Fragments of a Faith Forgotten

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Fragments of a Faith Forgotten

By G.R.S. Mead

Notes on the Contents of the Bruce and Askew Codices

THE attentive reader will have already perceived that the contents of the Pistis Sophia treatise, of the The Kinship of the Titled Treatises.Extracts from The Books of the Saviour, and of the fragments given under the title The Book of the Great Logos according to the Mystery, are closely related together; they indubitably belong to the same school. The result of the researches of Schmidt into this very interesting question may be most clearly seen in his reply to Preuschen's criticism on his work, a copy of which was kindly sent me by Schmidt himself. (See Zeitschrift für wissenschaftliche Theologie, Pt. iv., 1894.) Schmidt here sums up his position, bringing together the results of his researches.

If I might myself venture a general opinion on so difficult and abstruse a subject, I would say that all the three compilations we are considering, belong not only to the same school, but also to one and the same effort at syntheticizing and reformulation. It is evident that each of them contains older materials, and it is almost certain that the writer of the Pistis Sophia was acquainted with the material of the Extracts of the Ieou and Baptism expositions. The far more difficult question is the relationship of the Extracts to The Book of the Great Logos, and the most difficult question of all is the school and authors to which to assign them.

Date.So far there is nothing absolutely proved as to date, except that the compilers of these documents had access to the same Sayings-material as the compilers of the Canonical Gospels; the terminus a quo may, therefore, be placed somewhere about the end of the first quarter of the second century. But the curious phrase used in introducing a quotation from the Pauline Letters ("Thou didst say unto us aforetime by the mouth of Paul our brother") shows such complete indifference to the Canonical Acts account, that it argues an early date. Because of the complex nature of the contents, however, they have been ascribed by some to the third century; but this does not seem to me to be sufficient reason for so late a date, when we consider the complex nature of the new-found pre-Irenæic Gnostic work, and the exceedingly abstruse character of the contents of the superior untitled MS. of the Codex Brucianus, the contents of which Schmidt places well in the second century.

Authorship.Some of the materials are undoubtedly very old indeed, but it is the compilation-problem that at present engages us. I think that all three were compiled by the same group, or even by the same writer (though the latter will seem a very rash hypothesis to some). It is evident that the treatises pertain to the most intimate centre of Gnosticism, familiar with the inmost traditions, the most secret documents, and the practical inner experiences of the school. It matters not whether you call this stream of the Gnosis, "Ophite," "Barbelo-Gnostic," "Gnostic," or "Valentinian"; such names could have meant little for the compiler or compilers of these documents.

Now it is evident that the Extracts and part of The Book of the Great Logos are both based on the same original. It is true that the text of the Baptism extract of the Askew Codex differs, slightly from the text of the same rite in the Bruce Codex, but they are probably translated by different hands, and both translators used great freedom in their version, and were often puzzled how to put the Greek into Coptic, as is evident in many passages.

A certain reformulation of the Gnosis is, then, referred to as The Books of the Saviour orThe Titles. The Book of the Great Logos; perhaps the original Greek document or documents had no title, and it was the copiers, or the Coptic translators and scribes, who added these titles. The Pistis Sophia treatise, however, refers to a work called The Two Books of Ieou, and further adds that they were given by the Saviour to Enoch and preserved from the Flood.

Now it seems to me that if these references in the Pistis are not interpolations, The Two Books of Ieou The Books of Ieou.cannot be identical with the common document in the Extracts and The Book of the Great Logos, but that this document was an overworking and reformulation of these two Books. The Books of Ieou belonged presumably to some ancient tradition, probably Egyptian, containing a host of symbols and seals, pass-words and mystery-names, and much else which were referred to what Manetho calls "the Egypt before the Flood" (the Egypt of the "First Hermes" or Agathodæmon), the traditions of which were equated with the Semitic traditions by Jewish and Christian Gnostic circles. I have dealt with this subject at length in my work on the Trismegistic literature.

The Probable Author.I believe, then, that the common document in the Extracts and The Book of the Great Logos was not the actual Books of Ieou referred to in the Pistis Sophia, but that it contained the substance of the Ieou Books, worked up by a Gnostic writer into a new form. I further suggest that this writer was the same as the author of the Pistis Sophia treatise, who reformulated the Books of Ieou in the light of the Gnosis of the Living Master. These things, however, do not seem to have been done in order; they were more probably the various attempts at some consistent synthesis of the old wisdom, attempts which in all probability did not satisfy the writer. They were presumably the results of a long life of labour, and may have been several times revised or recast. Who can say in our present ignorance of all historical data?

