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Fragments of a Faith Forgotten

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Author Topic: Fragments of a Faith Forgotten  (Read 4905 times)
Peggie Welles
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« Reply #30 on: January 25, 2009, 01:26:06 am »

the real history of its Founder was is impossible to discover.

This much, however, is certain, that a new keynote was struck for the tuning up of the new The New Religion. instrument. It is always a dangerous thing to generalize too freely, and paint the past in too staring splashes of colour, for in human affairs we find nothing unmixed; good was mixed with evil in the old method, and evil with good in the new. The new method was to force out into the open for all men a portion of the sacred Mysteries and secret teachings of the few. The adherents of the new religion itself professed to throw open "everything"; and many believed that it had revealed all that was revealable. That was because they were as yet children. So bright was the light to them that they perforce believed it came directly from the God of all gods--or rather from God alone, for they would have no more of gods; the gods were straightway transmuted into devils. The "many" had begun to play with psychic and spiritual forces, let loose from the Mysteries, and the "many" went mad for a time, and have not yet regained their sanity. Let us dwell on this intensely interesting phenomenon for a few moments.

It is true that in the Roman Empire, which had now reduced the "world" to its sway, and thus politically united so many streams of ancient civilisation and barbarism into one ocean, things were in a very parlous state, morally and socially. The ancient order was beginning to draw to an end. Political freedom and independence were of the past, but

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intellectual and religious tolerance were still guaranteed, for so far the ancient world knew not the meaning of intolerance.

States were politically subordinated to the control of the Caesars, but the religious institutions of such states, on which their social life and national existence depended, were left in absolute freedom. Nevertheless the spirit of reality had long left the ancient institutions; they were still maintained as part and parcel of statecraft, and as necessary for the people, who must have a cult, and festivals, and religious shows, then as now; but few took the matter really seriously. For the educated there was philosophy, and the shadow of the ancient Mysteries.

But these things were not for the people, not for the uneducated; the priestly orders had forgotten their duties, and, using their knowledge for self-aggrandisement, had now almost entirely forgotten what they once had known. It is an old, old story. The ancient church was corrupt, the ancient state enslaved. There must be a protest, partly right, partly wrong, as usual good and evil protesting against evil and good.

It is true that the Mysteries are free and open to all--who are worthy.

It is true that morals and virtues are absolutely essential pre-requisites--but not these alone.

It is true that there is One God--but Yahweh is not that Deity.

It is true that there are grades of being and intelligence between the Supreme and man--but

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the gods are not the work of men's hands or devils, while the angels are creatures of light.

It is true that philosophy alone cannot solve the problem--but it must not be neglected.

It is true that all men will be "saved"--but not rather the poor than the rich, the, ignorant than the learned.

In protestantism in things religious there is no middle ground among the uninstructed. They fly to the opposite pole. Therefore, when the new impulse seizes on the people, we are to have a breaking down of old barriers and a striving after a new order of things, but at the same time a wild intolerance, a glorification of ignorance, a wholesale condemnation; a social upheaval, followed by a political triumph. One thing, however, is acquired definitely, a new lease of life for faith.

It was good for the people to believe with all their heart after so much disbelief; it was good for them to make virtue paramount as the first all-necessary step to a knowledge of God. It was good to set aside the things of the body and love the things of the soul; it was good to bring reality of life once more into the hearts of men.

What might have been if more temperate counsels had prevailed, who can say?

The main fact was that one race was dying and another being born. The memories of the past crowded into the old brain, but the new brain was unable to register them except in their cruder forms. The memory which succeeded in eventually impressing itself with most distinctness on the new brain, was

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perchance the most suited to the vigorous and warlike races that were to replace the old races of the Roman Empire; this memory was the tradition of the Jew.

Jewish and Christian Schools.We are of course in this only looking at the popular and outer side of the great movement which transformed the general religious consciousness of the ancient world. Within was much of great excellence, only a portion of which could be understood by the young brain of the new race. But now that the race is growing into manhood it will remember more of it; it has already recovered its memory of science and philosophy, and its memory of religion will doubtless ere long be brought through.

We are still, however, looking at the outer conditions among which the Gnosis was working. At Alexandria, ever since its foundation, the Jews had been an important element in the life of the city. Though the translation of the Hebrew scriptures by the so-called "Seventy" had been begun in the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus, it does not seem to have attracted the attention of the Greek official savants. Jewish ideas at Alexandria were at that time confined to Jews,--and naturally so, for in the beginning these most exclusive and intolerant religionists kept their ideas to themselves and guarded them jealously from the Gentiles. Later on the Jewish schools at Alexandria were so esteemed by their nation throughout the East, that the Alexandrian Rabbis were known as the "Light of Israel," and continued to be the centre of

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[paragraph continues] Jewish thought and learning for several centuries. Within these it was that the Jews perfected their theories of religion and worked out what they had gleaned of "kabalistic" lore from the Chaldæans and Babylonians, and also from the wisdom-traditions of Egypt.

Many of the Hebrew doctors, moreover, were students of Grecian thought and literature, and are therefore known as Hellenists. Some of these wrote in Greek, and it was chiefly through their works that the Grecian world derived its information on things Jewish.

Aristobulus, whose date is unknown, but is conjecturally about B.C. 150, had endeavoured to maintain that the Peripatetic philosophy was derived from Moses--a wild theory that was subsequently developed and expanded to a ludicrous extent, and (Plato being substituted for Aristotle) was in the greatest favour even among such enlightened Church Fathers as Clement of Alexandria and Origen. This theory of Aristobulus was the forerunner of the still more fantastic theory, invented by Justin Martyr, that the wisdom of antiquity, wherever found, was a "plagiarism by anticipation" of the Devil, in order to spite the new religion; and this pitiful hypothesis has been faithfully reproduced by Christian apologists almost down to our own time.

Philo (circa B.C. 25--A.D. 45), however, is the most renowned of the Hellenists. He was a great admirer of Plato, and his work brings out many similarities between Rabbinical religious thought and Greek philosophy. It is true that Philo's method of allegorical

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exegesis, whereby he reads high philosophical conceptions into the crude narratives of the myths of Israel, is no longer regarded as legitimate; but his writings are nevertheless of great value. Philo believed not only that the Old Covenant documents were inspired in every part, but also that every name therein contained a hidden meaning of highest import. In this way he strove to explain away the crudities of the literal narrative.

But though Philo's method--whereby he could invoke the authority of "Moses" for the ideas of his school--is scientifically inadmissible, when the Bible documents are submitted to the searching of historic and philological criticism, nevertheless his numerous tractates are of great importance as supplying us with a record of the ideas which were current in the circles or schools with which Philo was in contact. They are a precious indication of the existence of communities who thought as Philo thought, and a valuable means of becoming acquainted with the scope of the Jewish Gnosis in a propagandist form.

Josephus (A.D. 37-100), the famous historian, also wrote in Greek, and so made known his nation far and wide throughout the Græco-Roman world.

Here, therefore, we have indications of the direct points of contact between Greek and propagandist Jewish thought. Now Christianity in its popular origins had entirely entangled itself with the popular Jewish tradition of religion, a tradition that was innocent of all philosophy or kabalistic mysticism. The Gentiles who were admitted into the new faith,

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however, soon grew restive at the imposition of the rite of circumcision, which the earliest propagandists insisted upon; and so the first "heresy" arose, and the "Church of Jerusalem," which remained essentially Jewish in all things, speedily resolved itself into a narrow sect, even for those who regarded . Judaism as the only forerunner of the new faith. As time went on, however, and either men of greater education joined their ranks, or in their propaganda they were forced to study themselves to meet the objections of educated opponents, wider and more liberal views obtained among a number of the Christians, and the other great religious traditions and philosophies contacted the popular stream. All such views, however, were looked upon with great suspicion by the "orthodox," or rather that view which finally became orthodox. And so as time went on, even the very moderate liberalism of Clemens and Origen was regarded as a grave danger; and with the triumph of narrow orthodoxy, and the condemnation of learning, Origen himself was at last anathematized.

It was the Alexandrian school of Christian philosophy, of which the most famous doctors were the same Clemens and Origen, which laid the first foundations of General Christian theology; and that school owed its evolution to its contact with Grecian thought. There is a pleasant story of its first beginnings to which we may briefly refer. Towards the end of the first century the Christians established a school in Alexandria, the city of schools. It was a Sunday-school for children, called the Didascaleion. With courageous faith it was established hard by the

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door of the world-famous Museum, from whose chairs the general Christians, owing to their ignorance of art and science and philosophy, were excluded. From that same Sunday-school; however, arose the vast fabric of Catholic theology; for the teachers of the Didascaleion were forced to look to their laurels, and they soon numbered in their ranks men who had already received education in the Grecian schools of thought and training.

Such is a brief sketch of Alexandria and her schools, and it was in outer contact with such a seething world of thought and endeavour, that some of the greatest of the Gnostic doctors lived. They were found of course elsewhere in the world--in Syria, Asia Minor, and Italy, in Gaul and Spain; but the best picture of the ancient world with which they were in outer contact, is to be sketched in the city where Egypt and Africa, Rome and Greece, Syria and Arabia met together.

