« הקודםהמשך »
formed the bodies of men; but he inclosed within them rational souls, which were excerpted particles of the pure and ethereal light that composes the essence of God. Such an imprisonment is equally against the will, of the Deity and the inclination of the soul; which loathes its base and terrestrial companion, and which perpetually struggles to regain its native freedom.'
The same evil being, who was the demiurge or creator of the world, was the god of the Old Testament and the author of the Jewish Law : a Law, consisting only of carnal ordinances and ceremonies; which, as they concern matter, must inevitably partake of its evil properties. Such a Law was solely calculated to debase the Israelites into the most ahject slavery; and tended only to withdraw their souls from the contemplation of their celestial origin, by plunging them into the midst of ceremonial observances which relate merely to the body.
At length the author of light and goodness pitied the miserable state of mankind; who all, as well as the Jews, were under the tyranny of the prince of darkness. The modes indeed of their servitude might vary: but the minds of all were equally darkened, and they all bowed their necks beneath the galling yoke of this powerful usurper. For the benevolent purpose of liberating them, the Supreme Being sent a celestial Messenger from the fulness of
'I need scarcely remark, that the Platonic philosophy is full of the imprisonment and deplumation of the soul.
? Gr. almowpa, the word used by St. Paul. Col. ij. 9.
happiness and glory in which he dwelt, and invested his august agent with a human form. The name of this celestial delegate was Christ : but, though in outward appearance a man, he was in truth only a luminous and ethereal phantom. His body was not framed, like our bodies, out of gross flesh and blood; on the contrary, its essence was so pure, that the frame, though visible, was impalpable to our mortal touch: for it were contradictory to imagine, that he, who specially came to oppose the influence of matter, should himself be clothed in matter.
This illustrious personage immediately attacked the strong holds of the prince of darkness, and ridiculed the inefficacy of his rites and ceremonies. While he attempted to withdraw the human soul from the intolerable thraldom imposed upon her; he laboured also to raise her thoughts to the bounteous author of light and goodness, and to elevate her conceptions above the sordid views of the material world. Since she was for a season linked to a gross and sluggish yoke-fellow, she was to anticipate with joy the moment of her emancipation from so disgraceful a servitude. Meanwhile she was to coöperate with the heavenly teacher, by making such a progress towards internal purity as her present scanty powers would permit. This could only be effected by a vigorous resistance to the passions and appetites of the body : and the most effectual method to subdue that domestic and therefore more dangerous enemy was to practise continual abstinence and mortification. Thus, even in the present
world, it was possible to attain a considerable degree of abstraction from the concerns of the flesh, by macerating the evil matter of which the body is composed, until every gross and impure inclination died
within it. A doctrine, so spiritualized as this, and tending so directly to subvert the religion founded by the god of the Jews, could not fail both to aların and to irritate that usurper. Burning with rage to see his dominions thus invaded, he stirred up his faithful adherents, the Priests and Pharisees, to a bitter and determined opposition of these innovations; and transfused all his own venom into their bosoms. The consequence was, that they apprehended Christ, condemned him to death, and proceeded to crucify him. But, though in the eyes of the spectators he appeared to die, the whole scene of his torments was a mere delusion : for, his body being visionary and not substantial, it was impossible, that he should really suffer, to atone for human guilt, the pains which he only seemed to undergo upon the cross. The attempt however to destroy him did not occur, until Christ had sojourned a sufficient length of time upon earth to answer the ends of his mission. His apostles and disciples, animated by the same spirit and the same zeal, continued to preach the same doctrine of mental purity and abstraction, in defiance of the opposition which they every where encountered from the wretched tools of the evil principle. Hence arose bloody persecutions, which nevertheless were entirely disregarded by the true convert: because, though they might
injure his contemptible material part, they tended only to refine and purify his soul, rendering it more fit to be absorbed into the divine essence.
Such were the fantastic and impious tenets of the Gnostics : and the obvious consequence of them was the entire rejection of the Old Testament; not indeed so much as an imposture of human contrivance, but as being the invention of their professed enemy the prince of darkness and as tending therefore to reduce the soul under the dominion of cor: rupt matter. They likewise were obliged to reject all those parts of the Gospel, which contradicted this preposterous doctrine; as if they were only traps laid, to insnare their faith, by the cunning of thé evil one. In order therefore to preserve consistency in their notions, they traduced the most illustrious personages that flourished under the Patriarchal and Levitical dispensations : while they considered, with the highest degree of veneration, those characters whom the Old Testament reprobates as abominable. Thus the serpent, that seduced Eve, was a benignant spirit, the Cneph or Agathodemon of Paganism, whose only aim was to liberate our first parents from the tyranny of the prince of darkness : and thus Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, who opposed Moses the instrument of the God of the Jews and who perished in consequence of it, were courageous asserters of the truth and virtuous martyrs in the cause of religion. Nay, even the most abandoned and profligate characters recorded in Scripture, some of whom for their gross abominations were destroyed by fire from heaven, were extolled by this perverse and wrong-headed sect, as mirrors of holiness and as patterns fit even for devout imitation."
These are the principal features of that blasphemous apostasy from the truth; which St. Paul accurately describes, as introducing another Christ, another Spirit, and another Gospel. Gnosticism comprehended indeed a variety of different sects : but, however the heads of these sects might disagree among each other in some inferior points, in one they all coincided. Valentine, Basilides, Saturnilus, Calorbasus, Ptolemy, Secundus, Carpocras, Cerinthus, Elxai, Cerdo, Marcion, the
Epiph. adv. Hær. lib. i, ii. Iren. lib. i. c. 29 34. lib. ii. c. 12. S. August. Confess. lib. iii,v. Notwithstanding the vaunted spirituality of the Gnostics, many of these heretics, acting up to the idea that the cities of the plain were fit mo dels for their own conduct, were immersed in the grossest pro'fligacy of manners; a melancholy proof of the tendency of human nature to evil, when it sets up its own speculations above scripture. Epiph. adv. Hær. lib. i, ii. Clem. Alex. Strom. lib. iii. p. 436, 437, 438. Theodoret. Hæret. Fab. Ded. The doctrine of the Metempsychosis, a grand tenet inculcated in the ancient pagan Mysteries, was likewise maintained by
them, as effecting a purification from the taints contracted in the flesh. They conceive, says Epiphanius, that the ruler of this world is in shape like a dragon, and that the souls of men during a state of unconsciousness are first absorbed by him and afterwards again emitted upon the earth. Next they pass through the forms of swine and other animals: and then they are again hurried through the same lofty revolution as before. Epiph. adv. Hær. lib. i. For an account of the sidereal Metempsychosis of Paganism, see Porph. de ant. nymph. p. 263—268. and my Origin of Pagan Idol. book v. c. 6.