THEOSOPHY, Vol. 56, No. 9, July, 1968
(Pages 273-280; Size: 25K)
(Number 9 of a 36-part series)

THE CHRISTIAN SCHEME(5)

GNOSIS AND CHRISTIANITY: The First Christians

THE first groups of Christians, whom Renan shows numbering but from seven to twelve men in each church, belonged unquestionably to the poorest and most ignorant classes. They had and could have no idea of the highly philosophical doctrines of the Platonists and Gnostics, and evidently knew as little about their own newly-made-up religion. To these, who if Jews, had been crushed under the tyrannical dominion of the "law," as enforced by the elders of the synagogues, and if Pagans had been always excluded, as the lower castes are until now in India, from the religious mysteries, the God of the Jews and the "Father" preached by Jesus were all one. The contention which reigned from the first years following the death of Jesus, between the two parties, the Pauline and the Petrine -- were deplorable. What one did, the other deemed a sacred duty to undo. If the Homilies are considered apocryphal, and cannot very well be accepted as an infallible standard by which to measure the animosity which raged between the two apostles, we have the Bible, and the proofs afforded therein are plentiful.

So hopelessly entangled seems Irenæus in his fruitless endeavors to describe, to all outward appearance at least, the true doctrines of the many Gnostic sects of which he treats and to present them at the same time as abominable "heresies," that he either deliberately, or through ignorance, confounds all of them in such a way that few metaphysicians would be able to disentangle them, without the Kabala and the Codex as the true keys. Thus, for instance, he cannot even tell the difference between the Sethianites and the Ophites, and tells us that they called the "God of all," "Hominem," a MAN, and his mind the SECOND man, or the "Son of man." So does Theodoret, who lived more than two centuries after Irenæus, and who makes a sad mess of the chronological order in which the various sects succeed each other. Neither the Sethianites, (a branch of the Jewish Nazarenes) nor the Ophites, a purely Greek sect, have ever held anything of the kind. Irenæus contradicts his own words by describing in another place the doctrines of Cerinthus, the direct disciple of Simon Magus. He says that Cerinthus taught that the world was not created by the FIRST GOD, but by a virtue (virtus) or power, an Æon so distant from the First Cause that he was even ignorant of HIM who is above all things. This Æon subjected Jesus, he begot him physically through Joseph from one who was not a virgin, but simply the wife of that Joseph, and Jesus was born like all other men. Viewed from this physical aspect of his nature, Jesus was called the "son of man." It is only after his baptism, that Christos, the anointed, descended from the Princeliness of above, in the figure of a dove, and then announced the UNKNOWN Father through Jesus.

If, therefore, Jesus was physically considered as a son of man, and spiritually as the Christos, who overshadowed him, how then could the "GOD OF ALL," the "Unknown Father," be called by the Gnostics Homo, a MAN, and his Mind, Ennoia, the SECOND man, or Son of man? Neither in the Oriental Kabala, nor in Gnosticism, was the "God of all" ever anthropomorphized. It is but the first, or rather the second emanations, for Shekinah, Sephira, Depth, and other first-manifested female virtues are also emanations, that are termed "primitive men." Thus Adam Kadmon, Ennoia (or Sigè), the logoi in short, are the "only-begotten" ones but not the Sons of man, which appellation properly belongs to Christos the son of Sophia (the elder) and of the primitive man who produces him through his own vivifying light, which emanates from the source or cause of all, hence the cause of his light also, the "Unknown Father." There is a great difference made in the Gnostic metaphysics between the first unrevealed Logos and the "anointed," who is Christos. Ennoia may be termed, as Philo understands it, the Second God, but he alone is the "Primitive and First man," and by no means the Second one, as Theodoret and Irenæus have it. It is but the inveterate desire of the latter to connect Jesus in every possible way, even in the Hœresies, with the Highest God, that led him into so many falsifications.

Such an identification with the Unknown God, even of Christos, the anointed -- the Æon who overshadowed him -- let alone of the man Jesus, never entered the head of the Gnostics nor even of the direct apostles and of Paul, whatever later forgeries may have added.

How daring and desperate were many such deliberate falsifications was shown in the first attempts to compare the original manuscripts with later ones. In Bishop Horseley's edition of Sir Isaac Newton's works, several manuscripts on theological subjects were cautiously withheld from publication. The article known as Christ's Descent into Hell, which is found in the later Apostles' Creed, is not to be found in the manuscripts of either the fourth or sixth centuries. It was an evident interpolation copied from the fables of Bacchus and Hercules and enforced upon Christendom as an article of faith. Concerning it the author of the preface to the Catalogue of the Manuscripts of the King's Library (preface, p. xxi.) remarks: "I wish that the insertion of the article of Christ's Descent into Hell into the Apostles' Creed could be as well accounted for as the insertion of the said verse" (First Epistle of John, v. 7).