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Peggie Welles
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« Reply #31 on: February 26, 2009, 01:03:14 pm »

General and Gnostic Christianity
THE historical origins of Christianity are hidden in impenetrable obscurity. Of the actual history of The Canon. the first half of the first century we have no knowledge. Of the history of the next hundred years also we have for the most part to rely on conjecture. The now universally received canonical account was a selection from a mass of tradition and legend; it is only in the second half of the second century that the idea of a Canon of the New Testament makes its appearance, and is gradually developed by the Church of Rome and the Western Fathers. The early Alexandrian theologians, such as Clement, are still ignorant of a precise Canon. Following on the lines of the earliest apologists of a special view of Christianity, such. as Justin, and using this evolving Canon as the sole test of orthodoxy, Irenæus, Tertullian and Hippolytus, supported by the Roman Church, lay the foundations of "catholicity,"

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and begin to raise the first courses of that enormous edifice of dogma which is to-day regarded as the only authentic view of the Church of Christ.

The first two centuries, however, instead of confirming the boast of the later orthodox, "one church, one faith, always and everywhere," on the contrary present us with the picture of many lines of evolution of belief, practice, and organisation. The struggle for life was being fiercely waged, and though the "survival of the fittest" resulted as usual, there were frequent crises in which the final "fittest" is hardly discernible and at times disappears from view.

The Gospels.The view of the Christian origins which eventually became the orthodox tradition based itself mainly upon Gospel-documents composed, in all probability, some time in the reign of Hadrian (A.D. 117-138). The skeleton of three of these Gospels was presumably a collection of Sayings and a narrative of Doings in the form of an ideal life, a sketch composed by one of the "Apostles" of the inner communities and designed for public circulation. Round this nucleus the compilers of the three documents wove other matter selected from a vast mass of myth, legend, and tradition; they were evidently men of great piety, and their selection of material produced narratives of great dignity, and cast aside much in circulation that was foolish and fantastic, the remains of which we have still preserved in some of the apocryphal Gospels. The writer of the fourth document was a natural mystic who adorned his account with a beauty of conception

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and a charm of feeling that reflect the highest inspiration.

At the same time the canonical selection most fortunately preserved for us documents of far greater historic value.

In the Letters of Paul, the majority of which are in the main, I believe, authentic, we have the earliest The Letters of Paul. historic records of Christianity which we possess. The Pauline Letters date back to the middle of the first century, and are the true point of departure for any really historic research into the origins. On reading these Letters it is almost impossible to persuade ourselves that Paul was acquainted with the statements of the later historicized account of the four canonical Gospels; all his conceptions breathe a totally different atmosphere.

Instead of preaching the Jesus of the historicized Gospels, he preaches the doctrine of the mystic Christ. He not only seems to be ignorant of the Doings but even of the Sayings in any form known to us; nevertheless it is almost certain that some collection of Sayings must have existed and been used by the followers of the public teaching in his time. Though innumerable opportunities occur in his writings for reference to the canonical Sayings and Doings, whereby the power of his exhortations would have been enormously increased, he abstains from making any. On the other hand, we find his Letters replete with conceptions and technical terms which receive no explanation in the traditions of General Christianity, but are fundamental with the handers-on of the Gnosis.

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The picture which the letters of Paul give us of the actual state of affairs in the middle of the first century is that of an independent propagandist, with his own illumination, in contact with the ideas of an inner school on the one hand, and with outer communities of various kinds on the other. Whatever the inner schools may have been, the outer communities among which Paul laboured were Jewish, synagogues of the orthodox Jews, synagogues of the outer communities of the Essenes, communities which had received some tradition of the public teaching of Jesus as well, and understood or misunderstood it as the case may have been.

The Gentilisation of Christianity.Paul's mission was to break down Jewish exclusiveness and pioneer the way for the gentilization of Christianity. The century which followed this propaganda of Paul (50-150) is, according to Harnack, characterised by the following features:

(i) The rapid disappearance of Jewish (that is to say, primitive and original) [popular] Christianity.

(ii) Every member of the community was supposed to have received the "Spirit of God"; the teaching was "charismatic," that is to say, of the nature of "spiritual gifts."

(iii) The expectation of the approaching end of the age, and the reign of Christ on earth for a thousand years--"chiliasm"--was in universal favour.

(iv) Christianity was a mode of life, not a dogma.

(v) There were no fixed doctrinal forms, and accordingly the greatest freedom in Christian preaching.

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(vi) The Sayings of the Lord and the Old Testament were not as yet absolute authorities; the "Spirit" could set them aside.

(vii) There was no fixed political union of the Churches; each community was independent.

(viii) This period gave rise to "a quite unique literature, in which were manufactured facts for the past and for the future, and which did not submit to the usual literary rules and forms, but came forward with the loftiest pretensions."

(ix) Particular sayings and arguments of assumed "Apostolic Teachers" were brought forward as being of great authority.

At the same time, besides this gentilizing tendency, which was always really subordinated to the Jewish original impulse, though flattering itself that it had entirely shaken off the fetters of the "circumcision," there was a truly universalizing tendency at work in the background; and it is this endeavour to universalize Christianity which is the grand inspiration underlying the best of the Gnostic efforts we have to review. But this universalizing does not belong to the line of the origins along which General Christianity subsequently traced its descent.

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Peggie Welles
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« Reply #32 on: February 26, 2009, 01:03:26 pm »

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The Nazoræans.Epiphanius would have it that the Christians were first called Iessæi, and says they are mentioned under this name in the writings of Philo. The followers of the earliest converts of Jesus are also said to have been called Nazoræi. Even towards the end of the fourth century the Nazoræans were still found scattered throughout Cœle-Syria, Decapolis, Pella (whither they fled at the destruction of Jerusalem), the region beyond Jordan, and far away to Mesopotamia. Their collection of the logoi was called The Gospel according to the Hebrews, and differed greatly from the synoptic accounts of the Canon. Even to this day a remnant of the Nazoræans is said by some to survive in the Mandaïtes, a strange sect dwelling in the marshes of Southern Babylonia, but their curious scripture, The Book of Adam, as preserved in the Codex Nasaræus, bears no resemblance whatever to the known fragments of The Gospel according to the Hebrews, though some of their rites are very similar to the rites of some communities of the "Righteous" referred to in that strange Jewish pseudepigraph The Sibylline Oracles.

Who the original Iessæans or Nazoræans were, is wrapped in the greatest obscurity; under another of their designations, however, the Ebionites or "Poor Men," we can obtain some further information. These early outer followers of Jesus were finally ostracized from the orthodox fold, and so completely

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Peggie Welles
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« Reply #33 on: February 26, 2009, 01:03:46 pm »

were their origin and history obscured by the subsequent industry of heresy-hunters, that we finally find them fathered on a certain Ebion, who is as non-existent as several other heretics, such as Epiphanes, Kolarbasus and Elkesai, who were invented by the zeal and ignorance of fourth-century hæresiologists and "historians." Epiphanes is the later personification of an unnamed "distinguished" (epiphanes) teacher; Kolarbasus is the personification of the "sacred four" (kol-arba), and Elkesai the personification of the "hidden power" (elkesai). So eager were the later refutators to add to their list of heretics, that they invented the names of persons from epithets and doctrines. So with Ebion.

The Ebionites were originally so called because they were "poor"; the later orthodox subsequently The Poor Men. added "in intelligence" or "in their ideas about Christ." And this may very well have been the case, and doubtless many grossly misunderstood the public teaching of Jesus, for it should not be forgotten that one of the main factors to be taken into account in reviewing the subsequent rapid progress of the new religion was the social revolution. In the minds of the most ignorant of the earliest followers of the public teaching, the greatest hope aroused may well have been the near approach of the day when the "poor" should be elevated above the "rich." But this was the view of the most ignorant only; though doubtless they were numerous enough.

Nevertheless it was Ebionism which preserved the tradition of the earliest converts of the public teaching, and the Ebionite communities doubtless

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possessed a collection of the public Sayings and based their lives upon them.

It was against these original followers of the public teaching of Jesus that Paul contended in his efforts to gentilize Christianity. For many a long year this Petro-Pauline controversy was waged with great bitterness, and the Canon of the New Testament is thought by some to have been the means adopted to form the basis of a future reconciliation; the Petrine and Pauline documents were carefully edited, and between the Gospel portion and the Pauline letters was inserted the new-forged link of the Acts of the Apostles, a carefully edited selection from a huge mass of legendary Acts, welded together into a narrative and embellished with speeches after the manner of Thucydides.

The Ebionite Tradition of Jesus.How then did the original Ebionites view the person and teaching of Jesus? They regarded their leader as a wise man, a prophet, a Jonas, nay even a Solomon. Moreover, he was a manifestation of the Messiah, the Anointed, who was to come, but he had not yet appeared as the Messiah; that would only be at his second coming. In his birth as Jesus, he was a prophet simply. The New Dispensation was but the continuation of the Old Law; all was essentially Jewish. They therefore expected the coming of the Messiah as literally prophesied by their men of old. He was to come as king, and then all the nations would be subjected to the power of the Chosen People, and for a thousand years there would be peace and prosperity and plenty on earth.

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Peggie Welles
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« Reply #34 on: February 26, 2009, 01:04:01 pm »

Jesus was a man, born as all men, the human son of Joseph and Mary. It was only at his baptism, at thirty years of age, that the Spirit descended upon him and he became a prophet. They, therefore, guarded his Sayings as a precious deposit, handing them down by word of mouth. The Ebionites knew nothing of the pre-existence or divinity of their revered prophet. It is true that Jesus was "christ," but so also would all be who fulfilled the Law. Thus they naturally repudiated Paul and his new doctrine entirely; for them Paul was a deceiver and an apostate from the Law, they even denied that he was a Jew.

