Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series II/Volume I/Church History of Eusebius/Book IV/Chapter 7
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Chapter VII.—The Persons that became at that Time Leaders of Knowledge falsely so-called.
1. As the churches throughout the world were now shining like the most brilliant stars, and faith in our Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ was flourishing among the whole human race, the demon who hates everything that is good, and is always hostile to the truth, and most bitterly opposed to the salvation of man, turned all his arts against the Church. In the beginning he armed himself against it with external persecutions.
2. But now, being shut off from the use of such means, he devised all sorts of plans, and employed other methods in his conflict with the Church, using base and deceitful men as instruments for the ruin of souls and as ministers of destruction. Instigated by him, impostors and deceivers, assuming the name of our religion, brought to the depth of ruin such of the believers as they could win over, and at the same time, by means of the deeds which they practiced, turned away from the path which leads to the word of salvation those who were ignorant of the faith.
3. Accordingly there proceeded from that Menander, whom we have already mentioned as the successor of Simon, a certain serpent-like power, double-tongued and two-headed, which produced the leaders of two different heresies, Saturninus, an Antiochian by birth, and Basilides, an Alexandrian. The former of these established schools of godless heresy in Syria, the latter in Alexandria.
4. Irenæus states that the false teaching of Saturninus agreed in most respects with that of Menander, but that Basilides, under the pretext of unspeakable mysteries, invented monstrous fables, and carried the fictions of his impious heresy quite beyond bounds.
5. But as there were at that time a great many members of the Church who were fighting for the truth and defending apostolic and ecclesiastical doctrine with uncommon eloquence, so there were some also that furnished posterity through their writings with means of defense against the heresies to which we have referred.
6. Of these there has come down to us a most powerful refutation of Basilides by Agrippa Castor, one of the most renowned writers of that day, which shows the terrible imposture of the man.
7. While exposing his mysteries he says that Basilides wrote twenty-four books upon the Gospel, and that he invented prophets for himself named Barcabbas and Barcoph, and others that had no existence, and that he gave them barbarous names in order to amaze those who marvel at such things; that he taught also that the eating of meat offered to idols and the unguarded renunciation of the faith in times of persecution were matters of indifference; and that he enjoined upon his followers, like Pythagoras, a silence of five years.
8. Other similar things the above-mentioned writer has recorded concerning Basilides, and has ably exposed the error of his heresy.
9. Irenæus also writes that Carpocrates was a contemporary of these men, and that he was the father of another heresy, called the heresy of the Gnostics, who did not wish to transmit any longer the magic arts of Simon, as that one had done, in secret, but openly. For they boasted—as of something great—of love potions that were carefully prepared by them, and of certain demons that sent them dreams and lent them their protection, and of other similar agencies; and in accordance with these things they taught that it was necessary for those who wished to enter fully into their mysteries, or rather into their abominations, to practice all the worst kinds of wickedness, on the ground that they could escape the cosmic powers, as they called them, in no other way than by discharging their obligations to them all by infamous conduct.
10. Thus it came to pass that the malignant demon, making use of these ministers, on the one hand enslaved those that were so pitiably led astray by them to their own destruction, while on the other hand he furnished to the unbelieving heathen abundant opportunities for slandering the divine word, inasmuch as the reputation of these men brought infamy upon the whole race of Christians.
11. In this way, therefore, it came to pass that there was spread abroad in regard to us among the unbelievers of that age, the infamous and most absurd suspicion that we practiced unlawful commerce with mothers and sisters, and enjoyed impious feasts.
12. He did not, however, long succeed in these artifices, as the truth established itself and in time shone with great brilliancy.
13. For the machinations of its enemies were refuted by its power and speedily vanished. One new heresy arose after another, and the former ones always passed away, and now at one time, now at another, now in one way, now in other ways, were lost in ideas of various kinds and various forms. But the splendor of the catholic and only true Church, which is always the same, grew in magnitude and power, and reflected its piety and simplicity and freedom, and the modesty and purity of its inspired life and philosophy to every nation both of Greeks and of Barbarians.
