Vol. 2, Chapter XI (Cont’d) – The School of Valentinus. Heracleon, Ptolemy, Marcos, Bardesanes, Harmonius


Of all the forms of Gnosticism, that of Valentinus was the most popular and influential, more particularly in Rome. He had a large number of followers, who variously modified his system. Tertullian says, his heresy “fashioned itself into as many shapes as a courtesan who usually changes and adjusts her dress every day.”

The school of Valentinus divided chiefly into two branches, an Oriental, and an Italian. The first, in which Hippolytus reckons one Axionicos, not otherwise known, and Ardesianes (Ἀρδησιάνης, probably the same with Bardesanes), held the body of Jesus to be pneumatic and heavenly, because the Holy Spirit, i.e. Sophia and the demiurgic power of the Highest, came upon Mary. The Italian school — embracing Heracleon and Ptolemy — taught that the body of Jesus was psychial, and that for this reason the Spirit descended upon him in the baptism. Some Valentinians came nearer the orthodox view, than their master.

Heracleon was personally instructed by Valentine, and probably flourished between 170 and 180 somewhere in Italy. He has a special interest as the earliest known commentator of the Gospel of John. Origen, in commenting on the same book, has preserved us about fifty fragments, usually contradicting them. They are chiefly taken from the first two, the fourth, and the eighth chapters. Heracleon fully acknowledges the canonical authority of the fourth Gospel, but reads his own system into it. He used the same allegorical method, as Origen, who even charges him with adhering too much to the letter, and not going deep enough into the spiritual sense. He finds in John the favorite Valentinian ideas of logos, life, light, love, conflict with darkness, and mysteries in all the numbers, but deprives the facts of historical realness. The woman of Samaria, in the fourth chapter, represents the redemption of the Sophia; the water of Jacob’s well is Judaism; her husband is her spiritual bridegroom from the Pleroma; her former husbands are the Hyle or kingdom of the devil. The nobleman in Capernaum (Joh_4:47) is the Demiurge, who is not hostile, but short-sighted and ignorant, yet ready to implore the Saviour’s help for his subjects; the nobleman’s son represents the psychics, who will be healed and redeemed when their ignorance is removed. The fact that John’s Gospel was held in equal reverence by the Valentinians and the orthodox, strongly favors its early existence before their separation, and its apostolic origin.

Ptolemy is the author of the Epistle to Flora, a wealthy Christian lady, whom he tried to convert to the Valentinian system. He deals chiefly with the objection that the creation of the world and the Old Testament could not proceed from the highest God. He appeals to an apostolic tradition and to the words of Christ, who alone knows the Father of all and first revealed him (Joh_1:18). God is the only good (Mat_19:17), and hence he cannot be the author of a world in which there is so much evil. Irenaeus derived much of his information from the contemporary followers of Ptolemy.

Another disciple of Valentine, Marcos, who taught likewise in the second half of the second century, probably in Asia Minor, perhaps also in Gaul, blended a Pythagorean and Cabbalistic numerical symbolism with the ideas of his master, introduced a ritual abounding in ceremonies, and sought to attract beautiful and wealthy women by magical arts. His followers were called Marcosians.

The name of Colarbasus, which is often connected with Marcos, must be stricken from the list of the Gnostics; for it originated in confounding the Hebrew Kol-Arba, “the Voice of Four,” i.e. the divine Tetrad at the head of the Pleroma, with a person.

Finally, in the Valentinian school is counted also Bardesanes or Bardaisan (son of Daisan, Βαρδησάνης) He was a distinguished Syrian scholar and poet, and lived at the court of the prince of Edessa at the close of the second and in the early part of the third century. But he can scarcely be numbered among the Gnostics, except in a very wide sense. He was at first orthodox, according to Epiphanius, but became corrupted by contact with Valentinians. Eusebius, on the contrary, makes him begin a heretic and end in orthodoxy. He also reports, that Bardesanes wrote against the heresy of Marcion in the Syriac language. Probably he accepted the common Christian faith with some modifications and exercised freedom on speculative doctrines, which were not yet clearly developed in the Syrian church of that period. His numerous works are lost, with the exception of a “Dialogue on Fate,” which has recently been published in full. It is, however, of uncertain date, and shows no trace of the Gnostic mythology and dualism, ascribed to him. He or his son Harmonius (the accounts vary) is the father of Syrian hymnology, and composed a book of one hundred and fifty (after the Psalter), which were used on festivals, till they were superseded by the Orthodox hymns of St. Ephraem the Syrian, who retained the same metres and tunes. He enjoyed great reputation, and his sect is said to have spread to the Southern Euphrates, and even to China.

His son Harmonius, of Edessa, followed in his steps. He is said to have studied philosophy at Athens. He shares with Bardesanes (as already remarked) the honor of being the father of Syrian hymnology.


127. Marcion and His School

I. Justin M.: Apol. I. c. 26 and 58. He wrote also a special work against Marcion, which is lost. Irenaeus: I. 28., IV. 33 sqq. and several other passages. He likewise contemplated a special treatise against Marcion (III. 12) Tertullian: Adv. Marcionem Libri V. Hippol. Philos. VII. 29 (ed. Duncker and Schneidewin, pp. 382-394). Epiphanius: Haer. XLII. Philaster.: Haer. XLV. The Armenian account of Esnig in his “Destruction of Heretics” (5th century), translated by Neumann, in the “Zeitschrift für histor. Theologie,” Leipzig, vol. IV. 1834. Esnig gives Marcionism more of a mystic and speculative character than the earlier fathers, but presents nothing which may not be harmonized with them.

II. Neander (whose account is too charitable), Baur (I. 213-217), Möller (Gesch. der Kosmologie, 374-407), Fessler. (in Wetzer and Welte, VI. 816-821), Jacobi (in Herzog, V. 231-236), Salmon (in Smith and Wace, III. 816-824). Ad. Hilgenfeld: Cerdon und Marcion, in his “Zeitschrift für wissenschaftl. Theol.” Leipz. 1881, pp. 1-37.