It was only later that they used The Gospel according to the Hebrews, which Jerome says was the same as The Gospel of the Twelve Apostles and The Gospel of the Nazarenes, that is to say, of the Nazoræans. It should be remembered that these Nazoræans knew nothing of the Nazareth legend, which was subsequently developed by the "in order that it might be fulfilled" school of historicizers.

The Ebionites did not return to Jerusalem when the emperor permitted the new colony of Ælia Capitolina to be established in 138, for no Jew was allowed to return. The new town was Gentile. Therefore, when we read of "the re-constitution of the mother church" at Ælia Colonia, in Church historians, little reliance can be placed upon such assertions. The "mother church," based on the public teaching, was Ebionite and remained Ebionite, the community at Ælia Colonia was Gentile and therefore Pauline.

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Christianity, as understood by the Ebionites, being an essentially national doctrine, Paulinism was a necessity if any public attempt at universality was to be made; therefore it was that the true historical side of popular Christianity (the original Ebionite tradition) became more and more obscured, until finally it had so completely disappeared from the area of such tradition, that a new "history" could with safety be developed to suit the dogmatic evolution inaugurated by Paul.

The later forms of Ebionism, however, which survived for several centuries, were of a Gnostic nature, and reveal the contact of these outer communities of primitive Christendom based on the public teaching with an inner Jewish tradition, which evidently existed contemporaneously with Paul, and may have existed far earlier.

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Peggie Welles
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« Reply #35 on: February 26, 2009, 01:04:14 pm »

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BASING themselves on the Sayings preserved in the canonical Gospels and on the description of the communities given in the Acts, many have supposed that Jesus was a member of or intimately acquainted with the doctrines and discipline of the Essene communities. Who then were these Essenes or Healers?

For centuries before the Christian era Essene communities had dwelt on the shores of the Dead Sea. These Essenes or Essæans, in the days of Philo and Josephus, were imbued with the utmost reverence for Moses and the Law. They believed in God, the creator, in the immortality of the soul, and in a future state of retribution. Finding it impossible to carry out in ordinary life the minute regulations of the laws of purity, they had adopted the life of ascetic communism. Their chief characteristic was the doctrine of love--love to God, love of virtue, and love of mankind--and the practical way in which they carried out their precepts aroused the admiration of all.

Their strict observance of the purificatory discipline enacted by the Levitical institutions thus compelled them to become a self-supporting community; all worked at a trade, they cultivated their own fields, manufactured all the articles of food and dress which they used, and thus in every way avoided contact with those who did not observe the same rules. They also appear in their inner circles to have been strict celibates.

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Their Manner of Life.Their manner of life was as follows: they rose before the sun, and no word was uttered until they had assembled together and, with faces turned towards the dawn, offered up prayers for the renewal of the light. Each then went to his appointed task under the supervision of the stewards or overseers ("bishops") elected by universal suffrage. At eleven o'clock they again assembled and, putting off their working clothes, performed the daily rite of baptism in cold water; then clothing themselves in white linen robes, they proceeded to the common meal, which they regarded as a sacrament; the refectory was a "holy temple." They ate in silence, and the food was of the plainest--bread and vegetables. Before the meal a blessing was invoked, and at the end thanks were rendered. The members took their seats according to seniority. They then went forth to work again until the evening, when they again assembled for the common meal. Certain hours of the day, however, were devoted to the study of the mysteries of nature and of revelation, as well as of the powers of the celestial hierarchies, the names of the angels, etc.; for they had an inner instruction, which was guarded with the utmost secrecy.

This was the rule for the week-days, while the Sabbath was kept with extreme rigour. They had, however, no priests, and any one who was "moved" to do so, took up the reading of the Law, and the exposition of the mysteries connected with the Tetragrammaton, or four-lettered mystery-name of the Creative Power, and the angelic worlds. The

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[paragraph continues] Essenes, therefore, were evidently in contact with Chaldæan "kabalism" and the Zoroastrian tradition of the discipline of purity; logic and metaphysics, however, were eschewed as injurious to a devotional life.

There were four degrees in the community: (i.) novices; (ii.) approachers; (iii.) new full members, or associates; (iv.) old members, or elders.

(i.) After the first year the novice gave all his possessions to the common treasury, and received a copy of the regulations, a spade (for the purpose described in Moses’ camp-regulations), and a white robe, the symbol of purity; but the novice was still excluded from the lustral rites and common meal..

(ii.) After two years more, the novice shared in the lustral rites, but was still excluded from the common meal.

(iii.) The associates were bound by the most solemn assurances, and in case of any delinquency could only be judged by the "assembly," consisting of one hundred members.

Essenism is said by some to have been an exaggerated form of Pharisaism; and it may be a The Degrees of Holiness. matter of surprise to those whose only knowledge of the Pharisees is derived front canonical documents, to learn that the highest aim of this enlightened school of Judaism was to attain to such a state of holiness as to be able to perform miraculous cures and to prophesy. The "degrees of holiness" practised by the Pharisees are said to have been: (i.) the study of the Law and circumspection; (ii.) the noviciate, in which the apron was the symbol of purity; (iii.) external

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purity, by means of lustrations or baptisms; (iv.) celibacy; (v.) inward purity, purity of thought; (vi.) a higher stage still, which is not further defined; (vii.) meekness and holiness; (viii.) dread of every sin; (ix.) the highest stage of holiness; (x.) the stage which enabled the adept to heal the sick and raise the dead.

We should, however, remember that the Healers absolutely refused to have anything to do with the blood-sacrifices of the Temple-worship, and refused to believe in the resurrection of the physical body, which the rest of the Pharisees held as a cardinal doctrine.

In this brief sketch it is of course impossible to point out the striking similarities between the discipline of the Essenes and that of the Therapeutæ of Egypt and of the Orphic and Pythagorean schools. Every subject referred to in these essays requires a volume or several volumes for its proper treatment; we can only set up a few finger-posts, and leave the reader to make his own investigations.

But before leaving this most interesting theme, it will be necessary to point to the identity between many of the Essene regulations and the Gospel teachings and traditions.

Points of Contact with Christianity.Converts were required to sell their possessions and give to the poor, for the laying up of treasure was regarded as injurious to a spiritual life. Not only did the Essenes despise riches, but they lived a life of self-imposed poverty. Love of the brotherhood and of one's neighbour was the soul of Essene life, and the basis of all action; and this characteristic of

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their discipline called forth universal admiration. The members lived together as in a family, had all things in common, and appointed a steward to manage the common bag. When travelling they would lodge with brethren whom they had never seen before, as though with the oldest and most intimate friends; and thus they took nothing with them when they went on a journey. All members were set on the same level, and the authority of one over another was forbidden; nevertheless mutual service was strictly enjoined. They were also great lovers of peace, and so refused to take arms or manufacture warlike weapons; moreover they proscribed slavery. Finally, the end of the Essenes was to be meek and lowly in spirit, to mortify all sinful lusts, to be pure in heart, to hate evil but reclaim the evildoer, and to be merciful to all men. Moreover, their yea was to be yea, and their nay, nay. They were devoted to the curing of the sick, the healing of both body and soul, and regarded the power to perform miraculous cures and cast out evil spirits as the highest stage of discipline. In brief, they strove to be so pure as to become temples of the Holy Spirit, and thus seers and prophets.

To these inner communities were attached outer circles of pupils living in the world, and found in all the main centres of the Diaspora.

Philo distinguishes the Essenes from the Therapeuts by saying that the former were devoted to the "practical" life, while the latter proceeded to the higher stage of the "contemplative" life, and devoted themselves to still higher problems of

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religion and philosophy, and it is in this direction that we must look for the best in Gnosticism.

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Peggie Welles
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« Reply #36 on: February 26, 2009, 01:04:32 pm »

The "Secularizing" of Christianity.BUT here again accurate historical data are out of the question, and we have for the most part to deal with what the Germans call "Tendenz." Harnack speaks of the tendency, which by long convention is generally called Gnostic, as the "acute secularizing of Christianity." What then is the meaning of this phrase? Catholic dogma is said to be the outcome of the gradual hellenizing of general Christianity, that is to say, the modification of popular tradition by the philosophical and theological method. All evolution of popular beliefs takes time, and the results arrived at by the general mind only after centuries, are invariably anticipated by minds of greater instruction generations before. The Galileos of the world are invariably condemned by their contemporaries. The Gnostic mind rapidly arrived on the one hand at many conclusions which the Catholics gradually adopted only after generations of hesitation, and on the other at a number of conclusions which even to our present generation seem too premature. All theosophic students are, in matters of religion, centuries before their time, for the simple reason that they are endeavouring by every means in their power to shorten the time of normal evolution and reach the mystic goal, which at every moment of time is near at hand within, but

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for the majority is far distant along the normal path of external evolution.

The phrase "acute secularizing of Christianity," then, represents the rapid theologizing and systematizing of Christianity; but I doubt whether this altogether accounts for the facts. The Gnosis was pre-Christian; the Christ illumined its tradition, and by His public teaching practically threw open to all what had previously been kept "secret from the creation of the world"--to speak more accurately, the intermediate grades of the Mysteries. The leaven worked, and in course of time much that had been previously kept for the "worthy" alone, was forced into publicity and made common property. It was forced out by the stress of circumstances, inaugurated by the propaganda of Paul, and intensified by subsequent hæresiological controversy. The Gnostics claimed that there were two lines of tradition--the public sayings, and the inner teachings which dealt with things that the people in the world could not understand. This side of their teaching they kept at first entirely to themselves, and only gradually put forth a small portion of it; the rest they kept in closest secrecy, as they knew it could not possibly be understood.

