In Romans 8:19-20 it is written “For the earnest expectation of the creature awaits the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who subjected it…”
When this passage is read by most Christians today, they see an arcane language filled with hyperbole which can never be fully grasped, unless, as they say, God reveals the meaning. Now of course I have nothing against divine revelation. The problem here is that mainstream theologians will often use this notion as an excuse to avoid discussion or debate of certain passages that might not affirm their cherished notions of orthodoxy. Otherwise they might have to face the fact that some arcane passages reflect ideas that belonged to other ancient schools of thought that were not “Christian”.
Romans 8:19-20 may be obscure and mysterious to the average Christian today, but if this passage is viewed against its historical & cultural background the language does reflect familiar ideas known to the ancient Greeks and Romans.
Right away there is the peculiar notion that the “creature” (Greek: “ktiseos”) has an expectation and also a will. Hence the creation was not subject to vanity “willfully”. Vanity is contrary to the will of the creation. Even the King James translators perceived the subtle implication in Paul’s statements, and they chose the word “creature” for the passage, viz. that Paul referred to a living soul.
Clearly Paul was not simply referring to the creation but instead was referring to a soul. A soul has a will and an expectation. In some schools of ancient Greek thought the Creator or supreme Deity was considered along with the creation to be one big soul. In Stoic philosophy this was the “world soul” or cosmic soul. In Plato this was the cosmic soul created by the Demiurge (Timaeus, 30b). And among neo-Platonists the cosmic soul is part of the Demiurge, a part of its own being.
In Gnostic thought, among the Valentinians, the Demiurge was said to derive from Sophia’s repentance which is the origin of the soul (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1.5). All souls in the cosmos originate from and have a share of the Demiurge, and to even have their existence IN the Demiurge.
Paul seems to have had similar ideas in mind when he wrote. Paul can be seen as speaking of more than one God; for example affirming that everything is In God in 1 Corinthians 8:6 or Romans 11:36, but then also denying that everything is in God in 1 Corinthians 15:24-28, viz. that all rule and power must be put down so that “God may be all and in all”.
Of course anyone who is intimate with Paul’s writings knows that Paul had more than one doctrine, and did not teach the same doctrine to every person (e.g. 1 Cor. 2:6-14; 9:19-22).
In Romans 8:19-21 we may be seeing an early statement of what later became the Valentinian doctrine of the Demiurge being saved through the Gospel. But this in turn raises another question: Who was it that subjected the creature to vanity? And, what was this “vanity” that the creature was subjected to?
If we take a clue from the Valentinians then this vanity was the Demiurge’s belief that he alone was the highest God, without knowing the Wisdom above (Irenaeus, ibid., 1.5.3). That Paul held similar views can be seen in 1 Corinthians 2:6-14 and 2 Corinthians 3:6-4:4. In these passages Paul distinguished between a God known to the nature of the soul and a God known by the nature of the Spirit. Paul also stated that Moses received an unspiritual Law that was given by the “god of this world”, and that this Law is in opposition to Spiritual Grace that comes through the Father of Jesus and is revealed in the radiant face of Jesus Christ.
But why then was the Demiurge subject to vanity?
Because the only way the Demiurge would ever find salvation was through repentance and not by nature: because the god of this world is not by nature a spiritual being.
In Valentinian doctrine the Demiurge is under the dominion of the Savior (Irenaeus, ibid., 1. 3 & 7). It is the Savior who allows the Demiurge to reside in ignorance, in his rightful place of vanity until the time that the Gospel is revealed through the children of God who have the spiritual seed (Irenaeus, ibid., 1.7.3-4). As Paul wrote: “…the creature awaits the manifestation of the sons of God…Because the creature itself shall also be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God (“teknon tou theou”).
By Jim West. Copyright © August 9th 2015; revised September 14th 2017.
All Rights Reserved.
Outside of Christian orthodoxy, John the Baptist has long been a figure associated with esoteric movements such as Freemasonry, the Knights Templar, the Mandeans and the Gnostics. According to the famous Masonic pontiff Albert Pike (33°) John symbolized the connection of esoteric Templar doctrine with early Christian Gnosticism (A. Pike, Morals & Dogma, pg. 817-18). In Mandean tradition John was regarded as the true Prophet in opposition to Jesus, who was condemned and denounced by the Mandeans (e.g. the Right Ginza; M. Meyer, The Gnostic Bible, pg. 550). And in Gnostic Christian tradition John is part of Sophia’s plan for salvation. The church father Irenaeus gives this report regarding this doctrine:
“They maintain that Sophia, herself has also spoken many things through [the prophets] regarding the first Anthropos (man), and concerning that Christ who is above, thus admonishing and reminding men of the incorruptible light, the first Anthropos, and of the descent of Christ. The [other] powers being terrified by these things, and marvelling at the novelty of those things which were announced by the prophets, [Sophia] brought it about by means of Ialdabaoth (who knew not what he did), that emissions of two men took place, the one from the barren Elizabeth, and the other from the Virgin Mary. (12) And since she herself had no rest either in heaven or on earth, she invoked her mother to assist her in her distress. Upon this, her mother, the first woman, was moved with compassion towards her daughter, on her repentance, and begged from the first man that Christ should be sent to her assistance, who, being sent forth, descended to his sister, and to the besprinkling of light. When he recognised her (that is, the Sophia below), her brother descended to her, and announced his advent through means of John, and prepared the baptism of repentance.” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1.30.11-12; cf. NHL: Testimony of Truth, 45; Valentinian Exposition, 40-41.)
In Gnostic thought & myth the original and spiritual act of repentance began with Sophia. And John the Baptist is the man, the vessel, through which her repentance is introduced to mankind. John is reported to have preached a “baptism for repentance and remission of sins” (Mt. 3:2, Lk. 3:3).
The theological context of John’s doctrine has long been a subject of dispute. In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus was challenged by the priests at Jerusalem. They inquired of him by what authority did he preach his doctrine (Mt. 21:23). Jesus turned the table and challenged them in return, saying “I will also ask you one thing, which if you tell me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, where is it from? from heaven? or from men?” (Mt. 21:24-25)
The priests declined to answer Jesus’s question because John was popular with the people. But privately they believed that John’s doctrine was heretical and contrary to the Law of Moses. Jesus likewise refused to answer their question. Now of course for the Gnostic reader Jesus was preaching on behalf of another God, which was why Jesus over-turned certain points in the Law of Moses on behalf of a “perfect” God as opposed to the “jealous” God of the Old Testament—providing that one is willing to recognize the contradictions in the Sermon on the Mount, between the passages in Matthew 5:17-19 & 5:38-48.
But outside of Matthew there is further evidence of the obscure nature of John’s theology. In the Gospel of John 1:17-18 this plain statement is attributed to John the Baptist:
“For the Law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No man has seen God at any time. The only-begotten Son, in the bosom of the Father, He has declared him.”
The theme that Moses does not represent the true God occurs throughout this gospel. In John 17:25 Jesus says plainly “Oh righteous Father, the world (kosmos) has not known you“. And in John 9:29 the Pharisees are reported to have responded to Jesus’s message thus: “We know that God spoke to Moses: as for this fellow, we not where he is from.”
For open-minded and discerning readers it can be seen that there is the idea of another unknown God in the New Testament, and that this God and repentance is revealed through both John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. Now, setting the mythical narrative aside, we must consider the prospect that Jesus (or, the followers who invented “Jesus”) learned these ideas originally from John the Baptist. This prospect can be seen in the Gospel of Luke where the teaching connected with Jesus in Matthew 5 is attributed to John the Baptist in Luke 3:11, “He that has two coats, let him give to him that has none; and he that has meat, let him do likewise“. (cf. Mt. 5:41-42, Lk. 6:30a)
Like Matthew, Luke also has conflicting passages that reveal the presence of more than one theology, which in Luke can be seen in a comparison of Lk. 6:35-36 as compared with Lk. 4:8. Between these passages the discerning reader can see the contrast between the Good Father and the vindictive, Jealous God. (Surely it was conflicting passages like this that led Marcion to reject the version of Luke used by the Catholic Church of his day.)
Next we must note that in ancient sources the arch-heretic Simon Magus was also connected with John the Baptist and is said to have been John’s favorite disciple. Considering the evidence already presented above, we must consider the question: Did Simon also learn his ideas from John the Baptist?
According to another record known as the Clementine Homilies, which may originate from the Apostolic father Clement of Rome (a follower of Peter), it is stated that Simon was the favorite student of John the Baptist:
“But that [Simon] came to deal with the doctrines of religion happened on this wise. There was one John, a day-baptist, who was also, according to the method of combination, the forerunner of our Lord Jesus; and as the Lord had twelve apostles, bearing the number of the twelve months of the sun, so also he, John, had thirty chief men, fulfilling the monthly reckoning of the moon, in which number was a certain woman called Helena, that not even this might be without a dispensational significance. … But of these thirty, the first and the most esteemed by John was Simon…” (Clementine Homilies, 2.23; J. Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 8, pg. 233.)
It is stated further in the Clementine Homilies that Simon eventually succeeded John the Baptist in the leadership of John’s order and ministry. Thus it is implied in this source that Peter’s struggle against Simon was a struggle against the movement founded by John the Baptist, subsequently under the leadership of Simon.
Moreover it is reported by the church fathers that Simon also taught the concept of another God above the God of the Mosaic Law. This passage from the Homilies is an example of Simon’s doctrine:
“When I went away yesterday, I promised to return today, and in a discussion show that he who framed the world is not the highest God, but that the highest God is another who alone is good, and who has remained unknown up to this time. … If then he is the Lawgiver, he is just; but if he is just, then he is not good. … Now a lawgiver cannot be both just and good, for these qualities do not harmonize.” (Homily, 18:1)
One side-note here is that I do believe that the Clementine Homilies are ultimately a report of Peter’s battle against Paul, and is the back-ground of the conflict in Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. In the interests of unity Catholic scribes replaced Paul’s name with Simon, thus allowing Paul’s ministry to be conflated with Simon’s ministry. On the other hand, it can be said that Paul and Simon shared many important ideas in common regarding theology, ethics and the Law of Moses. I provide a summary of these parallels in part two of my series St. Paul and the Apostolic Tradition: the Clementine Cover-up.
The passage quoted above is an example of a report from the church fathers accusing Simon of being the originator of Gnosticism, even in its Christian form–although Simon himself is said to have rejected Christianity altogether. Nonetheless it can be seen where Simon may have learned his ideas from John the Baptist. The church fathers report of Simon that he considered himself to be the supreme Being, that he himself was this other God. But these reports, which are derogatory and biased, have to be regarded with caution. Based on Simon’s teaching as preserved in the Great Announcement I understand Simon to mean that he was able realize what was present within himself as a potentiality. The church father Hippolytus is the one cleric who offers a rational comment on Simon’s teaching: “According to Simon, therefore, there exists that which is blessed and incorruptible in a latent condition in every one—potentially, not actually; and that this is He who stood, stands, and is to stand.” (Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, 6:12)
Another example where John’s teaching may be echoed by Simon can be seen in the aforementioned Simonian treatise known as the Great Announcement as preserved by Hippolytus (Refutation of All Heresies, 6:11). In the passage cited, words are repeated that are also attributed to John the Baptist in Matthew 3:10 and Luke 3:9. Quoting from the Great Announcement: “If, however, a tree continues alone, not producing fruit fully formed, it is utterly destroyed. For somewhere near, he says, is the axe (which is laid) at the roots of the tree. Every tree, he says, which does not produce good fruit, is hewn down and cast into fire.” (ibid. 6:4, 11)
Reading the above passage it must be noted that the Great Announcement is not a Christian document. It is a work of Simonian philosophy and mysticism and has nothing to do with Jesus. Yet words are quoted here that resemble word-for-word a teaching attributed to John the Baptist. The context of Simon’s statement is that those people who do not bear spiritual fruit, meaning to realize the Divine potentiality within themselves, will be subject to a fiery condemnation. Is it possible that the Great Announcement contains the fullness of John the Baptist’s original teaching?
