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Mosheim's definition of the appellation of the Gnostics reads thus :* “Under the appellation of Gnostics are included all those in the first ages of the church, who modified the religion of Christ by joining with it the Oriental philosophy, in regard to the source of evil, and the origin of this material universe." This definition is based upon the supposition that all the Gnostic sects derived their tenets from the Oriental philosophy. And C. G. Walch remarks, that neither Greeks, Carthaginians nor Romans ever originated any of the Gnostics, although Greeks, Carthaginians and Romans, when they joined the Christian party, were wont to bring with them into their Christian tenets, the particular opinions of whatever school in philosophy they had affected to cultivate. In corroboration of Mosheim's opinion, this learned writer observes as remarkable, that all the branches of the whole family of Gnostic heresies should have been born either in Egypt, Syria or Persia, or at least were founded and formed by those who lived or were educated in those regions. Basilides, Carpocrates and Valentinus originated in Egypt, Manes in Persia, Cerinthus in Judea, Bardesanes and others in Syria. And however these heretics differed among themselves, they all held certain common and universal opinions, of which the elements are plainly discoverable in the Oriental philosophy. The question at the foundation of Gnosticism was the origin of evil.
Whether the same question was agitated out of Judea among the people of the East, we have no certain historical testimony, but it is enough that hypotheses were adopted which served to solve it.
There was the opinion of the two principles. There is a great difference between the hypothesis of matter in equality with the Supreme Deity from eternity, in order to avoid the supposition that the world was made out of nothing, and that of two principles, supposed in order to avoid making the Supreme Deity the author of evil. The Persians, the Chaldeans, the Egyptians all held to one fountain of good, another of evil
. Walchius refers to Hyde, Stanley, Buddæus, Brucker and Jablonskius. Then came the doctrine of Æons or Emanations, who built the world, as a sort of mixture of the two opinions of one fountain of all things, and of the Dualistic theory. That another
* Mosheim, Cent. I. Part II. c. 5.
† Walchius, De Phil. Orient. Gnost. Syst. Fonte. Appended to a volume of Michaelis' Syntagma, pp. 287–293.
being, different from God, built the universe, and that the spirits called Æons were substances emanating from God, were opinions prevailing in the East before the appearance of the Gnostics. That the world was built by God none believed without divine revelation. From the doctrine concerning the Æons arose the opinions concerning spirits presiding over stars and bodies, and innumerable Jewish fables of angels, and likewise the study and practice of magic. Then as to the bodily discipline and manners of the Gnostics and oriental philosophers, they arose in both cases from the same belief in the evil of matter, and manifested the same by corporeal mortifications and ascetic severity of life.
All these points of opinion between the Gnostic and the Oriental philosophy are enumerated by Walchius in a very admirable dissertation concerning the origin of the Gnostic system, affixed to the Syntagma Commentationum of Michaelis. Nevertheless the writer somewhat distrusts, for want of written documents, the conclusions of Mosheim and Brucker as to the existence of an Oriental system already formed, from which the Gnostics drew as from a fountain. Michaelis, on the other hand, thinks that there is no good ground for denying the actual existence of the Gnostic system before the Christian system, merely because there are no books previous in which it is found recorded.* He undertakes to supply the one link which is wanting in the argument, and to trace the Gnostic philosophy as early at least as the time of the Septuagint and the writings of Philo. His method is curious and ingenious. He states, as a prominent error of the Gnostic philosophy, the notion that the God of the Jews, who is said to have built the world, and who was called the Demiurge, was not the Supreme God, but a being ignorant of the future, continually in danger of mistakes, and agitated by repentance, envy and anger.t Now the interpreters of the Pentateuch, finding in Genesis some ground or seeming occasion for such an error, determined in their transla
Michaelis, Gnostici ante Christianos. § 1. Nec quod in libris ante Christianismi initia scriptis certa non apparent gnosticorum errorum vestigia, ideo erratum fuisse recte neges. Non damnanda ergo aut repudianda Moshemiorum similiumque de Gnosticis ante Gnosticos Christianos opinio, sed veri potius simillima ac prope certa ducenda.
† Michaelis, Diss. de Indiicis Gnost. Phil. § 2.
tion to leave no possibility for such an accusation against the God of the Scriptures. Into this passage in Gen. 6: 6, instead of the idea of repentance, they have introduced that of deliberation, rendering the Hebrew, omon by the Greek verb évivuém ; xai žvefvuńon ó feos, et deliberavit Deus.* They have also wholly omitted translating the Hebrew phrase and it grieved him at his heart. Michaelis argues, that the Greek translators would not have resorted to this forced interpretation and method of dealing
with the passage in question, had there not already existed in Egypt those, who denied that the God of the Hebrews and Creator of the World was the Supreme Being, accusing him of mistakes, repentance and other like affections. In the same manner they managed the seventh verse, and Michaelis quotes Philo at a later period, arguing against his adversaries with the same labored explanation. The third Clementine homily, containing the dialogue between Peter and Simon Magus, is also adduced, showing the Gnostic heretics, after the Christian era and the application of the term Gnostic, using the same passage in Genesis, even in the Greek translation, as a locus classicus in defence of the irposition in regard to the Demiurge. I In Exodus 32: 12, 14, the idea of repentance is again, by a similar circumlocution, avoided in the Septuagint.§ The argument of Michaelis, if it does not go the length of supplying the want of documentary evidence, adds at least to the probability of the existence of Gnosticism a century or more before it became manifested and organized in profession and name.
