THEOSOPHY, Vol. 55, No. 8, June, 1967
(Pages 237-245; Size: 29K)

THE WISDOM RELIGION(5)

GNOSTICISM: II

[Part 8 of a 12-part series]

CHRISTOS, as a unity, is but an abstraction: a general idea representing the collective aggregation of the numberless spirit-entities, which are the direct emanations of the infinite, invisible, incomprehensible FIRST CAUSE -- the individual spirits of men, erroneously called the souls. They are the divine sons of God, of which some only overshadow mortal men -- but this the majority -- some remain forever planetary spirits, and some -- the smaller and rare minority -- unite themselves during life with some men. Such God-like beings as Gautama-Buddha, Jesus, Tissoo, Christna, and a few others had united themselves with their spirits permanently -- hence, they became gods on earth. Others, such as Moses, Pythagoras, Apollonius, Plotinus, Confucius, Plato, Iamblichus, and some Christian saints, having at intervals been so united, have taken rank in history as demi-gods and leaders of mankind. When unburthened of their terrestrial tabernacles, their freed souls, henceforth united forever with their spirits, rejoin the whole shining host, which is bound together in one spiritual solidarity of thought and deed, and called "the anointed." Hence, the meaning of the Gnostics, who, by saying that "Christos" suffered spiritually for humanity, implied that his Divine Spirit suffered mostly.

Such, and far more elevating were the ideas of Marcion, the great "Heresiarch" of the second century, as he is termed by his opponents. He came to Rome toward the latter part of the half-century, from A.D. 139-142, according to Tertullian, Irenæus, Clemens, and most of his modern commentators, such as Bunsen, Tischendorf, Westcott, and many others. Credner and Schleiermacher agree as to his high and irreproachable personal character, his pure religious aspirations and elevated views. His influence must have been powerful, as we find Epiphanius writing more than two centuries later that in his time the followers of Marcion were to be found throughout the whole world.

The danger must have been pressing and great indeed, if we are to judge it to have been proportioned with the opprobrious epithets and vituperation heaped upon Marcion by the "Great African," that Patristic Cerberus, whom we find ever barking at the door of the Irenæan dogmas. We have but to open his celebrated refutation of Marcion's Antitheses, to acquaint ourselves with the fine-fleur of monkish abuse of the Christian school; an abuse so faithfully carried through the middle ages, to be renewed again in our present day -- at the Vatican. "Now, then, ye hounds, yelping at the God of Truth, whom the apostles cast out, to all your questions. These are the bones of contention which ye gnaw." "The poverty of the Great African's arguments keeps pace with his abuse," remarks the author of Supernatural Religion. "Their (the Father's) religious controversy bristles with misstatements, and is turbid with pious abuse. Tertullian was a master of his style, and the vehement vituperation with which he opens and often interlards his work against 'the impious and sacrilegious Marcion,' offers anything but a guarantee of fair and legitimate criticism."

How firm these two Fathers -- Tertullian and Epiphanius -- were on their theological ground, may be inferred from the curious fact that they intemperately both vehemently reproach "the beast" (Marcion) "with erasing passages from the Gospel of Luke which never were in Luke at all." "The lightness and inaccuracy," adds the critic, "with which Tertullian proceeds, are all the better illustrated by the fact that not only does he accuse Marcion falsely, but he actually defines the motives for which he expunged a passage which never existed; in the same chapter he also similarly accuses Marcion of erasing (from Luke) the saying that Christ had not come to destroy the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them, and he actually repeats the charge on two other occasions. Epiphanius also commits the mistake of reproaching Marcion with omitting from Luke what is only found in Matthew."

Having so far shown the amount of reliance to be placed in the Patristic literature, and it being unanimously conceded by the great majority of biblical critics that what the Fathers fought for was not truth, but their own interpretations and unwarranted assertions,(1)  we will now proceed to state what were the views of Marcion, whom Tertullian desired to annihilate as the most dangerous heretic of his day. If we are to believe Hilgenfeld, one of the greatest German biblical critics, then "From the critical standing-point one must ... consider the statements of the Fathers of the Church only as expressions of their subjective view, which itself requires proof "

