THEOSOPHY, Vol. 58, No. 6, April, 1970
(Pages 176-182; Size: 21K)
(Number 30 of a 36-part series)


Gnostics and Church Fathers

TO maintain their ground Irenæus and his school had to fight hard with the Gnostics. Such, also, was the lot of Eusebius, who found himself hopelessly perplexed to know how the Essenes should be disposed of. The ways and customs of Jesus and his apostles exhibited too close a resemblance to this sect to allow the fact to pass unexplained. Eusebius tried to make people believe that the Essenes were the first Christians. His efforts were thwarted by Philo Judæus, who wrote his historical account of the Essenes and described them with the minutest care, long before there had appeared a single Christian in Palestine. But, if there were no Christians, there were Chrestians long before the era of Christianity; and the Essenes belonged to the latter as well as to all other initiated brotherhoods, without even mentioning the Christnites of India.

The Christian Gnostics sprang into existence toward the beginning of the second century, and just at the time when the Essenes most mysteriously faded away, which indicated that they were the identical Essenes, and moreover pure Christists, viz.: they believed and were those who best understood what one of their own brethren had preached. In insisting that the letter Iota, mentioned by Jesus in Matthew (v. 18), indicated a secret doctrine in relation to the ten æons, it is sufficient to demonstrate to a kabalist that Jesus belonged to the Freemasonry of those days; for I, which is Iota in Greek, has other names in other languages; and is, as it was among the Gnostics of those days, a pass-word, meaning the SCEPTRE of the FATHER, in Eastern brotherhoods which exist to this very day.

But in the early centuries these facts, if known, were purposely ignored, and not only withheld from public notice as much as possible, but vehemently denied whenever the question was forced upon discussion. The denunciations of the Fathers were rendered bitter in proportion to the truth of the claim which they endeavored to refute.

"It comes to this," writes Irenæus, complaining of the Gnostics, "they neither consent to Scripture nor tradition." And why should we wonder at that, when even the commentators of the nineteenth century, with nothing but fragments of the Gnostic manuscripts to compare with the voluminous writings of their calumniators, have been enabled to detect fraud on nearly every page? How much more must the polished and learned Gnostics, with all their advantages of personal observation and knowledge of fact, have realized the stupendous scheme of fraud that was being consummated before their very eyes! Why should they accuse Celsus of maintaining that their religion was all based on the speculations of Plato, with the difference that his doctrines were far more pure and rational than theirs, when we find Sprengel, seventeen centuries later, writing the following? -- "Not only did they (the Christians) think to discover the dogmas of Plato in the books of Moses, but, moreover, they fancied that, by introducing Platonism into Christianity, they would elevate the dignity of this religion and make it more popular among the nations."

They introduced it so well, that not only was the Platonic philosophy selected as a basis for the trinity, but even the legends and mythical stories which had been current among the admirers of the great philosopher -- as a time-honored custom required in the eyes of his posterity such an allegorical homage to every hero worthy of deification -- were revamped and used by the Christians.

It is generally held by all the symbolic writers that the Ophites were found guilty of practicing the most licentious rites during their religious meetings. The same accusation was brought against the Manichæans, the Carpocratians, the Paulicians, the Albigenses -- in short, against every Gnostic sect which had the temerity to claim the right to think for itself.... But before we are forced to believe the accusations, may we not be permitted to inquire into the historical characters of their accusers? Let us begin by asking, upon what ground does the Church of Rome build her claim of supremacy for her doctrines over those of the Gnostics? Apostolic succession, undoubtedly. The succession traditionally instituted by the direct Apostle Peter. But what if this prove a fiction? Clearly, the whole superstructure supported upon this one imaginary stilt would fall in a tremendous crash. And when we do inquire carefully, we find that we must take the word of Irenæus alone for it -- of Irenæus, who did not furnish one single valid proof of the claim which he so audaciously advanced, and who resorted for that to endless forgeries. He gives authority neither for his dates nor his assertions. This Smyrniote worthy has not even the brutal but sincere faith of Tertullian, for he contradicts himself at every step, and supports his claims solely on acute sophistry. Though he was undoubtedly a man of the shrewdest intellect and great learning, he fears not, in some of his assertions and arguments, to even appear an idiot in the eyes of posterity, so long as he can "carry the situation." Twitted and cornered at every step by his not less acute and learned adversaries, the Gnostics, he boldly shields himself behind blind faith, and in answer to their merciless logic falls upon imaginary tradition invented by himself. Reber wittily remarks: "As we read his misapplications of words and sentences, we would conclude that he was a lunatic if we did not know that he was something else."