III. On the critical question of Marcion’s canon and the relation of his mutilated Gospel of Luke to the genuine Gospel of Luke, see the works on the Canon, the critical Introductions, and especially Volkmar: Das Evangelium Marcions, Text und Kritik (Leipz. 1852), and Sanday: The Gospels in the Second Century (London, 1876). The last two have conclusively proved (against the earlier view of Baur, Ritschl, and the author of “Supernat. Rel.”) the priority of the canonical Luke. Comp. vol. I.

Marcion was the most earnest, the most practical, and the most dangerous among the Gnostics, full of energy and zeal for reforming, but restless rough and eccentric. He has a remote connection with modern questions of biblical criticism and the canon. He anticipated the rationalistic opposition to the Old Testament and to the Pastoral Epistles, but in a very arbitrary and unscrupulous way. He could see only superficial differences in the Bible, not the deeper harmony. He rejected the heathen mythology of the other Gnostics, and adhered to Christianity as the only true religion; he was less speculative, and gave a higher place to faith. But he was utterly destitute of historical sense, and put Christianity into a radical conflict with all previous revelations of God; as if God had neglected the world for thousands of years until he suddenly appeared in Christ. He represents an extreme anti-Jewish and pseudo-Pauline tendency, and a magical supranaturalism, which, in fanatical zeal for a pure primitive Christianity, nullifies all history, and turns the gospel into an abrupt, unnatural, phantomlike appearance.

Marcion was the son of a bishop of Sinope in Pontus, and gave in his first fervor his property to the church, but was excommunicated by his own father, probably on account of his heretical opinions and contempt of authority. He betook himself, about the middle of the second century, to Rome (140-155), which originated none of the Gnostic systems, but attracted them all. There he joined the Syrian Gnostic, Cerdo, who gave him some speculative foundation for his practical dualism. He disseminated his doctrine by travels, and made many disciples from different nations. He is said to have intended to apply at last for restoration to the communion of the Catholic Church, when his death intervened. The time and place of his death are unknown. He wrote a recension of the Gospel of Luke and the Pauline Epistles, and a work on the contradictions between the Old anad New Testaments. Justin Martyr regarded him as the most formidable heretic of his day. The abhorrence of the Catholics for him is expressed in the report of Irenaeus, that Polycarp of Smyrna, meeting with Marcion in Rome, and being asked by him: “Dost thou know me?” answered: “I know the first-born of Satan.”

Marcion supposed two or three primal forces (ἀρχαί): the good or gracious God (θεὸς ἀγαθός), whom Christ first made known; the evil matter (ὕλη) ruled by the devil, to which heathenism belongs; and the righteous world-maker (δημιουργός δίκαιος), who is the finite, imperfect, angry Jehovah of the Jews. Some writers reduce his principles to two; but he did not identify the demiurge with the hyle. He did not go into any further speculative analysis of these principles; he rejected the pagan emanation theory, the secret tradition, and the allegorical interpretation of the Gnostics; in his system he has no Pleroma, no Aeons, no Dynameis, no Syzygies, no suffering Sophia; he excludes gradual development and growth; everything is unprepared, sudden and abrupt.

His system was more critical and rationalistic than mystic and philosophical. He was chiefly zealous for the consistent practical enforcement of the irreconcilable dualism which he established between the gospel and the law, Christianity and Judaism, goodness and righteousness. He drew out this contrast at large in a special work, entitled “Antitheses.” The God of the Old Testament is harsh, severe and unmerciful as his law; he commands, “Love thy neighbor, but hate thine enemy,” and returns “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth;” but the God of the New Testament commands, “Love thine enemy.” The one is only just, the other is good. Marcion rejected all the books of the Old Testament, and wrested Christ’s word in Mat_5:17 into the very opposite declaration: “I am come not to fulfil the law and the prophets, but to destroy them.” In his view, Christianity has no connection whatever with the past, whether of the Jewish or the heathen world, but has fallen abruptly and magically, as it were, from heaven. Christ, too, was not born at all, but suddenly descended into the city of Capernaum in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius, and appeared as the revealer of the good God, who sent him. He has no connection with the Messiah, announced by the Demiurge in the Old Testament; though he called himself the Messiah by way of accommodation. His body was a mere appearance, and his death an illusion, though they had a real meaning. He cast the Demiurge into Hades, secured the redemption of the soul (not of the body), and called the apostle Paul to preach it. The other apostles are Judaizing corrupters of pure Christianity, and their writings are to be rejected, together with the catholic tradition. In over-straining the difference between Paul and the other apostles, he was a crude forerunner of the Tübingen school of critics.

Marcion formed a canon of his own, which consisted of only eleven books, an abridged and mutilated Gospel of Luke, and ten of Paul’s epistles. He put Galatians first in order, and called Ephesians the Epistle to the Laodicaeans. He rejected the pastoral epistles, in which the forerunners of Gnosticism are condemned, the Epistle to the Hebrews, Matthew, Mark, John, the Acts, the Catholic Epistles, and the Apocalypse.

Notwithstanding his violent antinomianism, Marcion taught and practiced the strictest ascetic self-discipline, which revolted not only from all pagan festivities, but even from marriage, flesh, and wine. (He allowed fish). He could find the true God in nature no more than in history. He admitted married persons to baptism only on a vow of abstinence from all sexual intercourse. He had a very gloomy, pessimistic view of the world and the church, and addressed a disciple as “his partner in tribulation, and fellow-sufferer from hatred.”

In worship he excluded wine from the eucharist, but retained the sacramental bread, water-baptism, anointing with oil, and the mixture of milk and honey given to the newly baptized. Epiphanius reports that he permitted females to baptize. The Marcionites practiced sometimes vicarious baptism for the dead. Their baptism was not recognized by the church.

The Marcionite sect spread in Italy, Egypt, North Africa, Cyprus, and Syria; but it split into many branches. Its wide diffusion is proved by the number of antagonists in the different countries.

