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Fragments of a Faith Forgotten

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Author Topic: Fragments of a Faith Forgotten  (Read 1168 times)
Peggie Welles
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Posts: 203

« Reply #60 on: February 26, 2009, 01:11:56 pm »

MARCION was a rich shipowner of Sinopē, the chief port of Pontus, on the southern shore of the Black Sea; he was also a bishop and the son of a bishop. His chief activity at Rome may be placed somewhere between the years 150 and 160. At first he was in communion with the church at Rome, and contributed handsomely to its funds; as, however, the presbyters could not explain his difficulties and refused to face the important questions he set before them, he is said to have threatened to make a schism in the church; and apparently was finally excommunicated. But as a matter of fact the origin of Marcionism is entirely wrapped in obscurity, and we know nothing of a reliable nature of the lives of either Cerdo or Marcion.

The Church writers at the end of the second century, who are our best authorities, cannot tell The Spread of Marcionism. the story of the beginning of the movement with any certainty. For all we know, Marcion may have developed his theories long before he

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came to Rome, and may have based them on information he gleaned and opinions he heard on his long voyages. This much we know, that the views of Marcion spread rapidly over the "whole world," to use the usual Patristic phrase for the Græco-Roman dominions; and as late as the fifth century we hear of Theodoret converting more than a thousand Marcionites. In Italy, Egypt, Palestine, Arabia, Syria, Asia Minor and Persia, Marcionite churches sprang up, splendidly organised, with their own bishops and the rest of the ecclesiastical discipline, with a cult and service of the same nature as those of what subsequently became the Catholic Church. Orthodoxy had not declared for any party as yet, and the Marcionite view had then as good a chance as any other of becoming the universal one. What then was the secret of Marcion's success? As already pointed out, it was the same as that of the success of modern criticism as applied to the problem of the Old Testament.

The "Higher Criticism."Marcion's view was in some respects even more moderate than the judgment of some of our modern thinkers; he was willing to admit that the Yahweh of the Old Testament was just. With great acumen he arranged the sayings and doings ascribed to Yahweh by the writers, and compilers, and editors of the heterogeneous books of the Old Testament collection, in parallel columns, so to say, with the sayings and teachings of the Christ--in a series of antitheses which brought out in startling fashion the fact, that though the best of the former might be ascribed to the idea of a

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[paragraph continues] Just God, they were foreign to the ideal of the Good God preached by the Christ. We know how in these latter days the best minds in the Church have rejected the horrible sayings and doings ascribed to God in some of the Old Testament documents, and we thus see how Marcion formulated a protest which must have already declared itself in the hearts of thousands of the more enlightened of the Christian name.

As for the New Testament, in Marcion's time, the idea of a canon was not yet or was only just being thought of. Marcion, too, had an idea of a canon, but it was the antipodes of the views which afterwards became the basis of the orthodox canon.

The Christ had preached a universal doctrine, a new revelation of the Good God, the Father over all. They who tried to graft this on to Judaism, the imperfect creed of one small nation, were in grievous error, and had totally misunderstood the teaching of the Christ. The Christ was not the Messiah promised to the Jews. That Messiah was to be an earthly king, was intended for the Jews alone, and had not yet come. Therefore the pseudo-historical "in order that it might be fulfilled" school had adulterated and garbled the original Sayings of the Lord, the universal glad tidings, by the unintelligent and erroneous glosses they had woven into their collections of the teachings. It was the most terrific indictment of the cycle of New Testament "history" that has ever been formulated. Men were tired of all the contradictions and obscurities of the innumerable and mutually destructive variants of

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the traditions concerning the person of Jesus. No man could say what was the truth, now that "history" had been so altered to suit the new Messiah-theory of the Jewish converts.

The Gospel of Paul.As to actual history, then, Marcion started with Paul; he was the first who had really understood the mission of the Christ, and had rescued the teaching from the obscurantism of Jewish sectarianism. Of the manifold versions of the Gospel, he would have the Pauline alone. He rejected every other recension, including those now ascribed to Matthew, Mark, and John. The Gospel according to Luke, the "follower of Paul," he also rejected, regarding it as a recension to suit the views of the Judaising party. His Gospel was presumably the collection of Sayings in use among the Pauline churches of his day. Of course the Patristic writers say that Marcion mutilated Luke's version; but it is almost impossible to believe that, if he did this, so keen a critic as Marcion should have retained certain verses which made against his strong anti-Judaistic views. The Marcionites, on the contrary, contended that their Gospel was written by Paul from the direct tradition, and that Luke had nothing to do with it. But this is also a difficulty, for it is highly improbable that Paul wrote any Gospel.

So many orthodox apologists wrote against Marcion after his death, that it is possible to reconstruct almost the whole of his Gospel. It begins with the public preaching of the Christ at Capernaum; it is shorter than the present Luke document, and some writers of great ability have held that it was

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the original of Luke's version, but this is not very credible. As for the rest of the documents included in the present collection of the New Testament, Marcion would have nothing to do with any of them, except ten of the Letters of Paul, parts of which he also rejected as interpolations by the reconciliators of the Petro-Pauline controversy. These ten Letters were called The Apostle.

The longest criticism of Marcion's views is to be found in Tertullian's invective Against Marcion, written in 207 and the following years. This has always been regarded by the orthodox as a most brilliant piece of work; but by the light of the conclusions arrived at by the industry of modern criticism, and also to ordinary common sense, it appears but a sorry piece of angry rhetoric. Tertullian tries to show that Marcion taught two Gods, the Just and the Good. Marcion, however, taught that the idea of the Jews about God, as set forth in the Old Testament, was inferior and antagonistic to the ideal of the Good God revealed by the Christ. This he set forth in the usual Gnostic fashion. But we can hardly expect a dispassionate treatment of a grave problem, which has only in the last few years reached a satisfactory solution in Christendom, from the violent Tertullian, whose temper may be gleaned from his angry address to the Marcionites: "Now then, ye dogs, whom the apostle puts outside, and who yelp at the God of truth, let us come to your various questions! These are the bones of contention, which ye are perpetually gnawing!"

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Eznik.Enough has now been said to give the reader a general idea of the Marcionite position--a very strong one it must be admitted, both because of its simplicity and also because it formulated the protest of long slumbering discontent among the outer communities. It is, however, difficult to deduce anything like a clear system of cosmogony or christology from the onslaughts of the best known hæresiologists on Marcionite doctrines. It has even been doubted whether Marcion should be classed as a Gnostic, but this point is set at rest by the work of Eznik (Eznig or Esnig), an Armenian bishop, who flourished about 450 A.D. In his treatise The Destruction of False Doctrines, he devotes the fourth and last book to the Marcionites, who seem to have been even at that late date a most flourishing body. Although it is doubted whether the ideas there described are precisely the same as the original system of Marcion, it is evident that the Marcionite tradition was of a distinctly Gnostic tendency, and that Marcion owed more to his predecessors in Gnosticism than was usually supposed prior to the first translation of Eznik's treatise (into French) in 1833.

It will be sufficient here to shorten Salmon's summary of this curious Marcionite myth, calling the reader's attention to the similarity of parts of its structure to the system of Justinus.

There were three Heavens; in the highest was the Good God; in the intermediate the God of the Law; in the lowest, his Angels. Beneath lay Hylē

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or root-matter. The world was the joint product of the God of the Law and Hylē. The Creative A Marcionite System. Power perceiving that the world was very good, desired to make man to inhabit it. So Hylē gave him his body and the Creative Power the breath of life, his spirit. And Adam and Eve lived in innocence in Paradise, and did not beget children. And the God of the Law desired to take Adam from Hylē and make him serve him alone. So taking him aside, he said: "Adam, I am God and beside me there is no other; if thou worshippest any other God thou shalt die the death." And Adam on hearing of death was afraid, and withdrew himself from Hylē. Now Hylē had been wont to serve Adam; but when she found that he withdrew from her, in revenge she filled the world with idolatry, so that men ceased to adore the Lord of Creation. Then was the Creator wrath, and as men died he cast them into Hell (Hades--the Unseen World), from Adam onwards.