The Gnostics were, then, the first Christian theologists, and if it is a cause for reprehension that the real historical side of the new movement was obscured in order to suit the necessities of a religion which aspired to universality, then the Gnostics are the chief culprits.

Catholicism finally, by accepting the Old Testament

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[paragraph continues] Yahweh not "the Father" of Jesus.Canon in its literal interpretation, adopted the beliefs of popular Judaism and the Yahweh-cult, but in the earlier years it had been inclined to seek for an allegorical interpretation. Gnosticism, on the contrary, whenever it did not entirely reject the Old Covenant documents, invariably adopted not only the allegorical method, but also a canon of criticism which minutely classified the "inspiration" and so sifted out most of the objectionable passages from the Jewish Canon.

Thus, in pursuit of a universal ideal, the tribal God--or rather, the crude views of the uninstructed Jewish populace as to Yahweh--was, when not entirely rejected, placed in a very subordinate position. In brief, the Yahweh of the Elohīm was not the Father of Jesus; the Demiurgos, or creative power of the world, was not the Mystery God over all.

The Inner Teaching.And just as this idea of the true God transcended the popular notions of deity, so did the true teaching of the Gnosis illumine the enigmatical sayings or parables. The ethical teachings, or "Words of the Lord," and the parables, required interpretation; the literal meaning was sufficient for the people, but for the truly spiritual minded there was an infinite vista of inner meaning which could be revealed to the eye of the true Gnostic. Thus the plain ethical teaching and the unintelligible dark sayings were for the uninstructed; but there was a further instruction, an esoteric or inner doctrine, which was imparted to the worthy alone. Many gospels and apocalypses were thus

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compiled under the inspiration of the "Spirit," as it was claimed--all purporting to be the instruction vouchsafed by Jesus to His disciples after the "resurrection from the dead," which mystical phrase they mostly represented as meaning the new birth or Gnostic illumination, the coming to life of the soul from its previous dead state. But even these Gnostic treatises did not reveal the whole matter; true, they explained many things in terms of internal states and spiritual processes; but they still left much unexplained, and the final revelation was only communicated by word of mouth in the body, and by vision out of the body.

Thus it was a custom with them to divide mankind into three classes: (a) the lowest, or Various Classes of souls. "hylics," were those who were so entirely dead to spiritual things that they were as the hylē, or unperceptive matter of the world; (b) the intermediate class were called "phychics," for though believers in things spiritual, they were believers simply, and required miracles and signs to strengthen their faith; (c) whereas the "pneumatics," or spiritual, the highest class, were those capable of knowledge of spiritual matters, those who could receive the Gnosis.

It is somewhat the custom in our days in extreme circles to claim that all men are "equal." The modern theologian wisely qualifies this claim by the adverb "morally." Thus stated the idea is by no means a peculiarly Christian view--for the doctrine is common to all the great religions, seeing that it simply asserts the great principle of justice as one

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of the manifestations of Deity. The Gnostic view, however, is far clearer, and more in accord with the facts of evolution; it admits the "morally equal," but it further asserts difference of degree, not only in body and soul, but also in spirit, in order to make the morality proportional, and so to carry out the inner meaning of the parable of the talents.

This classification obtained not only among men, but also among powers; and the prophets of the Old Testament as instruments of such powers were, as stated above, thus sorted out into an order of dignity.

The Person of Jesus.The personality of Jesus, the prophet of the new tidings proved, however, a very difficult problem for the Gnostic doctors, and we can find examples of every shade of opinion among them--from the original Ebionite view that he was simply a good and holy man, to the very antipodes of belief; that he was not only a descent of the Logos of God--a familiar idea to Oriental antiquity--but in deed and in his person very God of very God, a necessity forced upon faith by the boastful spirit of an enthusiasm which sought to transcend the claims of every existing religion.

The person of Jesus was thus made to bear the burden of every possibility of the occult world and every hidden power of human nature. In their endeavours to reconcile the ideas of a suffering man and of a triumphant initiator and king of the universe (both sensible and intellectual), they had recourse to the expedient of Docetism, a theory which could cover every phase of contradiction in the sharp juxtaposition of the divine and human natures of their ideal. The

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docetic theory is the theory of "appearance." A sharp distinction was made between Christ, the divine æon or perfected "man," and Jesus the personality. The God, or rather God, in Christ, did not suffer, but appeared to suffer; the lower man, Jesus, alone suffered. Or again, Christ was not really incarnated in a man Jesus, but took to himself a phantasmal body called Jesus. But these were subsequent doctrinal developments on the ground of certain inner facts: (a) that a phantasmal body can be used by the "perfect," be made to appear and disappear at will, and become dense or materialised, so as to be felt physically; and (b) that the physical body of another, usually a pupil, can be used by a master of wisdom as a medium for instruction. Such underlying ideas occur in Gnostic treatises and form an important part of their christology, especially with regard to the period of instruction after the "resurrection."

In fact no problem appeared too lofty for the intuition of the Gnostic philosopher; the whence, The Main Doctrines. whither, why, and how of things, were searched into with amazing daring. Not only was their cosmogony of the most sublime and complex character, but the limits of the sensible world were too narrow to contain it, so that they sought for its origins in the intellectual and spiritual regions of the immanent mind of deity, wherein they postulated a transcendent æonology which pourtrayed the energizings of the divine ideation. Equally complex was their anthropogony, and equally sublime the potentialities which they postulated of the human soul and spirit.

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As to their soteriology, or theory of the salvation or regeneration of mankind, they did not confine the idea to the crude and limited notion of a physical passion by a single individual, but expanded it into a stupendous cosmical process, wrought by the volition of the Logos in His own nature.

Their eschatology, or doctrine of the "last things," again painted for mankind at the end of the world-cycle a future which gave "nirvāṇa" to the "spiritual" and æonian bliss to the "psychic," while the "hylic" remained in the obscuration of matter until the end of the "Great Peace"--a picture somewhat different from the crude expectation of the good feasting time on earth of the "Poor Men," which Harnack technically refers to as a "sensuous eudæmonistic eschatology."

Finally, the whole of their doctrine revolved round the conception of cyclic law for both the universal and the individual soul. Thus we find the Gnostics invariably teaching the doctrine not only of the preëxistence but also of the rebirth of human souls; and though a chief feature of their dogmas was the main doctrine of forgiveness of sins, they nevertheless held rigidly to the infallible working out of the great law of cause and effect. It is somewhat curious that these two main doctrines, which explain so much in Gnosticism and throw light on so many dark places, have been either entirely overlooked or, when not unintelligently slurred over, despatched with a few hurried remarks in which the critic is more at pains to apologize for touching on such ridiculous superstitions as "metempsychosis" and "fate," than to elucidate tenets which are a key to the whole position.

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« Reply #37 on: February 26, 2009, 01:04:50 pm »

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THE study of Gnosticism has so far been almost entirely confined to specialists, whose works cannot be understanded of the people; the ordinary reader is deterred by the wealth of detail, by the difficulty of the technical terms, by the obscurity of theological phraseology, and by the feeling that he is expected to know many things of which he has never even heard. It is to be hoped that ere long some competent English scholar, endowed with the genius of lucid generalization, may be induced to write a popular sketch of the subject, in order that thinking men and women who have not enjoyed the advantages of a technical training in Church history and dogmatics, may understand its importance and absorbing interest.

Meantime our present essay may, perhaps, to some extent serve as a "guide to the perplexed," yet not conceived on the plan or carried out with the ability of a Maimonides, but rather the mere jotting down of a few notes and indications which may spare the general reader the years of labour the writer has spent in searching through many books.

First, then, as to books; what are the best works on Gnosticism? The best books without exception Literature. are by German scholars. Here, then, we are confronted with our first difficulty, for the general reader as a rule is a man of one language only. For the ordinary English reader, therefore, such works are closed books, and he must have recourse to

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translations, if such exist. Unfortunately only two of such works are procurable in English dress.

The second volume of the translation (Bohn, new ed., 1890) of Neander's Church History (1825, etc.), deals with the Gnostics, but the great German theologian's work is now out of date.

The best general review of Gnosticism by the light of the most recent researches, is to be found in Harnack's admirable History of Dogma, in the first volume, translated in 1894.

For a more detailed account, Smith and Wace's Dictionary of Christian Biography (1877-1887) is absolutely indispensable. The scheme of this useful work contains a general article, with lengthy articles on every Gnostic teacher, and shorter articles on a number of the technical terms of the Gnosis. Lipsius, Salmon, and Hort are responsible for the work, and their names are a sufficient guarantee of thoroughness.

The last two works are all that are necessary for a preliminary grasp of the subject, and are the outcome of profound scholarship and admirable critical acumen. It is a pleasure to subscribe one's tribute of praise to such work, although the point of view assumed by these distinguished scholars is not sufficiently liberal for one who is deeply convinced that the inspiration of every honest effort to formulate the inner truth of things is really from above.

