« السابقةمتابعة »
nion, one of the most curious parts of his whole work, our Readers, we Aatter ourselves, will not be displeased with out inserting what he says concerning the doctrines of the Gnostics.
• It was from this oriental philosophy, says he, of which the leading principles have been already mentioned, that the Chriftian Gnostics derived their origin. If it was one of the chief tenets of this philosophy, that rational souls were imprisoned in corrupt matter, contrary to the will of the supreme deity; there were however, in this fame system, other doctrines which promised a deliverance from this deplorable state of servitude and darkness. The oriental fages expected the arrival of an extraordinary messenger of the most high upon earth ; a messenger invested with a divine authority, endowed with the moft eminent sanctity and wisdom, and peculiarly appointed to enlighten, with the knowledge of the supreme being, the darkened minds of miserable mortals, and to deliver them from the chains of the tyrants and usurpers of this world. When, therefore, some of these philosophers perceived that Christ and his followers wrought miracles of the most amazing kind, and also of the most salutary nature to mankind, they were easily induced to believe that he was the great meslenger expected from above, to deliver men from the power of the malignant genii, or spirits, to which, according to their doctrine, the world was subjected, and to free their fouls from the dominion of corrupt matter. : This fupposition once admitted, they interpreted, or rather corrupted all the precepts and doctrines of Christ and his apostles, in such a manner, as to reconcile them with their own pernicious tenets. :
· From the false principle abovementioned arose, as it was but natural to expect, a multitude of sentiments and notions most remote from ihe tenor of the gospel doctrines, and the nature of its precepts. The Gnostic doctrine, concerning the creation of the world by one or more inferior beings of an evil, or, at least, of an imperfect nature, led that sect to deny the divine authority, of the books of the Old Testament, whose accounts of the origin of things fo palpably contradicted this idle fiction. Through a frantic averfion to these sacred books, they lavished their encomiums upon the serpent, the first author of fin, and held in veneration fome of the most impious and profligate persons, of whom mention is made in facred history. The pernicious in-. fluence of thcir fundamental principle carried them to all sorts of extravagance, filled them with an abhorrence of Moses and the religion he taught, and made them assert that in impofing such a fyftem of dilagreeable and severe laws upon the Jews, he was only actuated by the malignant author of this world, who confulted his own glory and authority, and not the real advantage of men. Their persuasion that cvil resided in matter, as its cen-, ter and source, prevented their treating the body with that re
gard that is due to it, rendered them unfavourable to wedlock, as the means by which corporeal beings are multiplied, and led them to reject the doctrine of the resurrection of the body, and its future reunion with the immortal spirit. Their notion that malevolent genii presided in nature, and that from them proceeded all diseases and calamities, wars, and defolations, induced them to apply themselves to the study of magic, to weaken the powers, or juspend the influences of these malignant agents.' I omit the mention of several other extravagancies in their fyr-' tem, the enumeration of which would be incompatible with the character of a compendious history.
• The notions of this feet concerning Jesus Christ were ime pious and extravagant. For, though they considered him as the son of the supreme God sent from the pleroma, or habitation of the everlasting father, for the happiness of miserable mortals; yet they entertained the most unworthy ideas both of his person and offices. They denied his deity, looking upon him as the son of God, and consequently inferior to the father; and they rejected his humanity, upon the supposition that every thing concrete and corporeal is in itself effentially and intrinsically evil. From hence the greatest part of the Gnoftics denied that Christ was cloathed with a real body, er that he suffered really, for the sake of mankind, the pains and sorrows which he is said to have sustained, in the facred history. They maintained that he came to mortals with no other view, than to deprive the tyrants of this world of their influence upon virtuous and heaven. born fouls, and, destroying the empire of these wicked spirits, to teach mankind, how they might separate the divine mind from the impure body, and render the former worthy of being united to the father of spirits.
· Their doctrine relating to morals and practice was of two kinds, and those extremely different from each other. The greatest part of this sect adopted rules of life that were full of austerity, recommended a strict and rigorous abftinence, and
cribed the most fevere, bodily mortifications, from a notion that they had a happy influence in purifying and enlarging the mind, and in disposing it for the contemplation of celestial things. As they looked upon it to be the unhappiness of the soul to have been associated, at all, to a malignant, terrestrial body, so they imagined that the more that body was extenuated, the less it would corrupt and degrade the mind, or divert it from pursuits of a spiritual and divine nature; all the Gnostics, however, were not fo severe in their moral discipline. Some maintained that there was no moral difference in human actions; and thus, confounding right with wrong, they gave a loose rein to all the paffions, and asserted the innocence of following blindly
all their motions, and of living by their tumultuous dictates [r]. There is nothing surprizing or unaccountable in this difference between the Gooftic moralifts. For, when we examine the matter with attention, we shall find that the same doctrine may very naturally have given rise to these opposite fentiments. As they all in general considered the body, as the center and source of evil, those of that sect, who were of a morose and auftere disposition, would be hence naturally led to mortify and combat the body as the enemy of the soul ; and those who were of a voluptuous turn might also consider the actions of the body, as having no relation, either of congruity or incongruity, to the ftate of a soul in communion with God.
Such extraordinary doctrines had certainly need of an undoubted authority to support them; and as this authority was not to be found in the writings of the evangelists or apostles, recourse was had to fables and ftratagems. When the Gnoftics were challenged to produce the sources from whence they had drawn fuch ftrange tenets, and an authority proper to justify the confidence with which they taught them; some referred to fietitious writings of Abraham, Zoroaster, Christ and his apostles; others boafted of their having drawn these opinions from certain fecret doctrines of Christ, which were not exposed to vulgar eyes; others affirmed, that they had arrived to these sublime degrees of wisdom by an innate force and vigour of mind; and others asserted that they were instructed in there mysterious parts of theological science by Theudas, a disciple of St. Paul, and by Matthias one of the friends of our Lord. As to those among the Gnoftics, who did not utterly reject the books of the New Testament, it is proper to observe, that they not only interpreted those facred books in the most absurd manner, by neglecting the true spirit of the words and the intention of the writers, but also corrupted them, in the most perfidious manner, by curtailing and adding, in order to remove what was unfavourable, or to produce something conformable to their pernicious and extravagant system.