But at length the Good God looked down from Heaven, and saw the miseries which man suffered through Hylē and the Creator. And He took compassion on them, and sent them down His Son to deliver them, saying: "Go down, take on Thee the form of a servant [? a body], and make Thyself like the sons of the Law. Heal their wounds, give sight to their blind, bring their dead to life, perform without reward the greatest miracles of healing; then will the God of the Law be jealous and instigate his servants to crucify thee. Then go down to Hell, which will open her mouth to receive Thee, supposing

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[paragraph continues] Thee to be one of the dead. Then liberate the captives Thou shalt find there, and bring them up to Me."

And thus the souls were freed from Hell and carried up to the Father. Whereupon the God of the Law was enraged, and rent his clothes and tore the curtain of his palace, and darkened the sun and veiled the world in darkness. Then the Christ descended a second time, but now in the glory of His divinity, to plead with the God of the Law. And the God of the Law was compelled to acknowledge that he had done wrong in thinking that there was no higher power than himself. And the Christ said unto him: "I have a controversy with thee, but I will take no other judge between us but thy own law. Is it not written in thy law that whoso killeth another shall himself be killed; that whoso sheddeth innocent blood shall have his own blood shed? Let me, then, kill thee and shed thy blood, for I am innocent and thou hast shed My blood."

And then He went on to recount the benefits He had bestowed on the children of the Creator, and how He had in return been crucified; and the God of the Law could find no defence, and confessed and said: "I was ignorant; I thought Thee but a man, and did not know Thee to be a god; take the revenge that is Thy due."

And the Christ thereupon left him, and betook himself to Paul, and revealed the path of truth.

The Marcionites were the most rigid of ascetics, abstaining from marriage, flesh and wine, the latter being excluded from their Eucharist. They also

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rejoiced beyond all other sects in the number of their martyrs. The Marcionites have also given us the The Title Chrestos. most ancient dated Christian inscription. It was  discovered over the doorway of a house in a Syrian village, and formerly marked the site of a Marcionite meeting-house or church, which curiously enough was called a synagogue. The date is October 1, A.D. 318, and the most remarkable point about it is that the church was dedicated to "The Lord and Saviour Jesus, the Good"--Chrēstos not Christos. In early times there seems to have been much confusion between the two titles. Christos is the Greek for the Hebrew Messiah, Anointed, and was the title used by those who believed that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah. This was denied, not only by the Marcionites, but also by many of their Gnostic predecessors and successors. The title Chrēstos was used of one perfected, the holy one, the saint; no doubt in later days the orthodox, who subsequently had the sole editing of the texts, in pure ignorance changed Chrēstos into Christos wherever it occurred; so that instead of finding the promise of perfection in the religious history of all the nations, they limited it to the Jewish tradition alone, and struck a fatal blow at the universality of history and doctrine.

There was naturally a number of sub-schools of the Marcion school, and in its ranks were a number of distinguished teachers, of whom, however, we have only space to refer to Apelles.

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Peggie Welles
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« Reply #61 on: February 26, 2009, 01:12:10 pm »

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His Wide Tolerance.WE owe our most reliable information on this Gnostic to a certain Rhodon, who opposed his views some time in the reign of Commodus (180-193 A.D.); an excerpt from this lost "refutation" has fortunately been preserved for us by Eusebius. At this time Apelles was a very old man and refused the controversy, saying that all sincere believers would ultimately be saved, whatever their theology might be--a most enlightened doctrine and worthy of the best in Gnosticism. As Hort says: "The picture which Rhodon unwittingly furnishes of his [Apelles’] old age is pleasant to look upon. We see a man unwearied in the pursuit of truth, diffident and tolerant, resting in beliefs which he could not reconcile, but studious to maintain the moral character of theology."

Apelles seems to have taken up a less exclusive position than Marcion, though his book of Reasonings, directed against the Mosaic theology, seems to have been drastic enough; and he is further said by Eusebius to have written a "multitude of books" of the same nature.

Philumēnē.He was, however, specially taken to task for his belief in the clairvoyant faculty of a certain Philumēnē, whom he came across in his old age. Her visions were recorded in a book called The Manifestations, by which Apelles set great store. Strangely enough, the man who pours on his head the greatest abuse for this, accompanied

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with the usual charges of immorality, is Tertullian, who, in his own treatise On the Soul, following out his own Montanist convictions, confesses his full belief in the prophetical power of a certain voyante of his own congregation, in a most entertaining and naïve fashion! Rhodon, on the contrary, who knew Apelles personally at Alexandria, says that the old gentleman thought himself protected from such slanderous insinuations, by his age and well-known character.

Philumēnē seems to have enjoyed certain psychic faculties, and also to have been a "medium" for physical phenomena, as a modern spiritist would say. She belonged to the class of holy women or "virgins," who were numerous enough in the early Church, though it is exceedingly doubtful whether any of them were trained seeresses, except in the most advanced Gnostic circles.

There is an entertaining account of Philumēnē in a curious fragment of an anonymous author, which was printed in the early editions of Augustine's work On Heresies, in the section devoted to the Severians. The following is Hort's rendering of the passage:

"He [Apelles] moreover used to say that a certain girl named Philumēnē was divinely inspired to Her Visions. predict future events. He used to refer to her his dreams, and the perturbations of his mind, and to forewarn himself secretly by her divinations or presages." [Here some words appear to be missing.] "The same phantom, he said, showed itself to the same Philumēnē in the form of a boy. This seeming boy sometimes declared himself to be Christ, sometimes

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Paul. By questioning this phantom she used to supply the answers which she pronounced to her hearers. He added that she was accustomed to perform some wonders, of which the following was the chief: she used to make a large loaf enter a glass vase with a very small mouth, and to take it out uninjured with the tips of her fingers; and was content with that food alone, as if it had been given her from above."

All of which is very monkish and very spiritistic, and quite in keeping with the records of phenomenalism.

We should, however, remember that this account is not from the side of the Gnostics, but from an unfriendly source. We shall perhaps never know whether Apelles had a knowledge of the sources of the phenomena he witnessed; or, like the vast majority of that time, as indeed of all times, ignorantly assumed that the fact of psychic powers proved the truth of theological doctrines.

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Peggie Welles
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« Reply #62 on: February 26, 2009, 01:12:33 pm »

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LET us now return to the early years of the second century, and devote our attention to Basilides and his Writings. Basilides and his followers ("them of Basilides") who elaborated one of the most abstruse and consistent systems of the Gnosis, the outlines of which are plainly recoverable from the garbled fragments that Patristic polemics have left us.

Of the life of this great doctor of the Gnosis we know nothing beyond the fact that he taught at Alexandria. His date is entirely conjectural; he is, however, generally supposed to have been immediately prior to Valentinus. If, therefore, we say that he flourished somewhere about A.D. 120-130, it should be understood that a margin of ten years or so either way has to be allowed for. Of his nationality again we know nothing. But whether he was Greek, or Egyptian, or Syrian, he was steeped in Hellenic culture, and learned in the wisdom of the Egyptians. He was also well versed in the Hebrew scriptures as set forth in the Greek version of the Seventy. The Gospel teaching was his delight, and he wrote no fewer than twenty-four books of commentaries thereon, although he does not appear to have used the subsequently canonical versions. He also quotes from several of the Pauline Letters.

Of the writings of Basilides the most important were the commentaries already referred to; they were the first commentaries on the Gospel-teachings written by a Christian philosopher; and in this, as

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in all other departments of theology, the Gnostics led the way. Basilides is further said to have written a Gospel himself, and to have claimed to be the disciple of a certain Glaucias, who was an "interpreter of Peter." There is also mention of certain Traditions of Matthias, as held in great honour by the school. These purported to be teachings given to Matthias in secret by Jesus after the "resurrection." It may, therefore, be supposed that the Gospel of Basilides was not a new historical setting of the Sayings of the Lord, but an exposition of that "knowledge of supermundane things," which was the definition he gave to the Gospel. Basilides presumably wrote a commentary on the Sayings and Doings of the Lord, which were in general circulation in many traditions, with or without the various historical settings; and also his own elaboration of certain inner instructions that had been handed down by a secret tradition. Whether or not this inner Gospel formed part of the twenty-four books of his Exegetica is doubtful; most critics, however, are in favour of this view. In any case, it is to be supposed that his commentaries aimed at explaining the public Sayings and Parables by the light of this secret Gospel. But there is another hypothesis, which, if true, would be of intense interest. It is suggested that it was Matthias, one of the heads of the inner schools, who wrote the original sketch of Sayings and Doings underlying our Synoptic accounts, and that these accounts were expansions by various presbyters of the outer churches in Egypt. The original draft was presumably

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a Life intended for public circulation, and designed to be capable of an interpretation according to the inner tenets of the Gnosis.

