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The Gnostics are represented to us, by the fathers, as deriving their religious principles from the Nicolaï
agreed, by the testimonies of the ancients, (such as we have above reported) to refer the rise of these heretics to the beginning of the second century. But Bishop Pearson, in his Vindiciæ Ignatiane, attempted to shew that they were of earlier date. He was answered in a very satisfactory manner by Dodwell, (Diss. i. in Irenæum). The learned and judicious Mosheim, having given a particular attention to this subject, has perfectly reconciled these contending opinions, by observing, that the Gnostics were lurking in the Church in the first century; but that it was not before the second century that they burst from their obscurity into open day :-“Certisque “ ducibus adscitis, stabilem sibi formam, certasque leges præscribe“ bant.” (Com. de Rebus Christian. ante Const. Mag. Sæc. i. sect. Ix.) And again; qui, (scil. Gnostici,) quum primo rei Christianæ seculo sine luce et gloriâ vixissent, paucisque discipulis usi fuissent, Hadriano imperante, audaciùs rem suam agere incipiebant, atque per varias provincias paulatim familias satis numerosas colligebant, collectasque omni contentione roborare, ornare, ac amplificare studebant. Deficiebant ad hoc genus hominum plurimi Christianorum, sanis antea sententiis deditorum, partim eloquentiâ quorundam fanaticâ ; partim pietatis quam nonnulli præ se ferebant, magnâ specie; partim etiam securiùs vivendi, et liberiùs peccandi desiderio, cui aliqui eorum favebant, allecti. (Sæc. ii. sect. xli. See also Mosheim's Eccl. Hist. cent. 11. c. 5. sect. 4.) The learned are now, I believe, generally agreed, that this is the true state of the question. Le Clerc had incautiously referred the times of Saturninus to the first century; but Mosheim has, in the same work, shewn this to be by mistake. (Sæc. ii, sect. xliv.) He adds, that it is beyond all doubt, that all he numerous and important sects of the Gnostics flourished in the middle of the second century, and that the chief of them had their origin not long after the beginning of that century, “non dio post initia “ seculi exortas esse." Upon these authorities we shall appear fully justified in placing the rise of the Gnostics as a prevalent pestilential heresy, at or before the year 120. In the 17th of Adrian, anno 133, Basilides was living at Alexandria, (Euseb. Chron.); in 127 Marcion came to Rome, (Iren, lib. iii. c. 4.) and there began to broach his false doctrine ; and the leading teachers of these doctrines
tans *; but as carrying their mischievous notions els arpov, to the utmost excess, To the wildest dreams
of See note, ch. ii. 6. Clem. Alex. Strom. iii. 425. Epiphan.-Hær. 25.
continued, says Cleniens Alexandrinus, to the times of the Antonincs. (Strom. vii. ad fin.)
So much for the rise of the Gnostics. Their continuance, as a prevalent pestilential heresy, cannot be so accurately ascertained; because their decline was gradual, and not, like their rise, by a sudden burst. But after the same manner as the question concerning the rise of these sects is properly confined to their appearance as a generally prevalent pestilential heresy, and is not affected by Guostical principles having been previously professed by some few Christians; so, the enquiry concerning the termination of this heresy is to be governed by the time, when these heretics appeared no longer in such numbers, as, fulfilling the prophecy, darkened the face of the Church. When they no longer appear in this character, the period we seek is arrived ; and we have no occasion to pursue their remains, a few stragling Gnostics, in whose times the Gnostical influence on Christianity was reduced to a still lower state than that in which it was seen previously to the grand irruption under Saturninus and Basilides.
Now it is clear from the writings of Irenæus, Tertullian, Clemens Alexandrinus, and of Plotinus, that the Gnostics continued to flourishi in the times of these writers; which will be found to continue through the second century, and beyond the middle of the third. And aster these times, we do not find that the champions of the Church had much occasion in their writings to oppose the doctrines of the Gnostics, or that they mention them as a swarming prevailing heresy. The history of the Church at the end of the third century is indeed imperfect; many of its records having perished in the Diocletian persecution: but in the beginning of the fourth century, when the Church, delivered from persecution, held frequent and general councils, and condemned the doctrines and opinions of the prevailing heretics ;' we hear little or nothing of those of the Gnostics. Hence it may be concluded that they were no longer formidable to the Church, and hence Mosheim and other ecclesiastical enquirers have observed, that the philosophy, which sprang up in the Church in the third cenCC
of visionary and fantastic philosophy, derived from the oriental schools, which they incorporated with
tury with Origen and others, ad absurda harum sectarum commenta profliganda et funditùs evertenda sufficiebat. (Mosheim de Rebus ante Const. sæc, ii. See also Eccl. Hist:) Yet it must not be concealed, that the same learned author has observed in another passage, that the followers of Marcion were not entirely eradicated before the fifth or sixth century. And the method which this judicious writer has taken (as above represented) to reconcile the jarring opinions concerning the rise of the Gnostics, must in this place be used to reconcile his own opinions concerning their continuance. The Gnostics were extinct, as a prevalent pestilential heresy; but from their ashes, yet warm, doctrines of a similar cast were seen, now and then, to blaze forth : but these were soon extinct again, and never acquired any thing like that universal domination, described by historians to have taken place in the second century; which they have hence depominated the Gnostic age. The Manichæans incorporated some Gnostic principles into their doctrines : but this sect was never numerous. (Libanius, Epist. ad Priscian.; Lardner, Cred. vol. viii. 37, 57, 156.) Yet, in the page of history, it seems to have obtained a cele. brity, equal, or perhaps superior, to that of the Gnostics. This circumstance is to be attributed entirely to the numerous writings which have come down to us from the age of the Manichæans, while so few have descended from the Gnostical age. (August. cont. Faust. C. 20. 22 ; Lardner, Cred. vi. p. 38. 56. viii. 37.) The Priscillianists, in the fourth century, were also said to have sprung from the Gnostic ashes : but Gibbon calls them a recent sect : (Hist. of Decline and Fall, cb. xxvii.) and Lardner, upon good reasons, which he assigns, doubts of this origin attributed to them. (Cred. Gosp. art. Priscil. lianists.) He says also, that they would have been little known or regarded, but from the violent and inhuman methods used to extirpate them. (Cred. vol. ix.) Excepting in these instances (which appear of a doubtful character, and by no means exhibit the Gnostical sects as continuing to darken and disturb the Christian world,) very few remains can be found of these heretics, beyond the time allotted to them in the prophecy. Yet, Epiphanius says, that in his times, ia the fourth century, there were some relics of them. And this may be allowed, without impeaching the application of this prophecy to the
the doctrines of Christianity, rejecting or corrupting any part of the Sacred Writings which
main body. When an army has marched through a country, and only some stragling parties belonging to that army remain behind, the army may be truly said to be gone. And a few locusts may remain behind, (than which nothing is more common in natural history,) when the swarm, the great body, has disappeared, and may properly be affirmed to be no more.
