Fragments of a Faith Forgotten

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Fragments of a Faith Forgotten

By G.R.S. Mead

From a Psalm

Finally from the same source, The Philosophumena, we recover the following lines; it is The Chain of Being.probable that Hippolytus took them from the same treatise from which he derived the above information, and that the Psalm endeavoured to explain why the new-born babe was the Logos, why "this" is "That," as the Upanishads have it, and all is one.

"All things depending in spirit I see;
All things supported in spirit I view;
    Flesh from soul depending;
    Soul by air supported;
    Air from æther hanging--
    Fruits borne of the deep--
    Babe borne of the womb."
Whether or not this exceedingly mystical Psalm was taken in the sense we have suggested above is merely problematical. Such mystic utterances could of course be interpreted from both the microcosmic and macrocosmic standpoints; and Hippolytus gives us what he asserts to be a Valentinian interpretation from the latter point of view.

The "flesh" is the Hyle (the Hebdomad of Basilides); the "soul" is that of the Demiurge (the "material" force of the ætheric spaces, the Ogdoad of Basilides); the Demiurge hangs from the Spirit, which from one point of view is the Great Limit or Boundary, separating the Pleroma, or world of reality, from the Kenoma or phenomenal universe, and from another is Sophia or Wisdom, in the Kingdom of the Midst. Thus the Demiurge hangs from Sophia; Sophia from the Great Boundary or Horos (a further differentiation of the Basilidian simple idea of the Great Firmament); Horos from the Pleroma, the Blessed Treasure of the æons; and this world of ideas, or Living Æon, from the Abyss or Great Depth, the Father, the God beyond being.

This is the Valentinian chain of being, the subordinate details of which are so abstruse and so complicated, that no one has hitherto been able to make any consistent scheme out of their chaotic and contradictory representations in the writings of the Fathers.

In the MS. of The Philosophumena the above fragment is prefixed by the disconnected word "Harvest." Hilgenfeld accordingly speaks of Valentinus "hymning the Great Harvest," which is a very grandiose conception, but an idea difficult to connect with the lines quoted.

Such is the poor sum total of our information as to what Valentinus actually taught himself--nine, or rather eight, shreds of fragments in all. Yet what strong, joyous words, bursting with life, in the midst of the dullness of the refutators' rhetoric.

To these fragments it might seem proper to append the account which Irenæus (cap. 11) copied from a former hæresiological writer. It is generally assumed that this more ancient authority was Justin Martyr; but whoever he may have been, he was a mere summarizer, and even at that early date in hæresiology (cir. 150), was struggling with the contradictory accounts he had heard of the "Valentinian" Gnosis. I, therefore, consider this source as no more worthy of special notice than the other summaries of general so-called Valentinian doctrine found in the writings of the Fathers. We have nothing certain to learn in it of the teaching of Valentinus himself, and that is the only search on which we are at present engaged.

Thus we take our farewell of the "great unknown" of Gnosticism, whose name was nevertheless The Ariadne's Thread out of the Maze.the best known of all, whose influence was the most far-reaching, and whose doctrines, instead of being a cut-and-dried system of dead vocables, were so animate with life that the kaleidoscopic representations of them by his followers in the first place, and the puzzled and puzzling summaries by the Fathers of these protean representations in the second, have proved the despair of scholarship. The reason of this for the most part is that, in endeavoring to bring order into this chaos, words and terms have been followed as clues instead of ideas. Not only in the case of the Valentinian cycle of ideas, but also in every other phase of the Gnosis, these delusive guides have been generally followed as leaders out of the labyrinth. But the Adriadne's thread which takes us out of the maze is spun out of ideas, not of names. The Gnostics were ever changing their nomenclature; the god of one system might even be the devil of another! He who makes a concordance of names merely, in Gnosticism, may think himself lucky to escape a lunatic asylum; he, on the contrary, who seeks the idea behind the name, will often find himself in a realm of great beauty and harmony of thought. Men like the Gnostics have ever had intuitions of a real state of being, of definite and precise realms of consciousness; yet each has caught but a glimpse of the reality, as all men must so long as they are imprisoned in a body. If the Gnostics exhausted the philosophy and religion of their time in striving to find a decent vestment for the naked truth, as they thought they saw it, who shall blame them? Though they contradict one another, in the view of the word-hunter, they do not contradict themselves for the follower of ideas. The idea is the key which opens the mysteries of the Gnosis, and those who refuse to use this living key must be content to have the treasury closed against them.

We shall now, before dealing with the followers of Valentinus, attempt, from the chaos of summaries, to sift out some of the leading ideas of the Valentinian cycle of the Gnosis. If we were to bring all these contradictory accounts together and treat them to a critical analysis, it is to be feared that the general reader, for whom these sketches are written, would either close our pages in despair; or, if he attempted to follow the details and the weighing of probabilities, be reduced to such a state of mental perturbation that he would forget all that has gone before, and be rendered totally unfit to comprehend what is to follow. Such technical work must be reserved for treatment elsewhere, meantime we will attempt, not to give an exposition of the system of "them of Valentinus"--if indeed they ever had a single definite system--but merely to sketch some outlines of their ideas on æonology.



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