It has been already observed, that the Gnoftics were divided in their opinions before they embraced Christianity. This appears from the account which has been given above of the oriental philosophy; and from hence we shall comprehend the reason, why they were formed into so many different sects after their receiving the Christian faith. For, as every one endeavoured to force the doctrines of the gospel into a conformity with their particular fentiments and tenets, so Christianity must have appeared in different forms, among the different members
•  See Clemens Alexandrinas, Stromatum lib. iii. cap. 1. p. 539. edit. Potter,
of a sect, which passed, however, under one general name, Another circumstance which also contributed to the diversity of sects among this people, was, that some being Jews by birth (as Cerinthus and others) could not so eafily assume that contempt of Mofes, and that averfion to his history, which were so virulently, indulged by those who had no attachment to the Jewish nation, nor to its religious institutions. We observe, in the last place, that the whole religious and philosophical system of the Gnostics was destitute of any sure or solid foundation, and depended, both for its existence and support, upon the airy fuggeftions of genius and fancy. This consideration alone is a sufficient key to explain the divisions that reigned in this sect; fince uniformity can never subsift, with assurance, but upon the basis of evident, and substantial truth; and variety must naturally introduce itself into those systems and institutions, which are formed and conducted by the sole powers of invention and fancy,
As the Christian religion was, in its first rise, corrupted in several places by the mixture of an impious and chimerical philofophy with its pure and sublime doctrines, our Author thinks it proper to mention the heads of those feets, who, in the first century, cast a cloud upon the luftre of the rising church.' Among these many give the first place to Dofitheus, a Samaritan. It is certain, the Author says, that about the time o our Saviour, a man, so named, lived among the Samaritans and abandoned that sect; but all the accounts we have of him tend to thew, that he is improperly placed among those called Heretics, and should rather be ranked among the enemies of Christianity. For this delirious man set himself up for the Melsah, whom God had promised to the Jews, and disowning, of consequence, the divine mission of Chrift, could not be said to corrupt his doctrine.
The same observation holds true, we are told, with respect to Simon Magus. This impious man is not to be ranked among the number of those who corrupted the purity and simplicity of the Christian doctrine ; nor is he to be considered as the parent. andi chief of the heretical tribe, in which point of light, he has been injudiciously viewed by almost all ancient and modern. writers. He is rather to be placed in the number of those who were enemies to the progress and advancement of Christianity. For it is manifeft, the Doctor says, from all the records we have concerning him, that, after his defection from the Chriftians, he retained not the least attachment to Chrift, but opposed himself openly to the divine Saviour, and blasphemoully. allumed to himself the title of the Supreme Power of God.
« The accounts, continues our Author, which ancient writers give us of Simon the Magician, and of his opinions, seem so
different, and indeed so inconsistent with each other, that certain learned men have considered them as regarding two different perfons, bearing the name of Simon, the one a magician and an apostate from Christianity; the other a Gnostic philofopher. -This opinion, which supposes a fact without any other proof than a seeming difference in the narration of the ancient historians, ought not to be too lightly adopted. To depart from the authority of ancient writers in this matter is by no means prudent, nor is it necessary to reconcile the different accounts already mentioned, whose inconsistency is not real, but apparent only. Simon was, by birth, a Samaritan, or a Jew: when he had studied philosophy at Alexandria , he made a public profession of magic (which was nothing very uncommon at that time) and persuaded the Samaritans, by fictitious miracles, that he had received from God the power of commanding and reftraining those evil beings by which mankind were tormented [w]. Having seen the miracles which Philip wrought, by a divine power, he joined himself to this apostle, and embraced the doctrine of Christ, but with no other design than to receive the power of working miracles in order to promote a low intereft, and to preserve and encrease his impious authority over the minds of men. When St. Peter pointed out to him solemnly the impiety of his intentions, and the vanity of his hopes, in that severe discourse recorded in the eighth chapter of the Aets of the Apostles; then the vile impostor, not only returned to his former ways by an entire defection from the Christians, but also opposed, wherever he came, the progress of the gospel, and even travelled into different countries with that odious design. Many things are recorded of this impostor, of his tragical end, and of the statue erected to him at Rome, which the greatest part of the learned reject as fabulous. They are at least uncertain, and destitute of all probability [*].
• [u] Clementina Homil. ii. p. 633. tom. ii. PP. Ap.
(w) Acts viii. 9, 10.
[x] See Beausobre Histoire de Manich. p. 203. 295. Van Dale's dissertation, De Statua Simonis, subjoined to his discourse concerning the ancient oracles. Deylingius Obferuat, Sacr. lib. i. Off-rv. xxxvi. p. 140. Tillemont, Memoires pour servir à l'Histoire de l'Eglise, tom i. p. 34). [The circumttances of Simon's tragical end, viz. His having pretended io fly by a miraculous power in order to please the emperor Nero, who was fond of magic; his falling to the ground and breaking his limbs in consequence of the prayers of St. Peter and St. Paul ; and his putting himself to death, through fame and despair, to have been this de feated by the superior power of the apoitles : all these romantic fictions have derived their credit from a fet of ecclefiaftical writers, who, on Bsy. Aug. 1765. I.