Fragments of a Faith Forgotten

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Fragments of a Faith Forgotten

By G.R.S. Mead


WE owe our most reliable information on this Gnostic to a certain Rhodon, who opposed his views some time in the reign of Commodus (180-193 A.D.); an excerpt from this lost "refutation" has fortunately been preserved for us by Eusebius. At this time Apelles was a very old man and refused the controversy, saying that all sincere believers would ultimately be saved, whatever their theology might be--a most enlightened doctrine and worthy of the best in Gnosticism. As Hort says: "The picture which Rhodon unwittingly furnishes of his [Apelles’] old age is pleasant to look upon. We see a man unwearied in the pursuit of truth, diffident and tolerant, resting in beliefs which he could not reconcile, but studious to maintain the moral character of theology."

Apelles seems to have taken up a less exclusive position than Marcion, though his book of Reasonings, directed against the Mosaic theology, seems to have been drastic enough; and he is further said by Eusebius to have written a "multitude of books" of the same nature.

Philumene.He was, however, specially taken to task for his belief in the clairvoyant faculty of a certain Philumene, whom he came across in his old age. Her visions were recorded in a book called The Manifestations, by which Apelles set great store. Strangely enough, the man who pours on his head the greatest abuse for this, accompanied with the usual charges of immorality, is Tertullian, who, in his own treatise On the Soul, following out his own Montanist convictions, confesses his full belief in the prophetical power of a certain voyante of his own congregation, in a most entertaining and naïve fashion! Rhodon, on the contrary, who knew Apelles personally at Alexandria, says that the old gentleman thought himself protected from such slanderous insinuations, by his age and well-known character.

Philumene seems to have enjoyed certain psychic faculties, and also to have been a "medium" for physical phenomena, as a modern spiritist would say. She belonged to the class of holy women or "virgins," who were numerous enough in the early Church, though it is exceedingly doubtful whether any of them were trained seeresses, except in the most advanced Gnostic circles.

There is an entertaining account of Philumene in a curious fragment of an anonymous author, which was printed in the early editions of Augustine's work On Heresies, in the section devoted to the Severians. The following is Hort's rendering of the passage:

"He [Apelles] moreover used to say that a certain girl named Philumene was divinely inspired to Her Visions.predict future events. He used to refer to her his dreams, and the perturbations of his mind, and to forewarn himself secretly by her divinations or presages." [Here some words appear to be missing.] "The same phantom, he said, showed itself to the same Philumene in the form of a boy. This seeming boy sometimes declared himself to be Christ, sometimes Paul. By questioning this phantom she used to supply the answers which she pronounced to her hearers. He added that she was accustomed to perform some wonders, of which the following was the chief: she used to make a large loaf enter a glass vase with a very small mouth, and to take it out uninjured with the tips of her fingers; and was content with that food alone, as if it had been given her from above."

All of which is very monkish and very spiritistic, and quite in keeping with the records of phenomenalism.

We should, however, remember that this account is not from the side of the Gnostics, but from an unfriendly source. We shall perhaps never know whether Apelles had a knowledge of the sources of the phenomena he witnessed; or, like the vast majority of that time, as indeed of all times, ignorantly assumed that the fact of psychic powers proved the truth of theological doctrines.



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