The most noteworthy Marcionites are Prepo, Lucanus (an Assyrian), and Apelles. They supplied the defects of the master’s system by other Gnostic speculations, and in some instances softened down its antipathy to heathenism and Judaism. Apelles acknowledged only one first principle. Ambrosius, a friend of Origen, was a Marcionite before his conversion. These heretics were dangerous to the church because of their severe morality and the number of their martyrs. They abstained from marriage, flesh and wine, and did not escape from persecution, like some other Gnostics.

Constantine forbade the Marcionites freedom of worship public and private, and ordered their meeting-houses to be handed over to the Catholic Church. The Theodosian code mentions them only once. But they existed in the fifth century when Theodoret boasted to have converted more than a thousand of these heretics, and the Trullan Council of 692 thought it worth while to make provision for the reconciliation of Marcionites. Remains of them are found as late as the tenth century. Some of their principles revived among the Paulicians, who took refuge in Bulgaria, and the Cathari in the West.


128. The Ophites. The Sethites. The Peratae. The Cainites

I. Hippolytus: Philosoph. bk. V. 1-23. He begins his account of the Heresies with the Naasseni, or Ophites, and Peratae (the first four books being devoted to the systems of heathen philosophy). Irenaeus: Adv. Haer. I. 30 (ed. Stieren, I. 266 sqq.). Epiphan. Haer. 37 (in Oehler’s ed. I. 495 sqq.).

II. Mosheim: Geschichte der Schlangenbrüder. Helmstädt, 1746, ‘48.

E. W. Möller: Geschichte der Kosmologie. Halle, 1860. Die ophitische Gnosis, p. 190 sqq.

Baxmann: Die Philosophumena und die Peraten, in Niedner’s “Zeitschrift für die Hist. Theol.” for 1860. Lipsius: Ueber das ophitische System. In “Zeitschrift für wissenschaftl. Theologie” for 1863 and ‘64.

Jacobi in Herzog, new ed., vol. V. 240 sq.

George Salmon: “Cainites,” in Smith and Wace, vol. I. 380-82. Articles “Ophites” and “Peratae,” will probably appear in vol. IV., not yet published.

The origin of the Ophites, or, in Hebrew, Naasenes, i.e. Serpent-Brethren, or Serpent-Worshippers, is unknown, and is placed by Mosheim and others before the time of Christ. In any case, their system is of purely heathen stamp. Lipsius has shown their connection with the Syro-Chaldaic mythology. The sect still existed as late as the sixth century; for in 530 Justinian passed laws against it.

The accounts of their worship of the serpent rest, indeed, on uncertain data; but their name itself comes from their ascribing special import to the serpent as the type of gnosis, with reference to the history of the fall (Gen_3:1), the magic rod of Moses (Exo_4:2,Exo_4:3), and the healing power of the brazen serpent in the wilderness (Num_21:9; Comp. Joh_3:14). They made use of the serpent on amulets.

That mysterious, awe-inspiring reptile, which looks like the embodiment of a thunderbolt, or like a fallen angel tortuously creeping in the dust, represents in the Bible the evil spirit, and its motto, Eritis sicut Deus, is the first lie of the father of lies, which caused the ruin of man; but in the false religions it is the symbol of divine wisdom and an object of adoration; and the Eritis sicus dii appears as a great truth, which opened the path of progress. The serpent, far from being the seducer of the race, was its first schoolmaster and civilizer by teaching it the difference between good and evil. So the Ophites regarded the fall of Adam as the transition from the state of unconscious bondage to the state of conscious judgment and freedom; therefore the necessary entrance to the good, and a noble advance of the human spirit. They identified the serpent with the Logos, or the mediator between the Father and the Matter, bringing down the powers of the upper world to the lower world, and leading the return from the lower to the higher. The serpent represents the whole winding process of development and salvation. The Manichaeans also regarded the serpent as the direct image of Christ.

With this view is connected their violent opposition to the Old Testament. Jaldabaoth, as they termed the God of the Jews and the Creator of the world, they represented as a malicious, misanthropic being. In other respects, their doctrine strongly resembles the Valentinian system, except that it is much more pantheistic, unchristian, and immoral, and far less developed.

The Ophites again branch out in several sects, especially three.

The Sethites considered the third son of Adam the first pneumatic man and the forerunner of Christ. They maintained three principles, darkness below, light above, and spirit between.

The Peratae or Peratics (Transcendentalists) are described by Hippolytus as allegorizing astrologers and as mystic tritheists, who taught three Gods, three Logoi, three Minds, three Men. Christ had a three-fold nature, a three-fold body, and a three-fold power. He descended from above, that all things triply divided might be saved.

The Cainites boasted of the descent from Cain the fratricide, and made him their leader. They regarded the God of the Jews and Creator of the world as a positively evil being, whom to resist is virtue. Hence they turned the history of salvation upside down, and honored all the infamous characters of the Old and New Testaments from Cain to Judas as spiritual men and martyrs to truth. Judas Iscariot alone among the apostles had the secret of true knowledge, and betrayed the psychic Messiah with good intent to destroy the empire of the evil God of the Jews. Origen speaks of a branch of the Ophites, who were as great enemies of Jesus as the heathen Celsus, and who admitted none into their society who had not first cursed his name. But the majority seem to have acknowledged the goodness of Jesus and the benefit of his crucifixion brought about by the far-sighted wisdom of Judas. A book entitled “the Gospel of Judas” was circulated among them.

No wonder that such blasphemous travesty of the Bible history, and such predilection for the serpent and his seed was connected with the most unbridled antinomianism, which changed vice into virtue. They thought it a necessary part of “perfect knowledge” to have a complete experience of all sins, including even unnamable vices.

Some have identified the Ophites with the false teachers denounced in the Epistle of Jude as filthy dreamers, who “defile the flesh, and set at naught dominion, and rail at dignities,” who “went in the way of Cain, and ran riotously in the error of Balaam for hire, and perished in the gainsaying of Korah,” as “wandering stars, for whom the blackness of darkness has been reserved forever.” The resemblance is certainly very striking, and those heretics may have been the forerunners of the Ophites of the second century.


