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Gnosticism

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A. Gnosis. The New-Testament writers were occasionally determined in their choice of prominent words by the expressions which were current among the people they addressed. Such words as logos and gnosis, having acquired a peculiar signification in the schools, were recognized by them, and appropriated to a sacred use. We concede, indeed, that the latter word (γνῶσις ) usually denotes in their writings simply what its etymology implies, the mere act of knowing, or the objective knowledge thus acquired. In those primitive times it was seldom that any systematic or scientific exposition of Christian truth was demanded. The contest was with reference to the simple facts of the Gospel, and Christianity was fain to secure an existence in the world before it had leisure to speculate upon abstract points. Not only was it unwise to divert men's minds from, practical religion, but many true believers were too carnal to be intrusted with a higher wisdom. Paul, therefore, and his fellow-laborers determined to confine their apostolic ministrations to such a historical presentation of Jesus Christ and him crucified as might be called the simplest milk of the word. He declares, however (1 Corinthians 2:6), that he sometimes made known a higher wisdom among such as were perfect, though a wisdom, he is careful to say, very different from that which some heathen and Jewish philosophers had claimed. In other passages he applies the word gnosis to this kind of wisdom. He specifies "the word of knowledge" among those peculiar gifts of the Spirit which were possessed by the more eminent teachers (1 Corinthians 12:8), and commends a knowledge through which the more discerning believers rose above the fear of the heathen gods, and ate of the things offered to idols as of things in themselves indifferent (1 Corinthians 8:7). He speaks also of a gnosis falsely so called, and thus implies that there was another which truly deserved the name (1 Timothy 6:20). In subsequent times this use of the word became common, and great pains were taken to make obvious the distinction between the true (γνῶσις ἀληθινή ) and the false gnosis (γνῶσις ψευδώνυμος ). A lately (1715) discovered treatise of Irenaeus (entitled γνῶσ . ἀληθ. ), and an extended description of the true Gnostic at the close of the Stromata of Clement of Alexandria, have preserved to us the views of the Church on this subject near the close of the 2d century.

It was admitted on all sides that there was a knowledge of divine things superior to that of the multitude, not in its importance to the salvation of the soul, but in its intellectual power. It belonged not so much to the pulpit as to the schools, and was important not so much to the personal salvation as to the comfort and growth of believers, and to the acceptance of the Gospel among the more educated classes. It took up those facts which were objects of the common faith, and made them subjects of speculation and profound thought. It arranged them, drew from them logical conclusions, reconciled their apparent discrepancies with each other and with the conclusions of science, and applied them to long-agitated questions which were only hinted at, but not solved, in the Christian Scriptures. At this point, however, the true and the false gnosis separated, and took different directions. The former submitted itself without reserve to the authority of the Scriptures, and professed never to venture beyond what was written. It presented itself to all men without discrimination of natural talents or social condition. The latter claimed to be above the reach of the vulgar, and to be derived from sources superior to the written word. Clement describes the true Gnostic as one who grows gray in the study of the Scriptures. I A scientific culture may be indispensable to the higher departments of that study, and a true spiritual discernment can be acquired only by divine grace, but the natural talents which must be used in its acquisition have been given to all, and each one's success will be proportioned to his prayerful diligence. The sources of knowledge, too, were the same for the humblest believer and the most eminent Gnostic, for all had access to the Scriptures and the common tradition (παράδοσις ) which had been transmitted in 11 the churches. The gnosis was. simply a faith made perfect, an expansion. of what faith had received, a building constructed wholly of materials supplied by faith. Its advocates made much use of a passage in Isaiah 7:9 (Sept.): "If ye believe not, neither shall ye understand;" from which they inferred not only that faith is indispensable to knowledge, but that knowledge should spring from faith. And yet it cannot be denied that many, especially of the Alexandrian school, gave an undue prominence to this higher knowledge, as if it were indispensable to all religion, and disparaged the great body of believers (πιστικοί ) as incapable of a true spiritual life, as in communion only with the Christ of an earthly and sensuous life, and as actuated only by a fear of punishment and a desire of personal benefits. The true Gnostic, on the other hand, they believed to be favored with such an intuitional faculty for the discernment of truth, and such a perpetual tuition under the divine Logos, that he could dispense, in a great degree, with outward demonstrations; and they claimed that his love of knowledge was so intense and disinterested, that if it could even be separated from his eternal salvation he would not hesitate still to choose it. The subjects on which they delighted to expatiate were chiefly: God, as he must be conceived of in his absolute being, the incarnation and redeeming work of Christ, the influence of these upon our race and upon other beings, the vast chain of existence between man and God, the fall of some links in this chain and their probable recovery, the origin of this world, the source of moral evil and its elimination from the universe, and the future history and destiny of all things. In the discussion of such themes, we need not be surprised to find that they not unfrequently transcended the province both of reason and of faith, and that some of their speculations were condemned by their more temperate brethren (Neander, Hist. 1:544-52; Hase, Hist. § 85; Schaff, Hist. Christ. Church, volume 1, chapter 4).

