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received from the supposed poverty of their understanding, as well as of their condition, the contemptuous epithet of Ebionites."
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 Judaizing brethren from the hope of salvation, but who declined any intercourse with them in the common offices of friendship, hospitality, and social life." The more rigorous opinion prevailed, as it was natural to expect, over the milder; and an eternal bar 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.11
1 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 ebjonim may be translated into Latin by that of pavperei. See Hist. Ecclesiast. p. 477.
* See the very curious dialogue of Justin Martyr with the Jew Tryphon. The conference between them was held at Ephesus, in the reign of Antoninus Pius, and about twenty years after the return of the church at Pella to Jerusalem. For this date, consult the accurate note of Tillemont, Memoires Ecclesiastiques, torn. *. p. 511.
• 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, gar la Relation du P. Lobo). The eunuch of queen Candace might suggest some suspicions; but, as we are assured (Socrates, 1.19. Sozomen, 2. 24. Ludolphus, p. 281.) that the ^Ethiopians were not converted till the fourth century, it is 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 Sut les Americains, tom. 2- p. 117.
The While the orthodox church preserved a just
Gnostics, medium between excessive veneration and improper contempt for the law of Moses, the various heretics deviated into equal but opposite extremes 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 was never 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.0 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 Jewish annals, they acknowledged that the barbarians of Palestine had exercised as much compassion towards their idolatrous enemies, as they had ever shewn to their friends or countrymen.*1 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." 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) 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 va rious 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. Acknowledging 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.8
c Beausobre, Histoire du Manicheisme, lib. 1.e. 3. has stated their objections, particularly those of Faustus, the adversary of Augustin, with the most learned impartiality.
« Apud ipsos fides obstiuata, miseiicordia in promptft. advcrtus omnes alioi
hostile ddiuni. Tacit. Hist. 5. 4. Surely Tacitus had seen the Jews with too favourable an eye. The perusal of Josephus must have destroyed the antithesis.
C Dr. Bumet (Archaeologia, lib. 2. c. 7.) has discussed the first chapters of Genesis with too much wit and freedom.
'The milder Gnostics considered Jehovah, the Creator, as a being of a mixed nature between God and the demon. Others confounded him with the evil principle. Consult the second century of the general history of Moaheim, which gives a very distinct, though concise, account of their strange opinions on this subject.
Their It has been remarked with more ingenuity than
sects, truth, that the virgin purity of the church was and 'never violated by schism or heresy before the reign uence. Of Trajan or Hadrian, aboutonehundred yearsafter the death of Christ.11 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 sub, lime 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,
* See Beausobre, Hist, da Manicheisme, lib. 1. c. 4. Origen and St. Augustine were among the Allegorists.
h Hegesippus, ap. Euseb. lib. 3. 32.4. 42. Clemens Aleiandrin. Stromat. 7.17,
* In the account of the Gnostics of the second and third centuries, Mosheim is ingenious and candid: Le Clerc dull, but exact; Beausobie almost always an apologist; and it is much to be feared that the primitive fathers are very frequently calumniators.
they delivered themselves 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,11 of whom the most celebrated appear to have been the Basilidians, the Valentinians the Marcionites, and, in a still later period, the Manicheans. Each of these sects could boast of its bishops and congregations, of its doctors and martyrs;1 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
* See the catalogues of Irenanis 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.
1 Eusebius, lib. 4. c. 15. Sdzomen, lib. 2. c. St. See in Bayle, in the article of tlarcion, a curious detail of a dispute on that subject. It should seem that some of the Gnostics (the Basilidiacs) declined, and even refused the honour of martyrdorn. Their reasons were singular and abstruse. See Mosheim, p. 359.
MI 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 Smym. (Fair. Apost. torn, 2, p. 34.) should choose to employ a vague and doubtful tradition, instead of quoting the certain testimony of the evangelists.
"Faciunt favos et vespae; faciunt ecclesias et Marcioniiae, is the strong expression from Tertullian, which I am obliged to quote from memory. In the time of Epiphanius (advers. Hfereses, p.302.) the Marcionites were very numerous in Italy, Syria, Egypt, Arabia, and Persia.