We can do no better nor make a more correct statement of facts concerning Marcion than by quoting what our space permits from Supernatural Religion, the author of which bases his assertions on the evidence of the greatest critics, as well as on his own researches. He shows in the days of Marcion "two broad parties in the primitive Church" -- one considering Christianity "a mere continuation of the law, and dwarfing it into an Israelitish institution, a narrow sect of Judaism"; the other representing the glad tidings "as the introduction of a new system, applicable to all, and supplanting the Mosaic dispensation of the law by a universal dispensation of grace." These two parties, he adds, "were popularly represented in the early Church, by the two apostles Peter and Paul, and their antagonism is faintly revealed in the Epistle to the Galatians."(2)

Marcion, who recognized no other Gospels than a few Epistles of Paul, who rejected totally the anthropomorphism of the Old Testament, and drew a distinct line of demarcation between the old Judaism and Christianity, viewed Jesus neither as a King, Messiah of the Jews, nor the son of David, who was in any way connected with the law or prophets, "but a divine being sent to reveal to man a spiritual religion, wholly new, and a God of goodness and grace hitherto unknown." The "Lord God" of the Jews in his eyes, the Creator (Demiurgos), was totally different and distinct from the Deity who sent Jesus to reveal the divine truth and preach the glad tidings, to bring reconciliation and salvation to all. The mission of Jesus -- according to Marcion -- was to abrogate the Jewish "Lord," who "was opposed to the God and Father of Jesus Christ as matter is to spirit, impurity to purity."

Was Marcion so far wrong? Was it blasphemy, or was it intuition, divine inspiration in him to express that which every honest heart yearning for truth, more or less feels and acknowledges? If in his sincere desire to establish a purely spiritual religion, a universal faith based on unadulterated truth, he found it necessary to make of Christianity an entirely new and separate system from that of Judaism, did not Marcion have the very words of Christ for his authority? "No man putteth a piece of new cloth into an old garment ... for the rent is made worse. ... Neither do men put new wine into old bottles, else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish; but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved." In what particular does the jealous, wrathful, revengeful God of Israel resemble the unknown deity, the God of mercy preached by Jesus; -- his Father who is in Heaven, and the Father of all humanity? This Father alone is the God of spirit and purity, and, to compare Him with the subordinate and capricious Sinaitic Deity is an error. Did Jesus ever pronounce the name of Jehovah? Did he ever place his Father in contrast with this severe and cruel Judge; his God of mercy, love, and justice, with the Jewish genius of retaliation? Never! From that memorable day when he preached his Sermon on the Mount, an immeasurable void opened between his God and that other deity who fulminated his commands from that other mount -- Sinai. The language of Jesus is unequivocal; it implies not only rebellion but defiance of the Mosaic "Lord God." "Ye have heard," he tells us, "that it hath been said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. Ye have heard that it hath been said [by the same "Lord God" on Sinai]: Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you; Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you" (Matt. 5).

And now, open Manu and read:

"Resignation, the action of rendering good for evil, temperance, probity, purity, repression of the senses, the knowledge of the Sastras (the holy books), that of the supreme soul, truthfulness and abstinence from anger, such are the ten virtues in which consists duty. ... Those who study these ten precepts of duty, and after having studied them conform their lives thereto, will reach to the supreme condition" (Manu, book vi., sloka 92).

If Manu did not trace these words many thousands of years before the era of Christianity, at least no voice in the whole world will dare deny them a less antiquity than several centuries B.C. The same in the case of the precepts of Buddhism.

If we turn to the Prâtimoksha Sûtra and other religious tracts of the Buddhists, we read the ten following commandments:

1. Thou shalt not kill any living creature.
2. Thou shalt not steal.
3. Thou shalt not break thy vow of chastity.
4. Thou shalt not lie.
5. Thou shalt not betray the secrets of others.
6. Thou shalt not wish for the death of thy enemies.
7. Thou shalt not desire the wealth of others.
8. Thou shalt not pronounce injurious and foul words.
9. Thou shalt not indulge in luxury (sleep on soft beds or be lazy).
10. Thou shalt not accept gold or silver.

"Good master, what shall I do that I may have eternal life?" asks a man of Jesus. "Keep the commandments." "Which?" "Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness," is the answer.

"What shall I do to obtain possession of Bhodi? (knowledge of eternal truth)," asks a disciple of his Buddhist master. "What way is there to become an Upasaka?" "Keep the commandments." "What are they?" "Thou shalt abstain all thy life from murder, theft, adultery, and lying," answers the master.

