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gen; and, in addition to what is given by Tertullian, Epiphanius affords some further information, which there is no particular reason to distrust, respecting Marcion's mutilations of the New Testament.
As regards other Gnostic sects existing in the second century, our principal information must be derived from the earlier fathers who have been mentioned, Irenæus, Tertullian, Clement, and Origen.* For the most part, the later fathers who have written concerning the Gnostics, either copy their predecessors, or present us, instead of facts, with misconceptions, fictions, and calumnies; or perhaps report under some ancient name the doctrines and practices ascribed to supposed individuals of their own day, who, if such individuals really existed, had little in common with those by whom the name given to them had been formerly borne. If we would have any just conceptions of Christian antiquity,
I have already had occasion to mention the addition by another writer to Tertullian's work De Præscriptione. (See p. 67, note f.) The date of its composition is uncertain. It is a brief summary of some of the common accounts of the heretical sects, evidently made with little investigation, and, consequently, of little value. An undue weight is sometimes given it, by its being quoted as if written by Tertullian.
we must never lose sight of the distinction between the earlier and the later fathers, between those who lived before, and those who lived after, the establishment of Christianity as the religion of the Empire. It has been greatly neglected. It admits of particular exceptions and much qualification in favor of individuals. But, generally, a wide separation is to be made between the patient or stern sufferers of the ages of persecution, whose religion was the principle of their lives, and the courtier bishops who frequented the imperial palace, the factious and virulent party-leaders who rent the church with their dissensions, and the fiery ascetics to whom monastic superstition gave birth.
Or the later writers concerning the Gnostics, the first to be mentioned is Epiphanius, bishop of Salamis in Cyprus, during the latter part of the fourth century, and the author of a large work, "Against Eighty Heresies." He was a zealot of a mean mind and persecuting temper. He had a childish love of multiplying the sects and names of the heretics, and was unsparing in loading them with opprobrium. He was, undoubtedly, credulous, and has sometimes told in good faith what cannot be believed; but the stories that he relates on his own authority show
that his want of truth was equal to his want of good sense. In some of those charges which he is ever ready to bring against the heretics, he discovers a mind familiar with the most loathsome conceptions of impurity. His work, at the same time, is full of blunders and contradictory statements, arising from ignorance, negligence, and want of capacity. Still something may be learnt from it, and the testimony of Epiphanius may deserve attention, when his reports are intrinsically probable, when they coincide with, and complete, the information of some more credible writer, when they are in opposition to his own prejudices, or in cases in which there was no temptation to falsehood and small liability to mistake. Sometimes also we may form a probable conjecture, by considering on what facts a particular misrepresentation, coming from a writer of such a character, was likely to be founded. Even where his accounts in their gross state are false, it has been found possible by combining them with the information received from others, by subjecting them to an analysis and applying the proper tests, to detect and separate a portion of truth.
WE pass to a work on heresies, entitled "A Dialogue concerning the right Faith in God,"
De rectâ in Deum Fide.* This has sometimes been regarded as a work of Origen; but it is the production of a later writer, who lived after the establishment of Christianity as the religion of the Empire, and appears to have borne, like Origen, the name of Adamantius; it being now ascribed in its title to an author of that name. In determining the opinions of the ancient heretics, too much credit has been given to this work, which deserves little or no consideration when its accounts are inconsistent with those of the earlier fathers. It is the production of one who was very imperfectly acquainted with the real doctrines of the Gnostics, if he meant to represent them correctly, and who has, in consequence, improperly assigned to different sects opinions which it was his purpose to confute.†
It is published in the first volume of De la Rue's edition of Origen.
There is one error in this work, which is essentially inconsistent with what have been stated as the fundamental doctrines of the Gnostics, and which, from that circumstance, and from its strikingly illustrating the character of the work, may be here pointed out.
In the fourth section of this Dialogue (Origen. Opp. I. 840), one of the speakers, bearing the character of a Valentinian, is represented as reading a long passage, of which Valentinus himself is said to be the author. According to this passage, and the subsequent representations of the author of the Dialogue, Valentinus and his followers regarded the Supreme Being as the immediate architect of the material universe. But the full and clear testi
In the latter half of the fourth century, a work on heresies was composed by Philaster,
mony of all the more ancient writers on the subject, and the undoubted remains of the writings of Valentinians, leave no doubt that this is a gross error.
Fortunately we are able to trace the history of this misrepresentation. The pretended words of Valentinus, with a part of the Dialogue which follows, are transcribed from an older work, a dialogue that has been attributed to Methodius, a Christian writer about the close of the third century. This will appear from a comparison of the Dialogue de rectâ Fide, pp. 840-845, with the dialogue ascribed to Methodius, in the edition of his works by Combefis, pp. 352–366. In this older dialogue the pretended words of Valentinus appear as the language of one of the speakers, who bears the name of Valens or Valentinus, it is uncertain which, but who is neither represented as the distinguished heretic Valentinus, nor as belonging to his school, nor indeed as a heretic of any sect. In its original state, therefore, the passage can neither be regarded as one proceeding from Valentinus, nor as an exposition of the doctrine of the Valentinians. If the writer of the Dialogue de rectâ Fide intended to give a correct representation, it must have been through some strange misconception, and great ignorance of his subject, that he has made use of the passage as he has done.
It may here be observed, that the older dialogue ascribed to Methodius appears to have been in fact the composition of a still earlier writer, Maximus, supposed to have lived in the second century. It is named as his work, and a long quotation is given from it by Eusebius in his "Præparatio Evangelica," (Lib. VII. p. 337, seqq. Ed. Viger. conf. Origenis Philocalia, c. 24. pp. 82-90. Ed. Spencer); and in his Ecclesiastical History, he mentions Maximus as the author of what appears to be the same work. (Lib. V. c. 27.)
The great difficulty which presents itself, if any credit be attached to the representation of the Valentinian system given