it was to set her free.356356We have already opposed the notion that Simon was the incarnation of the first principle. He thus represents the fall to be nothing else than materialization, and redemption to consist in release from the bonds of the body. It does not appear, however, that Simon's doctrine led his followers into asceticism. On the contrary, they allowed themselves the most unbridled license under pretext of celebrating the true eucharistic feast, and they sanctioned their infamous proceedings under the name of perfect love.357357Μακαρίζουσιν ἑαυτοὺς ἐπὶ τῇ ξένῃ μίξει, ταύτην εἶναι λέγοντες τὴν τελείαν ἀγάπην. "Philos.," 175.

Dualism does in fact thus lead to the two extremes of license and asceticism. Some of its adherents imagine they triumph over the material element by placing themselves beyond all restraint; others seek to annihilate it by the severest mortification of the flesh. Simon Magus adopted the former method, and his disciples were guilty of still greater excesses in the same direction. He set himself forth as the great Deliverer, the true Christ. He said that he had appeared as the Son in Judea, as the Father in Samaria, and as the Holy Ghost among the nations;358358"Philos.," 175. M. Bunsen ("Hippolytus," i, 38, 39) supposes that Simon spoke in this passage not of himself but of Jesus Christ. We cannot share this opinion, for evidently Simon sets himself forth as the deliverer of Helen, the saviour of the lost sheep. He then is himself the Christ; his docetism allowed him to admit indefinitely changes of form and of name. but 322that, under these or other names, he always fulfilled the same mission, which was to set free the idea from the fetters of the body. With this design he took a form like the inferior powers, and submitted to seeming suffering.359359Δεδοκηκέναι πεπονθότα. "Philos.," 175. The parable of the lost sheep represented, according to Simon, his redeeming work. Did he not, like the good shepherd, seek out the unfortunate Helena, the object of his compassion, who had strayed into the lower world like the sheep into the desert?360360Ταύτην τὸ πρόβατον τὸ πεπλανημένον. "Philos.," 174. He wrought her salvation by revealing himself to her, and he was to restore her to that higher region from which she had fallen.361361Οὕτως τοῖς ανθρώποις σωτηρίαν παρἐσχε δία τῆς ἰδίας επιγνώσεως. "Philos.," 175. This unfortunate Helena, the personification of the idea, held captive in the chains of nature, is found in every man, since man is a perfect microcosm, and contains in himself all the elements of the world. The work of enfranchisement is therefore to be carried on in every individual. Thus Simon promised salvation to all who should believe in him and call upon his name. It is easy to understand the importance of magic in a system in which it was the first essential to fight against the angels by whom the world was created, and to vanquish the powers of the cosmogony. The moral aspect is thus completely sacrificed. Evil does not proceed from a perversion of the human will; it results from angelic creation, and every man is what 323he is by that creation;362362Οὐ φύσει κακὸς ἀλλὰ θέσει. " Philos.," I76. he is consequently under the yoke of fatality. Simon pretended to be alone capable of procuring deliverance by his doctrine and his sorceries.363363It is needful to show that there was a distinction between the system of Simon and the forms given to it by some of his disciples. For instance, the very marked opposition between the Old and the New Testament expressed in these words, "The prophecies were inspired by the angels, creators of the world," ("Philos.," 175,) is rather due to the disciples than to the master. In fact, Simon in many passages makes free use of the Old Testament. Besides, this idea only acquired such precision at a much later period. In the first century dualism sought to shelter itself under the shadow of Judaism.

We have no certain information as to the history of Simon Magus or of his school. We have already had occasion to refute the legendary assertion of his stay at Rome and of his contest with St. Peter. It appears to us probable that his disciples were gathered chiefly in Samaria and the surrounding countries.364364The fables of the "Clementines," which make Simon pass through the cities of Syria and Phœnicia, may rest upon local traditions. His system is clearly connected with the Phoenician superstitions, as they are made known to us in the "Philosophoumena." We have therefore reason for supposing that his influence had an effect, direct or indirect, on the formation of the heresies alluded to by St. Paul.