Basilides is also said to have written certain Odes, but of these no fragment has reached us.

Our main sources of information for recovering an outline of the Basilidian Gnosis are three in Our Sources of Information. number, and consist of the very fragmentary quotations: (i.) of Hippolytus in his later work, The Philosophumena; (ii.) of Clement of Alexandria in his Miscellanies; and (iii.) presumably in the first place (either of the lost Syntagma of Justin or) of the lost work of Agrippa Castor, who is said by Eusebius to have written a refutation of the views of Basilides in the reign of Hadrian (c. 133 A.D.), and whose very unsatisfactory and inaccurate data were copied by Irenæus, and the epitomators of the earlier, smaller, and now lost work of Hippolytus.

Turning to the great work of Hippolytus, we come upon the most valuable information extant for the reconstruction of this most highly metaphysical system. The Church Father had evidently before him a treatise of Basilides, but whether it was the Exegetica or not, is by no means clear; what is certain, however, is that it set forth the Gospel, or "knowledge of supermundane things," as Basilides understood it; and we can only regret that we have not the original text of the Gnostic doctor himself before us, instead of a most faulty copy of the text of the Church Father's Refutation, whose method is of the most provoking. Hippolytus muddles up his own glosses and criticisms with mutilated quotations,

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imperfectly summarizes important passages, which treat of conceptions requiring the greatest subtlety and nicety of language; and in other respects does scant justice to a thinker whose faith in Christianity was so great, that, far from confining it to the narrow limits of a dogmatic theology, he would have it that the Gospel was also a universal philosophy explanatory of the whole world-drama.

Let us then raise our thoughts to those sublime heights to which the genius of Basilides soared so many centuries ago, when faith in the universal possibilities of the Glad Tidings was really living. And first we must rise to that stupendous intuition of Deity, which transcends even Being, and which to the narrow minds of earth seems pure nothingness, instead of being that which beggars all fullness. Beyond time, beyond space, beyond consciousness, beyond Being itself--

The Divinity Beyond Being."There was when naught was; nay, even that 'naught' was not aught of things that are [even in the world of reality]. But nakedly, conjecture and mental quibbling apart, there was absolutely not even the One [the Logos of the world of reality]. And when I use the term 'was,' I do not mean to say that it was [that is to say, in any state of being]; but merely to give some suggestion of what I wish to indicate, I use the expression 'there was absolutely naught.' For that 'naught' is not simply the so-called Ineffable; it is beyond that. For that which is really ineffable is not named Ineffable, but is superior to every name that is used.

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"The names [we use] are not sufficient even for the [manifested] universe [which is outside the world of real being], so diversified is it; they fall short."

Much less, then, he continues to argue, can we find appropriate names for the beings of the world of reality and their operations; and far more impossible, therefore, is it to give names to That which transcends even reality. Thus we see that Basilides soared beyond even the ideal world of Plato, and ascended to the untranscendable intuition of the Orient--the That which cannot be named, to be worshipped in silence alone.

We next come to the inception of the Seed of Universality, in this state beyond being, a Universality Beyond Being. discrete stage, so to speak, beyond the unmanifested or noumenal world even.

Hippolytus summarizes this condition of non-being, which transcends all being from the original treatise as follows.

"Naught was, neither matter, nor substance, nor voidness of substance, nor simplicity, nor impossibility-of-composition, nor inconceptibility, nor imperceptibility, neither man, nor angel, nor god; in fine, neither anything at all for which man has ever found a name, nor any operation which falls within the range either of his perception or conception. Such, or rather far more removed from the power of man's comprehension, was the state of non-being, when [if we can speak of 'when' in a state beyond time and space] the Deity beyond being, without thinking, or feeling, or determining, or choosing, or

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being compelled, or desiring, willed to create universality.

"When I use the term 'will,'" writes Basilides, "I do so merely to suggest the idea of an operation transcending all volition, thought, or sensible action. And this universality also was not [our] dimensional and differentiable universe, which subsequently came into existence and was separated [from other universes], but the Seed of all universes."

This is evidently the same concept as the Mūlaprakriti of Indian philosophy, and the most admirable statement of the dogma of the "creation out of nothing" that has been put forward by any Christian philosopher.

"This universal Seed contained everything in itself, potentially, in some such fashion as the grain of mustard seed contains the whole simultaneously in the minutest point--roots, stem, branches, leaves, and the innumerable germs that come from the seeds of the plant, and which in their turn produce still other and other plants in manifold series.

"Thus the Divinity beyond being created universality beyond being from elements beyond being, positing and causing to subsist a single something"--which poverty of language compels us to call a Seed, but which was really the potentiality of potentialities, seeing that it was "containing in itself the entire all-seed-potency of the universe." From such a "Seed," which is everywhere and nowhere, and which treasures in its bosom everything that was or is or is to be, all things must come into

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manifestation in their "proper natures and cycles" and times, at the will of the Deity beyond all. How this is brought about is by no means clear. Basilides seems to have had some idea of a "supplementary development" (κατὰ προσθήκην αὐξανόμενα), which, however, is beyond definition; one thing is clear, that he entirely repudiated every idea of emanation, projection, or pullulation (προβολή).

"For of what sort of emanation is there need, or of what sort of matter must we make supposition, Ex Nihilo. in order that God should make the universe, like as a spider weaves its web [from itself], or mortal. man takes brass or timber or other matter out of which to make something? But 'He spake and it was,' and this is what is the meaning of the saying of Moses, 'Let there be light, and there was light.' Whence, then, was the light? From naught. For it is not written whence, but only from the voice of the Speaker of the word. And He who spake the word, was not; and that which was, was not. For the Seed of the universe, the word that was spoken, 'Let there be light,' was from the state beyond being. And this was what was spoken in the Gospel, 'It was the true light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.' Man both deriveth his principles from that Seed and is also enlightened by it." This primordial Light and Life is the source of all things.

The next stage deals with the outcome, first-fruits, highest product, or sublimest consummation, of universal potentiality, which Basilides calls the Sonship.

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The Sonship."In the absolute Seed there was a triple Sonship in every way consubstantial with the God beyond being, coming into being from the state beyond being. Of this triply divided Sonship, one aspect was the subtlest of the subtle, one less subtle, and one still stood in need of purification. The subtlest nature of the Sonship instantly and immediately, together with the depositing of the Seed of universality by the God beyond being, burst forth, rose aloft, and hastened from below upward, 'like wing or thought,' as Homer sings, and was with Him beyond being [πρὸς τὸν οὐκ ὄντα--"with,' the very same word as the mysterious preposition in the Proem now prefixed to the fourth canonical Gospel]. For every nature striveth after Him because of His transcendency of all beauty and loveliness, but some in one way and others in another.

"The less subtle nature of the Sonship, on the other hand, still remained within the universal Seed; for though it would imitate the higher and ascend, it could not, seeing that it fell short of the degree of subtlety of the first Sonship, which had ascended through it [the second], and so it remained behind. The less subtle Sonship, accordingly, had to find for itself as it were wings on which to soar, . . . and these wings are the Holy Spirit."

Just as a bird cannot fly without wings, and the wings cannot soar without the bird, so the second Sonship and the Holy Spirit are complementary the one to the other, and confer mutual benefits on one another.

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We here see that Basilides is dealing with the second aspect of the Logos, the positive-negative state; we also perceive the anticipation of the ground of the great controversies which subsequently arose generations later, such as the Arian and the Filioque." But if we enquire whence was the Holy Spirit, Basilides will tell us, from the universal Seed, from which all things came forth under the will of Deity.

