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Fragments of a Faith Forgotten
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Fragments of a Faith Forgotten
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Fragments of a Faith Forgotten
December 25, 2008, 12:42:54 am »
Fragments of a Faith Forgotten
by G.R.S. Mead
This is one of the best books about the Gnostics written prior to the Nag Hammadi discoveries. G.R.S. Mead, who also translated the Pistis Sophia, summarizes what was known about the Gnostics at the turn of the 20th century. At that time, a better picture of the Gnostics was emerging, based on several papyri which had been recently discovered. Although there had been a lot of academic research on this subject, most of the key works were in German or French. Therefore this book and The Gnostics and Their Remains are the only two major books in English on this subject currently in the public domain.
It was becoming increasingly obvious that early Christianity was a wide spectrum of sects, the record of which had been subsequently forgotten or suppressed by the Church. The Gnostics had deep connections with ancient Mystery religions, Pythagoreanism, Hinduism and other ancient beliefs. Most of the sacred texts of Gnosticism were long lost or survived only in small quotes.
Mead draws on information provided both by the Early Church Fathers hostile to Gnosticism, and the available corpus of actual Gnostic documents at the time, cryptic and fragmentary as it was. He includes excerpts from previously untranslated manuscripts, and extensive summaries of the Pistis Sophia and the writings of the critics of Gnosticism. This book is required reading for anyone who wants to understand Gnosticism and the development of early Christianity.
Re: Fragments of a Faith Forgotten
December 25, 2008, 12:47:10 am »
FRAGMENTS OF A FAITH FORGOTTEN
by George Robert Stow Mead
SOME SHORT SKETCHES AMONG THE GNOSTICS, MAINLY OF THE FIRST TWO CENTURIES : A CONTRIBUTION TO THE STUDY OF CHRISTIAN ORIGINS BASED ON THE MOST RECENTLY RECOVERED MATERIALS.
Theosophical Publishing Society: London
NOTICE OF ATTRIBUTION
Scanned at sacred-texts.com, June 2006. Proofed and formatted by John Bruno Hare. This text is in the public domain in the United States because it was published prior to January 1st, 1923. This text is now in the public domain in the EU and UK because GṚṢ. Mead died in 1933. These files may be used for any non-commercial purpose, provided this notice of attribution is left intact in all copies.
So understand the Light, He answered, and make friends with it.
HERMES THE THRICE-GREATEST.
Last Edit: December 25, 2008, 12:51:16 am by Peggie Welles
Re: Fragments of a Faith Forgotten
December 25, 2008, 03:10:26 am »
Re: Fragments of a Faith Forgotten
December 25, 2008, 03:12:39 am »
MYSTERIOUS Time is once more big with child and labouring to bring forth her twentieth babe, as the The Creed of Christendom. Western world counts her progeny; for, according to the books, just nineteen children of her centenarian brood have lived and died since He appeared to whom all Christians look as Teacher of the Way to God. The common conscience of the General Church flows not only from the fact that all believe He is the Teacher of the Way, but from the faith, He is that Way itself. This is the common bond of Christians the world over, and this has been the symbol of their union throughout the centuries. Some nineteen hundred years ago the Illuminator appeared and light streamed forth into the world--such is the common creed of the adherents of the great religion of the Western world.
As the honorific inscriptions said of the birthday of the Roman Emperor Augustus, so said after them all Christians of the natal day of Jesus:
"This day has given the earth an entirely new aspect. The world would have gone to destruction The New Era Two Thousand Years Ago. had there not streamed forth from him who is now born a common blessing.
"Rightly does he judge who recognises in this birth-day the beginning of life and of all the I powers of life; now is that time ended when men pitied themselves for being born.
"From no other day does the individual or the community receive such benefit as from this natal day, full of blessing to all.
"The Providence which rules over all has filled this man with such gifts for the salvation of the world as designate him as Saviour for us and for the coming generations; of wars he will make an end, and establish all things worthily.
"By his appearing are the hopes of our forefathers fulfilled; not only has he surpassed the good deeds of earlier time, but it is impossible that one greater than he can ever appear.
"The birth-day of God has brought to the world glad tidings that are bound up in him.
"From his birth-day a new era begins."
So runs the most perfect of a number of inscriptions lately found in Asia Minor and set up to commemorate the introduction of the Julian Calendar by the Emperor Augustus. It bears a date corresponding to our B.C. 9 (See Harnack's article in Die christliche Welt, Dec. 1899).
The hope of the adherents of the Emperor-cult was speedily shattered; the expectation of
[paragraph continues] Christendom remains in great part unfulfilled, for the nineteen centuries which have passed away have The New Hope of To-day. severally grown old in years of bitter strife, of internecine and most bloody wars, of persecution and intolerance in things religious which no other period in the world's known history can, parallel. Will the twentieth century witness the fulfilment of this so great expectation; can it be said of the present time that "the whole nature travaileth together waiting for the manifestation of the Sons of God"?
Can any who keenly survey the signs of the times, doubt but that now, at the dawn of the twentieth century, among Christian nations, the general nature of thought and feeling in things religious is being quickened and expanded, and as it were is labouring in the pains of some new birth? And if this be so, why should not the twentieth century witness some general realization of the long deferred hope by the souls that are to be born into it? Never in the Western world has the general mind been more ripe for the birth of understanding in things religious than it is to-day; never have conditions been more favourable for the wide holding of a wise view of the real nature of the Christ and the task He is working to achieve in the evolution of His world-faith.
Our present task will be to attempt, however imperfectly, to point to certain considerations which Our Present Task. may tend to restore the grand figure of the Great Teacher to its natural environment in history and tradition, and disclose the intimate points of
contact which the true ideal of the Christian religion has with the one world-faith of the most advanced souls of our common humanity--in brief, to restore the teaching of the Christ to its true spirit of universality. Not for one instant would we try to lessen the reverence and the love of any single soul for that Great Soul who watches over Christendom; our task will rather be to point to a soil in which that love can flourish ever more abundantly, and ever more confidently open its heart to the rational rays of the Spiritual Sun. That soil is rich enough for the full growth of the man-plant; it is part of the original soil, and gives nourishment to every branch of man's nature, emotional and moral, rational and spiritual.
With many others we hold there is but One The One Religion. Religion for humanity; the many faiths and creeds are all streams or streamlets of this great river. This may perhaps seem a hard saying to some, but let us briefly consider its meaning. The Sun of Truth is one. His rays stream forth into the minds and hearts of men; surely if we believe anything at all, we hold this faith in the Fatherhood of God! Must we not then believe that our common Father is no respecter of persons and that at all times, in all lands, He has loved and loves and will love His children? We should be dull scholars indeed if nineteen hundred years of the teaching of the Christ had not taught us this. And yet how few really believe it? The whole history of the Churches g of Christendom is a record of disbelief in this
fundamental dogma of universal religion, and no greater foe has dogged the footsteps of Christianity than the evil genius of Jewish particularism, which has ever instigated it to every outbreak of intolerance and persecution. This same spirit also infused itself into Mohammedanism, and we can trace the results in the bloody pages of its history.
It may possibly be that this crude particularism and exclusiveness in religion is a necessary factor The Sunshine of its Doctrine. in the development of certain classes of souls, and that it is used for ultimate good purpose by the Wisdom that guides the world; but is not a greater portion of our Father's blessing possible to us now? Can we not see that it matters not whether a man have learned of the Path from the teaching of Krishna or of the Buddha, of Mohammed or Zoroaster, or of the Christ,--provided he but set his foot upon that Path, it is all one to our common Father? He it was who sent Them all forth and illumined Them, that all might through Them have the spiritual food suited to their needs. Words fail even to hint at the sublimity of this conception, at the glorious glimpse into the stupendous reality of God's providence which this illuminating doctrine opens up. And to realise this--not to believe it in some half-hearted way and practically deny it by our other beliefs--how great the growth of the heart! It is in the sunshine of this most blessed doctrine of all the world-saviours that we would ask our readers to approach the consideration of the many forms of faith of earliest Christendom with which we shall have to deal in these pages. In this sunshine
[paragraph continues] "heresy" and "false religion" frequently wear so changed an aspect that they seem quite beautiful alongside of the "orthodoxy" and "true religion" of their unsympathetic opponents.
But let us be on our guard against all exaggeration and strive to get things in their true proportions, The Comparative Science of Religion. for it is only thus that we can realise the eternal providence of God, who by His Messengers in His own good time ever adjusts the balance. It has been said by Professor Max Müller that we should not speak of the comparative science of religion, but should rather employ the phrase, comparative science of theology. This is quite true of the work that has so far been done, and done well, by official scholarship; the main effort has been to discover differences, and exaggerate the analysis of details. So far there has been, outside of a small circle of writers, little attempt at synthesis.
We are not, however, prepared to abandon the term comparative science of religion; we believe there is such a science--the noblest perchance to which any man can set his hand. But it is one of the most difficult. It requires not only an intimate experience of human nature as well as a wide knowledge of history, but also a deep sympathy with the hopes and fears of the religious conscience, and above all things an unshakable faith in the unwinking providence of God in all human affairs.
