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Fragments of a Faith Forgotten

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Author Topic: Fragments of a Faith Forgotten  (Read 4710 times)
Peggie Welles
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« on: 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

p. 62

[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

p. 63

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.

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