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12. DIFFERENCE BETWEEN JN. AND THE GNOSTICS.

The importance of these differences between Jn. and the Gnostics cannot be overstated. By its very nature, Gnosticism was unable to make itself master of the world, because it was, and aimed at being, a religion restricted to a limited number of privileged persons. The simple man, the simple woman, could never hope to be numbered amongst these. All the valuable and exalted elements contained in the Gospel of Jn. could only be saved for the Church, and so for all future times, by the author’s declaring them to be destined for all men. “God willeth that all men should be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth”: this saying (1 Tim. ii. 4) possesses telling force; and the author of the Fourth Gospel has not failed to notice it.

It was not less important, however, that he should have differed from the Gnostics in his teaching about the creation of the world. The belief in one God could not be held to consistently if one of the most important kinds of work which the pious gladly ascribe to Him, the creation of the world, was carried out in a very faulty way by subordinate and unintelligent beings. Many Gnostics went so far as to see in this unintelligent creator of the world the God of the Old Testament of whom it is said, that he produced the world. He was then regarded by them as a being quite different from the real God.

In consequence, however, the Old Testament, which was 163likewise regarded as his work, seemed at the same time to be a useless and abortive book, though at that time it was the only holy book which Christians who adhered to the Church .had (the New Testament writings were not regarded as holy until towards the end of the second century, and in large part had not yet been written at the time when Gnosticism made its way into the Christian communities, that is to say, about the year 100). By such ideas, simple Christians, who on all questions thought they might rely on the Old Testament, were thoroughly confused. It is perhaps for this reason that the author of the Gospel of Jn. emphasises the statement that Holy Scripture could not be annulled (see p. 129). The Gnostics supposed that it was quite a new revelation which Christ brought from heaven; if, however, as Jn. represents, this Christ was the same being who had made the world, simple believers might rest assured that everything which they received as a revelation through the Old Testament and the teaching of Christianity was in agreement.

As regards this Christ, however, if one followed the Gnostics, one could not take seriously what Christian tradition had to communicate concerning his life upon earth. Take, for example, the death on the cross. It was this, according to the common belief of the Church, that brought salvation to mankind; but according to the Gnostics another person, an ordinary man, must be supposed to have suffered, or the body of Christ was merely a phantom figure. In this way, the whole foundation of the faith of the Church crumbled to pieces. It was of the highest importance to receive the assurance that it really was the redeemer himself who was concerned in all the records of the Gospel story.

And this was all the more important, because the existence of the Church at that time was very seriously 164endangered. On the one side, the Gnostics attracted a large following. On the other, the old habit of worshipping the pagan deities and a continued intercourse with relatives and friends who had remained pagan, enticed people back to the old beliefs. Above all, however, the persecutions of Christians, which from the beginning of the second century followed upon one another all too quickly, made it really difficult for the young community to persist in its faith. And though we, at the present time, reject so much that was at that time accounted a necessary part of Christianity, and has perhaps been clung to with a tenacity which may be vexatious to us, yet, in judging past periods, we ought never to forget one thing, that something which we can dispense with to-day may at an earlier date have been in dispensable because people had not anything better to cling to, and that perhaps we might not have had Christianity as a whole to-day if in time of danger it had not been kept intact by means which we should no longer think of using. Had the martyrs, for example those at Lyons in the year 177, not cherished so firmly the conviction that God would bring together from the ocean every particle of the ashes of their burnt bodies, which the Romans scattered in the Rhone in mockery of their faith, and so at the resurrection would completely reunite their bodies with the old shapes, who can say whether they would have endured their terrible tortures with that firmness which made their persecutors on the very next day adopt the same faith and themselves go to death on its behalf?

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