"The second Sonship, then, borne aloft by the Spirit, as by a wing, bears aloft the wing, that is the The Holy Sprit. Spirit; but on drawing nigh to the first Sonship and the God beyond being, who createth from the state beyond being. it could no longer keep the Spirit with it, for it [the Spirit] was not of the same substance with it, nor had it a nature like unto that of the Sonship. But just as a pure and dry atmosphere is unnatural and harmful to fish, so to the Holy Spirit was that state of the Sonship together with the God beyond being--that state more ineffable than every ineffable and transcending every name.

"The Sonship, therefore, left it [the Spirit] behind near that Blessed Space, which can neither be conceived of, nor characterized by any word, yet not entirely deserted nor yet divorced from the Sonship. But even as the sweetest smelling unguent poured. into a vessel, though the vessel be emptied of it with the greatest possible care, nevertheless some scent of the unguent still remains and is left behind--the vessel retains the scent of the unguent, though it no longer holds the unguent itself--in such a way has

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the Holy Spirit remained emptied and divorced from the Sonship, yet at the same time retaining in itself as it were the power of the unguent, the savour of the Sonship. And this is the saying, 'Like the unguent on the head which ran down unto Aaron's beard'--the savour of the Holy Spirit permeating from above and below even as far as the formlessness [crude matter] and our state of existence, whence the [remaining] Sonship received its first impulse to ascend, borne aloft as it were on the wings of an eagle. For all things hasten from below upward, from worse to better, nor is anything in the better condition so bereft of intelligence as to plunge downward. But as yet this third Sonship still remains in the great conglomeration of the seed-mixture, conferring and receiving benefits," in a manner that will receive subsequent explanation.

The Holy Spirit, which in reality permeates everything, but phenomenally separates the sensible universe from the noumenal, constitutes what Basilides terms the Limitary Spirit, midway between things cosmic and supercosmic. This Firmament is far beyond the visible firmament whose locus is the moon's track.

The Great Ruler."After this, from the universal Seed and conglomeration of seed-mixture there burst forth and came into existence the Great Ruler, the head of the sensible universe, a beauty and magnitude and potency that naught can destroy." This is the demiurge; but let no mortal think that he can comprehend so great a being, "for he is more ineffable than ineffables, more potent than potencies,

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wiser than the wise, superior to every excellence that one can name.

"Coming into existence he raised himself aloft, and soared upward, and was borne above in all his entirety as far as the Great Firmament. There he remained, because he thought there was none above him, and so he became the most potent power of the universe," save only the third Sonship which yet remained in the seed-mixture. His limit, therefore, was his own ignorance of the supercosmic spaces, although his wisdom was the greatest of all in the cosmic realms.

"Thus thinking himself lord, and ruler, and a wise master-builder, he betook himself to the creation of the creatures of the universe."

This is the supercelestial or ætherial creation, which has its physical correspondence in the spaces beyond the moon; below the moon was our world and its "atmosphere." This atmosphere (the sublunary regions) terminated at the visible heaven, or lower firmament, its periphery, marked by the moon's path. In the sun-space lay the ætherial realms, which apparently no mortal eye has seen, but only the reflection of their inhabitants, the stars, in the surface of the sublunary waters of space.

The ætherial creation of the Great Ruler proceeds on the theory of similarity and analogy.

"First of all the Great Ruler, thinking it not right that he should be alone, made for himself, and The Ætherial Creation. brought into existence from the universal Seed, a Son far better and wiser than himself. For all this

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had been predetermined by the God beyond being, when He deposited the universal Seed.

"And the Great Ruler, on beholding his Son, was struck with wonder and love and amazement at his marvellously great beauty, and he caused him to sit at his right hand." And this space where is the throne of the Great Ruler they called the Ogdoad. "And the Great Demiurgos, the wise one, fabricated the whole ætherial creation with his own hand; but it was his Son, who was wiser still, who infused energy into him and suggested to him ideas."

That is to say, that the Great Ruler made the creatures of the ætherial spaces, and these evolved souls, or rather were ensouled. And thus it is that the son is, as it were, greater than the father, and sits on his right hand, or above him; the right hand in Gnostic symbolism signifying a higher condition. They mutually confer benefits also, one giving the body and the other the mind or soul to ætherial beings. All ætherial spaces then, down to the moon, are provided for and managed by the Son of the Great Ruler, the consummation or perfection of his evolution or creation.

The Sublunary Spaces."Next, there arose a second Ruler from the universal Seed, far inferior to the first, but greater than all below him, except the Sonship which still remained in the Seed." This was the Ruler of the sublunary spaces, from the moon to the earth. This Ruler is called effable, because men can speak of him with understanding, and the space over which he rules is named the Hebdomad. And the second Ruler also "brought

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forth a Son far greater than himself from the universal Seed, in like manner to the first," and the lower creation was ordered in the same manner as the higher. This lower creation is apparently still one of subtle matter.

As to the earth, the conglomeration of the seed-mixture is still in our own stage or space, and the things that come to pass in this state of existence, "come to pass according to nature, as having been primarily uttered by Him who hath planned the fitting time and form and manner of utterance of the things that were to be uttered. Of things here on the earth, then, there is no special chief or manager or creator, for sufficient for them is that plan which the God beyond being laid down when He deposited the universal Seed."

That is to say, that the earth-stage is the moment between the past and future, the turning-point of all choice, the field of new karman; here all things verily are in the hand of God alone, in the highest sense. Thus does Basilides avoid the difficulties both of fate and free-will absolute.

We next come to the soteriology of Basilides, the redemption and restoration of all things.

"When, then, the supercosmic planes and the whole universe [ætherial, sublunary, and terrestrial] Soteriology. were completed, and there was no deficiency," that is to say, when the evolutionary stream of creative energy began to return on itself, there still remained behind in the universal Seed the third Sonship, which bestows and receives benefits.

"But it needs must be that this Sonship also

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should be manifested, and restored to its place above, there beyond the highest Firmament, the Limitary Spirit of cosmos, with the most subtle Sonship, and the second which followed the example of its fellow, and the God beyond being, even as it was written, 'And the creation itself groaneth together and travaileth together, waiting for the manifestation of the Sons of God'"--the third Sonship.

The Sons of God are the divine sparks, the real spiritual men within, who have been left behind here in the seed-mixture, "to order and inform and correct and perfect our souls, which have a natural tendency downwards to remain in this state of existence."

Before the Gospel was preached, and the Gnosis came, the Great Ruler of the Ogdoad was considered even by the most spiritual among men to be the only God, nevertheless no name was given to him, because he was ineffable.

The inspiration of Moses, however, came from the Hebdomad only, as may be seen from the words, "I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but the name of God I did not make known unto them." This God to whom Moses and the Prophets gave names, was of the Hebdomad, which is effable, and their inspiration came from this source. But the Gospel was that Mystery which was ever unknown, not only to the nations, but also to them of the Hebdomad and the Ogdoad, and even to their Rulers.

"When, therefore, the time had come," says the

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« Reply #64 on: February 26, 2009, 01:13:44 pm »

Gnostic doctor, "for the revelation of the children of God (who are ourselves), for whom the whole The Mystic Gospel. creation groaneth and travaileth in expectation, the Gospel [the Glad Tidings, the Gnosis] came into the universe, and passed through every principality, and authority, and lordship, and every title that man can use. It 'came' of very truth, not that anything 'came down' from above, or that the blessed Sonship 'departed from' that Blessed God beyond being, who transcends all thought. Nay, but just as the vapour of naphtha can catch fire from a flame a great way off from the naphtha, so do the powers of men's spirit pass from below from the formlessness of the conglomeration up to the Sonship.

"The Son of the Great Ruler of the Ogdoad, catching fire as it were, lays hold of and seizes on the ideas from the blessed Sonship beyond the Limitary Spirit. For the power of the Sonship which is in the midst of the Holy Spirit, in the Limit Space, shares the flowing and rushing thoughts of the [supreme] Sonship with the Son of the Great Ruler.

