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The Birth of the Christian Religion

Chapter IX


THE great work of mystic construction which we have been studying was not suddenly brought into being. It came forth from the Gospel, but without foresight in the Gospel that it was coming. The first missionaries had barely an inkling of what it would be; it was, so to say, the spontaneous issue of their labour, brought into being by an irresistible upsurge of faith achieving a result widely different from what the faithful had hoped for. They had hoped that the Kingdom of God would come; what came was the Church.

But the Church was not formed without internal conflicts no less dangerous to its growth" than the conflict with outside forces and, in the end, no less fruitful. There were three main crises. The first, hardly perceptible to us, but pregnant with consequences, was that which led to the formation at Jerusalem of the Hellenist group of believers side by side with the Hebrew. The second was that in which Judaizing opposition arose to the work done by Hellenist preachers among the pagans. But hardly were communities of Hellenist Christians established on pagan territory, than their union was threatened by the intense religious fermentation which then broke out and was constantly changing its form under the influence of the varied elements drawn into the movement. This crisis of the growing age, the third to be encountered, begun almost in apostolic times, reached its height towards the middle, and was not finally overcome before the last quarter, of the second century.

During this period the Christian mystery, whose birth and development we have sketched, was threatened with disintegration. More exactly, as the movement increased in strength it had to disengage itself from a mass of strange excrescences and parasitic growths known under the general name of gnosis. This was an ebullition, sometimes superficial or near the surface, thrown up by that deep travail of faith of which traditional Christianity was also the outcome. Rightly understood Christianity itself is a disciplined gnosis born of the same movement which produced 


the gnoses called heretical, and brought to its own definition in the process of condemning them. The doctrine it proclaimed was a mystical knowledge of the divine secret and of the revealed programme of salvation. Thus Christianity, in its own way, was a gnosis, and so it has always remained. Nothing could be more gnostic, in the special sense of the word, than the declaration attributed to the Christ in Matthew xi, 27:

None knows the Son, save the Father;
None knows the Father, save the Son,
and he to whom the Son will reveal him.

But Christianity had to force a way for itself through a swarm of gnostic sects among which, had it been less sure of itself, it might easily have dissolved and perished. This process we have now to study.


The first point on which we have to remark is that Simon the Magician, a contemporary of Jesus and of the first missionaries, is presented in Christian tradition as the father of heretical gnosis. There is a sense, however, in which the gnostic crisis had its birth in Judaism long before the preaching of the Gospel, and had long been a factor in the religious syncretism which arose in the Eastern world as a result of the successive conquests of the Persians and the Greeks, and in which mysteries of salvation were nourishing elements. Writings such as the Book of Enoch and Book of Daniel may be truly described as monuments of Jewish gnosis influenced by science and mystic speculation of foreign parentage. The Jew Philo was a gnostic, if ever there was one; and the Gospel itself, born though it was from a popular current of Jewish hope, drew its first breath of life in an atmosphere of gnosis, and breathed that air more deeply as it grew up. The Christian mystery was, as it were, a rectified gnosis with the chaff and impurities sifted out, and equipped with a doctrine and sacramental mysticism all its own. The systems commonly known as gnostic are, in their relation to the Christian, parallel variations of the same movement, each with a tendency to absorb the Gospel; they are not, as they are often represented to be, the wilful and belated distortions of a Gospel to which gnosis of


every kind was originally foreign. The Christian mystery, which assumed definite forms as Catholic Christianity, has never repudiated its Jewish base in the principle of absolute monotheism, where the First of Beings, the Creator of the world and the God of Israel are unconditionally identified as One. Nor has it ever cut its line of communication with the historical point from which the Gospel makes its departure in the historical manifestation of Jesus. Nor has it ever lost hold on the idea of universal salvation by the death, followed by the resurrection, of the Christ. Now this last idea, mystic through and through, and stamping Christianity as one of the mystery religions, is the creation of gnosis. Of this idea heretical gnosis took possession to sublimate it into various systems, just as it made the God of monotheism transcendent to the point where he becomes the absolute unknowable and, in the effort to spiritualize the Christ, dissolved his existence into vapour.

In representing Simon the Magician as baptized by Philip in Samaria and subsequently repudiated by Peter for attempting to buy the gift of conferring the Holy Spirit from the apostles, the legend in Acts aimed at disqualifying this founder of a rival sect, representing him as only a provisional and jealous adherent to the newly born Christianity, whom the chief of the apostles justly put to shame. This legend is not more consistent than those of a later date which show the same Simon engaged in a subsequent competition with Peter in the East, and even at Rome; but there is nothing in it to permit a distinction [1] between the leader of the sect, who figures in writers on heresy, from the magician who, according to Acts, led the Samaritans astray. The existence of Simon is not to be denied on the pretext that we know him only in legend. The fact is simply that Simon, notwithstanding that Christian tradition has made him the father of all the heresies, never was a heretic in regard to Christianity, for he never professed it. Although Justin incautiously lets himself be deceived about the worship paid to Simon in Rome it does not follow that we must reject as untrue what he says about Simon being born in such or such village of the Samaria to which he belonged, or about the doctrine held in his time by the Simonians, that is, by Samaritans. These worshipped Simon as "God above every principality, power or essence" (which should not be condemned as


a priori improbable, seeing that Christians did as much for Jesus) with "his supreme thought" under the name Helena, made into an associated object of the cult {Apology, i, 26, 56). The truth is that Celsus, twenty years later, knew of Simonians who called themselves Helenians [2] and took them for a Christian sect, the description meeting with a lively protest from Origen (C. Celsum, 1,57; vi, 15). Justin had already protested against it {Apology, i, 26, 6-y) but without perceiving that he had supported it by representing Simon as the father of heresy in regard to the true faith. Some analogy between the two sects there must have been in doctrine, rites and propaganda, and some kind of affinity. Otherwise the pagan opinion echoed by Celsus and the attitude of Justin would be hard to explain.

The problem of Simon is complicated with the problem of Dositheus, another Samaritan sect-founder, sometimes represented as Simon's master and sometimes as his rival. [3] He might well have been both, but the documentary evidence is not decisive. Dositheus and Simon, both Samaritans, founded sects, each his own, which long survived them. They were two Samaritan Messiahs, both deified and worshipped after their death. Dositheus claimed to be the "prophet" announced by Moses for the last days (Deuteronomy xviii, 18). Though he denied the resurrection of the dead, as not taught in the Law, his disciples proclaimed him alive after death and carried up into heaven, like Moses and Elijah before him. [4] Simon's claim to be the Messiah was made under somewhat different conditions, and with more success. He seems to have been more independent of the Law and to have professed a kind of gnosis which his followers subsequently developed. The notice about him in Acts gives two indications, the second superimposed on the first. The first tells us that he made himself out to be "some great personage" (viii, 9) a formula applied by Acts in analogous terms to Theudas (v, 36) and referring no doubt to their Messianic pretension: this was the account he gave of himself. His following, on the other hand, are said to have proclaimed him "that Power of God which is called the great Power" (viii, 10), meaning that Simon was an incarnation on earth of the sovereign power of God. The distinction here to be noted is that the latter definition represents in brief what Simonians were saying about Simon at the time (c. 130)


when the editor of Acts was writing. First Corinthians says of the Christ in like manner that he was "Power and Wisdom of God" (i, 24). We may conclude that incarnation of these divine attributes was an idea familiar to the first forms of gnosis.