B. Heretical Gnosticism.

I. General Character. The name Gnosticism has been applied to a variety of schools which had sometimes little in common except the assumption of a knowledge higher than that of ordinary believers. Most of them claimed a place in the Church, and complained bitterly when this was denied them; and yet they generally spoke of Christianity as insufficient to afford absolute truth, and not unfrequently they assumed a hostile attitude towards it. They seldom pretended to demonstrate the principles on which their systems were founded by historical evidence or logical reasonings, since they rather boasted that these were discovered by the intuitional powers of more highly endowed minds, and that the materials thus obtained, whether through faith or divine revelation, were then worked up into a scientific form according to each one's natural power and culture. Their aim was to construct not merely a theory of redemption, but of the universe a cosmogony. No subject was beyond their investigations. Whatever God could reveal to the finite intellect, they looked upon as within their range. What to others seemed only speculative ideas, were by them hypostatized or personified into real beings or historical facts. It was in this way that they constructed systems of speculation on subjects entirely beyond the range of human knowledge, which startle us by their boldness and their apparent consciousness of reality.

II. External Origin. And yet we have reason to believe that Gnosticism originated no speculations which were essentially new. It only recognized and selected what seemed to it true in earlier systems, and then combined these fragments in new relations not in the way of a crude syncretism, but with mutual affinities and living power. No question, however, has more perplexed historians than that which refers to the direct origin of Gnosticism. We are in possession of scarcely any authenticated documents which have come down to us from persons living at the time and in countries in which it had its birth. We are dependent for our information respecting it almost entirely upon the representations of opponents, who knew almost nothing of Oriental systems, and were acquainted with it only in its maturity. Unfortunately, too, the question of the origin of Gnosticism has recently become complicated with others on which violent party feelings have been exercised. Those who have denied the apostolic origin of the epistles in which traces of Gnosticism have been discovered, have felt an interest in removing both the epistles and Gnosticism to as late a period as possible. From the discussion of this subject, however, there are some facts which may now be regarded as incontrovertible.

1. Ever since the conquests of Alexander the Great, an intense interest had been felt throughout Asia Minor and Egypt in Hellenistic philosophy and Oriental theosophy; and while the old mythologic fables and professed systems of positive revelation had lost their authority, many thoughtful persons had discovered under these what they looked upon as a uniting bond of truth and the elements of a universal religion.

2. The result was that, near the time of the first promulgation of Christianity, a number of new systems of religious philosophy sprung up independently in different countries, and exhibited similar characteristics. They were usually formed by incorporating with the national religion what seemed attractive elements in foreign systems, and softening down what was harsh and incredible in the popular faith and worship. In this way we discover a nearly simultaneous origin of the Judaistic philosophy at Alexandria, of Essenism and Therapeutism in Egypt and southern Palestine, of the Cabbalistic literature in Syria and the East, and of New Platonism among the Hellenistic nations. These were all offshoots from the same general root, and not necessarily deriving anything original, but unquestionably drawing much assistance from one another. Similar circumstances everywhere called forth similar phenomena with no conscious interdependence.

3. We thus account for the origin of Gnosticism, and easily reconcile the conflicting views of different writers respecting it. As the early ecclesiastical writers were themselves acquainted almost exclusively with Occidental literature, they ware in the habit of ascribing the rise of Gnosticism to the study of Grecian philosophy, and especially of Platonism, and they appeal to the cosmogonies of Hesiod and others for the exemplars of the Gnostic speculations. Modern historians, however, have found in most of the Gnostic systems such a predominance of Oriental elements, that- they have been led to infer a direct influence not merely from Alexandrian Judaism, but dualistic Parsism, and even from pantheistic Buddhism. There can, in fact, be no question regarding the influence of all these systems. The Platonic doctrines of a God, without distinctions in his nature, withdrawn entirely within himself, intelligible only to the initiated, and that only through the mediation of the Nous, a higher ideal sphere reflecting itself in a lower phenomenal world, a hyle (ὕλη ) and an undefined dualism between it and God, a fall of spiritual beings from the divine to the sensuous sphere, the derivation of sin from a contact with the material element; the Pythagorean doctrine of numbers; the Brahminic doctrine of emanation eshypostatizing of the divine attributes; the Parsic representation of the divine essence as light. of a dualism in which God is subject to the continual aggression of a world of matter, and of a good principle in eternal conflict with the prince of darkness; and the Buddhist notions of a God in process of development, of souls longing to be freed from the bonds of matter, and to be raised above all sensible things, and reunited with the divine source of life, are all unmistakable, and indicative of their respective sources. We need not, however, suppose that these elements were derived directly from their original sources. The Alexandrian literature, in which most of these elements had found a place, was diffused among the educated classes in all those countries in which Gnosticism flourished, and might have been the mediating agency through which the mind of the East was brought into communication with that of the West. From the heterogeneous commingling of such diverse systems, and especially from their contact with the young energies of Christianity, the Gnostic spirit might easily draw forth such materials as suited its purpose. The sources of Gnosticism, however, like those of the Nile, are to a great extent concealed, and those who imagine they have discovered its principal head not unfrequently learn that another remains far beyond. As its friends boasted, there were secret agencies by which truth was conveyed to the elect race under symbols and an outward letter which only they could understand. (See Baxmann, in the Ames. Theol. Review for 1862, page 666-76).