Now, this verse reads: "For there are three that bear record in Heaven, the Father, the Word and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one." This verse, which has been "appointed to be read in churches," is now known to be spurious. It is not to be found in any Greek manuscript, "save one at Berlin, which was transcribed from interpolated paraphrase between the lines. In the first and second editions of Erasmus, printed in 1516 and 1519, this allusion to these three heavenly witnesses is omitted; and the text is not contained in any Greek manuscript which was written earlier than the fifteenth century. It was not mentioned by either of the Greek ecclesiastical writers nor by the early Latin fathers, so anxious to get at every proof in support of their trinity; and it was omitted by Luther in his German version. Edward Gibbon was early in pointing out its spurious character. Archbishop Newcome rejected it, and the Bishop of Lincoln expresses his conviction that it is spurious. There are twenty-eight Greek authors -- Irenæus, Clemens, and Athanasius included, who neither quote nor mention it; and seventeen Latin writers, numbering among them Augustine, Jerome, Ambrosius, Cyprian, and Pope Eusebius, who appear utterly ignorant of it. "It is evident that if the text of the heavenly witnesses had been known from the beginning of Christianity the ancients would have eagerly seized it, inserted it in their creeds, quoted it repeatedly against the heretics, and selected it for the brightest ornament of every book that they wrote upon the subject of the Trinity." Thus falls to the ground the strongest trinitarian pillar.

And now we ask again the question: Who were the first Christians? Those who were readily converted by the eloquent simplicity of Paul, who promised them, with the name of Jesus, freedom from the narrow bonds of ecclesiasticism. They understood but one thing; they were the "children of promise" (Gal. 4:28). The "allegory" of the Mosaic Bible was unveiled to them; the covenant "from the Mount Sinai which gendereth to bondage" was Agar (Ibid., 24), the old Jewish synagogue, and she was "in bondage with her children" to Jerusalem, the new and the free, "the mother of us all." On the one hand the synagogue and the law which persecuted every one who dared to step across the narrow path of bigotry and dogmatism; on the other, Paganism(1) with its grand philosophical truths concealed from sight; unveiling itself but to the few, and leaving the masses hopelessly seeking to discover who was the god, among this overcrowded pantheon of deities and sub-deities. To others, the apostle of circumcision, supported by all his followers, was promising, if they obeyed the "law," a life hereafter, and a resurrection of which they had no previous idea. At the same time he never lost an occasion to contradict Paul without naming him, but indicating him so clearly that it is next to impossible to doubt whom Peter meant. While he may have converted some men, who whether they had believed in the Mosaic resurrection promised by the Pharisees, or had fallen into the nihilistic doctrines of the Sadducees, or had belonged to the polytheistic heathenism of the Pagan rabble, had no future after death, nothing but a mournful blank, we do not think that the work of contradiction, carried on so systematically by the two apostles, had helped much their work of proselytism. With the educated thinking classes they succeeded very little, as ecclesiastical history clearly shows. Where was the truth; where the inspired word of God? On the one hand, as we have seen, they heard the apostle Paul explaining that of the two covenants, "which things are an allegory," the old one from Mount Sinai, "which gendereth unto bondage," was Agar the bondwoman; and Mount Sinai itself answered to "Jerusalem," which now is "in bondage" with her circumcised children; and the new covenant meant Jesus Christ -- the "Jerusalem which is above and free"; and on the other Peter, who was contradicting and even abusing him. Paul vehemently exclaims, "Cast out the bondwoman and her son" (the old law and the synagogue). "The son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman." "Stand fast, therefore, in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free; be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.... Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing!" (Gal. 5:2). What do we find Peter writing? Whom does he mean by saying, "These who speak great swelling words of vanity.... While they promise them liberty, they themselves are servants of corruption, for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage.... For if they have escaped the pollution of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour, they are again entangled therein, and overcome ... it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than after they have known it to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them" (Second Epistle).

