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the Gospel acceptable to the Greeks, they denied that the body would be raised again at the last day, and contended that the only resurrection promised by Christ to his disciples was the resurrection of the soul from a death in trespasses and sins, and consequently affirmed that the resurrection was already past. This the apostle shows to have been a fundamental error, subversive of the faith of the Gospel, inasmuch as the resurrection of Christ secures the resurrection of the bodies of all who sleep in him.
The heresies of Cerinthus and of the Ebionites, though not expressly mentioned in the apostolic writings, are generally supposed to have had their origin at this early period, and are therefore entitled to a brief notice in this place, reserving a more detailed account of them to a later period, when they may be said to have emerged from obscurity.
Cerinthus is said by Irenæus and others to have resisted the three apostles, Peter, Paul, and John, in their labours. He taught that the world was made by angels—that Jesus was a mere man—that Christ descended upon him in the form of a dove—that the ceremonies of the law, and circumcision in particular, must be observed—that the millennium would be a time of voluptuous pleasures, and that Jerusalem and the temple would be rebuilt. The heresy of the Ebionites did not differ materially from that of Cerinthus, though it had some additions. It sprang up after the destruction of Jerusalem, and some of its tenets were, that Christ was the son of a mortal father—that the Jewish Sabbath and many of the Mosaic rites were to be observed,—and that the Gospel of the Hebrews (an apocryphal work) was alone to be received.
In an enumeration of the heresies of this period, that of the Gnostics must by no means be omitted. They were a baneful progeny, the spawn of all the heretics hitherto mentioned, and perhaps of others whom I have not mentioned, such as Simon Magus, Menander, Saturninus, Basilides, Carpocrates, and Valentine. Their heresy, it is generally thought, is particularly referred to in the writings of the apostle John, Ist Epis. ïi.18, and other places : also by Paul, Col. ii. 8, and 1 Tim. vi. 20. They differed in certain particulars from each other, though they retained a common name, which pride and arrogance alone could
RISE OF THE GNOSTIC HERESY.
have first suggested. It was derived from yvóols, signifying a sublime degree of wisdom and knowledge, to which they laid claim. But, on this subject, I cannot do better than give you a quotation from the learned Mosheim :
“ By none of the adversaries or corrupters of the truth was Christianity, from almost its first rise, more seriously injured by none was the church more grievously lacerated—than by those who were for making the religion of Christ accommodate itself to the principles of the oriental philosophy respecting the Deity, the origin of the world, the nature of matter, and the human soul. We allude to those who, from their pretending that they were able to communicate to mankind (at present held in bondage by the Architect of the World) a correct knowledge of the true and ever-living God, were commonly styled Gnostics.
“No sooner did some of them gain a footing in the recently established Christian churches, than the principles they maintained respecting the origin of all things, and the causes for which Christ came into this world, and to which their great austerity of demeanour and rigid abstinence from even the lawful gratifications of sense communicated an imposing gloss, were by numbers received with open ears, and suffered to take entire possession of their minds. It was to no purpose that the apostles pointed out the emptiness of all these things, and how very incongruous they were with the genuine Christian discipline, although they might carry with them a specious show of something like recondite wisdom. * Intoxicated with a fondness for these opinions, not a few of the Christians were induced to secede from all association with the advocates for sound doctrine, and to form themselves into various sects, which, as time advanced, became daily more extensive and numerous, and were for several ages productive of very serious inconveniences and evils to the Christian commonwealth.
“The principles and nature of this system of discipline, however, were such as to render it impossible for its votaries to yield their assent to many things which were delivered by Christ and his apostles, or to interpret them according to their obvious and commonly accepted sense. To have done so would have been
* The emptiness and folly of this system of discipline is most aptly pourtrayed and exposed by the apostle in 1 Tim. i. 4; Tit. iii. 9; 2 Tim. ij. 16.
acting in direct opposition to certain leading maxims, which were considered by persons of their persuasion as indisputable truths. To various articles, therefore, propounded in the Christian code as essential points of belief, they utterly refused their assent; such, for instance, as that which attributes the creation of the world to the Supreme Being; and those respecting the divine origin of the law of Moses, the authority of the Old Testament, the character of human nature, and the like. In addition to the articles of Christian belief which they felt themselves constrained thus peremptorily to reject, there were others which they found it necessary to explain after their own manner, in order to render them compatible with the principles of the oriental discipline.