Among the Simonians the incarnation of Wisdom was alloted to Helena, Simon's female companion: she was the Supreme Thought, mother of all things; after issuing from the abode of divinity she brought forth the angels and the angels made the visible world, but they kept their mother a prisoner in order to conceal their origin and otherwise ignored God. After various metempsychoses the most remarkable being that in which this feminine Logos became Helen of the siege of Troy the Great Thought turns into a prostitute in a house of resort at Tyre; there the Great Power, incarnate in Simon, finds her, buys her freedom and attaches her to himself. In this gnostic poem (which the writers on heresy, to whom we owe the account of it, did not invent, though they may have put undue emphasis on some of its features) the Great Power is said to have been manifested in three forms; to the Jews, as Son, in Jesus who suffered death in appearance but not in reality; to the Samaritans, as Father, in Simon himself; to other people as the Holy Spirit. Salvation among the Simonians consists in the knowledge of this mystery; the knowledge carried with it freedom from the Law, which was a work of the creator-angels, and from laws of every kind, the distinction between good and evil being a human convention. [5] In this outline we are following Irenaeus {Heresies, i, 28) and Hippolytus {Philosophoumena, vi, 19, 20). [6]

It was not Simon who elaborated the whole of this system, and the artifice by which the authors of it would make Christianity, not to speak of other religions, into a Simonism unaware of its own true character can only be an afterthought of a time when both Christian and Simonian propaganda had long been active. It does not follow from this that Simon and Helen never existed, nor that the essential features of the system do not go back to Simon, as de Faye would have it. Would it have been so easy to make him the father of gnosis if gnosis were something to which he was wholly a stranger? The points where the two systems meet are as striking as those where they part. From what has just been said it is clear that the Simonians were aware of the meeting


points and made the most of them. Frail as is the testimony of the apocryphal Clementines in regard to Simon, it is nevertheless significant that they present Dositheus and Simon as disciples of John the Baptist. In historical strictness neither Simon nor Dositheus was a successor to John, any more than Jesus was, but affinity of origin and character there must have been between all these sects which arose in the same environment and almost at the same time. Both in reality and legend the case of Simon and Dositheus is not without analogy to the case of Jesus, their relative insuccess, compared with the fortune awaiting him, being due to the limits which their origin and circumstances imposed on their propaganda. But points of difference, as we have said, are equally striking. As regards Simon, his system lacked the prestige conferred on the Christian by its lofty ethic. What he said of the Law bears indeed a strong resemblance to statements in the Epistle to the Galatians (iii, 19) and in that to the Romans (v, 13, 20; vii, i); but the rent these Epistles tear in the theoretical idea of duty is healed by the purity of the moral feeling which inspires what they have to say. Simon's gnosis, on the other hand, was largely compatible with superstitious magic and with some degree of moral licence, and continued to be compatible with both.


An analogous doctrine was preached at Antioch by Menander, said to have been a disciple of Simon. He too professed to be the heaven-sent Saviour of humanity. To his disciples he promised immortality of what kind we do not know and conferred a baptism which gave security for it. [7] Justin names Menander between Simon and Marcion, as if these three were heads of the chief sects which the pagans were in the habit of confusing, under the name Christian, with the believers of the Great Church. Simon and Menander had taught, before Marcion, that the lower world was not created by the Invisible God whose intervention had brought about the salvation of mankind.


Of Cerinthus as a human figure we know only the name, the


approximate time of his teaching and the place where he taught. He appeared in Asia Minor towards the end of the first century. Three-quarters of a century later the opponents of the Johannine writings attributed their paternity to Cerinthus, who had been a Judaizer and a millenarian in his eschatology, while professing a Christology more or less on the pattern of the fourth Gospel. If Irenaeus is to be believed {Heresies, i, 26) Cerinthus taught that the Supreme Being is too far removed above the world to take an interest in its affairs; a power ignorant of the supreme God had created it, another angel having created the Law and become the god of the Jews. A power ("virtue") from the supreme God had descended upon Jesus, son of Joseph and Mary, on the day of his baptism and dwelt in him up to the moment of his passion, when it forsook him; only the human Jesus suffered death and rose from the dead. It will be noted that the descent of the "virtue" is quite expressly indicated in the Synoptics and can be found also in the fourth Gospel as finally edited. The departure of the "power" is recorded in express terms by the Gospel of Peter in the words attributed to the dying Christ: "My power, my power, thou hast forsaken me." His dualism brings Cerinthus very near to Simon.' He was also a precursor of Marcion. Justin seems to have had no knowledge of Cerinthus, but the Epistle of the Apostles, an apocryphal writing of mediocre importance, [8] which seems to have come out in Asia Minor in the second half of the second century, sets out to refute him by evidence derived, as so much other evidence had been, from imaginary conversations between the risen Christ and his disciples. The author was full of good intentions, but his work is sufficient proof that gnosticism had invaded the Church. Like Valentinus he represents the Logos as born from the Ogdoad, or combination of eight Principles; as receiving his "Wisdom" from the Father before descending into the world, and as bearing witness to himself under the figure of Gabriel. The opinion has often been advanced that Cerinthus is attacked in the Johannine Epistles (i, iv, 3, ii, 7); but the passages in question, like the apparition to Thomas in the fourth Gospel, aim rather at those who denied the reality of Christ's body, the Docetists, not at Cerinthus who did not deny, as they did, that Jesus suffered death as a real man.



There existed in Justin's time a sect of Satornilians whose founder, Satornil, had taught at Antioch in the reign of Trajan {Dialogue, 35). [9] Satornil was the offspring of Menander. According to Irenaeus he professed the existence of an unknowable God, creator of the angels and of other spiritual powers. Seven angels created man and the visible world. God, taking pity on a part of the human race, imparted to it the spark of a higher life. The creator-angels, to whom the god of the Jews belonged, are in revolt against God. To overcome them the Saviour Jesus descends from on high; he is not born on earth and is without a body of flesh; his office is to bring back to God the men who have received the spark of life. Satornil did not believe in the resurrection of the flesh; he condemned marriage and forbad the eating of anything that had life. In many respects, therefore, he was a forerunner of Marcion. Though much indebted to Simon and Menander, he, unlike them, does not set himself up as the Saviour sent from on high, but attributes that role to Jesus. Consequently, heretic though he be, we cannot deny him the qualification of Christian, while, from the Christian point of view, Simon and Menander qualify rather for Antichrists.