Now of course orthodox tradition makes out John’s words to be reference to the prophecy of Elijah in Malachi 4:1, 5; “For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.” … “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord”.
In my view there is not a clear match between John’s words and the passage above. The connection is purely the invention of orthodox scholars. Whereas it is entirely possible that the source and meaning of John’s words could lay elsewhere—hence the enduring connection of John with heresy or a whole other branch of philosophy.
Furthermore, the statement in the Gospels that John lived in the wilderness and wore a loin-clothe and subsisted on locusts and honey, may be regarded as an invention by Christians to make John appear inferior to Jesus. (Moreover, it may also be doubted that John ever literally deferred to Jesus as subsequent Christian traditions, orthodox or heretical, together maintain.) From the extant records it can be gathered that John was the son of a Jewish priest. This means that John was born into the upper class and had access to a good education. It is also known that the Jewish priesthood in Roman times was open to secularism; meaning that they were open to pagan culture and education in their private lives. Their very order existed because of King Herod (the Great) and the Roman state. It is within the realm of possibility that John was a highly educated man, educated in philosophy and Hellenistic culture. That John was known to Herod the Tetrarch and the religious leaders indicates that John was a man of respect. But then Herod came to resent John after he spread the family’s business among the people, if the report in the Gospels is accurate. Or Herod may have feared John’s popularity, as Josephus reports (Antiquities, 18.5.1-2).
Of course I am getting deep into speculation but I believe we should be careful of this traditional view that John was an eccentric who wandered around in a loin-clothe and ate insects. I suspect John was a man of much greater stature, and he had his own school. Some say that John was an Essene but there is not much by way of solid evidence to establish that connection. John may have had his own movement and his own ideas, and that’s why we never see John referred to as an “Essene” in historic texts. John is the man who may have inspired the early Hellenist & proto-Gnostic Christians like Paul, and perhaps laid the foundation for the Simonians and later the Mandeans. And it may very well be that because of the highly political nature of the evolution of dogma, that John the Baptist’s true place in that historic evolution has been concealed. To learn the truth about John is to pull on yet another thread that unravels the fabric of Christian orthodoxy. It is a veil that has remained in place for centuries. Nonetheless there is a counter-tradition of John the Baptist which has persisted like a shadow through the centuries. Mandeans, Templars and Freemasons all lay claim to an esoteric tradition that originated in part from John the Baptist. —jw
By Jim West. Copyright © May 5th 2015; revised May 10th, 2015.
All Rights Reserved.
This text is an excerpt from from my article On the Ethics of St. Paul, viz. the final section regarding Paul’s “wrath of God” speech in Romans 1:18-32. I’ve decided to present this section as a separate piece due to the depth of the subject matter. This is a revised and expanded version of the original text. The speech is referred to here as the “sermon”.
In the main article I argued that Paul’s statements in 1 Corinthians 6:12 and Galatians 3:28 (see below) cannot be reconciled with the message in Romans 1:18-32. In the main article I stated my conclusion that Paul did not condemn homosexuality, but only the open expression in the form of indiscreet or indecent behavior which in turn confused the Gospel ministry and exposed the ministry to accusations of scandal. I believe that Paul’s position on homosexuality was the same as his position on idol meats in 1 Corinthians 8: that the liberty of “gnosis” is not to be displayed in front of the weaker brother. But in order for my conclusion to stand I must also account for the passage in Romans, which appears to be a condemnation of homosexuality itself. Here is a quote from the passage:
“For this cause God gave them up to vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature. And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust toward one another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was due.” (Rom. 1:26-27)
The typical “orthodox” Christian will point to this passage as evidence that Paul condemned the act of homosexuality itself. But I would like to raise the question of whether this passage is interpreted in its correct context? The passages I have already presented elsewhere suggest that Paul was not condemning homosexuality in and of itself, hence “All things are lawful” (1 Cor. 6:12). Furthermore, Paul spoke of a social order where traditional structures no longer existed; hence in Christ “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). The question is: is there a relationship between the concept in Romans 1:26f. and the concepts in 1 Cor. 6:12 and Gal. 3:28? I believe that we cannot simply ignore some concepts in favor of others.
And regarding the overall passage, verses 18-32, there is the question of whether this passage reflects Paul’s theology and worldview as stated in his other letters. For example, in Romans 1:20 it is stated that “For the invisible things of [God] from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; even his eternal power and Godhead…” Whereas in 1 Corinthians 2:14 it is said that the spiritual nature of God cannot be grasped by the “natural” man. And in another passage Paul wrote: “We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things that are not seen are eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:18) Note that in the latter passages Paul does not affirm that the invisible things of God can be seen through the physical creation. The latter passages state the opposite.
Again I question whether these passages can be reconciled—and that we can’t just ignore some concepts in favor of others.
I think the cause behind this conflict of ideas is that “orthodox” Christians have misrepresented Paul’s words in Romans. The traditional interpretation is to the effect that Paul’s sermon refers to pagans who have rejected the true God, and God in response gave them over to “vile affections.” However I believe there is evidence in the sermon which shows that it reflects a conflict between Christian sects, and never referred to pagans at all. And, the words in Romans 1:26-27, et al. do not refer to pagans, but are a repetition of slanderous rumors that circulated between sects.
To word this in another way: I would like to propose is that what we really have here is an apology by Paul against other, more conservative Jewish Christians who have misrepresented and slandered Paul’s ministry and doctrine. And, that Paul’s words in Romans 1:26f. are part of the list of accusations that he proposes to defend himself against. I know this seems far-fetched, but please bear with me as I explain the problems and set forth the evidence.
To begin with: It must be understood that Paul’s letter to the Romans is a letter of introduction (A. Schweitzer, Mysticism of Paul., pg. 44f. W. Kummel, Introduction to the NT, pg. 312). Paul had never been to Rome, and he sent this letter as an explanation of his doctrine in advance of his arrival. Now it is important to understand that a proper letter of introduction is a note of endorsement that is provided by a higher authority. In early Christianity a letter of introduction (or “commendation”) was a letter that the Apostolic leaders sent with an individual who was traveling among the churches. The letter confirmed that the man was authorized by the church leadership, and was not simply out on his own. In 2 Corinthians 3:1–5, Paul actually mentions the fact that he had no such letter to show to the churches in Greece (Kummel, ibid., pg. 284). In this context it is highly significant that Paul actually admits, in 2 Cor. 3:1–5, that he has no such letter. Paul also had no letter to take with him to Rome (note that Paul conveys no greetings from the Apostles at Jerusalem). Paul’s letter to the Romans is his own introduction, and it represents a defense of his doctrine. Paul even refers to his critics:
“For if the truth of God has abounded more through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I judged as a sinner? And not rather–as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say–let us do evil, that good may come?” (Rom. 3:7–8)
My point here is that the letter to Romans was written in the context of a conflict over Paul’s teaching on the Law, viz. his Liberation doctrine (2 Cor. 3:17, Gal. 4:1-9). Paul’s “wrath of God” sermon is actually in reference to this conflict, and the accusations in the sermon are those of Paul’s enemies, which are set forth as the starting place for his defense; his apology. Moreover, the passage may be quoted from another letter that was circulated against Paul, and was the source of the statements in Romans 1:18-32.
In “orthodox” tradition Paul’s sermon is represented as an attack on pagans who are immoral and have a wrong view of God. This is supposedly represented in Paul’s words: “Because when they knew God, they glorified him not as God…And changed the glory of God into an image made like to corruptible man, and birds and four-footed beasts and creeping things… And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind… Being filled with all unrighteousness… Backbiters, haters of God…covenant breakers…” (Rom. 1:21, 23, 28, 30)
Supposedly this speech is an indictment against the pagans; but I would like to point out a number of details here which are inconsistent with a proper description of pagan religion. For one thing, Paul never actually mentions the issue of polytheism or idolatry. The words “idol” and “gods” do not appear here at all as compared with the other letters (e.g. 1 Cor. 8:4–5, “eidolon”/“theoi”). The entire sermon is couched in the context of monotheism. The passage reads that the “wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (1:18). The problem here is that pagans had no truth of “God” to “suppress in unrighteousness.” Again, the pagans were polytheistic idolaters who worshipped false gods. There was no truth for them to suppress. The pagans never knew God as Paul described: “Because when they knew God, they glorified him not as God…” I believe these words refer to a heresy, and not to (supposed) pagan, polytheistic idolatry.
The sermon also says that “when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things”. (Romans 1:21-23)
One central tenet of early heresy is that the Lawgiver Jehovah was really just an angel in rebellion against the Good Father above (e.g. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1.24.2, 1.25.4). There is language in Paul’s letters that reflects the same doctrine, e.g. Galatians 3:19 & 4:1-10, 2 Cor. 3:12-4:4; cf. also Colossians 2:13-18. In these passages observing the Law is equated with worshipping angels (cf. Hebrews 2:2f.). In context of the sermon, in the Bible the angels in question, viz. the Seraphim and Cherubim, are described as having both human and animal traits, having the forms of man, serpents, birds and four-footed animals (Isaiah 6:2-6, Ezekiel 1 & 10). This could also be the context of the passage in Romans 1:23, that the heretics have reduced the supreme Deity & Lawgiver to the inferior status of an angel which has the corruptible form of man and various animals. (Note: In later classic Gnosticism the biblical creator was portrayed with animal traits, e.g. in Sethian myth Yaldabaoth is portrayed as having the body of a serpent and the face of a lion.)
The conflict of ideas here regarding the pagans can also be seen when the sermon is compared to what follows in Romans 2:14-15,
“For when the Gentiles (ethne), which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another…” (Note: the Greek word for “gentiles” ethne is found nowhere in Romans 1:18-32.)
Can the above passages be reconciled? In the wrath of God sermon it is supposedly said that the gentiles, the pagans, have rejected the true knowledge of God, even after knowing him, and are therefore in a state of mental & moral corruption. Whereas in Romans 2 it is said that gentiles who don’t know God or the Law still follow a “law written in their hearts”. Again, I propose the solution that Romans 1 doesn’t refer to pagans, but to another party altogether.
Paul also asserts that the sinners in question are “backbiters” and “haters of God…without understanding, covenant breakers…” (1:30). These words do not match clearly and neatly with the notion of an indictment against pagans. In reference to pagans, these words lack context. The simple fact is that not all pagans are “backbiters” or “covenant breakers.” If this were true then the Roman system of government could not exist. The Pax Romana would not exist. What Paul’s words really refer to is the rivalry and acrimony among Christian factions (read: heresies, cf. 1 Cor. 1:10–12, 11:18–19). The words “backbiters” and “covenant breakers”, etc., refer to accusations that rival Christians made against each other. Indeed these words only make sense in reference to parties who know each other, and who accuse each other of being backbiters, God haters and covenant breakers.
Again, I think Paul’s sermon is a characterization of an attack made by his Jewish Christian adversaries. According to them, Paul is a backbiter (read: betrayer), a covenant breaker (Paul teaches against the Law, viz. the Mosaic Covenant) and a God hater (Paul disparages the Law of God and teaches that the Law was “ordained by angels”; Gal. 3:10-13, 19).
There is also the accusation that the truth of God is “suppressed in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18b). Of note is that Paul actually accused Moses of this very offense in a polemic in 2 Corinthians 4:1–2, “Therefore seeing that we have this ministry…we do not fail; but have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking around in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully…” These words follow Paul’s statement that “Moses” blinded the eyes of the Israelites to the death oriented nature of the Law: “Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech: and not as Moses, who placed a veil over his face, so that the children of Israel could not steadily behold that which was fading away. But their minds were blinded: for unto this day the same veil remaineth in the reading of the old testament…even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart” (2 Cor. 3:12–15).