These heresies, of which the Apostle carefully points out the various phases, all bear the same impress of Judaism combined with dualism. In Crete, at Colosse, and at Ephesus, we find substantially the same ideas, the same principles, with this difference, that in Crete the false doctrines had not as yet effected the threatened entry into the Church, but were still 324kept without,365365Εἰσὶν γὰρ πολλοὶ . . . μάλιστα οἱ ἐκ περιτομῆς. Titus i, 10. while at Colosse and at Ephesus they had made shipwreck of the faith of many professing Christians.366366Τινες περὶ τὴν πίστιν ἐναυάγησαν. 1 Tim. i, 19; vi, 21. The future looked even more gloomy than the present, and the Apostle foresaw a terrible growth of these roots of bitterness. 2 Tim. iii, 1-5. But in Crete, as at Colosse and at Ephesus, the false teachers were converts from Judaism, and represented its ascetic and theosophic side.367367Compare Titus i, 14 and 1 Tim. iv, 7. See an excellent dissertation on this point in Mangold's pamphlet, "Die Irrlehrer der Pastoralbriefe," Marburg, 1856. He well refutes Credner and Thiersch, who asserted that the heresies combated by St. Paul were manifold. Credner ("Einleit. in N. T.," i, 348) counted four different heresies: first, two in Crete—one Judaizing, one derived from paganism; he based this opinion on Titus i, 10, (μάλιστα οἱ ἐκ τη̂ς περιτομῆς,) but this passage refers only to one single Jewish heresy; second, two heresies at Ephesus—one already formed, one in process of formation; (2 Tim. iii, 1, 2;) but Paul is speaking clearly of one and the same heresy in various stages. This is very apparent from the various characteristics by which St. Paul makes us acquainted with them. They are of Jewish origin, and pretend to be deeply versed in the law.368368Νομοδιδάσκαλοι. 1 Tim. i, 7. The heretics at Colosse are also Jews. I Col. ii, 16. They are distinguished by their ostentatious austerities. They burden the Christians with ascetic restrictions, repeating perpetually, "Touch not; taste not; handle not."369369Col. ii, 21. Compare Titus i, 14. They thus make a show of wisdom in not sparing the body. Like the party of Christ at Corinth, they condemn marriage,370370Κωλυόντων γαμεῖν. 1 Tim. iv, 3. and are led as a natural consequence of their principles to deny the resurrection of the body, and to maintain 325that there is no resurrection but that of the soul renewed by Christ.371371Λέγοντες τὴν ἀνάστασιν ἤδη γεγονέναι. 2 Tim. ii, 18.

This whole system was evidently based on a dualistic philosophy which identified evil with matter. These heretics were not satisfied with carrying out dualism in practice; they gave it formal expression, and endeavored to find a speculative basis for it; they concerned themselves with fables and foolish questions concerning the doctrine of angels. 1 Tim. i, 4; 2 Tim. iv, 4; Col. ii, 18. We know already from the system of Simon Magus, that the doctrine of angels was connected with a theory of emanation as yet confused and chaotic. In these vain speculations we recognize that science, falsely so called, which the Apostle condemned. 1 Tim. vi, 20. These heretics then followed the example of Simon Magus in turning the sacred Scriptures to their own purposes, and wresting them into the confirmation of their peculiar tenets. They gave an allegorical interpretation to the historical portion of the Old Testament, and thus cast a sacred vail over their monstrous errors.372372This is the meaning we attach to the words "endless genealogies." 1 Tim. i, 4. Some have supposed the reference to be to the genealogies of the eons in the system of emanations; but this would infer a system of Gnosticism much more advanced than that here described. Mangold shows that the word genealogy has never been taken in this sense in the Gnostic systems. He quotes, after Dæhne, a passage from Philo, which justifies the interpretation we have given. Philo, in fact, after dividing the Pentateuch into two parts—the first comprising the laws and ordinances, the second the historical documents—makes under the latter head two further subdivisions: the historical, properly so called; and the genealogical portion: Ἐστὶν οὐν τοῦ ἱστορικοῦ, τὸ μὲν περὶ τὴς τοῦ κόσμου γενέσεως, τὸ δὲ γεναὰλογικόν· τοῦ δὲ γενεᾶλογικοῦ, τὸ μὲν τερὶ κολάσεως ἀσεβῶν τὸ δὲ αὖ περὶ τιμῆς δικαίων. "Of the genealogies one portion refers to the punishments of the wicked, the other to the rewards of the righteous." Philo, "De Vita Contemplativa," α. ο. θ § 4. Thus the genealogies, according to him, were to show the punishment of the wicked and the recompense of the just. It is evident that they can only do this under an allegorical system of interpretation. Now, it is known that Philo found in the genealogies a complete psychology. The names represented to him the conditions of the soul, (τρόποι τὴς ψυχῆς.) It is easy to imagine what important results the party of Judaizing heretics might derive from the innumerable genealogies of the Old Testament. That which has decided us in favor of this explanation of Dæhne and Mangold is a passage in the "Philosophoumena" not quoted by the latter, and which contains an exact exemplar of this mythical use of the genealogies on the part of those Ophite heretics, who may be regarded as the direct successors of the false teachers described in the pastoral epistles. We there read as follows: "The Sethians (one of the numerous branches of the Ophites) say that Moses upholds their doctrine when he enumerates in Paradise, Adam, Eve, and the serpent, to the number of three, and when he names Cain, Abel, and Seth, or again Shem, Ham, and Japheth; and lastly, when he speaks of the three patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." Ὁταν λέγῃ τρεῖς πατριάρχας Ἀβραάμ, Ισαάκ, Ἰακώβ. "Philos.," 143.


