Page images

on the minds of men ; that there was no considerable body of heretics bearing his name in the second and third centuries; and that no writings of his were extant of any celebrity. Probably there were none whatever; for, except a story of Epiphanius about a pretended gospel, which we shall elsewhere have occasion to examine, none are referred to by any writer. .

Justin Martyr, as has been mentioned, does not name Cerinthus. On the contrary, he implies his ignorance of any individuals who separated the man Jesus and the Æon Christ in the manner in which Cerinthus and his followers are said to have done by Irenæus. In a passage, in which he is speaking of the Gnostics generally, and in which he particularly mentions the names of the leading sects, he describes them as “not teaching the doctrines of Christ, but those of the spirits of delusion ;” yet “professing themselves to be Christians, and professing that Jesus who was crucified was the Lord and Christ.”* According to the account of Irenæus, Cerinthus and his followers could have made no such profession. The distinction, that was in fact supposed by the theosophic Gnostics between the Æon Christ, and the man

* Dial. cum. Tryph. p. 207.

Jesus, Justin, if it existed in his day, overlooked; and it could hardly, therefore, have been a doctrine that had its origin in the first century, when Cerinthus is said to have lived.

Of this reputed heretic, we have further notices in Epiphanius ; * but with that writer we enter the region of fable. After repeating, in effect, the brief account of Irenæus, he subjoins, that Cerinthus was a zealot for the Mosaic Law;t though, with a disregard of probability common enough in his stories, he states at the same time, that Cerinthus "affirmed that the giver of the Law was not good.” | Epiphanius, among other fictions, pretends that he was a leader of those Jewish Christians, mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, who contended that the Gentile converts must be circumcised. He thus ascribes to him the two opposite heresies of the Gnostics and the Ebionites. It may be noted, also, as remarkable even among the

* Hæres. XXVIII. Opp. I. 110, seqq. † Ibid., pp. 110-113.

Η Φάσκει γάρ τον νόμον δεδωκότα ουκ αγαθών. Ιbid., p. 111. Such a representation, says Massuet, the Benedictine editor of Irenæus, hardly obtains credit with men in their senses, vix fidem apud sobrios oblinet. See his Dissertatio prima in Libb. Irenæi. De Cerintho, n. 127. p. 53.

blunders of Epiphanius, that he first follows Irenæus in stating the belief of Cerinthus to have been, that Jesus suffered and rose again, while Christ returned to the Pleroma, * and shortly after asserts, that Cerinthus “dared to affirm that Christ suffered and was crucified, and was not yet raised, but would rise in the general resurrection.” † He concludes by expressing his uncertainty whether Cerinthus and Merinthus were the same or two different heretics.

From the contradictory accounts of Cerinthus ; from the silence respecting him of the -- four Christian writers of highest eminence during the period in which they lived, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Origen ; from the implication of Justin, that he knew of no heretics holding such opinions as Irenæus ascribes to Cerinthus; and from the fables which Epiphanius has connected with his name, we may infer that very little was certainly known concerning him. Of the stories relating to him, it may seem the most probable solution, that there was a heretic of that name in the first century, of whom little or no information had been preserved,

* Hæres. XXVIII.



# Ibid., p. 113.

except that he was a heretic; and that, it not being certainly known in what his error consisted, Cerinthus had, hence, the ill-fortune to have ascribed to him divers contradictory heresies, which different writers supposed to have had their origin in that early period, and was sometimes made a Gnostic, sometimes an E bjonite, and sometimes a millennarian, and the forger of the Apocalypse.

[ocr errors]

From the fathers, we can derive no information concerning the existence of Gnostics in the first century, more satisfactory than what has been stated. It has been thought, how-.ever, that there are references to them in the New Testament itself; and this is a subject that has been much discussed. It may be, that they are referred to in what has been called the Second Epistle of Peter, and in the Epistle ascribed to Jude. But these writings were not generally acknowledged by the early Christians as the works of those apostles; and we have no reason to assign them an earlier date than the first half of the second century. There seems to me no good reason for believing that Gnostics are taken notice of in any genuine writing of an apostle ; nor, I may here add, do I think it probable, that any

Gnostic system

had been formed, or any Gnostic sect was in existence, before the end of the first century.

In the Epistles of St. Paul, the false teachers and the false doctrines, that he refers to, were for the most part evidently of Jewish origin. Nor do I perceive in them an allusion to any peculiar doctrine of the Gnostics. When we keep in mind what those peculiar doctrines were, — the introduction of an Unknown God; - the ascribing of the creation, and of the origin of the Jewish religion, to an imperfect being or beings;—the representing of Christ as a manifestation of the Unknown God, or a messenger from him, who merely used Jesus as an organ for his communications, or had only the unsubstantial semblance of a human body ;and the speculations of the theosophic Gnostics, founded on hypostatizing the ideas and attributes of God; — when we recollect what were the characteristic doctrines of the Gnostics, we shall perceive, I think, that there is no reference to them in those passages, in which St. Paul has been supposed, by some, to have had them in view. The strong, general language in which he sometimes speaks of the false teachers of his day, though often sufficiently applicable to a portion of the Gnostics, as it is to false teachers of later times, contains nothing

« PreviousContinue »