Supposing it possible that a man could love and revere all the great Teachers known to history as deeply and earnestly as each exclusive religionist reveres and loves his own particular Master;
supposing that he could really believe in the truth of each of the great religions in as full The True Scholar of Religion. measure, though without exclusiveness, as the orthodox of each great faith believes in the truth of his own revelation; supposing finally he could sense the Wisdom of Deity in active operation in all these manifestations,--what a glorious Religion would then be his! How vast and strong his Faith when supported by the evidences of all the world-bibles and the exhortations of all the world-teachers! Persuaded of the fact of re-birth, he would feel himself a true citizen of the world and heir presumptive to all the treasures of the sacred books. Little would he care for the gibes of "eclectic" or "syncretist" flung at him by the analysers of externals and seekers after difference, for he would be bathing in the life-stream of Religion, and would gladly leave them to survey its bed and channels, and scrutinize the mud of its bottom and the soil of its banks; least of all would he notice the cry of "heretic" hurled after him by some paddlers in a pool on the shore. Not, however, that he would think little of analysis or less of orthodoxy, but his analysis would be from within as well as from without, and he would find his orthodoxy in the life of the stream and not in the shape of the banks.
The One Religion flows in the hearts of men and the Light-stream pours its rays into the The Just Method of Comparison. soil of human nature. The analysis of a religion is therefore an analysis of human-kind. Every great religion has expressions as manifold as
the minds and hearts of its adherents. The manifestation of its truth in the life and words of a great sage must differ widely from the feeble reflection of its light which is all the dull intellect I and unclean life of the ignorant and immoral can express. It is true that its light and life are free for all; but as there are grades of souls, all at different stages of evolution, how can it be that all can equally reflect that light? How unwise is it then to compare the most enlightened views of one set of religionists with the most ignorant beliefs and most superstitious practices of another set! And yet this is a very favourite pastime with those who seek to gratify themselves with the persuasion that their own faith is superior to that of every other creature. This method will never lead us to a comprehension of true Religion or an understanding of our brother man.
Analyse any of the great religions, and you find The Analysis of Religion. the same factors at work, the same problems of human imperfection to be studied, the many who are "called" and the few who are "chosen,"--there are in each religion, as there ever have been, "many Thyrsus-bearers but few Bacchi." To compare the Bacchi of one religion with the Thyrus-bearers of another is mere foolishness. All Hindus, for instance, are not unintelligent worshipers of idols and all Christians fervent imitators of the Christ. If we compare the two at all, let us put the image-adoration of the Roman Church or eikon-worship of the Greek Church alongside of the worship of four-faced
[paragraph continues] Brahmā and the rest of the figures of the pantheon; but if we would find the proper parallel to the holy life and best theology of Christendom, then we must go to the best theology and holiest livers among the Brahmans.
So then if we analyse a religion, we find that the lowest of the people know little of it and cling desperately to many misconceptions and superstitions, and that from this travesty of what it really is, rises grade after grade of higher intelligence and less erroneous expression of it, until we arrive at that class of souls who consciously seek to welcome the light in all its fulness and make this the one object of their lives. It is within this class of minds that we must seek for the true nature of a religion. Here then we expect to find the real points of contact between the religion and its sister-faiths, and here we sense the presence of the glorious Spiritual Sun, the parent of all the Rays of Light poured into the world.
Now of all the great religions none can be of greater interest to any student of the comparative The Beginnings of Christianity. science of religion in the West than the Christian Faith. It presses on him at every turn; it is a problem he cannot escape. He is amazed at the general ignorance of everything connected with its history and origins. How few are there who have ever really studied the subject, outside of the comparatively small body of scholars whose profession is to deal with such researches--and even among them how few have thrown any real light on the subject, in spite of their admirable industry.
Indeed it is difficult for any one possessed of The First Two Centuries. the ideas we have endeavoured to express above, filled with enthusiasm for the unity of religion and with a living faith in the truly universal nature of the Christ's teaching, to gain much real help from the studies of either rationalists or apologists. For long he is confronted with libraries of books filled with mutually contradictory opinions, and only valuable as a means of sifting out material for future use. He finds as he prosecutes his studies, that every one of his preconceptions as to early times has to be considerably modified, and most of them indeed to be entirely rejected. He gradually works his way to a point whence he can obtain an unimpeded view of the remains of the first two centuries, and gazes round on a world that he has never heard of at school, and of which no word is breathed from the pulpit.
Is this the world of the Primitive Church of which he has read in the accepted manuals and been told of by pastors and masters? Is this the picture of the single and simple community of the followers of Jesus; this the one doctrine which he had been led to believe has been handed down in unbroken succession and in one form since the beginnings? He gazes round on a religious world of immense activity, a vast upheaval of thought and a strenuousness of religious endeavour to which the history of the Western world gives no parallel. Thousands of schools and communities on every hand, striving and contending, a vast freedom of
thought, a mighty effort to live the religious life. Here he finds innumerable points of contact with other religions; he moves in an atmosphere of freedom of which he has previously had no experience in Christian tradition. Who are all these people--not fishermen and slaves and the poor and destitute, though those are striving too--but these men of learning and ascetic life, saints and sages as much as many others to whom the name has been given with far less reason? They are all heretics, say later Church writers, very pestilent folk and enemies of the True Faith which we have now established by our decrees and councils.
But the student prefers to look to the first two centuries themselves instead of listening to the opinions and decisions of those who come after, who, as farther away from the origins, can hardly be expected to know more of them than those they anathematised after their death.
Now it is remarkable that, though such abundantly minute and laborious research has been expended on the problem of the origins of Christianity by the analysis of canonical documents, so little critical attention has been bestowed on the writings of these "heretics," although by their means great light may be thrown on many of the obscure problems connected with the history of the beginnings; it is only of comparatively late years that the utility of their evidence has been recognised and that attempts have been made to bring them into court. The "general voice" of the Catholic Church since its ascendancy has stigmatised these "heretics" as the "first-born
sons of Satan," and the faithful have believed unquestioningly that that voice was "Sancto Spiritu suggerente." But for Protestantism at least such crude opinions can no longer satisfy the liberal mind in things religious at the beginning of the twentieth century.
For upwards of one hundred years liberal the Christendom has witnessed the most strenuous and The "Higher Criticism." courageous efforts to rescue the Bible from the hands of an ignorant obscurantism which had in many ways degraded it to the level of a literary fetish and deprived it of the light of reason. This policy of obscurantism is really one of despair, of want of confidence in the living and persisting presence of inspiration in the Church, a tacit confession that inspiration had ceased in the infancy of the Faith.
As is well known, the dogma of the verbal and literal inspiration by the Holy Ghost, in the fullest sense of the terms, of every canonical document was but lately universally held, and is still held by the majority of Christians to-day. The famous encyclical of Leo XIII. ("Providentissimus Deus "1893) formulates the orthodoxy of Roman Catholic Christendom in the following counsel of despair:
"It is absolutely wrong and forbidden, either to "Providentissimus Deus." narrow inspiration to certain parts only of Holy Scripture, or to admit that the sacred writer has erred. For the system of those who, in order to rid themselves of these difficulties, do not hesitate to concede that Divine inspiration regards the things of faith and morals, and nothing beyond, because (as they wrongly think) in
Re: Fragments of a Faith Forgotten
December 25, 2008, 03:14:07 am »
the question of the truth or falsehood of a passage, we should consider not so much what God has said as the reason and purpose which He had in mind in saying it--this system cannot be tolerated, for all the books which the Church receives as sacred and canonical are written wholly and entirely, with all their parts, at the dictation of the Holy Ghost; and so far is it from being possible that any error can co-exist with inspiration, that inspiration not only is essentially incompatible with error, but excludes and rejects it as absolutely and necessarily as it is impossible that God Himself, the supreme truth, can utter that which is not true. This is the ancient and unchanging faith of the Church, solemnly defined in the Councils of Florence and Trent, and finally confirmed and more expressly formulated by the Council of the Vatican. . . . Hence because the Holy Ghost employed men as His instruments, we cannot therefore say that it was these inspired instruments who, perchance, have fallen into error, and not the primary author. For, by supernatural power, He so moved and impelled them to write--He was so present to them--that the things which He ordered, and those only, they, first rightly understood, then willed faithfully to write down, and finally expressed in apt words and with infallible truth. Otherwise it could not be said that He was the author of the entire Scripture. Such has always been the persuasion of the Fathers. . . . It follows that those who maintain that an error is possible in any genuine passage of the sacred writings, either pervert the Catholic notion
of inspiration, or make God the author of such error."
This encyclical is not a curious literary relic of mediævalism; it is the most solemn and authoritative voice of the Head of by far the largest and most powerful Church of Christendom, binding on all the faithful, and circulated broadcast at the end of the nineteenth century, in which we boasted ourselves to be so much better than our fathers.
It is, of course, perfectly patent that such a pronouncement is unavoidable by the Head of a Its Immediate Result. Church which has given in its adhesion to the dogma of infallibility, and whose life depends on the maintenance of its unquestioned authority. The consequence, however, is that in order to reconcile this dogma with reason, its scholars have to resort to a casuistical method which is exceedingly distasteful to those who are nurtured in the free air of scientific research, and which unfortunately renders the writings of Roman Catholic critics open to the charge of insincerity. We need not, however, necessarily, doubt their sincerity, for in the domain of religion the commonest phenomenon is faith doing violence to reason; as students of life, therefore, we watch with keenest interest this tragedy of the human reason struggling in the bonds of a self-imposed authority, and as believers in Providence have confidence that the force thus generated will eventually be used for good, though at present it seems to many of us an unmixed evil.