Paul wrote the words above in reference to Jewish Christians who denounced his teaching on the Law. We should also note that this passage actually begins with the problem in that the Church leadership, presumably the Apostles at Jerusalem, refused to give Paul a letter of commendation, showing that Paul was sent by the Apostles. In 2 Corinthians 3:1–2 Paul writes to his readers that “Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men.” Paul goes on to explain that his Jewish Christian adversaries fail to understand that the Law of Moses represents the “ministry of death” and that the true redemption comes through the “Spirit” alone (2 Cor. 3:6–7, cf. Mt. 19:16–17). Paul believed that Moses misrepresented the word of God, which was symbolized by placing a veil over his face. Paul writes that this veil concealed the “fading glory” that radiated from Moses’ face after he spent forty days in the presence of the Lawgiver (i.e. Ex. 34:27–35). The meaning is that, according to Paul, Moses blinded the Israelites to the truth, which is that there is no salvation through the Law, and that this Law was given by lower angels, not God (Gal. 3:19, cf. Col. 2:13–18, Acts 7:38, 53; Hebrews 2:2).
In Paul’s letters the “truth suppressed in unrighteousness” is a theme that has context and reflects an accusation that he made against Jews, and which Paul and his adversaries probably traded back and forth. In Galatians Paul argued that the Law of Moses was not from the supreme Being, but was given by lesser powers which were described as “angels”, “guardians” and “stewards” (Gal. 3:19, 4:1–2). Paul actually believed, and taught his followers, that observance of the Law had nothing to do with worshipping God: “But now, after ye have known God…why turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto you desire again to be in bondage?” (Gal. 4:9) This was Paul’s warning to the Galatians against Jewish Christians who were attacking Paul, and were demanding that the Galatian Christians observe the Law of Moses. Paul’s warning is as follows: “Christ is become of no effect unto you: whosoever of you are justified by the Law; ye are fallen from grace.” (Gal. 5:4) In these words it is obvious that Paul did not believe that the Law represented the righteous commands or worship of God. This theological position is reflected further in 1 Corinthians 10:18–19, “Behold Israel after the flesh: are they which eat of the sacrifices not partakers of the altar? What say I then? That the idol (eidolon) is anything, or that which is sacrificed to idols is anything?”
In the preceding passage Paul denounces temple rites at Jerusalem as mandated by the Law. Note that Paul refers to the God that Jews worshipped in the Temple as a false god or “idol” (cf. Acts 2:46, 21:20–26!). When we consider these passages above it is possible to understand how Jewish Christians would accuse Paul of “changing the truth of God into a lie” (Rom. 1:25).
The sermon also reflects the accusation that there is homosexuality among Paul’s followers, because they do not retain a proper concept of God, as Lawgiver, in their minds (Rom. 1:25–27). It must be noted again that Paul does not exactly condemn homosexuality; he only condemns those who are enslaved by sexual desire. In reference to the sexual act itself, Paul states that “All things are lawful.” Paul means that under some circumstances it is lawful to engage in homosexual sex. Paul also states that in the new spiritual order, in Christ, that there is no longer any distinction between Jews and Greeks, slave and free, or male and female (Gal. 3:28) Among Paul’s attackers this means that Paul and his followers lead lives of homosexual confusion. They break the covenant, and they revile (read: backbite) other Christians who adhere to traditional Jewish principles. Paul and his followers are God haters because they do not acknowledge the Godhead of the Lawgiver. Instead, they have reduced the Lawgiver to the level of the creation, i.e. an angel, and to the likeness of a man or animal. (Note: Again, this latter point would be in reference to Paul’s rejection of biblical anthropomorphic descriptions of God, which he viewed as a lower angelic being, in context of the biblical descriptions of the angelic Seraphim which were said to resemble winged serpents, e.g. Isaiah 6:2-6, or to the description of the Cherubim in Ezekiel chapters 1 & 10, which were said have the four-fold features of a man, lion, eagle & ox. Herein may lay the true context of Romans 1:23.)
Thus what the “wrath of God” sermon actually describes is the lawless doctrine and lifestyle that Paul’s accusers claim that he leads along with his followers. Paul repeats these accusations in their exaggerated and libelous context, and was probably quoting from another letter. Paul is not out to openly attack respected Apostolic leaders, which may back-fire; his purpose is to answer the charges against himself and his followers. For this reason he sets forth the sermon like a riddle. Paul doesn’t make clear who the accusers and the accused are: he leaves it for his readers to make the connection. And in that time and circumstance the readers in Rome might have known right-away what those words referred to, whereas the immediate context of the passage would be lost to readers of later centuries who were, inevitably, reading someone else’s mail, just as we are today.
(Note: The Uncial Manuscripts are the only extant sources for the text of Romans that we have today. These manuscripts were prepared by the Catholic clergy under the direction of the Roman Emperor Constantine. The possibility cannot be ruled out that the Catholic scribes subtly altered the text of Romans 1 in order to blunt the context of the sermon, so that it appears to be a positive statement of Paul’s doctrine, and to obscure the acrimony and conflict that actually existed among the earliest church leaders, as described by Paul in Galatians 1 & 2. For example, I think it’s entirely possible that Romans 1:18 might have began with the words It has been written: For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven…etc. The simple act of striking those words in preparing the uncial texts alters the context of the entire passage, thus making it appear that Paul was speaking his own affirmative opinion rather than quoting someone he disagreed with. And while this cannot be proven it also cannot be entirely ruled out. There is no question that the uncial texts contain heavily redacted copies of manuscripts, comprised of parts of the Pauline letters and not the letters in their original forms and original entirety. Galatians and Philemon are the only letters that exist in their entirety, but even then not without editing or interpolation, e.g. Gal. 2:6-9.)
Moreover, it is entirely possible that the sermon could be from a letter circulated by the Jewish Apostles and could be the very words of Peter himself, or James, reflecting the conflict as described in Galatians 1 & 2. (Note: Paul’s historic conflict with the Jewish Christians, including the Apostles at Jerusalem, has been addressed in my three-part series St. Paul and the Apostolic Tradition.)
Another clue that Paul’s speech doesn’t refer to pagans can be seen in Romans 2:1. Here, Paul’s speech, supposedly against pagans, all of a sudden refers to Jews without a break or change in theme. In Romans 2 Paul warns Jews against judging other people when they sin against the Law themselves (Rom. 2:1ff, 17–23). In Romans 3 Paul admits to being a liar–in the same breath that he refers to God as the Lawgiver–but he denies teaching that Christians should practice “evil” so that “good” may come (Rom. 3:8). The balance of Romans is a diplomatic treatise in which Paul defends his teaching against the Law. Thus Romans 1:32 marks the end of the quotation and 2:1 marks the beginning of Paul’s rebuttal and apology.
If the evidence I have presented above is correct then it must be recognized that Paul was not condemning homosexuality in Romans 1:26-27 and that this passage was part of a slanderous speech, a letter, that was aimed at Paul, in which he and his followers were accused of being homosexuals who embrace a wrong theology. If the reader follows the train of Paul’s ideas from Romans 1:18 to 2:29, it becomes obvious that Paul’s speech is actually an apology against Jewish Christian prudes who judge others by the Law, but can’t keep the Law themselves–and will not acknowledge the grace (that Paul says) comes through Christ. Paul insists throughout Romans that the grace of Christ has supplanted the Law, and that this is the truth that all Jews should accept. But among conservative Jewish Christians and traditional devout Jews, this amounts to treason (cf. Mt. 5:17-19). Paul is accused of teaching his followers “Let us do evil, that good may come” (Romans 3:8). Personally I have no doubt that Romans 3:8 is a direct reference to the statements in the “wrath of God” sermon; that in the original context this passage was quoted from a letter circulated against Paul.
One last issue before concluding is regarding the opening of the sermon in Romans 1:18-20. In light of the information presented above we may reflect on the following themes: The suppression of the truth in unrighteousness, in verse 18, refers to Paul’s suppression of the Law. The statement in verse 20 that the invisible God and attributes can be seen through the visible creation means that even apart from the Law, Paul and his followers are condemned by nature, so that “they are without excuse”. As I pointed out at the beginning of this treatise, Paul does not affirm that God can be seen or understood through the natural creation (e.g. 1 Cor 2:14, 2 Cor. 4:18). To the contrary Paul can be quoted as teaching the opposite. Given the passages cited, Romans 1:18-20 could be seen as a rebuke of Paul’s doctrine.
Considering the evidence I have presented, I believe it is wrong to assume that Romans 1:18-32 is a positive statement of Paul’s doctrine. It should, rather, be considered as the quotation of a letter that was circulated by Paul’s Jewish Christian adversaries (cf. Romans 3:8). Paul quoted from this letter as the original setting for explaining and justifying his own teaching on the Law. Note also that Paul made no appeal to Peter or any of the other Apostles in support of his teaching. In this context Romans 1:18-32 may be the earliest extant example of a (proto) Gnostic sect being condemned and slandered by an early Apostolic faction. –jw
1) Note the paradox between these passages:
From Paul, 1 Corinthians 6:12, “All things are lawful, but I will not be brought under the power of any.”
From the Law of Moses, Leviticus 20:13, “If a man also lie with mankind…both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death…”
2) Eusebius preserved a letter from the Emperor Constantine ordering the production of 50 standardized bibles (Life of Constantine, 4:36 & 37). Some scholars believe that two of the oldest uncial texts, the Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, are surviving copies. Or, they may be copies derived from those 50 bibles, reflecting a standard uncial style text and editions of the biblical texts. The uncial texts that still exist today are the oldest known manuscripts of the Christian Bible and especially the New Testament. Yet the uncial texts are far removed from the original writings of Paul and show that his letters were heavily edited and re-organized. See my article Was Paul a Misogynist? for details on this issue.
By Jim West. Copyright © 2012, 2014; revised on Sept. 28, 2014.
All Rights Reserved.
What follows here is a synopsis of quotes from Hippolytus showing the theology and cosmology of Basilides’ system: which began with the non-existent God, from which came the Seed and the three-fold or triple-sonship (the three natures). From the Seed came the triple-sonship, the existent cosmos, and the Great Archon of the Ogdoad, the lesser Archon of the Hebdomad; and a peculiar Archon who is said to be the sum of all the principalities & powers of the Hebdomad, and of the 365 heavens therein, who is called Abrasax (or Abraxas).
Source: Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, 7:10-15; A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. V, pp. 104-109.
This text has been edited in certain passages for clarity.
The words of Basilides regarding the non-existent God and the Seed of all existence, as quoted by Hippolytus:
“Whatsoever I affirm to have been made [beyond] these, ask no question as to where. For the Seed had all seeds treasured and resting in itself, just as non-existent entities, and which were designed to be produced by a non-existent Deity.” –Basilides
What follows is Hippolytus’s report:
“There existed, he says, in the Seed itself, a Sonship, threefold, in every respect of the same Substance with the non-existent God, and begotten from nonentities. This Sonship involved a threefold division, one part was refined, another lacking refinement, and another requiring purification.”
“The refined portion, therefore, in the first place, simultaneously with the earliest deposition of the Seed by the non-existent One, immediately burst forth and went upwards and hurried above from below…and attained, he says, unto him that is nonexistent.”
“For every nature desires the nonexistent God… However, each nature desires this after a different mode. The unrefined portion of the Sonship continuing still in the Seed…was not able to hurry upwards. For this portion was much more deficient in the refinement that the [first] Sonship possessed…and was left behind. Therefore the unrefined Sonship equipped itself with some such wing as Plato, the Preceptor of Aristotle, fastens on the soul in his Phaedrus.” (Note: in Plato’s dialogue Phaedrus it is said that the soul must grow “wings” through the practice of philosophy in order to regain its memory of and to return to its original Divine estate. This process is described in terms of the soul acquiring or growing wings.)
“And Basilides styles such, not a wing, but Holy Spirit; and Sonship invested in this Spirit confers benefits, and receives them in turn. … For the Sonship, carried upwards by the Spirit as by a wing, bears aloft… And it approaches the refined Sonship, and the non-existent God, even Him who fabricated the world out of nonentities.”