"Thus the Gospel first came from the Sonship through the Son who sits by the Great Ruler, to that Ruler; and the Ruler learned that he was not the God over all, but a generable deity, and that above him was set the Treasure of the ineffable and unnameable That beyond being and of the Sonship. And he repented and feared on understanding in what ignorance he had been. This is the meaning of the words, 'The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.' For he began to grow wise through the

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instruction of the Christ sitting by him, learning what is That beyond being, what the Sonship, what the Holy Spirit, what the apparatus of the universe what the manner of its restoration. This is the 'wisdom, declared in a mystery,' concerning which Scripture uses the words, 'Not in words taught of human wisdom, but in those taught of the Spirit.'

"The great Ruler, then, being instructed and taught and made afraid, confessed the sin which he had done in boasting himself. This is the saying, 'I have recognized my sin, and I know my transgression, and I will confess it for the eternity.'

"After the instruction of the Great Ruler, the whole space of the Ogdoad was instructed and taught, and the Mystery became known to the powers above the heavens.

"Then was it that the Gospel should come to the Hebdomad, that its Ruler might be instructed and evangelized in like manner. Thereupon the Son of the Great Ruler lit up in the Son of the Ruler of the lower space, the Light which he himself had had kindled in him from above from the Sonship; and thus the Son of the Ruler of the Hebdomad was illumined, and preached the Gospel to the Ruler, who in his turn, like as the Great Ruler before him, feared and confessed [his sin]. And then all things in the sublunary spaces were enlightened and had the Gospel preached unto them.

The Sons of God."Therefore the time was ripe for the illumination of the formlessness of our own world, and for the Mystery to be revealed to the Sonship which had been left behind in the formlessness, as it

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« Reply #65 on: February 26, 2009, 01:14:18 pm »

were to one born out of due time (an abortion)--'the mystery which was not known unto former generations,' as it is written, 'By revelation was the mystery made known unto me,' and 'I heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for man to utter.'

"Thus, from the Hebdomad, the Light--which had already come down from above from the Ogdoad unto the Son of the Hebdomad--descended upon Jesus, son of Mary, and he was illumined, being caught on fire in harmony with the Light that streamed into him. This is the meaning of the saying, 'The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee'--that is to say, that which came from the Sonship through the Limitary Spirit to the Ogdoad and Hebdomad, down as far as Mary [the body]--and 'The Power of the Highest shall overshadow thee'--that is to say, the divine creative power which cometh from the [ætherial] heights above through the Demiurgos, which power belongeth to the Son."

The text of Hippolytus is here exceedingly involved, and he evidently did not seize the thought of Basilides. The "Son" apparently means the soul. The power belongs to the soul and not to Mary--the body; the divine creative power making of man a god, whereas the body can only exercise the power of physical procreation. Moreover, Jesus seems to stand for a type of every member of the Sonship, every Son of God.

"For the world shall hold together and not be dissolved until the whole Sonship--which has been

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left behind to benefit the souls in the state of formlessness, and to receive benefits, by evolving forms for them [the spirit requiring a psychic vehicle for conscious contact with this plane]--shall follow after and imitate Jesus, and hasten upward and come forth purified. [For by purification] it becometh most subtle, so that it is able to speed aloft through its own power, even as the first Sonship; for it hath all its power naturally consubsistent with the Light which shone down from above.

The Final Consummation."When, then, the whole Sonship shall have ascended, and passed beyond the Great Limit, the Spirit, then shall the whole creation become the object of the Great Mercy; for it groaneth until now and suffereth pain and awaiteth the manifestation of the Sons of God, namely that all the men of the Sonship may ascend beyond it [the creation]. And when this shall be effected, God will bring upon the whole universe the Great Ignorance [Mahā-pralaya], in order that all things may remain in their natural condition, and nothing long for anything which is contrary to its nature.

"Thus all the souls of this state of existence, whose nature is to remain immortal in this state of existence alone, remain without knowledge of anything different from or better than this state; nor shall there be any rumour or knowledge of things superior in higher states, in order that the lower souls may not suffer pain by striving after impossible objects, just as though it were fish longing to feed on the mountains with sheep,

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« Reply #66 on: February 26, 2009, 01:14:32 pm »

for such a desire would end in their destruction. All things are indestructible if they remain in their proper condition, but subject to destruction if they desire to overleap and transgress their natural limits.

"Thus the Ruler of the Hebdomad shall have no knowledge of the things above him, for the Great Ignorance shall take hold of him also, so that sorrow and pain and lamentation may go from him. He shall desire naught of things impossible for him to attain, and thus shall suffer no grief.

"And in like manner the Great Ignorance shall seize upon the Great Ruler of the Ogdoad, and also upon all the [ætherial] creations which are subject to him in similar fashion, so that nothing may long after anything contrary to nature and thus suffer pain.

"And thus shall be the restoration of all things, which have had their foundations laid down according to nature in the Seed of the universe in the beginning, and which will all be restored [to their original nature] in their appointed cycles.

"And that everything has its proper cycle and time, the Saviour is sufficient witness in the saying, 'My hour hath not yet come,' and also the Magi in their observation of His star. For He also was foreordained in the Seed to be subject to the nativity of the stars and the return of the time-periods to their starting places."

Now the Saviour, according to the Basilidian Gnosis, was the perfected spiritual "man," within

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the psychic and animal man or soul. And when a man reaches this stage of perfection, the Sonship in him leaves the soul behind here, "the soul being no longer mortal but remaining in its natural state [that is to say, having become immortal], just as the first Sonship [left behind] the Holy Spirit, the Great Limit, in its proper space or region"; for it is only then on reaching perfection, that the real "man" is "clothed with a proper [and really immortal] soul."

Jesus.Every part of the creation goes up a stage, and the whole scheme of salvation is effected by the separating from their state of conglomeration the various principles into their proper states; and Jesus was the first-fruits, or great exemplar, of this process.

"Thus his physical part down here--which belongs to formless matter--alone suffered, and was restored to the formless state. His psychic vesture or vehicle--which belongs to the Hebdomad--arose and was restored to the Hebdomad. That vehicle in him which was of the nature of the height of the Great Ruler he raised aloft, and it remained with the Great Ruler. Moreover he raised still higher that which was of the nature of the Great Limit, and it remained in the Limitary Spirit. And it was thus through him that the third Sonship was purified, the Sonship left behind in the state of mixture [or impurity] for the purpose of helping and being helped, and it passed upwards through all of these purified principles unto the blessed Sonship above,"

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« Reply #67 on: February 26, 2009, 01:14:46 pm »

The main idea at the back of this system is the separating forth, classification or restoration of the various elements or principles confused in the original world-seed, or universal plasm, into their proper natures, by a process of purification which brought unto men the Gnosis or perfection of consciousness. Man was the crown of the world-process, and the perfected man, the Christ, the Saviour, was the crown of manhood, and therefore the manifestation of Deity, the Sonship.

So far Hippolytus, who in all probability gives us the outline of the true Basilidian system. It was only in 1851 that The Philosophumena were published to the world, after the discovery of the MS. in one of the libraries on Mount Athos in 1842; prior to this nothing but the short and garbled sketches of Irenæus and the Epitomators was known of this great Gnostic's sublime speculations. The Philosophumena account has revolutionized all prior views, and changed the whole enquiry, so that the misrepresentations of Irenæus, or those of his prior authority, are now referred to as "the spurious Basilidian system." To this we shall refer later on. Meantime let us turn to Clement of Alexandria, who deals purely with the ethical side of the Basilidian Gnosis, and therefore does not touch the "metaphysical" part--using the term "metaphysical" in the Aristotelian sense, namely, of things beyond the Hebdomad, the things of the Hebdomad or sublunary space being called "physics" or in the domain of physis or nature.

As to marriage, Basilides and his son Isidorus

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taught that it was natural but not necessary, and seem to have taken a moderate ground between the compulsory asceticism of some schools and the glorification of procreation by the Jews, who taught that "he who is without a wife is no man."