III. Classification. It has been found very difficult to arrange the several Gnostic sects according to any principle of classification. They have been grouped together by different writers according to their origin, their geographical position, and their speculative views. Neander (Hist. Christ. Religion, 1:379-86) divides them into Judaizing and anti-Judaizing Gnostics, according to their agreement or opposition to ancient Judaism. Gieseler (Eccl. Hist. volume 1, § 44) arranges them according to their geographical order, as Alexandrian, Syriac, and miscellaneous. Hase (Hist. Chr. Ch. § 76) makes four classes, Syrian, Hellenistic, Judaizing, and specially Christian. Similar to this is Matter's division into those of Svria, Asia Minor, Egypt, and the rest of the Roman world (Hist. crit. du Gnost.). Baur (Chr. Gnosis, 1835) arranges the several sects into three principal classes according to their relation to the three earlier religions with which they came in contact:

1. Those who combined Christianity with Judaism and heathenism;

2. Those who entirely separated it from them, and opposed it to them; and,

3. Those who identified it with Judaism, but opposed it to heathenism. This ingenious, and, in many respects, satisfactory division, fails to bring out the historical progress and internal development of the Gnostic systems, and offers no suitable place for Manichaeism. It has, however, found much favor on account of its simplicity, and has been adopted with some modificationss by Niedner, Marheineke (Weltalter, th. 2, page 246), Tennemann (Manual of the Hist. of Philippians § 200), and others. Dr. Schaff proposes a classification, according to an ethical point of view, into the speculative and theosophic, the practical and ascetic; and the Antinomian and libertine (Hist. of the Chr. Ch. 1:234). It is evident that no classification can combine together a chronological local, and logical distribution, and hence we shall probably gain something by presenting these separately. IV. History. In attempting to give a historical outline of the course of Gnosticism, our object is not so much to present particular details of the several schools, since these will be found, as far as possible, under their several heads in this work, but to indicate in general the order and position of each. Lipsius, in a recent work (Gnosticism, its Essence, Origin, and Development, 1860), endeavors to show that this course of development was a curve which commenced with only a slight departure from orthodoxy, and, after diverging more and more from it, finally comes back again gradually to the true path. Another writer (Hilgenfeld) has attempted a distinct definition of the three stadia of this development. It is difficult to discover in the actual history the regularity of departure and return implied in such a figure, and yet we may derive from it a correct notion of the general direction. In the first stadium we have the Judaizing Gnostics, and then the several classes who, in their opposition to Judaism, deify nearly all the godless characters of the Old Testament. In the second we have not merely Old-Testament history, but Greek philosophy, a contempt of the common faith, the opposition of the psychic and pneumatic natures, and mythical personifications of speculative ideas. In the third and last stadium this opposition between the pneumatic and psychic natures begins to be modified, and finally, under the Marcionites, the Gnostic speculation approximates very nearly that of the more liberal Catholic teachers. It is in this last stadium that we find the greatest difficulty in seeing how the curve approximates with much uniformity the orthodox highway for some classes of the later Marcionaites, and, above all, the Manichees, seem rather to have been the extreme consummation of Gnosticism.

