Fragments of a Faith Forgotten

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Fragments of a Faith Forgotten

By G.R.S. Mead


ONE of the teachers of the "Simonian" Gnosis who was singled out by Justin for special mention, because His Date.of his having led "many" away, even as Marcion was gaining an enormous following in Justin's own time, is Menander, a native, we are told, of the Samaritan town Capparatea. The notice in Justin shows us that Menander was a man of a past generation, and that he was specially famous because of his numerous following. We know that the dates of this period are exceedingly obscure even for Justin, our earliest authority. For instance, writing about 150 A.D., he says that Jesus lived 150 years before his time. His "Simon" and Menander dates are equally vague; Menander may have lived a generation or four generations before Justin's time, or still earlier.

The centre of activity of Menander is said to have been at Antioch, one of the most important commercial His Doctrines.and literary cities of the Græco-Roman world, on the highway of communication between East and West. He seems to have handed on the general outlines of the Gnosis; especially insisting on the distinction between the God over all and the creative power or powers, the "forces of nature." Wisdom, he taught, was to be attained by the practical discipline of transcendental "magic"; that is to say, the Gnosis was not to be attained by faith alone, but by definite endeavour and conscious striving along the path of cosmological and psychological science. Menander professed to teach a knowledge of the powers of nature, and the way whereby they could be subjected to the purified human will; he is also said to have claimed to be the Saviour sent down by the higher Powers of the spiritual world, to teach men the sacred knowledge whereby they could free themselves from the dominion of the lower Angels.

It is, however, almost certain that Menander made no more claim to be the Saviour (in the Catholic meaning of the term) than did "Simon." The Saviour was the Logos, as we have seen above. The claim of the Gnostics was that a man might so perfect himself that he became a conscious worker with the Logos; all those who did so, became "Christs," and as such were Saviours, but not in the sense of being the Logos Himself.

The neophyte on receiving "baptism," that is to say, on reaching a certain state of interior purification or enlightenment, was said to "rise from the dead"; thereafter, he "never grew old and became immortal," that is to say, he obtained possession of the unbroken consciousness of his spiritual ego. Menander was especially opposed to the materialistic doctrine of the resurrection of the body, and this was made a special ground of complaint against him by the Patristic writers of the subsequent centuries.

The followers of Menander were called Menandrists, and we can only regret that no record has been left of them and their writings. As they seem to have been centralized at Antioch--seeing that tradition assigns the founding of the Church of Antioch to Paul, and assigns to it Peter as its first bishop; seeing again that the "withstanding to the face" incident is placed by the Acts tradition in the same city--it may be that their writings would have thrown some light on these obscure traditions.

I would, however, suggest that Mainandros should be placed far earlier than "Simon," and that we A Link with Zoroastrianism.should see in him one of the earliest links between Gnosticism and the Magian tradition. It may be even that the Gnostics traced the tradition of their æon-lore to this disciple of the Magi, for the root of their æonology is to be found in the Zoroastrian Amshaspends, the personal emanations of Ahuramazda, as Mills and others have shown; though I myself would seek the origin of the æon-doctrine in Egypt.



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