Of other English works we may mention King's Gnostics and their Remains (2nd ed., 1887), a work intended for the general reader. King strongly

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insists on a distinct Indian influence in Gnosticism, and deals with a number of interesting points; but his work lacks the thoroughness of the specialist. He is, however, far removed from "orthodoxy," and has an exceeding great sympathy for the Gnostics. The weakest point of King's work is the side he has brought into chief prominence; the so-called "remains" of the Gnostics, amulets, talismans, etc., in which King as a numismatologist took special interest, are now stated by the best authorities to have had most probably no connection with our philosophers. Nevertheless King's book is well worth reading.

Mansel's posthumous work, The Gnostic Heresies of the First and Second Centuries (1875), is not only unsympathetic, but for the most part does grave injustice to the Gnostics, by insisting on treating their leading ideas as a metaphysic to be judged by the standard of modern German philosophical methods, the Dean having himself once held a chair of philosophy.

Norton, in his Evidences of the Genuineness of the Gospels (1847), devotes his second volume to the Gnostics, but the value of his work is small.

Burton's Inquiry into the Heresies of the Apostolic Age (1829) might have been written by an early Church Father. The Bampton lecturer's effort and Norton's are now both out of date; moreover their books and that of Mansel are only procurable in the second-hand market.

So much for works in English dealing directly with Gnosticism.

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The student will find in Harnack brief but discriminating bibliographies after each chapter, in which all the best works are given, especially those of German scholars; in Smith and Wace's Dictionary each article is also followed by a fair bibliography. A short general bibliography, and also a list of nearly all the latest work done on the only direct documents of Gnosticism which we possess, is to be found in the Introduction to my translation of the Gnostic treatise Pistis Sophia (1896); and a classified bibliography of all the most important works is appended to this essay. The student will be surprised to see how unfavourably the paucity of information in English compares with the mass of encyclopædic work in German, and how France also in this department of Church history and theological research runs England very close. But the consideration of these works does not fall into the plan of this short essay.

Indirect Sources.So much, then, for the general literature of the subject in English; we have now to consider briefly the indirect and direct documents of Gnosticism. By "indirect" documents I mean the polemical writings of the Fathers of what subsequently established itself as the orthodox Catholic Church. These indirect documents were practically the only sources of information until 1853, when Schwartze's translation of the Pistis Sophia was published. By "direct" documents I mean the few Gnostic treatises which have reached our hands through the medium of Coptic translation.

Our indirect sources of information, therefore,

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come through the hands of the most violent opponents of the Gnosis; and we have only to remember the intense bitterness of religious controversy at all times, and especially in the early centuries of the Church, to make us profoundly sceptical of the reliability of such sources of information. Moreover, the earlier and more contemporaneous, and therefore comparatively more reliable, sources are to be found mostly in the writings of the Fathers of the Western Church, who were less capable of understanding the philosophical and mystical problems which agitated the Eastern communities. The Roman and occidental mind could never really grasp Greek and oriental thought, and the Western Fathers were always the main champions of "orthodoxy."

We should further remember that we have extant no contemporary "refutation" of the first century (if any ever existed), or of the first three quarters of the second. The great "store-house of Gnosticism" is the Refutation of Irenæus, who wrote at Lyons in Gaul, far away from the real scene of action, in about the penultimate decade of the second century. All subsequent refutators base themselves more or less on the treatise of Irenæus, and frequently copy the work of the Gallic bishop. If, then, Irenæus can be shown to be unreliable, the whole edifice of refutation is endangered by the insecurity of its foundation. This important point will be considered later on.

Prior to Irenæus a certain Agrippa Castor, who flourished late in the reign of Hadrian, about 135 A.D.,

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is said by Eusebius to have been the first to write against heresies. His work is unfortunately lost.

Justin Martyr, the apologist, also composed a work against heresies; this Syntagma or Compendium is also unfortunately lost. Judging from Justin's account of the Gospel-story in his extant works, it would appear that the "Memoirs of the Apostles" to which he repeatedly refers, were not identical with our four canonical Gospels, though it may well be that these Gospels were assuming their present shape at this period. It may therefore be supposed that his work upon heresies threw too strong a light on pre-canonical controversy to make its continued use desirable. This may also be the reason of the disappearance of the work of Agrippa Castor. Justin flourished about 140-160 A.D.

Clement of Alexandria, whose greatest literary activity was from about 190-203 A.D., lived in the greatest centre of Gnostic activity, and was personally acquainted with some of the great doctors of the Gnosis. His works are for the most part free from those wholesale accusations of immorality with which the general run of Church Fathers in after years loved to bespatter the character of the Gnostics of the first two centuries. All the critics are now agreed that these accusations were unfounded calumnies as far as the great schools and their teachers were concerned, seeing that the majority were rigid ascetics. But this point will come out more clearly later on.

Clement is supposed to have dealt with the higher problems of Gnosticism in his lost work, The Outlines,

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in which he endeavoured to construct a complete system of Christian teaching, the first three books of which bore a strong resemblance to the three stages of the Platonists: (i.) Purification, (ii.) Initiation, (iii.) Direct Vision. This work is also unfortunately lost. It was the continuation of his famous Miscellanies, in which the Christian philosopher laboured to show that he was a true Gnostic himself.

Tertullian of Carthage (fl. 200-220 A.D.), whose intolerance, "fiery zeal," and violently abusive language are notorious, wrote against heresies, mostly copying Irenæus. For the Marcionites, however, he is an independent authority. Part of the treatise against heresies ascribed to Tertullian is written by some unknown refutator, and so we have a Pseudo-Tertullian to take into consideration.

Hippolytus, Bishop of Portus at the mouth of the Tiber, was the disciple of Irenæus. He wrote a Compendium against all heresies, based almost entirely on Irenæus, which is lost; but a much larger work of the same Father was in 1842 discovered at Mount Athos. This purported to be a Refutation of All Heresies, and adds considerably to our information from indirect sources; for the work is not a mere copy of Irenæus, but adds a large mass of new matter, with quotations from some Gnostic MSS. which had fallen into Hippolytus' hands. The composition of this work may be dated somewhere about 222 A.D.

About this time also (225-250) Origen, the great Alexandrian Father, wrote a refutation against a

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certain Celsus, who is supposed to have been the first opponent of Christianity among the philosophers, and who lived some seventy-five years before Origen's time. In this there are passages referring to some of the Gnostics. If then we include Origen's work against The True Word of Celsus, we have mentioned all the Fathers who are of any real value for the indirect sources of Gnosticism in the first two centuries

Philaster, bishop of Brescia in Italy, Epiphanius, bishop of Salamis in Cyprus, and Jerome, fall about the last quarter of the fourth century, and are therefore (unless, of course, they quote from earlier writers) too late for accuracy with regard to the things of the first two centuries. Philaster, moreover, is generally put out of court owing to his overweening credulity; and the reliability of Epiphanius is often open to grave suspicion, owing to his great faculty of inventing or retailing scandals and all kinds of foulness.

Eusebius is fifty years earlier, but there is little to be gleaned from him on the subject, and his reputation for accuracy has been called into question by many independent historical critics.

Theodoret's Compendium, based on his predecessors and dating about the middle of the fifth century, is far too late to add to our knowledge of the first two centuries.

The study of these indirect documents has exercised the ingenuity of the critics and resulted in a marvellously clever feat of scholarship. Lipsius has demonstrated that Epiphanius, Philaster, and

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[paragraph continues] Pseudo-Tertullian all draw from a common source, which was the lost Syntagma or Compendium of Hippolytus, consisting mainly of notes of the lectures of Irenæus; that is to say, in all probability, of the polemical tractates which the bishop read to his community, and on which he based his larger work. Thus reconstructing the lost document, he compares it with Irenæus, and infers for both a common authority, probably the lost Syntagma of Justin.

We thus see that our main source is Irenæus. The Refutation of Irenæus is the "store-house of Gnosticism"--according to the Fathers--for the first two centuries. Irenæus lived far away in the wilds of Gaul; is his evidence reliable? Setting aside the general presumption that no ecclesiastical writer at such a time could, in the nature of things, have been fair to the views of his opponents, which he perforce regarded as the direct product of the prince of all iniquity, we shall shortly see that fate has at length--only a few years ago--placed the final proof of this presumption in our hands.

But meantime let us turn our attention to our Direct Sources. direct sources of information. We have now no less than three Codices containing Coptic translations of original Greek Gnostic works.

(i.) The Askew Codex, vellum, British Museum, London: containing the Pistis Sophia treatise and extracts from The Books of the Saviour.

(ii.) The Bruce Codex (consisting of two distinct MSS.), papyrus, Bodleian Library, Oxford: containing a series of lengthy fragments under the general

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title The Book of the Great Logos according to the Mystery; another treatise of great sublimity but without a title; and a fragment or fragments of yet another treatise.

(iii.) The Akhmīm Codex, papyrus, Egyptian Museum, Berlin: containing The Gospel of Mary (or Apocryphon of John), The Wisdom of Jesus Christ, and The Acts of Peter.

The Akhmīm Codex was only discovered in 1896. Prior to 1853, when the Askew Codex was translated into Latin, nothing of a practical nature was known of its contents, while the contents of the Bruce Codex were not known till 1891-1892, when translations appeared in French and German. We have to reflect on the indifference which allowed these important documents to remain, in the one case (Cod. Ask.) for eighty years without translation, and in the other (Cod. Bruc.) one hundred and twenty years! The first attempt at translation in English appeared only in 1896 in my version of Pistis Sophia.