“The third Sonship, however, that which requires purification, has continued, he says, in the vast conglomeration of all germs conferring benefits and receiving them. But in what manner it is that the third Sonship receives benefits and confers them, we shall afterwards declare when we come to the proper place for discussing this question.” (See below)
“When, therefore, a first and second ascension of the Sonship took place, and the Holy Spirit itself also remained after the mode mentioned, the firmament was placed between the super-mundane spaces and the cosmos.”
“While, therefore, the firmament which is above the heaven is coining into existence, there burst forth, and was begotten from the cosmical Seed, and the conglomeration of all germs, the Great Archon and Head of the cosmos…”
“This Archon, when begotten, raised Himself up and soared aloft, and was carried up entire as far as the firmament. And there He paused, supposing the firmament to be the termination of His ascension and elevation, and considering that there existed nothing at all beyond these.”
“… He became more wise, more powerful, more comely, more lustrous… pre-eminent for beauty above any entities you could mention with the exception of the Sonship alone, which is still left in the conglomeration of all germs.”
“For he was not aware that there is a Sonship wiser and more powerful, and better than Himself. Therefore imagining Himself to be Lord, and Governor, and a wise Master Builder, He turns Himself to the work of the creation of every object in the cosmical system.”
“And first, he deemed it proper not to be alone, but made unto Himself, and generated from adjacent entities, a Son far superior to Himself, and wiser. For all these things had the non-existent Deity previously determined upon, when He cast down the conglomeration of all germs.”
“…and the Archon caused Him to sit on his right hand. This is, according to these heretics, what is denominated the Ogdoad, where the Great Archon has his throne. The entire celestial creation, then, that is, the Aether, He Himself, the Great Wise Demiurge formed. The Son, however, begotten of this Archon, operates in Him, and offered Him suggestions, being endued with far greater wisdom than the Demiurge Himself.”
“The account, therefore, which Aristotle has previously rendered concerning the soul and the body, Basilides elucidates as applied to the Great Archon and his Son. For the Archon has generated, according to Basilides, a son; and the soul as an operation and completion, Aristotle asserts to be an entelecheia of a natural organic body. As, therefore, the entelecheia controls the body, so the Son, according to Basilides, controls the God…” (Note: the term “entelecheia” refers to a concept invented by Aristotle and means the process of a potentiality being manifest into a sustained actuality. This may perhaps be understood as Aristotle’s basic theory of existence and how all existence came forth from non-existence.)
“When all objects in the aethereal regions, then, were arranged, again from the conglomeration of all germs another Archon ascended, greater, of course, than all subjacent entities with the exception, however, of the Sonship that had been left behind, but far inferior to the First Archon. And this second Archon is called by them Rhetus. And this Topos is styled Hebdomad, and this Archon is the manager and fabricator of all subjacent entities. And He has likewise made unto Himself out of the conglomeration of all germs, a son who is more prudent and wise than Himself, similarly to what has been stated to have taken place in the case of the First Archon.”
“When, therefore, according to these heretics, the entire world and super-mundane entities were finished, and when nothing exists labouring under deficiency, there still remains in the conglomeration of all germs the third Sonship, which had been left behind in the Seed… And it must needs be that the Sonship which had been left behind ought likewise to be revealed and reinstated above.”
“The Gospel then came, says Basilides, first from the Sonship through the Son, that was seated beside the Archon, to the Archon, and the Archon learned that He was not God of the universe, but was begotten. But ascertaining that He has above Himself the deposited treasure of that Ineffable and Unnameable and Non-existent One, and of the Sonship, He was both converted and filled with terror, when He was brought to understand in what ignorance He was involved.”
“When, then, the Great Archon had been orally instructed, and every creature of the Ogdoad had been orally instructed and taught, and after the mystery became known to the celestial powers, it was also necessary that afterwards the Gospel should come to the Hebdomad…”
“The Son of the Great Archon therefore kindled in the Son of the Archon of the Hebdomad the light which Himself possessed and had kindled from above from the Sonship. And the Son of the Archon of the Hebdomad had radiance imparted to Him, and He proclaimed the Gospel to the Archon of the Hebdomad. And in like manner, according to the previous account, He Himself was both terrified and induced to make confession.”
“When, therefore, all beings in the Hebdomad had been likewise enlightened, and had the Gospel announced to them; for in these regions of the universe there exist, according to these heretics, creatures infinite in number, viz., Principalities and Powers and Rulers (1 Cor. 15:24f., Eph. 6:12), in regard of which there is extant among the Basilidians a very prolix and verbose treatise, where they allege that there are three hundred and sixty-five heavens, and that the great Archon of these is Abrasax, from the fact that his name comprises the computed number 365…” (Note that the text here indicates that the 365 heavens exist within the region of the Hebdomad, as opposed to the Ogdoad of the Great Archon. Thus Abrasax exists within the confines of the Hebdomad and is not to be identified with the Great Archon. Moreover Abrasax is identified with the wicked “principalities and powers” of Ephesians 6:12, which implies that Abrasax is a malevolent or satanic being. More will be said on this in the concluding comments, regarding Hippolytus’s report, the report of Irenaeus regarding “Abraxas” and Carl Jung’s “Abraxas” in the Seven Sermons of the Dead.)
“When these two events, viz. the illumination of the Hebdomad and the manifestation of the Gospel had thus taken place, it was necessary, likewise, that afterwards the Formlessness existent in our quarter of creation should have radiance imparted to it, and that the mystery should be revealed to the Sonship, which had been left behind in Formlessness, just like an abortion.”
“And as far as this, the entire Sonship, which is left behind for benefiting the souls in Formlessness, and for being the recipient in turn of benefits—this Sonship, I say, when it is transformed, followed Jesus, and hastened upwards, and came forth purified. And it becomes most refined, so that it could, as the first Sonship, hasten upwards through its own instrumentality. For it possesses all the power that, according to nature, is firmly connected with the light which from above shone down…”
“When, therefore, he says, the entire Sonship shall have come, and shall be above the conterminous spirit, then the creature will become the object of mercy. ‘For the creature groans until now’, (Rom. 8:19-22) and is tormented, and waits for the manifestation of the sons of God, in order that all who are men of the Sonship may ascend from thence.”
“When this takes place, God, he says, will bring upon the whole world enormous ignorance, that all things may continue according to nature, and that nothing may inordinately desire anything of the things that are contrary to nature.”
“But far from it; for all the souls of this quarter of creation, as many as possess the nature of remaining immortal in this region only, continue in it, aware of nothing superior or better than their present state. And there will not prevail any rumour or knowledge in regions below, concerning beings whose dwelling is placed above, lest subjacent souls should be wrung with torture from longing after impossibilities.”
“It would be just as if a fish were to crave to feed on the mountains along with sheep. For a wish of this description would, he says, be their destruction. All things, therefore, that abide in this quarter are incorruptible, but corruptible if they are disposed to wander and cross over from the things that are according to nature.”
“In this way the Archon of the Hebdomad will know nothing of superjacent entities. For enormous ignorance will lay hold on this one likewise, in order that sorrow, and grief, and groaning may depart from him; for he will not desire anything of impossible things, nor will he be visited with anguish. In like manner, however, the same ignorance will lay hold also on the Great Archon of the Ogdoad, and similarly on all the creatures that are subject unto him, in order that in no respect anything may desire anything of those things that are contrary to nature, and may not (thus) be overwhelmed with sorrow. And so there will be the restitution of all things which, in conformity with nature, have from the beginning a foundation in the seed of the universe…”
The underlying wisdom in Basilides’ doctrine is that all sorrows are the result of a longing for the non-existent realm by those who have an essence of that realm within them, having this from their connection with the third sonship that is confined and formless in the existent cosmos. Those souls who have a portion of the third sonship will be purified along with the sonship and restored to the non-existent realm. A fascinating detail is that Basilides seems to construct this interpretation in part from Paul and the cryptic passage in Romans 8:19ff. that the “manifestation of the sons of God” refers to the revealing and ascension of the triple-sonship, and the “groaning of the creature” refers to the remaining sonship, within the creation, that was in need of purification.
While Basilides’ doctrine and myth are notably different from the Valentinian and Sethian myths, there is nonetheless a common set of themes. There is the unknowable, ineffable God beyond comprehension. There is the three-natures doctrine, pneumatic, psychic and hylic, which corresponds to Basilides’ triple sonship. The third sonship is also described as an “abortion” which the Valentinians assigned to Sophia Achamoth and which the Sethians assigned to Yaldabaoth. All three schools teach the recovery of the most sublime essence to the realm above. But in Basilides’ system there seems to be no doctrine of evil matter. There is also no doctrine of the destruction of the world. Instead there is a doctrine of restored harmony; which includes the unique theme that the elect are saved and restored through knowledge, whereas the lower realms are saved and restored through ignorance–once the impure sonship has been recovered, purified and removed.
Finally, Basilides’ system has been made popular and is known for his peculiar doctrine of Abrasax (spelled “Abraxas” by Irenaeus). In Irenaeus’s account of Basilides (which may be regarded as incomplete and inaccurate) Abraxas is said to be the great Archon and the name is derived from a combination of the 365 heavens & rulers (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1.24.7). And in Carl Jung’s channeled work The Seven Semons of the Dead (supposedly channeled from Basilides himself) “Abraxas” is identified as the supreme Deity–in a report that I believe is not to be trusted, or accepted as complete. But in Hippolytus’s account he shows that Abrasax was something of a third rank being, existing within the Hebdomad and beneath the Ogdoad; and that Abrasax was not the Great Archon but was rather a combination of the heavenly principalities and powers, as mentioned in Ephesians 6:12. The Seven Sermons state that the only way for the soul to escape Abraxas, the great Archon of all, good and evil in one, is to ascend to the realm of the fixed stars. But Hippolytus shows a much more sublime and nuanced teaching that should not be dismissed or ignored.
By Jim West. Copyright © September 1; revised Sept. 9, 2014.
In Ephesians 2:2 there is a cryptic passage which has mystified modern readers: “Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world (the Aion of this Cosmos: ton aiona tou kosmou toutou), according to the prince of the power of the air (archonta tes exousias tou aeros), the spirit (pneumatos) that now worketh in the children of disobedience…”
The word “air” or Aer (“aeros”) is described in terms of having dominion (archonta) and power (exousias). In Greek mythology Aer is one of the primeval deities, among the very first gods to come into existence. The very first deity is the goddess Khaos (Chaos) which means void or air. She is often identified with Aer, or Aer is a lower manifestation or descendent of her.
Regarding the Ephesians passage and its ancient context. It was written to Greek readers and reflects a proto-Gnostic worldview where pagan gods were transformed into archons, authorities, principalities and powers (Eph. 6:12). Aer is one of these powers and in this passage it may even be a reference to Khaos, as Khaos and Aer can be one and the same in ancient Greek thought. Moreover, if I’m correct in this then it may be that the term “Aion of this Cosmos”  may be a reference to Khaos, who among the Greeks was said to be the very first of all the gods.
The passage below is from the ancient poet & comedian Aristophanes which is dated back to the 4th century BC. Here we can see an example of Chaos and Aer being named among the earliest, primeval gods. The context here is that Chaos, Night, Darkness & Eros were the only gods that existed before Air, Earth & Heaven (Aer, Gaia & Ouranos):
“At the beginning there was only Chaos, Night, dark Erebus (Darkness), and deep tartarus (the dark pit: identified with Hell by pagans, Christians & Gnostics). Earth (Gaia), Air (Aer) and Heaven (Ouranos) had no existence. Firstly, blackwinged Night laid a germless egg in the bosom of the infinite deeps of Erebus, and from this, after the revolution of long ages, sprang the graceful Eros with his glittering golden wings, swift as the whirlwinds of the tempest. He mated in deep Tartarus with dark Chaos…” (Quoted from Aristophanes, Birds, 690f.)