Analogous conceptions are found in other systems insufficiently known or on which we have only conflicting information, sects not named, like the foregoing, after their founders, and of which we cannot determine the origin and the localization nor the transformations they underwent in the course of a history which mostly ended in decay and oblivion. Irenaeus describes a good many of them under the general name of gnostics {Heresies, i, 29-31). The name Serpent-worshippers (Ophites) fits only some of them in which the serpent was made the object of a cult and given a place in their doctrine which, whether deduced or not from the story in Genesis, was co-ordinated with it. Celsus was acquainted with the Ophites whom he took for Christians, which Origen denies (C. Celsum, vi, 24 38). As the Simonians are in the same case, it is not necessary to suppose (with de Faye) that the Church


was still tolerating the Ophites in the time of Celsus. It is a fact, however, that the Naasenians, whose name alone proclaims them a serpent-sect, attributed the role of Saviour to Jesus; a Naasenian hymn cited by Hippolytus {Philos., v, i, 10) makes him intercede with the Father in terms which recall something of Marduk's intercession with Ea in certain Babylonian incantations. Unsatisfactory as Hippolytus' account of them is, few ancient texts give us a better idea than these Naasenian speculations of the intense fermentation of doctrine which broke out in Christianity and around it in the second century, or of the timeliness of the barrier hastily raised by the Church to restrain it.

Origen discusses a diagram made by the Ophites which Celsus, without naming the Ophites, alleges to have been an esoteric Christian document. It resembled, as we might expect, a map of salvation which Celsus compared, not without reason to the Mithraic cosmography. It showed ten concentric circles framed in a greater circle which was the soul of the universe and named Leviathan, whose name also figures at the centre of the whole apparatus; there are seven gates to be passed guarded by seven spirits in the form of animals (lion, bull, amphibian, eagle, bear, dog, ass) with their names indicated (Ialdabaioth, Iao, Sabaoth, Astaphaios, Eloaios, Horaios) with a password for each; a transverse black line represents hell; a square space guarded by a flaming sword has to do with the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life. The seven angels, enemies of the angels of light, are called archons, their chief being the demiurge, the creator, and god of the Jews who gave man the knowledge of good and evil and is himself accursed for having cursed the serpent; a sacrament called "The Seal" as Christian baptism was often called {Apoc., vii, 3-8) is conferred by a "father," the candidate being "son"; this sacrament involves an anointing, since the candidate has to pronounce the words "I am anointed with the anointing of the Tree of Life." On this, Origen exclaims that the Ophites who curse the Creator also curse Jesus and cause him to be cursed by all who enter their sect though this is not in the diagram and not true of all the Ophite sects. A preposterous doctrine in which we catch some resemblance to Marcion's system, but not necessarily derived from it.


Among the sects of which we are speaking were some which placed a female aeon besides the Ineffable Being. This was "the Mother" with whom went the successive emanations of the aeons and the successive decay of one, the organization of the lower world under a demiurge without knowledge of the Supreme God and finally the manifestation of the aeon "Christ" in Jesus, which was to gather up the sparks of Divinity scattered about the human world and re-establish the harmony of the pleroma. [10] It would be an error to make all this depend on Marcion even if these systems are later than his. The Syrian origin of many of their speculations is betrayed by the names given to the aeons.

It would be unwise to lay too much emphasis on the extravagance of these sects, which are often working with the same materials as the old Christian writers. The question is hardly more than one of degree. The gnosis of Colossians, that of i Corinthians xv, and that of Romans iv-vi are not conspicuous for rational sobriety, and the Woman of Revelation xii has some resemblance to the Mother who figures in the systems of certain gnostic sects.


Basilides was of Alexandria where he taught in the reigns of Hadrian and Antoninus (117 161). He wrote a Gospel commentary in twenty-four books entitled ta exeghtka. In the system of Basilides as described by Origen, the unbegotten Father, or First Principle, gave issue to Nous; from Nous came forth Logos; from Logos, Phronesis; from Phronesis, Sophia and Dynamis; from these primal beings came the "virtues," powers and angels; together they formed the population of the first heaven. There were three hundred and sixty-five heavens of which we see only the last and lowest. This is inhabited by the angels who created our world, whose head is the god of the Jews; between this god, who aimed at enslaving all peoples to his own, and the angels of the peoples to be enslaved, there broke out a conflict, to which an end was put by the intervention of Nous who, sent by the Supreme Father, took on the semblance of humanity in Jesus. At the moment of crucifixion his form changed into that of Simon of Cyrene, who died in his place. There is no reason, therefore, for paying homage to the Crucified nor for undergoing martyrdom in


Needless to say, the Old Testament, which was the work of the demiurges, had to be rejected. A kind of magic was practised against the lower powers, certain mysterious words being recommended for the purpose, especially the word Abraxas, the letters of which, turned into numbers and added, equalled the number of the heavens. The human passions were substantial appendages attached to the reasonable soul, which they led into sin; evil is the punishment of sin, the martyrs themselves, even if innocent of sin in this life, suffer for sins committed in a previous existence. Reincarnation was one of Basilides' doctrines. He and his son Isidore counselled celibacy, tolerating marriage as the lesser of two evils. Faith, in the system, is a kind of substance, or hypostasis, inherent in elect souls, who thus constitute a true aristocracy both as to number and quality. The ethics of Basilides as first announced were somewhat severe; but it seems that the sect was not slow to enter upon evil courses.


The sect of Carpocras, or Carpocrates, appears to be as old as that of Basilides, for there is no reason to distinguish the Carpocras who lived at Alexandria in the time of Hadrian from him whose doctrine was brought to Rome towards the year 160 by a woman named Marcellina. The case of the Carpocratians enables us to see how a certain form of gnosis could be made compatible with the most reckless immorality and furnish pretexts for the defamation of Christianity. There was, however, little enough Christianity about this sect. Epiphanus, the son of Carpocras, who died when he was seventeen, leaving behind him a book "on Righteousness," was revered as a god in the island of Cephallonia, from which his mother had come. [11] This youthful philosopher poured ridicule on the prohibition of adultery laid down in the Decalogue; the common and equal enjoyment of all things, said he, belonged to all men by divine appointment; human laws had invented the distinction between good and evil, with all kinds of private property, including the marriage bond; thus the law had created the robber and the adulterer; but community of goods and free


Love [12] is the law of nature. An unexpected use of Plato for achieving the downfall of Moses and the morality of the common man; Carpocras acknowledged the unity of God, and a hierarchy of angels who had created the visible world. Human souls had also belonged to the spiritual world before they fell into matter, from which they can free themselves in all the states and actions implied in human existence by rising superior to the rules, artificially established. Evidently Basilides, and Carpocras more distinctly, start off from a principle which might be called identical, save in respect of moral sense, with that which supports the theory of Justification in the Pauline Epistles, the principle, namely, that spirit and the spiritual have an eminent dignity above the Mosaic Law, and above law of any kind. But instead of making the renunciation of carnal pleasures the condition of a perfect life and a blessed eternity, the condition now lies in breaking free of the law which puts a social restraint on the lower appetites. Let sin be suppressed; but suppress it by suppressing the law which makes it sin. The satisfaction of the appetites is permitted to the wise man and even becomes, in the system of Carpocras, a positive means of his salvation, which is for that man only who has exhausted the lists of sensual pleasure in violation of every law which puts it under interdict.