It will thus be seen that the study of Gnosticism from direct sources is quite recent, and that all but the most recent research is out of date. This new view is all the more forced upon us by the latest discovery which in the Akhmīm MS. places in our hands the means of testing the accuracy of Irenæus, the sheet-anchor of hæresiologists. The Gospel of Mary is one of the original sources that Irenæus used. We are now enabled in one case to control the Church Father point by point--and find that he has so condensed and paraphrased his original that the consistent system of the school of Gnosticism which

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he is endeavouring to refute, appears as an incomprehensible jumble.

This recent activity among specialists in Gnostic research, at a time when a widespread interest in a revival of theosophic studies has prepared the way for a reconsideration of Gnosticism from, a totally different standpoint to that of pure criticism or refutation, is a curious coincidence.

From the above considerations it is evident that so far are the Gnostics and their ideas from being buried in that oblivion which their opponents have so fervently desired and so busily striven to ensure, that now at the opening of the twentieth century, at a time when Biblical criticism is working with the reincarnated energy and independence of a Marcion, the memory of these universalizers of Christianity is coming once more to the front and occupying the attention of earnest students of religion.

In addition to these indirect and direct sources there is also another source that may yield us some valuable information, when submitted to the searching of an enlightened criticism. The legends and traditions preserved in the Gnostic Acts deserve closer attention than they have hitherto received, as we shall hope to show in the sequel by quotations from several of them.

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« Reply #38 on: February 26, 2009, 01:05:26 pm »

9]The Gnosis According to its Foes[/size]

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« Reply #39 on: February 26, 2009, 01:06:07 pm »

p. 156

Oh that mine adversary had written a book!
       Job (according to the Authorised Version).

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Some Gnostic Fragments Recovered from the Polemical Writings of the Church Fathers
WE shall now proceed to introduce the reader to the chief teachers and schools of Gnosticism, as far No Classification Possible. as they are known to us from the polemical writings of the Church Fathers. Unfortunately we are not in a position to present the student with a satisfactory classification of the Gnostic schools; every classification previously attempted has completely broken down, and in the present state of our knowledge we must be content to sift the different phases of development out of the heap as best we can. Clement of Alexandria, at the end of the second century, tried the rough expedient of dividing these schools of Christendom into ascetic and licentious sects; Neander at the beginning of the present century endeavoured to classify them by their friendly or unfriendly relations to Judaism; Baur followed with an attempt which took into consideration not

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only how they regarded Judaism, but also their attitude to Heathenism; Matter adopted a geographical distribution into the schools of Syria, Asia Minor, and Egypt; and Lipsius followed with a more general division into the Gnosticism of Syria and of Alexandria.

All these classifications break down on many important points; and we are thus compelled to follow the imperfect indications of the earliest Patristic hæresiologists, who vaguely and uncritically ascribed the origin of Gnosticism to "Simon Magus." It is, however, certain that the origin of Gnostic ideas, so far from being simple and traceable to an individual, was of a most complex nature; some have thought that it has to be sought for along the line of so-called "Ophitism," which is a general term among the hæresiologists for almost everything they cannot ascribe to a particular teacher. But the medley of schools and tendencies which the Fathers indiscriminately jumble together as Ophite, contains the most heterogeneous elements, good and bad. The name Ophite, or "serpent-worshipper," is simply a term of abuse used solely by the refutators, while the adherents of these schools called themselves generally "Gnostics," and were apparently the first to use the term.

We shall, therefore, first of all follow the so-called "Simonian" line of descent until the first quarter of the second century; then plunge into the indefinite chaos of the "Gnostics"; next retrace our steps along a Gnostic phase of the Ebionite tradition; and finally treat of the most brilliant epoch of Gnosticism known

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to us--when Basilides, Valentinus, and Bardesanes lived and worked and thought, and Marcion amazed infant orthodoxy with a "higher criticism" which for boldness has perhaps not yet been equalled even in our own day. It was an epoch which gave birth to works of such excellence that, in the words of Dr. Carl Schmidt (in the Introduction to his edition of the Codex Brucianus), "we stand amazed, marvelling at the boldness of the speculations, dazzled by the richness of thought, touched by the depth of soul of the author"--"a period when Gnostic genius like a mighty eagle left the world behind it, and soared in wide and ever wider circles towards pure light, towards pure knowledge, in which it lost itself in ecstasy."

We should, however, in studying the lives and teachings of these Gnostics always bear in mind that our only sources of information have hitherto been the caricatures of the hæresiologists, and remember that only the points which seemed fantastic to the refutators were selected, and then exaggerated by every art of hostile criticism; the ethical and general teachings which provided no such points, were almost invariably passed over. It is, therefore, impossible to obtain anything but a most distorted portrait of men whose greatest sin was that they were centuries before their time. It should further be remembered, that the term "heresy" in the first two centuries, did not generally connote the narrow meaning assigned to it later on. It was simply the usual term for a school of philosophy; thus we read of the heresy of Plato, of Zeno, of Aristotle. The Gnostics, and the rest of Christendom also, were thus divided into a

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number of schools or "heresies," which in those early times were more or less of equal dignity and authenticity.

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« Reply #40 on: February 26, 2009, 01:06:32 pm »

The Origin of the Name.THERE is no reason to suppose that the Gnostics whom the Church Fathers call "Simonians" would have themselves answered to the name, or have recognized the line of descent imagined for them by their opponents as founded on any basis in fact. As early as Justin Martyr (c. 150 A.D.), "Simon" assumed a prominence out of all proportion to his place in history. Evidently Justin regarded him with great detestation, and accused the Romans of worshipping him as a god, on the strength of an inscription on a statue at Rome. Justin gives the inscription as "Simoni Deo Sancto"--"To Simon, the holy God." But (alas! for the reputation of Justin's accuracy when engaged in controversy) archæology has discovered the statue--and finds it dedicated to a Sabine deity, "Semo Sancus"! Justin's assertion, however, was received without question by subsequent hæresiologists, as all such assertions were in that uncritical age.

Now it is very probable that Justin, in his innumerable controversies in defence of his particular view of Christianity, was met with some argument in which Simon was quoted as an example. It may have been that Justin argued that the

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miracles of Jesus proved all that Justin claimed on His behalf, and was met by the counter-argument that Simon also was a great wonder-worker, and made great claims, so that miracles did not prove Justin's contentions. Thus it may have been that Justin grew to detest the memory of Simon, and saw him and his supporters everywhere, even at Rome in a statue to a Sabine godling.

It may well have been that some wonder-worker called Simon may have astonished people in Samaria with his psychological tricks, and that stories were still in Justin's time told of him among the people. But what did most to stereotype the legend that Simon was the first heretic, was the insertion of his name in one of the stories included in the subsequently canonical Acts of the Apostles. This took place later than Justin, and so we have the first moments in the evolution of the legend of the origin of heresy (and therefore, according to the Fathers, of Gnosticism). What then is told us about "Simon" and the "Simonians," is only of interest for a recovery of some of the ideas which the subsequently Catholic party was striving to controvert; it has no value as history.

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« Reply #41 on: February 26, 2009, 01:06:41 pm »

The Origin of the Name.THERE is no reason to suppose that the Gnostics whom the Church Fathers call "Simonians" would have themselves answered to the name, or have recognized the line of descent imagined for them by their opponents as founded on any basis in fact. As early as Justin Martyr (c. 150 A.D.), "Simon" assumed a prominence out of all proportion to his place in history. Evidently Justin regarded him with great detestation, and accused the Romans of worshipping him as a god, on the strength of an inscription on a statue at Rome. Justin gives the inscription as "Simoni Deo Sancto"--"To Simon, the holy God." But (alas! for the reputation of Justin's accuracy when engaged in controversy) archæology has discovered the statue--and finds it dedicated to a Sabine deity, "Semo Sancus"! Justin's assertion, however, was received without question by subsequent hæresiologists, as all such assertions were in that uncritical age.

Now it is very probable that Justin, in his innumerable controversies in defence of his particular view of Christianity, was met with some argument in which Simon was quoted as an example. It may have been that Justin argued that the

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miracles of Jesus proved all that Justin claimed on His behalf, and was met by the counter-argument that Simon also was a great wonder-worker, and made great claims, so that miracles did not prove Justin's contentions. Thus it may have been that Justin grew to detest the memory of Simon, and saw him and his supporters everywhere, even at Rome in a statue to a Sabine godling.

It may well have been that some wonder-worker called Simon may have astonished people in Samaria with his psychological tricks, and that stories were still in Justin's time told of him among the people. But what did most to stereotype the legend that Simon was the first heretic, was the insertion of his name in one of the stories included in the subsequently canonical Acts of the Apostles. This took place later than Justin, and so we have the first moments in the evolution of the legend of the origin of heresy (and therefore, according to the Fathers, of Gnosticism). What then is told us about "Simon" and the "Simonians," is only of interest for a recovery of some of the ideas which the subsequently Catholic party was striving to controvert; it has no value as history.

