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Gnostics, a desire to explain the origin of Matter and of Evil. The Cabbalists seem so far to have forgotten their scriptures, that they adopted the principle, which pervaded the whole of heathen philosophy, that “ nothing can be produced out of no
thing.” They did not hold the eternity of Matter with the Greeks ; nor with the Persians had they recourse to two opposite Principles : they cut the knot which they could not solve; and they taught, that God being a spirit, who pervaded all space, the universe also was not material, but spiritual, and proceeded by emanation from God. The first Emanation was called in their language the first man, or the first begotten of God; and he was made the medium of producing nine other Emanations or Sephiroth, from which the universe was formed.
All this is highly mystical ; and it is melancholy to see how low the human mind can fall, when it attempts the highest flights. Imperfectly as I have described the system of the Cabbalists, it will be seen that it bears no small resemblance to that of the Gnostics, who interposed several Æons or Emanations between the supreme God and the creation of the world. The names also of some of the Gnostic Æons are evidently taken from the Hebrew. AN this has led some persons to imagine, that the Cabbala was a cause of Gnosticism. There undoubtedly was a Cabbala, or secret doctrine, among the Jews, before we hear any thing of the Gnostic philosophy : the latter therefore could not have contributed to produce the former. But still the two systems present considerable differences. The Æons of the Gnostics were not emanations in the same sense with the Sephiroth of the Cabbala. Each pair of Æons
engendered another pair, and one of the latest acted upon Matter and created the world. But the Cabbalistic Sephiroth were all Emanations from God, and the world also emanated from them, without the intervention of Matter. It is needless also to point out, that the notion of Christ being one of the Æons, who was sent to reveal the true God, could not have found a place in the Jewish Cabbala : and yet this is a fundamental point connected with the name and doctrine of the Gnostics. It is natural for us also to ask, how the Cabbala came to receive a system of philosophy, so far removed from the simplicity of the Mosaic; and how the opinions of the Jews, hitherto so exclusive and so little known, could produce any effect upon a system, which at the time of which we are speaking, was spread over great part of the world. These questions would lead us to a discus. sion far too long for the present Lecture: and I may so far anticipate the subject of the next Lecture as
to state, that a solution of these questions may pro-bably be found by a consideration of the Platonic
For the present I will only add, that if any part of the absurdities, which I have endeavoured to explain, was gaining ground in the time of the apostles, there was good reason for St. Paul to say to his con
verts, as in the text, Beware, lest any man spoil you at through philosophy and vain deceit". Philosophy
is indeed the noblest stretch of intellect which God has vouchsafed to man: and it is only when man forgets that he received his reasoning powers from
The term philosophy in this by Tittman, de vestigiis Gnostipassage is supposed to relate cismi in N. T. frustra quæsitis Da exclusively to the Jewish Law p. 85, &c.
God, that he is in danger of losing himself in darkness when he sought for light. To measure that which is infinite, is as impossible in metaphysics as in physics. If it had not been for Revelation, we should have known no more of the Deity, than the heathen philosophers knew before: and to what did their knowledge amount ? They felt the necessity of a first Cause, and they saw that that Cause must be intrinsecally good : but when they came to systems, they never went further than the point from which they first set out, that evil is not good, and good is not evil. The Gnostics thought to secure the triumph of their scheme by veiling its weaker points in mystery, and by borrowing a part from almost every system. But popular, and even successful as this attempt may have been, we may say with truth, and with that remark I will conclude, that the scheme which flattered the vanity of human wisdom, and which strove to conciliate all opinions, has died away and is forgotten; while the gospel, the unpresuming, the uncompromising doctrine of the gospel, aided by no human wisdom, and addressing itself not merely to the head, but to the heart, has triumphed over all systems and all philosophies; and still leads its followers to that true knowledge, which some have endeavoured to teach after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.
1 TIM. vi. 20, 21. O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust,
avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called : which some professing have
erred concerning the faith. I OBSERVED in my last Lecture, that the scheme devised by the Gnostics for preventing God from being the author of evil, differed in some material points from the Persian doctrine of a good and evil Principle"?. It appeared also, that the Cabbalistic philosophy was by no means the same with that of the Gnostics : and even granting that Gnosticism borrowed something from both these systems, still the idea of blending the ancient religion of the Magi, the more recent mysticism of the Jews, and the pure doctrines of the gospel, into one heterogeneous whole, appears so wild a scheme, and so totally at variance with any thing which we have met with before, that there must have been something in the philosophical opinions of those days, which led the way to it; and we might expect to find some common stock upon which these different systems were grafted.
It will be my endeavour to shew in the present Lecture, that the Platonic doctrines were the principal source of Gnosticism, and that they had also an effect upon the Cabbalistic philosophy of the Jews.
In order to shew this, it will be necessary to explain what were the original doctrines of Plato himself; what was the state of the Platonic philosophy at the time of which we are treating; and why that philosophy, after borrowing so largely from other systems, should spread itself so widely in the world.
To unravel the mazes of Platonism, and follow it through all its metaphysical subtleties, is a task which I would not presume to undertake; and our subject does not require such a waste of labour. Some of Plato's conceptions have perhaps never yet been fully understood. If they were, his writings would hardly have needed so many comments and explanations from his own day to the present. It is indeed a system of almost impenetrable darkness : or perhaps the admirers of Plato would wish us to say, that he soared to so sublime a height, so far above our gross and material conceptions, that the eye is dazzled with following his flight, and loses him in the immensity and incomprehensibility of Being. But be this as it may, I have no hesitation in saying, that the Timæus and Parmenides, two of the Dialogues of Plato, require a surrender of our reason, and a belief in intellectual mysteries, com. pared with which the Christian Revelation is plainness and simplicity itself. All this makes it difficult to ascertain the fundamental doctrines of Plato, even so far as we require them for our present subject : and the difficulty is increased by the effort which was constantly made by the later Platonists to alter the sentiments of their founder, and to make him say that which he had never so much as imagined. The later Platonists saw their doctrines corrupted by the Gnostics, and many of them had read the