As a single life would not ordinarily suffice for most men to achieve so complete a liberation, Carpocras introduced the doctrine of reincarnation to provide further opportunity for souls imperfectly liberated. Jesus, who was born and lived under ordinary human conditions, had been given as an example of the liberation which all men are called to achieve for themselves; he had triumphed over the creator-angels by breaking free from their rules and ascended to the Father from whom he came. Every man can succeed as well as he, or even better, in realizing a like liberty for himself; let him, by breaking the laws the creators have made, dissolve his partnership in their adventures. We are prepared to learn that magic had a great vogue with the Carpocratians especially as a means of combating the influence of the creators. They also offered worship to the images of the great philosophers, including an image of Jesus, of whom they professed to have a portrait made by orders of Pilate. Their morals were in


keeping with their doctrine, Irenaeus declaring that he dared not believe what was told of them. Given their principles, it is permissible to suppose that their conventicles were not abodes of the purest innocence. Dregs of mysticism gone astray!


The influence of Plato is also to be seen in Valentinus, but his excesses were mainly of the metaphysical order and his vogue was greater than that of all the sect-leaders we have so far mentioned. Lower Egypt was his country of origin and he had studied at Alexandria, a city unique in those days for an intense fermentation of mind, of which it was a hotbed. There Valentinus had his first successes. Like other gnostics he was, in his own way, a Christian, but repressive action against heresy, so far as it existed when he began to teach his religious philosophy, had little severity, and less at Alexandria than elsewhere. He came to Rome, as Marcion did somewhat later, and there according to Irenaeus he made a long stay from the episcopate of Hyginus (139-142) to that of Anicetus (157-168). He lived there on the margin of the Christian community from which he had been excluded at a time and for reasons unknown to us with certainty. According to Tertullian he aspired to become bishop and seceded from the regular Church ("ecclesia authenticae regulae") on seeing a confessor of the faith preferred to himself. Whatever be the truth behind this statement, there can be no doubt that Valentinus, who had been educated at a time and in a society which knew nothing about the "regular" Church, came like Marcion to Rome, as the great Christian centre, for the purpose of carrying on religious propaganda. It is quite possible that his secession from the common Christianity was not made final until after he had left Rome, perhaps after the election of Anicetus, when he was in Cyprus, where he ended his days. In contrast to Marcion, Valentinus was far more a thinker and teacher than an organizer. The sect that he founded had not the wide expansion and long duration of Marcion's and was a less formidable rival of the Great Church.

The system of Valentinus was a salvation gnosis conveyed in a kind of metaphysical poem. [13] At the beginning of all things was Bythos, the unbegotten Abyss; with him was his female com-


panion Sige, Silence. [14] When it was pleasing to Bythos, he begot of Silence another couple, Nous, the Intellect, and Aletheia, Truth; of these two were born Logos, the Thought-word and Zoe who is Life; from Logos and Zoe came forth Anthropos, primarily transcendent Man, and Ecclesia, the Church on high. This is the Eight-in-one, the Supreme Ogdoad, in which Basilides, the author of the fourth Gospel, the author of the second Epistle of Clement and even the good Hermas would all find themselves on very familiar ground. But the gnosis of Valentinus diners from theirs by being conceived in terms of the union of the sexes and its consequences; it unfolds in a series of syzygies, or conjunctions, after the manner of a mythology, and under the influence of the mythologies, which may or may not have been consciously followed. The great Babylonian poem of creation begins in like manner with a cosmogony. Apsu, the begetter of everything, and Tiamat, the sea which brings everything to birth, mingled their waters, etc. etc. The mythology of Valentinus is more realist and his gnosis more abstract, but some of his abstractions carry the mark of their origin, notably the Abyss and the Man.

The upper world does not comprise the Great Ogdoad only. Logos and Life gave birth to five couples of Aeons who become the Great Decade; in like manner Man and Church produced six couples, the Great Dodecade; Ogdoad, Decade and Dodecade make up together the Divine Pleroma a valuable sidelight on the Epistle to the Colossians (i, 19) and on the Epistle to the Hebrews with its Aeons (i, 2; xi, 3). In the thoughts of Valentinus this "pleroma" was far from being the world of abstraction, the metaphysical dream that its terminology might lead us to think it; it is a world of ideas eternally alive, a world of mind and of transcendent realities. The genesis of the material world, which the rest of us call real, has still to be explained. For Valentinus this world was an appearance, accidental, corruptible and destined to perish. It was conceived as the result of a bad accident in the spiritual world, which happened as follows.

The last couple of the Great Dodecade are the figures of Theletos (Volition) and Sophia (Wisdom) not precisely moral wisdom, rather knowledge and skill. Sophia is seized with an uncontrollable desire to know the Supreme Father, the Abyss, who is knowable only by his Son, the Intellect (compare Matthew


xi 27; John i, 18); in this unappeasable desire she would have gone to pieces, had not Oros (the Limit) a kind of transcendent Saviour appointed by the Abyss on the outskirts of the Pleroma, prevented her dissolution. Sophia then recovers her sanity, but during her madness she had conceived, without intercourse with Theletos, an imperfect Aeon, Hacamoth, a debased copy of her mother; she was also called Wisdom, but this time by the Hebrew equivalent of the term. Hacamoth is then cast out by the Pleroma. To prevent the repetition of a similar calamity, Nous and Aletheia produce a seventh couple, Christos and Pneuma Spirit is feminine in Semitic who teach the others to take heed to the Limit by not attempting to know the unknowable; after which all the Aeons celebrate the return of peace, and combine to produce the thirty-third Aeon. This is the Saviour Jesus.

But the poor Hacamoth, turned out of the Abyss, has an important future awaiting her. The abortive creature was first visited in her abandonment by Christos who gave her a kind of form and consciousness. Then, realizing her fallen state, sorrow, fear and despair come over her. By a second visit, but this time by the Aeon Jesus, these passions are separated from her and used to constitute the elements of matter; matter is then explained as the congested or solidified form of the spiritual waste products thrown off by a mind in temporary distress truly a strange procedure for explaining its origin and denying it an eternal existence. The Abyss, in the mythologies, is another name for Chaos, or unformed matter; but here it is the eternal fountain of transcendent ideas, and only on the rebound does it become the source of material existence and of the visible world! Hacamoth, however, thus relieved of her passions, continues to exist in herself as a psychic substance, and the mere sight of the angels who accompany the Saviour causes her to conceive and bring forth Spirit as a substantial entity. In this way the elements out of which the lower world is to be constructed are, if one may say so, brought together on the site in readiness for the building to begin. 