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« Reply #42 on: February 26, 2009, 01:06:51 pm »

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A Follower of John the Baptist.The legendary background of the Pseudo-Clementine polemic informs us that the precursor of "Simon Magus" was a certain Dositheus. He is mentioned in the lists of the earliest hæresiologists, in a Samaritan Chronicle, and in the Chronicle of Aboulfatah (fourteenth century); the notices, however, are all legendary, and nothing of a really reliable character can be asserted of the man. That however he was not an unimportant personage is evidenced by the persistence of the sect of the Dositheans to the sixth century; Aboulfatah says even to the fourteenth. Both Dositheus and "Simon Magus" were, according to tradition, followers of John the Baptist; they were, however, said to be inimical to Jesus. Dositheus is said to have claimed to be the promised prophet, "like unto Moses," and "Simon" to have made a still higher claim. In fact, like so many others in those days, both were claimants to the Messiaship. The Dositheans followed a mode of life closely resembling that of the Essenes; they had also their own secret volumes, and apparently a not inconsiderable literature.

Dositheus (Dousis, Dusis, or Dosthai) was apparently an Arab, and in Arabia, we have every reason to believe, there were many mystic communities allied to those of the Essenes and Therapeuts. One of the Gospels used by Justin, under the general title "Memoirs of the Apostles," states that the "wise

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men" came from Arabia. One legend even claims Dositheus as the founder of the sect of the Sadducees! Later tradition assigned to him a group of thirty disciples, or to be more precise twenty-nine and a-half (the number of days in a month), one of them being a woman. That is to say, the system of Dositheus turned on a lunar basis, just as subsequent systems ascribed to Jesus turned on a solar basis, the twelve disciples typifying the solar months or zodiacal signs, or rather certain facts of the wisdom-tradition which underlie that symbolism. Dositheus is said to have claimed to be a manifestation of the "Standing One" or unchanging principle, the name also ascribed to the supreme principle of the "Simonians." The one female disciple was Helena (the name of the moon or month, Selene, in Greek), who appears also in the legend of Simon.

On the dim screen of Dosithean tradition we can thus see shadows passing of the sources of a The Pre-Christian Gnosis. pre-Christian Gnosis--Arab, Phœnician, Syrian, Babylonian shadows. More interesting still, we can thus, perhaps, point to a source to which may be traced, along another line of descent, the subsequent thirty æons of the Valentinian plērōma or ideal world, with the divided thirtieth, Sophia (within and without, above and below), the lower aspect of which constituted the World-soul or the primordial substance of a world-system.

It is also to be observed that Aboulfatah places Dositheus 100 years B.C. Of course only very qualified credence can be given to this late chronicler, but still it is possible that he may have drawn from sources

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no longer accessible to us. The statement is interesting as showing that the chronicler recognized the fact of a pre-Christian Gnosis; though how he reconciles this John the Baptist date with the orthodox chronology is a puzzle. Can he have been influenced by the Talmudic tradition of the date of Jesus, which places him a century prior to our era? Together with Dositheus and "Simon," Hegesippus (according to Eusebius) also mentions Cleobius, Gorthæus, and Masbotheus as prominent leaders of primitive Christian schools.

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Peggie Welles
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« Reply #43 on: February 26, 2009, 01:07:07 pm »

"SIMON MAGUS," as we have already said, is mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, a document of the New Testament collection, said not to be quoted prior to 177 A.D. Irenæus and his successors repeat the Acts legend. Justin Martyr (c. 150) speaks of a certain Simon of Gitta whom nearly all the Samaritans regarded with the greatest reverence; this Simon, he said, claimed to be an incarnation of the "Great Power," and had many followers. Justin, however, makes no reference to the Acts story, and so some have assumed two Simons, but this does not seem to be necessary. The Justin account is the nucleus of the huge Simonian legend which was mainly developed by the cycle of Pseudo-Clementine literature of the third century, based on the second century Circuits of Peter.

Hippolytus alone, at the beginning of the third

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century, has preserved a few scraps from the extensive literature of the "Simonians"; the bishop of Portus quotes from a work entitled The Great Announcement, and so we are able to form some idea of one of the systems of these Gnostics. The scheme of the Gnosis contained in this document, so far from presenting a crude form, or mere germ, of Gnostic doctrine, hands on to us a highly developed phase of Gnostic tradition, which, though not so elaborated as the Valentinian system, nevertheless is almost as mature as the Barbēlō scheme, referred to so cursorily by Irenæus, and now partly recovered in the newly-discovered Gospel of Mary.

In the earliest times to which Catholic Christians subsequently traced the origin of their traditions, The Ebionite "Simon." there were, as we know from various sources, numerous movements in and about Palestine of a prophetical and reformatory nature, many prophets and teachers of ethical, mystical, religio-philosophical, and Gnostic doctrines. The Ebionite communities found themselves in conflict with the followers of these teachers on many points, and Ebionite tradition handed on a garbled account of these doctrinal conflicts. Above all things, the Ebionites were in bitterest strife with the Pauline churches. Later on General Christianity set itself to work to reconcile the Petrine and Pauline differences, principally by the Acts document; and in course of time Ebionite tradition was also edited by the light of the new view, and the name of Simon substituted for the great "heretic" with whom the Ebionites had striven.

And so the modified Ebionite tradition, which was

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presumably first committed to writing in the Circuits of Peter, gradually evolved a romance, in which the conflicts between Simon Peter the Ebionite, and Simon the Magician, are graphically pourtrayed, the magical arts of the Samaritan are foiled, and his false theology is exposed, by the doughty champion of the "Poor Men." The latest recension of this cycle of romance gave the whole a Roman setting, and so we find Simon finally routed by Peter at Rome (to suit the legend of the Roman Church that Peter had come to Rome), but in earlier recensions Peter does not travel beyond the East, and Simon is finally routed at Antioch.

A close inspection of the Pseudo-Clementine literature reveals a number of literary deposits or strata of legend, one of which is of a very remarkable nature. Baur was the first to point this out, and his followers in the Tübingen school elaborated his views into the theory that Simon Magus is simply the legendary symbol for Paul. The remarkable similarity of the doctrinal points at issue in both the Petro-Simonian and Petro-Pauline controversies cannot be denied, and the scholarly reputation of the Tübingen school puts out of court mere à priori impossibility. Although, of course, it would not be prudent to take the extreme view that wherever Simon Magus is mentioned, Paul is meant, nevertheless we may not unclearly distinguish this identity in at least one of the strata of the legend.

The "Simonian" systems, as described by the Fathers, reveal the main features of the Gnosis: the Father over all, the Logos-idea, the æon-world,

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or ideal universe, its emanation, and its positive and negative aspects represented as pairs or The Simonian Literature. syzygies; the world-soul represented as the thought or female aspect of the Logos; the descent of the soul; the creation of the sensible world by the builders; the doctrines of reincarnation, redemption, etc.

The main characteristic of the "Simonians" is said to have been the practice of "magic," which "Simon" is reported to have learned in Egypt, and which gave rise to most of the fantastic stories invented by their opponents. But it is very probable that the title Magus covers much more than the story of the Samaritan wonder-worker, and puts us in touch with a Gnostic link with Persia and the Magi; and indeed the fire-symbolism used in the MS. quoted from by Hippolytus amply confirms this hypothesis.

In other respects the "Simonian" Gnosis was on similar lines to the Barbēlō-Gnostic and Basilido-Valentinian developments; this is to be clearly seen in the fragments of The Great Announcement preserved by Hippolytus.

The rest of the "Simonian" literature has perished; one of their chief documents, however, was a book called The Four Quarters of the World, and another famous treatise contained a number of controversial points (Refutatorii Sermones) ascribed to "Simon," which submitted the idea of the God of the Old Testament to a searching criticism, especially dealing with the serpent-legend in Genesis.

The main symbolism, which the evolvers of the

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[paragraph continues] Simon-legend parodied into the myth of Simon and Helen, appears to have been sidereal; thus the Logos and his Thought, the World-soul, were symbolized as the Sun (Simon) and Moon (Selēnē, Helen); so with the microcosm, Helen was the human soul fallen into matter and Simon the mind which brings about her redemption. Moreover one of the systems appears to have attempted to interpret the Trojan legend and myth of Helen in a spiritual and psychological fashion.

This is interesting as showing an attempt to invoke the authority of the popular Greek "Bible," the cycle of Homeric legend, in support of Gnostic ideas. It was the extension of the method of the Jewish allegorizers into the domain of Greek mythology.

The detractors of the "Simonians," among the Church Fathers, however, evolved the legend, that Helen was a prostitute whom Simon had picked up at Tyre. The name of this city presumably led Baur to suggest that the Simon (‏שמש‎, Sun) and Helen (Σελήνη, Moon) terminology is connected with the Phœnician cult of the sun and moon deities which was still practised in that ancient city. Doubtless the old Phœnician and Syrian ideas of cosmogony were familiar to many students of religion at that period, but we need not be too precise in matters so obscure.

The "Simonian" System of Irenæus.Irenæus gives the following outline of the system he ascribes to the "Simonians." It is the dramatic myth of the Logos and the World-soul, the Sophia, or Wisdom. Irenæus, however, would have it that it was the personal claim of Simon concerning

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[paragraph continues] Helen; he evidently bases himself on a MS. in which the Christ, as the Logos, is represented as speaking in the first person, and we shall therefore endeavour to restore it partially to its original form.

"'Wisdom was the first Conception (or Thought) of My Mind, the Mother of All, by whom in the beginning I conceived in My Mind the making of the Angels and Archangels. This Thought leaping forth from Me, and knowing what was the will of her Father, descended to the lower regions and generated the Angels and Powers, by whom also the world was made. And after she had generated them, she was detained by them through envy, for they did not wish to be thought the progeny of any other. As for Myself, I am entirely unknown to them.'