As there were strong tendencies towards Gnosticism both in Judaism and heathenism, we might reasonably infer that the Gnostics must have been powerfully attracted by Christianity. It was, however, more consistentwithethe essential spirit ofthat movement to attempt to mold the new system to its fancy than to submit with docility to the exclusive authority of the Gospel. Among the remnants of Oriental tribes in Samaria we are not surprised to find such a man as Simon, who succeeded in making the multitude believe that he was the great power of God. It is said that he called himself the creative world-spirit, and his female companion the receptive world-soul. We have here a likeness of the Gnostic doctrine of aeons and syzigies. In the tradition of the subsequent Church, this half- mythical personage became the patriarch of all heretics, but especially of heathen Gnostics (Irenaeus, Adv. haer. lib. 1, c. 27, § 4; Hippol. 1:62 sq.). During the twenty years which intervened between the first Christian Pentecost and the later epistles of Paul, we know that theosophic speculations were everywhere prevalent in Syria and Asia Minor, and that these were strangely min-led with Christian doctrines. Great freedom was allowed to religious thought, even among the early Christians, as long as the moral and religious life of the people was not perverted. But Paul very soon discovered dangerous tendencies in the churches which he had recently established in Asia Minor. Josephus tells us that Alexander the Great had sent into the provinces of Lydiae and Phrygia 2000 Mesopotamian and Babylonian Jewes to garrison the disaffected towns there, and. we are informed that the inhabitants of that region have always since been prone to mystical and Oriental superstitions (Alford, How to use the Epistles, Epistle to the Colossians, Sunday Mag. 1867, page 829). The errors which he reproved at Colossae were doubtless a curious commixture of Jewish and heathen speculations. The ancient historian Hegesippus informs us (Euseb. Eccl. Hist. 3:32) that the heretical gnosis did not make its appearance with an uncovered head until after the death of the apostles, but that it previously worked in secret. After all the contentions of various writers on the question how far this error prevailed in apostolic times, there is a general agreement that, while most of the heresies of that period were Judaistic, there was an obvious difference between those reproved in the Galatian churches and those noticed in the epistles to the Colossians and Timothy. The latter are treated much more mildly, and we readily perceive that they must have been much less developed and less subversive of the Christian system. They are expressly called (1 Timothy 6:20) a false gnosis, and were characterized by empty sounds without sense and subtle oppositions to the truth, a depreciation of the body, sand a worship of angels (Colossians 2:18; Colossians 2:23), and interminable genealogies and myths (1 Timothy 1:4).

These seem more akin to Jewish than to heathen speculations, and imply not the completed Gnosticism of the second century, but the manifest germs of Docetic emanations and Gnostic dualism. Irenseus, on the authority of Polycarp, relates (Adv. haer. 1:26) that John was acquainted with Cerinthus, and wrote the fourth gospel to refute his errors. Both he and Epiphanius (Haer. page 28) say that Cerinthu's taught that the world was not made by the Most High God, but by a lower power, or by angels, and that Jesus was an ordinary man, whom the supreme Logos became united with at his baptism, but forsook during his last sufferings, to reunite with him in the future kingdom of Messianic glory. (See CERINTHUS).

Here the Gnosticism becomes plainly perceptible, and we can certainly understand a number of passages in John's Gospel and Epistles better if we suppose a reference in them to these and similar errors. The Nicohaitans of the Apocalypse and the false teachers of the Epistle of Jude despised Judaism as the work of evil angels, ridiculed and trampled upon the law that they might insult these limited powers, and thus fell into a strange complication of gross licentiousness and bodily mortifications (Burton, Heresies of the Apost. Age; Potter in the old and W.L. Alexander in the new edition of Kitto's Cycop.; Conybeare, in Conybeare and Howson's Life of St. Paul, note at the end of volume 1. Comp. C.C. Tittmanns, De vestigiis Gnosticor. in N.T. frustra quaesitis, Leips. 1773; transl. and publ. in Contributions to Foreign Literature, New York, 1827). No sooner bad the direct influence of the apostles and their immediate successors ceased than the speculative interest and numbers of the Gnostics began to increase mightily. Near the commencement of the 2d century, flourished about the same time Basilides in Alexandria and his son Isidore (See BASILIDES), the dualistic and ascetic Saturninus in Antioch, Carpocratesaof Alexandria, and his son Epiphanes. The last two maintained that every one who could soar to the same height of contemplation might attain the same powers with Christ, and that Christ differed in no respect from the wise and good of all nations. About the same time we first become acquainted with the party commonly called Ophites, though Origen says that it was founded by a certain Euphrates, who must have lived as early as the time of Christ. Their common appellation (Ophites, Heb. Naasenes) was given them by their opponents (for they always called themselves simply Gnostics), because they were said to pay great honor to the serpent as the instrument of the temptation in Eden. As the prohibition then transgressed was designed to keep man back from knowledge, what is commonly called the Fall was, in fact, a transition to a higher state. When first known they resided principally in Egypt and in Phrygia. They afterwards became numerous, sand branched off into various subdivisions. (See OPHITES).