The process is as follows. From her psychic substance Hacamoth extracts the demiurge who, in his turn, produces the materials and the psychic beings who together make up the visible world. Here in the lower world, the world of the demi-


urge, are comprised the seven heavens, the abodes of angels, but not of spirits, for the demiurge himself is not a spirit; knowing no other "world than that of his own creation, the demiurge believes himself the master of the entire universe. His intention was to create man in two categories material and psychic; but three categories exist in reality, because certain men happened to receive a germ of the spiritual substance that emanated from Hacamoth. Clement of Alexandria cites a passage [15] where the affair is explained. It tells how the demiurge and his angels, after creating man, were strangely surprised when they saw him putting forth ideas far beyond his natural condition; the reason is that the germ of spirit had fallen into him from on high and "formed in the name of the Man, he breathed in fear of the Man Above, who was in him" doubtless in virtue of the fiery particle he had received from Hacamoth; whereupon the astonished angels immediately changed their manner of working. Needless to say that from the standpoint of Valentinus' time, this third category, spiritual man, was the one predestined to become Valentinian; the psychic are the common run of Christians and the material are the non-Christians. The principle on which these distinctions are based is to be found in the New Testament. In i Corinthians ii, 14-iii, 3, we have the three-fold division "spiritual," "psychic," "carnal," the last two, however, seeming to form one category. The distinction between "spiritual" and "psychic" is also found in Jude 19. 

It follows from the above that men of the third category have no immortality, that all those in the first are saved, since the spirit that has fallen into them cannot die; these, so to say, have only to know themselves by the Valentinian gnosis. Strictly speaking only the psychics have need of redemption. Valentinus also believes in the historical manifestation of Jesus, but his belief is strongly coloured by metaphysic and docetism. The figure of the Redeemer was material only in appearance; his humanity was psychic and spiritual. "He ate and drank in a manner all his own, without excrementation. So great was the force of his temperance that the food he ate did not corrupt within him, because he himself was not to know corruption.' Clement of Alexandria, to whom we owe this citation, thoroughly approves the tenor of it. [16] The Saviour at his birth


owed nothing to the Virgin Mary; the great Aeon Jesus descended upon him at his baptism and withdrew from him, along with the pneumatic element, to return to the Pleroma, when it was determined to bring him before Pilate; what was crucified, therefore, was the Saviour's psychic part in his semblance of a body; but his passion was no whit the less real on that account. The Valentinian Saviour carries with him the light of his doctrine and is the liturgical celebrant of his own mystery. Humanity will come to an end when the demiurge ceases to create; Hacamoth will be received into the Pleroma and become the spouse of the Aeon Jesus; spiritual men will be made one with the angels who accompany the Saviour; finally the demiurge along with the psychic men who have practised the law of the Gospel will be installed below the Pleroma in the place vacated by Hacamoth, and a general conflagration, in which all material men and worthless psychics will perish, will reduce the material world to nothing. [17]

Valentinus founded a school, of which ancient writers distinguish the Eastern from the Western disciples. Of the last the best known are Heracleon and Ptolemy, with whom Irenaeus joins a much less respectable person named Marcus. Among the Eastern school we hear of a certain Theodotus whom the extracts preserved by Clement of Alexandria show to have been a faithful disciple of the Master; and of the Syrian Bardesanes (154-223) whose activities fall outside our picture. If Bardesanes was at first a Valentinian he does not seem to have remained in the fold. His reputation for heresy came late and could only be retrospective after he had finished his career as an independent teacher connected with the Church at Edessa, in which Tatian was also able to keep his footing, but without leaving a much better reputation behind him. Bardesanes' writings came into bad odour when orthodoxy had become more strict than in his time. [18]


Heracleon (c. 155-180) who seems to have been an immediate disciple of Valentinus, added some notable retouchings to his master's system. [19] Instead of a conjunction of Aeons, or syzygye, he placed the One and Only God at the summit of the Pleroma,


conceiving Him after the gnostic manner under the title "Father of Truth." Similarly he makes the Logos inspire the demiurge who himself builds the visible world, the Logos thus again becoming the world-soul; he is also the Saviour of mankind and appears for the first time on earth when John the Baptist announces him. In the substance of his teaching Heracleon stands perceptibly close to the fourth Gospel, on which he wrote a commentary valued by Origen who used it in writing his own. At Capernaum, Jesus is supposed to have descended into the lowest stratum of the cosmos, which is the realm of matter; at Jerusalem he comes into the realm of the psychic.

We know from Origen how Heracleon interpreted the meeting of Jesus with the woman of Samaria. The water of Jacob's well is the symbol of "cosmic life," a life inferior and fugitive; the water that Jesus gives is eternal life, and the Samaritan woman who thirsts for it is a pneumatic; the husband whom Jesus bids her call is the mate who is waiting for her in the Pleroma; the woman has had six husbands (instead of the five of the traditional text) because six is the number for matter or evil; Mount Gerizim represents the devil and his kingdom, matter and wickedness, and the devil-worship practised by mankind before the Law was given; Jerusalem is the headquarters of the demiurge and his Jewish worship; those cults have lapsed; the spiritual worship the Father of Truth and him alone; the Father seeks for worshippers, now sunk in matter; God is spirit and spiritual souls are of one family with him, "consubstantial" with his unbegotten nature; it is to save them from their sunken condition that the Christ came down into the lowest parts of the world; redemption works by a kind of progressive illumination, beginning as an awakened feeling for the true life, which feeling is a memory of the mate which the soul possesses in the divine Pleroma. The redemption of the psychics comes about in a different manner. The woman, who is spiritual, announces salvation to her fellow Samaritans, who are psychics, and these, abandoning their former way of life, which was according to the world, come to the Saviour by faith. It is not very clear that the final result of this conversion is an immortal condition for the converted psychics.

The fate of the "Material" men (ulikoi) is explained in other


passages. These have, for their father, the devil, whose evil nature is derived from error and ignorance; the devil cannot possess the truth and his speech is all lying; he has no liberty but only appetites; material men are his children, incapable of good and, at least in theory, doomed to perdition; in fact, a few may have all the devil's appetites without being fundamentally ulikoi but psychic, and therefore open to conversion.