Aristophanes’ theme that Earth, Heaven, Night and Darkness are primeval beings that have their origin from Chaos is surely based on the 7th century poet Hesiod and his Theogeny where Chaos is said to be the first of all the gods from whom came Earth, Eros, Darkness (Erebos) and Night (line 114ff.). 
And here again from Aristophanes, from his play Clouds. This is a prayer, placed in the mouth of Socrates, in which the boundless Aer is praised as a mighty king:
“Oh most mighty king, the boundless Aer, that keepest the earth suspended in space, thou bright Aether and ye venerable goddesses, the Clouds, who carry in your loins the thunder and the lightning, arise, ye sovereign powers and manifest yourselves in the celestial spheres to the eyes of your sage.” (Clouds, 262)
Another detail in Ephesians 2:2 is that Aer is connected with the “spirit” (pneumatos) that works in the “children of disobedience”. This may be understood to mean that the very air in the world exists in opposition to the ineffable, un-named Father above (Eph. 1:21). This very air that man breaths is itself an afflatus in opposition, belonging to the Aion of this Cosmos  and not the true God. The very air is a power that inspires dis-obedience in mankind, to inspire opposition to the spiritual order above. It is the power of Aer who in turn is under the dominion of the Aion of this Cosmos. The term “Aion of this Cosmos” could be reference to Chaos, the primeval originator, or it could be a reference to Khronos or Saturn, as the god of time, which is documented among the Greeks and Romans (viz. that Aion is another name for Khronos or Saturn).
To show the unorthodox cosmology of Ephesians I offer this quote from Ephesians 6:12 where we read that the “principalities and powers” are adversaries of wickedness that reside in the heavenly places (epouraniois).
“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities (archas), against powers (exousias), against the rulers of the darkness of this world (world-rulers of the darkness: kosmokratoras tou skotous toutou), against spiritual wickedness in high places (heavenly places: epouraniois).” (Eph. 6:12)
Clearly this passage refers to wicked spiritual powers in the heavens. This is a concept consistent with a Gnostic world-view. Whereas Christian orthodoxy teaches that Satan was cast from Heaven to Earth. The passages here and above indicate that Ephesians is based on a completely different paradigm and is consistent with Gnostic thought.
1] In ancient Greek and Hellenistic culture the word “aion” can be another name for a god. An aion can refer to a god, a realm, the world or cosmos, or an age. Moreover the term “Aion of this Cosmos” could be an alternate expression of Paul’s term “the god of this world” (ho theos tou aionos toutou) in 2 Cor. 4:4. Both of these expressions resemble Gnostic terminology. We may regard them as proto-Gnostic in that the Pauline letters most certainly did influence and inspire a later generation of classic Gnostic writers. The Pauline letters may be regarded as an example of an earlier proto-Gnostic stage where the foundation of Gnostic Christian thought was emerging in the mind of Paul and other writers (viz. that Ephesians was not from Paul himself, but a later follower and interpreter of his doctrine).
2] In the Nag Hammadi text On the Origin of the World the writer proposes to argue against the popular opinion that nothing existed before Chaos, viz. the opening passage.
Sources: theoi.com/Khaos, Khronos; perseus.tufts.edu/Aristophanes, Hesiod.
By Jim West. Copyright © August 11, revised Sept. 3, 2014.
All Rights Reserved.
Intro: This is part I of a two-part project to recover the original Judean Gospel from our present extant Gospel of Matthew (viz. Catholic Matthew). There are two parts because the Judean Gospel has two conflicting themes: in one Jesus speaks of a kingdom and the arrival of a Messianic figure other than himself. In the other theme Jesus has become identified with that Messianic figure. Accordingly part I, the “Jewish Prophet”, will begin with a selected passage (a fragment) from Catholic Matthew 10:2-23. Here Jesus speaks of the Messiah or “Son of man” as a figure other than himself; and there is no mention of a crucifixion. This is the first and earliest layer of the Messianic tradition of Jesus. It is a prophecy of a kingdom to come, the arrival of which is impending, and the disciples will not have completed their ministry when the “Son of man” arrives. This is accompanied by a command to preach to Hebrews only; and that before this ministry is complete, the kingdom will have arrived.
Four other passages have been included from Catholic Matthew chapters 24 & 25 (omitting CM. 24:1-4a, 14 & 25:14-30) which may have been spoken by the historical Jesus. Here Jesus specifically denies being the “Christ” (Messiah) and he utters prophecies regarding the destruction of Jerusalem as well as prophecies, illustrations and parables predicting the advent of the Son of man. These passages could be the basis for Jesus’s historical and legendary ethical teaching. And again, there is no reference to the crucifixion as being one of the signs of the end times.
A note regarding the second project: part II, the “Jewish Messiah”, will be a presentation of all those passages in which Jesus has become identified with the Messiah or “Son of man”. This is the second layer of the Messianic tradition and marks the evolution of Jesus from prophet to Jewish Messiah. And then in a separate project, to be called the “Catholic Gospel” it will be shown how Jesus evolved from prophet, to Jewish Messiah, to a universal Savior, and how all these conflicting themes remain preserved in our present Catholic Gospel of Matthew.
Read the Judean Matthew part II: the Jewish Messiah text.
JUDEAN MATTHEW I: THE JEWISH PROPHET
I. JESUS SENDS HIS APOSTLES TO PREACH THE GOSPEL: THAT THE KINGDOM IS AT HAND. [CM. 10:2-7, 9-16a, 17-21, 22b-23]
The names of the twelve apostles are these; The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip, and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the publican; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus; Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him.
These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom is at hand. Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses, Nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat.
And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, enquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence. And when ye come into an house, salute it. And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you. And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. Truly I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.
Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: beware of men, for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.
And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved. But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for truly I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.
II. JESUS DENIES HE IS THE CHRIST-MESSIAH AND PREDICTS THE DESTRUCTION OF JERUSALEM AND THE ADVENT OF THE SON OF MAN. [CM. 24:4b-13, 15-44]
Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.
And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.
For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.
Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake. (Note: I left in the phrase “for my name’s sake” as I believe it could be an expression of Jesus’s exaggerated view of himself and his prophetic message.)
And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. (Note: in Hellenistic Judea all these things were already happening even before Jesus was born. These words reflect the sectarian and political strife that simmered in Judea under the Greeks and Romans.)
When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place… (“let him that readeth understand” omitted)
Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days!
But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day: For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.
Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.
Behold, I have told you before.
Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.
Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens (dunameis ton ouranon) shall be shaken:
And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.
Truly I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.
But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.
III. THE ILLUSTRATION OF THE TWO SERVANTS; THE PARABLE OF THE TEN VIRGINS. [CM. 24:45-25:13]
Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season?
Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Truly I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods. But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; And shall begin to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken; The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.
They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.
And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out. But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.
Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Truly I say unto you, I know you not. Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.
IV. THE RIGHTEOUS REIGN AND JUDGMENT OF THE SON OF MAN. [CM. 25:31-46]
When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Truly I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
Then shall he answer them, saying, Truly I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
Comments: Four verses or parts thereof have been omitted from CM. 10:2-23, viz. verses 7b, 8, 16b and 22a. Verse 7 has the term “kingdom of heaven”. The words “of heaven” have been deemed a later interpolation and have been omitted. Verse 8, which refers to healing and miracle-working, was omitted because the emphasis in the overall passage is on the kingdom and the “Son of man”. The theme of Jesus and his apostles as miracle workers is a later addition and is part of the Messianic theme; in which Jesus and his apostles are embellished and they become miracle workers and healers similar to the legend of Apollonius of Tyana (Eusebius, Against Heirocles). Verse 16b was omitted as it probably originated from a proto-Gnostic source who wanted to add an esoteric element to this passage to try to harmonize it with proto-Gnostic thought. Verse 22b was omitted because it belongs to the Messianic theme and is clearly an attempt to identify Jesus with the “Son of man” when the overall passage makes the two out to be separate figures. Jesus does not say ‘hold fast till I come’; he says “Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.” (Cf. Rev. 2:25b)
In Matthew 24 the first verses 1-4a have been removed as a later device to set the context of Jesus’s words in the proceeding prophecy. In this device the apostles speak to Jesus as if he is the Christ and Son of man (cf. CM. 16:13-17). But immediately following in 24:5 Jesus denies that he is the Christ, which I believe is in the context of his original message as a Messianic prophet. If this is correct then Jesus already had unruly followers who were proclaiming him as the Messiah when he never said that or thought of himself that way. Verse 14 has been omitted as it is a later stall-tactic meant to explain why the original prophecy remained unfulfilled as stated, e.g., in CM. 10:23 or 24:34. Again, the original Gospel was to be preached to Hebrews only and the kingdom would arrive before the apostles reached all the cities of Israel, or in other words, before the end of their generation.
The parable of talents, CM. 25:14-30, was omitted because it is unlikely that Jesus would have used a metaphor from the ancient financial markets (controlled by the Romans) to communicate his end-time message to the masses. This passage belongs to a later stage of Christian theology.
Catholic Matthew 25:31-46 represents the beginning of what became the legendary humanitarian and ethical teaching that came to be associated with Jesus. But in its original context this passage represents the kind of justice that is dealt out by any regime that comes to power. Those who were friends to the cause and the party are rewarded, and those who didn’t help the cause and the party are deemed enemies to be punished. Make no mistake, this passage does not refer to some universal humanitarian altruism. Note these words: “Then shall the righteous answer him (the King), saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King (Basileus) shall answer and say unto them, Truly I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (CM. 25:37-40) This is about how the King’s brethren were treated. This does not refer to all the poor or hungry or imprisoned people of the world. And this is consistent with Jesus’s gospel message that is addressed to the Israelites only (CM. 10:5-6). And to conclude these comments I will point out once again that Jesus never refers to himself in these passages. He refers to another who is the “Christ” and “Son of man” and “King”.
By Jim West. Copyright © 2013; revised April 1, 2014.
All Rights Reserved.
This is a heavily redacted text, a synopsis, of Plotinus’s treatise to which his student Porphyry assigned the title Against the Gnostics. The original text is in Enneads 2:9; and regarding the back-ground and purpose of that text I will let Porphyry speak in his own words:
“Many Christians of this period–amongst them sectaries who had abandoned the old philosophy, men of the schools of Adelphius and Aquilinus–had possessed themselves of works by Alexander of Libya, by Philocomus, by Demostratus, and by Lydus, and exhibited also Revelations bearing the names of Zoroaster, Zostrianus, Nicotheus, Allogenes, Mesus, and others of that order. Thus they fooled many, themselves fooled first; Plato, according to them, had failed to penetrate into the depth of Intellectual Being.
“Plotinus frequently attacked their position at the Conferences and finally wrote the treatise which I have headed Against the Gnostics: he left to us of the circle the task of examining what he himself passed over. Amelius proceeded as far as a fortieth treatise in refutation of the book of Zostrianus: I myself have shown on many counts that the Zoroastrian volume is spurious and modern, concocted by the sectaries in order to pretend that the doctrines they had embraced were those of the ancient sage.” (Porphyry, Life of Plotinus, 16)
Of note is that two of the books mentioned by Porphyry, Zostrianus and Allogenes, have the same titles as two texts preserved in the Nag Hammadi Library. If these texts are one and the same then the latter texts indicate that the school attacked by Plotinus was connected with Sethian Gnosticism. Plotinus’s treatise seems to support that connection.
Regarding my edited text: I reorganized Enneads 2:9 to make it easier to read, so that it has a more logical and structured flow ideas in accordance with the assigned title. Thus instead of the treatise beginning with a summation of the neo-Platonic Godhead, it begins with a proposal to address the tenets of a certain Gnostic/ Sethian school, and sets forth and refutes these tenets in accordance with the neo-Platonist ideology. All of this is organized under a new set of sub-headings.
