Page images

crease and prevalence were foretold by the Holy Spirit*; and, these holy men being now removed, they swarm through the Christian world. Such lieresies were preordained, to prove the Church; the scaled, the pure and faithful followers of their Lord, were to escape the contagion t. And, in the corrupted, they do not utterly destroy the life, the spiritual life which is in Christ #; for, the Divine evidences of the Gospel were in these carly times so clearly established by recent miracles, were so palpable and convincing, as not to be withstood, or denied, by those who made enquiry. But these beretics corrupt and debase the faith which they acknowledge, by the addition of their own philosophical dreams and superstitions.

Now, the first swarm, the first multitudinous host of corrupters, recorded in Christian history, is that of the Gnostics § Their seeds and beginnings are observable in the first century, even in the apostolic times ||. Cerinthus appears to have imbibed the Gnostic doctrines, and also the Nicolaitans 1. But heretics of this description were not successful in corrupting the Church during its first century. Euse

* 2 Cor. xi. 13. 14; 1 Tim. vi. 3, 4, 5, 20, 21; 2 Tim. iii, 13 ; 2 Pet. ii. 1, &c. + 1 Cor. xi. 19; 2 Thess. ii. 13. iii. 3. .

See notes, ch. ii. 1. vi. 8, $" The first great heresy, which as a gangrene did overspread and consume much of the beauty, glory, and vigour of the Christian * Church, was that of the Gnostics.” Gale, Court of the Gentiles, pt. iii. b. ii. sect. 7.

ll Iñs voarme yrwT*ws: the very name under which it is attacked by Irenæus; 1 Tim. vi. 20, 21; Col. ii. 8, 9, 10; 1 John ii. 18; I pist. Polycarpi.

Euseb. 11. F. lib. iii. c. 28. Mosheini, i. 116. 117. Whitby on 2 Pet. ii. See also note, ch. ii. 6; 1. 45.

[ocr errors]

bius says expressly, that the attempts of the heretics against the purity of the Church, had little success this uery. in the apostolical times; and he dates their prevalence li.. from the times of Ignatius's martyrdom, the latter

herg days of the emperor Trajan, or the beginning of those of Adrian* The same author has preserved for us a

teprotectie fragment from the works of Hegesippus, who lived in i

the times of Adriant; and he says, that, “ until those rest *** times the Church had continued a pure and incorrupt poves

Virgin; for, that those who attempted to corrupt “the wholesome canon of Evangelical doctrine, had

price “ hitherto remained in obscurity. But when the sa“ cred company of the Apostles was departed, and levelsí. “ the generation of those who were thought worthy ...ha “ to hear their divine preaching was gone, then the route to

conspiracy of impious deceit had its beginning;—'n'la " then to the preaching of the truth did they dare diritto is

boldly to oppose their knowledge falsely so called I.” hizopige Clemens Alexandrinus, speaking of the Gnostics, asajronki serts that they were not a pestilential heresy before

verdi! the times of Adrian g. Irenæus, a nearer witness of those times, after describing the doctrines of the Gnostics, as derived from Simon Magus and Menander, to Saturninus, Basilides, and Carpocrates, speak* Eccl. Hist, lib. iv. c.7. iii. 36. + Lib. iii. c. 32. au


" Yeudawnow ywwow, the term used by Irenæus, in his treatise against the Gnostics. Iwois is true knowledge, and is thus applied by the Sacred writers, and by the fathers, to express divine knowledge. And therefore yrwsixos means a well-informed Christian. (See Clem. Alex. Strom. lib. iv. and vi.) Hence the Gnostics were not allowed

by the orthodox, the name which they impudently assumed: but to
them they attributed the feudwropos yrwory mentioned by Saint Paul,
(1 Tim. vi. 20). In the next century, when this folly was gone, ! !
fraternity of monks took the name of Gnostics in its proper and good ?