The mitigations applied by Heracleon to the system of Valentinus bring him nearer to orthodoxy. There is no ground for supposing that this was a tactical move made by our doctor for the purpose of bringing his doctrines more into line with Christian truth. He was not without psychological insight and a true feeling for morality. No signs are betrayed in his writings of specific influence by the Pauline Epistles. This is almost as true of Valentinus a fact to be noted in considering the history of the Epistles.


Of Ptolemy's personal writings all that remains is his letter to Flora, probably written about 160 and preserved by Epiphanius. To judge by this specimen, Ptolemy was not a tiresome theologian, for the letter is written with some elegance and much clarity. The subject of the letter lies in the question "What is the authority of the Law of Moses?" Some the majority of Christians declare it wholly divine and derived from God the Father; others probably the disciples of Marcion make it out to be the work of the devil who created the present world. According to Ptolemy it cannot be the work of the Father because it is not perfect, and he notes that Jesus attributes permission for divorce not to God but to Moses; neither can it be the work of the devil, since it is distinctly not a bad Law, as it certainly would be if the devil, who is all darkness, were its author. It must therefore come from some intermediate being, who can be no other than the demiurge. Ptolemy shows very clearly that the Law contains elements of unequal value. In what way the devil and the demiurge come forth from a perfect God, if they do, is a question which Ptolemy promises to examine later on. As far as can be judged from the notice in Irenaeus there are no retouchings in Ptolemy's system of the


essential points in Valentinus. He does however replace Bythos and Sige, as the first pair of the Ogdoad, by the Father and Grace (Charis) which certainly improves the moral character of the First Principle.

If we may believe Iranaeus, who was a close observer of these proceedings, the gnostic Marcus was an impudent propagandist who turned the symbolism of the eucharistic mystery into magic and belonged to the class of licentious mystics or gnostics, which is certainly not the case with the two previously mentioned.


Though Marcion presents the mystery of salvation with greater sobriety than Valentinus, the main current of Christian thought found him not sober enough. He came from Sinope in Pontus where his father is said to have been bishop. He made a fortune in the shipping trade of those days, and his wealth seems to have helped him in his religious undertakings. Pliny's letter to Trajan has shown us that Christianity had taken firm root in the Pontus region. It is not impossible that his own father was the first to reprove Marcion for his heresies. He began his propaganda in Asia where he seems to have been opposed by Polycarp of Smyrna. About the year 140 he betook himself to Rome and joined the Roman congregation, to which he gave a large sum of money [20] after submitting a letter of explanation about his faith, which was considered satisfactory. It was probably at Rome that he completed his system, wrote his Antitheses and fixed the text of the Gospel and the Apostolicon. His mind, though well informed, was not of the speculative turn. He made no attempt to found a school on the outskirts of the Church nor to form small groups of initiates; he hoped rather to give the Church, and the whole Church, fixed doctrines and authorized Scriptures. Towards the year 144 the heads of the Roman congregation responded to his efforts by formal excommunication and the return of his money. After that he displayed astonishing energy in the founding of congregations on the same pattern as those which had cast him out, but on a foundation which he believed to be that of the pure Gospel. Marcion therefore was not the founder of a school. His object


was to reform Christianity, we might even say, to institute it afresh. According to him Christianity had taken a wrong road from the very beginning.

For Christian communities existing up to Marcion's time Scripture meant the Jewish Bible taken over from hellenist Jews and interpreted in the Christian sense, the catechists making use in addition of a diversity of Gospel writings and, subordinate to them, of certain apostolic documents. Marcion professed to furnish the Church with the one true Scripture, exclusively devoted to the Gospel, purely Christian and containing only the revelation of Jesus. It was one Gospel, which he called the Gospel. It corresponded with the Gospel named Luke's in catholic tradition, save that it omitted the first two chapters concerning the birth of John the Baptist and of Jesus, and made short omissions and retouchings in the rest of the book. By the side of the Gospel Marcion placed his Apostolicon [21] a collection of ten Epistles having the same authority and the same authenticity as the Gospel they accompanied. All of the ten were Epistles attributed to Paul; to wit, Galatians, Corinthians (both), Romans, Thessalonians (both), Laodiceans (=Ephesians), Colossians, Philippians, Philemon the traditional collection, minus the three Pastorals all with omissions and retouches similar to those in the Gospel. The sum of the matter was that Marcion, in his own way, edited known documents, for which he reserved an exclusive authority, repudiating not only all similar writings used by different communities but also, and chiefly, the entire body of Scripture which Christianity had taken over from Judaism.

The book Antitheses contained Marcion's own theology and the justification of his biblical canon. [22] His theology was sober enough. He professed to re-establish the teaching of Jesus in its original simplicity and paid no heed to the cosmological speculations in which most of his predecessors had indulged so freely; making no pretence to introduce a new doctrine, he would have nothing to do with the division of believers into two classes of which one was privileged in regard to the other. But, for all that, what he had to offer was a doctrine widely different from the Gospel of Jesus; it was the essential principle of gnosis reduced to its simplest expression in the absolute


transcendence of spirit and the depreciation of matter, of nature as created. The strangest feature of this truly extraordinary enterprise is Marcion's belief that his system was backed by the authority of the pure Christian tradition, which did not contain it, and that it was deducible therefrom by unanswerable logic.

His point of departure for the restatement of Christianity is the Epistle to the Galatians. Professing to find there a radical opposition between Law and Gospel, he infers that the god who is the author of the one cannot be the author of the other. The character of the Old Testament was incompatible with the idea of the good and only God, father of Jesus Christ. But the Old Testament, in Marcion's view, was none the less a revelation, and he gave it credit so far as to allow that what it tells of its own god is true, the god of the Jews being, as it says, the real creator of our bad material world. He recognized also that the Old Testament foretold a Messiah, but the sort of Messiah whom the Jews were still expecting. Jesus had not been sent by the demiurge but by the Transcendent God, unknown to man till a manifestation revealed him in Jesus, and by Jesus, to the end that men might attain salvation by faith in the good God and be delivered from the bondage to which their creator had condemned them. Marcion's Christology was extremely simple. In framing it our reformer was as little embarrassed by questions of historical probability as by the objections to which his metaphysic stood exposed. The good God, having assumed in Jesus the semblance of humanity, but without taking a material body, because he owed nothing and was incapable of owing anything to the demiurge, whose domain matter was this good God, of whom the world had no knowledge hitherto, became visible to human eyes at Capernaum ("descending" there, Luke iii, i; iv, 31 the opening of Marcion's Gospel) in the fifteenth year of Tiberius, and then, in the course of his manifestation, first revealed the mystery of salvation and finally enacted it by the cross. Though Jesus, according to Marcion, did not die in a body of flesh, die nevertheless he did, and rose from the dead. By this death he released mankind, or at least the believing part of mankind, from every tittle of obligation to the god who had created them, the god of the Jews.

