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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 Gnoftics.
" It was from this oriental philosophy, fays he, of which the leading principles have been already mentioned, that the Christian 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 pro. mised a deliverance from this deplorable state of servitude and darkness. The oriental sages expected the arrival of an extraordinary mefsenger 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 messenger expected from above, to deliver men from the power of the malignant genii, or spirits, to which, ac-) cording to their doctrine, the world was subjected, and to free their souls from the dominion of corrupt matter. This supposition 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 the 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 some of the most impious and profligate persons, of whom mention is inade in facred history. The pernicious in-. fluence of their 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 imposing such a system of disagreeable and severe laws upon the Jews, he was only actuated by the malignant author of this world, who consulted his own glory and authority, and not the real advantage. of men. Their persuasion that evil resided in matter, as its center 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 proceedod all diseases and calamities, wars, and defolations, ins: duced them to apply themselves to the study of magić, to weaken the powers, or tuspend the influences of these malignant'agents.' I omit the mention of several other extravagancies in their fyrtem, the enuneration of which would be incompatible with the character of a compendious history. .
6. The notions of this sect concerning Jesus Christ were impious 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 fon 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, or that he suffered really, for the sake of mankind, the pains and sorrows which he is faid to have sustained, in the sacred 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 fpirits: :6. 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 abstinence, and prescribed the moft 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 Gnoftics, 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 paflions, 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 Gnostic moralists. 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 feet, who were of a morofe and auftere disposition, would be hence naturally led to mortify and combat the body as the enemiy 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. In
Such extraordinary doctrines had certainly need of an unu. doubted 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 Aratagems. When the Gnoftics were challenged to produce the sources from whence they had drawn such ftrange tenets, and an authority proper to justify the confidence with which they taught them; some referred to ficar titious writings of Abraham, Zoroaster, Christ and his apostles;' others boafted of their having drawn these opinions from certain secret doctrines of Christ, which were not exposed to vulgar eyes; others affirmed, that they had arrived to these sublime degrees of wisdom by an inriate force and vigour of mind; and others asserted that they were instructed in thefe mysterious parts of theological science by Theudas, a disciple of St. Paul, and by Matthias one of the friends of our Lord. As to thofe 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 newi glecting 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 pernia: cious and extravagant system. .
.! It has been already oblerved, 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 fo many different feets after their receiving the Christian faith. For, as every one endeavoured to force the doctrines of the gospel into a conformity with their particular sentiments and tenets, so Christianity must have appeared in different forms, among the different members
[r] See Clemens Alexandrinas, Stromatum lib. iii. cap. v. p. 539. edit. Potter,
of a sect, which passed, however, under one general name. Another circumstance which also contributed to the diverfity of sects among this people, was, that some being Jews by birth (as Cerinthus and others) could not so easily assume that contempt of Moles, and that aversion 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 fyftem of the Gnostics was destitute of any sure or solid foundation, and depended, both for its existence and support, upon the airy fuggestions of genius and fancy. This consideration alone is a sufficient key to explain the divisions that reigned in this sect; Since uniformity can never subsist, 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 philosophy 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 Dositheus, a Samaritan. It is certain, che 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 Mela fiah, whom God had promised to the Jews; and disowning, of consequence, the divine mission of Christ, 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 fimplicity of the Christian doctrine ; nor is he to be considered as the parent. and 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 Chriftianity. For it is manifest, the Doctor says, from all the records we have concerning him, that, after his defe&tion from the Christians, he retained not the least attachment to Christ, but opposed himself openly to the divine Saviour, and blasphemously · 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 lo
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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 [u], 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 iniracles 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 Acts 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 [x].
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• [w] Clementina Homil. ii. p. 633. tom. ii. PP. Apoft. • [w] Acts viii. 9, 10.
• [x] See Beaufobre Histoire de Manich. p. 203. 295. Van Dale's dissertation, De Statua Simonis, subjoined to his discourse concerning the ancient oracles. Deylingius Obfer-zat, Sacr. lib. i. Obferv. xxxvi, p. 140. Tillemont, Memoires pour servir à l'Hiftoire de l'Eglise, tom i. p. 349. [The circumitances of Simon's tragical end, viz. His having pretended to 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 shame and despair, to have been thus defeated by the superior power of the apostles : all these romantic fictions have derived their credit from a set of ecclefiaftical writers, who, on Rsy. Aug. 1765.