129. Saturninus (Satornilos)

Iren. I. 24, § 1, 2; ch. 28. Hippol. VII. 3, 28 (depending on Iren.). Tert. Praesc. Haer. 46. Hegesippus in Euseb. IV. 22, 29. Epiph. Haer. XXIII. Theod. Fab. Haer. I. 3. Comp. Möller, l c., p. 367-373.

Contemporary with Basilides under Hadrian, was Saturninus or Satornilos in Antioch. He was, like him, a pupil of Menander. His system is distinguished for its bold dualism between God and Satan, the two antipodes of the universe, and for its ascetic severity. God is the unfathomable abyss, absolutely unknown (θεός ἄγνωστος). From him emanates by degrees the spirit-world of light, with angels, archangels, powers, and dominions. On the lowest degree, are the seven planetary spirits (ἄγγελοι κοσμοκράτορες) with the Demiurge or God of the Jews at the head. Satan, as the ruler of the hyle, is eternally opposed to the realm of light. The seven planetary spirits invade the realm of Satan, and form out of a part of the hyle the material world with man, who is filled by the highest God with a spark of light (σπινθήρ). Satan creates in opposition a hylic race of men, and incessantly pursues the spiritual race with his demons and false prophets. The Jewish God, with his prophets, is unable to overcome him. Finally the good God sends the aeon Nous in an unreal body, as Soter on earth, who teaches the spiritual men by gnosis and strict abstinence from marriage and carnal food to emancipate themselves from the vexations of Satan, and also from the dominion of the Jewish God and his star-spirits, and to rise to the realm of light.


130. Carpocrates

Iren. I. 25 (24). Hippol. VII. 32 (D. & Schn. p. 398 sqq.). Clem. Alex. Strom. III. 511. Epihianius, Haer. XXV.

Carpocrates also lived under Hadrian, probably at Alexandria, and founded a Gnostic sect, called by his own name, which put Christ on a level with heathen philosophers, prided itself on its elevation above all the popular religions, and sank into unbridled immorality. The world is created by angels greatly inferior to the unbegotten Father. Jesus was the son of Joseph, and just like other men, except that his soul was steadfast and pure, and that he perfectly remembered those things which he had witnessed within the sphere of the unbegotten God. For this reason a power descended upon him from the Father, that by means of it he might escape from the creators of the world. After passing through them all, and remaining in all points free, he ascended again to the Father. We may rise to an equality with Jesus by despising in like manner the creators of the world.

The Carpocratians, say Irenaeus and Hippolytus, practiced also magical arts, incantations, and love-potions, and had recourse to familiar spirits, dream-sending demons, and other abominations, declaring that they possess power to rule over the princes and framers of this world. But they led a licentious life, and abused the name of Christ as a means of hiding their wickedness. They were the first known sect that used pictures of Christ, and they derived them from a pretended original of Pontius Pilate.

Epiphanes, a son of Carpocrates, who died at the age of seventeen, was the founder of “monadic” Gnosticism, which in opposition to dualism seems to have denied the independent existence of evil, and resolved it into a fiction of human laws. He wrote a book on “Justice,” and defined it to be equality. He taught that God gave his benefits to all men alike and in common, and thence derived the community of goods, and even of women. He was worshipped by his adherents after his death as a god, at Same in Cephalonia, by sacrifices, libations, banquets, and singing of hymns. Here we have the worship of genius in league with the emancipation of the flesh, which has been revived in modern times. But it is not impossible that Clement of Alexandria, who relates this fact, may have made a similar mistake as Justin Martyr in the case of Simon Magus, and confounded a local heathen festival of the moon known as τά Ἐπιφάνεια or ὁ Ἐπιφανής with a festival in honor of Epiphanes.


131. Tatian and the Encratites

I. Tatian: Λόγος πρὸς Ἕλληνας (Oratio adversus Graecos), ed. S. Worth, Oxon. 1700 (an excellent ed.); in Otto’s Corpus. Apol., vol. VI., Jenae 1851; and in Migne’s Patrologia Graeca, Tom. VI. fol. 803-888. Eng. transl. by Pratten & Dods in the “Ante-Nicene Library,” vol. III. (Edinb. 1867). A Commentary of St. Ephraem on Tatian’s Diatessaron (Τὸ διὰ τεσσάρων), was found in an Armenian translation in the Armenian Convent at Venice, translated into Latin in 1841 by Aucher, and edited by Mösinger (Prof. of Biblical Learning in Salzburg) under the title “Evangelii Concordantis Expositio facta a Sancto Ephraemo Doctore Syro.” Venet. 1876. The Diatessaron itself was found in an Arabic translation in 1886, and published by P. Aug. Ciasca: Tatiani Evangeliorum Harmoniae, Arabice, Rom. 1888. A new and more critical edition of the Oratio ad Gr., by Ed. Schwartz, Lips., 1888 (105 pp).

Orthodox Notices of Tatian: Iren. I. 28, 1; III. 23, 8 sqq. (in Stieren, I. 259, 551 sq.). Hippol.: VIII. 16 (very brief). Clem. Alex.: Strom. l. III. Euseb.: H. E. IV. 16, 28, 29; VI. 13. Epiphanius, Haer. 46 (Tatian) and 47 (Encratites). The recently discovered work of Macarius Magnes (Paris 1876), written about 400, contains some information about the Encratites which agrees with Epiphanius.

II. H. A. Daniel: Tatian der Apologet. Halle 1837.

James Donaldson: A Critical History of Christian Liter., etc. Lond. vol. IIIrd. (1866), which is devoted to Tatian, etc., p. 3-62.

Theod. Zahn: Tatian’s Diatessaron. Erlangen, 1881. (The first part of Forschungen zur Gesch. des neutestamntl. Kanons).

Ad. Harnack: Tatian’s Diatessaron, in Brieger’s “Zeitschrift für Kirchengesch.” 1881, p. 471-505; Die Oratio des Tatian nebst einer Einleitung über die Zeit dieses Apologeten, in “Texte und Untersuchungen zur Gesch. der altchristl. Literatur,” vol. I. No. 2, p. 196-231. Leipz., 1883, and his art., “Tatian,” in “Encycl. Brit.” xxiii. (1888).