"Severe" is a term hardly strong enough to describe the


character of Marcion's moral code. He condemned marriage and allowed baptism only to the continent. He imposed various restrictions on diet, forbad the eating of flesh and abated nothing from the duty of martyrdom. His exaggerated asceticism was in harmony with the common temper of Christianity in his time, but was also logically involved in his system. Did not the human body, the flesh and all its works, proceed from the inferior god, and was it not he who had bidden mankind "increase and multiply"? Let the believer, then, who would be perfect, cut himself free of the flesh and its appetites. Marcion's sacraments were the same as those of the great Church: baptism with anointing and with the drinking of milk and honey, [23] the latter a practice not unknown in early Christian times; Eucharist with bread and water unmixed with wine, also a practice not then looked on as a shocking novelty. The inner organization of the communities was also on the usual pattern, except that ecclesiastical offices were not regarded as established in perpetuity. But this may not have been peculiar to Marcionism, seeing that the established Church-hierarchy was largely built up as a defence against Marcion.

Whether he was aware of it or not, Marcion was, in reality, more dependent on gnosis than on the Gospel, which, according to him, had been kept pure only by the apostle Paul. It was not the Gospel, nor the Epistles, nor even the revised version he had made of both to fit his doctrine, that suggested to him his theory of these two Gods, the one transcendent, unknowable and good, the other of a lower denomination, merely just and with a turn for cruelty in his justice. His religion might find satisfaction in the antithesis of the two gods, but it would not have furnished him with the antithesis had not certain gnostics taught and suggested it. But a simplified dualism closely related to monotheism was convenient ground for establishing the incompatibility of the Gospel with the Law and the essential difference between the God revealed in the one and lie who had enacted the other. This was Marcion's fundamental dogma, and this it was that caused the Church to cast him out. When Justin couples Marcion with Simon Magus as an arch-heretic this is the point on which he fixes as the essence of the matter: "A certain Marcion, of Pontus, who is even now making disciples,


teaches that there is a God greater than the Creator; helped by the demons he spreads his blasphemies among the whole human race, denying the Creator of the world and proclaiming another greater God who has done bigger things than he" (Apology, 26; cf. 58). For the same reason Justin reproaches Marcion for having a Christ other than the Son of God. Marcion's moral rigorism and his theological Docetism are regarded by Justin as points of secondary importance, in which he finds nothing to cause scandal. Nor does he find fault with Marcion for tampering with the Gospel text. Tertullian indeed insists on this, but the times had then changed and the canon of the New Testament had been fixed in the interval between him and Justin. The main object of the Antitheses, and the head of its offending, was to establish dualism by means of an artificial exegesis which professed to attach this dualism both to the Gospel and to the Apostolic writings.

Whether he invented his doctrine entire, or borrowed certain elements of it from one Cerdo, a Syrian, who is said to have come to Rome a little in advance of him, certain it is that Marcion in the plainest of terms affirmed the existence of two gods, and even of two First Principles. For the inferior god, though perishable, had no beginning, matter being regarded not as a third Principle but as a passive element employed by the demiurge in constructing the lower world. [24] Though Marcion does not take over the Persian dualism entire, he is distinctly nearer to it than were the Alexandrian gnostics. His valuation of the perceptible world and of human nature bears no trace of the Greek spirit. His higher God, creator of the invisible world, is not, as Ormuzd was, a god of Light, he is a god of Goodness, while his lower god, creator of the visible world, is not like Ahriman, essentially dark and evil; he is nothing worse than a god of strict justice with an inclination to harshness. The dualism of Marcion is not based on a naturalistic philosophy, but has its roots in a concrete and psychological morality. It is a dualism of which one side is summarily made to fit the Jewish religion with its Old Testament, and the other side to fit the Christian with its Gospel. Tertullian was not mistaken when he wrote:

"The man of Pontus brings forward two gods; the one, our Creator, whom we cannot deny; the other his own, whom he


cannot prove" (Adv. Marcionem i, 2). Marcion's Christianity and his knowledge of Scripture have coloured his conception both of his God and of his anti-God, and though he has not borrowed the latter conception from the Persian Ahriman, he would never have arrived at it had he not been unconsciously under the influence of Persian dualism. Did he not teach that the visible creation would finally disappear, along with its creator, the demiurge? It remains to say that he does not seem to identify the demiurge formally with the Devil; whether or no he would give him a role as assistant to the demiurge is not clear.

A mind systematic rather than profound, more zealous than impassioned, more moralist than mystic, Marcion constructed, without great originality and somewhat hastily, a scheme for giving Christianity a firm basis and a definite form. In the process of constructing his scheme he availed himself of all the elements he found useful for the purpose, without claiming any other role for himself than that of a logically exact interpreter of the true Christian tradition. He was resisted and condemned in the name of the apostolic tradition, but his intentions were as truly traditionalist, if not more so, than were those of the men who resisted and condemned him.

The conditions under which he drew up his collection of Scriptures are perplexingly obscure. We can see clearly enough how he was brought to reject the Old Testament, like his contemporary, the Valentinian Ptolemy, and we can explain why he was concerned to provide Christians with a collection of Christian Scriptures to take the place of the Jewish Bible. What is not so clear are the reasons which determined his choice of the particular Scriptures which formed his collection and, in addition to that, the manner in which he understood his duty as their editor. However, if it would be quite foolish to credit Marcion with the idea of publishing a critically faultless text of the sources of Gospel revelation held by him to be authentic, it would seem equally wilful (having regard to the character of the man and the circumstances) to attribute to him any considerable part even in editing the texts presented by him as documents of the true faith. That supposition is the less acceptable because these texts, of which the main tenor is well enough known to us, do not expressly reproduce Marcion's doctrine. Marcion set out


to link them and his system together. This he managed to do, but his system is not formally taught in the documents. How then did Marcion proceed?

It seems certain that, in the time when he was expelled from the Church in Rome (144), neither the Gospels, nor the Epistles, nor any other of the writings which compose the New Testament were in the forefront of Christian teaching. But neither were they private documents of which the congregations of believers knew nothing. The public reading of the Gospels, which we find customary in Justin's time, was practised before Marcion; and we may at least conjecture that it was the same with the Epistles, though reading from them is likely to have been less regular and less common. It follows that Marcion, in raising the Gospel and the letters of Paul to the rank of Scripture, did no more, so to say, than sublimate an established usage. The novelty of that achievement consisted solely in the exclusive authority conferred on these writings by the rejection of the Jewish Scriptures. His adoption of one Gospel only would afford no ground of complaint against him at the time when it was done, for there is no proof that four Gospels were then accepted throughout the congregations of the Great Church, all equally privileged to be read in public before assemblies of the faithful; on the contrary, it is far more probable, not only that it was not so everywhere, but that it was not so anywhere, each of the Gospels finally received everywhere having been used at first only in the circle where it originated, while the recognition of four normative Gospels, and no more, was later than the time of Marcion. When he found his Gospel in Luke it was not, therefore, a case of his deliberately picking Luke out from among four Gospels then current in the Church and choosing it, as easier than the others to bring into line with his system for John's Gospel is much nearer to his system and Matthew would have given him no more trouble than Luke it was not this, but a case simply of his canonizing the Gospel used in the Christian circle in which he lived, or at least in that in which he hoped to make converts, namely Rome. Luke had become the chief Gospel of the Roman Community, which at first had Mark and came to know Matthew, but used the fourth Gospel very little, though it knew that Gospel also.


