The Gnostics and Their Remains, by Charles William King, , at sacred-texts.com
WHEN this work first appeared, three-and-twenty years ago, it became at once an object of unmerited abuse, and of equally unmerited praise. Small divines mistaking it for an insidious attempt to overthrow opinions "as by law established," spurted at it with pens dipped in the milk of the Gospel; whilst, under the very same hallucination, "Friends of Light" lauded it to the skies--either party equally ignorant both of the subject, and of the purpose of my labours. One noted Zoilus (whose recollections of Homer would seem to be of the same deeply-marked nature as Ensign Blifil's) is disgusted at my citing "Aidoneus" as a title of the God of the Shades; another is astonished at my ignorance in calling Bardanes a Persian, whereas he was a native of Pontus; not understanding that my argument was equally valid in spite of the mistake--Pontus being originally a province of the empire of Darius, and what is more to the purpose, the actual focus whence Mithraicism diffused itself over the Roman world.
A still greater cause of outcry against the book was my presuming to lay presumptuous hands upon the Sacred Ark of Masonry, and openly express my opinion that the "Free and Accepted" of these times have no more real connexion with the ancient Craft, out of whose terms and forms, like fig-leaves, they have stitched together aprons, wherewith to cover the real nakedness of their pretension, than the Italian Carbonari of Murat's day had with the trade of charcoal burners, whose baskets were borrowed for the President's throne. King Hiram's skull gnashed his teeth with rage within the cista mystica; and one valiant young Levite of the course of Abia,
proceeds thus logically to confute all my assertions: "Athelstan built a church: he could not build without masons; argal, Athelstan was the founder of Masonry in England.
But enough of this; the same treatment is necessarily in store for the present edition; it must look for
[paragraph continues] The one reviewer of its predecessor who exhibited any acquaintance with the literature of the subject, felt himself (from his position) "in duty bound" to qualify his praise by passing the summary judgment "that I had displayed in the work more of the spirit of a Gnostic than of a Catholic Christian." This sentence, intended for condemnatory, I accept as the highest praise that could be given to my labours--taking γνωστικός in its strict sense of "one addicted to knowledge"; and who therefore studies the history and remains of any opinion for the sole purpose of understanding the truth; and not for the sake of demonstrating the Truth can only exist under one defined form.
Let me now proceed to state how, in the present edition, I have endeavoured still further to deserve the appellation attached to me by the good-natured Aristarchus. My Treatise was the only one upon Gnostic Archaeology (for Dr. Walsh's little book scarce deserves the name) that had appeared since Chiflet's admirable "Apistopistus" (1617);--Matter, in his 'Histoire Critique du Gnosticisme (1827), an excellent analysis of the doctrines of the Gnosis, doing nothing for its monuments, beyond republishing, on a reduced scale, the engravings of the "Apistopistus." The only sources of information accessible to me at the time of writing that edition were the same as those drawn upon by Matter before me, namely the treatises of Irenaeus and Epiphanius. In the interval, I have become acquainted with, and, in order thoroughly to master, have made complete translations of, two recently discovered works that throw much light upon many difficult questions in this investigation. The one is the 'Refutation of all Heresies,' ascribed either to Origen or Hippolytus; its author being intimately acquainted with the doctrines which he holds up for
detestation, or for ridicule; and (what makes his criticisms of far higher value to students of the present day) illustrating them by copious extracts from the then so extensive heretical literature, soon to be completely exterminated by the triumph of the "orthodox" Faith.
