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Excellent for producing consolation and individual edification, Gnosticism was very weak as a church. There could not be drawn from it either Presbytery or Episcopacy; ideas so ill-ordered produced only dogmatism. Marcion alone succeeded in raising a compact edifice upon this fleeting basis. He had a Marcionite church strongly organised. Certainly the church was stained by 83some grave faults which brought it under the ban of the Church of Christ. It is not without reason that all the founders of Episcopacy shew by one common sentiment aversion to Marcion. Metaphysics did not regulate those minds enough to prevent them from cherishing a pure theological hatred. But time is a good judge. Marcionism continued. It was, like Arianism, one of the grand fractions of Christianity, and not, like so many other sects, a bizarre and passing meteor.

Marcion, while remaining quite faithful to certain principles which to him constituted the essence of Christianity, changed more than once in his theology.

He does not appear to have imposed on his disciples any very distinct creed. After his death the internal dissensions of his sect were extreme. Potitus and Basilicus remained faithful to dualism; Synerôs held three natures, without it being known rightly how he expressed it; Apelles inclined decidedly to monachism. He had at first been personally a disciple of Marcion; but he was gifted with too independent a spirit to remain a scholar; he broke with his master, and quitted his church. These ruptures, outside the Catholic Church, were accidents occurring every day. The enemies of Apelles tried to cause it to be believed that he had been expelled, and that the cause of his excommunication was a freedom of morals which contrasted with the severity of his master. There was much said about a virgin, Philumena, whose seductions had influenced all his wanderings, and who had played to him the rôle of a Priscilla or Maximilla. Nothing is more doubtful. Rhodon, his orthodox adversary, who knew him, represents him as an old man venerable by the ascetic rule of his life. Rhodon speaks of Philumena, and represents her as a virgin “possessed,” whose 84inspirations Apelles really looked on as divine. Such accidents of credulity befel the most austere doctors, especially Tertullian.

The symbolic language of the Gnostic doctrines led to grave misunderstandings, and often gave place to grave mistakes on the part of the orthodox, interested in calumniating such dangerous enemies. It was not with impunity that Simon the Magician played on the allegory of Helena-Ennoia, Marcion was perhaps the victim of a mistake of the same order. Apelles’ somewhat variable philosophic imagination might also cause it to be said that, pursuing an inconstant love, he quitted the truth to run after perilous adventures. We may be allowed to suppose that he gave as a framework to his teaching the revelations of a symbolic personage whom he called Philumena (the beloved Truth). It is certain, at least, that the words attributed by Rhodon to our doctor are those of an honest man, of a sincere friend of the truth. After having quitted Marcion’s school, Apelles went to Alexandria, and attempted a sort of eclecticism among the confused ideas that passed before him, and then returned to Rome. He did not cease to retouch during his whole life his master’s theology, and it appears that he finished by becoming weary of metaphysical theories which, according to our ideas, drew him from the true philosophy.

The two grand errors of Marcion, as of the greater portion of the first Gnostics, were dualism and docetism. By the first, he gave in advance a hand to Manichaeism, by the second to Islam. The Marcionite doctors and Gnostics of the latter part of the second century generally attempted to extenuate these two errors. The last Basilidians arrived by this at a pure Pantheism. The author of the pseudo-Clementine romance, in spite of his bizarre theology, is a Deist. Hermogenes awkwardly 85flounders about among insoluble questions raised by the doctrine of the Incarnation. Apelles, whose ideas sometimes much resemble those of the pretended Clement, seeks to escape from the subtleties of the gnosis by maintaining with energy the principles of what may be called the theology of good sense.

The absolute unity of God is the fundamental dogma of Apelles. God is perfect goodness; the world does not sufficiently reflect this goodness, and the world cannot be His work. The true world created by God is a higher world, peopled by angels. The chief of these angels is the Glorious Angel, a sort of demiurge or created Logos, creator in his turn of the visible world; that is but defective imitation of the higher world. Apelles shunned thus the dualism of Marcion and placed himself in an intermediary situation between Catholicism and the gnosis. He corrected really the system of Marcion, and gave to this system a certain consequence; but he fell into many other difficulties. Human souls, according to Apelles, made part of the higher creation from which they had fallen by concupiscence. To bring them back to Him, God has sent His Christ into the lower creation. Christ has come thus to improve the defective and tyrannical work of the demiurge. Apelles re-entered here in the classical doctrine of Marcionism and Gnosticism, according to which the essential work of the Christ has been to destroy the worship of the demiurge, that is to say, Judaism. The Old Testament and the New appear to him two enemies. The God of the Jews, like the God of the Catholics (in the eyes of Apelles, these last were Judaisers), is a perverse God, author of sin and of the flesh. Jewish history is the history of evil; the prophets themselves are inspired with the evil spirit. The God of good 86had not revealed Himself before Jesus. Apelles admitted that Jesus had a heavenly elementary body, beyond the ordinary physical laws, although endowed with a complete reality.