So boldly mendacious does this "holy Father" prove himself in many instances, that he is even contradicted by Eusebius, more cautious if not more truthful than himself. He is driven to that necessity in the face of unimpeachable evidence. So, for instance, Irenæus asserts that Papias, Bishop of Hierapolis, was a direct hearer of St. John; and Eusebius is compelled to show that Papias never pretended to such a claim, but simply stated that he had received his doctrine from those who had known John.

In one point, the Gnostics had the best of Irenæus. They drove him, through mere fear of inconsistency, to the recognition of their kabalistic doctrine of atonement; unable to grasp it in its allegorical meaning, Irenæus presented, with Christian theology as we find it in its present state of "original sin versus Adam," a doctrine which would have filled Peter with pious horror if he had been still alive.

The next champion for the propagation of Apostolic Succession, is Eusebius himself. Is the word of this Armenian Father any better than that of Irenæus? Let us see what the most competent critics say of him. And before we turn to modern critics at all, we might remind the reader of the scurrilous terms in which Eusebius is attacked by George Syncellus, the Vice-Patriarch of Constantinople (eighth century), for his audacious falsification of the Egyptian Chronology. The opinion of Socrates, an historian of the fifth century, is no more flattering. He fearlessly charges Eusebius with perverting historical dates, in order to please the Emperor Constantine. In his chronographic work, before proceeding to falsify the synchronistic tables himself, in order to impart to Scriptural chronology a more trustworthy appearance, Syncellus covers Eusebius with the choicest of monkish Billingsgate. Baron Bunsen has verified the justness if not justified the politeness of this abusive reprehension. His elaborate researches in the Egyptian List of Chronology, by Manetho, led him to confess that throughout his work, the Bishop of Cæsarea "had undertaken, in a very unscrupulous and arbitrary spirit, to mutilate history." "Eusebius," he says, "is the originator of that systematic theory of synchronisms which has so often subsequently maimed and mutilated history in its procrustean bed." To this the author of the Intellectual Development of Europe adds: "Among those who have been the most guilty of this offense, the name of the celebrated Eusebius, the Bishop of Cæsarea ... should be designated!"

It will not be amiss to remind the reader that it is the same Eusebius who is charged with the interpolation of the famous paragraph concerning Jesus, which was so miraculously found, in his time, in the writings of Josephus, the sentence in question having till that time remained perfectly unknown. Renan, in his Life of Jesus, expresses a contrary opinion. "I believe," says he, "the passage respecting Jesus to be authentic. It is perfectly in the style of Josephus; and, if this historian had made mention of Jesus, it is thus that he must have spoken of him."

Begging this eminent scholar's pardon, we must again contradict him. Laying aside his cautious "if," we will merely show that though the short paragraph may possibly be genuine, and "perfectly in the style of Josephus," its several parentheses are most palpably later forgeries; and "if" Josephus had made any mention of Christ at all, it is not thus that he would "have spoken of him." The whole paragraph consists of but a few lines, and reads: "At this time was Iasous, a 'WISE MAN,'(1) if, at least, it is right to call him a man! for he was a doer of surprising works, and a teacher of such men as receive 'the truths' with pleasure.... This was the ANOINTED (!!). And, on an accusation by the first men among us, having been condemned by Pilate to the cross, they did not stop loving him who loved them. For he appeared to them on the third day alive, and the divine prophets having said these and many other wonderful things concerning him."

This paragraph (of sixteen lines in the original) has two unequivocal assertions and one qualification. The latter is expressed in the following sentence: "If, at least, it is right to call him a man." The unequivocal assertions are contained in "This is the ANOINTED," and in that Jesus "appeared to them on the third day alive." History shows us Josephus as a thorough, uncompromising, stiff-necked, orthodox Jew, though he wrote for "the Pagans." It is well to observe the false position in which these sentences would have placed a true-born Jew, if they had really emanated from him. Their "Messiah" was then and is still expected. The Messiah is the Anointed, and vice versa. And Josephus is made to admit that the "first men" among them have accused and crucified their Messiah and Anointed!! No need to comment any further upon such a preposterous incongruity, even though supported by so ripe a scholar as Renan.

As to that patristic fire-brand, Tertullian, whom des Mousseaux apotheosizes in company with his other demi-gods, he is regarded by Reuss, Baur, and Schweigler, in quite a different light. The untrustworthiness of statement and inaccuracy of Tertullian, says the author of Supernatural Religion, are often apparent. Reuss characterizes his Christianism as "âpre, insolent, brutal, ferrailleur." It is without unction and without charity, sometimes even without loyalty, when he finds himself confronted with opposition. "If," remarks this author, "in the second century all parties except certain Gnostics were intolerant, Tertullian was the most intolerant of all!"

The work begun by the early Fathers was achieved by the sophomorical Augustine. His supra-transcendental speculations on the Trinity; his imaginary dialogues with the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, and the disclosures and covert allusions about his ex-brethren, the Manicheans, have led the world to load Gnosticism with opprobrium, and have thrown into a deep shadow the insulted majesty of the one God, worshipped in reverential silence by every "heathen."