And if it be asked: Who could have made such The Obscurity of the attempt? I can find no answer, on reviewing the whole list of known Gnostic writers, than that Valentinus alone could in any way have attempted it. But that this can ever be proved beyond cavil I have no hope, for we know practically nothing of him and his writings; we only know of his great reputation, and of his attempted reformulation of the Gnosis. Indeed so-called Valentinianism helps us not at all in this speculation; on the contrary, if we are to believe in any way the indications of the Church Fathers, "they of Valentinus" seem to have formulated things somewhat differently, and their ideas form only a small worked-in part of the great syntheses with which we have been dealing. But the information of the Church Fathers is very defective, and they seem for the most part to have dealt with the semi-popular phase of Gnosticism. Such abstruse subjects and such inner teachings as our Codices contain, could not possibly have been circulated publicly; they were meant for "disciples." It is true that the Pistis is in parts in a far more popular form, but if it had been widely circulated; it is strange that no mention of so marvellous an exposition should remain.

I, however, put forward this speculation with all hesitation; it means a totally different reading of Valentinianism, a reading from within and not from without. Our ideas on Gnosticism have, however, been so often of late revised by new discoveries, that it may still be hoped that some new find may yet throw a clear light on this (at present) entirely obscure problem.

In the Introduction to my translation of the Pistis Sophia, I find that I have stated my conclusions somewhat more crudely than I should now do. I will, therefore, in repeating what I there said as to the probable story of the adventures of the contents of the Askew Codex, slightly modify some expressions.

The original Greek treatise which is now called the Pistis Sophia may, then, probably The Original Pistis Sophia.have been compiled by Valentinus in the latter half of the second century, perhaps at Alexandria. By "compiled" I mean that this Apocalypse or Gospel, or whatever its title may have been, was not invented from first to last by Valentinus; the framework of the narrative, the selection of texts and ideas from other scriptures, Hebrew, Christian, Egyptian, Chaldæan, Greek, etc., and the adaptation of the nomenclature, were his share of the task.

The Coptic Translation.Of this original doubtless several copies were made, and mistakes may have crept in. One of these copies was presumably carried up the Nile and translated into the vernacular, Greek being but little understood so far up the river. The translator was evidently not a very accurate person; moreover his knowledge of the subject was so imperfect that he had to leave many of the technical terms in the original, and doubtless made guesses at others. It is also probable that some things were added and others subtracted on the score of orthodoxy. The wearisome length of the Psalms, for instance, which Pistis Sophia recites in her repentances, followed by the shorter Salomonic Odes, leads one to suppose that the compiler originally quoted only a few striking verses from each psalm, and that the later and more orthodox translator, with that love of wearisome repetition so characteristic of monkish piety, whether of the East or the West, added the other less apposite verses, with which he was very familiar, while he was compelled to leave the Salomonic Odes as they stood, owing to his lack of acquaintance with the originals.

Moreover, the translator must have translated or possessed a translation of other similar documents, The Books of the Saviour.which he or a later scribe styles The Books of the Saviour, and from them he extracted what he considered to be passages apposite to the subject in hand, and appended them to the Pistis translation. These Books also, in my opinion, came from the literary workshop of Valentinus.

The whole MS. of the Coptic translator seems to have been copied by some ignorant copyist, who The Copyist.made many mistakes of orthography. It was copied by one man as a task, and hurriedly executed; and I would suggest that two copies were then made and occasionally a page of one copy substituted for a page of the other; and, as the pages were not quite exact to a word or phrase, we may thus account for some puzzling repetitions and some equally puzzling lacunae. This copy was conjecturally made towards the end of the fourth century.

What was the history of the MS. after this date is impossible even to conjecture. Its history must, however, have been exciting enough for it to have escaped the hands of fanatics--both Christian and Mohammedan. During this period some of the pages were lost.

The contents of the inferior MS. of the Bruce Codex presumably had somewhat similar adventures, may even have come from the same distributing Coptic centre.

It would be entirely out of place in these short sketches to enter on a critical investigation into the nature of the æonology, cosmology, soteriology, christology, and eschatology of these documents, and attempt to trace their modifications. The evolution of the universe is according to a certain order, but its involution seems to change that order; the soteriology modifies the æonology and cosmology. It is, in my opinion, because of this, rather than for any other reason, that the scheme underlying the Extracts and The Book of the Great Logos is said to be an "older form" than that underlying the Pistis treatise.

The Scheme presupposed in these Treatises.The scheme underlying the Pistis Sophia has been industriously analysed by Köstlin and revised and corrected by Schmidt, who has also endeavoured to trace the modification of the general scheme underlying the Extracts (hitherto erroneously called the Fourth Book of Pistis Sophia) and The Book of the Great Logos, and of the scheme presupposed in the Pistis Sophia,--modifications brought about by the revelation of the new glories of the three Spaces of the Inheritance in the last treatise.