Socratis Hist. Eccl. lib. iv. c. 23.
Strom. lib. vii. 17. viii. 27. praat hus


[ocr errors]



[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][ocr errors]

ing of the two last, says; "their impure followers are not to be numbered, -springing up like mush"rooms:” and thus he certifies the time of the

great pestilential irruption *. Epiphanius, quoting from Irenæus, observes, that they bursť out of the earth together at one time, like mushrooms, the lurkingplaces of many scorpions T.

In short, by the united and prevailing testimony of the fathers, it appears that the Gnostics did not begin to swarm over the Christian Church before the period mentioned by Eusebius; the end of Trajan's or beginning of Adrian's reign. Internal evidence may be collected confirming this account. Ignatius, (at the time of whose martyrdom, the Gnostics are described by these fathers as beginning to swarm,) in his epistles, written at this period, represents the leaders of this enormous heresy as acopodyulou, still working covertly. He describes the Church of Ephesus as happily withstanding their impressions : but in his passage to Rome, he finds the heresyarchs busily employed in corrupting other churches I. Polycarp lived to a later period, when the vast irruption had taken place. This apostolical bishop was frequently assailed by these heretical doctrines ; for Irenæus, when a boy, remembered him in that situation, stopping his ears, and moving from the place where he heard these Gnostical blasphemies, (as he says, was customary with him) and exclaiming, O gracious God,

* Velut à terrâ fungi manifestati sunt ;-etenim non-est numerum dicere eorum, qui secundùm alterum et alterum modum exciderunt à veritate. Iren. lib. 1. c. 21, 22, 32, 33. iii. c. 4.

+ Cont. Hær. lib. i. 31. See also Tertullian de Prosc. Hær. C. 30. Cypriani Epist. 75, the letter of Firmilian to that father. Ignat. Epist. ad Ephes, 7, 8, 9; ad Smyrn. 5.


to what times hast thou reserved me, to undergo all this * !

Thus, although ecclesiastical history has preserved but few original documents belonging to the times of which we enquire, (for they perished in the Diocletian persecution); yet there is abundant proof of the period when the grand Gnostical irruption took place. It burst forth in Asia and Africa at nearly the same time. Saturninus, followed by Cerdo, and by Marcion who afterwards corrupted Italy, by Bardesanes, Tatian, Severus, and their multitudinous disciples, spread the poison over the east. While Basilides in Africa, followed by Carpocrates, Valentine, &c. overran the rest of the Christian world. Numerous churches and communities of these Gnostics continued to flourish, and to bring scandal on the Christian name, through that century and the better half of the next. But in this their progress, they were vigorously opposed by the orthodox and pure Christians; by Justin Martyr, Irenæus, Tertullian, Clemens Alexandrinus, and Origen; and in their wild philosophy, by the Platonic philosophers under Plotinus; at whose death, in the year 270, they will be seen to have been almost entirely sunk and gone. -So that, taking all these accounts together, we find evidence, that the duration of the Gnostics, as a prevailing heresy and pestilential swarm, (for, it is in that view only that, consistently with the symbols, /?," we are to consider them,) was about 150 years

, the sucá period foretold t.

[ocr errors]


* Euseb. H. E. lib. v. 20.

+ The exact time of the rise of the Gnostics having appeared to V.!!

occasion some dispute in the literary world; it may be proper to add a few more words on this subject. -The learned have been generally



[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

The Gnostics are represented to us, by the fathers, as deriving their religious principles from the Nicolaï

[merged small][ocr errors]

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 Ignatianie,
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 atten-
tion 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.
1x.) 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, col-
lectasque omni contentione roborare, ornare, ac amplificare stude-
bant. Deficiebant ad hoc genus hominuin plurimi Christianorum, sanis
antea sententiis deditorum, partim eloquentiâ quorundam fanaticâ ;
partim pietatis quam nonnulli præ se ferebant, magna 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, gene-
rally 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 the
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 diu 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 Mar-
cion came to Rome, (Iren. lib. iii. c. 4.) and there began to broach
his false doctrine; and the leading teachers of these doctrines


« PreviousContinue »