Identical injunctions are they not? Divine injunctions, the living up to which would purify and exalt humanity. But are they more divine when uttered through one mouth than another? If it is god-like to return good for evil, does the enunciation of the precept by a Nazarene give it any greater force than its enunciation by an Indian, or Thibetan philosopher? We see that the Golden Rule was not original with Jesus; that its birth-place was India. Do what we may, we cannot deny Sakya-Muni Buddha a less remote antiquity than several centuries before the birth of Jesus. In seeking a model for his system of ethics why should Jesus have gone to the foot of the Himalayas rather than to the foot of Sinai, but that the doctrines of Manu and Gautama harmonized exactly with his own philosophy, while those of Jehovah were to him abhorrent and terrifying? The Hindus taught to return good for evil, but the Jehovistic command was: "An eye for an eye" and "a tooth for a tooth."

Would Christians still maintain the identity of the "Father" of Jesus and Jehovah, if evidence sufficiently clear could be adduced that the "Lord God" was no other than the Pagan Bacchus, Dionysos? Well, this identity of the Jehovah at Mount Sinai with the god Bacchus is hardly disputable. The name Yava or Iao, according to Theodoret, is the secret name of the Phoenician Mystery-god;(3) and it was actually adopted from the Chaldeans with whom it also was the secret name of the creator. Wherever Bacchus was worshipped there was a tradition of Nysa and a cave where he was reared. Beth-San or Scythopolis in Palestine had that designation; so had a spot on Mount Parnassus. But Diodorus declares that Nysa was between Phoenicia and Egypt; Euripides states that Dionysos came to Greece from India; and Diodorus adds his testimony: "Osiris was brought up in Nysa, in Arabia the Happy; he was the son of Zeus, and was named from his father (nominative Zeus, genitive Dios) and the place Dio-Nysos" -- the Zeus or Jove of Nysa. This identity of name or title is very significant. In Greece Dionysos was second only to Zeus, and Pindar says:

So Father Zeus governs all things, and Bacchus he governs also.
But outside Greece Bacchus was the all-powerful "Zagreus, the highest of gods." Moses seems to have worshipped him personally and together with the populace at Mount Sinai; unless we admit that he was an initiated priest, an adept, who knew how to lift the veil which hangs behind all such exoteric worship, but kept the secret. "And Moses built an altar, and called the name of it Jehovah-NISSI!" or Iao Nisi. What better evidence is required to show that the Sinaitic god was indifferently Bacchus, Osiris, and Jehovah? Mr. Sharpe appends also his testimony that the place where Osiris was born "was Mount Sinai, called by the Egyptians Mount Nissa." The Brazen Serpent was a nis, and the month of the Jewish Passover nisan.

If the Mosaic "Lord God" was the only living God, and Jesus His only Son, how account for the rebellious language of the latter? Without hesitation or qualification he sweeps away the Jewish lex talionis and substitutes for it the law of charity and self-denial. If the Old Testament is a divine revelation, how can the New Testament be? Are we required to believe and worship a Deity who contradicts himself every few hundred years? Was Moses inspired, or was Jesus not the son of God? This is a dilemma from which the theologians are bound to rescue us. It is from this dilemma that the Gnostics endeavored to snatch the budding Christianity.

Justice has been waiting nineteen centuries for intelligent commentators to appreciate this difference between the orthodox Tertullian and the Gnostic Marcion. The brutal violence, unfairness, and bigotry of the "great African" repulse all who accept his Christianity. "How can a god," inquired Marcion, "break his own commandments? How could he consistently prohibit idolatry and image-worship, and still cause Moses to set up the brazen serpent? How command: Thou shalt not steal, and then order the Israelites to spoil the Egyptians of their gold and silver?" Anticipating the results of modern criticism, Marcion denies the applicability to Jesus of the so-called Messianic prophecies. Writes the author of Supernatural Religion: "The Emmanuel of Isaiah is not Christ; the 'Virgin,' his mother, is simply a 'young woman,' an alma of the temple; and the sufferings of the servant of God (Isaiah lii. 13-liii. 3) are not predictions of the death of Jesus."(4)

Marcion maintained, with the other Gnostics, the fallaciousness of the idea of an incarnate God, and therefore denied the corporeal reality of the living body of Christ. His entity was a mere illusion; it was not made of human flesh and blood, neither was it born of a human mother, for his divine nature could not be polluted with any contact with sinful flesh. He accepted Paul as the only apostle preaching the pure gospel of truth, and accused the other disciples of "depraving the pure form of the gospel doctrines delivered to them by Jesus, mixing up matters of the Law with the words of the Saviour."

