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Fragments of a Faith Forgotten

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Author Topic: Fragments of a Faith Forgotten  (Read 4809 times)
Peggie Welles
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« Reply #105 on: February 26, 2009, 01:26:16 pm »

 Nativity, are in opposition one to the other. And those of them which are called Right, they assist Nature, and add to its excellency whenever the procession helps them, and they stand in the high places, which are in the sphere, in their own portions; and those which are called Left are evil, and whenever they, too, occupy the places of height, they are opposed to Nature, and not only injure men, but, at different times, also animals, and trees and fruits, and the produce of the year, and the fountains of water, and everything that is in the Nature which is under their control. And on account of these divisions and sects which exist among the Powers, some men have supposed that the world is governed without any superintendence, because they do not know that these sects and divisions and justification and condemnation proceed from that influence which is given in Free-will by God, that those actions also by the power of themselves may either be justified or condemned, as we see that Fortune crushes Nature, so we can also see the Freewill of man repelling and crushing Fortune herself; but not in everything, as also Fortune itself doth not repel Nature in everything; for it is proper that the three things, Nature and Fortune and Free-will, should be maintained in their lives until the procession be accomplished, and the measure and number be fulfilled, as it seemed good before Him who ordained how should be the life and perfection of all creatures, and the state of all Beings and Natures."

Bardaisan thus makes Free-will, Fate, and Nature the three great factors of the karmic law, all

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three being ultimately in the hand of God. Each re-acts on each, none is absolute. Nature has to do with body, Fate or Fortune with soul, and Free-will with spirit. None of them is absolute, the absolute being in God alone.

By a strange chance, however, one of the hymns of the great poet of Gnosticism has been preserved to us The Hymn of the Soul. entire; it is now generally admitted that the beautiful "Hymn of the Soul," as it has been called, imbedded in the Syriac form of the apocryphal Acts of Judas Thomas, preserved in the British Museum codex, is almost undoubtedly from the stylus of Bardaisan. Nöldeke and Macke were the first scholars to call attention to the fact. (See Lipsius’ Die apokryphen Apostelgeschichten, i. 299, sqq., 1885). It is a beautiful legend of initiation, and was first translated by Wright (Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles, ii. 238-245; 1871); it has now quite recently (1898) been retranslated by Bevan, using Wright's version as a basis. Since the time of Wright so much work has been done on this "master-piece of religious poetry," as the Cambridge Reader in Arabic justly calls it, that the translation of the pupil is to be preferred to that of the teacher, and Professor Bevan's work must now be considered not only to have superseded Wright's, but to be the best on the subject.

The high probability of the Bardesantist origin of the poem is based on the following considerations: The three main accusations of the orthodox Father Ephraim against Bardaisan, who, he says, taught that there were Seven Essences (Īthyē), are: "(1) That

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he denied the resurrection and regarded the separation of the soul from the body as a blessing; (2) that he held the theory of a divine 'Mother' who in conjunction with 'the Father of Life' gave birth to a being called 'the Son of the Living'; (3) that he believed in a number of lesser 'gods,' that is to say, eternal beings subordinate to the supreme God.

"Now, it is remarkable," says Professor Bevan, "that these three 'heresies' all appear distinctly in the Poem before us. There can be no doubt that the Egyptian garb, which the prince puts on as a disguise and casts away as soon as his mission is accomplished, represents the human body. The emphatic declaration that the 'filthy and unclean garb' is left in their country' conveys an unmistakable meaning; it would be difficult, in an allegorical piece, to deny a material resurrection more absolutely."

Since Bardaisan, like all the great Gnostics, believed in reincarnation, such a conception as the resurrection of the same physical body must have been regarded by him as a gross superstition of the ignorant. Such a "proof" of identity of doctrine as is here brought forward could hardly occur to one who has realised the meaning of the doctrine of rebirth.

"The true clothing of the soul, according to the poet, is the ideal form which it feet behind in heaven and will resume after death. [Only after the 'death unto sin'; the Light-robe is not for all.] As for the Father of Life, the Mother, and the Son of the Living, they here figure as the Father 'the King of

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kings,' the Mother 'the Queen of the East,' and the Brother 'the next in rank.' Finally the 'lesser gods' appear as 'the kings,' who obey the command of the King of kings."

If the student, in reading this masterpiece of Gnostic poesy, will bear in mind the beautiful Parable of the Prodigal Son, as preserved in the third Synoptic, he will be able to trace the basic similarity of ideas in the outer and inner traditions, and note how the inner expands and explains the outer.

I do not know on what authority this beautiful poem has been called the Hymn of the Soul; there is no authority in the text for the title, and the Gnostic poet had a far more definite theme in mind. He sang of the consummation of the Gnostic life, the crown of victory at the end of the Path; not of any vague generalities but of a very definite goal towards which he was running. He sang of the "wedding garment," the "robe of initiation," so beautifully described in the opening pages of the Pistis Sophia. Thus, then, in most recent translation runs what I will venture to call:



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