Great differences however, are discoverable between those who bear the same name. In the next generation (A.D. 140-160) belongs Valentinus, who flourished first in Egypt and then in Rome, and finally died in the island of Cyprus (about A.D. 160). The school named after him was the most influential of all the Gnostic parties, and contained a large number of talented and eminent teachers. It was divided into an Oriental and an Italian branch, in both of which was inculcated a highly exalted style of religion. Among its most esteemed writers may be mentioned Heracleon of Alexandria, who wrote a commentary on John's Gospel, some extracts from which, preserved in Origen, admirably bring out the profound spirit of this evangelist; Ptolemy, whose epistle to Flora has come down to us in Epiphanius, and' endeavors to show that his system was not inconsistent with the Catholic faith; Marcus, probably a Jew of Palestine, in whose poetic and symbolical work divine sons discourse in liturgical forms; and Bardesanes, an Armenian of Edessa (about 170), who, with his son Harmonius, was immensely popsular as a writer of hymns and imitations of David's Psalms. (See the articles under these names.) Contemporary with Valentinus lived Cerdon, a Syrian, and his pupil Marcion of Sinope, in Pontus, who carried their zeal for Pauline and primitive Christiatnity to such an extreme that they rejected not only as secret traditions, but large portions of the New Testament. They opposed heathen religions as the work of the devil, and Judaism as the product of an inferior and wrathful deity, who was to be put down by Christ and the revelation through him of the supreme God. Kindred with him were Apelles of Alexandria, and his pupils Lucas and Marcus, who approximated still nearer a Christian orthodoxy, though with singular inconsistencies. Tatian, a Syrian, a rhetorician in Rome, during the latter part of his life is said to have fallen into Gnostic errors, and to have prescribed a system of extreme abstinence as the only means of disengaging ourselves from the world. A party of Encratites, calling themselves by his name or by that of his pupil Severus, continued as late as the 4th century. A class of persons represented by the Clementine Homilies at Rome, and sometimes reckoned among the Gnostics, ought rather to be classed with the Ebionites. (See CLEMENTINES).

We now come in contact with several classes of the Ophites, many of whom, according to Origen, went so far in their opposition to ordinary views that they admitted none to their assemblies who did not curse Christ (Neander, 1:446 sq.). The whole system of the God of the Jews was looked upon by this sect as oppressive to man, and whoever is represented in the scriptural history as rebelling against it were regarded as saints. Hence some of the worst characters of the Old and New Testament were held in the highest honor. Even Jesus was reckoned among agents of the Jewish Jehovah, and his betrayal by Judas Iscariot was extolled as done with the best of motives and results. Those who maintained this position were called Cainites, while such as dissented from such extravagances were distinguished as Sethites. The Perates, who have recently become known to us through the Philosophoumena, appear to have approximated much nearer the Catholic doctrine. During the 3d century Gnosticism appears to have lost its power, for the orthodox party had now attained more scientific precision of thought, and their formulas of faith presented scriptural doctrine in a style consistent with the highest culture of the age. Towards the close of that century, however, arose in the distant East one more attempt to combine Christianity with Oriental theosophy. Manicheeism sprang up in a region where neither Hellenism nor Judaism was familiar; and its object appears to have been to reform the corrupted Parsism of that day by incorporating with the original system of Zoroaster numerous elements taken from a gnosticized Christianity and Buddhism. To Christianity, however, it seems to have been indebted more for its names and symbols than for its essential history or characters. Personages and facts taken from scriptural records find in that system an entirely new significance. Its founder (Mani or Manes, a Magian banished from Persia) discovered many points of agreement between the doctrines of Parsism, Buddhism and Gnostic Christianity, and endeavored to combine these three systems into one universal religion. He accounted for all things on dualistic principles. His followers were soon driven by persecution from their earliest seats, but were numerous during the fourth century in every part of the East, and in Africa, Sicily, and Italy. Many persons of noble spirit were attracted by it, but it soon fell into gross licentiousness by its professed exaltation above outward things, and of course lost its place in common esteem, and fell into contempt. Some vestiges, however, both of Marcionism and Manichaeism, remained even into the Middle Ages, and by means of the Priscillianists, the Paulicians, the Bogomiles, and the Cathari, transmitted the leading features of Gnosticism to distant ages and countries.

Many of these sects can hardly be recognized as within the pale of Christianity. While some of them claimed a place within the Church, and refused to leave it when they were disowned by its authorities, others openly abjured the Christian name. Certainly such complete subverters of the essentials of the Gospel as the Carpocratians, Perates, Sethites, Cainites, and Manichaeans deserve to be called rather gnosticized heathen than Christian Gnostics. In the history of the Church they deserve a place only because they, like other heathen, influenced it from without. In a history of Gnosticism even these must have no unimportant position. Indeed, no history of this system is quite complete without embracing some still more remote systems Cabbalistic Judaism, Neo-Platonism, etc., which had their origin under Gnostic influences. V. General Principles. The ultimate aim of Gnosticism was to present a perfect solution of the great problem of the origin and destiny of the universe, and especially of the origin of evil, πολυθρύλητον ζήτημα, πόθεν κακία. The three ideas which were fundamental to all its speculations were:

1. A supreme being, unconnected with matter, and incapable of being affected by it;

2. Matter, ὔλη , eternal,, the source of evil, and opposed to God; and,

3. A series of beings intermediate between these two

The primary source of all spiritual existence was an eternal abyss (βυθός ), so utterly beyond human representation that no one should venture to name him, or even to conceive of him. He was the absolute one, and virtually and logically non-existent (οὐκ ὣν ). In his nature, however, there was some inconceivable ground of self-evolution (προβολή ), in consequence of which his infinite powers became revealed in a series of aeons, or hypostatized divine attributes. It is only through these that he can have communication with finite natures. They are called aeons (αἰῶνες ) because they are eternal ones, representing the eternal Source of all (αἰών ). According to Valentinus, they emanated in pairs (syzigies) of different sexes. Basilides and Marcion ascribed their existence to an act of love and to a creative word, but the more pantheistic sects to a necessary process of emanation which is usually spoken of as by generation. Their number varies in different systems; sometimes it is determined by planetary relations (12), sometimes by the days of the year (365), sometimes by the years in the life of Christ (32), but not unfrequently it is left indefinite. The first eons were Nous, Logos, Sophia, Dunamis, Aletheia, Zoe, etc., generated either by the original being or by one another in ever-increasing imperfection as they recede from their source. Together they constitute the Pleroma, the world of light and divine fullness, but far removed from the infinite abyss with which none can directly communicate.

2. Over against this Pleroma and this eternal abyss stands the world of matter (ὔλη ), sometimes contradistinguished as the Kenoma, or the world of emptiness or darkness. This was usually spoken of as eternal, but chaotic, and disordered by internal strifes. It was generally described as far removed from the kingdom of light, but sometimes as very near, and even on the confines of that kingdom. Some conceived of it as dead and powerless until it became animated by influences from the Pleroma, but others, and especially Manes and his followers, represented it as active and aggressive. According to the former, one of the lowest and feeblest of the divine sons (called by Valentinus Sophia, the lower wisdom or Achamoth, the κάτω in distinction from the ἄνω σοφία ) fell from the abode of light and came under the power of matter. Though Valentinus makes this, to some extent, a free act of apostasy on the part of the divine eon, as she was wandering beyond the bounds of the Pleroma, and agitated by her intense desire to get out of her proper sphere and enter into more direct communication with the infinite Source, it was usually described as the result of an incapacity to retain a hold upon the superior world, and a consequent precipitation into the darkness of the Kenoma.

3. At this point we meet with the idea of the Demiurge. The name signifies a public worker (Δημιουργός ), and le esi the same with the Avelion of Basilides and the Jaldabaoth (יֲלדָּאאּבִהוּת, the chaosborn) of the Ophites. He came into being from the commingling of the light-nature in the Sophia (the πνευματικόν σπέρμα ) with matter. As the fruit of such a parentage, he was possessed of a nature neither pneumatic nor material, but psychical, and he occupies an intermediate position between the supreme God and the material world. He is not, of course, an evil, but only a limited and imperfect being, and yet evil springs from the defects of his work and of his plans. He acts in general with sincerity according to his power and light. By him the chaos of matter was transformed into an organized universe. The planetary heavens, and the sidereal spirits who are over them, and the whole course of the world, are under his control. In all this, however, he is the unconscious instrument of higher powers in the world of light, who secretly influence all his movements. Of this control he finally and gradually became aware, and by some teachers he is said to have become vexed and goaded into opposition by the discovery, and by others to have gladly welcomed and submitted to it. He was the author of Judaism, and to some extent of Christianity; and hence by many Gnostics the former system was looked upon as defective, if not false, and even the latter, especially in its mere letter, as incapable of imparting the highest wisdom. Only by Marcion was he regarded as entirely independent of the supreme God in the work of creation and providence, since he was here in a department which belonged wholly to him. He remained the God of this world until the coming of Christ, who vanquished him at the crucifixion.

