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books," directing the practice of the most impure rites, and enjoining a life, which is but one course of vice, as the means of perfection, and of identification after death with the Divinity, may open a new view of human nature, and serve to render credible what we could not else readily believe. Yet the rites observed in the worship of some of the gods of Greece, Rome, and Egypt, were in their nature similar to those imposed by the Tantras.
BUT, though we receive as essentially true the accounts of Irenæus and Clement respecting the pseudo-Christians whom we have been considering, we cannot extend the same credit to the outrageous charges, brought by writers of the fourth and fifth centuries, particularly by Epiphanius, against some of those whom they represented as heretics. There is a most offensive specimen of them in the account which that writer gives of a pretended sect, to which, with the confusion frequent in his writings, he applies the name of "Gnostics," used not as a generic but a specific name.* The origin of his appropriation of the term to a particular sect may be thus explained.
* Hæres. XXVI. Opp. I. 82.
Irenæus speaks of the Gnostics whom he supposes to have existed antecedently to their being split into different sects, and called after different leaders, simply under that generic name, and uses the same general name also concerning those whom he does not refer to any particular class. Especially at the conclusion of his first book, after having given an account of the principal Gnostic sects, distinguished by particular names, as referred to their respective leaders, he says, that beside these a multitude of Gnostics arose, whose different doctrines he proceeds to mention, without denoting those who held them by any specific appellations. Among them were those who were afterwards named Ophians and Cainites. Irenæus likewise says, that the Carpocratians called themselves Gnostics; by which appropriation of the name, they, of course, meant nothing more than that they were "enlightened men."
The latter remark of Irenæus has led Eusebius to affirm, after speaking of Simon Magus, Menander, Saturninus, and Basilides, that
* Lib. I. cc. 29–31. p. 107, seqq. — In the first sentence of chapter twenty-ninth, the word "Barbelo" appears to be an interpolation.
Lib. I. c. 25. § 6.
"Irenæus writes that Carpocrates was the father of another sect called that of the Gnostics."* The passage is remarkable as showing how confused were the notions of Eusebius concerning the earlier heretics, and may lead to the conclusion that, in his time, they had almost sunk out of notice. In fact, he appears to have had little or no personal knowledge of them, and to have used Irenæus as his principal authority in speaking of them. Him, it seems, he had consulted so negligently, that among the various sects of Gnostics he thus appropriates the name to one, the Carpocratians,† as if it belonged to them exclusively.
Apparently, Epiphanius, also, misapprehended Irenæus, mistaking his use of the term "Gnostics" as a generic name, in the passages before mentioned, for its use as a specific appellation, and, in consequence, formed a class of subordinate Gnostics.I This fictitious sect (as I conceive it to be) he has loaded with charges of absurd doctrines, abominable crimes, and loathsome impurities. Scruples are felt,"
Hist. Eccles. Lib. IV. c. 7.
† In appropriating it to the Carpocratians, he differs from Epiphanius, who distinguishes between the Carpocratians and his Gnostics; and who says (Opp. I. pp. 77, 82.), that the latter had their origin from the Nicolaïtans.
Hæres. XXVI. Opp. I. 82, seqq.
says Beausobre, "about giving the lie to Epiphanius, who represents this sect as Christians; but, for myself, I feel much stronger scruples against ranking among Christian heretics, individuals who were the most profane of men, if what is said of them be true."* Certainly, such individuals as Epiphanius describes could not have been Christians; but it may further be observed, that his authority is not of a kind to afford ground for believing, that such individuals ever existed, supposing their existence possible. Epiphanius is a writer as deficient in plausibility, as in decency and veracity. He has in an extraordinary manner implicated his own character in his account; for after describing practices, which no mind not thoroughly corrupt could regard as other than ineffably odious, he asserts that he had gained his knowledge from women belonging to the sect, who, in his youth, had endeavoured to corrupt his virtue and seduce him to join it; t that he had been under strong temptation, but that God in his mercy had delivered him, in answer to his prayers and groans; and that
* Histoire de Manichée et du Manichéisme, Tome II. p. 68. According to his own account, he was acquainted with the private sign, by which the members of the sect recognised each other. Hæres. XXVI. § 4. pp. 85, 86.
then he had denounced the members of the sect, whose names had before been unknown, to the " bishops in that place," (what bishops, or what place, he does not specify,) and that "the city," (a nameless city,) had in consequence been purged by the banishment of about eighty individuals.*
WHILE, however, we reject in the gross the account of Epiphanius, as not true of any body of men, it does not follow that it is throughout a mere fabrication. There may have been in his age crazy and vicious fanatics, more or less resembling the Vámácharis of India, who afforded a certain foundation for it. Some facts are also to be discovered in what Epiphanius has brought together. He mentions and quotes a book of some interest, of which he affords the only account, and concerning which there seems no reason to suspect him of mistake or falsehood. It was called the "Gospel of Eve," as containing the wisdom which Eve had learned from the Serpent. That it was so called is one among the many proofs, which make evident what we shall hereafter have occasion
to observe, that the title "6 Gospel" did not
* Hæres. XXVI. § 17. pp. 99, 100.
† Ibid. § 2. p. 84.