Many of our eminent antiquarians trace the Gnostic philosophies right back to Buddhism, which does not impair in the least either their or our arguments. We repeat again, Buddhism is but the primitive source of Brahmanism. It is not against the primitive Vedas that Gautama protests. It is against the sacerdotal and official state religion of his country; and the Brahmans, who in order to make room for and give authority to the castes, at a later period crammed the ancient manuscripts with interpolated slokas, intended to prove that the castes were predetermined by the Creator by the very fact that each class of men was issued from a more or less noble limb of Brahma. Gautama-Buddha's philosophy was that taught from the beginning of time in the impenetrable secrecy of the inner sanctuaries of the pagodas. We need not be surprised, therefore, to find again, in all the fundamental dogmas of the Gnostics, the metaphysical tenets of both Brahmanism and Buddhism. They held that the Old Testament was the revelation of an inferior being, a subordinate divinity, and did not contain a single sentence of their Sophia, the Divine Wisdom. As to the New Testament, it had lost its purity when the compilers became guilty of interpolations. The revelation of divine truth was sacrificed by them to promote selfish ends and maintain quarrels.


COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:

REFLECTIONS OF UNDYING TRUTH

We know something of Celtic doctrine from early Welsh poetry and Breton folklore. It seems to have had much in common with some forms of Eastern thought. Life was considered as a time of trial: if its initiation was successfully passed, the spirit rested after death until the moment came for another return to earth. This continued until, after many lives, some attained the state of spiritual perfection that admitted them to Gwenved, the "white" heaven where they became fully conscious of God. They chose, however, to return as teachers to mankind from time to time until that ultimate and future moment should come when all humanity would attain their state.

It need not surprise us to find these similarities with some forms of Buddhism. England seems to have been in contact with the East from very early times. Egyptian faïence beads have been found in Wessex graves and a probably Mycenaean dagger was discovered at Stonehenge. Irish Christianity was influenced by the austere practices of the hermits in the Egyptian deserts and rebirth itself seems to have been accepted for a time by some of the early Christian Fathers. 


--BRYHER: Foreword to Ruan

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THE WISDOM RELIGION
CHURCH AND MASONRY: I
[Part 9 of a 12-part series]

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FIVE (5) FOOTNOTES LISTED BELOW:

