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§ 119. Cultus and Organization.


In cultus, the Gnostic docetism and hyper-spiritualism led consistently to naked intellectual simplicity; sometimes to the rejection of all sacraments and outward means of grace; if not even, as in the Prodicians, to blasphemous self-exaltation above all that is called God and worshiped.822822    Comp. 2 Thess. 2:422

But with this came also the opposite extreme of a symbolic and mystic pomp, especially in the sect of the Marcosians. These Marcosians held to a two-fold baptism, that applied to the human Jesus, the Messiah of the psychical, and that administered to the heavenly Christ, the Messiah of the spiritual; they decorated the baptistery like a banquet-hall; and they first introduced extreme unction. As early as the second century the Basilideans celebrated the feast of Epiphany. The Simonians and Carpocratians used images of Christ and of their religious heroes in their worship. The Valentinians and Ophites sang in hymns the deep longing of Achamoth for redemption from the bonds of Matter. Bardesanes is known as the first Syrian hymn-writer. Many Gnostics, following their patriarch, Simon, gave themselves to magic, and introduced their arts into their worship; as the Marcosians did in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

Of the outward organization of the Gnostics (with the exception of the Manichaeans, who will be treated separately), we can say little. Their aim was to resolve Christianity into a magnificent speculation; the practical business of organization was foreign to their exclusively intellectual bent. Tertullian charges them with an entire want of order and discipline.823823    De Praescr. Haeret., c. 41.23 They formed, not so much a sect or party, as a multitude of philosophical schools, like the modern Rationalists. Many were unwilling to separate at all from the Catholic church, but assumed in it, as theosophists, the highest spiritual rank. Some were even clothed with ecclesiastical office, as we must no doubt infer from the Apostolic Canons (51 or 50), where it is said, with evident reference to the gloomy, perverse asceticism of the Gnostics: "If a bishop, a priest, or a deacon, or any ecclesiastic abstain from marriage, from flesh, or from wine, not for practice in self-denial, but from disgust,824824    βδελυρία.24 forgetting that God made everything very good, that he made also the male and the female, in fact, even blaspheming the creation;825825    βλασφημῶν διαβάλλει τὴν δημιουργίαν .25 he shall either retract his error, or be deposed and cast out of the church. A layman also shall be treated in like manner." Here we perceive the polemical attitude which the Catholic church was compelled to assume even towards the better Gnostics.



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