This is one side of the picture, and indeed a
most interesting one for the student of human nature. Indubitably many millions still believe The Force of Reaction. most firmly as they are bidden to believe by the Holy Father, and with a slight difference of contents and edition many millions of Protestants, who spurn the Pope's authority far from them, believe as blindly in this view of inspiration and are even more fervent bibliolaters than their Roman Catholic brethren. This conservative and reactionary force is apparently still necessary; it is the pressure which insists on ever greater and greater thoroughness from those who are clearing a way for the acceptance of a living doctrine of inspiration, to replace what for an ever-growing number appears to be the fossil of a lifeless dogma. This conservatism, we believe, will not prove an evil for Christendom in the long run, for it is largely dictated by a faith--though a blind one--in the reality of inspiration, in the sublimity of the "things not seen," which refuses to have its positive place in the human heart filled by what seems to it at present. a negation of its most cherished convictions. But could such believers open the eyes of their understanding, they would see that the busy souls who are clearing away the obscurations of centuries of misunderstanding, are filled with as lively a faith as their own----and by their devotion to truth are doing God's work in preparing the way for a fuller realization of His eternal Wisdom and a deeper understanding of human nature. True, in order to achieve this task these energetic souls are filled with an enthusiasm for criticism which is perhaps exaggerated, but which nevertheless is the necessary
yoke-fellow of blind conservatism. It is the child of these twain that will bring light.
For if we turn to the other side of the picture, we find the keen and trained mind of the scientific The Force of Progress. intellect scrutinizing every word and letter of Scripture to test the assertions of blind faith. Textual or the Lower Criticism has for ever shattered the pretension of the Council of Trent, to settle the question of a "Textus Receptus." The Received Text is proved to have suffered in its tradition so many misfortunes at the hands of ignorant scribes and dogmatic editors that the human reason stands amazed at the spectacle. Can it be possible, it asks, that any soul possessed of God's good gift of reason can believe the literal inspiration of such a collection of protean changes of words?
It is perhaps a mistake to have given the name Criticism to such research, because the ordinary The Nature of Criticism. person looks on the term as implying something hostile and inimical; the original meaning of the word, however, did not convey such an idea, but simply the sense of examining and judging well. But the wise man will not be dismayed by a term; he will look at the thing itself, and so far from finding anything impious in so admirable an art as that of textual criticism, will regard it as a most potent means for removing human error.
But Criticism does not end with the investigation of the text; it proceeds to a higher branch and busies itself with research into the date and history of the sacred books, the analysis and comparison of their several contents, and their relations with other
writings; in brief, it surveys the whole field of Biblical literature as to contents in all its parts. The results of this investigation are so stupendous, that we seem to enter a new religious land. But before we enter the sun-lit waters of the harbour of this new country, we must have battled through many storms which no bark of blind faith will ever survive; the only vessel that can live through them' is the ship of a rational faith.
In brief, the method of criticism is rational, it is that of private judgment; though indeed I doubt if there be any class of men who have sought more earnestly for help and guidance in their task than the great Critics of Christendom. It is this fact, the high moral worth of our Critics and their deep religious sense, which makes their work so valuable. It is the best in Christendom criticising itself--not a band of enemies without, trying to compass its discomfiture. A religion whose adherents can do this, is alive, and so long as this spirit exists cannot die. This spirit is as much the inspiration of the Holy Ghost as is the conviction of blind faith in the "credo quia absurdum" of the Roman tradition of verbal inspiration.
But we must not suppose that Criticism is an end in itself; it is but a means towards a new definition of the eternal problems of religion--a The Resultant. most potent means indeed, because these problems can now be defined with an intelligence and a knowledge of human nature which infinitely adds to their interest, and demands more pressingly than ever their solution; but Criticism cannot solve
them, their solution depends on a still higher faculty, a faculty that will pass beyond the science of things seen to the gnosis of things unseen. This is the child that will come to birth from the congress of the two great forces of progress and reaction of which we have been speaking.
For, granting that the Bible is a library of books for the most part composed of scraps of other documents, of very various dates edited and re-edited; that the older deposits of the Jewish portion draw largely from the mythology of other nations and falsify history to an incredible extent; are in their oldest deposits profuse in unmoral doctrine and patent absurdities, and paint the picture of a God that revolts all thinking minds; that the more recent deposits of the Hebrew Scriptures, though breathing a far loftier spirit, are still open to many objections; and that the books of the Christian portion are equally called in question on numerous points;--still there is so much of beauty and lofty conception in the teachings of the Bible, and it has for so many centuries been regarded as the vehicle of God's revelation to man, that the problem of inspiration, instead of being lessened by these facts, becomes all the more pressing for solution.
What is the nature of this higher faculty which transcends the reason; and why are the records of its activity marred with imperfection and absurdities which the reason can so clearly detect?
This the scientist as scientist, the scholar as scholar, can never fully explain. Equally so the mystic as mystic cannot throw full light on the problem
[paragraph continues] What is required is the nature born of the union of the two--a nature so hard to find that it may almost be said to be non-existent. The mystic will not submit himself to the discipline and training of science; the scholar refuses to attach any validity to the methods of the mystic. And yet without the union of the two the child of understanding cannot be born.
For some three hundred years the Western world has been evolving a wonderful instrument Nineteen Centuries Ago and Now. of natural research, a subtle grade of mind trained in what we call the scientific method; it has been developing in this instrument numerous new senses, and chief among them the sense of history. Its conquests are so brilliant that men are disposed to believe that never have such things been before; we are scornful of the past, impatient of its methods, unsympathetic to its ideas, and little inclined to profit by the lessons it can teach. As has ever been the case with nations in their prime, we think that "we are the people, and wisdom will die with us." All this is perfectly natural and even necessary for the proper development of this keen intellectual instrument, this grade of mind of which we are all so proud. But the student of human nature and the scholar of the science of life keeps looking to the past in order that he may the better forecast the future; his sense of history extends beyond the domain of the "Higher Criticism" and strives to become clairvoyant.
We have had three hundred years or so of
cataloguing and criticism, analysis and scepticism, of most brilliant physical research in all departments; the pious have feared for the overthrow of religion, and positivists have longed for the downfall of superstition. What has it all meant; for what good purpose is this sifting; how does the strife exemplify the wise providence of God?
Perhaps it may not be so difficult as it appears at first sight, to point to the direction in which the answers to these questions may be to some extent anticipated. That similar phenomena recur in the natural world is the unvarying experience of mankind; that time is the ever-moving image of eternity, and that the wheel of genesis is ever turning, is testified to by the wiser minds of humanity. Whither, then, should we look in the history of human affairs for phenomena similar to the happenings of these last three hundred years? Whither else more certainly than to the history of the times which witnessed the birth of the religion of the Christ? The many striking parallels between the social and religious aspects of the civilization of that critical epoch and of our own times have been already sketched by a few writers, but no general notice has been taken of their endeavours, least of all has any practical lesson been learned from the review of this experience of the past. For the experience of humanity is our own experience, if we have but wit enough to understand.
The soul of man returns again and again to learn the lessons of life in this great world-school,
according to one of the great doctrines of general religion. If this be so, it follows that when similar The Return of Souls. conditions recur a similar class of souls returns to continue its lessons of experience. It may well be even that many of the identical souls who were embodied in the early centuries of Christianity are continuing their experience among ourselves to-day. For why otherwise do the same ideas recur, why do the same problems arise, the same ways of looking at things? They cannot fall into our midst from the "Ewigkeit"; must it not be that they have been brought back by minds to whom they have already been familiar?
It would of course be exceedingly unwise to stretch even a single one of our parallels into an The Conditions of the Comparison. identity; we must bear in mind that though many of the conditions are strikingly resemblant, some factors in great prominence in the civilization of the Græco-Roman world are only very faintly outlined in our present civilization, while some strongly marked features of our own times are but imperfectly traceable in that age.
We must further remember that the records of that time are frequently very imperfect, while the history of our own is inscribed in painful detail; and that though we can review the main outlines of the whole of that phase of civilization, we can only survey a portion of our own, for its cycle is not ended and the records of the future are not yet open to our understanding.
Finally, we must remember that the general quality of the life and mind-texture of our own age
is generally far more subtle than it was nineteen hundred years ago--for humanity evolves.
All these considerations must be kept in mind if we would anticipate the future from a survey of the history of the past. But indeed it requires no great effort of the imagination for even the most superficial student of history to see a marked similarity between the general unrest and searching after a new ideal that marked the period of brilliant intellectual development which preceded the birth of Christianity, and the uncertainty and eager curiosity of the public mind in the closing years of the nineteenth century.
The tendency is the same in kind though not in The Intensified Present. degree; the achievements of the scientists and scholars of Alexandria (to take the most conspicuous example) during the three hundred years which preceded the Christian era, have been vastly transcended by the conquests of their successors in our own time. To-day life is more intense, thought more active, experience more extended, the need of the solution of the problem more pressing. The modern mind took birth in Greece some two thousand five hundred years ago, and developed itself by intimate contact with the ancient East, a contact made physically possible by the "world-conquest" of Alexander, and subsequently by the organising genius of Rome.
But to-day it is not the conquests of an Alexander or the power of Rome which have built the ways of communication between the nations; it is the conquests of physical science which have in truth
united the ends of the earth, and built up an arterial and nervous system for our common Occident and Orient. mother which she has never previously possessed. It is no longer the speculative mind of Greece and the practical genius of Rome that meet together, it is not even the mind of the then confined Occident meeting with the enthusiasm and mysticism of the then Orient; it is the meeting of the great waters, the developed thought and industrious observation of the whole Western world of to-day meeting with the old slow stream of the ancient and modern East.