As the general outlines of the scheme underlying the Pistis Sophia may be of service to the reader, we will give it here, but it should be understood that it represents only one configuration of the cosmic mystery, at a certain moment of time, or in a certain phase of consciousness.

The Ineffable.

The Limbs of the Ineffable.

I. The Highest Light-world, or The Kingdom of Light.
i. The First Space of the Ineffable.

ii. The Second Space of the Ineffable, or the First Space of the First Mystery. ii. The Second Space of the First Mystery.
II. The Higher (or Middle) Light-world.
i. The Treasure of Light.
ii. The Place of the Right.
iii. The Place of the Midst.
III. The Lower Light- or Æon-world (The Mixture of Light and Matter).
i. The Place of the Left.
1. The Thirteenth Æon.
2. The Twelve Æons.

3. The Fate.
4. The Sphere.

5. The Rulers of the Ways of the Midst.
6. The Lower Firmament.
ii. The World of Men.
iii. The Under-world.
1. Amenti.
2. Chaos.
3. Outer Darkness.
We now come to a brief consideration of the superior MS. of the Bruce Codex. Here also wè must rule out of place any attempt to grapple with an exposition of the system presupposed by the compiler or compilers, in spite of the following opinion and high appreciation of Schmidt, who in his Introduction (pp. 34 and 35) writes:

"What a different world on the contrary meets us in our thirty-one leaves! We find ourselves in the pure spheres of the highest Pleroma, see step by step this world, so rich in heavenly An Appreciation of the Untitled Treatise.beings, coming into existence before our eyes; each individual space with all its inmates is minutely described, so that we can form for ourselves a living picture of the glory and splendour of this Gnostic heaven. The speculations are not so confused and fantastic as those of the Pistis Sophia and our two Books of Jeu; here everything is in full harmony and logical sequence. The author is imbued with the Greek spirit, equipped with a full knowledge of Greek philosophy, full of the doctrine of the Platonic ideas, an adherent of Plato's view of the origin of evil--that is to say Hyle (Matter). Here it is not Christ who is the organ of all communications to the disciples; it is not Jesus who is God's envoy, and the redeemer and bringer of the mysteries; but we possess in these leaves a magnificently conceived work by an old Gnostic philosopher, and we stand astonished, marvelling at the boldness of the speculations, dazzled by the richness of the thought, touched by the depth of soul of the author. This is not, like the Pistis Sophia, the product of declining Gnosticism, but dates from a period when Gnostic genius like a mighty eagle left the world behind it, and soared in wide and ever wider circles towards pure light, towards pure knowledge, in which it lost itself in ecstasy.

"In one word, we possess in this Gnostic work as regards age and contents a work of the very highest importance, which takes us into a period of Gnosticism, and therefore of Christianity, of which very little knowledge has been handed down to us."

Not to be attributed to a Single Author.While cordially agreeing with Schmidt in his last paragraph, and in his high appreciation of the sublimity of the contents of this MS., we must venture to differ from him as to the clearness and logical order of the contents as at present preserved to us. If all is so clear and in such logical sequence, it is surprising that Schmidt has made no attempt to explain the contents. Many and many an hour have I puzzled over the contents of his translation and tried to get them into order, but I have as yet always failed. The result of my study, however, has led me to differ from Schmidt's assumption that the work is by a single author.

The Apocalyptic Basis.My present conclusion, which is of course put forward as entirely tentative, is that the underlying matter was originally in the form of an apocalypse, a series of visions of some subtle phase of the inner ordering and substance of things. I would suggest that these visions were not in an ordered sequence, but were written down, or taken down, at different times as the seer described the inner working of nature from different points of view. The original writer was clearly, as it seems to me, an adherent of the Basilidian Gnosis, imbued with its teaching and nomenclature; but he had his own illumination as well, and, seeing some of the things of which he had been taught, in high enthusiasm and inspired confidence, he sang of the greater things by analogy with the lower he had seen--even these lower being so glorious that he could not express them as they really are.

The Overworking.These apocalyptic visions were elaborately expanded and annotated and welded into a unity (the first part being cosmogonical, and the second soteriological) by a writer of great knowledge and wide reading, who was not only familiar with all the Gnostic literature of his time, but also had seen the things for himself; he laboured to make a consistent treatise with the apocalyptic material, on which he set a very high value, as a basis; but he often did not succeed, and clearly states that it is impossible for any "tongue of flesh" to tell of such sublime mysteries.

I am strongly persuaded that the overwriting of this apocalypsis belongs to the same circle of literary activity of which we have been already treating. In it I think we have another specimen of the attempts to re-edit and syntheticize the Gnosis, of which the main attempt is associated with the activity of Valentinus. As to the history of the Greek original, it parallels presumably that of the Pistis Sophia original. It was probably translated about the same time, and had adventures of a somewhat similar nature.



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