4. With respect to anthropology, the Gnostics held that the whole kingdom of the Demiurge was fallen. He was himself the creature of a fallen eon, and the world he created and rules is subject to imperfection. From his connection with matter there was produced a human race, which in its totality is a microcosm, representing within itself the three principles of the great universe, the supreme God, the Demiurge, and matter. This was inconsequence of the creation of three classes of men, higher or lower in proportion to their freedom from matter. Marcion alone made this distinction dependent upon the will of man himself; the other Gnostics made it a result of creation, or of a divine communication of the spark of light and life from the upper world. The highest of these, i.e., the spiritual (πνευματικοι ), share largely in the nature of the lowest aeon (σοφία ), who originally fell from the Pleroma, and hence they are the only ones who can attain perfection. They alone are capable of recognizing and receiving the light which is communicated from above. The second class, the psychical (ψυκικοί ), have the nature of the Demiurge himself, who has power to raise them to some extent above the debasement of matter, and, by giving them legal forms, to impart to them a legal righteousness, but not to afford them a recognition of those divine mysteries which are beyond his own reach. The third class are the fleshly or hylic (σαρκικοί, ὑλικοί ) natures, in whom matter has usurped human form and passion (πάθος ), has entire control, and who are therefore destined to share the fortunes of matter alone. Historically, the spiritual predominated under the Christian dispensation, the psychical under the Jewish, and the fleshly among the heathen of all ages. Individuals, however, of each class are numerous under all these dispensations. In the aristocratic spirit of ancient Platonism, many Gnostics allowed of no transition from the one to the other of these classes, while others looked upon it as possible for the lower to rise to the higher in consequence of a divine communication of special powers.

5. The Gnostic idea of redemption was simply that of a liberation of the light-spirit from its connection with matter. Of course it is confined to the two higher classes of our race in whom that spirit is found. In every condition of humanity, some favored individuals are represented as sighing for deliverance. In this way were explained some glimpses of a higher knowledge, which break forth at intervals in the prophecies and psalms of the Jewish Scriptures, and in the writings of pagan philosophers. Some sparks of light were supposed to have been thrown into the breasts of nobler persons, and the rational creation, as a whole (κτίσις ), is represented as sighing for redemption (Romans 8:22). A recently discovered work (Pistis Sophia) contains the penitential sighings and longings of the neon (σοφία ) when she had herself fallen from her original condition of divine intuition to that of mere faith. In pity for this sighing spirit, Christ, one of the highest of all the aeons, descends, and brings her, after innumerable sufferings, back to the Pleroma, and undertakes the deliverance of all pneumatic natures. To accomplish this, he assumes, not a material form, since he can have no contact with matter, but only the appearance of one. In answer to the longings of the Jews, the Demiurge had promised and actually sent among them a Messiah with only psychical powers. Most of the Gnostics suppose that the heavenly Christ (Soter) took possession of this Messiah, who had proved himself unable to accomplish what had been promised in his behalf, and that from the baptism by John until the crucifixion this true Redeemer acted through this personage. Some, however, held that the man Jesus, with whom the aeon Christ then became connected, combined in his own nature all human elements with the powers of an aetherial spirit. As this Christ cannot suffer, everything in him which seemed like it, or like any imperfection, was either a docetic illusion, or wholly in the human personage with which he was united: This work of Christ, however, commenced not wholly with the life of Jesus, but, to some extent, with creation itself, in which the Redeemer inspired the unconscious Demiurge with many divine ideas, and during the whole process of the world's government he is drawing congenial spirits to himself, and correcting many errors of the world-ruler. His redeeming work, however, is effected entirely by the communication of the Gnosis, and especially the revelation of the true God. In the end, all pneumatic and psychical natures capable of redemption will be gathered and raised to the Pleroma. Valentinus supposes that all psychical natures are exalted only to a lower degree of blessedness in a peculiar kingdom of the Demiurge. Matter with all fleshly natures will either be consumed by its own powers, or sink back into its original condition of utter deadness and absolute separation from the light, or of internal confusion.

6. The sources from which the Gnostics professed to derive their knowledge were,

(a.) Tradition, not so much that of the Church, which they generally looked upon as unphilosophical, and fit only for the multitude, but that which was said to have been communicated by Christ to a narrow circle of congenial spirits, and by them transmitted to others. Marcion alone made this tradition accessible to all.

(b.) The ordinary Christian Scriptures were only partially received among them. Marcion and the more strenuous Judaistic Gnostics entirely rejected the Old Testament, and the more moderate recognized a distinction between its pneumatic, psychic, and hylic elements. Many of them disparaged portions of the New Testament also, while others accepted only of Paul's writings and an expurgated gospel of Luke.

(c.) Other writings of highly enlightened persons belonging to particular sects. Thus Manes's writings were much venerated among his followers, and the prophecies of Cain and of a pretended seer named Parchor among the followers of Basilides, and the apocryphal books of Adam, Enoch, Moses, Elias, Isaiah, Baruch, and others.

(d.) Even the writings of the heathen poets and philosophers were much used by some, who, by a course of allegorical explanations, like those which they applied to the Scriptures, discovered ineffable mysteries under the most unpromising outward letter.

7. With the exception of the followers of Manes, we have no evidence that the Gnostics ever attempted a distinct ecclesiastical organization. Many of them were never excluded from the orthodox churches, within which they only sought to form schools and social circles. They practiced baptism, and believed that in this rite, as in the baptism of Christ, the higher spirit was more abundantly imparted, and the human spirit was emancipated from the power of the Demiurge. Most of them were inclined by their poetic fancies and their love of symbols to a gorgeous style of worship, but the more common ordinances and observances of the Church were neglected as useful only to such as were on the ground of mere faith.