As to the apparently undeserved sufferings of martyrs, Basilides, basing himself on the doctrines of reincarnation and karman, writes as follows in Book xxiii. of his Exegetica:

Karman and Reincarnation."I say that all those who fall into these so-called tribulations, are people who, only after transgressing in other matters without being discovered, are brought to this good end [martyrdom] by the kindness of Providence, so that, the offences they are charged with being quite different from those they have committed without discovery, they do not suffer as criminals for proved offences, reviled as adulterers or murderers, but suffer merely for being Christians; which fact is so consoling to them that they do not even appear to suffer. And even though it should happen that one comes to suffer without previously committing any outward transgression--a very rare case--he will not suffer at all through any plot of any [evil] power, but in exactly the same way as the babe who apparently has done no ill.

"For just as the babe, although it has done no wrong previously, or practically committed any sin, and yet has the capacity of sin in it [from its former lives], when it suffers, is advantaged and reaps many benefits which otherwise are difficult to

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gain; in just the selfsame way is it with the perfectly virtuous man also who has never sinned in deed, for he has still the tendency to sin in him; he has not committed actual sin [in this life], because he has not as yet been placed in the necessary circumstances. In the case even of such a man we should not be right in supposing entire freedom from sin. For just as it is the will to commit adultery which constitutes the adulterer, even though he does not find the opportunity of actually committing adultery, and the will to commit murder constitutes the murderer, although he may not be actually able to effect his purpose; for just this reason if I see such a 'sinless' man suffering [the pains of martyrdom], even if he has actually done no sin, I shall say that he is evil in so far as he has still the will to transgress. For I will say anything rather than that Providence is evil."

Moreover, even if the example of Jesus were to be flung in his face by those who preferred miracle to law, the sturdy defender of the Gnosis says that he should answer: "If you permit, I will say, He has not sinned; but was like a babe suffering." And if he were pressed even more closely, he would say: "The man you name is man, but God [alone] is righteous; for 'no one is pure from pollution,'" as Job said.

Men suffer, says Basilides, from their deeds in former lives; the "elect" soul suffers "honourably" through martyrdom, but souls of another nature by other appropriate punishments. The "elect" soul is evidently one that will suffer for an ideal; in other

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words it is possessed of faith, which is the "assent of the soul to any of the things which do not excite sensation such a soul, then, "discovers doctrines without demonstration by an intellective apprehension."

The vulgar superstition of transmigration, the passing of a human soul into the body of an animal--so often confused by the uninstructed with the doctrine of reincarnation, which denies such a possibility--received a rational explanation at the hand of the Basilidian school. It arose from a consideration of the animal nature in man, the animal soul, or body of desire, the ground in which the passions inhere; the doctrine being thus summarized by Clement:

The Theory of "Appendages.""The Basilidians are accustomed to give the name of appendages [or accretions] to the passions. These essences, they say, have a certain substantial existence, and are attached to the rational soul, owing to a certain turmoil and primitive confusion."

The word translated essences is literally "spirits"; curiously enough the whole animal soul is called the "counterfeit spirit" in the Pistis Sophia treatise, and in The Timæus of Plato the same idea is called "turmoil," as may be seen from the commentary of Proclus. The primitive confusion is of course the chaotic conglomeration of the universal seed-mixture, and the differentiation of the "elemental essence" of some modern writers on theosophy.

"On to this nucleus other bastard and alien natures of the essence grow, such as those of the wolf, ape, lion, goat, etc. And when the peculiar qualities of

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such natures appear round the soul, they cause the desires of the soul to become like to the special natures of these animals, for they imitate the actions of those whose characteristics they bear. And not only do human souls thus intimately associate themselves with the impulses and impressions of irrational animals, but they even imitate the movements and beauties of plants, because they likewise bear the characteristics of plants appended to them. Nay, there are also certain characteristics [of minerals] shown by habits, such as the hardness of adamant."

But we are not to suppose that man is composed of several souls, and that it is proper for man to yield to his animal nature, and seek excuse for his misdeeds by saying that the foreign elements attached to him have compelled him to sin; far from it, the choice is his, the responsibility is his, the rational soul's. Thus in his book, On an Appended Soul, Isidorus, son of Basilides, writes:

"Were I to persuade anyone that the real soul is not a unit, but that the passions of the wicked Moral Responsibility. are occasioned by the compulsion of the appended natures, no common excuse then would the worthless of mankind have for saying, 'I was compelled, I was carried away, I did it without wishing to do so, I acted unwillingly'; whereas it was the man himself who led his desire towards evil, and refused to battle with the constraints of the appendages. Our duty is to show ourselves rulers over the inferior creation within us, gaining the mastery by means of our rational principle."

In other words, the man is the same man, no

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matter in what body or vesture he may be; the vestures are not the man.

One of the greatest festivals of the school was the celebration of the Baptism of Jesus on the fifteenth day of the Egyptian month Tobe or Tybi. "They of Basilides," says Clement, "celebrate His Baptism by a preliminary night-service of readings; and they say that 'the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar' means the fifteenth day of the month Tybi." It was then that the Father "in the likeness of a dove"--which they explained as meaning the Minister or Holy Spirit--came upon Him.

In "the fifteenth [year] of Tib[erius]" we have, then, perhaps an interesting glimpse into the workshop of the "historicizers."

It is evident, therefore, that the Basilidians did not accept the accounts of the canonical gospels literally, as Hippolytus claims; on the contrary, they explained such incidents as historicized legends of initiation, the process of which is magnificently worked out in the Pistis Sophia treatise, to which I must refer the reader for further information.

A Trace of Zoroastrianism.We learn from Agrippa Castor, as preserved by Eusebius, that Basilides imposed a silence of five years on his disciples, as was the custom in the Pythagorean school, and that he and his school set great store by the writings of a certain Barcabbas and Barcoph, and by other books of Orientals. Scholars are of opinion that Barcabbas and Barcoph, and their variants, point to the cycle of Zoroastrian literature which is now lost, but which was in great favour among many Gnostic

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communities. It must have been that among the learned Jews and Essenes, after the return from Babylonia, and also among the theosophically minded of the time, the traditions of the Magi and of the great Iranian faith were an important part of eclectic and syncretistic religion. The Avesta-literature that has come down to us is said to be a recovery front memory of a very small portion of the great library of Persepolis, destroyed by the "accursed Alexander," as Pārsī tradition has it. And it seems exceedingly probable, as Cumont has shown in his just-published monumental work on the subject, that the Mithriac mystery-tradition contains as authentic a tradition as the Pārsī line of descent, and throws a brilliant light on the Zoroastrianism with which Gnosticism was in contact.

Such, then, is all that can be deduced of the real Basilidian system from the writings of Hippolytus and Clemens Alexandrinus, who respectively selected only such points as they thought themselves capable of refuting; that is to say, such features of the system as they considered most erroneous. To the student of comparative religion it is evident that both Church Fathers misunderstood the tenets they quoted, seeing that even such hostilely selected passages easily fall into the general scheme of universal theosophy, once they are taken out of the setting of Patristic refutation, and allowed to stand on their own merits. It is therefore a matter of deep regret that the writings of the school have been lost or destroyed; they would doubtless have thrown

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much light not only on Christian theosophy but also on the obscure history of the origins.

The Spurious System.It now remains for us to refer briefly to the "spurious" Basilidian system. The following points are taken from Irenæus and the epitomators, and are another proof of the unreliability of Irenæus, the sheet-anchor of orthodox hæresiology. The series of writers and copyists to which we refer, had evidently no first-hand information of the teaching of Basilides, and merely retailed whatever fantastic notions popular rumour and hearsay attributed to the school.

The main features of the confection thus brewed are as follows. The God of the Basilidians, they said, was a certain Abraxas or Abrasax, who was the ruler of their first heaven, of which heavens there were no less than 365. This power was so denominated because the sum of the numerical values of the Greek letters in the name Abrasax came to 365, the number of days in the year.

We learn, however, from Hippolytus (II.) that this part of the system had to do with a far lower stage of creation than the God beyond all. It is not, however, clear whether the Abrasax idea is to be identified with the Great Ruler of the Ogdoad, or the Ruler of the Hebdomad and the region of the "proasteioi up to the æther." In any case the 365 "heavens" pertained to the astrological and genetical considerations of Egyptian and Chaldæan occult science, and represented from one point of view the 365 "aspects" of the heavenly bodies (during the year), as reflected on the surface of

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the earth's "atmosphere" or envelope, which extended as far as the moon.