And thus it is that the whole pyramid of Roman Catholic dogmas rests not upon proof, but upon assumption. The Gnostics had cornered the Fathers too cleverly, and the only salvation of the latter was a resort to forgery. For nearly four centuries, the great historians nearly contemporary with Jesus had not taken the slightest notice either of his life or death. Christians wondered at such an unaccountable omission of what the Church considered the greatest events in the world's history. Eusebius saved the battle of the day. Such are the men who have slandered the Gnostics.

The real crime of heterodoxy is plainly stated by John in his Epistles and Gospel. "He that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh ... is a deceiver and an antichrist" (II John 1:7). In his previous Epistle, he teaches his flock that there are two trinities (I John 5:7, 8) -- in short, the Nazarene system.

The inference to be drawn from all this is, that the made-up and dogmatic Christianity of the Constantinian period is simply an offspring of the numerous conflicting sects, half-castes themselves, born of Pagan parents. Each of these could claim representatives converted to the so-called orthodox body of Christians. And, as every newly-born dogma had to be carried out by the majority of votes, every sect colored the main substance with its own hue, till the moment when the emperor enforced this revealed olla-podrida, of which he evidently did not himself understand a word, upon an unwilling world as the religion of Christ. Wearied in the vain attempt to sound this fathomless bog of international speculations, unable to appreciate a religion based on the pure spirituality of an ideal conception, Christendom gave itself up to the adoration of brutal force as represented by a Church backed up by Constantine. Since then, among the thousand rites, dogmas, and ceremonies copied from Paganism, the Church can claim but one invention as thoroughly original with her -- namely, the doctrine of eternal damnation, and one custom, that of the anathema. The Pagans rejected both with horror. "An execration is a fearful and grievous thing," says Plutarch. "Wherefore, the priestess at Athens was commended for refusing to curse Alkibiades (for desecration of the Mysteries) when the people required her to do it; for, she said, that she was a priestess of prayers and not of curses."

"Deep researches would show," says Renan, "that nearly everything in Christianity is mere baggage brought from the Pagan Mysteries. The primitive Christian worship is nothing but a mystery. The whole interior police of the Church, the degrees of initiation, the command of silence, and a crowd of phrases in the ecclesiastical language, have no other origin.... The revolution which overthrew Paganism seems at first glance ... an absolute rupture with the past ... but the popular faith saved its most familiar symbols from shipwreck. Christianity introduced, at first, so little change into the habits of private and social life, that with great numbers in the fourth and fifth centuries it remains uncertain whether they were Pagans or Christians; many seem even to have pursued an irresolute course between the two worships." Speaking further of Art, which formed an essential part of the ancient religion, he says that "it had to break with scarce one of its traditions. Primitive Christian art is really nothing but Pagan art in its decay, or in its lower departments. The Good Shepherd of the catacombs in Rome is a copy from the Aristeus, or from the Apollo Nornius, which figure in the same posture on the Pagan sarcophagi, and still carries the flute of Pan in the midst of the four half-naked seasons. On the Christian tombs of the Cemetery of St. Calixtus, Orpheus charms the animals. Elsewhere, the Christ as Jupiter-Plato, and Mary as Proserpina, receive the souls that Mercury, wearing the broad-brimmed hat and carrying in his hand the rod of the soul-guide (psychopompos), brings to them, in presence of the three fates. Pegasus, the symbol of the apotheosis; Psyche, the symbol of the immortal soul; Heaven, personified by an old man, the river Jordan; and Victory, figure on a host of Christian monuments."

One by one, perished the Gnostics, the only heirs to whose share had fallen a few stray crumbs of the unadulterated truth of primitive Christianity. All was confusion and turmoil during these first centuries, till the moment when all these contradictory dogmas were finally forced upon the Christian world, and examination was forbidden. For long ages it was made a sacrilege, punishable with severe penalties, often death, to seek to comprehend that which the Church had so conveniently elevated to the rank of divine mystery. But since biblical critics have taken upon themselves to "set the house in order," the cases have become reversed. Pagan creditors now come from every part of the globe to claim their own, and Christian theology begins to be suspected of complete bankruptcy.

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:

The pain of a new idea is one of the greatest pains in human nature. After all, your favorite notions may be wrong, your firmest beliefs ill-founded. 


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(2) NOTE.--"The Christian Scheme," begun in November, 1967, is collated from the works of H. P. Blavatsky. It recounts the historical background and early development of Christianity.
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(1) Wise man always meant with the ancients a kabalist. It means astrologer and magician. "Israelite Indeed," vol. iii., p. 206. Hakim is a physician.
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