Peter certainly cannot have meant the Gnostics, for they had never seen "the holy commandment delivered unto them"; Paul had. They never promised any one "liberty" from bondage, but Paul had done so repeatedly. Moreover the latter rejects the "old covenant," Agar the bondwoman; and Peter holds fast to it. Paul warns the people against the powers and dignities (the lower angels of the kabalists); and Peter, as will be shown further, respects them and denounces those who do not. Peter preaches circumcision and Paul forbids it.

Later, when all these extraordinary blunders, contradictions, dissensions and inventions were forcibly crammed into a frame elaborately executed by the episcopal caste of the new religion, and called Christianity; and the chaotic picture itself cunningly preserved from too close scrutiny by a whole array of formidable Church penances and anathemas, which kept the curious back under the false pretense of sacrilege and profanation of divine mysteries; and millions of people had been butchered in the name of the God of mercy -- then came the Reformation. It certainly deserves its name in its fullest paradoxical sense. It abandoned Peter and alleges to have chosen Paul for its only leader. And the apostle who thundered against the old law of bondage; who left full liberty to Christians to either observe the Sabbath or set it aside; who rejects everything anterior to John the Baptist, is now the professed standard-bearer of Protestantism, which holds to the old law more than the Jews, imprisons those who view the Sabbath as Jesus and Paul did, and outvies the synagogue of the first century in dogmatic intolerance!

But who then were the first Christians, may still be asked? Doubtless the Ebionites; and in this we follow the authority of the best critics. "There can be little doubt that the author (of the Clementine Homilies) was a representative of Ebionitic Gnosticism, which had once been the purest of primitive Christianity...." And who were the Ebionites? The pupils and followers of the early Nazarenes, the kabalistic Gnostics. In the preface to the Codex Nazarœus, the translator says "That also the Nazarenes did not reject ... the Æons is natural. For of the Ebionites who acknowledged them (the Æons), these were the instructors."

We find, moreover, Epiphanius, the Christian Homer of The Heresies, telling us that "Ebion had the opinion of the Nazarenes, the form of the Cerinthians (who fable that the world was put together by angels), and the appellation of Christians." An appellation certainly more correctly applied to them than to the orthodox (so-called) Christians of the school of Irenæus and the later Vatican. Renan shows the Ebionites numbering among their sect all the surviving relatives of Jesus. John the Baptist, his cousin and precursor, was the accepted Saviour of the Nazarenes, and their prophet. His disciples dwelt on the other side of the Jordan, and the scene of the baptism of the Jordan is clearly and beyond any question proved by the author of Sod, the Son of the Man, to have been the site of the Adonis-worship. "Over the Jordan and beyond the lake dwelt the Nazarenes, a sect said to have existed already at the birth of Jesus, and to have counted him among its number. They must have extended along the east of the Jordan, and southeasterly among the Arabians (Gal. 1:17, 21; 2:11), and Sabæans in the direction of Bosra; and again, they must have gone far north over the Lebanon to Antioch, also to the northeast to the Nazarian settlement in Berœa, where St. Jerome found them. In the desert the Mysteries of Adonis may have still prevailed; in the mountains Aiai Adonai was still a cry."

"Having been united (conjunctus) to the Nazarenes, each (Ebionite) imparted to the other out of his own wickedness, and decided that Christ was the seed of a man," writes Epiphanius.

And if they did, we must suppose they knew more about their contemporary prophet than Epiphanius 400 years later. Theodoret, as shown elsewhere, describes the Nazarenes as Jews who "honor the Anointed as a just man," and use the evangel called "According to Peter." Jerome finds the authentic and original evangel, written in Hebrew, by Matthew the apostle-publican, in the library collected at Cæsarea, by the martyr Pamphilius. "I received permission from the Nazarœans, who at Berœa of Syria used this (gospel) to translate it," he writes toward the end of the fourth century.(2) "In the evangel which the Nazarenes and Ebionites use," adds Jerome, "which recently I translated from Hebrew into Greek,(3) and which is called by most persons the genuine Gospel of Matthew," etc.