But further to shew that the remains of the Gnostics, after the time specified, (about the year 260, or 270,) were very inconsiderable, I shall add a few additional authorities, all taken from writers of those times.
Celsus, the Epicurean Philosopher, who is supposed to have written his book against the Christian Religion about the times of Antoninus Pius, when the Gnostics had already put forth their grand swarm, mentioned many sects of them under various denominations, which in the year 252, when Origen wrote his famous answer to that book, were so entirely gone, that this learned Father professes an utter ignorance of them. And he blames Celsus for ascribing to the Cliristians the strange dreams and inventions of these heretics, in par. ticular of the Ophiani, wbo, he says, in his time, had altogether disappeared, or were very few indeed. (Origen. cont. Cels. lib. vi. p. 293.) Origen is said by Eusebius, to have converted many of the Gnostics. (Eccl. Hist. vi. 18, 20.) This able and active Father flourished in the times when they were rapidly declining, and returning to sober principles. Some of his early works were written against the Gnostics. But from his last production, the work already quoted, written about the year 252, we perceive the Gnostics to be sinking into disrepute, if not entirely sunk. Of the Simonians, he says in one passage, he does not believe thirty are to be found in the world : (Cont. Celsum, lib. i. p. 44.) and in another place, that there are none left. (lib. vi. p. 282.) The Simonians certainly were Gnostics; all of whom were comprehended by some writers under this generic
Cerdo and other distinguished Gnostics are called so by Irenæus; (Euseb. Eccl. Hist. lib. iv. c. 11.) who, together with Tertullian and Eusebius, derives all the Gnostics from Simon. (Iren. lib. 1. 20. 30. 33. ii.; Pref. iii. c. 4. ad fin. Tertullian. de Animâ, 325. Euseb. H. E. ii. 13. iv. 7.) CG 2
posed their tenets, many of them added, as might be expected, the most immoral and indecent practices. The particulars of these it is not necessary to adduce; they may be collected from Irenæus and Tertullian; from Plotinus also, the Platonic Philosopher,
The Platonic Philosopher, Plotinus, flourished in the former part of the third century, and wrote against the Gnostic philosophy; and in the latter part of that century, his disciple Porphyry published his works. In his preface to that book, by way of explaining the matter of it, he says, “at that time there were many Christians, not only of " the common sort, but heretics, deriving their notions from the an“cient philosophy.” Why does he say there were at that time, such philosophical Christians (in other terms Gnostics), but because they were not to be found at the later period when he wrote ? And he wrote after the death of Plotinus; which happened in 270.
In the times of Cyprian, who died a martyr in 258, the Gnostics were returning into the body of the Church. Among the numerous heretics, to be rebaptized, are mevtioned Valentinians and Marcionites, who were certainly Gnostics. (Cyprian. Epist. 73.)
Eusebius wrote his history in the former part of the next century. He describes Manes, the founder of the Manichæans, as “collecting “ false and impious doctrines from an infinite number of heresies, which “ had been a long time extinct." And there can be no doubt, but that he intended those of the numerous Gnostic tribes. (Euseb. H. E. lib. viii. c. 31.) He mentions, in another passage, the manner in which these sects arose one upon another, and, taking new and various forms, perished, (Eccl. Hist. lib. iv. c. 7.) In these times of Eusebius, and of the Emperor Constantine, the Valentinians and Marcionites are once mentioned, among the subsisting heresies by another Ecclesiastical Historian, (Sozomen. lib. vi. c. 32). But, about 50 years afterwards, when the Emperor Gratian excepted all such pernicious heretics from the general toleration, they are no longer remembered. (Socrates, v. c. 2. Sozomen. vii. c. 1.) Thus the grand swarm of Gnostics passed over and was gone, about 150 years after its invasion of the Christian world, leaving a few scattered locusts behiud; who, occasioning little trouble and alarm, are seldom mentioned by the ecclesistical writers; and, in another ceutury, are heard of no more.