Now it is curious to notice that in the Pistis Sophia treatise the mysteries of embryology are consummated by a hierarchy of elemental powers, or builders, 365 in number, who follow the dictates of the karmic law, and fashion the new body in accordance with past deeds. The whole is set forth in great detail, and also the astrological scheme of the one ruler of the four, which in their turn each rule over ninety, making in all 365 powers.

Not till Schwartze translated this treatise from the Coptic, in 1853, was any certain light thrown on the Abrasax idea, and this just two years after Miller in 1851 published his edition of The Philosophumena, and thus supplied the material for proving that the hitherto universal opinion that the "Abrasax" was the Basilidian name for the God over all, was a gross error based on ignorance or misrepresentation. It is also to be noticed that the ancient anonymous treatise which fills the superior MS. of the Codex Brucianus, makes great use of the number 365 among its endless hierarchies, but nowhere mentions the name Abrasax.

The elemental forces which fashion the body are the lowest servants of the karmic law. It was presumably these lowest powers that made up the Abrasax of the populace. The God over all is the supreme ruler of an endless galaxy of rulers, gods, archangels, authorities, and powers, all of them superior to the 365.

In fact the mysteries of the unseen world were

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so intricate in detail, that even those who devoted their lives to them with unwearied constancy could scarcely understand some of the lower processes, although the general idea was simple enough; and thus Basilides imposed a silence of five years on his disciples, and declared that "only one out of 1,000, and two out of 10,000," could really receive the Gnosis, which was the consummation of many lives of effort. Curiously enough this very phrase is also found in the Pistis Sophia treatise.

The term Abrasax is well known to students of Gnosticism, because of the number of gems on which it is found, and which are attributed to the followers of Basilides; in addition to the great Continental scholars who have treated the matter, in this country King has devoted much of his treatise to the subject. The best and latest authorities, however, are of opinion "that there is no tangible evidence for attributing any known gems to Basilidianism or any other form of Gnosticism."

Abrasax.In fact, in the Abrasax matter, as in all other things, Gnosticism followed its natural tendency of going "one better," to use a colloquialism, on every form of belief, or even superstition. Doubtless the ignorant populace had long before believed in Abrasax as the great power which governed birth and everyday affairs, according to astrological notions; talismans, invocations, and the rest of the apparatus which the vulgar mind ever clamours for in some form or other, were all inscribed with this potent "name of power." Behind the superstition, however, there lay certain occult facts,

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of the real nature of which, of course, the vulgar astrologers and talisman-makers were naturally ignorant. There facts, however, seem to have been known to the doctors of the Gnosis, and they accordingly found the proper place for them in their universal systems. Thus Abrasax, the Great God of the ignorant, was placed among the lower hierarchies of the Gnosis, and the popular idea of him was assigned to the lowest building powers of the physical body.

As to the rest of the "spurious system" there is nothing of interest to record; we cannot, however, omit the silliest tale told against the Basilidians, which was as follows. They are said to have believed that at the crucifixion Jesus changed bodies with Simon of Cyrene, and then, when his substitute hung in agony, stood and mocked at those he had tricked--with which ****-and-bull story we may come out of the Irenæic "store-house of Gnosticism" for a breathing space.

Of the history of the school we know nothing beyond the fact that Epiphanius, at the end of the fourth century, still met with students of the Basilidian Gnosis in the nomes west of the Delta, from Memphis to the sea. It seems more probable, however, that the school continued in the main stream of Gnosticism of the latter half of the second century, and was at the back of the great Valentinian movement of which we have next to treat. Indeed it is very probable that the followers of this, the main stream of the Gnosis, would have warmly resented being classed as "them of Basilides" or "them of

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« Reply #69 on: February 26, 2009, 01:15:22 pm »

Valentinus"; they doubtless regarded these teachers as handers-on of a living tradition, each in his own way, and not as severally inspired revealers of new doctrines.

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« Reply #70 on: February 26, 2009, 01:15:36 pm »

The "Great Unknown" of Gnosticism.BEHIND the whole Valentinian movement stands the commanding and mysterious figure of Valentinus himself, universally acknowledged to have been the greatest of the Gnostics. His learning and eloquence are admitted, even by his bitterest opponents, to have been of a most extraordinary nature, and no word has ever been breathed against his moral character. And yet, when we come to analyze the chaos of "information" which Patristic writers have left us on the subject of so-called Valentinianism, we find the mysterious character of the great master of the Gnosis ever receding before our respectful curiosity; he who has been made to give his name to the remodelling of the whole structure, still remains the "great unknown" of Gnosticism. We know nothing certain of him as a man, nothing definite of him as a writer, except the few mutilated scraps which hæresiological polemics have vouchsafed to us.

(I am of course leaving aside entirely the vexed question of, I will not say the authorship, but the compilation, of the treatises in the Askew and Bruce Codices. My own opinion is that we owe a great part of these elaborations to Valentinus; not that I think this can be proved in any satisfactory fashion

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with the present scanty sources of information open to us. On the contrary, however, I do not see how it is to be disproved. It is very strange that, in spite of the universally admitted transcendency of Valentinus, no one of his works has been preserved to us. They are said to have been exceedingly intricate and difficult; they are further said to have been syntheses and symphonies as it were of prior formulations of the Gnosis. Now distinctly this is not the case with the outline of the best known system ascribed to "them of Valentinus" by the Church Fathers. Whereas it is patently the case with the treatises in Coptic translations; they could have been elaborated by no one but the stoutest-headed among the Gnostics--and the best head-piece of them all is said to have been on the shoulders of Valentinus.)

In spite of this appalling ignorance of the man and his teachings, the so-called Valentinian Gnosis is the pièce de résistance of nearly every hæresiological treatise. We shall, therefore, have to trespass on the patience of the reader for a short space, while we set up a few finger-posts in the maze of Valentinianism, as seen through the eyes of its Patristic opponents. We should moreover always remember that "Valentinianism," so far from being a single separate formulation of the Gnosis, was the main stream of Gnosticism simply rechristened by the name of its greatest leader.

With the exception of the few fragments to which we have referred, all that has been written "Them of Valentinus."by the Fathers refers to the teachings of "them

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Peggie Welles
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« Reply #71 on: February 26, 2009, 01:15:54 pm »

of Valentinus," and even then it is but very rarely that we have an unmutilated quotation from any written work of theirs; for the most part it all consists of fragments torn from their contexts, or mere hearsay. Now the followers of Valentinus were no slavish disciples who could do nothing else but repeat parrot-like the "words of the master"; the ipse dixit spirit was far from their independent genius. Each of them thought out the details of the scheme of universal philosophy in his own fashion. True that by this time the presentation of the Gnosis, from being of a most diverse nature, had become more settled in its main features, and perhaps Valentinus may have initiated this syntheticizing tendency, though it is far more probable that he developed and perfected it; nevertheless it was still enormously free and independent in innumerable details of a very far-reaching character, and its adherents were imbued with that spirit of research, discovery, and adaptation which ever marks a period of spiritual and intellectual life.

Thus we understand the complaint of Irenæus, who laments that he never could find two Valentinians who agreed together. And if this be so, what good is there in any longer talking of the "Valentinian system"? We know next to nothing from the Church Fathers of the "system" of Valentinus himself; as to his followers, each introduced new modifications, which we can no longer follow in the confused representations of the Church Fathers, who make them flatly contradict not only one another, but also themselves.

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From The Philosophumena, published in 1851, we first heard of an Eastern and Western (Anatolic The so-called Eastern and Western Schools. and Italic) division of the school of Valentinus, thus explaining the title superscribed to the Extracts from Theodotus appended, in the only MṢ. of them we possess, to The Miscellanies of Clement of Alexandria. A great deal has been made of this; the meagre differences of doctrine of the Anatolic and Italic schools of Valentinianism indicated by Hippolytus (II.) have been seized upon by criticism, and had their backs broken by the weight of argument which has been piled upon them. But when Lipsius demonstrates that the Extracts from Theodotus, which claim in their superscription to belong to the Eastern school, are, following the indications of Hippolytus, half Eastern and half Western, the ordinary student has to hold his head tightly on to his shoulders, and abandon all hope of light from the division of Valentinianism into Anatolic and Italic schools, in the present state of our ignorance;--unless indeed we simply assume that they were originally purely geographical designations, to which in later times a doctrinal signification was unsuccessfully attempted to be given.