The great impetus which the study of oriental languages and tongues long since dead has received The Reconciliation of Science and Theology. during the last hundred years, has led to the initiation of a comparative science of ancient literature--of the world-bibles--and of religion which is slowly but surely modifying all our preconceptions. To-day it is not a Porphyry who disproves the authenticity of the Book of Daniel or a Marcion who makes havoc of what afterwards became the New Testament canon, but it is the "Higher Criticism" which has struck the death blow to unreasoning bibliolatry. The conflict between religion (or, if you will, theology) and science has produced a generation that longs and searches for a reconciliation. That reconciliation will come; Heaven and Earth will once more kiss each other. It came in the past for those souls who were searching for it, and it will come for those who seek it to-day. If the human heart seek the Light the Light will pour into it. It was so nineteen hundred
years ago; men sought for the Light and the Light came in answer to their prayers. And if this view may at first appear strange to those who have been taught to regard the state of affairs before the coming of the Christ as one of unmixed depravity, the reading of these pages may perhaps lead them to a more reasonable view of the conditions which called for the coming of so great a Soul for the helping of mankind.
The Light was received by men in proportion to their capacity to understand it, and the Life was poured into them as their natures were capable of expansion. And if the subsequent history of the times, when the dark cloud of ignorance and intolerance settled down on Christendom for so many centuries, makes it appear as if that Life had been poured out in vain, and that Light radiated to no purpose, we should remember that they were lavished on souls and not on bodies; that the path of individual souls is not to be traced in the evolution of racial bodies. The souls incarnated into the civilisation of Greece and Rome who were capable of receiving the Light, were far different from the souls who were incarnated into the half barbarous hordes which destroyed that civilization, and out of which the new races were to be developed. The old races which supplied the conditions for the experience of the more advanced souls, were to disappear gradually, and new races were to be developed, which in their childhood could not supply the necessary conditions for the incarnation of such subtle intellects, but which in their
manhood would attract to them still higher souls perchance. This of course did not take place with suddenness, it was all very gradual, there was much overlapping of races, as the old units and atoms were slowly replaced by new ones.
But how is it to be expected that Vandal and Goth could understand the great problems which The Birth and Death of Races. delighted the minds of the philosophers and mystics of Greece and Rome? And further, must it not all have been foreseen and provided for by the Wisdom that watches over human affairs?
Races and nations are born, and die, as men are born and die; they may be long-lived or short-lived, they may be good, bad, or indifferent. But whatever their characters and characteristics as compared with other races, their early period is that of childhood, their middle period that of manhood, and their later period that of old age.
It follows then that as a general rule the class of souls which seeks experience in them in their childhood, is not the same as the grade of souls which incarnates in them in their middle age, or in their old age. Of course there are numerous individual exceptions, for the above is the merest outline of the elements of the problem; the details are so complicated, the permutations and combinations so innumerable, that no mind can fully grasp them.
Moreover races and nations so overlap and blend, their origins and disappearings so shade off into other nations and races, that the analogy of their
lives with the lives of men must not be overstrained. The moment of birth and the moment of death is very hard to detect in the case of a race, and the embryonic period and stages of disintegration cannot be clearly defined. Nevertheless we can trace the main moments of their evolution and perceive the differences in their main periods of age.
Our Western world, the vehicle of the modern The Manhood of the Western World. mind, has had its period of childhood; it was born of the from the womb of Greek and Roman civilisation, and its lusty childhood was a natural period of ignorance and passion. Such considerations will enable us better to understand the otherwise sad spectacle of the dark and middle ages in Europe; they were the natural concomitants of childhood, and were followed by the intellectual development of youth and early manhood. The Western world is apparently just coming of age, and in the future we may hope it will think and act as a man and put away childish things.
The problems which will in future occupy the attention of its developed intelligence were foreshadowed in the womb of its parent, and our more immediate task will be to deal with some of the outlines of that foreshadowing.
Re: Fragments of a Faith Forgotten
January 25, 2009, 12:53:12 am »
Re: Fragments of a Faith Forgotten
January 25, 2009, 12:54:33 am »
SOME ROUGH OUTLINES OF THE BACKGROUND OF THE GNOSIS
THE familiar story of the origins of Christianity which we have all drunk in as it were with our The Greatest Story in the World. mothers’ milk, may be said to be almost a part of the consciousness of the Western world. It is interwoven with our earliest recollections; it has been stamped upon our infant consciousness with a solemnity which has repressed all questioning; it has become the "thing we have grown used to." It has upon its side that stupendous power of inertia, the force of custom, against which but few have the strength to struggle. But once let the ordinary man desire to know more about the greatest story in the world, as all its tellers assert, and he must begin the struggle. Previously he has been led to believe not only that the story is absolutely unique, but that it is entirely supernatural. In brief, if he analyses his own understanding of the story he finds it violently divorced from all historical environment, a thing of
itself, standing alone, in unnatural isolation. His picture has no background.
Moreover he will find it very difficult to fill in The Need of a Background. that background, no matter how industriously he may labour. He may read many books on the "Life and Times of our Lord," only to find that for the most part the environment has been made to fit the story and its main features have been taken from it; in brief, he does not feel that he has been put in contact with the natural environment for which he is seeking.
There are of course a few works which are not of this nature, but the general reader seldom hears of them, for they are generally regarded as "dangerous" and "disturbing."
But even if we go deeper into the matter and make a special study of the history of the origins, with the largest of libraries at our disposal, we find that no writer has as yet given us a really sufficient sketch of the environment, and without this it is impossible to have a real comprehension of the nature of infant Christianity and the full scope of its illumination; without it we shall never understand its real naturalness and its vast power of adaptation to that environment.
For if we look back to the evidence of the first two The Main Means to a Recovery of the Outlines. centuries of our era (and to our mind no evidence with regard to the origins subsequent to this period is of any validity) for an understanding of the actual state of affairs, instead of one Church and one form of faith, we find innumerable communities and innumerable modes of expression--communities united for
the living of a Life and systems striving to express the radiance of a Light. In many of these communities and these expressions we find intimate points of contact with the life and faith of the best in universal religion, and a means that will help us to fill in the outlines of the background of the origins with a greater feeling of confidence than we had previously thought possible.
So far from finding the sharp divorcement between science (or philosophy) and religion (or theology) which has characterised all later periods of the Christian era up to our own day, it was just the boast of many of these communities that religion was a science; they boldly claimed that it was possible to know the things of the soul as definitely as the things of the body; so far from limiting the illumination which they had received to the comprehension of the poorest intellect, or confining it to the region of blind faith, they claimed that it had supplied them with the means of formulating a world-philosophy capable of satisfying the most exacting intellect. Never perhaps has the world witnessed more daring efforts to reach a solution of the world-problem than were attempted by some of these mystic philosophers and religio-scientists. That their attempts are for the most part incomprehensible to the modern mind is partly owing to the fact that our record of them is so imperfect, and partly due to the natural impossibility of expressing in human language the stupendous realities to which they aspired; nevertheless their "heaven-storming," when
we can understand its nature, is a spectacle to move our admiration and (if we cast aside all prejudice) make us bow our heads before the Power which inspired their efforts.
They strove for the knowledge of God, the science The Gnostic Schools. of realities, the gnosis of the things-that-are; wisdom was their goal; the holy things of life their study. They were called by many names by those who subsequently haled them from their hidden retreats to ridicule their efforts and anathematise their doctrines, and one of the names which they used for themselves, custom has selected to be their present general title. They are now generally referred to in Church history as the Gnostics, those whose goal was the Gnosis,--if indeed that be the right meaning; for one of their earliest existing documents expressly declares that Gnosis is not the end--it is the beginning of the path, the end is God--and hence the Gnostics would be those who used the Gnosis as the means to set their feet upon the Way to God.
The question which at once presses itself upon Where to Look for their Origins. the attention of the student of history is: Whence did these men come? Did they arise suddenly in the midst of a world that cared not for these things; were they entirely out of touch with the past; had they no predecessors? By no means; those who so bitterly opposed them, who--boasting themselves to be the only legitimate inheritors of the illumination of the Christ--in their most angry mood, stigmatised the Gnostics as "the first-born of Satan," may help us to set our feet in the
direction where we shall find some materials on which to base an answer. In less bitter mood, the Church Fathers tell us that the doctrines of the Gnosis are of Plato and Pythagoras, of Aristotle and of Heracleitus, of the Mysteries and Initiations of the nations, and not of Christ. Let us then try for a brief space to follow this lead and fill in some rough outlines of the background of the Gnosis; we shall then be better able to say whether or no we join our voices to the hue and cry of the heresy-hunters.
In what follows we shall only attempt the vaguest indications of the vast field of research The Nature of the Field to be Surveyed. in which the student of the Christian origins has to labour, before he can really appreciate the nature of the soil in which the seed was sown. The political history and social conditions of the time have to be carefully studied and continually borne in mind, but the most important field to be surveyed is the nature of the religious world, especially during the three centuries prior to our era. How is it possible, we ask ourselves, as we gaze upon the blendings of cult, the syncretism of theogonies and cosmogonics and the mixtures of faith which abounded in these centuries, to separate them into their original elements? The problem seems as hopeless as the endeavour to trace the mixtures of races and sub-races, of nations and families, which were the material means of these blendings of cult and religion. Where can we begin? For if we begin where known history fails (as is usually the case), and imagine that we have here
reached a state of things primitive, we are forced to be ever revising our hypotheses by each new archæological and ethnological discovery. Tribes which we have regarded as primitive savages are found to be the decaying remnants of once great nations, their superstitions and barbarous practices are found blended with the remnants of high ideas which no savagery could evolve; where shall we seize a beginning in this material of protean change? Surely we cannot trace it on the lines of material evolution alone? May it not be that there is the "soul of a people" as well which has to be reckoned with?
Just as the bodies of men are born from other The Soil of the Field. bodies, so are nations born from nations. But if the physical heredity of a man is difficult to trace (since the farther it is pushed back the more it ramifies), far more difficult is the heredity of a nation, for whereas a man has but two parents a nation may have many, and whereas the bodies of a man's parents at death are hidden away to decay in the earth, [the bodies of nations decay in the sight of all, and persist mingled with their children and grand-children, and all the family-tree which they share with other nations. Nations may have certain distinguishing characteristics, but they are not individualised in the same way as a man is individualised; and the problem of their inner heredity is more difficult to solve than even that of the nature of the animal soul, for it is on a vaster scale.
