Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

When Christianity did not convert such men, and give them a new mind, its doctrines, at the best, must have been very imperfectly apprehended, and seen through the discoloured medium of every prejudice which then prevailed. Among the Jews of our Saviour's time, we may find the type of every future heresy concerning his character and person. So that all those opposers of the truth who insist upon the antiquity of their opinions, may indeed find their predecessors as ancient as Christianity itself. There were those who considered Christ as an impostor, “he deceiveth the people.” Others adopted the second alternative of infidelity, and esteemed him a wild enthusiast. “He is mad, why do you hear him?” Others, with the anti-supernaturalists of Germany, approved his doctrine and his character without admitting his divine authority, “He is a good man.” Others again went as far as the Socinians, “He is a prophet.” While others, with the various shades of Arianism, entertained some vague and ill-determined notions of his superhuman dignity. And all agreed, with the heretics of the present day, in admitting as much and as little of the truth of Christ's doctrines as suited their inclinations or their prejudices, the one taking care that the authority of their scribes and doctors, the other that the authority of reason, should receive no detriment from their belief in the Redeemer.

III. After the corruptions Christianity received

from its many false converts amongst the Jews, the next errors were the heresies which sprung from the Gnostic philosophy. The emanative system, which considers all beings as flowing out from the divine fountain of existence, had been long and widely prevalent in the east. But Gnosticism is characterised by this, that it supposes a succession of derivative fountains, through which the stream of life flows onwards to the utmost verge of the universe. These reservoirs, which receive life from the first fountain, in order to communicate it to others, are, in the Gnostic language, called Æons. In what precise sense the Gnostics used this Greek term has been much disputed, and well may it be so, since there is nothing precise in the Gnostic philosophy. But as they explained the formation of the world out of the divine substance, by an emanation or generation, we may suppose, that by Æons, they meant generations descending one from another, like the generations of men, and continuing, in a successive series the long line of existence. By new distributions of these AEons, by varying their numbers, their names, and their situations, without any real change in the ground work of the Gnostic theory, there was abundant room for the idle vanity of the founders of sects, who are ever various without invention. Thus, in examining the variety of Gnostic heresies, there is indeed an abundance of barbarous names and monstrous notions; but the same principles are for ever recurring in them all, with a disgusting sameness of repetition. All have the same primal fountain of deity; all have an equal succession of male and female AEons; all have the same source and origin of evil. Matter, as being the farthest removed from the fountain of being—the most denuded, of all the divine Parent's offspring, of his glorious attributes—the dark and sluggish produce of mind, was regarded as the source of all defects and of evil. The AEon also, who formed this matter into shape, and organised it into the world, as it now exists, from being nearly allied to the matter on which he wrought, was considered as a fallen and evil spirit, opposed to the light, and to the Father of spirits. Hence the perpetual blasphemy of the Gnostics in confounding the Creator of the world with the evil principle; and the souls which the Creator had included in bodies, were viewed by them as miserable captives, restrained by the thraldom of matter, and by vice, which is the consequence of union with matter, from reascending to their native abodes of purity and light. These miserable dreamers, the Gnostics, divided Christ and Jesus into two distinct persons, Christ they considered as one of the higher Æons, Jesus as a lower Æon, and sometimes merely as a man.

Christ they represented as opposing the designs of

the Creator of the world, and by an apparent, though not a real union with a body, and also by uniting himself to Jesus, as having found a way of deliverance for all those souls who should obey his precepts, and extricate themselves from the influence of matter. From these insane opinions, which however have their root in the emanative system, proceeded the blasphemies of the Gnostics against the Creator of the world, their abhorrence of the Old Testament, and their rejection of every portion of the New which contained any approving allusion to the Old, and also the idolatrous respect which the Gnostics paid to the sinners condemned in the Old Testament, as if they had been martyrs to the truth, and had, from their Gnostic principles, incurred the wrath of the Demiurgus or Deity of the Old Testament. To such lengths of impiety and absurdity did those wretched men proceed, who yet considered knowledge as their own peculiar possession. Gnosticism certainly gave considerable trouble and alarm to the early Christians. It had long obtained possession of the countries of the east, it had even infected the Jews before the time of Christianity, and was the origin of their cabalistical system. It was thus a weed which had full possession of the soil. When crushed in one direction, it sprang up in another. Its appearances were also continually varying according to the different countries from which the Gnostic leaders sprung, and the masters which each of them followed in philosophy. The different sects which may be classed under Gnosticism were very widely spread, and from the uncouth names by which they are denominated, have a truly formidable appearance. Yet the alarm that was excited by their impiety and their activity gave to them more than their due importance. It is by no means likely that the number of individuals who embraced these errors was ever great, though they were certainly widely scattered. Neither can we properly class the Gnostics as Christians, seeing they did not receive the Scriptures, except very partially, nor had they any true understanding of the doctrines contained in them, but are rather to be regarded as a set of pretended philosophers, who attempted to rear a new structure of their own, by the combination of very discordant materials. It is important always to keep in mind, that many who oppose Christianity, and many who corrupt it, have never had any notion, however indistinct, of what Christianity really is. They have never given any serious attention to the subject, and their minds are too much pre-occupied with their former errors, to listen to the truth without blending it with pre-conceived opinions. Many infidels, in writing against Christianity, have been merely contending with the shadows of their own

« AnteriorContinuar »