The other aid is the "Pistis-Sophia," sole survivor of the once numerous family of Gnostic Gospels; but fortunately the most important of them all for our purpose, and the very one for whose escape (in its Coptic disguise) the archæologist ought to feel most grateful to the ignorance of the destroyers. For, whereas the other Gnostic teachers appear (as Hippolytus loves to point out) to build up their systems upon the lines of various Grecian philosophies, the "Pistis-Sophia" makes known to us what were the deepest secrets of the so celebrated Egyptian Mysteries, which are identical with those of the Rabbinical Kabbala, the only alteration being that of putting them into the mouth of Scripture personages, in order to adapt them to the prevailing change of ideas. This book, therefore, from its very nature supplies a kind of elucidation of contemporary monuments not to be found elsewhere, for the Christian Fathers discuss only the doctrines of their adversaries, not condescending to notice their application to the uses of everyday life. It is the latter point that gives such interest to the "Pistis-Sophia" we gain from it the whole category of Holy Names, of such talismanic virtue; the powers and titles of the actual genii, the constitution of the soul; and its state after death. But what is yet more curious, the "Pistis Sophia" exhibits the leading principles of the Kabbala already established, and applied to the demonstration of the highest truths in exactly the same manner as these principles were used by the heresiarch, Marcus, in the third century. And here it may be remarked parenthetically, that no one really acquainted with the history of religious opinions, can for a moment imagine that Marcus (a born Jew, be it remembered) was the first inventor of the wondrous machinery which he used in the development of his system, and the 'Manifestation of Truth,'--he did but apply to a new purpose the rules that he found already established as authoritative in the Rabbinical
schools. For in Religion there is no "new thing"; the same ideas are worked up over and over again; the gold in the sovereign of to-day may first have circulated in the new-coined stater of Crœsus.
Last, in point of time, but equally valuable with any of the fresh sources that have served me for the completion of this work, must I gratefully acknowledge the oral teachings of Rabbi Dr. Schiller-Szinessy--that unchanged representative of the Gamaliels of old--at whose feet I have sat for many years, listening to his exposition of the "Holy Zohar." Whatever may be the date of the present form of that transcendental development of the Torah--no one but an inverted Jew, totally unread in the Greek historians of the Gnosis, can fail to perceive that its principles and traditions are the very same as those taught in the schools of Babylon and Tiberias at the time when Simon Magus and Justinus studied there.
During the many years that have slipped by since its first publication, I have from time to time re-cast and re-written the entire Treatise, incorporating with the former contents whatever fresh information, reading, or chance, might throw in my way. In the same interval, two other works upon this subject have made their appearance. Dean Mansel's 'Gnostics' is a well-written and accurate summary of all that the Greek Fathers have left us upon the doctrines of the various sects; but, as the book is evidently intended for the use of theological students alone, the author has regarded his subject from a strictly professional point of view; totally ignoring the archæological side of the question (with which I am chiefly concerned), as being altogether foreign to the purpose for which he wrote.
On the other hand, Dr. Ginsburg's 'The Kabbala: its Doctrines, Development, and Literature,' possesses not only the merit of a lucid exposition of the most abstruse of all Theosophies, as contemplated in the shape to which it has been brought by the refining subtlety of successive generations of Rabbins--but will be found an invaluable guide to all who attempt the interpretation of talismanic inscriptions. For example, the Hebrew radicals, which express the Names of the Sephiroth, are to be discovered in the strings of Greek
consonants, now dumb for want of vowels, which have hitherto baffled the ingenuity of every reader.
There seems reason for suspecting that the Sibyl of Esoteric Buddhism drew the first notions of her new religion from the analysis of the Inner Man, as set forth in my first edition. I may therefore promise to myself the gratitude of those "clear spirits" (the Miltonian phrase) who are busying themselves "by searching to find out God," for now making known to them a still more profound theosophy, whose revelations definitely settle hardest problems relating to our mental nature, and the world beyond the grave. Investigators of the same order as the Esoteric Buddhists will find here a Gospel ready made to their hand--so full of great truths, so original in its conceptions, that it would seem to flow from no human source; and must carry conviction of its divine origin to every mind that shall be adapted by its nature for the reception of the good seed.
In conclusion, I must express my grateful acknowledgments of the services of my indefatigable friend, Mr. S. S. Lewis, Fellow of Corpus Christi College; but for whose persuasion, and negotiations with the publishers, these pages would never have seen the light. Not merely this, but he has enabled me to overcome an apparently insurmountable difficulty in the way of the publication--the failure of my sight, which totally prevented my conducting the work through the press--by taking upon himself the correction of the proofs: a laborious and irksome task to any one besides the author; and demanding a sacrifice of time that can only be appreciated by those, who, like myself, know the multifarious nature of the engagements by which every hour of his life is so completely absorbed.
Mr. Joseph Jacobs has furnished a carefully compiled list of authors quoted in this work, and of the references made to them, which will be found of use to those who wish to pursue the subject still further.
C. W. KING.
TRINITY COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE,
August 26, 1887.