co. sensibly narrowed, and the spiritual authority of the

prevailing party was exercised with increasing severity, many of its most respectable adherents, who were called upon to renounce, were provoked to assert their private opinions, to pursue the consequences of their mistaken principles, and openly to erect the standard of rebellion against the unity of the church. The Gnostics were distinguished as the most polite, the most learned, and the most wealthy of the Christian name, and that general appellation, which expressed a superiority of knowledge, was either assumed by their own pride, or ironically bestowed by the envy of their adversaries. They were almost without exception of the race of the Gentiles, and their principal founders seem to have been natives of Syria or Egypt,

where the warmth of the climate disposes both the mind and the body to indolent and contemplative devotion. The Gnostics blended with the faith of Christ many sublime but obscure tenets, which they derived from oriental philosophy, and even from the religion of Zoroaster, concerning the eternity of matter, the existence of two principles, and the mysterious hierarchy of the invisible world." As soon as they launched out into that vast abyss, they delivered them

selves to the guidance of a disordered imagination ;

and as the paths of error are various and infinite, the

Gnostics were imperceptibly divided into more than

fifty particular sects," of whom the most celebrated appear to have been the Basilidians, the Valentinians,

the Marcionites, and, in a still later period, the Mani

* In the account of the Gnostics of the second and third centuries, Mosheim is ingenious and candid; Le Clerc dull, but exact; Beausobre almost always an apologist; and it is much to be feared, that the primitive fathers are very frequently calumniators.

* See the catalogues of Irena us and Epiphanius. It must indeed be allowed, that those writers were inclined to multiply the number of sects which opposed the unity of the church.

chaeans. Each of these sects could boast of its bishops cor.

and congregations, of its doctors and martyrs," and, instead of the four gospels adopted by the church, the heretics produced a multitude of histories, in which the actions and discourses of Christ and of his apostles were adapted to their respective tenets.' The success of the Gnostics was rapid and extensive. They covered Asia and Egypt, established themselves in Rome, and sometimes penetrated into the provinces of the West. For the most part they arose in the second century, flourished during the third, and were suppressed in the fourth or fifth, by the prevalence of more fashionable controversies, and by the superior ascendant of the reigning power. Though they constantly disturbed the peace, and frequently disgraced the name, of religion, they contributed to assist rather than to retard the progress of Christianity. The Gentile converts, whose strongest objections and prejudices were directed against the law of Moses, could find admission into many Christian societies, which required not from their untutored mind any belief of an antecedent revelation. Their faith was insensibly fortified and enlarged, and the church was ultimately

* Eusebius, l. iv. c. 15. Sozomen, l. ii. c. 32. See in Bayle, in the article of Marcion, a curious detail of a dispute on that subject. It should seem that some of the Gnostics (the Basilidians) declined, and even refused, the honour of martyrdom. Their reasons were singular and abstruse. See Mosheim, p. 359.

* See a very remarkable passage of Origen (Proem ad Lucan.) That indefatigable writer, who had consumed his life in the study of the scriptures, relies for their authenticity on the inspired authority of the church. It was impossible that the Gnostics could receive our present gospels, many parts of which (particularly in the resurrection of Christ) are directly, and as it might seem designedly, pointed against their favourite tenets. It is therefore somewhat singular that Ignatius (Epist. ad Smyrn. Patr. Apostol tom. ii. p. 34) should choose to employ a vague and doubtful tradition, instead of quoting the certain testimony of the evangelists.

i Faciunt favos et vespa; faciunt ecclesias et Marcionita, is the strong expression of Tertullian, which I am obliged to quote from memory. In the time of Epiphanius (advers. Haereses, p. 302) the Marcionites were very numerous in Italy, Syria, Egypt, Arabia, and Persia.


CHAP. benefited by the conquests of its most inveterate

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But whatever difference of opinion might subsist be-
tween the Orthodox, the Ebionites, and the Gnostics,
concerning the divinity or the obligation of the Mosaic
law, they were all equally animated by the same ex-
clusive zeal, and by the same abhorrence for idolatry
which had distinguished the Jews from the other
nations of the ancient world. The philosopher, who
considered the system of polytheism as a composition
of human fraud and error, could disguise a smile of
contempt under the mask of devotion, without appre-
hending that either the mockery, or the compliance,
would expose him to the resentment of any invisible,
or, as he conceived them, imaginary powers. But
the established religions of Paganism were seen by
the primitive Christians in a much more odious and
formidable light. It was the universal sentiment
both of the church and of heretics, that the daemons
were the authors, the patrons, and the objects of
idolatry.' Those rebellious spirits who had been de-
graded from the rank of angels, and cast down into
the infernal pit, were still permitted to roam upon
earth, to torment the bodies, and to seduce the minds,
of sinful men. The daemons soon discovered and
abused the natural propensity of the human heart to-
wards devotion, and artfully withdrawing the adora-
tion of mankind from their Creator, they usurped the
place and honours of the Supreme Deity. By the
success of their malicious contrivances, they at once
gratified their own vanity and revenge, and obtained
the only comfort of which they were yet susceptible,
* Augustin is a memorable instance of this gradual progress from reason to
faith. He was, during several years, engaged in the Manichaean sect.

The dae

mons considered as the gods of antiquity.

"The unanimous sentiment of the primitive church is very clearly explained

by Justin Martyr, Apolog. Major, by Athenagoras Legat. c. 22, &c. and by Lactantius, Institut. Divin. ii. 14—19.

the hope of involving the human species in the par- cor. ticipation of their guilt and misery. It was confessed, or at least it was imagined, that they had distributed among themselves the most important characters of polytheism, one daemon assuming the name and attributes of Jupiter, another of Æsculapius, a third of Venus, and a fourth perhaps of Apollo ;" and that, by the advantage of their long experience and ačrial nature, they were enabled to execute with sufficient skill and dignity the parts which they had undertaken. They lurked in the temples, instituted festivals and sacrifices, invented fables, pronounced oracles, and were frequently allowed to perform miracles. The Christians, who, by the interposition of evil spirits, could so readily explain every praeternatural appearance, were disposed and even desirous to admit the most extravagant fictions of the Pagan mythology. But the belief of the Christian was accompanied with horror. The most trifling mark of respect to the national worship he considered as a direct homage yielded to the daemon, and as an act of rebellion against the majesty of God. In consequence of this opinion, it was the first but Abhorrence arduous duty of a Christian to preserve himself pure toand undefiled by the practice of idolatry. The re-"). ligion of the nations was not merely a speculative doctrine professed in the schools or preached in the temples. The innumerable deities and rites of polytheism were closely interwoven with every circumstance of business or pleasure, of public or of private life; and it seemed impossible to escape the observance of them, without, at the same time, renouncing the commerce of mankind, and all the offices and

"Tertullian (Apolog. c. 23) alleges the confession of the damons themselves as often as they were tormented by the Christian exorcists.



amusements of society." The important transactions
of peace and war were prepared or concluded by
solemn sacrifices, in which the magistrate, the senator,
and the soldier, were obliged to preside or to parti-
cipate.” The public spectacles were an essential part
of the cheerful devotion of the Pagans, and the gods
were supposed to accept, as the most grateful offering,
the games that the prince and people celebrated in
honour of their peculiar festivals.” The Christian,
who with pious horror avoided the abomination of
the circus or the theatre, found himself encompassed
with infernal snares in every convivial entertainment,
as often as his friends, invoking the hospitable deities,
poured out libations to each other's happiness." When
the bride, struggling with well-affected reluctance,
was forced in hymenaeal pomp over the threshold of
her new habitation," or when the sad procession of
the dead slowly moved towards the funeral pile;" the
Christian, on these interesting occasions, was com-
pelled to desert the persons who were the dearest to
him, rather than contract the guilt inherent to those
"Tertullian has written a most severe treatise against idolatry, to caution his
brethren against the hourly danger of incurring that guilt. Recogita sylvam,
et quantae latitant spinae. De Corona Militis, c. 10.
• The Roman senate was always held in a temple or consecrated place (Aulus
Gellius, xiv. 7). Before they entered on business, every senator dropt some
wine and frankincense on the altar. Sueton. in August. c. 35.
P See Tertullian, De Spectaculis. This severe reformer shows no more in-
dulgence to a tragedy of Euripides, than to a combat of gladiators. The dress
of the actors particularly offends him. By the use of the lofty buskin, they im-
piously strive to add a cubit to their stature, c. 23.
4 The ancient practice of concluding the entertainment with libations may be
found in every classic. Socrates and Seneca, in their last moments, made a
noble application of this custom. Postguam stagnum calidae aquae introiit,
respergens proximos servorum, addità voce, libare seliquorem illum Jovi Libe-
ratori. Tacit. Annal. xv. 64.
* See the elegant but idolatrous hymn of Catullus, on the nuptials of Manlius
and Julia. O Hymen, Hymenaee I& ! Quis huic Deo compararier ausit 2
• The ancient funerals (in those of Misenus and Pallas) are no less accurately
described by Virgil, than they are illustrated by his commentator Servius. The

pile itself was an altar, the flames were fed with the blood of victims, and all the assistants were sprinkled with lustral water,

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