Such then being the nature of the physical vehicle of the general religious consciousness, it is not
surprising to find that the history of the evolution of religious ideas is one of the most difficult of studies.
If we bear all these presuppositions in mind, it requires the greatest courage to venture on any attempt at generalization; we feel that every statement ought to be qualified by so many other considerations that we are almost disgusted with its crudity, and know that we are only tracing the bones of skeletons when we ought to be clothing them with flesh, and making them vibrant with life.
But to return to the antecedents of the special period and movement we have in view.
Three main streams mingle their waters together in the tumbling torrent that swirls through the land in these critical centuries.
Three main elements are combining their substance and transmuting their natures in the seething crucible of the first centuries of the Christian era.
Greece, Egypt, and Jewry receive the child in their arms, suckle the body of the new born babe, and Three Mother Streams. watch round its cradle. The irrational soul of it is like to the animal souls of its nurses; its rational soul is of like heredity with their minds, but the spirit within it is illumined by the Christ. It is the heredity of its rational and spiritual soul, however, to which we shall pay the greatest attention; for in this is to be found the inner side of the religions of Jewry, Egypt, and Greece.
We have then to search most carefully in the direction in which this can be found; we shall not find it in the cult and practice of the people, but in the religion and discipline of the philosopher and
sage, of the prophet and priest. For antiquity, there were as many degrees in religion as there were grades in human nature; the instruction in the inner degrees was reserved to those who were fit to comprehend; mystery-institutions and schools of initiation of every degree were to be found in all great nations, and to them we must look for the best in their religions--not infrequently, alas, for the worst as well, for the worst is the corruption of the best; but of this we will speak elsewhere.
Let us then first turn our attention to the religion of the intelligence of Greece.
Last Edit: January 25, 2009, 12:55:36 am by Peggie Welles
Re: Fragments of a Faith Forgotten
January 25, 2009, 12:58:14 am »
IF we turn to the Greece of the sixth century prior The Greece of 600 B.C. to our era, we can perceive the signs of the birth of a new spirit in the Western world, the beginning of a great intellectual activity; it is, so to speak, the age of puberty of the Greek genius, new powers of thought are coming into activity, and the old-time myths and ancient oracular wisdom are receiving new expression in the infant science of empirical physics and the birth of philosophy.
This activity is part and parcel of a great quickening, an outpouring of power, which may be traced in other lands as well; it is an intensification of the religious consciousness of the nations, and it intensified the religious instinct of Greece in a remarkable manner. Its most marked characteristic
is the application of the intellect to things religious, owing to the accelerated development of this faculty in man.
The greatest pioneers of this activity were men whose names still live in the temple of fame. In the far East we have Confucius and Laotze, in India Gautama the Buddha, in Persia the last of the Zoroasters, in Greece Pythagoras; there were others doubtless elsewhere who acted as messengers of the Light, but our existing records are too imperfect to permit us to trace their paths.
Can any who believe in the providence of Wisdom in human affairs, doubt but that this was part of some great plan for man's advancement? If there be a Providence "that shapes our ends," where can we see its hand more clearly than in such great happenings?
But to confine ourselves to Greece; we must not suppose that Pythagoras was without predecessors; The Precursors of Pythagoras. for though his later followers would have us think that all philosophy flowed from him, we cannot believe in this so sudden appearance of it, and we doubt not that Pythagoras regarded himself as the enunciator of old truths and but one of the teachers of a line of doctrine. He had Pherecydes and Anaximander and Thales before him in Asia Minor, and other teachers in Egypt and Chaldæa and elsewhere. Indeed in these early days it is almost impossible to separate philosophy from mythology and all the ancient ideas connected with it. If we look to the times of Thales, who is regarded as the herald of the first elements of philosophy in the Grecian world, and
who lived a century earlier than Pythagoras, we find a state of affairs somewhat as follows.
The educated and travelled of the Greeks of the time regarded Egypt as the centre of all learning and culture and their own forbears as of no account in such matters. The rhapsodists of the Homeric poems flattered their vanity by singing of the prowess of their ancient heroes, but could tell the intelligent nothing of religion; as for Hesiod and his theogony and the rest, they could make but little of them. He was doubtless more intelligible than the archaic fragments of the Orphic poems which enshrined the most ancient elements of the religious tradition of Hellas. But he fell far short of the wisdom of Egypt. As for the Orphic fragments, they were the relics of their barbarous ancestors, and no one believed in them but the superstitious and ignorant.
But a nation that is to be something of itself and not a mere copier of others must have confidence in its past traditions, and we find about this time that there arose a growing interest in these old fragments, which gradually led to their collection and translation into the Greek of the period. This took place at the end of the sixth century, and the name identified most closely with this activity to recover the fragments of the old tradition was that of Onomacritus.
It is interesting to notice how that this was done just prior to the period when Greece cast back the invading hosts of Xerxes from the shores of Europe. The effort seems to have been to revive in Greece the memory of its past by recovering the channel of its ancient inspiration, and at the same time to
let her feel the strength of her peculiar genius in thinking out the old oracular wisdom in terms of her fresh intellect, that so she might feel courage to hurl back the invading forces of the East, and pave the way to her future conquests of that same East in the days of Alexander.
At this period, then, we notice the rise of philosophy and the revival of the Orphic tradition. The Orphic Tradition. But this is not all; the leaven is working within as well as without, and we find an enormously increased activity in those most sacred institutions of the religious life of Greece--the Mysteries. But before we proceed to consider briefly this perhaps the most important point of all, let us try to take a hasty retrospect along the line of the Orphic tradition; for those who studied such matters in later Greece more deeply than the rest, assert with one voice that the line of their descent was from Orpheus through Pythagoras and Plato.
The Greeks known to history seem to have formed part of one of the waves of immigration Primitive Hellas. into Europe of the great Aryan stock. Of the main wave there were doubtless many wavelets.
If we may venture to believe that some germ of history underlies the records of the priests of Sais communicated to Solon and preserved to us by Plato in his Critias and Timæus; according to them, so long ago as ten thousand years before our era, Attica was occupied by the long-forgotten ancestors of the Hellenes. Then came the great flood when the Atlantic Island was destroyed, and the shores of the Mediterranean rendered
uninhabitable by seismic disturbances of which the great cataclysm was but one of a number, the third it is said before the "Flood of Deucalion." It was the time of Egypt "before the flood" of which we have mention in the writings of Manetho.
If this be true, we can imagine how the wavelet of the conquering Aryan race which then occupied Hellas--the overlords of the "autochthones" of the period--was driven back, and how the country was left for long to the occupation of these same "autochthones" whom Herodotus calls "Pelasgi." They were to the Greeks, what the Dravidians were and are to the Indo-Aryans, "autochthones" if you will, but with a long history of their own if we could recover their records.
The polity of the ancient Greek inhabitants of Attica, according to the notes of Solon, bears a striking resemblance to the polity of the ancient Aryans in India, and doubtless their primitive religious traditions came from a common stock.
As for the "Pelasgi," who knows their traditions, or the blendings of races that had taken place before the remains of them could be classed as an indiscriminate mass? We are told, that they were ruled over by chiefs from the Atlantic Island who busily pushed its conquests to the most distant shores of the Great Sea (the Mediterranean), and that the ancient Hellenes disputed the lordship with this dominant race. What enormous possibilities of cult-mixtures myth-blending, and theocrasia have we here! It was these Atlanteans who introduced the cults of Poseidon and Hephæstus (Vulcan), the mighty powers of the
Re: Fragments of a Faith Forgotten
January 25, 2009, 12:59:43 am »
sea and of subterranean fire, which had destroyed their fathers.
For the Aryan Hellenic stock there was All-father Zeus and the Goddess of Wisdom, Pallas Athene, who was also a warrior goddess, as befitted a warlike race. What the Greek religion was at this period, who shall say? But it is not so wild a guess to suppose that it may have been of a bardic nature--hymn-bursts suited to warriors, of which we have relics in the legends of Druid and Bard and in all those ancient traditions of the Celt, in the mythology of the Teuton and Norseman, and even in the legend-lore preserved by the ancient Slavs.
We may imagine how in these early years, as the strong current of the Aryan flood swept them onward, The wavelets of Aryan Immigration. wavelet overlapped wavelet, horde fought with horde, and that the smiling land of Hellas was a rich prize for the strongest. We may imagine how when the effects of the "floods" had subsided and in course of many many years seismic disturbances had lessened, the Hellenic stock reoccupied the ground again, not only in Greece itself but also on the shores of Asia Minor. But how many wavelets of immigration flowed in until Homeric times who shall say? Perhaps some day it may be possible to sift out from the myths some deposit of history, and perceive how a Cecrops, an Erectheus, and an Ion did not follow each other in rapid succession, but were great leaders who established kingdoms separated by long periods of time.
May it not further be that with these conquering kings came bards to advise and encourage, and supply
what of religion was thought good for them? May we not seek for the prototype of Orpheus here, and to one of the later wavelets trace the archaic fragments of the most ancient religious poems? We may almost see some religious pomp of the time passing down the Sacred Way to Eleusis, ever the most sacred spot in Greece, with some Orpheus of the time rousing the warriors to enthusiasm by his songs, harp in hand, with his grey locks streaming in the breeze, while the regular march of the warriors kept time to the strain, and emphasized it by the rhythmic clashing of their shields.