Enneads 2:9 has a total of 18 sections or chapters. In reorganizing the text I made chapter 10 the beginning as this section has sentences that can function as a thesis statement in accordance with the assigned title. Chapters 6 & 4 were transposed to chapter 10. And chapters 9 and the first half of 5 (5a) were transposed to chapter 15. The remaining sections 1, 2, 3, 5b, 7 & 8 were omitted.
What remains in the edited text is mostly intact, with the exception of chapter 10 which now functions as the opening section of the revised text. The opening sentence has been modified and two other sentences were omitted, in order to facilitate the new format. A comparison of this section with the original text will reveal the differences. The overall meaning of what Plotinus wrote remains intact.
What follows is a list of the new sub-headings:
I. PLOTINUS PROPOSES TO REFUTE THE TEACHINGS OF A CERTAIN GNOSTIC SCHOOL TO WHICH SOME OF HIS FRIENDS GIVE CREDENCE
II. THE GNOSTICS MIS-REPRESENT THE TEACHINGS OF PLATO
III. THE GNOSTICS TEACH THAT THE ORIGIN OF THE COSMOS BEGAN WITH THE DECLINE OF SOPHIA; AND FROM SOPHIA CAME THE DEMIURGE WHO SEPARATED FROM HER
IV. THE GNOSTICS UTTER SPELLS AND APPEASEMENTS
V. THE IMPACT OF THESE TEACHINGS: THE GNOSTICS DESPISE THE WORLD AND ALL THAT IS IN IT
VI. THE GNOSTICS DENY DIVINE PROVIDENCE IN THE WORLD
VII. AGAINST THE GNOSTIC TEACHING THAT THE BEAUTY OF THE CORPOREAL WORLD CONCEALS UGLINESS WITHIN
VIII. THE GNOSTICS TEACH DISDAIN FOR THE BODY AND ACCUSE PAGAN PHILOSOPHERS OF BINDING THE SOUL TO THE BODY
Further I advise the readers that I do not post this text in an effort to refute Gnostic ideas. And personally I don’t find Plotinus’s arguments to be convincing. Most important, I remain unconvinced that Plotinus has reported the Gnostic tenets fairly and accurately (a similar problem exists with the church fathers). The value of this text is that we are allowed insight into the controversial ideas that motivated Plotinus to write. I suspect that Plotinus was motivated primarily by the Gnostic rejection of the unity of God in the cosmos and the creation, viz. that the Demiurge and the celestial deities are not connected to the highest Divinity. This is consistent with Sethian texts viz. the Nag Hammadi Library. His reaction is to accuse his subjects of impiety, of lacking virtue, and of logical fallacies. But this is all accomplished mostly at his word with very few quotations and no citations. There is no dialogue. — jw
I. PLOTINUS PROPOSES TO REFUTE THE TEACHINGS OF A CERTAIN GNOSTIC SCHOOL TO WHICH SOME OF HIS FRIENDS GIVE CREDENCE
Under detailed investigation many tenets of this school could be corrected with an abundance of proof. But I am withheld by regard for some of our own friends who fell in with this doctrine before joining our circle and, strangely, still cling to it.
The school, no doubt, is free-spoken enough—whether in the set purpose of giving its opinions a plausible colour of truth or in sincere belief—but we are addressing here our own acquaintances, not those people with whom we could make no head-way. We have spoken in the hope of preventing our friends from being perturbed by a party which brings, not proof—how could it?—but arbitrary, tyrannical assertion; another style of address would be applicable to such as have the audacity to flout the noble and true doctrines of the august teachers of antiquity.
II. THE GNOSTICS MIS-REPRESENT THE TEACHINGS OF PLATO
For, in sum, a part of their doctrine comes from Plato; all the novelties through which they seek to establish a philosophy of their own have been picked up outside of the truth.
From Plato come their punishments, their rivers of the underworld and the changing from body to body; as for the plurality they assert in the intellectual realm—the authentic existent, the intellectual-principle, the second creator and the soul—all this is taken over from the Timaeus, where we read:
“As many ideal-forms as the divine mind beheld dwelling within the veritably living being, so many the maker resolved should be contained in this all.”
Misunderstanding their text, they conceived one mind passively including within itself all that has being, another mind, a distinct existence, having vision, and a third planning the universe—though often they substitute soul for this planning mind as the creating principle—and they think that this third being is the Creator according to Plato.
They are in fact quite outside of the truth in their identification of the Creator.
In every way they misrepresent Plato’s theory as to the method of creation as in many other respects they dishonour his teaching: They, we are to understand, have penetrated the intellectual nature, while Plato and all those other illustrious teachers have failed.
They hope to get the credit of minute and exact identification by setting up a plurality of intellectual essences; but in reality this multiplication lowers the intellectual nature to the level of the sense-kind: Their true course is to seek to reduce number to the least possible in the supreme, simply referring all things to the second hypostasis—which is all that exists as it is primal intellect and reality and is the only thing that is good except only for the first nature—and to recognize Soul as the third principle, accounting for the difference among souls merely by diversity of experience and character. Instead of insulting those venerable teachers they should receive their doctrine with the respect due to the older thought and honour all that noble system—an immortal soul, an intellectual and intelligible realm, the supreme god, the soul’s need of emancipation from all intercourse with the body, the fact of separation from it, the escape from the world of process to the world of essential-being. These doctrines, all emphatically asserted by Plato, they do well to adopt: Where they differ, they are at full liberty to speak their minds, but not to procure assent for their own theories by flaying and flouting the Greeks: Where they have a divergent theory to maintain they must establish it by its own merits, declaring their own opinions with courtesy and with philosophical method and stating the controverted opinion fairly; they must point their minds towards the truth and not hunt fame by insult, reviling and seeking in their own persons to replace men honoured by the fine intelligences of ages past.
As a matter of fact the ancient doctrine of the Divine essences was far the sounder and more instructed, and must be accepted by all not caught in the delusions that beset humanity: It is easy also to identify what has been conveyed in these later times from the ancients with incongruous novelties—how for example, where they must set up a contradictory doctrine, they introduce a medley of generation and destruction, how they cavil at the universe, how they make the soul blameable for the association with body, how they revile the Administrator of this all, how they ascribe to the Creator, identified with the Soul, the character and experiences appropriate to partial beings.
III. THE GNOSTICS TEACH THAT THE ORIGIN OF THE COSMOS BEGAN WITH THE DECLINE OF SOPHIA; AND FROM SOPHIA CAME THE DEMIURGE WHO SEPARATED FROM HER
They first maintain that the Soul and a certain “Wisdom” (Sophia) declined and entered this lower sphere though they leave us in doubt of whether the movement originated in Soul or in this Sophia of theirs, or whether the two are the same to them—then they tell us that the other souls came down in the descent and that these members of Sophia took to themselves bodies, human bodies, for example.
Yet in the same breath, that very Soul which was the occasion of descent to the others is declared not to have descended. “It knew no decline”, but merely illuminated the Darkness in such a way that an image of it was formed on the matter. Then, they shape an image of that image somewhere below—through the medium of matter or of materiality or whatever else of many names they choose to give it in their frequent change of terms, invented to darken their doctrine—and so they bring into being what they call the Creator or Demiurge, then this lower being is severed from his Mother (Sophia) and becomes the author of the cosmos down to the latest of the succession of images constituting it.
Such is the blasphemy of one of their writers.
And, what are we to think of the new forms of being they introduce—their “exiles” and “impressions” and “repentings”?
If all comes to states of the Soul— “repentance” when it has undergone a change of purpose; “impressions” when it contemplates not the authentic existences but their simulacra—there is nothing here but a jargon invented to make a case for their school. All this terminology is piled up only to conceal their debt to the ancient Greek philosophy which taught, clearly and without bombast, the ascent from the cave and the gradual advance of souls to a truer and truer vision.
Now, in the first place, if the Soul has not actually come down but has illuminated the Darkness, how can it truly be said to have declined? The outflow from it of something in the nature of light does not justify the assertion of its decline; for that, it must make an actual movement towards the object lying in the lower realm and illuminate it by contact.
If, on the other hand, the Soul keeps to its own place and illuminates the lower without directing any act towards that end, why should it alone be the illuminant? Why should not the cosmos draw light also from the yet greater powers contained in the total of existence?
Again, if the Soul possesses the plan of a universe, and by virtue of this plan illuminates it, why do not that illumination and the creating of the world take place simultaneously? Why must the Soul wait till the representations of the plan be made actual?
Then again this plan—the “far country” of their terminology—brought into being, as they hold, by the greater powers, could not have been the occasion of decline to the creators.
Further, how explain that under this illumination the Matter of the Cosmos produces images of the order of Soul instead of mere bodily-nature? an image of Soul could not demand darkness or matter, but wherever formed it would exhibit the character of the producing element and remain in close union with it.
Next, is this image a real-being, or, as they say, an intellection? If it is a reality, in what way does it differ from its original? By being a distinct form of the Soul? But then, since the original is the reasoning Soul, this secondary form must be the vegetative and generative soul; and then, what becomes of the theory that it is produced for glory’s sake, what becomes of the creation in arrogance and self- assertion? The theory puts an end also to creation by representation and, still more decidedly, to any thinking in the act; and what need is left for a Creator creating by way of matter and image?
If it is an intellection, then we ask first “What justifies the name?” and next, “how does anything come into being unless the Soul give this intellection creative power and how, after all, can creative power reside in a created thing?” Are we to be told that it is a question of a first image followed by a second? But this is quite arbitrary. And why is fire the first creation? And how does this image set to its task immediately after it comes into being? By memory of what it has seen? But it was utterly non-existent, it could have no vision, either it or the mother they bestow on it.
Another difficulty: These people come on earth not as soul- images but as veritable souls; yet, by great stress and strain, one or two of them are able to stir beyond the limits of the world, and when they do attain reminiscence barely carry with them some slight recollection of the sphere they once knew: On the other hand, this image, a new- comer into being, is able, they tell us—as also is its Mother—to form at least some dim representation of the celestial world. It is an image, stamped in matter, yet it not merely has the conception of the supreme and adopts from that world the plan of this, but knows what elements serve the purpose. How, for instance, did it come to make fire before anything else? What made it judge fire a better first than some other object?
Again, if it created the fire of the universe by thinking of fire, why did it not make the universe at a stroke by thinking of the universe? It must have conceived the product complete from the first; the constituent elements would be embraced in that general conception.
The creation must have been in all respects more according to the way of nature than to that of the arts—for the arts are of later origin than nature and the universe, and even at the present stage the partial things brought into being by the natural kinds do not follow any such order—first fire, then the several other elements, then the various blends of these—on the contrary the living organism entire is encompassed and rounded off within the uterine germ. Why should not the material of the universe be similarly embraced in a cosmic type in which earth, fire and the rest would be included? We can only suppose that these people themselves, acting by their more authentic soul, would have produced the world by such a process, but that the Creator had not wit to do so.
And yet to conceive the vast span of the Heavens—to be great in that degree—to devise the obliquity of the Zodiac and the circling path of all the celestial bodies beneath it, and this earth of ours—and all in such a way that reason can be given for the plan—this could never be the work of an image; it tells of that power (the All-Soul) next to the very highest beings.
Against their will, they themselves admit this: Their “outshining on the Darkness”, if the doctrine is sifted, makes it impossible to deny the true origins of the cosmos. Why should this down-shining take place unless such a process belonged to a universal law? Either the process is in the order of nature or against that order. If it is in the nature of things, it must have taken place from eternity; if it is against the nature of things, then the breach of natural right exists in the supreme also; evil antedates this world; the cause of evil is not the world; on the contrary the supreme is the evil to us; instead of the Soul’s harm coming from this sphere, we have this sphere harmed by the Soul.
In fine, the theory amounts to making the world one of the primals, and with it the matter from which it emerges.
The Soul that declined, they tell us, saw and illuminated the already existent Darkness. Now whence came that Darkness?
