JMC : Pre-Scholastic Philosophy / by Albert Stöckl

Carpocrates, Marcion, and Other Gnostics.

§ 61.

25. Carpocrates of Alexandria, who lived about the year A.D. 130, taught a kind of universalistic rationalism. According to him the Monas is the first parent, or ultimate source of all things. From this being proceeded a series of spirits, who rebelled against him, and created the world. The true Gnosis consists in the contemplation which lifts us above this created world to the primal Monas, and by which we acquire dominion over nature and the spirits. This degree of elevation was attained by Pythagoras and Plato, and in more especial manner by Jesus, the son of Joseph and Mary -- the perfect man. It was only in virtue of his union with the Monas that Jesus was enabled to work miracles. We ourselves can attain to the same state, and thus acquire dominion over the powers that govern the world.

26. Carpocrates further taught the pre-existence of souls, and this in thoroughly Platonic fashion. The same may be said of his teaching regarding the transmigration of souls. The souls that have not lived entirely free from fault must, in punishment, enter successively into various bodies, until at length, having done sufficient penance, they are set free, and live in communion with God and those angels who have formed the world. Furthermore, Carpocrates teaches contempt for the moral law. He does not attribute any efficacy to prayer. Man is saved by faith and love. Every work is of itself indifferent, and becomes good or bad merely by the intention of the individual who performs it. All that the earth brings forth, everything that conduces to human enjoyment must be held in common. This communism was further developed by Epiphanes, the son and disciple of Carpocrates. The religious worship of the followers of Carpocrates was a kind of demoniacal magic.

27. Marcion of Pontus was a pupil of Cerdo -- a Syrian, who taught in Rome about A.D. 140, and whose doctrines resembled those of Cerinthus. Marcion taught at Rome, in succession to Cerdo, about A.D. 160, after he had been excommunicated at Sinope (A.D. 140) by his father, the Bishop of that city, in punishment of a heinous crime. Marcion, like the other Gnostics, distinguishes between the Demiurgus and the Supreme God, but he does not derive the Demiurgus by emanation from the Supreme God, or by a fall from some higher state. He makes him equal to God, and eternal like God, but establishes an antagonism between him and God.

28. The consideration of the evil which exists in the world leads Marcion to deny that a God of goodness could have created such a world. He, therefore, supposes a God higher than the Creator of the world. The difference between the Supreme God and the Creator consists in this, that the Supreme God is good, the Demiurgus is not good, but only just. He is not good, for, as he is the Creator of the world, he is the author of the evil and the wickedness of the world, and is besides, a lover of war, is of changeable mood, self-contradictory -- such, in fact, as he appears to us in the Old Testament. He is merely just, that is to say, he executes the law he has laid down relentlessly, without mercy, and without compassion; of this we have evidence in the Old Testament.

29. The whole of the Old Testament must be ascribed to the Demiurgus. All the books it contains refer to his doctrines and his legislation. He ruled the Jews with a sceptre of iron, and carried out all his designs with unbending rigour (Justice). Up to the time of Christ's appearance in the world the God of goodness was unknown in this world. Even the Demiurgus had no knowledge of Him. He had not been revealed in nature nor in reason; not in the former, for nature was full of evils which could not exist in an order of things which was to stand as a manifestation of God's goodness; nor was God manifested to reason: on this point the contradictory doctrines of philosophers are evident proof. Nor had He revealed Himself in the Old Testament; this is evident from the contradiction between the Old Testament and the New. The God of goodness was, therefore, unknown. Christ was the first to reveal his existence.

30. To destroy the work of the Demiurgus or World-Creator, his ordinances, and everything connected therewith, and to deliver men from his oppressive yoke, the God of goodness revealed Himself in Jesus, who appeared as Man in Judaea. In Him was manifested the fulness of love and mercy, as rigour had been manifested in the God of the Old Testament. Matter, being the work of the Demiurgus, is essentially evil; Christ, the Son of the Father, could not, therefore, assume a real body, nor be born in the usual way. He appeared in the semblance merely of a body (Docetism). For reasons similar to those here adduced there can be no question of the resurrection of the body.

31. Christ revealed the God of goodness to men, and made known to them also the nature of the Demiurgus, and thus delivered them from the dominion of this latter. He promulgated no new Law; it was His mission to deliver men from the Law, not to subject them to a new Law. Christ is a Saviour only; He is not a law-giver. In rescuing mankind from the dominion of the Demiurgus He roused against Himself the hatred of the latter, and the Demiurgus in consequence excited his followers to put Christ to death. The sufferings of Christ were, however, merely apparent, for His body was no more than an appearance. The Jews still expect the Messiah promised them by the Demiurgus to gather them together out of the Dispersion.

32. The ethical principles of Marcion are of the most rigid kind. He forbade his followers the use of flesh and wine; bound them to rigorous fasts, especially on the Sabbath, as on this day the Creator rested, and fasting is a symbol of sorrow. All this was contrived in opposition to the Demiurgus. Marriage and the procreation of children are contrivances of the Demiurgus, who, in the Old Testament, made marriage obligatory; both were forbidden by Marcion. He admitted to baptism only persons who were unmarried and continent. One of his followers, however, deduced from his principles entirely opposite rules of conduct. Opposition to the Demiurgus was adduced by them as justification of prostitution, adultery, and other vices, for by indulging in these vices they considered they were resisting the World-Creator, who had forbidden these offences in the Old Testament. In this way the system of Marcion led to the same excesses as that of Carpocrates. Apelles was the most remarkable of his disciples.

33. We have yet to mention the two Gnostics, Bardesanes and Hermogenes. Bardesanes, a native of Edessa, lived towards the close of the second century, and taught doctrines analogous to those of Valentinus. He assumes two essential principles, the unknown Father, and Matter, from which Satan was produced. From the former emanated seven AEons, who, in conjunction with the Father, constitute the Pleroma. The soul of man is derived from the Pleroma, but it has been relegated to this lower world in punishment of its faults. To redeem it Christ appeared in the world. He was born of Mary, but His body was formed of celestial elements.

34. Hermogenes lived at the beginning of the second century, and was, probably, an inhabitant of Carthage. According to Tertullian, he supposed God and Matter to be the primary dual elements. God could not produce the world from His own substance, for He is indivisible and unchangeable. He could not produce it from nothing, for in this case His infinite goodness would have forced him to make all things good; whereas, in actual fact, there is much wickedness and evil in the world. We must, therefore, assume an eternal Matter, out of which God formed the world. This is the only assumption which enables us to explain the existence of evil. This assumption gives us an element which is antagonistic to the action of God, and this element is Evil. According to Hermogenes, the soul of man is formed from Matter.

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