It would be vain to look for any intellectual The Orphic Line. presentation of religion along this line; whatever it was, it must have been inspirational, prophetical, and oracular; and indeed this is the peculiar characteristic of the Orphic tradition.
But even in these early days was the tradition a pure one? Scarcely; the various races must have fought their way through other races, and settled for a time among them before they reached Hellas, and the main line of their march seems to have been round the south shores of the Black Sea and through Thrace.
In Thrace they would meet with the cult of Dionysus and absorb some of its traditions; not that Thrace was the home of this cult, its origins appear to reach eastwards and back into time--a widespreading cultus with its roots in the soil of an archaic Semitism, the traces of which are hard to discover in the obscure and fragmentary records that we now possess. Moreover there is some mixture
of the Chaldean tradition in the Orphic line, but whether it existed at this period or was superadded later is hard to say.
What the precise religion of the earlier of these successive wavelets was like, when they had settled in the rich lands of Greece, and became more civilized, we can no longer say, for we have no records, but doubtless they were watched over and sufficient inspiration given them for their needs.
If we now turn to the Greece of Homer, and try to find traces of Orpheus, we are doomed to disappointment; The Greece of Homer. but this is not altogether inexplicable. Homer sings of a Greece that seems to have entirely forgotten its ancient bards, of heroes who had left their religion at home, as it were. The yellow-haired Greeks who won the supremacy subsequent to Ion's time, were a stock that paid little attention to religion; they give one the impression of being some sort of Viking warriors who cared little for the agricultural pursuits in which their predecessors were engaged, if we can judge from the tradition preserved by Hesiod. We see a number of independent chieftains occupying the many vales of Greece, whose idea of providing for an increasing population is by foray and conquest.
There may have been a fickle Helen and a too gallant Paris who violated the hospitality of his hosts, but the Trojan War was more probably a foray of these warriors to gain new lands,--a foray not against an alien race, but against those of their own general kin; for the Trojans were Greeks, somewhat orientalised in their customs perhaps, by settlement in
contact with the nations of Asia, but for all that Greeks,--dark-haired Greeks, with a cult like the cult of the fair-haired ones, and with perchance for the most part as little understanding concerning it.
It is, however, just this absence of the priest, or the very subordinate position he holds, which is an indication of the germ of that independence of thought which is the marked characteristic of the Greek mind that was subsequently developed, and of which the Greece of history was the special and carefully watched depository, that it might evolve for the world-purpose for which it was destined. It was good for men to look the gods manfully in the face and battle with them if need be.
"Homer" was the bard of these Viking heroes; but the bard of their predecessors (who were equally Greeks) of the Hellenic stock which they had dominated, was "Orpheus." The descendants of the heroes of Troy naturally looked to "Homer" as the singer of the deeds of their forefathers, and as the recorder of their customs and cult; they were too proud to listen to "Orpheus" and the old "theologers" who had been the bards of the conquered; so the old songs and sagas of this bardic line, the lays and legends of this older Greece, were left to the people and to consequent neglect and lack of understanding.
Such was the state of affairs when philosophy "Orpheus" returns to Greece. arose in the seventh century; it was then found by the few that Homer could not suffice for the religious needs of thinking men; there was nothing in Homer to compare with the religious traditions of Egypt and Chaldæa; the Greeks apparently had nothing of
religion, their ancestors were barbarians. Then it occurred to some to collect and compare the ancient oracles and religious myths of the people--the fragments of the Orphic songs--and therein they found proofs of an ancient Greek tradition of things unseen that could be favourably compared with much that Egypt and Chaldæa could tell them. Greece had a religious tradition; their forebears were not barbarous.
Those who busied themselves with such matters at this critical period, we may believe, were not left without guidance; and poets and thinkers were helped as they could receive it. The fragments of this activity in Orphic poesy which have come down to us, show signs of this inspiration; we do not refer to the late "Orphic Hymns," some eighty in number, which may be read in English in Taylor's translation, but to the ancient fragments scattered in the works of classical and patristic writers.
Re: Fragments of a Faith Forgotten
January 25, 2009, 01:00:35 am »
Many of these were based on the archaic fragments of the pre-Homeric times, and looked back to this archaic tradition as their foundation. But the mystic and mythological setting of these poems, their enthusiastic and prophetic character, though all-sufficient for many, were not suited to the nascent intellectuality of Greece which was asserting itself with such vigour. Therefore the greatest leaders of that thought sought means to clothe the ideas which were enshrined in myth and poesy, in modes more suitable to the intellectuals of the time; and we have the philosophy of a Pythagoras and subsequently of a Plato.
But alongside of the public cults and popular traditions there existed an inner organism of religion The Mysteries. and channels of secret traditions concealed within the Mystery-institutions. If it is difficult to form any precise notion of the evolution of popular religious ideas in Greece, much more difficult is it to trace the various lines of the Mystery-traditions, which were regarded with the greatest possible reverence and guarded with the greatest possible secrecy, the slightest violation of the oath being punishable by death.
The idea that underlay the Mystery-tradition in Greece was similar to that which underlay all similar institutions in antiquity, and it is difficult to find any cult of importance without this inner side. In these institutions, in the inner shrines of the temple, were to be found the means of a more intimate participation in the cult and instruction in the dogmas.
The institution of the Mysteries is the most interesting phenomenon in the study of religion. The idea of antiquity was that there was something to be known in religion, secrets or mysteries into which it was possible to be initiated; that there was a gradual process of unfolding in things religious; in fine, that there was a science of the soul, a knowledge of things unseen.
A persistent tradition in connection with all the great Mystery-institutions was that their several founders were the introducers of all the arts of civilization; they were either themselves gods or were instructed in them by the gods
in brief, that they were men of far greater knowledge than any who had come after; they were the teachers of infant races. And not only did they teach them the arts, but they instructed them in the nature of the gods, of the human soul, and the unseen world, and set forth how the world came into existence and much else.
We find the ancient world honey-combed with these institutions. They were of all sorts and Their Corruption. kinds, from the purest and most noble down to the most degraded; in them we find the best and worst of the religion and superstition of humanity. Nor should we be surprised at this, for when human nature is intensified, not only is the better in it stimulated but also the worse in it finds greater scope.
When knowledge is given power is acquired, and it depends on the recipients whether or no they use it for good or evil. The teachers of humanity have ever been opposed by the innate forces of selfishness, for evolution is slow, and mankind wayward; moreover, men cannot be forced, they must come of their own free-will, "for love is the fulfilling of the law"; and so again though "many are the 'called,' few are the 'chosen.'"
It is said that these earliest teachers of humanity who founded the Mystery-institutions as the most The Reason of it. efficient means of giving infant humanity instruction in higher things, were souls belonging to a more highly developed humanity than our own. The men of our infant humanity were children with minds but little developed, and only capable of
understanding what they distinctly saw and felt. In the earliest times, according to this view, the Mysteries were conducted by those who had a knowledge of nature-powers which was the acquisition of a prior perfected humanity not necessarily earth-born, and the wonders shown therein such that none of our humanity could of themselves produce. As time went on and our humanity more and more developed the faculty of reason, and were thought strong enough to stand on their own feet, the teachers gradually withdrew, and the Mysteries were committed to the care of the most advanced pupils of this humanity, who had finally to substitute symbols and devices, dramas and scenic representations, of what had previously been revealed by higher means.
Then it was that corruption crept in, and man was left to win his own divinity by self-conquest and persistent struggling against the lower elements in his nature. The teachers remained unseen, ever ready to help, but no longer moving visibly among men, to compel their reverence and worship. So runs the tradition.
If, as we have seen, the origin and evolution The Various Traditions. of the popular cults of Greece are difficult to trace, much more difficult are the beginnings and development of the Greek Mystery-cultus. The main characteristic of the Mysteries was the profound secrecy in which their traditions were kept; we therefore have no adequate materials upon which to work, and have to rely mainly on hints and veiled allusions. This much, however, is
Re: Fragments of a Faith Forgotten
January 25, 2009, 01:01:25 am »
certain, that the Mystery-side of religion was the initiation into its higher cult and doctrine; the highest praise is bestowed upon the Mysteries by the greatest thinkers among the Greeks, who tell us that they purified the nature, and not only made men live better lives here on earth but enabled them to depart from life with brighter hopes of the future.
What the primitive Mystery-cultus traditions along the lines of Orphic, Dionysiac, and Eleusinian descent may have been, it is unnecessary to speculate in this rough outline sketch; but if we come down to the days of Plato we find existing Mystery-institutions which may be roughly characterised as political, private, and philosophic.
The political Mysteries--that is to say the State-Mysteries--were the famous Eleusinia, with their The Political Mysteries. gorgeous external pageants and their splendid inner rites. At this period almost every respectable citizen of Athens was initiated, and we can easily see that the tests could not have been very stringent, when so many were admitted every year. In fact, these State-Mysteries, though providing for a grade or several grades of advancement along the path of right living and of right comprehension of life, had become somewhat perfunctory, as all departments of a State-religion are bound to become in time.
Alongside of the Eleusinia there existed certain private Mysteries, not recognised by the State, the The Private Mysteries. number of which subsequently increased enormously, so that almost every variety of Oriental Mystery-cultus found its adherents in Greece, as may be seen
from a study of the religious associations among the Greeks known as Thiasi, Erani, and Orgeones; among private communities and societies of this kind there were to be found naturally many undesirable elements, but at the same time they satisfied the needs of many who could derive no spiritual nourishment from the State-religion.
Among these private foundations were communities The Orphic Communities. of rigid ascetics, men and women, who gave themselves entirely to holy living; such people were said to live the "Orphic life" and were generally known as Orphics. Of course there were charlatans who parodied them and pretended to their purity and knowledge, but we are at present following the indications of those whose conduct squared with their profession.