If they tell us that the Soul created the Darkness by its decline, then, obviously, there was nowhere for the Soul to decline to; the cause of the decline was not the Darkness but the very nature of the Soul. The theory, therefore, refers the entire process to pre- existing compulsions: The guilt inheres in the Primal Beings.
Those, then, that censure the constitution of the cosmos do not understand what they are doing or where this audacity leads them. They do not understand that there is a successive order of primals, secondaries, tertiaries and so on continuously to the ultimates; that nothing is to be blamed for being inferior to the first; that we can but accept, meekly, the constitution of the total, and make our best way towards the primals, withdrawing from the tragic spectacle, as they see it, of the cosmic spheres—which in reality are all suave graciousness.
And what, after all, is there so terrible in these spheres with which it is sought to frighten people unaccustomed to thinking, never trained in an instructive and coherent gnosis?
Even the fact that their material frame is of fire does not make them dreadful; their movements are in keeping with the all and with the earth: But what we must consider in them is the soul, that on which these people base their own title to honour.
And, yet, again, their material frames are pre-eminent in vastness and beauty, as they cooperate in act and in influence with the entire order of nature, and can never cease to exist as long as the primals stand; they enter into the completion of the all of which they are major parts.
If men rank highly among other living beings, much more do these, whose office in the all is not to play the tyrant but to serve towards beauty and order. The action attributed to them must be understood as a foretelling of coming events, while the causing of all the variety is due, in part to diverse destinies—for there cannot be one lot for the entire body of men—in part to the birth moment, in part to wide divergencies of place, in part to states of the souls.
Once more, we have no right to ask that all men shall be good, or to rush into censure because such universal virtue is not possible: This would be repeating the error of confusing our sphere with the supreme and treating evil as a nearly negligible failure in wisdom—as good lessened and dwindling continuously, a continuous fading out; it would be like calling the nature-principle evil because it is not sense- perception and the thing of sense evil for not being a reason-principle. If evil is no more than that, we will be obliged to admit evil in the supreme also, for there, too, soul is less exalted than the intellectual-principle, and that too has its superior.
To those who assert that creation is the work of the Soul after the failing of its wings, we answer that no such disgrace could overtake the Soul of the all. If they tell us of its falling, they must tell us also what caused the Fall. And when did it take place? If from eternity, then the Soul must be essentially a fallen thing: If at some one moment, why not before that?
We assert its creative act to be a proof not of decline but rather of its steadfast hold. Its decline could consist only in its forgetting the divine: But if it forgot, how could it create? Whence does it create but from the things it knew in the divine? If it creates from the memory of that Vision, it never fell. Even supposing it to be in some dim intermediate state, it need not be supposed more likely to decline: Any inclination would be towards its prior, in an effort to the clearer vision. If any memory at all remained, what other desire could it have than to retrace the way?
What could it have been planning to gain by world- creating? Glory? That would be absurd—a motive borrowed from the sculptors of our earth.
Finally, if the Soul created by policy and not by sheer need of its nature, by being characteristically the creative power—how explain the making of this universe?
And when will it destroy the work? If it repents of its work, what is it waiting for? If it has not yet repented, then it will never repent: It must be already accustomed to the world, must be growing more tender towards it with the passing of time.
Can it be waiting for certain souls still here? Long since would these have ceased returning for such re-birth, having known in former life the evils of this sphere; long since would they have foreborne to come.
Nor may we grant that this world is of unhappy origin because there are many jarring things in it. Such a judgement would rate it too high, treating it as the same with the intelligible realm and not merely its reflection.
And yet—what reflection of that world could be conceived more beautiful than this of ours? What fire could be a nobler reflection of the fire there than the fire we know here? Or what other earth than this could have been modelled after that earth? and what globe more minutely perfect than this, or more admirably ordered in its course could have been conceived in the image of the self-centred circling of the World of intelligibles? and for a Sun figuring the Divine Sphere, if it is to be more splendid than the sun visible to us, what a sun it must be.
IV. THE GNOSTICS UTTER SPELLS AND APPEASEMENTS
In yet another way they infringe still more gravely on the inviolability of the supreme.
In the sacred formulas they inscribe, purporting to address the supernal beings—not merely the Soul but even the transcendents—they are simply uttering spells and appeasements and evocations in the idea that these powers will obey a call and be led about by a word from any of us who is in some degree trained to use the appropriate forms in the appropriate way—certain melodies, certain sounds, specially directed breathings, sibilant cries, and all else to which is ascribed magic potency on the supreme. Perhaps they would repudiate any such intention: Still they must explain how these things act on the unembodied: They do not see that the power they attribute to their own words is so much taken away from the majesty of the Divine.
They tell us they can free themselves of diseases.
If they meant, by temperate living and an appropriate regime, they would be right and in accordance with all sound knowledge. But they assert diseases to be spirit-beings and boast of being able to expel them by formula: This pretension may enhance their importance with the crowd, gaping on the powers of magicians; but they can never persuade the intelligent that disease arises otherwise than from such causes as overstrain, excess, deficiency, putrid decay; in a word, some variation whether from within or from without.
The nature of illness is indicated by its very cure. A motion, a medicine, the letting of blood, and the disease shifts down and away; sometimes scantiness of nourishment restores the system: Presumably the spiritual power gets hungry or is debilitated by the purge. Either this spirit makes a hasty exit or it remains within. If it stays, how does the disease disappear, with the cause still present? If it quits the place, what has driven it out? Has anything happened to it? are we to suppose it throve on the disease? In that case the disease existed as something distinct from the spirit-power. Then again, if it steps in where no cause of sickness exists, why should there be anything else but illness? If there must be such a cause, the spirit is unnecessary: That cause is sufficient to produce that fever. As for the notion, that just when the cause presents itself, the watchful spirit leaps to incorporate itself with it, this is simply amusing.
But the manner and motive of their teaching have been sufficiently exhibited; and this was the main purpose of the discussion here on their spirit-powers. I leave it to yourselves to read the books and examine the rest of the doctrine: You will note all through how our form of philosophy inculcates simplicity of character and honest thinking in addition to all other good qualities, how it cultivates reverence and not arrogant self-assertion, how its boldness is balanced by reason, by careful proof, by cautious progression, by the utmost circumspection—and you will compare those other systems to one proceeding by this method. You will find that the tenets of their school have been huddled together under a very different plan: They do not deserve any further examination here.
V. THE IMPACT OF THESE TEACHINGS: THE GNOSTICS DESPISE THE WORLD AND ALL THAT IS IN IT
There is, however, one matter which we must on no account overlook—the effect of these teachings on the hearers led by them into despising the world and all that is in it.
Wealth and poverty, and all inequalities of that order, are made ground of complaint. But this is to ignore that the sage demands no equality in such matters: He cannot think that to own many things is to be richer or that the powerful have the better of the simple; he leaves all such preoccupations to another kind of man. He has learned that life on earth has two distinct forms, the way of the sage and the way of the mass, the sage intent on the sublimest, on the realm above, while those of the more strictly human type fall, again, under two classes, the one reminiscent of virtue and therefore not without touch with good, the other mere populace, serving to provide necessaries to the better sort.
But what of murder? What of the feebleness that brings men under slavery to the passions?
Is it any wonder that there should be failing and error, not in the highest, the intellectual, principle but in souls that are like undeveloped children? and is not life justified even so if it is a training ground with its victors and its vanquished?
You are wronged; need that trouble an immortal? You are put to death; you have attained your desire. And from the moment your citizenship of the world becomes irksome you are not bound to it.
Our adversaries do not deny that even here there is a system of law and penalty: And surely we cannot in justice blame a dominion which awards to every one his due, where virtue has its honour, and vice comes to its fitting shame, in which there are not merely representations of the gods, but the gods themselves, watchers from above, and—as we read—easily rebutting human reproaches, since they lead all things in order from a beginning to an end, allotting to each human being, as life follows life, a fortune shaped to all that has preceded—the destiny which, to those that do not penetrate it, becomes the matter of boorish insolence on things Divine.
A man’s one task is to strive towards making himself perfect—though not in the idea—really fatal to perfection—that to be perfect is possible to himself alone.
We must recognize that other men have attained the heights of goodness; we must admit the goodness of the celestial spirits, and above all of the gods—those whose presence is here but their contemplation in the supreme, and loftiest of them, the Lord of this All, the most blessed Soul. Rising still higher, we hymn the divinities of the intellectual sphere, and, above all these, the mighty King of that dominion, whose majesty is made patent in the very multitude of the gods.
It is not by crushing the divine unto a unity but by displaying its exuberance—as the supreme himself has displayed it—that we show knowledge of the might of God, who, abidingly what he is, yet creates that multitude, all dependent on him, existing by him and from him.
This universe, too, exists by him and looks to him—the universe as a whole and every God within it—and tells of him to men, all alike revealing the plan and will of the supreme.
These, in the nature of things, cannot be what he is, but that does not justify you in contempt of them, in pushing yourself forward as not inferior to them.
The more perfect the man, the more compliant he is, even towards his fellows; we must temper our importance, not thrusting insolently beyond what our nature warrants; we must allow other beings, also, their place in the presence of the godhead; we may not set ourselves alone next after the first in a dream-flight which deprives us of our power of attaining identity with the godhead in the measure possible to the human soul, that is to say, to the point of likeness to which the intellectual- principle leads us; to exalt ourselves above the intellectual- principle is to fall from it.
Yet imbeciles are found to accept such teaching at the mere sound of the words “You, yourself, are to be nobler than all else, nobler than men, nobler than even gods”. Human audacity is very great: A man once modest, restrained and simple hears, “You, yourself, are the child of God; those men whom you used to venerate, those beings whose worship they inherit from antiquity, none of these are his children; you without lifting a hand are nobler than the very heavens”. Others take up the cry. The issue will be much as if in a crowd all equally ignorant of figures, one man were told that he stands a thousand cubic feet; he will naturally accept his thousand cubits even though the others present are said to measure only five cubits; he will merely tell himself that the thousand indicates a considerable figure.
Still more unreasonably:
There are men, bound to human bodies and subject to desire, grief, anger, who think so generously of their own faculty that they declare themselves in contact with the intelligible World, but deny that the Sun possesses a similar faculty less subject to influence, to disorder, to change; they deny that it is any wiser than we, the late born, hindered by so many cheats on the way towards truth.
Their own soul, the soul of the least of mankind, they declare deathless, Divine; but the entire heavens and the stars within the heavens have had no communion with the Immortal Principle, though these are far purer and lovelier than their own souls—yet they are not blind to the order, the shapely pattern, the discipline prevailing in the heavens, since they are the loudest in complaint of the disorder that troubles our earth. We are to imagine the deathless Soul choosing of design the less worthy place, and preferring to abandon the nobler to the soul that is to die.
Furthermore, these teachers, in their contempt for this creation and this earth, proclaim that another earth has been made for them into which they are to enter when they depart. Now this new earth is the reason-form (the Logos) of our world. Why should they desire to live in the archetype of a world abhorrent to them?
Then again, what is the origin of that pattern world? It would appear, from the theory, that the Maker had already declined towards the things of this sphere before that pattern came into being.
Now let us suppose the Maker craving to construct such an intermediate World—though what motive could he have?—in addition to the intellectual world which he eternally possesses. If he made the mid-world first, what end was it to serve?
To be a dwelling-place for souls?
How then did they ever fall from it? It exists in vain.
If he made it later than this world—abstracting the formal-idea of this world and leaving the matter out—the souls that have come to know that intermediate sphere would have experienced enough to keep them from entering this. If the meaning is simply that souls exhibit the ideal-form of the universe, what is there distinctive in the teaching?
Another point: God has care for you; how then can he be indifferent to the entire universe in which you exist?
We may be told that he is too much occupied to look on the universe, and that it would not be right for him to do so; yet, when he looks down and on these people, is he not looking outside himself and on the universe in which they exist? If he cannot look outside himself so as to survey the cosmos, then neither does he look on them.