Although we have no sure indication of the date of Valentinus himself, it may be conjectured to extend from about A.D. 100 to A.D. 180, as will be seen later on.

Of the other leaders of the movement, the earliest with whose names we are acquainted, are Secundus The Leaders of the Movement. and Marcus. Now Marcus himself had a large

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Peggie Welles
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« Reply #72 on: February 26, 2009, 01:16:11 pm »

following as early as 150; his followers were not called Valentinians but Marcosians, or Marcians, and what we know of his system differs enormously from those of the rest of "them of Valentinus." Marcus is sometimes supposed to have been a contemporary of Irenæus, but this is only on the supposition that Irenæus, in using the second person in his hortatory and admonitory passages, is addressing a living person, and not employing the "thou" as a mere rhetorical effect, as Tertullian with Marcion.

Next, years later, we come to Ptolemæus, who again is supposed to have been a contemporary of Irenæus somewhere about A.D. 180.

Irenæus had certainly no personal knowledge of Ptolemæus, and dealt for the most part with his followers, who are said to have differed greatly from their teacher.

Later still is Heracleon, whom Clement (c. 193) calls the most distinguished of the disciples of Valentinus. Both Heracleon and Ptolemæus, however, are known not so much for the exposition of a system as for the exegetical treatment of scripture from the standpoint of the Gnosis of their time.

Still later, and as late as, say, about 220, Axionicus and Bardesanes flourished, the former of whom taught at Antioch, and the latter still farther east. They are therefore called, by some, heads of the Anatolic or Oriental school.

Theodotus, from whom the Excerpts appended to Clement's Miscellanies were taken, was of course far earlier in date, but of him we know nothing

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[paragraph continues] We also hear of a certain Theotimus and Alexander, who are earlier than 220.

In brief, the influence of Valentinus spread far and wide, from Egypt eastwards to Syria, Asia Minor and Mesopotamia, and westwards to Rome, Gaul, and even Spain.

A short review of the teachings ascribed to these doctors of the Gnosis will bring our task to a close, The Syntheticizing of the Gnosis. as far as the indirect sources of Gnosticism for the first two centuries are concerned. But the fact we would again insist upon is, that we are face to face with a great movement and not a single system. On the one hand, such older forms of the Gnosis as had been exceedingly antagonistic to Judaism found a logical outcome in the great Marcionite movement, which cut Christianity entirely apart from Judaism; on the other, a basis of reconciliation was sought by the more moderate and mystical views of the movement now headed by Valentinus, which found room for every view in its all-embracing universality, and explained away contradictions by means of that inner secret teaching which was claimed to have come from the Saviour Himself.

The main outline of the movement of conciliation, which presumably had always been the attitude of the innermost circles, is perhaps to be most clearly seen to-day in the system of Basilides, but those infinite spaces, which either Basilides himself left unfilled, or Hippolytus (II.) has omitted to mention in his quotations, were also peopled with an infinitude of creations and creatures by the genius

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Peggie Welles
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« Reply #73 on: February 26, 2009, 01:16:27 pm »

of the Gnostics, who could brook no deficiency in the exposition of their universal science. Into this general outline, or one closely resembling it, they fitted the various aspects of the ancient Gnosis and the postulates of the old religions and philosophies, adopting these world-old ideas, and adapting them by the light of the new revelation, retaining sometimes the old names, more frequently inventing new ones.

This syntheticizing of the Gnosis was mainly due to the initiative of the genius of Valentinus. His technical works, as we have observed above, are said to have been most abstruse and difficult of comprehension, as well they might be from the nature of the task he attempted. What has become of these writings? No Church Father seems to have been acquainted with a single one of his technical treatises; at best we have only a few ethical fragments from letters and homilies. But what of his own followers, whom Church Fathers and critics make responsible for a certain Valentinian system of a most chaotic nature? Were they in possession of MSS. of Valentinus; or did they depend on general notions derived from his lectures? Did Valentinus work out a consistent scheme of the Gnosis; or did he set forth several alternatives, owing to the difficulty of the matter, and the innumerable points of view from which it could be envisaged? If the Pistis Sophia document and the other two Codices can be made to throw any light on the matter, it will be a precious acquisition to our knowledge of this most important epoch; if not, we must be

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content to remain in the dark until some fresh document is discovered.

Meantime we must confine our attention to the certain traces of Valentinus and the general Sources of Information. movement; but before doing so, we must briefly review our authorities among the Fathers. In this review I shall mostly follow Lipsius, who is not only one of the best authorities on the subject (Art. in S. and W.'s Dict. of Christ. Biog., 1887), but who long ago inaugurated the admirable critical investigations into our Gnostic sources of information, by his analysis of The Panarion of Epiphanius.

Tertullian informs us that prior to himself no fewer than four orthodox champions had undertaken the refutation of the Valentinians: namely, Justin Martyr, Miltiades, Irenæus and the Montanist Proculus. With the exception of the five books of Irenæus, the rest of these controversial writings are lost.

Irenæus wrote his treatise somewhere about A.D. 185-195. He devotes most of his first book to the Valentinians exclusively, and isolated notices are found in the remaining four books.

Irenæus claims to have come across certain Memoranda of the Valentinians and had conversations with some of their number. But these Notes belonged only to the followers of Ptolemæus, and only one short fragment is ascribed to a writing of Ptolemæus himself. The personal conversations were also held with followers of the same teacher, presumably in the Rhone district--not

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Peggie Welles
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« Reply #74 on: February 26, 2009, 01:16:46 pm »

exactly a fertile soil in which to implant the abstruse tenets of the Gnosis, we should think, in spite of the "martyrs of Lyons."

In dealing with Marcus, Irenæus derived his information for the most part from the same unreliable oral communications, but he seems also to have been in possession of a Memoir of a Marcosian; Marcus himself living and working far away in Asia Minor years before.

In chapter xi. Irenæus professes to give the teaching of Valentinus himself; but here he is simply copying from the work of a prior refutator. Lipsius also points out that Irenæus drew some of his opening statements from the same source as Clement in The Excerpts from Theodotus.

From all of which it follows that we are face to face with a most provoking patch-work, and that the system of Valentinus himself is not to be found in The Refutation by the Bishop of Lyons.

Our next source of information is to be found in the Excerpts from the otherwise unknown Theodotus, which are supposed by Lipsius to have probably formed part of the first book of Clement's lost work, The Outlines. These excerpts "have been dislocated and their original coherence broken up" in so violent a manner, and so interspersed with "counter-observations and independent discussions" by Clement himself, that it is exceedingly difficult to form a judgment upon them. When, moreover, Lipsius assigns part of these extracts to the Oriental and part to the Occidental school, he practically bids us erase the superscription which

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has always been associated with them--namely, Extracts from the (Books) of Theodotus and the so-called Anatolic School. In any case, we are again face to face with another patch-work.

Hippolytus (I.), in his lost Syntagma, recoverable from the epitomators Pseudo-Tertullian and Philaster, and Epiphanius, seems to have combined the first seven chapters of Irenæus with some other account, and the chaos is still further confused.

Hippolytus (II.), in that most precious of all hæresiological documents, The Philosophumena, gives an entirely independent account, in fact the most uniform and synoptical representation of any phase of the Gnosis of the Valentinian cycle that has reached us through the Fathers.

Tertullian simply copies from Irenæus, and so also for the most part does Epiphanius. The latter, however, has preserved the famous Letter of Ptolemæus to Flora, and also a list of "barbarous names" of the æons not found elsewhere. Theodoret of course simply copies Irenæus and Epiphanius.

So many, and of such a nature, then, are our indirect sources of information for an understanding of the Valentinian movement;--a sorry troop of blind guides, it must be confessed, where everything requires the greatest care and discrimination. Let us now return to Valentinus himself, and endeavour to patch together from the fragments that remain, some dim silhouette of a character that was universally acknowledged to have been the greatest among the Gnostics.

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