That the apostles had received a "secret doctrine" from Jesus, and that he himself taught one, is evident from the following words of Jerome, who confessed it in an unguarded moment. Writing to the Bishops Chromatius and Heliodorus, he complains that "a difficult work is enjoined, since this translation has been commanded me by your Felicities, which St. Matthew himself, the Apostle and Evangelist, DID NOT WISH TO BE OPENLY WRITTEN. For if it had not been SECRET, he (Matthew) would have added to the evangel that which he gave forth was his; but he made up this book sealed up in the Hebrew characters, which he put forth even in such a way that the book, written in Hebrew letters and by the hand of himself, might be possessed by the men most religious, who also, in the course of time, received it from those who preceded them. But this very book they never gave to any one to be transcribed, and its text they related some one way and some another." And he adds further on the same page: "And it happened that this book, having been published by a disciple of Manichæus, named Seleucus, who also wrote falsely The Acts of the Apostles, exhibited matter not for edification, but for destruction; and that this book was approved in a synod which the ears of the Church properly refused to listen to."(4)

He admits, himself, that the book which he authenticates as being written "by the hand of Matthew"; a book which, notwithstanding that he translated it twice, was nearly unintelligible to him, for it was arcane or a secret. Nevertheless, Jerome coolly sets down every commentary upon it, except his own, as heretical. More than that, Jerome knew that this original Gospel of Matthew was the expounder of the only true doctrine of Christ; and that it was the work of an evangelist who had been the friend and companion of Jesus. He knew that if of the two Gospels, the Hebrew in question and the Greek belonging to our present Scripture, one was spurious, hence heretical, it was not that of the Nazarenes; and yet, knowing all this, Jerome becomes more zealous than ever in his persecutions of the "Hæretics." Why? Because to accept it was equivalent to reading the death-sentence of the established Church. The Gospel according to the Hebrews was but too well known to have been the only one accepted for four centuries by the Jewish Christians, the Nazarenes and the Ebionites. And neither of the latter accepted the divinity of Christ.

If the commentaries of Jerome on the Prophets, his famous Vulgate, and numerous polemical treatises are all as trustworthy as this version of the Gospel according to Matthew, then we have a divine revelation indeed.

Why wonder at the unfathomable mysteries of the Christian religion, since it is perfectly human? Have we not a letter written by one of the most respected Fathers of the Church to this same Jerome, which shows better than whole volumes their traditionary policy? This is what Saint Gregory of Nazianzen wrote to his friend and confidant Saint Jerome: "Nothing can impose better on a people than verbiage; the less they understand the more they admire. Our fathers and doctors have often said, not what they thought, but what circumstances and necessity forced them to."


Next article:
THE CHRISTIAN SCHEME
GNOSIS AND CHRISTIANITY: Christos and Sophia Achamoth
(Part 10 of a 36-part series)

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FIVE (5) FOOTNOTES LISTED BELOW:

(5) 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) The term "Paganism" is properly used by modern writers with hesitation. Professor Alexander Wilder, in his edition of Payne Knight's Symbolical Language of Ancient Art and Mythology, says: "It ('Paganism') has degenerated into slang, and is generally employed with more or less of an opprobrious meaning. The correcter expression would have been 'the ancient ethnical worships,' but it would be hardly understood in its true sense, and we accordingly have adopted the term in popular use, but not disrespectfully. A religion which can develop a Plato, an Epictetus, and an Anaxagoras, is not gross, superficial, or totally unworthy of candid attention. Besides, many of the rites and doctrines in the Christian as well as in the Jewish Institute, appeared first in the other systems. Zoroastrianism anticipated far more than has been imagined. The cross, the priestly robes and symbols, the sacraments, the Sabbath, the festivals and anniversaries, are all anterior to the Christian era by thousands of years. The ancient worship, after it had been excluded from its former shrines, and from the metropolitan towns, was maintained for a long time by the inhabitants of humble localities. To this fact it owes its later designation. From being kept up in the Pagi, or rural districts, its votaries were denominated Pagans, or provincials.
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(2) Hieronymus: De Virus., illust., cap. 3. "It is remarkable that, while all church fathers say that Matthew wrote in Hebrew, the whole of them use the Greek text as the genuine apostolic writing, without mentioning what relation the Hebrew Matthew has to our Greek one! It had many peculiar additions which are wanting in our evangel."
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(3) Jerome adds that it was written in the Chaldaic language, but with Hebrew letters.
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(4) This accounts also for the rejection of the works of Justin Martyr, who used only this "Gospel according to the Hebrews," as also did most probably Titian, his disciple. At what late period was fully established the divinity of Christ we can judge by the mere fact that even in the fourth century Eusebius did not denounce this book as spurious, but only classed it with such as the Apocalypse of John; and Credner shows Nicephorus inserting it, together with the Revelation, in his "Stichometry," among the Antilegomena. The Ebionites, the genuine primitive Christians, rejecting the rest of the apostolic writings, made use only of this Gospel, and the Ebionites, as Epiphanius declares, firmly believed, with the Nazarenes, that Jesus was but a man "of the seed of a man."
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