14. At the same time the slanderous accusations which had been brought against the whole Church also vanished, and there remained our teaching alone, which has prevailed over all, and which is acknowledged to be superior to all in dignity and temperance, and in divine and philosophical doctrines. So that none of them now ventures to affix a base calumny upon our faith, or any such slander as our ancient enemies formerly delighted to utter.
15. Nevertheless, in those times the truth again called forth many champions who fought in its defense against the godless heresies, refuting them not only with oral, but also with written arguments.
- ψευδωνύμου γνώσεως. Compare 1 Tim. vi. 20.
- This statement is of course an exaggeration. See above, Bk. II. chap. 3, note 1.
- These two paragraphs furnish an excellent illustration of Eusebius’ dualistic and transcendental conception of history. In his opinion, heresy was not a natural growth from within, but an external evil brought upon the Church by the devil, when he could no longer persecute. According to this conception the Church conquers this external enemy, heresy, and then goes on as before, unaffected by it. In agreement with this is his conception of heretics themselves, whom he, in common with most other Christians of that age, considered without exception wicked and abandoned characters.
- Eusebius’ belief that persecution had ceased at the time of Hadrian is an illusion (see below, chap. 8, note 14) which falls in with his general conceptions upon this subject—conceptions which ruled among Christian writers until the end of the fourth century.
- See Bk. III. chap. 26.
- Saturninus is called Saturnilus by Hippolytus, Epiphanius, and Theodoret, and his followers Saturnilians by Hegesippus, quoted in chap. 22, below. Irenæus (Adv. Hær. I. 24) and Hippolytus (VII. 16) give accounts of the man and his doctrine which are evidently taken from the same source, probably the lost Syntagma of Justin Martyr. Neither of them seems to have had any independent information, nor do any other writers know more about him than was contained in that original source. Irenæus was possibly Eusebius’ sole authority, although Irenæus assigns Saturninus only to Syria, while Eusebius makes him a native of Antioch. Hippolytus says that he “spent his time in Antioch of Syria,” which may have been the statement of the original, or may have been a mere deduction from a more general statement such as Irenæus gives. In the same way Eusebius may have needed no authority for his still more exact statement.
- Basilides was one of the greatest and most famous of the Gnostics. Irenæus (I. 24) and the early Compendium of Hippolytus (now lost, but used together with Irenæus’ work by Epiphanius in his treatise against heresies) described a form of Basilidianism which was not the original, but a later corruption of the system. On the other hand, Clement of Alexandria surely, and Hippolytus, in the fuller account in his Philosoph. (VII. 2 sq.), probably drew their knowledge of the system directly from Basilides’ own work, the Exegetica, and hence represent the form of doctrine taught by Basilides himself,—a form differing greatly from the later corruptions of it which Irenæus discusses. This system was very profound, and bore in many respects a lofty character. Basilides had apparently few followers (his son Isidore is the only prominent one known to us); and though his system created a great impression at the start,—so much so that his name always remained one of the most famous of Gnostic names,—it had little vitality, and soon died out or was corrupted beyond recognition. He was mentioned of course in all the general works against heresies written by the Fathers, but no one seems to have composed an especial refutation of his system except Agrippa Castor, to whom Eusebius refers. Irenæus informs us that he taught at Alexandria, Hippolytus (VII. 15) mentions simply Egypt, while Epiphanius (XXI. 1) names various Egyptian cities in which he labored, but it is evident that he is only enumerating places in which there were Basilidians in his time. It is not certain whether he is to be identified with the Basilides who is mentioned in the Acts of Archelaus as preaching in Persia. For an excellent account of Basilides and his system, see the article by Hort in the Dict. of Christ. Biog.; and in addition to the works of Neander, Baur, and Lipsius on Gnosticism in general, see especially Uhlhorn’s Das Basilidianische System, Göttingen, 1855.