As to the adaptation of Luke by Marcion for his own purpose which Tertullian half a century later describes outright as a massacre, [25] it is unlikely that it greatly scandalized Marcion's own contemporaries. In his time, variety in the versions of the Gospel caused no great concern to anybody; otherwise a single Gospel book, with a uniform text, would have reigned throughout. The truth is that Marcion would have no difficulty in accepting the Gospel writing most familiar to the Church in Rome, and the omissions he made would be the least possible. He made no capital out of the traditional and correct attribution of this Gospel to a disciple of Paul, which he did not bring forward, but simply called the book "The Gospel," as it had hitherto been called. Up to that time all evangelical books owed their credit not to the persons supposed to be their authors, but to their contents, the personal attributions not becoming important till later, when they were used as weapons against the gnostics, and especially against Marcion himself after his expulsion. Marcion's manipulations of the text seem to have consisted in the removal of whatever openly contradicted his doctrine and a few retouches of detail for the same purpose; but he made no explicit additions to give his doctrine formal support. His method was not the result of a design to insinuate his doctrine surreptitiously into the Church, for the Church had turned him out for his open profession of it; it arose from his belief in the substantial credibility of the text which he retained. Looking closely into the matter, we see that his method was not a whit more revolutionary than that of the editors of our canonical Gospels; in certain respects, indeed, it was much less innovating than theirs. Comparing the procedure of the editors of the first and third Gospels, who added the birth stories to the theme of the Gospel as they found it in Mark, with that of Marcion who left these stories out, which of the two shall we say represents the more audacious innovation?

The case of the Epistles is somewhat different. Marcion substantially contributed to raising their credit. As we lately remarked, there is reason to doubt that they were frequently read in all the congregations, as the Gospel unquestionably was, before Marcion's time. "When Justin speaks of the readings that normally took place before the Sunday Communion, the books


he mentions are the Prophets and the Memoirs of the Apostles (i Apology, 67); but not a word does he say, in this connexion, of the apostolic writings, and he never mentions Paul; we might even say that, if Justin knew Paul, he deliberately abstains from making use of him, and how can he have failed to know him, seeing that he was so well acquainted with Marcion? But, though less regularly used for public reading, the ten epistles which Marcion appropriated had been for some time collected, and there is evidence that the collection enjoyed a large measure of credit in the Roman community and elsewhere, since First Corinthians is expressly quoted in the Epistle of Clement. [26] The relative antiquity of the collection has also good warrant in the fact that Marcion has the Epistle to the Ephesians under its original title of Epistle to the Laodiceans, along with Second Thessalonians, both of which are apocryphal. It seems, moreover, sufficiently clear that his method of dealing with the Epistles was the same as that he had applied to the Gospel: he took the collection as he found it in the Roman community and confined himself to systematically cutting and retouching it as required by his doctrine. Here again the liberties he took not only did not surpass, they did not even equal those taken by others before him in attributing to Paul letters he did not write and in interpolating those he did.

It is none the less true that Marcion founded the canon of the New Testament, the idea of which, it may confidently be said, had occurred to nobody before him. At this point the influence he exercised, both directly, and indirectly through the reaction he provoked, was momentous, and of greater moment than can be claimed, at that stage in the evolution of catholic Christianity, for any master of gnosis, Christian writer, or Church leader. If he failed to realize all that he aimed at, and if Marcionism did not become, as he intended it to become, the common faith of the Church, we know the reason. It lies in the fact that though with him the religious and moral interest took precedence of the speculative and theoretical, he underrated the vitality of Israel's monotheism and failed to see that the ethics of the Gospel were rooted in Judaism. The deepest tradition of Christianity was against him, nor did his more reasonable interpretation of Scripture make good the defects of his religious


philosophy, so that, in the final result, his system of belief and of conduct came out less truly balanced than that of the Church. But in spite of these disadvantages, Marcionism from the time of Marcion (about 145) to the end of the second century, continued to be the most formidable rival, and almost the only dangerous rival, that Catholicism had to encounter during the whole time it was in process of becoming organized into a system. Wherever Christianity had taken root, there was Marcionism beside it, challenging it by a greater simplicity of doctrine, by the plausible character of the argument against the Old Testament deity, and by the deadly earnestness of the Marcionite morality. [27]

Marcion had numerous disciples of whom the most noteworthy seems to be a certain Apelles who had sat at the master's feet in Rome and afterward corrected his doctrine at several points. While totally rejecting the Old Testament, his criticism of which was better reasoned than Marcion's, Apelles went back to a strict monotheism: there was one God only, the good God, creator of the invisible world and of the spiritual powers, or angels; the chief of these angels had created the visible world, making it an image of the invisible; the god of Israel was not this demiurge but a fiery angel Old Testament texts supporting this will readily occur to mind and this fiery angel was the author of evil, proved so by his clothing human souls in sinful flesh; the creator, who had tried to form the world for the glory of God, had become dissatisfied with his work and prayed the Father to send his Son to give the cosmos a better shape. In Christology, Apelles was no Docetist. His Christ took on a real body, but was not born of the flesh "solidum Christi corpus, sed sine nativitate," says Tertullian (J)e Came Christi, 6). He had borrowed the substance of his body from the stars, which were elements of the higher world. Thus truly incarnate, Jesus died a real death and rose alive. Redemption consists in cutting loose from sinful flesh and escaping from the rule of the fiery angel; the soul only is saved, and the Christ himself gave back his flesh to the elements as he ascended into heaven. In this way Marcion's logical offences were at least made less glaring. If we may believe a certain Rhodon who saw Apelles in his old age, he was no uncompromising sectary. He still


denounced the prophecies of the Old Testament as false and contradictory, and stood firm on the unity of the First Principle, but he thought that "those questions were not meant to be discussed, and every man ought to rest quietly in the faith that he found real, and that all would be saved whose hope was in the Crucified, provided they were found doing good" {Eusebius, v, 13. 5).

At the time when Apelles was putting forward these wise propositions, towards the end of the second century, Marcionism had ceased to be a pressing and dangerous threat to the Church, though it had yet to linger on for many years to come. Irenaeus, Tertullian and Hippolytus give no special place to Marcion in the ranks of the gnostics, regarding them all, him included, as reckless dreamers who had tried in vain, or were still trying, to capture the holy Church of Jesus Christ.


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