Fragments of a Faith Forgotten

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Fragments of a Faith Forgotten

By G.R.S. Mead


WE have now got back to such early times that even the faintest glimmer of historical light fails us; we which are deep down in the sombre region of legend and things I hate. speculation. We will, therefore, plunge no farther into the dark depths of the cave of the origins, but once more retrace our steps to the mouth of the cavern, where at least some fitful gleams of daylight struggle through. But before doing so, we must call the reader's attention to a just discernible shadow of early Gnosticism, the circle of the Nicolaïtans. These Gnostics are of special interest to the orthodox, because the over-writer of the Apocalypse has twice gone out of his way to tell us that he hates their doings. Encouraged by this phrase, Irenæus includes the Nicolaïtans in the writer's condemnation of some of the members of the church of Pergamus, who apparently "ate things sacrificed to idols and committed fornication." Subsequent hæresiologists, in their turn encouraged by Irenæus, added further embellishments, until finally Epiphanius makes Nicolaus the father of every enormity he had collected or invented against the Gnostics. And then, with all this "evidence" of his iniquity before him, Epiphanius proceeds rhetorically to address the shade of the unfortunate Gnostic: "What, then, am I to say to thee, O Nicolaus?" For ourselves we are surprised that so inventive a genius as the Bishop of Salamis should have drawn breath even to put so rhetorical a question.

Tradition claims Nicolaus as an ascetic, and relates an exaggerated instance of his freedom from passion. Even granted that he taught that the eating of sacrificial viands was not a deadly sin, there seems no reason why we to-day should follow these Church Fathers in their condemnation of everything but their own particular view of the Christ's doctrine.



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