These Orphic communities appear to have been the refuges of those who yearned after the religious life, and among them were the Pythagorean schools. Pythagoras did not establish something entirely new in Greece when he founded his famous school at Crotona; he developed something already existing, and when his original school was broken up and its members had to flee they sought refuge among the Orphics. The Pythagorean schools disappear into the Orphic communities.
It is in the Pythagorean tradition that we see the signs of what I have called the philosophic Mysteries; it is, therefore, in the best of the Orphic and Pythagorean traditions that we have to find the indications of the nature of the real Mysteries, and not in the political Eleusinia
or in the disorderly elements of the Oriental cults.
In fact the Orphics did much to improve the Eleusinia and supported them as a most necessary The Philosophic Mysteries. means for educating the ordinary man towards a comprehension of the higher life. It stands to reason, however, that the Mysteries which satisfied the aspirations of Orphics and Pythagoreans were somewhat higher than the State-Mysteries of the ordinary citizen. These Pythagoreans were famous throughout antiquity for the purity of their lives and the loftiness of their aims, and the Mysteries they regarded with such profound reverence must have been something beyond the Eleusinia, something to which the Eleusinia were but one of the outer approaches.
We have then to seek for the innermost religious life of Greece in this direction, and to remember Pythagoras and Plato. that the inner experiences of this life were kept a profound secret and not paraded on the housetops. Pythagoras is said to have been initiated into the Egyptian, Chaldæan, Orphic, and Eleusinian Mysteries; at the same time he was one of the chief founders of Greek philosophy. His philosophy however, was not a thing of itself, but the application of his intellect--especially of his mathematical genius--to the best in these Mystery-traditions; he saw that it was necessary to attempt to lead the rapidly evolving intellectuality of Greece along its own lines to the contemplation of the inner nature of things; otherwise in the joy of its freedom it would get entirely out of hand and reject the truths of the ancient wisdom.
Plato continued this task, though on somewhat different lines; he worked more in the world than Pythagoras, and his main effort was to clear the ground from misconceptions, so that the intellect might be purified and brought into a fit state to contemplate the things-that-are. He spent his life in this task, building up not so much a system of knowledge, as clearing the way so that the great truths of the Gnosis of things-that-are, as Pythagoras termed it, might become apparent of themselves.
It is a mistake to suppose that Plato formulated a distinctly new system of philosophy; his main conceptions are part and parcel of the old wisdom handed down by the seers of the Mysteries; but he does not formulate them so much as clear the ground by his dialectical method, so that the mind may be brought into a fit state to receive them.
Therefore are the conclusions of his dialogues nearly always negative, and only at the end of his long life, probably against his better judgment and in response to the importunity of his pupils, does he set forth a positive document in the Timæus, composed of scraps from the unpublished writings of Pythagoreans and others.
Re: Fragments of a Faith Forgotten
January 25, 2009, 01:02:16 am »
Unfortunately most of those who immediately followed him, imagined that his dialectical method was an end in itself, and so instead of living the life of philosophy and seeking the clear vision of true initiation, they degenerated into empty argument and ended in negation.
Aristotle followed with his admirable method
of analysis and exact observation of phenomena, and as he treated of the without rather than of Aristotle and Scepticism. he within he was from one point of view better understood than Plato, but from another more misunderstood, in that his method also was taken as an end in itself rather than as a means simply. And so we come to the three centuries prior to the present era, when the intellectual life of Greece was centred at Alexandria.
It was a far more extended Greece than the Hellas of Plato; it was a Greece whose physical prowess had conquered the Orient, and which boasted itself that its intellectual vigour would conquer the world. Everywhere it matched its vigorous intellect against the ancient East, and for a time imagined that victory was with it.
Its independence of thought had given rise to innumerable schools warring with each other, and the spectacle it offers us is very similar to the spectacle of modern Europe during the last three hundred years.
We see there at work, though on a smaller scale--in germ as it were--the same intellectual activity which has characterized the rise of the modern scientific method, and with it the same breaking down of old views, the same unrest, the same spirit of scepticism.
If we look to the surface of things merely, we might almost say that Greece had entirely forgotten the Mystery-tradition and gloried solely in the unaided strength of her intellect. But if we look deeper we shall find that this is not the case. In
the days of Plato the Orient and Egypt were brought to Greece so to speak, whereas later on Greece went to Egypt and the East.
Now the ancient wisdom had its home in Egypt East and West. and Chaldæa and the Orient generally, so that though the Orphic and Pythagorean communities of Plato's time imported into Greece a modified Orientalism which they adapted to the Greek genius along the lines of their own ancient wisdom-tradition, when the Greeks in their thousands went forth into the East, those of them who were prepared by contact with these schools, came into closer intimacy with the ancient wisdom of the East, and drank it in readily.
As for the generality, just as the introduction of Orientalism into Greece among the people brought with it abuses and enthusiastic rites of an undesirable character, while at the same time it intensified the religious life and gave greater satisfaction to the religious emotions, so the Greek conquest of the Orient spread abroad a spirit of scepticism and unbelief, while sharpening the intellectual faculties.
But all this was a very gradual process, and the more scepticism increased, the intenser became the desire of numbers to withdraw from the warring clash of opinions, and seek refuge in the contemplative life that offered them knowledge. Oriental thinkers and mystics became Hellenized along the lines of Pythagorean and Platonic philosophy, and Greek philosophers became Orientalized by contact with members of the many communities that honeycombed not only Egypt and the rest of the
[paragraph continues] "barbarian" nations subject to Greece, but also Asia Minor and even Hellas herself. How numerous were these communities in the first century may be seen from a study of the writings of Philo Judæus and the life of Apollonius of Tyana, and from the picture of mystic Greece which may be recovered from the ethical and theosophical essays of Plutarch, and also from the many recently discovered inscriptions relating to the innumerable Religious Associations in Greece.
When the Greek kingdoms of the Successors of Alexander were in their turn humbled beneath Rome. the conquering power of Rome, the organizing Italic genius policed the world, somewhat in a similar way to the fashion of the present British occupation of India. The legal mind and practical genius of Rome was never really at home in the metaphysical subtleties of Greek philosophy, or the mysticism of the East. In literature and art she could only copy Greece; in philosophy she sought for a rule of conduct rather than a system of knowledge, and so we find her, in the persons of her best men, the follower of Stoic naturalism, which summed up its code of ethics in the ideal of "honestas."
Nevertheless Rome could no more than Greece avoid religious contact with the East, and we The Mysteries of Mithras. find her passing through the same experiences as Greece, though in much more modified form. The chief point of contact among the many religions of the Roman Empire was in the common worship of the Sun, and the inner core of this most popular cult was, from about B.C. 70
onwards, to be found in the Mysteries of Mithras.
"The worship of Mithras, or of the sun-god, was the most popular of heathen cults, and the principal antagonist of the truth during the first four centuries of our period." Such is the statement of one who looks at it from the point of view of a Christian ecclesiastic, and indeed the Church Fathers from the time of Justin Martyr onward have declared that the Devil, in the Mysteries of Mithras, had plagiarized their most sacred rites by anticipation.
The Mithriac Mysteries represented the esoteric side of a great international religious movement, which the uniting together of many peoples into the Græco-Roman world had made possible, and which resulted from the contact of Greece and Rome with the thought of the East.
National and local cults were gradually influenced by the form of symbolism employed by the modified Chaldæo-Persian tradition; the worship of the Spiritual Sun, the Logos, with the natural symbol of the glorious orb of day, which was common in one form or other to all great cults, and the rest of the solar symbolism, gradually permeated the popular indigenous forms of religion. In course of time, Mithra, the visible sun for the ignorant, the Spiritual Sun, the Mediator between the Light and Darkness, as Plutarch tells us, for the instructed, caused his rays to shine to the uttermost limits of the Roman Empire. And just as his outer cult dominated the restricted forms of national worship, so did the
tradition of his Mysteries modify the Mystery-cultus of the ancient Western world.
Re: Fragments of a Faith Forgotten
January 25, 2009, 01:06:10 am »
LET us now turn to Egypt and cast a glance on the vista which has to be surveyed, before the outlines of this part of the background of the Gnosis can be filled in.
In spite of her reserve and immeasurable contempt for the upstart Greek genius, Egypt had, even in the The wisdom of Egypt. times of the earliest Ptolemies, given of her wisdom to Greece. There had been an enormous activity of translation of records and documents, the origin of which is associated with the name of Manetho. It is very probable that Plutarch in his treatise on the Mysteries of Isis drew the bulk of his information from Manetho, and it is very evident that the doctrines therein set forward as the traditional wisdom of Egypt have innumerable points of contact with the Greek Trismegistic literature, those mystic and theosophic treatises which formed the manuals of instruction in the inner Hermetic schools, mystic communities which handed on the wisdom-tradition of Thoth, or Tehuti, the God of Wisdom, whose name, as Jamblichus tells us, was "common to all priests," that is to say, was the source of inspiration of the wisdom-tradition in all its branches.
The Greeks, finding in their own Hermes some points of similarity with the characteristics of Tehuti, called him by that name, with the added title
[paragraph continues] Trismegistus, or Thrice-greatest, because of his great wisdom. That the contents, though not the form, of the oldest treatises of this Trismegistic literature were largely Egyptian is further evidenced by Jamblichus in his treatise on the Mysteries of the Egyptians and Chaldæans.