Fr. Xav. Funk (R.C.): Zur Chronologie Tatian’s, in the Tübing. “Theol. Quartalschrift,” 1883, p. 219-234.

Tatian, a rhetorician of Syria, was converted to Catholic Christianity by Justin Martyr in Rome, but afterwards strayed into Gnosticism and died a.d. 172. He resembles Marcion in his anti-Jewish turn and dismal austerity. Falsely interpreting 1Co_7:5, he declared marriage to be a kind of licentiousness and a service of the devil. Irenaeus says, that Tatian, after the martyrdom of Justin, apostatised from the church, and elated with the conceit of a teacher, and vainly puffed up as if he surpassed all others, invented certain invisible aeons similar to those of Valentine, and asserted with Marcion and Saturninus that marriage was only corruption and fornication. But his extant apologetic treatise against the Gentiles, and his Gospel-Harmony (recently recovered), which were written between 153 and 170, show no clear traces of Gnosticism, unless it be the omission of the genealogies of Jesus in the “Diatessaron.” He was not so much anti-catholic as hyper-catholic, and hyper-ascetic. We shall return to him again in the last chapter.

His followers, who kept the system alive till the fifth century, were called, from their ascetic life, Encratites, or Abstainers, and from their use of water for wine in the Lord’s Supper, Hydroparastatae or Aquarians. They abstained from flesh, wine, and marriage, not temporarily (as the ancient catholic ascetics) for purposes of devotion, nor (as many modern total abstainers from intoxicating drink) for the sake of expediency or setting a good example, but permanently and from principle on account of the supposed intrinsic impurity of the things renounced. The title “Encratites,” however, was applied indiscriminately to all ascetic sects of the Gnostics, especially the followers of Saturninus, Marcion, and Severus (Severians, of uncertain origin). The Manichaeans also sheltered themselves under this name. Clement of Alexandria refers to the Indian ascetics as the forerunners of the Encratites.

The practice of using mere water for wine in the eucharist was condemned by Clement of Alexandria, Cyprian, and Chrysostom, and forbidden by Theodosius in an edict of 382. A certain class of modern abstinence men in America, in their abhorrence of all intoxicating drinks, have resorted to the same heretical practice, and substituted water or milk for the express ordinance of our Lord.


132. Justin the Gnostic

Hippolytus: Philos. V. 23-27 (p. 214-233), and X. 15 (p. 516-519).

Hippolytus makes us acquainted with a Gnostic by the name of Justin, of uncertain date and origin. He propagated his doctrine secretly, and bound his disciples to silence by solemn oaths. He wrote a number of books, one called Baruch, from which Hippolytus gives an abstract. His gnosis is mostly based upon a mystical interpretation of Genesis, and has a somewhat Judaizing cast. Hippolytus, indeed, classes him with the Naassenes, but Justin took an opposite view of the serpent as the cause of all evil in history. He made use also of the Greek mythology, especially the tradition of the twelve labors of Hercules. He assumes three original principles, two male and one female. The first is the Good Being; the second Elohim, the Father of the creation; the third is called Eden and Israel, and has a double form, a woman above the middle and a snake below. Elohim falls in love with Eden, and from their intercourse springs the spirit-world of twenty angels, ten paternal and ten maternal, and these people the world. The chief of the two series of angels are Baruch, who is the author of all good, and is represented by the tree of life in Paradise, and Naas, the serpent, who is the author of all evil, and is represented by the tree of knowledge. The four rivers are symbols of the four divisions of angels. The Naas committed adultery with Eve, and a worse crime with Adam; he adulterated the laws of Moses and the oracles of the prophets; he nailed Jesus to the cross. But by this crucifixion Jesus was emancipated from his material body, rose to the good God to whom he committed his spirit in death, and thus he came to be the deliverer.


133. Hermogenes

Tertullian: Adv. Hermogenem. Written about a.d. 206. One of his two tracts against H. is lost. Hippolytus: Philos. VIII. 17 (p. 432). Comp. Neander: Antignosticus, p. 448; Kaye: Tertullian, p. 532; Hauck: Tertullian, p. 240; Salmond: in “Smith & Wace,” III. 1-3.

Hermogenes was a painter in Carthage at the end of the second and beginning of the third century. Tertullian describes him as a turbulent, loquacious, and impudent man, who “married more women than he painted.” He is but remotely connected with Gnosticism by his Platonic dualism and denial of the creation out of nothing. He derived the world, including the soul of man, from the formless, eternal matter, and explained the ugly in the natural world, as well as the evil in the spiritual, by the resistance of matter to the formative influence of God. In this way only he thought he could account for the origin of evil. For if God had made the world out of nothing, it must be all good. He taught that Christ on his ascension left his body in the sun, and then ascended to the Father. But otherwise he was orthodox and did not wish to separate from the church.


134. Other Gnostic Sects

The ancient fathers, especially Hippolytus and Epiphanius, mention several other Gnostic sects under various designations.

1. The Docetae or Docetists taught that the body of Christ was not real flesh and blood, but merely a deceptive, transient phantom, and consequently that he did not really suffer and die and rise again. Hippolytus gives an account of the system of this sect. But the name applied as well to most Gnostics, especially to Basilides, Saturninus, Valentinus, Marcion, and the Manichaeans. Docetism was a characteristic feature of the first antichristian errorists whom St. John had in view (1Jo_4:2; 2Jo_1:7).

2. The name Antitactae or Antitactes, denotes the licentious antinomian Gnostics, rather than the followers of any single master, to whom the term can be traced.

3. The Prodicians, so named from their supposed founder, Prodicus, considered themselves the royal family,and, in crazy self-conceit, thought themselves above the law, the sabbath, and every form of worship, even above prayer itself, which was becoming only to the ignorant mass. They resembled the Nicolaitans and Antitactae, and were also called Adamites, Barbelitae, Borboriani, Coddiani, Phibionitae, and by other unintelligible names.