- See Irenæus, Adv. Hær. I. 24.
- ἐκκλησιαστικῶν ἀνδρῶν.
- The only one of these—“that furnished posterity with means of defense against heresies”—whom Eusebius mentions is Agrippa Castor, and it is evident that he knew of no others. Moreover, it is more than doubtful whether Agrippa Castor belonged to that time. We do not know when he wrote, but it is hardly possible that the Church had at that period any one capable of answering such a work as the Commentary of Basilides, or any one who would wish to if he could. The activity of the Church was at this early period devoted chiefly if not wholly to the production of apologies for the defense of the Church against the attacks of enemies from the outside, and to the composition of apocalypses. Eusebius in the next chapter mentions Hegesippus as another of these “writers of the time.” But the passage which he quotes to prove that Hegesippus wrote then only proves that the events mentioned took place during his lifetime, and not necessarily within forty or fifty years of the time at which he was writing. The fact is, that Hegesippus really wrote about 175 a.d. (later therefore than Justin Martyr), and in chap. 21 of this book Eusebius restores him to his proper chronological place. The general statement made here by Eusebius in regard to the writers against heresy during the reign of Hadrian rest upon his preconceived idea of what must have been the case. If the devil raised up enemies against the truth, the Church must certainly have had at the same time defenders to meet them. It is a simple example of well-meaning subjective reconstruction. He had the work of Agrippa Castor before him, and undoubtedly believed that he lived at the time stated (which indeed we cannot absolutely deny), and believed, moreover, that other similar writers, whose names he did not know, lived at the same time.
- Of Agrippa Castor we know only what Eusebius tells us here. Jerome (de vir. ill. chap. 21) adds nothing new, and Theodoret’s statement (Fab. I. 4), that Agrippa wrote against Basilides’ son, Isidore, as well as against Basilides himself, is simply an expansion of Eusebius’ account, and does not imply the existence of another work. Agrippa’s production, of which we do not know even the title, has entirely disappeared.
- εἰς τὸ εὐαγγέλιον βιβλία. Clement of Alexandria (Strom. IV. 12) quotes from the twenty-third book of the Exegetica of Basilides. Origen (Hom. in Luc. I.) says that Basilides “had even the audacity to write a Gospel according to Basilides,” and this remark is repeated by Ambrose (Exp. in Luc. I. 1), and seems to be Jerome’s authority for the enumeration of a Gospel of Basilides among the Apocryphal Gospels in his Comment in Matt., præf. We know nothing more about this Gospel, and it is quite possible that Origen mistook the Exegetica for a Gospel. We do not know upon what Gospels Basilides wrote his Commentary (or Exegetica), but it is hardly probable that he would have expounded his own Gospel even if such a work existed. The passage from the Exegetica which Clement quotes looks to me like a part of an exposition of John ix. (although Lipsius, in the Dict. of Christ. Biog. II. 715, suggests Luke xxi. 12). Meanwhile, in the Acta Archelai, chap. 55 (see Gallandii Bibl. PP. III. 608), is a quotation from “the thirteenth book of the treatises (tractatuum) of Basilides,” which is an exposition of the parable of Dives and Lazarus (Luke xvi.). If this is the same work, it would seem that the Exegetica must have included at least Luke and John, possibly Matthew also, for we know that the Gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John were all used by the Basilidians. The respective positions in the work of the expositions of the passages from Luke and John (the former in the thirteenth, the latter in the twenty-third, book) would seem, however, to exclude Matthew, if the books were at all of equal length. If Lipsius were correct in regarding the latter passage as an exposition of Luke xxi. 12, there would be no evidence that the Commentary covered more than a single Gospel.