But they have no need of him?
The universe has need of him, and he knows its ordering and its indwellers and how far they belong to it and how far to the supreme, and which of the men on it are friends of God, mildly acquiescing with the cosmic dispensation when in the total course of things some pain must be brought to them—for we are to look not to the single will of any man but to the universe entire, regarding every one according to worth but not stopping for such things where all that may is hastening onward.
Not one only kind of being is bent on this quest, which brings bliss to whatever achieves, and earns for the others a future destiny in accord with their power. No man, therefore, may flatter himself that he alone is competent; a pretension is not a possession; many boast though fully conscious of their lack and many imagine themselves to possess what was never theirs and even to be alone in possessing what they alone of men never had.
[There are two theories as to the attainment of the end of life. The one proposes pleasure, bodily pleasure, as the term; the other pronounces for good and virtue, the desire of which comes from God and moves, by ways to be studied elsewhere, towards God.]
VI. THE GNOSTICS DENY DIVINE PROVIDENCE IN THE WORLD
Epicurus denies a providence and recommends pleasure and its enjoyment, all that is left to us: But the doctrine under discussion is still more wanton; it carps at Providence and the Lord of Providence. It scorns every law known to us; immemorial virtue and all restraint it makes into a laughing stock, lest any loveliness be seen on earth. It cuts at the root of all orderly living, and of the righteousness which, innate in the moral sense, is made perfect by thought and by self-discipline. All that would give us a noble human being is gone. What is left for them except where the pupil by his own character betters the teaching—comes to pleasure, self-seeking, the grudge of any share with one’s fellows, the pursuit of advantage.
Their error is that they know nothing good here: All they care for is something else to which they will at some future time apply themselves. Yet, this world, to those that have known it once, must be the starting-point of the pursuit; arrived here from out of the Divine nature, they must inaugurate their effort by some earthly correction. The understanding of Beauty is not given except to a nature scorning the delight of the body, and those that have no part in well-doing can make no step towards the supernal.
This school, in fact, is convicted by its neglect of all mention of virtue. Any discussion of such matters is missing utterly. We are not told what virtue is or under what different kinds it appears. There is no word of all the numerous and noble reflections on it that have come down to us from the ancients. We do not learn what constitutes it or how it is acquired, how the soul is tended, how it is cleaned. For to say “look to God” is not helpful without some instruction as to what this looking imports. It might very well be said that one can “look” and still sacrifice no pleasure, still be the slave of impulse, repeating the word God but held in the grip of every passion and making no effort to master any. Virtue, advancing towards the term and, linked with thought, occupying a soul makes God manifest: God on the lips, without a good conduct of life, is a word.
On the other hand, to despise this sphere, and the gods within it or anything else that is lovely, is not the way to goodness. Every evil-doer began by despising the gods; and one not previously corrupt, taking to this contempt, even though in other respects not wholly bad, becomes an evil-doer by the very fact.
Besides, in this slighting of the mundane gods and the world, the honour they profess for the gods of the intellectual sphere becomes an inconsistency. Where we love, our hearts are warm also to the kin of the beloved; we are not indifferent to the children of our friend. Now every soul is a child of that father; but in the heavenly bodies there are souls, intellective, holy, much closer to the supernal beings than are ours; for how can this cosmos be a thing cut off from that and how imagine the gods in it to stand apart?
But of this matter we have treated elsewhere: Here we urge that where there is contempt for the kin of the supreme the knowledge of the supreme itself is merely verbal.
What sort of piety can make Providence stop short of earthly concerns or set any limit whatever to it?
And what consistency is there in this school when they proceed to assert that Providence cares for them, though for them alone?
And is this Providence over them to be understood of their existence in that other world only or of their lives here as well? If in the other world, how came they to this? If in this world, why are they not already raised from it?
Again, how can they deny that the Lord of Providence is here? How else can he know either that they are here, or that in their sojourn here they have not forgotten him and fallen away? and if he is aware of the goodness of some, he must know of the wickedness of others, to distinguish good from bad. That means that he is present to all, is, by whatever mode, within this universe. The universe, therefore, must be participant in him.
If he is absent from the universe, he is absent from yourselves, and you can have nothing to tell about him or about the powers that come after him.
But, allowing that a providence reaches to you from the world beyond—making any concession to your liking—it remains none the less certain that this world holds from the supernal and is not deserted and will not be: A providence watching entires is even more likely than one over fragments only; and similarly, participation is more perfect in the case of the All-Soul—as is shown, further, by the very existence of things and the wisdom manifest in their existence. Of those that advance these wild pretensions, who is so well ordered, so wise, as the universe? The comparison is laughable, utterly out of place; to make it, except as a help towards truth, would be impiety.
The very question can be entertained by no intelligent being but only by one so blind, so utterly devoid of perception and thought, so far from any vision of the intellectual universe as not even to see this world of our own.
For he that truly perceives the harmony of the intellectual realm could fail, if he has any bent towards music, to answer to the harmony in sensible sounds? What geometrician or arithmetician could fail to take pleasure in the symmetries, correspondences and principles of order observed in visible things? consider, even, the case of pictures: Those seeing by the bodily sense the productions of the art of painting do not see the one thing in the one only way; they are deeply stirred by recognizing in the objects depicted to the eyes the presentation of what lies in the idea, and so are called to recollection of the truth—the very experience out of which love rises. Now, if the sight of beauty excellently reproduced on a face hurries the mind to that other sphere, surely no one seeing the loveliness lavish in the world of sense—this vast orderliness, the form which the stars even in their remoteness display—no one could be so dull-witted, so immoveable, as not to be carried by all this to recollection, and gripped by reverent awe in the thought of all this, so great, sprung from that greatness. Not to answer thus could only be to have neither fathomed this world nor had any vision of that other.
VII. AGAINST THE GNOSTIC TEACHING THAT THE BEAUTY OF THE CORPOREAL WORLD CONCEALS UGLINESS WITHIN
Perhaps the hate of this school for the corporeal is due to their reading of Plato who inveighs against body as a grave hindrance to soul and pronounces the corporeal to be characteristically the inferior.
Then let them for the moment pass over the corporeal element in the universe and study all that still remains.
They will think of the intellectual sphere which includes within itself the ideal-form realized in the cosmos. They will think of the souls, in their ordered rank, that produce incorporeal magnitude and lead the intelligible out towards spatial extension, so that finally the thing of process becomes, by its magnitude, as adequate a representation as possible of the principle void of parts which is its model—the greatness of power there being translated here into greatness of bulk. Then whether they think of the cosmic sphere (the all-soul) as already in movement under the guidance of that power of God which holds it through and through, beginning and middle and end, or whether they consider it as in rest and exercising as yet no outer governance: Either approach will lead to a true appreciation of the soul that conducts this universe.
Now let them set body within it—not in the sense that soul suffers any change but that, since “in the gods there can be no grudging”, it gives to its inferior all that any partial thing has strength to receive and at once their conception of the cosmos must be revised; they cannot deny that the soul of the cosmos has exercised such a weight of power as to have brought the corporeal-principle, in itself unlovely, to partake of good and beauty to the utmost of its receptivity—and to a pitch which stirs souls, beings of the Divine order.
These people may no doubt say that they themselves feel no such stirring, and that they see no difference between beautiful and ugly forms of body; but, at that, they can make no distinction between the ugly and the beautiful in conduct; sciences can have no beauty; there can be none in thought; and none, therefore, in God. This world descends from the firsts: If this world has no Beauty, neither has its source; springing thence, this world, too, must have its beautiful things. And while they proclaim their contempt for earthly beauty, they would do well to ignore that of youths and women so as not to be overcome by incontinence.
In fine, we must consider that their self-satisfaction could not turn on a contempt for anything indisputably base; theirs is the perverse pride of despising what was once admired.
We must always keep in mind that the beauty in a partial thing cannot be identical with that in a whole; nor can any several objects be as stately as the total.
And we must recognize, that, even in the world of sense and part, there are things of a loveliness comparable to that of the celestials—forms whose beauty must fill us with veneration for their creator and convince us of their origin in the Divine, forms which show how ineffable is the beauty of the supreme since they cannot hold us but we must, though in all admiration, leave these for those. Further, wherever there is interior beauty, we may be sure that inner and outer correspond; where the interior is vile, all is brought low by that flaw in the dominants.
Nothing base within can be beautiful without—at least not with an authentic beauty, for there are examples of a good exterior not sprung from a beauty dominant within; people passing as handsome but essentially base have that, a spurious and superficial beauty: If anyone tells me he has seen people really fine-looking but interiorly vile, I can only deny it; we have here simply a false notion of personal beauty; unless, indeed, the inner vileness were an accident in a nature essentially fine; in this sphere there are many obstacles to self-realization.
In any case the All is beautiful, and there can be no obstacle to its inner goodness: Where the nature of a thing does not comport perfection from the beginning, there may be a failure in complete expression; there may even be a fall to vileness, but the all never knew a childlike immaturity; it never experienced a progress bringing novelty into it; it never had bodily growth: There was nowhere from whence it could take such increment; it was always the All-container.
And even for its soul no one could imagine any such a path of process: Or, if this were conceded, certainly it could not be towards evil.
VIII. THE GNOSTICS TEACH DISDAIN FOR THE BODY AND ACCUSE PAGAN PHILOSOPHERS OF BINDING THE SOUL TO THE BODY
But perhaps this school will maintain that, while their teaching leads to a hate and utter abandonment of the body, ours binds the soul down in it.
In other words: Two people inhabit the one stately house; one of them declaims against its plan and against its architect, but none the less maintains his residence in it; the other makes no complaint, asserts the entire competency of the architect and waits cheerfully for the day when he may leave it, having no further need of a house: The malcontent imagines himself to be the wiser and to be the readier to leave because he has learned to repeat that the walls are of soulless stone and timber and that the place falls far short of a true home; he does not see that his only distinction is in not being able to bear with necessity assuming that his conduct, his grumbling, does not cover a secret admiration for the beauty of those same “stones.” as long as we have bodies we must inhabit the dwellings prepared for us by our good sister the Soul in her vast power of labourless creation.
Or would this school reject the word sister? They are willing to address the lowest of men as brothers; are they capable of such raving as to disown the tie with the Sun and the Powers of the heavens and the very Soul of the Cosmos? Such kinship, it is true, is not for the vile; it may be asserted only of those that have become good and are no longer body but embodied soul and of a quality to inhabit the body in a mode very closely resembling the indwelling. Of the all-soul in the universal frame. And this means continence, self-restraint, holding staunch against outside pleasure and against outer spectacle, allowing no hardship to disturb the mind. The All-Soul is immune from shock; there is nothing that can affect it: But we, in our passage here, must call on virtue in repelling these assaults, reduced for us from the beginning by a great conception of life, annulled by matured strength.
Attaining to something of this immunity, we begin to reproduce within ourselves the Soul of the vast all and of the heavenly bodies: When we are come to the very closest resemblance, all the effort of our fervid pursuit will be towards that goal to which they also tend; their contemplative Vision becomes ours, prepared as we are, first by natural disposition and afterwards by all this training, for that state which is theirs by the principle of their being.
This school may lay claim to vision as a dignity reserved to themselves, but they are not any the nearer to vision by the claim—or by the boast that while the celestial powers, bound for ever to the ordering of the heavens, can never stand outside the material universe, they themselves have their freedom in their death. This is a failure to grasp the very notion of “standing outside”, a failure to appreciate the mode in which the All-Soul cares for the unensouled.
No: It is possible to go free of love for the body; to be clean- living, to disregard death; to know the highest and aim at that other world; not to slander, as negligent in the quest, others who are able for it and faithful to it; and not to err with those that deny vital motion to the stars because to our sense they stand still—the error which in another form leads this school to deny outer vision to the star- nature, only because they do not see the star-soul in outer manifestation.
Edited by Jim West. Copyright © Feb. 24, 2014; revised July 24, 2014.
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