Almost every form of immorality and lawlessness seems to have been practiced under the sanction of religion by the baser schools of Gnosticism, and the worst errors and organized vices of modern times were anticipated by them. Hence we need not be surprised at the uncompromising opposition of the ancient fathers to this radical corruption and perversion of Christianity.


135. Mani and the Manichaeans


I. Oriental Sources: The most important, though of comparatively late date. (a) Mohammedan (Arabic): Kitâb al Fihrist. A history of Arabic literature to 987, by an Arab of Bagdad, usually called Ibn Abi Jakub An-Nadîm; brought to light by Flügel, and published after his death by Rödiger and Müller, in 2 vols. Leipz. 1871-’72. Book IX. section first, treats of Manichaeism. Flügel’s transl. see below. Kessler calls Fihrist a “Fundstätte allerersten Ranges.” Next to it comes the relation of the Mohamedan philosopher Al-Shahrastanî (d. 1153), in his History of Religious Parties and Philosophical Sects, ed. Cureton, Lond. 1842, 2 vols. (I. 188-192); German translation by Haarbrücker. Halle, 1851. On other Mohammedan sources see Kessler in Herzog2, IX. 225 sq. (b) Persian sources, relating to the life of Mani; the Shâhnâmeh (the Kings’ Book) of Firdausî, ed. by Jul. Mohl. Paris, 1866 (V. 472-475). See Kessler, ibid. 225. c) Christian Sources: In Arabic, the Alexandrian Patriarch Eutychius (d. 916), Annales, ed. Pococke. Oxon. 1628; Barhebraeus (d. 1286), in his Historia Dynastiarum, ed. Pococke. In Syriac: Ephraem Syrus (d. 393), in various writings Esnig or Esnik, an Armenian bishop of the 5th century, who wrote against Marcion and Mani (German translation from the Armenian by C. Fr. Neumann in Illgen’s “Zeitschrift für die Hist. Theol.” 1834, p. 77-78).

II. Greek Sources: Eusebius (H. E. VII. 31, a brief account). Epiphanius (Haer. 66). Cyril of Jerusal. (Catech. VI. 20 sqq.). Titus of Bostra (πρὸς Μανιχαίους, ed. P. de Lafarde, 1859). Photius: Adv. Manichaeos (Cod. 179 Biblioth.). John of Damascus: De Haer. and Dial.

III. Latin Sources: Archelaus (Bishop of Cascar in Mesopotamia, d. about 278): Acta Disputationis cum Manete Haeresiarcha; first written in Syriac, and so far belonging to the Oriental Christian sources (Comp. Jerome, De vir. Ill. 72), but extant only in a Latin translation, which seems to have been made from the Greek, edited by Zacagni (Rom. 1698) and Routh (in Reliquiae Sacrae., vol. V. 3-206), Engl. transl. in Clark’s “Ante-Nicene Library” (vol. XX. 272-419). These Acts purport to contain the report of a disputation between Archelaus and Mani before a large assembly, which was in fall sympathy with the orthodox bishop, but (as Beausobre first proved) they are in form a fiction from the first quarter of the fourth century (about 320) by a Syrian ecclesiastic (probably of Edessa), yet based upon Manichaean documents, and containing much information about Manichaean doctrines. They consist of various pieces, and were the chief source of information to the West. Mani is represented (ch. 12) as appearing in a many-colored cloak and trousers, with a sturdy staff of ebony, a Babylonian book under his left arm, and with a mien of an old Persian master. In his defense he quotes freely from the N. T. At the end he makes his escape to Persia (ch. 55). Comp. H. V. Zittwitz: Die Acta Archelai et Manetis untersucht, in Kahnis’ “Zeitschrift für Hist. Theol.” 1873, No. IV. Oblasinski: Acta Disput. Arch., etc. Lips. 1874 (inaugural dissert.). Ad. Harnack: Die Acta Archelai und das Diatessaron Tatians, in “Texte und Untersuch. zur Gesch. der altchristl. Lit.” vol. I. Heft. 3 (1883), p. 137-153. Harnack tries to prove that the Gospel quotations of Archelaus are taken from Tatian’s Diatessaron. Comp. also his Dogmengeschichte, I. (1886), 681-694.

St. Augustin (d. 430, the chief Latin authority next to the translation of Archelaus): Contra Epistolam Manichaei; Contra Faustum Manich., and other anti-Manichaean writings, in the 8th vol. of the Benedictine edition of his Opera. English translation in Schaff’s “Nicene and Post-Nicene Library,” Vol. IV., N. York, 1887.

Comp. also the Acts of Councils against the Manich. from the fourth century onward, in Mansi and Hefele.


Modern Works

*Isaac De Beausobre ( b. 1659 in France, pastor of the French church in Berlin, d. 1738): Histoire crit. de Manichée et du Manichéisme. Amst. 1734 and 39. 2 vols. 4º. Part of the first vol. is historical, the second doctrinal. Very full and scholarly. He intended to write a third volume on the later Manichaeans.

*F. Chr. Baur: Das Manichäische Religionssystem nach den Quellen neu untersucht und entwickelt. Tüb. 1831 (500 pages). A comprehensive Philosophical and critical view. He calls the Manich. system a “glühend prächtiges Natur- und Weltgedicht.”

Trechsel: Ueber Kanon, Kritik, und Exegese der Manichäer. Bern, 1832.

D. Chwolson: Die Ssabier und der Ssabismus. Petersb. 1856, 2 vols.

*Gust. Flügel (d. 1870): Mani, seine Lehre und seine Schriften. Aus dem Fihrist des Abî Jakub an-Nadîm (987). Leipz. 1862. Text, translation, and Commentary, 440 pages.

Fr. Spiegel: Eranische Alterthumskunde, vol.II. 1873, p. 185-232.

Alex. Geyler: Das System des Manichäisimus und sein Verh. zum Buddhismus. Jena, 1875.

*K. Kessler: Untersuchungen zur Genesis des manich. Rel. systems. Leipz. 1876. By the same: Mânî oder Beiträge zur Kenntniss der Religionsmischung im Semitismus. Leipz. 1882. See also his thorough art. Mâni und die Manichäer, in “Herzog,” new ed., vol. IX. 223-259 (abridged in Schaff’s “Encycl.” II. 1396-1398).