"And Thought," continues Irenæus, summarising from the MS., "was made prisoner by the Powers and Angels that had been emanated by her. And she suffered every kind of indignity at their hands, to prevent her reascending to her Father, even to being imprisoned in the human body and transmigrating into other female [?] bodies, as from one vessel into another. . . . So she, transmigrating from body to body, and thereby also continually undergoing indignity, last of all even stood for hire in a brothel; and she was the 'lost sheep.'

"'Wherefore, also, am I come to take her away for the first time, and free her from her bonds; to make sure salvation to men by My Gnosis.'

"For as the Angels," writes the Church Father,

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[paragraph continues] "were mismanaging the world, since each of them desired the sovereignty, He had come to set matters right; and He had descended, transforming Himself and being made like to the Powers and Principalities and Angels; so that He appeared to men as a man, although He was not a man; and was thought to have suffered in Judæa, although He did not really suffer. The prophets, moreover, had spoken their prophecies under the inspiration of the Angels who made the world."

All of these doctrines proceeded from circles who believed in the mystical Christ, and are common to many other systems; if Irenæus had only told us the history of the document which he was summarizing and glossing, if he had but copied it verbally, how much labour would he have saved posterity! True, he may have been copying from Justin's controversial writings, and Justin had already done some of the summarizing and commenting; but in any case a single paragraph of the original would have given us a better ground on which to form a judgment than all the paraphrazing and rhetoric of these two ancient worthies who so cordially detested the Gnostics.

The Great Announcement.Fortunately Hippolytus, who came later, is more correct in his quotations, and occasionally copies verbally portions of the MSS. which had come into his hands. One of these he erroneously attributes to "Simon" himself, presumably because he considered it the oldest Gnostic MS. in his possession; most critics, however, consider it a later form of the Gnosis than the system summarized by Irenæus, but there is nothing to warrant this assumption. By this time

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the legend that "Simon" was the first heretic had become "history" for the hæresiologists, and no doubt Hippolytus felt himself fully justified in ascribing the contents of the MS. to one whom he supposed to be the oldest leader of the Gnosis.

The title of the MS. was The Great Announcement, probably a synonym for The Gospel, in the Basilidian sense of the term; and it opened with the following words: "This is the Writing of the Revelation of Voice-and-Name from Thought, the Great Power, the Boundless. Wherefore shall it be sealed, hidden, concealed, laid in the Dwelling of which the Universal Root is the Foundation."

The Dwelling is said to be man, the temple of the Holy Spirit. The symbol of the Boundless The Hidden Fire. Power and Universal Root was Fire. Fire was conceived as being of a twofold nature--the concealed and the manifested; the concealed parts of the Fire are hidden in the manifested, and the manifested produced by the concealed. The manifested side of the Fire has all things in itself which a man can perceive of things visible, or which he unconsciously fails to perceive; whereas the concealed side is everything which one can conceive as intelligible, even though it escape sensation, or which a man fails to conceive.

Before we come to the direct quotation, however, Hippolytus treats us to a lengthy summary of the Gnostic exposition before him, from which we may take the following as representing the thought of the writer of the MS. less erroneously than the rest.

"Of all things that are concealed and manifested,

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The Fire Tree.the Fire which is above the heavens is the treasure-house, as it were a great Tree from which all flesh is nourished. The manifested side of the Fire is the trunk, branches, leaves, and the outside bark. All these parts of the great Tree are set on fire from the all-devouring flame of the Fire and destroyed. But the fruit of the Tree, if its imaging has been perfected and it takes shape of itself, is placed in the store-house (or treasure), and not cast into the Fire. For the fruit is produced to be placed in the store-house, but the husk to be committed to the Fire; that is to say, the trunk, which is generated not for its own sake but for that of the fruit."

This symbolism is of great interest as revealing points of contact with the "Trees" and "Treasures" of the elaborate systems recoverable from the Coptic Gnostic works, and also with the line of tradition of the Chaldæan and Zoroastrian Logia, which were the favourite study of so many of the later Platonic school. The fruit of the Fire-tree and the "Flower of Fire" are the symbols of (among other things) the man immortal, the garnered spiritual consciousness of the man-plant; but the full interpretation of this graphic symbolism would include both the genesis of the cosmos and the divinizing of man.

Man (teaches the Gnosis we are endeavouring to recover from Hippolytus) is subject to generation and suffering so long as he remains in potentiality; but, once that his "imaging forth" is accomplished, he becomes like unto God, and, freed from the bonds of suffering and birth, he attains perfection. But to our

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quotation from The Great Announcement, taken apparently from the very beginning of the treatise, immediately following the superscription:

"To you, therefore, I say what I say, and write what I write. And the writing is this:

"Of the universal Æons there are two growths, without beginning or end, springing from one The Æons. Root, which is the Power Silence invisible, inapprehensible. Of these one appears from above, which is the Great Power, the Universal Mind, ordering all things, male; and the other from below, the Great Thought (or Conception), female, producing all things.

"Hence matching each other, they unite and manifest the Middle Space, incomprehensible Air [Spirit], without beginning or end. In this [Air] is the [second] Father who sustains and nourishes all things which have beginning and end.

"This [Father] is He who has stood, stands and will stand, a male-female power, like the pre-existing Boundless Power, which has neither beginning nor end, existing in oneness. It was from this Boundless Power that Thought, which had previously been hidden in oneness, first proceeded and became twain.

"He [the Boundless] was one; having her in Himself, He was alone. Yet was He not 'first,' though 'pre-existing,' for it was only when He was manifested to Himself from Himself that there was a 'second.' Nor was He called Father before [Thought] called Him Father.

"As, therefore, producing Himself by Himself, He manifested to Himself His own Thought, so

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also His manifested Thought did not make the [manifested--the second] Father, but contemplating Him hid him--that is, His power--in herself and is male-female, Power and Thought.

"Hence they match each other, being one; for there is no difference between Power and Thought. From the things above is discovered Power, and from those below Thought.

"Thus it comes to pass that that which is manifested from them, though one, is found to be two, male-female, having the female in itself. Equally so is Mind in Thought; they really are one, but when separated from each other they appear as two."

So much for The Great Announcement of "Simon." That some document may yet be discovered which will throw fresh light on the subject is not an impossibility; in the meantime we can reserve our judgment, and regard all positive statements that "Simon" was the "first-born son of Satan" as foreign to the question.

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Peggie Welles
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« Reply #44 on: February 26, 2009, 01:07:18 pm »

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ONE of the teachers of the "Simonian" Gnosis who was singled out by Justin for special mention, because His Date. of his having led "many" away, even as Marcion was gaining an enormous following in Justin's own time, is Menander, a native, we are told, of the Samaritan town Capparatea. The notice in Justin shows us that Menander was a man of a past generation, and that he was specially famous because of his numerous following. We know that the dates of this period are exceedingly obscure even for Justin, our earliest authority. For instance, writing about 150 A.D., he says that Jesus lived 150 years before his time. His "Simon" and Menander dates are equally vague; Menander may have lived a generation or four generations before Justin's time, or still earlier.

The centre of activity of Menander is said to have been at Antioch, one of the most important commercial His Doctrines. and literary cities of the Græco-Roman world, on the highway of communication between East and West. He seems to have handed on the general outlines of the Gnosis; especially insisting on the distinction between the God over all and the creative power or powers, the "forces of nature." Wisdom, he taught, was to be attained by the practical discipline of transcendental "magic"; that is to say, the Gnosis was not to be attained by faith alone, but by definite endeavour and conscious striving along the path of cosmological and psychological science. Menander professed to teach a knowledge of the powers of

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nature, and the way whereby they could be subjected to the purified human will; he is also said to have claimed to be the Saviour sent down by the higher Powers of the spiritual world, to teach men the sacred knowledge whereby they could free themselves from the dominion of the lower Angels.

It is, however, almost certain that Menander made no more claim to be the Saviour (in the Catholic meaning of the term) than did "Simon." The Saviour was the Logos, as we have seen above. The claim of the Gnostics was that a man might so perfect himself that he became a conscious worker with the Logos; all those who did so, became "Christs," and as such were Saviours, but not in the sense of being the Logos Himself.

The neophyte on receiving "baptism," that is to say, on reaching a certain state of interior purification or enlightenment, was said to "rise from the dead"; thereafter, he "never grew old and became immortal," that is to say, he obtained possession of the unbroken consciousness of his spiritual ego. Menander was especially opposed to the materialistic doctrine of the resurrection of the body, and this was made a special ground of complaint against him by the Patristic writers of the subsequent centuries.

The followers of Menander were called Menandrists, and we can only regret that no record has been left of them and their writings. As they seem to have been centralized at Antioch--seeing that tradition assigns the founding of the Church of Antioch to Paul, and assigns to it Peter as its first bishop; seeing again that the "withstanding to the

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face" incident is placed by the Acts tradition in the same city--it may be that their writings would have thrown some light on these obscure traditions.

I would, however, suggest that Mainandros should be placed far earlier than "Simon," and that we A Link with Zoroastrianism. should see in him one of the earliest links between Gnosticism and the Magian tradition. It may be even that the Gnostics traced the tradition of their æon-lore to this disciple of the Magi, for the root of their æonology is to be found in the Zoroastrian Amshaspends, the personal emanations of Ahuramazda, as Mills and others have shown; though I myself would seek the origin of the æon-doctrine in Egypt.

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