With different renewals, Apelles appeared to have felt that this doctrine of the radical opposition of the two Testaments had something too absolute about it, and, as his was not a stubborn mind, he came little by little from that to ideas which St. Paul would perhaps not have repelled. At certain times, the Old Testament appeared to him rather incoherent and contradictory than decidedly bad; so that the work of Christ would have been to make the discernment of good and evil, conformably to this word so often quoted by the Gnostics: “Be ye good trapezites.” So, as Marcion had written his Antithesis to show the incompatibility of the two Testaments, Apelles wrote his Syllogisms, a vast compilation of weak passages from the Pentateuch, destined especially to show the variableness of the ancient legislator and his small amount of philosophy. Apelles exhibited there a very subtle criticism, reminding us occasionally of that of the unbelievers of the eighteenth century. The difficulties which the first chapters of Genesis present, when mythical explanations were excluded, were heightened with much sagacity. His book was considered as a refutation of the Bible and repelled as blasphemous.

Possessed of a mind too just for the sectarian world in which he was engaged, Apelles was condemned always to change. To the end of his life he was tormented about the Scriptures. Even his fundamental idea of the divine unity wavered before him, and he arrived, without doubting, at perfect wisdom, that is to say, at a disgust for systems and at good sense. Rhodon, his adversary, has given us a conversation which he had 87with him at Rome about 180. “The old Apelles,” he says, “conferring with us, we showed him that he was deceived in many things, so that he was led to say that it was not necessary to examine matters of religion so much, that each one might remain in his own belief, and that those were saved who trusted in the Crucified, provided they were found good men. He confessed that the most obscure point to him was that which concerned God. He admitted, like us, but a sole principle. . . . ‘Where is the proof of all that,’ I asked of him, ‘and how is it that you are at liberty to assert that there is but a sole principle?’ He confessed to me then that the prophecies could teach us nothing true, since they contradicted and reversed themselves; that this assertion, ‘There is but one principle,’ was rather with him the result of instinct than of a positive knowledge. Having asked him, upon his oath, to tell the truth, he swore to me that he spoke sincerely; that he did not know how there was but one God unbegotten, but that he believed it. As to me, I reproached him with laughter for giving himself the title of ‘master,’ without being able to adduce any proof in favour of his doctrine.”

Poor Rhodon! It was the heretic Apelles who, on that day, gave him a lesson in good taste, tact, and true Christianity. The pupil of Marcion was really cured, since to a clumsy gnosis he preferred Faith, the secret instinct of the truth, the love of the good, trust in the Crucified.

What gave a certain force to ideas like those of Apelles is that they were only, in many points of view, a return to St. Paul. It was not doubtful that St. Paul, had he risen again at the point in Christianity at which we have arrived, would have found that Catholicism made too many concessions to the Old Testament. He would have protested 88and maintained that they were returning to Judaism, which was called the new wine in old bottles, and that they suppressed the difference between the Gospel and the Law.

The teaching of Apelles did not go outside Rome, and barely lasted till after his death. Tertullian, nevertheless, felt himself obliged to refute it. A certain Lucan or Lucian made, like Apelles, a distinct sect in the Marcionite church. It seems that he admitted, like Synerôs, three principles, one good, the second bad, and the third just. The strictly just principle was represented by the demiurge or creator. In his hatred against this last, Lucian forbade marriage. By his blasphemies against the creation he appeared to others to approach Cerdo.

Severus appears to have been a later Gnostic more than a Marcionite. Prepon, the Assyrian, denied the birth of Christ, and maintained that in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Jesus descended from heaven in the figure of a completely formed man.

Marcionism, like Gnosticism, was in the second generation. These two sects had not after this time any celebrated doctor. All the grand fancies hatched under Hadrian vanished like dreams. The shipwrecked from these little adventurous churches hung on greedily to the borders of the Catholic Church, and re-entered it. The Church writers had the advantage over them that those who do not search and do not doubt have over the crowd. Irenaeus, Philip of Gortyne, Modestus, Melito, Rhodon, Theophilus of Antioch, Bardesanes, Tertullian, set themselves as a task to unmask what they called the infernal tricks of Marcion, and they did not restrain their language from any violence.

Although struck with death, the church of Marcion remained indeed a long time a distinct community 89beside the Catholic Church. During several centuries there were in all the provinces of the East some Christian communities who were honoured by bearing the name of Marcion, and wrote this name on the front of their “synagogues.” These churches show successions of bishops quite comparable to that in which the Catholic Church glories. They had martyrs, virgins, everything that constituted sainthood. The faithful led an austere life, braved death, wore the monastic sackcloth, imposed on themselves strict fasts, and abstained from everything which had had life in it. “There are some hornets who imitate the swarms of bees,” the orthodox said. “These wolves clothe themselves with the skin of the sheep they kill,” said others. Like the Montanists, the Marcionites fabricated false apostolic writings and false psalms. It is needless to say that this heretical literature has entirely perished.

In the fourth and fifth centuries the sect, lively still, was fought against with energy, as with an actual flail, by John Chrysostom, St. Basil, St. Epiphanes, Theodoret, the Armenian Eznig, the Syrian Boud, the Periodoute. But the exaggerations ruined it. A general horror of the works of the Creator carried the Marcionites to the most absurd abstinences. They were in many points of view pure encratites; they forbade wine even in the mysteries. It was said to them that to be consistent they should allow themselves to die of hunger. They looked on baptism as a means of justification, and permitted women to officiate in the churches. Badly protected against superstition, they fell into magic and astrology. They became confounded gradually with the Manichæans.

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