G. T. Stokes: Manes, and Manichaeans in “Smith and Wace,” III. 792-801.

Ad. Harnack: Manichaeism, in the 9th ed. of the “Encycl. Britannica,” vol. XV. (1883), 481-487.

The accounts of Mosheim, Lardner, Schröckh, Walch, Neander, Gieseler.


Mani and the Manichaeans

We come now to the latest, the best organized, the most consistent, tenacious and dangerous form of Gnosticism, with which Christianity had to wage a long conflict. Manichaeism was not only a school, like the older forms of Gnosticism, but a rival religion and a rival church. In this respect it resembled Islam which at a later period became a still more formidable rival of Christianity; both claimed to be divine revelations, both engrafted pseudo-Christian elements on a heathen stock, but the starting point was radically different: Manichaeism being anti-Jewish and dualistic, Mohammedanism, pseudo-Jewish and severely and fanatically monotheistic.

First the external history.

The origin of Manichaeism is matter of obscure and confused tradition. It is traced to Mani (Manes, Manichaeus), a Persian philosopher, astronomer, and painter, of the third century (215-277), who came over to Christianity, or rather introduced some Christian elements into the Zoroastrian religion, and thus stirred up an intellectual and moral revolution among his countrymen. According to Arabic Mohammedan sources, he was the son of Fatak (Πάτεκιος), a high-born Persian of Hamadan (Ecbatana), who emigrated to Ctesiphon in Babylonia. Here he received a careful education. He belonged originally to the Judaizing Gnostic sect of the Mandaeans or Elkesaites (the Mogtasilah, i.e. Baptists); but in his nineteenth and again in his twenty-fourth year (238) a new religion was divinely revealed to him. In his thirtieth year he began to preach his syncretistic creed, undertook long journeys and sent out disciples. He proclaimed himself to be the last and highest prophet of God and the Paraclete promised by Christ (as Mohammed did six hundred years later). He began his “Epistola Fundamenti,” in which he propounded his leading doctrines, with the words: “Mani, the apostle of Jesus Christ, by the providence of God the Father. These are the words of salvation from the eternal and living source.” He composed many books in the Persian and Syriac languages and in an alphabet of his own invention but they are all lost.

At first Mani found favor at the court of the Persian king Shapur I. (Sapor), but stirred up the hatred of the priestly cast of the Magians. He fled to East India and China and became acquainted with Buddhism. Indeed, the name of Buddha is interwoven with the legendary history of the Manichaean system. His disputations with Archelaus in Mesopotamia are a fiction, like the pseudo-Clementine disputations of Simon Magus with Peter, but on a better historic foundation and with an orthodox aim of the writer.

In the year 270 Mani returned to Persia, and won many followers by his symbolic (pictorial) illustrations of the doctrines, which he pretended had been revealed to him by God. But in a disputation with the Magians, he was convicted of corrupting the old religion, and thereupon was crucified, or flayed alive by order of king Behram I. (Veranes) about 277; his skin was stuffed and hung up for a terror at the gate of the city Djondishapur (or Gundeshapur), since called “the gate of Mani.” His followers were cruelly persecuted by the king.

Soon after Mani’s horrible death his sect spread in Turkistan, Mesopotamia, North Africa, Sicily, Italy and Spain. As it moved westward it assumed a more Christian character, especially in North Africa. It was everywhere persecuted in the Roman empire, first by Diocletian (A. D. 287), and afterwards by the Christian emperors. Nevertheless it flourished till the sixth century and even later. Persecution of heresy always helps heresy unless the heretics are exterminated.

The mysteriousness of its doctrine, its compact organization, the apparent solution of the terrible problem of evil, and the show of ascetic holiness sometimes were the chief points of attraction. Even such a profound and noble spirit as St. Augustin was nine years an auditor of the sect before he was converted to the Catholic church. He sought there a deeper philosophy of religion and became acquainted with the gifted and eloquent Faustus of Numidia, but was disappointed and found him a superficial charlatan. Another Manichaean, by the name of Felix, he succeeded in converting to the Catholic faith in a public disputation of two days at Hippo. His connection with Manichaeism enabled him in his polemic writings to refute it and to develop the doctrines of the relation of knowledge and faith, of reason and revelation, the freedom of will, the origin of evil and its relation to the divine government. Thus here, too, error was overruled for the promotion of truth.

Pope Leo I. searched for these heretics in Rome, and with the aid of the magistrate brought many to punishment. Valentinian III. punished them by banishment, Justinian by death. The violent and persistent persecutions at last destroyed their organization. But their system extended its influence throughout the middle ages down to the thirteenth century, reappearing, under different modifications, with a larger infusion of Christian elements, in the Priscillianists, Paulieians, Bogomiles, Albigenses, Catharists and other sects, which were therefore called “New Manichaeans.” Indeed some of the leading features of Manichaeism — the dualistic separation of soul and body, the ascription of nature to the devil, the pantheistic confusion of the moral and physical, the hypocritical symbolism, concealing heathen views under Christian phrases, the haughty air of mystery, and the aristocratic distinction of esoteric and exoteric — still live in various forms even in modern systems of philosophy and sects of religion.


136. The Manichaean System

Manichaeism is a compound of dualistic, pantheistic, Gnostic, and ascetic elements, combined with a fantastic philosophy of nature, which gives the whole system a materialistic character, notwithstanding its ascetic abhorrence of matter. The metaphysical foundation is a radical dualism between good and evil, light and darkness, derived from the Persian Zoroastrism (as restored by the school of the Magasaeans under the reign of the second Sassanides towards the middle of the second century). The prominent ethical feature is a rigid asceticism which strongly resembles Buddhism. The Christian element is only a superficial varnish (as in Mohammedanism). The Jewish religion is excluded altogether (while in Mohammedanism it forms a very important feature), and the Old Testament is rejected, as inspired by the devil and his false prophets. The chief authorities were apocryphal Gospels and the writings of Mani.