(5) NOTE.--This series began in the November, 1966, issue. Sources for this section: Isis Unveiled II, 159-66; 168-69.
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(1) This author, Vol. II, p. 103, remarks with great justice of the "Heresiarch" Marcion, "whose high personal character exerted so powerful an influence upon his own time," that "it was the misfortune of Marcion to live in an age when Christianity had passed out of the pure morality of its infancy; when, untroubled by complicated questions of dogma, simple faith and pious enthusiasm had been the one great bond of Christian brotherhood, into a phase of ecclesiastical development in which religion was fast degenerating into theology, and complicated doctrines were rapidly assuming the rampant attitude which led to so much bitterness, persecution, and schism. In later times Marcion might have been honored as a reformer, in his own he was denounced as a heretic. Austere and ascetic in his opinions, he aimed at superhuman purity, and, although his clerical adversaries might scoff at his impracticable doctrines regarding marriage and the subjugation of the flesh, they have had their parallels amongst those whom the Church has since most delighted to honor, and, at least, the whole tendency of his system was markedly towards the side of virtue." These statements are based upon Credner's Beitrage I, p. 40.
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(2) But on the other hand, this antagonism is very strongly marked in the Clementine Homilies, in which Peter unequivocally denies that Paul, whom he calls Simon the Magician, has ever had a vision of Christ, and calls him "an enemy." Canon Westcott says: "There can be no doubt that St. Paul is referred to as 'the enemy'" ("On the Canon," p. 252, note 2; Supernatural Religion, Vol. II, p. 35). But this antagonism, which rages unto the present day, we find even in St. Paul's Epistles. What can be more energetic than such like sentences: "Such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. ... I suppose I was not a whit behind the very chiefest apostle" (II Cor. 11:13). "Paul, an apostle not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead ... but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the Gospel of Christ ... false brethren. ... When Peter came to Antioch I withstood him to his face because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles, but when they were come he withdrew, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled ... insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation," etc., etc. (Galat. 1:7; 2: 11, 13). On the other hand, we find Peter in the Homilies, indulging in various complaints which, although alleged to be addressed to Simon Magus, are evidently all direct answers to the above-quoted sentences from the Pauline Epistles, and cannot have anything to do with Simon. So, for instance, Peter said: "For some among the Gentiles have rejected my lawful preaching, and accepted certain lawless and foolish teaching of the hostile men (enemy)" -- Epist. of Peter to James, § 2. He says further: "Simon (Paul) ... who came before me to the Gentiles ... and I have followed him as light upon darkness, as knowledge upon ignorance, as health upon disease" Homil, ii. 17). Still further, he calls him Death and a deceiver (Ibid., ii. 18). He warns the Gentiles that "our Lord and Prophet (?) (Jesus) announced that he would send from among his followers. apostles to deceive. "Therefore, above all, remember to avoid every apostle, or teacher, or prophet, who first does not accurately compare his teaching with that of James, called the brother of our Lord" (see the difference between Paul and James on faith, Epist. to Hebrews, 11, 12, and Epist. of James, 2). "Lest the Evil One should send a false preacher ... as he has sent to us Simon (?) preaching a counterfeit of truth in the name of our Lord, and disseminating error" (Hom. xi., 35; see above quotation from Gal. 1, 5). He then denies Paul's assertion, in the following words: "If, therefore, our Jesus indeed appeared in a vision to you, it was only as an irritated adversary. ... But how can any one through visions become wise in teaching? And if you say, 'it is possible,' then I ask, wherefore did the Teacher remain for a whole year and discourse to those who were attentive? And how can we believe your story that he appeared to you? And in what manner did he appear to you, when you hold opinions contrary to his teaching? ... For you now set yourself up against me, who am a firm rock, the foundation of the Church. If you were not an opponent, you would not calumniate me, you would not revile my teaching ... (circumcision?) in order that, in declaring what I have myself heard from the Lord, I may not be believed, as though I were condemned. ... But if you say that I am condemned, you blame God who revealed Christ to me." "This last phrase," observes the author of Supernatural Religion, "'if you say that I am condemned,' is an evident allusion to Galat. 2:11, 'I withstood him to the face, because he was condemned'" (Supernatural Religion, p. 37). "There cannot be a doubt," adds the just-quoted author, "that the Apostle Paul is attacked in this religious romance as the great enemy of the true faith, under the hated name of Simon the Magician, whom Peter follows everywhere for the purpose of unmasking and confuting him" (p. 34). And if so, then we must believe that it was St. Paul who broke both his legs in Rome when flying in the air.
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(3) See Judges 13:18 "And the angel of the Lord said unto him: Why askest thou after my name, seeing it is SECRET?"
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(4) Emmanuel was doubtless the son of the prophet himself, as described in the sixth chapter; what was predicted, can only be interpreted on that hypothesis. The prophet had also announced to Ahaz the extinction of his line. "If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established." Next comes the prediction of the placing of a new prince on the throne -- Hezekiah of Bethlehem, said to have been Isaiah's son-in-law, under whom the captives should return from the uttermost parts of the earth. Assyria should be humbled, and peace overspread the Israelitish country, compare Isaiah 7:14-16; 8:3, 4; 9:6, 7; 10:12, 20, 21; 11; Micah 5:2-7. The popular party, the party of the prophets, always opposed to the Zadokite priesthood, had resolved to set aside Ahaz and his time-serving policy, which had let in Assyria upon Palestine, and to set up Hezekiah, a man of their own, who should rebel against Assyria and overthrow the Assur-worship and Baalim (II Kings 15:11). Though only the prophets hint this, it being cut out from the historical books, it is noticeable that Ahaz offered his own child to Moloch, also that he died at the age of thirty-six, and Hezekiah took the throne at twenty-five, in full adult age.
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