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- The first principles of the oriental philofophy seein perfectly consistent with the dictates of reason; for its first founder must undoubtedly have argued in the following manner : “ There are inany evils in this world, and men seem impelled by a natural instinct to the practice of those things which reason condemns; but that eternal mind, from which all spirits derive their existence, must be inaccessible to all kinds of evil, and also of a most perfect and beneficent nature; therefore the origin of those evils, with which the univerle abounds, must be fought somewhere else than in the deity. It cannot reside in him who is all perfection; and therefore it must be without him. Now, there is nothing without or beyond the deity, but matter ; therefore matter is the center and source of all evil, of all vice.” Having taken for granted these principles, they proceeded further, and affirmed, that matter was eternal, and derived its present form, not from the will of the supreme God, but from the creating power of some inferior intelligence, to whom the world and its inhabitants owed their existence. As a proof of this afsertion, they alleged that it was incredible, that the supreme deity, perfectly good, and infinitely removed from all evil, should either create or modify matter, which is essentially malignant and corrupt, or bestow upon it, in any degree, the riches of his wisdom and liberality. They were, however, aware of the insuperable difficulties that lay against their system ; for when they were called to explain, in an accurate and satisfactory manner, how this rude and corrupt matter came to be arranged into such a regular and harmonious frame as that of the universe, and, particularly, how celestial spirits were joined to bodies formed out of its malignant mass, they were ladly embarrassed, and found that the plainest dictates of reason declared their system incapable of defence. In this perplexity, they had secourse to wild fictions and romantic fables, in order to give an account of the formation of the world, and the origin of mankind.
Those who, by mere dint of fancy and invention, endeavour to cast a light upon obscure points, or to solve great and intricate difficulties, are seldom agreed about the methods of proceeding, and, by a neceffary consequence, separate into different sects. Such was the case of the oriental philosophers, when they set themselves to explain the dificulties mentioned above. Some imagined two eternal principles from whence all things proceeded, the one presiding over light, and the other over matter, and, by their perpetual conflict, explained the mixture of good and evil, that appears in the universe. Others maintained, that the being, which presided over matter, was not an eternal principle, but a subordinate intelligence, one of those whom the (upreine God produced from himself. They supposed that this
being was moved, by a sudden impulse, to reduce to order the rude mass of matter, which lay excluded from the mansions of the deity, and also to create the human race. A third fort fell upon a system different from the two preceding, and formed to themselves the notion of a triumvirate of beings, in which the Supreme deity was distinguished both from the material, evil principle, and from the creator of this sublunary world. These, then, were the three leading sects of the oriental philosophy, which were subdivided into various factions, by the disputes that arose, when they came to explain more fully their respective opinions, and to pursue them into all their monitrous consequences. These multiplied divisions were the natural and necessary consequences of a system which had no solid foundation, and was no more, indeed, than an airy phantom, blown up by the wanton fancies of self-sufficient men. And that these divisions did really sublist, the history of the Christian fects, that embraced this philosophy, abundantly testifies. :'
It is, however, to be observed, that as all these sects were founded upon one common principle, their divisions did not prevent their holding, in common, certain opinions concerning the deity, the universe, the human race, and several other subjects. They were all, therefore, unanimous in acknowledging the existence of an eternal nature, in whom dwelt the fulness of wisdom, goodness, and all other perfections, and of whom no mortal was able to form a complete idea. This great being was considered by them, as a most pure and radiant light, dif fused through the immensity of space, which they called pleroma, a Greek word, which fignifies fullness; and they taught concerning him, and his operations, the following things : “ The eternal nature, infinitely perfect and infinitely happy, having dwelt from everlasting in a profound solitude, and in a blessed tranquillity, produced, at length, from itself, two minds of a different sex, which resembled their supreme parent in the most perfect manner. From the prolific union of these two beings others arose, which were also followed by succeeding generations; so that, in process of time, a celestial family was formed in the pleroma [k]. This divine proceny, being immutable in its nature, and above the power of mortality, was called, by the philosophers, æon [?],” a term which signifies, in the Greek lan
[(k) It appears highly probable, that the apostle Paul had an eye so this fantastic mythology, when, in the firit chapter of his First Epi/lle 10 Timothy, v. 4. he exhor:s him not to give heed to fables and endless GEKEALOGIES; which minifter quifions, &c.]
[(1) The word aint, or æon, is commonly used by the Greek writers, kui in different lenses. Its signification in the Gnostic system is not ex
guage, an eternal nature. How many in number these cons were, was a point much controverted among the oriental sages.
« Beyond the mansions of light, where dwells the deity with his celestial offspring, there lies a rude and unwieldy mass of matter, agitated by innate, turbulent, and irregular motions. One of the celestial natures descending from the pleroma, either by a fortuitous impulse, or in consequence of a divine commission, reduced to order this unseemly mass, adorned it with a rich variety of gifts, created men, and inferior animals of different kinds to store it with inhabitants, and corrected its malignity by mixing with it a certain portion of light, and also of a matter celestial and divine. This creator of the world is diftinguished from the supreme deity by the name of demiurge. His character is a compound of shining qualities, and insupportable arrogance ; and his excessive luft of empire effaces his talents and his virtues. He claims dominion over the new world he has formed, as his sovereign right; and, excluding totally the supreme deity from all' concernment in it, he demands from mankind, for himself and his associates, divine honours,"
tremely evident, and several learned men have despaired of finding out its true meaning. Alwy, or aon, among the ancients, was used to figo nify the age of man, or the duration of human life. In aftertimes it was employed by philosophers to express the duration of spiritual and in. visible beings. These philosophers used the word xfóros, as the measure of corporeal and changing objects; and aiwe, as the measure of such as were immutable and eternal. And as God is the chief of those inmutable beings, which are spiritual, and confequently not to be perceived by our outward senses, his infinite and eternal duration was expreffed by the termi aiwe, or con, and that is the sense in which that word is now commonly understood. It was, however, afterwards attij. buted to other spiritual and invisible beings; and the oriental philolo. phers, who lived about the time of Chrif's appearance upon earth, and made use of the Greek language, underflood by it the duration of eternal and immutable things, the spac? or period of time, in which they exilt. Nor did the variations, through which this word passed, end here : from expressing only the duration of beings, it was by a metonymy cmployed to fignify the beings themselves. Thus the supreme being was called aias, or con; and the angels distinguished also by the title of cons. All this will lead us to the true meaning of that word among the Gnoftics. They nad formed to themselves the notion of an inviGble and spiritual world, coniposed of entities or virtues, proceeding from the supreme being, and succeeding cach other at certain intervals of time, so as to form an cler. nal chain, of which our world was the terminating link; a notion of eternity very different from that of the Platonists, who represented it as Hable, permanent, and void of succeslion. To the beings that formed this eternal chain, the Gnoftics asigned a certain term of duration and a certain sphere of action. Their terms of duration were, at first, called atures, and they chemselves were afterwards meter.jmicall; diftinguished by that title.]