1. The Manichaean theology begins with an irreconcilable antagonism between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness. And this is identified with the ethical dualism between good and bad. These two kingdoms stood opposed to each other from eternity, remaining unmingled. Then Satan who with his demons was born from darkness, began to rage and made an assault upon the kingdom of light. From this incursion resulted the present world, which exhibits a mixture of the two elements detached portions of light imprisoned in darkness. Adam was created in the image of Satan, but with a strong spark of light, and was provided by Satan with Eve as his companion, who represents seductive sensuousness, but also with a spark of light, though smaller than that in Adam. Cain and Abel are sons of Satan and Eve, but Seth is the offspring of Adam by Eve, and full of light. Thus mankind came into existence with different shares of light, the men with more, the women with less. Every individual man is at once a son of light and of darkness, has a good soul, and a body substantially evil, with an evil soul corresponding to it. The redemption of the light from the bonds of the darkness is effected by Christ, who is identical with the sun spirit, and by the Holy Ghost, who has his seat in the ether. These two beings attract the lightforces out of the material world, while the prince of darkness, and the spirits imprisoned in the stars, seek to keep them back. The sun and moon are the two shining ships (lucidae naves) for conducting the imprisoned light into the eternal kingdom of light. The full moon represents the ship laden with light; the new moon, the vessel emptied of its cargo; and the twelve signs of the zodiac also serve as buckets in this pumping operation.

The Manichaean christology, like the Gnostic, is entirely docetic, and, by its perverted view of body and matter, wholly excludes the idea of an incarnation of God. The teachings of Christ were compiled and falsified by the apostles in the Spirit of Judaism. Mani, the promised Paraclete, has restored them. The goal of history is an entire separation of the light from the darkness; a tremendous conflagration consumes the world, and the kingdom of darkness sinks into impotence.

Thus Christianity is here resolved into a fantastic dualistic, and yet pantheistic philosophy of nature; moral regeneration is identified with a process of physical refinement; and the whole mystery of redemption is found in light, which was always worshipped in the East as the symbol of deity. Unquestionably there pervades the Manichaean system a kind of groaning of the creature for redemption, and a deep sympathy with nature, that hieroglyphic of spirit; but all is distorted and confused. The suffering Jesus on the cross (Jesus patibilis) is here a mere illusion, a symbol of the world-soul still enchained in matter, and is seen in every plant which works upwards from the dark bosom of the earth towards the light, towards bloom and fruit, yearning after freedom. Hence the class of the “perfect” would not kill nor wound a beast, pluck a flower, nor break a blade of grass. The system, instead of being, as it pretends, a liberation of light from darkness, is really a turning of light into darkness.

2. The morality of the Manichaeans was severely ascetic, based on the fundamental error of the intrinsic evil of matter and the body; the extreme opposite of the Pelagian view of the essential moral purity of human nature. The great moral aim is, to become entirely unworldly in the Buddhistic sense; to renounce and destroy corporeity; to set the good soul free from the fetters of matter. This is accomplished by the most rigid and gloomy abstinence from all those elements which have their source in the sphere of darkness. It was, however, only required of the elect, not of catechumens. A distinction was made between a higher and lower morality similar to that in the catholic church. The perfection of the elect consisted in a threefold seal or preservative (signaculum).

(a) The signaculum oris, that is, purity in words and in diet, abstinence from all animal food and strong drink, even in the holy supper, and restriction to vegetable diet, which was furnished to the perfect by the “bearers,” particularly olives, as their oil is the food of light.

(b) The signaculum manuum: renunciation of earthly property, and of material and industrial pursuits, even agriculture; with a sacred reverence for the divine light-life diffused through all nature.

(c) The signaculum sinus, or celibacy, and abstinence from any gratification of sensual desire. Marriage, or rather procreation, is a contamination with corporeity, which is essentially evil.

This unnatural holiness of the elect at the same time atoned for the unavoidable daily sins of the catechumens who paid them the greatest reverence. It was accompanied, however, as in the Gnostics, with an excessive pride of knowledge, and if we are to believe the catholic opponents, its fair show not rarely concealed refined forms of vice.

3. Organization. Manichaeism differed from all the Gnostic schools in having a fixed, and that a strictly hierarchical, organization. This accounts in large measure for its tenacity and endurance. At the head of the sect stood twelve apostles, or magistri, among whom Mani and his successors, like Peter and the pope, held the chief place. Under them were seventy-two bishops, answering to the seventy-two (strictly seventy) disciples of Jesus; and under these came presbyters, deacons and itinerant evangelists. In the congregation there were two distinct classes, designed to correspond to the catechumens and the faithful in the catholic church: the “hearers;” and the “perfect,” the esoteric, the priestly caste, which represents the last stage in the process of liberation of the spirit and its separation from the world, the transition from the kingdom of matter into the kingdom of light, or in Buddhistic terms, from the world of Sansara into Nirwana.

4. The worship of the Manichaeans was, on the whole, very simple. They had no sacrifices, but four daily prayers, preceded by ablations, and accompanied by prostrations, the worshipper turned towards the sun or moon as the seat of light. They observed Sunday, in honor of the sun, which was with them the same with the redeemer; but, contrary to the custom of the catholic Christians, they made it a day of fasting. They had weekly, monthly, and yearly fasts. They rejected the church festivals, but instead celebrated in March with great pomp the day of the martyrdom of their divinely appointed teacher, Mani. The sacraments were mysteries of the elect, of which even Augustin could learn very little. Hence it has been disputed whether they used baptism or not, and whether they baptized by water, or oil. Probably they practised water baptism and anointing, and regarded the latter as a higher spiritual baptism, or distinguished both as baptism and confirmation in the catholic church. They also celebrated a kind of holy supper, sometimes even under disguise in catholic churches, but without wine (because Christ had no blood), and regarding it perhaps, according to their pantheistic symbolism, as the commemoration of the light-soul crucified in all nature. Their sign of recognition was the extension of the right hand as symbol of common deliverance from the kingdom of darkness by the redeeming hand of the spirit of the sun.