- According to Epiphanius, some of the Ophites appealed to a certain prophet called Barcabbas. What his connection was with the one mentioned here we do not know. Clement of Alexandria (Strom. VI. 6) speaks of the Expositions of the Prophet Parchor by Isidore, the son of Basilides. This may be another of Basilides’ prophets, but is more probably identical with the oft-mentioned Barcoph. In the second book of these Expositions, as quoted by Clement, occurs a reference to the prophecy of Cham or Ham. Rienstra (De Euseb. Hist. Eccles. p. 29) thinks that Agrippa Castor was mistaken in saying that Basilides mentioned these prophets; but there seems to be no good reason to deny the accuracy of the report, even though we know nothing more about the prophets mentioned. Hort (Dict. of Christ. Biog., article Barcabbas) thinks it likely that the prophecies current among the various Gnostic bodies belonged to the apocryphal Zoroastrian literature.
- This was not a doctrine of Basilides himself, but of his followers (compare the accounts of Irenæus and Hippolytus). If Agrippa Castor represented Basilides’ position thus, as Eusebius says he did (though Eusebius may be only following Irenæus), it is an evidence that he did not live at the early date to which Eusebius assigns him, and this goes to confirm the view stated above, in note 10. Basilides himself taught at least a moderate asceticism, while his followers went off into crude dualism and moral license (see the excellent account of Schaff, Ch. Hist. II. 466 sq.).
- Exactly what is meant by this “five years of silence” is uncertain. Whether it denoted unquestioning and silent obedience of all commands, as it meant in the case of the Pythagoreans (if, indeed, the traditions in regard to the latter have any basis in fact), or strict secrecy as to the doctrines taught, cannot be decided. The report in regard to the Basilidians, in so far as it has any truth, probably arose on the ground of some such prohibition, which may have been made by some follower of Basilides, if not by the latter himself. A bond of secrecy would lend an air of mystery to the school, which would accord well with the character of its later teachings. But we cannot make Basilides responsible for such proceedings. Agrippa Castor, as reproduced here by Eusebius, is our sole authority for the enjoinment of silence by Basilides.
- See Irenæus, Adv. Hær. I. 25.
- The date of the rise of Gnosticism cannot be fixed. Indeed, all the requisite conditions existed from the beginning. It was the “acute Verweltlichung” (as Harnack calls it) of Christianity, the development of it in connection with the various ethnic philosophies, and it began as soon as Christianity came in contact with the Greek mind. At first it was not heretical, simply because there were no standards by which to try it. There was only the preaching of the Christians; the canon was not yet formed; episcopacy was not yet established; both arose as safeguards against heresy. It was in the time of Hadrian, perhaps, that these speculations began to be regarded as heresies, because they contradicted certain fundamental truths to which the Christians felt that they must cling, such as the unity of God, his graciousness, his goodness, etc.; and therefore the Christians dated Gnosticism from that time. Gnosticism was ostensibly conquered, but victory was achieved only as the Church itself became in a certain sense Gnostic. It followed the course of Gnosticism a century later; that is, it wrote commentaries, systems of doctrine, &c., philosophizing about religious things (cf. Harnack’s Dogmengeschichte, I. p. 162 sq.). It must be remembered in reading the Fathers’ accounts of Gnosticism that they took minor and unimportant details and magnified them, and treated them as the essentials of the system or systems. In this way far greater variety appears to have existed in Gnosticism than was the case. The essential principles were largely the same throughout; the differences were chiefly in regard to details. It is this conduct on the part of the Fathers that gives us such a distorted and often ridiculous view of Gnosticism. The Carpocratians are the first of whom Irenæus expressly says that they called themselves Gnostics (adv. Hær. I. 25, 6), while Hippolytus first speaks of the name as adopted by the Naasseni (V. 1). The Carpocratians are mentioned by Hegesippus (quoted below in chap. 22). The system was more exclusively Greek in its character than any other of the Gnostic systems. The immorality of the sect was proverbial; Tertullian (de Anima, c. 35) calls Carpocrates a magician and a fornicator. He taught the superiority of man over the powers of the world, the moral indifference of things in themselves, and hence, whether he himself was immoral or not, his followers carried out his principles to the extreme, and believed that the true Gnostic might and even must have experience of everything, and therefore should practice all sorts of immoralities. Eusebius is probably right in assigning Carpocrates to this period. The relation of his system to those of Saturninus and Basilides seems to imply that he followed them, but at no great interval. Other sources for a knowledge of Carpocrates and his sect are Irenæus (I. 25 and II. 31–33), Clement of Alexandria (Strom. III. 2), Hippolytus (Phil. VII. 20), Tertullian (de Anima, 23, 35), Pseudo-Tertullian (adv. omnes Hær. 3), Epiphanius (Hær. 27), and Philaster (c. 35). Of these only Irenæus, Clement of Alexandria, and the earlier treatise of Hippolytus (which lies at the base of Pseudo-Tertullian and Philaster) are independent; and probably, back of Irenæus, lies Justin Martyr’s lost Syntagma; though it is very likely that Irenæus knew the sect personally, and made additions of his own. Compare Harnack’s Quellenkritik des Gnosticismus, p. 41 sq.