“ Man is a compound of a cerrestrial and corrupt body, and a foul which is of celestial origin, and, in some meafure, an emanation from the divinity. This nobler part is miserably weighed down and encumbred by the body, which is the seat of all irregular lusts and impure desires. It is this body that feduces the soul from the pursuit of truth, and not only turns it from the contemplation and worship of the supreme being, so as to confine its homage and veneration to the creator of this world, but also attaches it to terrestrial objects, and to the immoderate pursuit of sensual pleasures, by which its nature is totally polluted. The sovereign mind employs various means to deliver his offspring from this deplorable fervitude, especially, the ministry of divine meslengers whom he fends to enlighten, to admonish, and to reforın the human race. In the mean time, the imperious dimiurge exerts his power in opposition to the merciful purpose of the supreme being, refifts the inftuence of those folemn invitations, by which he, exhorts mankind to return to him, and labours to efface the knowledge of God in the minds of intelligent beings. In this conflict, such souls, as, throwing off the yoke of the creators and rulers of this world, rise to their fupreme parent, and subdue the turbulent and sinful motions, which corrupt matter excites within them, fhall, at the disso. lution of their mortal bodies, ascend directly to the pleroma. Those, on the contrary, who remain in the bondage of servile superstition, and corrupt matter, shall, at the end of this life, pass into new bodies, until they awake from their sinful lethargy. In the end, however, the fupreme God shall come forth victorious, triumph over all opposition, and, having delivered from their servitude the greatest part of those fouls that are imprisoned in mortal bodies, mall diffolve the frame of this vifible world, and involve it in a general ruin. After this folemn period, primitive tranquillity shall be restored in the universe, and God shall reign with happy spirits, in undifturbed felicity, through the everlasting ages.”
In treating of the feditions and heresies which troubled the church during the first century, our Author tells us, that the Christian church was scarcely formed, when, in different places, there started up certain pretended reformers, who, not satisfied with the simplicity of that religion which was tauglit by the apostles, meditated changes of doctrine and worship, and set up a new religion, drawn from their own licentious imaginations. The influence of these new teachers, we are told, was but inconsiderable at first. During the lives of the apostles, their attempts towards the perversion of Christianity were attended with little success, and the number of their followers was exceeding small. They, however, acquired credit and strength by degrees; and eyen, from the first dawn of the gospel, laid, im
perceptibiy, perceptibly, the foundation of those sects, whose animosities and disputes produced afterwards such trouble and perplexity in the Christian church. The true state of these division's, our Author fays, is more involved in darkness than any other part of ecclefiaftical history; and this obscurity proceeds partly from the want of ancient records, partly from the abstrule and unintelligible nature of the doctrines that distinguished these various fects; and finally, from the ignorance and prejudices of those, who have transmitted to us the accounts of them, which are yet extant. Of one thing indeed, continues he, we are certain, and that is, that the most of these doctrines were chimerical and extravagant in the highest degree; and so far from containing any thing that could recommend them to a lover of truth, that they rather deserve to occupy a place in the history of human delusion and folly. · Among the various sects that troubled the tranquillity of the Christian church, the leading one, we are told, was that of the Gnoftics. These enthusiastic and self-sufficient philosophers boasted of their being able to restore mankind to the knowledge (gnosis) of the true and supreme being, which had been loft in the world. They also foretold the approaching defeat of the evil principle, to whom they attributed the creation of this globe, and declared, in the most pompous terms, the destruction of his associates, and the ruin of his empire. An opinion has prevailed, derived from the authority of Clemens the Alexandrian, that the first rise of the Gnoftic sect is to be dated after the death of the apostles, and placed under the reign of the Emperor Adrian ; and it is also alledged, that, before this time, the church enjoyed a perfect tranquillity, und sturbed by diffentions or fects of any kind. But the smallest degree of attention to the language of the holy scriptures, not to mention the authority of other ancient records, will, our Author lays, prevent our adopting this groundless notion. For, from leveral passages of the sacred writings, he tells us, it evidently appears, that, even in the first century, the general meeting of Christians was deserted, and separate assemblies formed in several places, by perfons infected with the gnostic heresy; though, at the same time, it must be acknowledged, that this pernicious feet was not confpicuous, either for its number or reputation, before the time of Adrian. -The Doctor thinks it proper to observe here, that, under the general appellation of Gnoftics, are comprehended all those, who, in the first ages of Christianity, corrupted the doctrine of the gospel by a profane mixture of the tenets of the oriental philosophy, (concerning the origin of evil, and the creation of the world) with its divine truths.