It had then, we may safely assume, something of the power of a long established and accumulating influence, when it first, however covertly, made its way into the Church of Christ. Several philosophic tendencies, long prevalent, seem to have come to a point and been manifested in something like a system about the commencement of the Christian era.
As the mixture of Platonic, Oriental and Jewish doctrines, entitled Neoplatonism, appears in Philo the Jew, so the engrafting of Oriental principles, learned by the Jews in Egypt, upon the Jewish mysteries, entitled the Cabbalistic system, appears in some of the Gnostics. For although the Eclectic
* Michaelis, Diss. de Indiciis Gnost. Phil. § 2. | Idem, $ 7 and 8.
† Idem, $ 6. § Idem, $ 5.
school of philosophy was not established as a school till the time of Ammonius Saccas,* in the latter part of the second century, yet the method of Eclecticism was in vogue before the coming of Christ.f The Gnostics were in fact bold and imaginative Eclectics, some of them of the wildest class, simply and merely adopting Christianity as a part and parcel in the incongruous mixture of their materials. Some drew from the Oriental philosophy through the channel of the Cabbala, others through the Pythagorean scheme, or directly from original Oriental sources. In the first and second centuries, besides Simon Magus, there were Menander the Samaritan, and Cerinthus, probably a Jew,f and the Egyptians Basilides and Valentinus, in all likelihood familiar with the Cabbalistic philosophy and choosing to modify their Oriental principles in conjunction with it. They held to the Emanative scheme, and but one Principle of all things. Bardesanes, the Syrian, and afterwards Manes, the Persian, adopted the Oriental Dualistic scheme more entirely But they were all followers or formers of that monstrous system of Egyptian Eclecticism, which, along with some things from all systems of philosophy at all in vogue, combined or professed to combine also the tenets of Christianity itself.
The stream of philosophy, down to its mixture with Christianity, would seemn then to have proceeded thus --Oriental, Alexandrian, Cabbalistic, Gnostic. In the Alexandrian there meet and mingle, first, the tides of the Oriental and the Grecian; in the Cabbalistic, the Oriental, Grecian and Jewish flow on together; and in the Gnostic philosophy an Eclecticism of all that preceded pours itself into the pure stream of Christianity, almost at its first beginnings. It is a matter of no little acuteness and difficulty to analyze and trace to their true origin these different elements. Some learned writers have thought it sufficient to trace the Jewish Cabbala to the Grecian Mythology, and the whole Gnostic theology to the same source. Picus, Earl of
* Tenneman, $ 202.-Mosheim, Cent. I. Part II. ch. 5.
+ Certiora et notiora eclecticæ sectæ fundamenta jecit Am. monius. Brucker, Hist. Crit. Tom. II. 205.
C. G. F. Walch, De Gnost. etc. ut supra. Cerinthi origines subobscuræ sunt, Judeum tamen eum fuisse recte ex eo colligitur, quod contra communem Gnosticorum morem, Mosi justum tribuit honorem. § Gale, Court of the Gentiles, B. II. ch. 1. SECOND SERIES, VOL. VI. NO. II.
Mirandula, a well known prodigy of learning, referred the origin of the Cabbalistic system to Moses, solemnly declaring that in the Cabbalistic books, which he purchased at great expense, and studied with incredible labor, he found well nigh the whole Christian system.*
He was followed in the same blind enthusiasm by Reuchlin; and in England the learned Henry More was distinguished by the same veneration for the Cabbala. Gale argues that “the Cabbalistic symbolic explication of Scripture found no place in the Judaic theology, till the Pythagorean and Platonic philosophy was incorporated therewith ;"+ and he quotes the learned Mirandula granting that hypothesis, by acknowledging the affinity of the Jewish Cabbala to the Pythagorean and Platonic philosophy. Of the mixture of that philosophy with any tenets froin the East there was either an entire ignorance, or it was not deemed necessary to refer to it. To the same purpose of a Pagan origin of the Gnostic heresies argues Bishop Stillingfleet, in his Origines Sacræ.
Brucker attributes the opinion of the Fathers on this point to their ignorance of Orientalism. They never seem to have gone beyond the Grecian philosophy in tracing the origin of heresies. When Tertullian tells us that the heresies of the Gnostics are suborned by philosophy, he has nothing else in view.lHe
* Brucker, Tom. II. p. 918, etc. + Gale, p. 118.
| “From these things (the fables of the Phænician theology) as foolish and ridiculous as they are, it is very probable the Gnostics and the several subdivisions of them might take the rise of their several Eones and συζυγίαι: for here we find Αιών and Ilqwróyovos made two of the number of the gods.” Stillingfleet, Origines Sacræ, B. I. ch. 2. § 7.
§ Hist. Crit. Tom. III. p. 287. Solius Græcanicæ philosophiæ periti nec Orientalem intelligerunt. || Tertull. De Præs. Adv. Hær. The whole passage
is worth quoting. “Hæ sunt doctrinæ hominum et dæmoniorum, prurientibus auribus natæ de ingenio sapientiæ secularis, quam dominus stultitiam vocans stulta mundi in confusionem etiam philosophiæ ipsius elegit. Ea est enim materia sapientiæ secularis temeraria interpres divinæ naturæ et dispositionis. Ipsæ denique hæreses a philosophia subornantur. Inde æones et formæ nescio quæ, et trinitas hominis apud Valentinum: Platonicus fuerat, Inde Marcionis deus melior de tranquilitate; a Stoicis venerat : et uti anima interire dicatur, Epicurus ob