The question now before us is to ascertain to what known sect these first heretics belonged. They have been represented as professing Gnosticism in a form already complete and systematized, in all points resembling that of the second century, and this hypothesis has been used as an argument against the authenticity of the Pastoral Epistles.373373Baur, "Die sogenannten Pastoralbriefe." Schwegler, "Nachapost. Zeit.," ii, 142. See M. Reuss's excellent reply, "Geschichte der Heil. Schr., N. T.," 115, 116. But the general features pointed out by the Apostle as characteristic of the false teachers at Ephesus, correspond rather to Gnosticism in its first elementary form, than in its full, systematic development as we meet with it in Valentinus and Marcion. It is evident, from the Epistle to the Colossians, that dualistic and ascetic 327ideas were agitated in the Churches of that period, as they were universally. This agitation was likely to assume a marked and decided character in cities like Colosse and Ephesus. A movement so important as Gnosticism, must have been, like all the great movements of the human mind, long in preparation. It existed as a tendency long before it was constituted as a school of philosophy. The system of Simon Magus proves the existence of the elements of Gnosticism in the first century.

The heresies of Colosse and Ephesus ought not to be exclusively referred to the ascetic tendency of Judaism.374374Josephus, "Bell. Judaic," ii, 8-11. The influence of pagan ideas had, in our view, a large share in producing the false doctrines denounced in the epistles to Titus and to Timothy. Doubtless, the ascetic direction given to Judaism was due in part to this influence. The Jewish school of Alexandria was a product of Platonism and of the religions of the East. The Essenes transplanted into the soil of Judæa the dualism of Philo, giving it a more practical character. They also held the eternal opposition between spirit and matter; they regarded the body as the prison of the soul, the true cause of evil; and, imitating the Therapeutics of Alexandria, they professed the most extreme asceticism.375375This is Mangold's hypothesis.

We are convinced, however, that the heretics of Colosse, of Ephesus, and of Crete, came under pagan influence not only through the medium of a Jewish sect, but that they also borrowed new elements from paganism, and arrived at a more decided dualism. 328They unquestionably drew their first conceptions from the doctrine of the Essenes, or from that of Philo, for they were of Jewish origin; but they, subsequently, went far beyond this modified pantheism. We cannot regard them either as pure Essenes or as of the pure Alexandrine school. It is not proved that the former attempted any active propagandism beyond Judea, and the latter existed as a school only in Egypt. The fundamental ideas of both were derived from the moral atmosphere of the age; it was the "power abroad. in the air." These ideas would take various forms of manifestation wherever they found a soil favorable to their growth; and what soil could be more favorable than that of the province of Phrygia, in the middle of which the Church of Colosse was placed? The mysteries of Cybele or of the great goddess, of Atys, of Pan, of Bacchus, were inspired by the dualistic pantheism, which led at the same time to the most infamous licentiousness and the most extravagant asceticism. St. Hippolytus tells us that the heresies of the commencement of the second century—that is to say, the heresies which immediately followed those opposed by St. Paul—had drawn largely from these myths and mysteries.376376Ζητοῦσι δὲ οὐκ ἀπὸ τῶν Γραφῶν, ἀλλὰ καὶ τοῦτο ἀπὸ τῶν μυστικῶν. "Philos.," 98, 99, 117-119. He declares, at the same time, that long before they came into the light they had been brooding in the shade. "This hydra," he says, "which casts forth so many blasphemies against Christ, has been crouching in the dark for many years."377377Ὠν πολλοὶς ἔτεσιν ἔλαθεν ἡ κατὰ Χριστοῦ δυσφῇμία. "Philos.," 123. The system of Simon 329Magus, which belongs to the same date, is strongly impregnated with elements borrowed from the pantheism of the East. It appears to us, then, probable that the heretics of Colosse and of Ephesus brought together in hybrid union Jewish and pagan ideas. It is not possible to give an exact account of their system. It is enough for us to know that it led to ascetic practices, and was based upon a medley of idle fables and on emanatist principles, in order to recognize in it a sort of anticipation of Gnosticism. Against such false and vain speculations the Apostle sets the grand and powerful doctrine of Christianity, that between God and the world there is but one Mediator, the Eternal Son, who is the express image of the Divine Person, "by whom and for whom were all things created." Col. i, 15, 16. He points to the cross triumphing over all the malignant powers with which false science sought to fill up the gulf between earth and heaven. Col. ii, 15. He is especially careful to show the dangerous effects of heresy on the Christian life. He represents the false teachers as creeping into houses, leading captive the minds of "silly women" laden with sins, and as pursuing self-interested ends, seeking to satisfy at once their pride and their greed for filthy lucre. Titus i, 11.

The latent immorality, ever characteristic of Gnosticism, thus betrayed itself from the very first. In this its earliest form there is nothing systematic, but it has already broad and well-marked features—its pretensions to profound speculations, which end in "old wives' fables;" its false science, which is ever teaching without leading to any true knowledge; its wild theories concerning angels; its incongruous 330combination of asceticism and libertinism. It was, doubtless, checked by the severe reprobation of the Apostle; but, like Judæo-Christianity, it would recover from the blows thus leveled at it, would reunite its scattered elements, repudiate its Jewish origin, and, better organized and better armed, enter on a deadly warfare with the Church.

« Prev § II. Dualistic heresies in Crete, at Colosse,… Next »
Please login or register to save highlights and make annotations
Corrections disabled for this book
Proofing disabled for this book
Printer-friendly version


| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |