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Chap. XV. CIIURCH OF JERUSALEM. 159
multitudes that from all the various religions of polytheism enlisted under the banner of Christ: and the Gentiles, who, with the approbation of their peculiar apostle, had rejected the intolerable weight of Mosaic ceremonies, at length refused to their more scrupulous brethren the same toleration which at first they had humbly solicited for their own practice. The ruin of the temple, of the city, and of the public religion of the Jews, was severely felt by the Nazarenes; as in their manners, though not in their faith, they maintained so intimate a connection with their impious countrymen, whose misfortunes were attributed by the Pagans to the contempt, and more justly ascribed by the Christians to the wrath, of the Supreme Deity. The Nazarenes retired from the ruins of Jerusalem* to the little town of Pella beyond the Jordan, where that ancient church languished above sixty years in solitude and obscurity.19 They still enjoyed the comfort of making frequent and devout visits to the Holy City, and the hope of being one day restored to those seats which both nature and religion taught them to love as well as to revere. But at length, under the reign of Hadrian, the desperate fanaticism of the Jews filled up the measure of their calamities; and the Romans, exasperated by their repeated rebellions, exercised the rights of victory with unusual rigour. The emperor founded, under the name of ^Elia Capitolina, a new city on Mount Sion,20 to which he gave the privileges of a colony; and denouncing the severest penalties against any of the Jewish people who should dare to approach its precincts, he fixed a vigilant garrison of a Roman cohort to enforce the execution of his orders. The Nazarenes had only one way left to escape the common proscription, and the force of truth was on this occasion assisted by the influence of temporal advantages. They elected Marcus for their bishop, a prelate of the race of the Gentiles, and most probably a native either of Italy or of some of the Latin provinces. At his persuasion the most considerable part of the congregation renounced the Mosaic law, in the practice of which they had persevered above a century. By this sacrifice of their habits and prejudices they purchased a free admission into the
"Eusebius, 1. iii. c. 5. Le Clerc, Hist. Ecclesiast. p. fi05. During this occasional absence, the bishop and church of Pella still retained the title of Jerusalem. In the same manner, the Roman pontiffs resided seventy years at Avignon; and the patriarchs of Alexandria have long since transferred their episcopal seat to Cairo.
20 Dion Cassius, 1. lxix. [c. 12.] The exile of the Jewish nation from Jerusalem is attested by Aristo of Pella (apud Euseb. 1. iv. c. 6), and is mentioned by several ecclesiastical writers; though some of them too hastily extend this interdiction to the whole country of Palestine.
* This is incorrect: all the traditions was in ruins, but before the siege had cornconcur in placing the abandonment of the menced. Euseb. loc. cit., and Le Clerc. city by the Christians, not only before it —M.
1G0 THE EBIONITES. Chap. XV.
colony of Hadrian, and more firmly cemented their union with the Catholic church.21
When the name and honours of the church of Jerusalem had been The restored to Mount Sion, the crimes of heresy and schism
Ebioniufs. were impUte(i to the obscure remnant of the Nazarenes which refused to accompany their Latin bishop. They still preserved their former habitation of Pella, spread themselves into the villages adjacent to Damascus, and formed an inconsiderable church in the city of Bercea, or, as it is now called, of Aleppo, in Syria.22 The name of Nazarenes was deemed too honourable for those Christian Jews, and they soon received, from the supposed poverty of their understanding, as well as of their condition, the contemptuous epithet of Ebionites.23 In a few years after the return of the church of Jerusalem, it became a matter of doubt and controversy whether a man who sincerely acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah, but who still continued to observe the law of Moses, could possibly hope for salvation. The humane temper of Justin Martyr inclined him to answer this question in the affirmative; and though he expressed himself with the most guarded diffidence, he ventured to determine in favour of such an imperfect Christian, if he were content to practise the Mosaic ceremonies without pretending to assert their general use or necessity. But when Justin was pressed to declare the sentiment of the church, he confessed that there were very many among the orthodox Christians who not only excluded their Judaising brethren from the hope of salvation, but who declined any intercourse with them in the common offices of friendship, hospitality, and social life.24
"Eusebius, 1. iv. c. 6. Sulpicius Severus, ii. 31. By comparing their unsatisfactory accounts, Mosheim (p. 327, &c.l has drawn out a very distinct representation of the circumstances and motives of this revolution.
M Le Clerc (Hist. Ecclesiast. p. 477, 535) seems to have collected from Eusebius, Jerome, Epiphanius, and other writers, all the principal circumstances that relate to the Nazarenes or Ebionites. The nature of their opinions soon divided them into a stricter and a milder sect; and there is some reason to conjecture that the family of Jesus Christ remained members, at least, of the latter and more moderate party.
M Some writers have been pleased to create an Ebion, the imaginary author of their sect and name. But we can more safely rely on the learned Eusebius than on the vehement Tertullian, or the credulous Epiphanius. According to Le Clerc, the Hebrew word Khjonim may be translated into Latin by that of Pmipcres. See Hist. Ecclesiast. p. 477."
M See the very curious Dialogue of Justin Martyr with the Jew Tryphon.h The conference between them was held at Ephesus, in the reign of Antoninus Pius, and about twenty years after the return of the church of Pella to Jerusalem. For thiB date consult the accurate note of Tillemont, Momoirea Ecclesiostiques, torn. ii. p. 511.
* The opinion of Le Clerc is generally tory of the Church, vol. i. part ii. p. 612,
admitted, but Neander has suggested some Sec., Germ. edit.—M. good reasons for supposing that this term b Justin Martyr makes an important
only applied to poverty of condition. The distinction, which Gibbon has neglected
obscure history of theirtenets and divisions to notice. » * * There were some who
is clearly and rationally traced in his His- were not content with observing the Mosaic
Chap. XV. THE GNOSTICS. 161
The more rigorous opinion prevailed, as it was natural to expect, over the milder; and an eternal har of separation was fixed between the disciples of Moses and those of Christ. The unfortunate Ebionites, rejected from one religion as apostates, and from the other as heretics, found themselves compelled to assume a more decided character; and although some traces of that obsolete sect may be discovered as late as the fourth century, they insensibly melted away either into the church or the synagogue.25
While the orthodox church preserved a just medium between excessive veneration and improper contempt for the law of The Moses, the various heretics deviated into equal but opposite GnosUcsextremes of error and extravagance. From the acknowledged truth of the Jewish religion, the Ebionites had concluded. that it could never be abolished. From its supposed imperfections, the Gnostics as hastily inferred that it never was instituted by the wisdom of the Deity. There are some objections against the authority of Moses and the prophets which too readily present themselves to the sceptical mind; though they can only be derived from our ignorance of remote antiquity, and from our incapacity to form an adequate judgment of the Divine economy. These objections were eagerly embraced and as petulantly urged by the vain science of the Gnostics.26 As those heretics were, for the most part, averse to the pleasures of sense, they morosely arraigned the polygamy of the patriarchs, the gallantries of David, and the seraglio of Solomon. The conquest of the land of Canaan, and the extirpation of the unsuspecting natives, they were at a loss how to reconcile with the common notions of humanity and justice." But when they recollected the sanguinary list of murders, of executions, and of massacres, which stain almost every page of the
M Of all the systems of Christianity, that of Abyssinia is the only one which still adheres to the Mosaic rites (Geddes's Church History of ^Ethiopia, and Dissertations de La Grand snr la Relation du P. Lobo). The eunuch of the queen Candace might suggest some suspicions; but as we are assured (Socrates, i. 19; Sozomen, ii. 24; Ludolphus, p. 281) that the ^Ethiopians were not converted till the fourth century, it i3 more reasonable to believe that they respected the sabbath, and distinguished the forbidden meats, in imitation of the Jews, who, in a very early period, were seated on both sides of the Red Sea. Circumcision had been practised by the most ancient ^Ethiopians, from motives of health and cleanliness, which seem to be explained in the Recherches Philosophiques sur les Amencains, torn. ii. p. 117.
20 Beausobre, Histoire du Manicheisnie, 1. i. c. 3, has stated their objections, particularly those of Faustus, the adversary of Augustin, with the most learned impartiality.
law themselves, but enforced the same ob- thought otherwise; of the other party he
servance, as necessary to salvation, upon hiniBelf thought less favourably—ifiaiit
the heathen converts, and refused all social »«J revrtvi tux avaii^e/ieu. The former
intercourse with them if they did not con- by some are considered the Nazarenes,
form to the law. Justin Martyr himself the latter the Ebionites.—G. and M. freely admits those who kept the law them- ■ On the "war law" of the Jews, see
selves to Christian communion, though he Hist, of Jews, i. 137.—M. acknowledges that some, not the Church,
VOL. II. M
162 THE GNOSTICS. Chap. XV.
Jewish annals, they acknowledged that the barbarians of Palestine had exercised as much compassion towards their idolatrous enemies as they had ever shown to their friends or countrymen.87 Passing from the sectaries of the law to the law itself, they asserted that it was impossible that a religion which consisted only of bloody sacrifices and trifling ceremonies, and whose rewards as well as punishments were all of a carnal and temporal nature, could inspire the love of virtue, or restrain the impetuosity of passion. The Mosaic account of the creation and fall of man was treated with profane derision by the Gnostics, who would not listen with patience to the repose of the Deity after six days' labour, to the rib of Adam, the garden of Eden, the trees of life and of knowledge, the speaking serpent, the forbidden fruit, and the condemnation pronounced against human kind for the venial offence of their first progenitors.28 The God of Israel was impiously represented by the Gnostics as a being liable to passion and to error, capricious in his favour, implacable in his resentment, meanly jealous of his superstitious worship, and confining his partial providence to a single people, and to this transitory life. In such a character they could discover none of the features of the wise and omnipotent Father of the universe.2' They allowed that the religion of the Jews was somewhat less criminal than the idolatry of the Gentiles: but it was their fundamental doctrine that the Christ whom they adored as the first and brightest emanation of the Deity appeared upon earth to rescue mankind from their various errors, and to reveal a new system of truth and perfection. The •most learned of the fathers, by a very singular condescension, have imprudently admitted the sophistry of the Gnostics.b Acknowledging
17 Apud ipsos fides obstinata, misericordia in promptu: adversus omnea alios hostile odium. Tacit. Hist. v. 5. Surely Tacitus had seen the Jews with too favourable au eye.* The perusal of Joseph us must have destroyed the antithesis.
"Dr. Burnet (Archseologia, 1. ii. c. 7) has discussed the first chapters of Genesis with too much wit and freedom.
M The milder Gnostics considered Jehovah, the Creator, as a Being of a mixed nature between God and the Dsemon. Others confounded him with the evil principle. Consult the second century of the general history of Mosheim, which gives a very distinct, though concise, account of their strange opinions on this subject.
* Few writers have Buspected Tacitus be allowed for the grinding tyranny of the
of partiality towards the Jews. The later Roman governors. See Hist, of
whole later history of the Jews illustrates Jews, ii. 254.—M.
as well their strong feelings of humanity b The Gnostics, and the historian who
to their brethren, as their hostility to the has stated these plausible objections with
rest of mankind. The character and the so much force as almost to make them his
position of JoBephus with the Roman au- own, would have shown a more considerate
thorities must be kept in mind during and not less reasonable philosophy, if they
the perusal of his History. Perhaps he had considered the religion of Moses with
has not exaggerated the ferocity and fana- reference to the age in which it was pro
ticism of the Jews at that time; but insur- mulgated; if they had done justice to its
rectionary warfare is not the beat school sublime as well as its more imperfect views
for the humaner virtues, and much must of the divine nature; the humane and
Chap. XV. THE GNOSTICS. 163
that the literal sense is repugnant to every principle of faith as well as reason, they deem themselves secure and invulnerable behind the ample veil of allegory, which they carefully spread over every tender part of the Mosaic dispensation.80
It has been remarked with more ingenuity than truth that the virgin purity of the church was never violated by schism or
i . . Their sects
heresy before the reign of Trajan or Hadrian, about one progress, and hundred years after the death of Christ81 We may observe with much more propriety, that, during that period, the disciples of the Messiah were indulged in a freer latitude both of faith and practice than has ever been allowed in succeeding ages. As the terms of communion were insensibly 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.38 As soon as they launched out into that vast abyss, they delivered themselves to the guidance of a disordered imagination; and as the patha of error are various and infinite, the Gnostics were
30 See Beausobre, Hkt. du Manicheisme, 1. i. o. 4. Origen and St. Augustin were among the allegoriata.
31 Hegesippus, ap. Euseb. 1. iii. 32; iv. 22. Clemens Alexandria. Stromat. vii. 17.* n In the account of the Gnostics of the second and third centuries, MoBheim 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.*
civilising provisions of the Hebrew law, adds that up to this period the church had
as well as those adapted for an infant and remained pure and immaculate as a virgin,
barbarous people. See Hist, of Jews, i. Those who laboured to corrupt the doc
36, 37, &c.—M. trines of the Gospel worked as yet in ob
* The assertion of Hegesippus is not so scurity.—G.
positive: it is sufficient to read the whole h The Histoire du Gnosticisme of M.
passage in Eusebius to see that the former Matter is at once the fairest and most
part is modified by the latter. Hegesippus complete account of these sects.—M.