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Some state of things existed in Egypt in the first half of the second century which gave occasion to his representation. The minds of many, it may be presumed, were affected by Christianity, who had but a very imperfect knowledge of what Christianity was, and some of whom combined it very grossly with their former errors.
It seems probable that the book mentioned by Epiphanius, the Gospel of Eve, containing the wisdom which Eve learned from the Serpent, had its origin among certain reputed heretics, who, according to Origen, were not Christians. They were called Ophians or Ophites (we might render the name Serpentists), from the Greek word opis, a serpent; because, as Origen says, they took the part of the Serpent who seduced Eve, and represented him as having given good counsel to our first parents.* Irenæus, in one of the last chapters of his first book,t before referred to, gives an account of the doctrines of a certain sect not named by him, but which, as is evident from a comparison with Origen and other subsequent writers, was that of the Ophians. Nothing entitled to much
* Origen. cont. Celsum. Lib. VI. § 28. Opp. I. pp. 651, 652. † Cap. 30. See p. 209.
credit is added by the later historians of the heretics to the notices of Irenæus and Origen.
Origen's mention of them is incidental. There is no reason to distrust its essential correctness, but he enters into no general exposition of their system. The account of Irenæus is confused and improbable, and appears to have been put together from imperfect and inconsistent sources of information. The statements respecting them by him and by the other writers who speak of them as heretics, as the author of the Addition to Tertullian, Epiphanius, and Theodoret, when taken in connexion, present a system of absurdities so palpably irreconcilable, that no sect could have professed it for their creed. We may compare it to a machine composed of parts of various others, interfering among themselves in such a manner, that evidently it could never have been in oper
We can therefore admit, with any confidence, only some very general conclusions respecting the doctrines of the Ophians.* Whether Christians or not, they appear to have been of the class of theosophic Gnostics, holding very dis
* See the account of Irenæus, as before referred to, Lib. I. c. 30; and that of Origen in his work, Against Celsus, Lib. VI. Opp. I. pp. 648-661. Lib. VII. pp. 722, 723. Lib. III. p. 455.
paraging opinions of the Creator, whom they regarded as the god of the Jews. They believed that he, with six other powers produced by him, informed and ruled seven spheres surrounding the earth (those of the sun and of the planets known to the ancients); and that through these spheres the soul had to pass after death in its ascent to the Spiritual World. The way, which might otherwise be barred by those powers, was open to such as were initiated in their mysteries, and had learned the proper invocations which the soul must address to them in its ascent, to obtain its passage. Their doctrines have the appearance of being a caricature of the doctrines of the proper Gnostics. Maintaining the common opinion that the Creator was not spiritual, and regarding him as being opposed to the manifestation and developement of the spiritual principle in man, they honored the Serpent for having thwarted his narrow purposes, withdrawn our first parents from their allegiance to him, induced them to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and thus brought them the knowledge of "that Power which is over All." By a serpent the Phœnicians and Egyptians are said to have symbolized the Agathodæmon, the benevolent power in nature (the god Cneph of the Egyp
tians); and the Ophians, perhaps, regarded the Serpent under the same aspect. Clement of Alexandria once incidentally mentions the Ophians, in speaking of the origin of the names of different sects. Some, he says, are denominated "from their systems and from the objects they honor, as the Caïnists and the Ophians." + The Caïnists or Cainites (whom we shall have occasion to notice hereafter) are represented as magnifying Cain. The Ophians honored the Serpent.
Nothing concerning the Ophians would seem to be better established than this fact. But it
is not stated by Irenæus. On the contrary, according to his account of their system, the Serpent was originally vicious, produced by the Creator in the dregs of matter, and treacherous to him. Afterwards, indeed, he appears employed by Sophia or Wisdom, the offspring of the Unknown God, the mother, but adversary of the Creator, for the purpose of seducing our first parents to eat of the forbidden fruit; by which they obtained a knowledge of the Supreme Divinity. But the Creator, who was himself desirous of being regarded as the highest God, being in consequence angry with the
* Eusebii Præparatio Evangelica, Lib. I. c. 10. Stromat. VII. § 17. p. 900.
Serpent, expelled him from heaven, where he had before dwelt, and cast him down to earth. After this fall he is made to correspond to the serpent of the Apocalypse, the Devil; and is represented as producing six other evil Powers (answering to the six subordinate Powers of the Creator), and as being, together with them, full of malice equally toward men and their Maker.
But we have good reason to believe that Irenæus, our earliest, and one of our two principal authorities, has fallen into great errors respecting the system of the Ophians, when we find him saying, notwithstanding what has been stated, that they affirmed the Serpent to be "the Nous (Intellect) himself ";* for this was the name by which theosophic Gnostics designated their first emanation from the Supreme Being. Elsewhere he says, that some of the Ophians maintained, that Wisdom herself became the Serpent. And in connexion with this we cannot but be struck with the intrinsic improbability of the scheme that he ascribes to the sect; according to which the Devil was employed for the purpose of communicating spiritual wisdom and a knowledge of the true God
* Lib. I. c. 30. § 5. p. 110.
† Ibid. § 15. p. 112.