“Respecting Christ and the discharge of his official engagements, in particular, it was requisite for them, in support of their tenets, to maintain that he was to be considered as inferior to the Supreme Being, and as never having in reality assumed a material body. They also denied that Christ, in reality, either underwent what he is reported to have suffered, or that he actually died, and returned again to life, agreeably to the gospel testimony. And then, in regard to the purposes for which he came into the world, the principles of their system rendered it necessary for them to assert that it was not with a view to expiate the sins of mankind, or to placate the divine Majesty, but merely to communicate to the human race the long-lost knowledge of the Supreme Being; and that, having put an end to the usurped dominion of the arrogant founder of this world, he might point out to the souls of men the means of recovering for themselves their native liberty and happiness. Finally, these votaries of Orientalism were compelled, in support of their favourite maxim respecting the malignant nature of matter, to discountenance every idea of a future resurrection of men's bodies from the dead, and to maintain that what is said in Scripture upon this subject is altogether figurative and metonymical."*
Such is this learned writer's account of the sect of the Gnostics, whose tenets and maxims you will at once perceive were utSUBDIVISIONS OF THE GNOSTIC sects. 181 terly repugnant, not only to the doctrine openly delivered by Christ himself, but also to the tenor of those writings which are considered by the Christian church as the rule and standard of their religion--nor did the Gnostics atempt to deny it. They, however, took care not to be unprepared with arguments, whereby to defend and support the system of discipline to which they were devoted. By the leaders of some of their sects it was contended that the religion propounded by Christ was of two sorts; the one of easy comprehension, and adapted to the capacity of the common people, the other sublime, and to be understood only by persons of refined intellect. The former they represented as being contained in the books of the New Testament; the latter as having been unfolded by Christ to his apostles alone in private: and, for their own knowledge of the latter, they professed themselves indebted to certain disciples of the three apostles, Peter, Paul, and Matthias. Others pretended that their leading tenets and maxims were drawn from the oracles and visions of Zoroaster, and other divinely instructed sages of the east. Some took upon them to exclude from the canon of Scripture all such writings of the New Testament as appeared to militate with any degree of force against their principles, and to substitute in their place other Gospels and epistles of their own forging, and for which they claimed apostolic authority. And, finally, there were many of them who contended, like the mystics and Swedenborgians in our day, that in the words of Scripture there was enveloped a recondite meaning; and, upon this principle, they were continually labouring in the most silly and childish manner, by the squeezing and torturing of words, to wring from them that assistance and support which, without resorting to such means, they could in no wise be made to yield.
* Mosheim's Commentaries on the Affairs of the Christians, before the time of Constantine : translated by Vidal. Vol. I. p. 299–314.
The mischief which, this presumptuous sect did to the cause of primitive Christianity was very great; but its evil influence would have been still greater had their tenets been urged with a due measure of uniformity and consistence. It so happened, however, that from its very first rise the Gnostics were split into numerous parties, of which the leaders were as much at variance among themselves as with the Christians, whose doctrines they stigmatized as highly derogatory to the character of God, inasmuch as they attributed to him the creation of the world! This, indeed, was a point on which they were unanimous ; they all regarded the Great Supreme as a being altogether different from the Creator and Governor of the world. But as to the precise nature of the latter and his inferiority to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when they came to compare notes with each other, the difference of opinion that was found to prevail among these pretenders to superior knowledge was truly astonishing, and it gave rise to endless controversy among themselves. This, however, can be no matter of surprise to any well-informed mind; for truth is one and always consistent with itself; but the mazes of error are endless : when men once depart from the truth, the transition is very easy to their being turned unto fables. The very attempt to blend philosophy, under any certain or particular form, with the simple doctrines of Christianity, has never yet failed to produce such difference of opinion, among those who have made it, as to furnish abundant grounds for disunion, contention, and controversy.
The ancient fathers of the church are pretty unanimous in placing Simon Magus at the head of the heretics of the first century, and particularly of the sect of the Gnostics : but whether the individual referred to under that name be the same whose conduct was so severely reprobated by the apostle Peter at Samaria (Acts viii. 9, 10) is extremely doubtful, and is a point much controverted among the learned. Mosheim denies it and has written against it. Speaking of the latter, he says, “ It is manifest beyond dispute that he cannot with the least propriety be included in the class of heretics or corrupters of the Christian religion, but is to be reckoned among the most hostile of its adversaries, inasmuch as he hesitated not to revile and calumniate the character of our blessed Saviour, and made use of every means within his power to impede the progress of Christianity : pretending at the same time that he himself and a female associate of his, of the name of Helen, were persons really commissioned from above for the purpose of enabling the souls of men once more to regain their native liberty and light."*
* Mosheim's Commentaries, 8c., vol. i. p. 323, &c., where the reader will find a somewhat detailed account of the History of Simon Magus, with the learned author's reasons more largely given for thinking that he could not be the founder of the Gnostic herosy. . .