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a sect of Christians arose in 1555, called the “Family of Love,” and deriving its origin from one Henry Nicholas, of Westphalia. He taught that the essence of religion consisted in the feelings of Divine love; that the union of the soul with Christ transforms it into the essence of the Deity; that the Scriptures ought to be interpreted in an allegorical
very damnable heresies, one would think; but when the sect made its appearance in England, about the year 1580, their books were publicly burnt, and the sect dispersed.
118. Character of Gnosticism.—The leading ideas of Platonism are also found in the tenets of the Gnostics (i.e., “Those who know,” coloro che sanno.—Inf. iv. 131), and they continued, during the second and third centuries, the schools that raised a barrier between recondite philosophy and vulgar superstition. Under this aspect Gnosticism is the most universal heresy, the mother of many posterior heresies, even of Arianism, and reappears among the alchymists, mystics, and modern transcendentalists.
119. Doctrines.—The Gnostics assumed an infinite, invisible Being, an abyss of darkness, who, unable to remain inactive, diffused himself in emanations, decreasing in perfection the further they were removed from the centre that produced them. They had their grand triad, whose personifications—Matter, the Demiurgus, and the Saviourcomprised and represented the history of mankind and of the world. The superior emanations, partakers of the attributes of the Divine essence, are the “æons,” distributed in classes according to symbolical numbers. Their union forms the "pleroma," or the fulness of intelligence. The last and most imperfect emanation of the pleroma, according to one of the two grand divisions of Gnosticism, is the Demiurgus, a balance of light and darkness, of strength and weakness, who, without the concurrence of the unknown Father, produces this world, there imprisoning the souls, for he is the primary evil, opposed to the primary good. He encumbers the souls with matter, from which they are redeemed by Christ, one of the sublime powers of the pleroma, the Divine thought, intelligence, the spirit. For humanity is destined to raise itself again from the material to the spiritual life; to free itself from Nature, and to govern it, and to live again in immortal beauty.
According to the other party of the Gnostics, the Demiurgus was the representative and organ of the highest God,
who was placed by the Divine will especially over the Jewish people as their Jehovah. Men are divided into three classes : the terrestrial men, of the earth earthy, tied and bound by matter; the spiritual men, the Pneumatikoi, who attain to the Divine light; the Psychikoi, who only rise up to the Demiurgus. The Jews, subject to Jehovah, were Psychikoi ; the Pagans were terrestrial men; the true Christians or Gnostics, Pneumatikoi.
120. Development of Gnosticism.-Simon Magus; Menander, his successor; Cerinthus, the apostle of the Millennium, and some others who lived in the first century, are looked upon as the founders of Gnosticism, which soon divided into as many sects as there arose apostles. This may be called the obscure period of Gnosticism. But at the beginning of the second century the sect of Basilides of Alexandria arose, and with it various centres of Gnosticism in Egypt, Syria, Rome, Spain, &c. Basilides, who corrupted Gnosticism with Indian and Egyptian fancies, assumed 365 æons or cycles of creation, which were expressed by the word abraxas, whose letters, according to their numerical value in Greek, produce the number 365. By “abraxas" was meant, in its deeper sense, the Supreme God; but the reader will at once detect the astronomical bearing, and remember the words Mithras and Belenus, which also severally represent that number, and the Supreme God, viz., the sun. Valentinus also is a famous Gnostic, whose fundamental doctrine is that all men shall be restored to their primeval state of perfection; that matter, the refuge of evil, shall be consumed by fire—which is also the doctrine of Zoroaster; and that the spirits in perfect maturity shall ascend into the pleroma, there to enjoy all the delights of a perfect union with their companions. From the Valentinians sprang the Ophites, calling themselves so after the serpent that by tempting Eve brought into the world the blessings of knowledge; and the Cainites, who maintained that Cain had been the first Gnostic, in opposition to the blind, unreasoning faith of Abel, and therefore persecuted by the Demiurgus, Jehovah. On this idea is founded the Masonic Legend of the Temple. The Antitacts (opponents to the law), like the Ishmaelites at a later period, taught their adepts hatred against all positive religions and laws. The Adamites looked upon marriage as the fruit of sin; they called their lascivious initiation
paradise,” held all indulgence in carnal delights lawful, and advocated the abolition of dress. The Pepuzians varied their initiations with the apparition of phantasms, among
whom was a woman crowned with the sun and twelve stars, and having the moon under her feet—the Isis of Egypt and the Ceres of Greece. They found in the Apocalypse all their initiatory terminology. A gnostic stone, represented in the work of Chifflet, shows seven stars of equal size, with a larger one above; these probably mean the seven planets and the sun. There are, moreover, figured on it a pair of compasses, a square, and other geometrical emblems. Thus all religious initiations are ever reducible to astronomy and natural phenomena.
121. Spirit of Gnosticism. - The widely opposite ideas of polytheism, pantheism, monotheism, the philosophical systems of Plato, Pythagoras, Heraclitus, together with the mysticism and demonology that after the Jewish captivity created the Cabbala—all these went towards forming Gnosticism. And the aristocracy of mind, powerful and numerous as none had ever been before, that arose in the first centuries of our era, even when adopting the new faith, could not but loathe the thought of sharing it completely with the crowd of freed and unfreed slaves around them with the low and poor in spirit. The exclusiveness of Gnosticism, which was one of the causes why it was violently persecuted by the Fathers of the Church as damnable heresy, was undoubtedly, next to the attractiveness of its dogmas, one of the chief reasons of its rapid propagation and its lasting influence on modern religious systems.
It is said that the Gnostics recognised one another by slightly tickling the palm of the person with whom they shook hands.
122. Connection of Judaism and Gnosticism.–At the dispersion of the Jews in the heart of Asia, attempts were made to discover analogies between the Chinese doctrines of Lau-Tze (80) and those of the Hebrews, extending even to the name Jehovah; and it is undeniable that whilst the Jews on the one hand assimilated their dogmas with those of Zoroaster, on the other they diffused Gnostic and Cabbalistic ideas throughout the world. And Lau-Tze has by some been considered as a forerunner of Gnosticism. A fragment of this religious teacher runs thus: “Before the chaos that preceded the birth of the universe, there existed one sole being, boundless and silent, immutable and yet ever active, that may be called the Mother of the universe. I know not its name, but may call it Intelligence. Man has his model on the earth, the earth in heaven, the heaven in Intelligence, and Intelligence in itself.”
123. Essenes and Therapeuta.-On their return to Judaa the Jews were split into various sects, such as the Pharisees, whose name is supposed to be derived from Parsees, and Sadducees, Chasidim, and Zadikim. With regard to the Mosaic law the Pharisees were Chasidim (Pietists), whilst the Samaritans, Essenes, and Sadducees were Zadikim. The former afterwards split into Talmudists, Rabbinists, and Cabbalists (110, Sect of the “New Saints"). But those in which the Eastern element predominated most were the Essenes and the Therapeutæ. These two sects have often been confounded, it being assumed that the latter formed the highest degree of the order. But they were quite distinct, having nothing in common except their moral precepts. Their practices were not exclusively Oriental, but by means of the Alexandrian school were connected with Western traditions, and especially with the teachings of Pythagoras. The Essenes, approaching more to the principles of Zoroaster, who held that the soul was to be freed as much as possible