Along these lines of contact between Egypt and Greece we can proceed to inspect the Egyptian wisdom on its own soil, and find in it many doctrines fully developed which without this investigation we should have considered as entirely indigenous to purely Christian soil. Indeed, in the Trismegistic literature we find a number of the distinctive doctrines of Gnostic Christianity but without the historic Christ; and all of these doctrines are seen to have existed for thousands of years previously in direct Egyptian tradition--especially the doctrines of the Logos, of the Saviour and Virgin Mother, of the second birth and final union with God.
But as in the case of Greece, so in the case of The Blendings of Tradition. Egypt, within the Egyptian tradition itself there are all manners of conflation of doctrines, of syncretism and blendings, not only in the external popular cults but also in the inner traditions.
To take a single instance, there was a strong Semitic blend dating from the line of the Hyksōs (2000-1500 B.C.). At that time Seth, perchance identical with the title of the Supreme in the tongue of the Semitic conquerors, was a name of great honour. It was identified with Sothis, Sirius, the guardian star of Egypt, the Siriadic Land; and the Mysteries of Seth were doubtless
blended in some fashion with those of Osiris. After the hated Hyksōs were expelled it is true that Seth or Set was gradually identified with Typhon, the opponent of Osiris, the Logos; but this no more affects the real doctrines of the Mysteries of Seth, than the fact that the Iranian Aryans used the name Daevos to designate evil entities, destroyed the beneficent nature of the Devas of the Indo-Aryans; it simply registers a rivalry of cult and race and points to a previous epoch when there was intimate contact between the races and their religions. Equally so the Christian use of the term Demon does not dispose of the fact that the Daimones of the Greeks were beneficent beings; witness the Daimon of Socrates "who prevented him if he were about to do anything not rightly."
The ancient close political relations between Chaldæa and Egypt disclosed by archæological research, and the later Persian conquest of Egypt, must also have discovered points of contact in the domain of religion, especially in the Mystery-traditions, and future researches in the many hitherto unworked fields of Egyptology will doubtless throw fresh light on the mixed heredity of religion in Egypt, which is perhaps even more complicated than that of the cults of Greece.
In any case we cannot but feel the sublimity of many of the conceptions of the inner religion of Egypt, in spite of our present inability to classify them in a satisfactory manner. The vast and mysterious background of the cults of Egypt, the sonorous phrases and grandiose titles which we sift
out from the present unintelligibility of myth and symbol, persuade us that there was something great working within, and we find the innermost strivings of the mystics devoted to the "Birth of Horus," a shadowing forth of that greatest of all mysteries, the spiritual birth of man, whence man becomes a god and a son of the Father.
The Egyptians themselves, according to Greek writers, looked back to a time when their initiated The Mystic Communities. priesthood was in possession of greater wisdom than was theirs in later times; they confess that they had fallen away from this high standard and had lost the key to much of their knowledge. Nevertheless the desire for wisdom was still strong in many of the nation, and Egypt was ever one of the most religious countries of the world. Thus we find the Jew Philo, in writing of the wisdom-lovers about AḌ. 25, declaring that "this natural class of men is to be found in many parts of the inhabited world, both the Grecian and non-Grecian world, sharing in the perfect good. In Egypt there are crowds of them in every province, or nome as they call it, and especially round Alexandria."
These wisdom-lovers Philo calls by the common name of Therapeuts, either because they professed The Therapeuts. an art of healing superior to that in ordinary use, for they healed souls as well as bodies, or because they were servants of God. He describes one of their communities, which evidently belonged to the circle of mystic Judaism; but the many other communities he mentions were also
Re: Fragments of a Faith Forgotten
January 25, 2009, 01:07:09 am »
devoted to the same ends, their members were strenuous searchers after wisdom and devoted practisers of the holy life. These secret brotherhoods left no records; they kept themselves apart from the world, and the world knew them not. But it is just these communities which were the immediate links in the chain of heredity of the Gnosis.
We must, therefore, make the most we can of what Philo has to tell us of these Healers; in order to do this thoroughly, it would of course be necessary to search through the whole of his voluminous works and submit the material thus collected to a critical examination--a task outside the scope of these short sketches. But as the matter is of vital importance, we cannot refrain from presenting the reader with
a translation of the main source in Philo's writings from which we derive our information. But before giving this translation it is necessary to prefix a few words by way of introduction.
The appearance in 1895 of Conybeare's admirable edition of the text of Philo's famous treatise The Earliest Christians of Eusebius. On the Contemplative Life has at length set one of the ingeniously inverted pyramids of the origins squarely on its base again.
The full title of this important work is: Philo about the Contemplative Life, or the Fourth Book of the Treatise concerning the Virtues,--critically edited with a defence of its genuineness by Fred C. Conybeare, M.A. (Oxford, 1895). This book contains a most excellent bibliography of works relating to the subject.
The survival of the voluminous works of Philo through the neglect and vandalism of the Dark and
[paragraph continues] Middle Ages is owing to the fact that Eusebius, in his efforts to construct history without materials, eagerly seized upon Philo's description of the externals of the Therapeut order, and boldly declared it to be the earliest Christian Church of Alexandria.
This view remained unchallenged until the rise of Protestantism, and was only then called in question because the Papal party rested their defence of the antiquity of Christian monkdom on this famous treatise.
For three centuries the whole of the batteries of Protestant scholarship have been turned on this main position of the Roman and Greek Churches. For if the treatise were genuine, then the earliest Church was a community of rigid ascetics, men and women; monkdom, the bête noire of Protestantism, was coëval with the origins.
These three centuries of attack have finally evolved a theory, which, on its perfection by Grätz, The Pseudo-Philo theory. Nicolas, and Lucius, has been accepted by nearly all our leading Protestant scholars, and is claimed to have demolished the objectionable document for ever. According to this theory, "the Therapeutæ are still Christians, as they were for Eusebius; but no longer of a primitive cast. For the ascription of the work to Philo is declared to be false, and the ascetics described therein to be in reality monks of about the year 300 A.D.; within a few years of which date the treatise is assumed to have been forged" (op. cit., p. vi.).
The consequence is that every recent Protestant Church history, dictionary, and encyclopedia, when
treating of the Therapeuts, is plentifully besprinkled with references to the ingenious invention, called the "Pseudo-Philo."
This pyramid of the origins was kept propped upon its apex until 1895, when Conybeare's work Its Death-blow. was published, and all the props knocked from under it. Strange to say, it was then and only then that a critical text of this so violently attacked treatise was placed in our hands. At last all the MSS. and versions have been collated. With relentless persistence Conybeare has marshalled his Testimonia, and with admirable patience paralleled every distinctive phrase and technical expression with voluminous citations from the rest of Philo's works, of which there is so "prevalent and regrettable an ignorance." To this he has added an extensive Excursus on the Philonean authorship of the tract. If Philo did not write the De Vita Contemplativa then every canon of literary criticism is a delusion; the evidence adduced by the sometime Fellow of University College for the authenticity of the treatise is irresistible. We have thus a new departure in Philonean research.
Re: Fragments of a Faith Forgotten
January 25, 2009, 01:07:40 am »
The danger to certain orthodox presumptions which a thorough study of the rest of Philo's works would threaten, is evidenced by the concluding paragraph of Conybeare's preface, where he writes:
"It is barely credible, and somewhat of a reproach to Oxford as a place of learning, that not a single line of Philo, nor any work bearing specially on him, is recommended to be read by students in our Honour School of Theology; and that, although this most
spiritual of authors is by the admission, tacit or express, of a long line of Catholic teachers, from Eusebius and Ambrose in the fourth century down to Bull and Döllinger in modern times, the father not only of Christian exegesis, but also, to a great extent, of Christian dogmatics" (op. cit., p. x.).
It is thus established that the De Vita Contemplativa is a genuine Philonean tract. As to its date, we An Interesting Question of Date. are confronted with some difficulties; but the expert opinion of Conybeare assures us that "every reperusal of the works of Philo confirms my feeling that the D.U.C. is one of his earliest works" (op. cit., p. 276). Now as Philo was born about the year 30 B.C., the date of the treatise may be roughly ascribed to the first quarter of the first century. ("About the year 22 or 23"--op. cit., p. 290). The question naturally arises: At such a date, can the Therapeuts of Philo be identified with the earliest Christian Church of Alexandria? If the accepted dates of the origins are correct, the answer must be emphatically, No. If, on the contrary, the accepted dates are incorrect, then a vast problem is opened up, of the first importance for the origins of the Christian faith. Be this as it may, the contents of the D.V.C. are of immense importance and interest as affording us a glimpse into those mysterious communities in which Christians for so many centuries recognized their forerunners. The Therapeuts were not Christians; Philo knows absolutely nothing of Christianity in any possible sense in which the word is used to-day. Who, then, were they? The answer to this question
demands an entire reformulation of the accepted history of the origins.
The treatise bears in some MSS. the superscription, The Title and Context. "The Suppliants, or Concerning the Virtues, Book IV., or Concerning the Virtue of the Suppliants, Book IV." By "Suppliant" Philo tells us, he means "one who has fled to God and taken refuge with Him." (De Sac. Ab. et C., i. 186, 33). It is highly probable that our tract formed part of the fourth book of Philo's voluminous work De Legatione, fragments only of which have survived.
"Time and Christian editors have truncated the De Legatione in a threefold way. Firstly, a good part of the second book has been removed, perhaps because it ran counter to Christian tradition concerning Pontius Pilate. Secondly, the entire fourth book was removed, as forming a whole by itself; and the first part of it has been lost, all except the scrap on the Essenes which Eusebius has preserved to us in the Præparatio Evangelica; while the account of the Therapeutæ was put by itself and preserved as a separate book. . . Thirdly, the palinode which formed the fifth book has been lost" (op. cit., p. 284).
But to the tractate itself.
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