at his Baptism in the Jordan. Whoever partakes of this Power becomes an equal to Jesus and is able to scorn the archons (rulers) who made this evil material world and can accomplish the same miracles as Jesus did. This Carpocrates also blasphemed the goodness of the Creator and His creation and preached rebellion not only against the Jewish God but also against the Law. This violent rejection of the Creator and His creation in favour of total freedom from the moral Law is antinomianism ('no-law-ism'), another characteristic of the Gnostics. They always opposed a good, knowing and spiritual God the Saviour to a bad, ignorant and material God the Creator. Holding that salvation depended solely upon ‘the knowledge’ (gnosis) many indulged in and preached extremely licentious behaviour. They claimed they could not be stained by any external mud. Carpocrates for example urged his followers to sin, and his son Epiphanes taught that promiscuity was God’s law. Others, such as the Cainites honoured Cain and other villains of the Old Testament, and the Ophites (Greek: ophis serpent) honoured the Serpent for bringing ‘knowledge’ to Adam and Eve. 9
The Gnostic denied that the unity of soul and body was natural and proper to man; he believed rather that each of us was a ‘divine spark’ trapped in a flesh which needed to be, as much as possible annihilated or ignored. They sought either to indulge all the body’s desires (libertinism) or to eliminate them altogether (with asceticism). This led them to swing wildly between extremes of libertinism and asceticism. They often taught also that humans were originally unisex and that the creation of woman was the source of evil while procreation of children was evil because it simply multiplied the souls in bondage to the powers of darkness. 10
Another of these new Gnostic masters was Basilides who taught at Alexandria all the usual Gnostic doctrines such as a dualist creation and a docetic Christology. He taught also of innumerable lesser deities and demons who dwelt as intermediaries between the strictly unknowable supreme God, the immutable One of Greek philosophy, and this ever-changing world of matter. The teachings of Basilides were taken up by Valentinus, an Egyptian who, according to St. Irenaeus ‘came to Rome under Hyginus, flourished under Pius and remained there until Anicetus.’ (Adv. Haer. III, iv, 3. These three Popes ruled from 138 to 142 to 155 to 166 respectively.) His ‘Valentinians’ were, of all Gnostic sects, the most numerous and powerful, and flourished until the early third century. 11
Another leading Gnostic was Marcion of Pontus who, too, came to Rome under Hyginus. Marcion’s teacher had been a Syrian Gnostic named Cerdo who had developed his new religion in Alexandria. Marcion’s basic teaching was that God the Creator, as found in the Old Testament, was evil, and had been ousted by the good God of the New Testament. His Antitheses, his only book, largely consisted of Old Testament and New Testament passages set side by side to show, by their contrast, how they represented two Gods. ‘Marcion of Pontus’ wrote St. Justin Martyr in about 150, ‘professes belief in a God superior to the Creator.’ This was a hallmark of Christians from
Published on Nov 29, 2011
Published on Nov 29, 2011
This survey of how the New Testament came to be written is also a chronicle of the first 40 years of the history of the Christian Church. It...