- ἐκεῖνος, referring back to Basilides.
- Where Eusebius secured the information that the Carpocratians made the magic rites of Simon public, instead of keeping them secret, as Basilides had done, I cannot tell. None of our existing sources mentions this fact, and whether Eusebius took it from some lost source, or whether it is simply a deduction of his own, I am not certain. In other respects his account agrees closely with that of Irenæus. It is possible that he had seen the lost work of Hippolytus (see below, VI. 22, note 9), and from that had picked up this item which he states as a fact. But the omission of it in Philaster, Pseudo-Tertullian, and Epiphanius are against this supposition. Justin’s Syntagma Eusebius probably never saw (see below, chap. 11, note 31).
- The chief accusations urged against the early Christians by their antagonists were atheism, cannibalism, and incest. These charges were made very early. Justin Martyr (Apol. I. 26) mentions them, and Pliny in his epistle to Trajan speaks of the innocent meals of the Christians, implying that they had been accused of immorality in connection with them. (Compare, also, Tertullian’s Apol. 7, 8, and Ad Nationes, 7.) In fact, suspicions arose among the heathen as soon as their love feasts became secret. The persecution in Lyons is to be explained only by the belief of the officers that these and similar accusations were true. The Christians commonly denied all such charges in toto, and supported their denial by urging the absurdity of such conduct; but sometimes, as in the present case, they endeavored to exonerate themselves by attributing the crimes with which they were charged to heretics. This course, however, helped them little with the heathen, as the latter did not distinguish between the various parties of Christians, but treated them all as one class. The statement of Eusebius in the present case is noteworthy. He thinks that the crimes were really committed by heretics, and occasioned the accusations of the heathen, and he thus admits that the charges were founded upon fact. In this case he acts toward the heretics in the same way that the heathen acted toward the Christians as a whole. This method of exonerating themselves appears as early as Justin Martyr (compare his Apol. I. 26). Irenæus also (I. 25, 3), whom Eusebius substantially follows in this passage, and Philaster (c. 57), pursue the same course.
- Eusebius is correct in his statement that such accusations were no longer made in his day. The Church had, in fact, lived them down completely. It is noticeable that in the elaborate work of Celsus against the Christians, no such charges are found. From Origen (Contra Cels. VI. 27), however, we learn that there were still in his time some who believed these reports about the Christians, though they were no longer made the basis of serious attacks. Whether Eusebius’ synchronization of the cessation of these slanderous stories with the cessation of the heresies of which he has been talking, is correct, is not so certain, as we know neither exactly when these heresies ran out, nor precisely the time at which the accusations ceased. At any rate, we cannot fully agree with Eusebius’ explanation of the matter. The two things were hardly connected as direct cause and effect, though it cannot be denied that the actual immoralities of some of these antinomian sects may have had some effect in confirming these tales, and hence that their extinction may have had some tendency to hasten the obliteration of the vile reports.
- See above, note 10.