8. Their ethics and practical morality were usually dependent upon dualistic principles. Among the Hellenistic Gnostics it took the form of a struggle against matter, which so unfrequently ran into asceticism, and sometimes into the use of charms and astrological practices. The Oriental Gnostics, on the other hand, are said in many instances to have plunged into immoralities, sometimes with the view of showing their contempt for the Demiurge and his laws, or because they regarded the body as an indifferent thing to a spirit united with the supreme God, and subject to no inferior law. Saturninus, Marcion, and Manes rejected marriage; but many Gnostics not only submitted to it, but looked upon it as the highest law of pneumatic natures. We have no evidence that the standard of morality was lower among the Gnostics generally than among orthodox Christians in general.

One is amazed at the boldness, the fanciful nature, and the high pretensions of Gnosticism. In the course of a century and a half it comes and goes before us like a splendid vision.. And yet its influence upon Christianity was profound and permanent. It gave occasion to a great expansion of Christian thought, to a clearer idea of the historical relation of Christianity to earlier and surrounding religions, and to a better definition of the basis of true faith. It deserves a more careful study than it has usually received.

VI. Literature. The original authorities are the ecclesiastical writers of the period generally, but especially Irenaeus and Epiphanius, Adv. haereses; Tertullian, De praescript. Haer., contra Gnost. scosp., adv. Valentinanos, adt. Marcianum; Hippolytus, Κατὰ πασ . αὶρ . ἔλεγχος, and the Philosophoumena usually ascribed to him; Theodoret, Haer. Fabb. Also Clemens, Alex. and Origen in many passages; Gnostic fragments in Grabe's Spicilegium; Munter's Odae Gnosticae (Kopenh. 1812); Pistis Sophia (a Gnostic work translated from a Copt. Codex by Schwartz and edited by Petermanns Berlin, 1851); Cerdus Nazaraeus (ed. by Norberg, and sometimes called the Bible of Gnosticism); Bardesanes Gnosticus Syrorum primus Hymnologus, and Antitheses Marcionis Gnosiici (two Gnostic works published by Aug. Hahn, Leips. 1819, 1823); also the Neo- Platonist work of Plotinus, Πρὸς τ . γνωστικόυς (Emend. 2, lib. 9). The English reader can gain access to many of these ecclesiastical writers by means of the Ante-Nicene Chr. Lib., edited, by Drs. Roberts and Donaldson, now in course of publication at Edinburgh.

The modern literature of Gnosticism is very abundant. Besides the general ecclesiastical histories of Gieseler, Neander, Hase, and Schaff, the doctrinal histories of Hagenabach, F.K. Meier, F.C. Baur, A. Neander, L. Noack, and Shedd, and the histories of philosophy by H. Ritter, Tennemann, F.D. Maurice, and the French history translated by C.S. Henry, the more important special works on the subject are, A. Neander, Genet. Entwickl. d. vorn. gnost. Syst. (Berl. 1818); J. Matter, Histoire crit. et Gnosticisme (Par. 1828 [1843], 2 volumes); Dr. Edward Burton, Bampton Lectures on the Heresies on the Apost. Age (1829; Oxford, 1830); F.C. Baur, Die christ. Gnosis (Tub. 1835), and Das Christenthum (Tub. 1853), pages 159-213; J.A. Moehler, Versuch u. d. Urspr. d. Gnost. (Tub. 1831); Mö ller, Gesch. der Kosmologie d. Griech. Kirche (1862); R.A. Lipsius, Gnosticismus, etc. (Leips. 1860); Norton's Hist. of the Gnostics (1845); C.A. Lewald, De doctrina Gnost. (1818); H. Rossel, Gesch. d. Untersuch. it. d. Gnost. in Theol. Nachl. (Berl. 1847). Articles on Gnosticism have been published by F.R. Licke in Berl. theol. Zeitschr. (1819); J.C.L. Gieseler, in Hal. lit. Zeit. (1823) and Stud. u. Krit. (1830); F.C. Baur, Stud. u. Krit. (1837); H. . Cheever, in Asser. Bibl. Repository, October 1840; R. Baxmann, in Deutsche Zeitschr. (1861), and transl. in Amer. Theol. Rev. October 1862; and on the later history of the Nazoreans, or Mandai Jahia, in the Christian Review January 1855: an excellent article by J.L. Jacobi may be found in Herzog's Real-Encyklop. fur prot. Theol. See also Appleton's, Brande's, and Chambers's Cyclopaedias. (C.P.W.)


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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Gnosticism'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/g/gnosticism.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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Saturday, October 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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