The Gnostics and Their Remains, by Charles William King, , at sacred-texts.com
"It is my intention here to exhibit the system of Simon Magus, a native of Gitteh in Samaria, and I will prove that from him all those that come after have derived the elements of their doctrines, and impudently attempted the same things under different appellations. This Simon was skilled in magic and had imposed upon great numbers, partly by practising the art of Thrasymedes after the manner which I have already exposed (in the Book upon 'Magicians'), and partly by miracle-working through the agency of demons. He attempted to set up for a god, being a thorough impostor and altogether unscrupulous and daring; for he was that one whom the Apostles confuted, as is recorded in the Acts.
"Much more wisely therefore and sensibly than Simon did that Apsethus act, when he aimed at being accounted a god, who went to work in Libya; whose story, not being very dissimilar to the scheme of our foolish Simon, it were fitting here to quote, inasmuch as it is quite of a piece with the procedure of the latter.
"Apsethus the Libyan was very desirous of making himself a god, but when, after long labouring, he had failed in his endeavours, he wanted, as the next best thing, to be supposed to have made himself a god; and in fact for a considerable time he did enjoy such a reputation. For the simple Libyans used to sacrifice to him as to a Divine Power, in the belief that they were obeying a voice sent forth out of Heaven. He had got together and confined several parrots in one and the same little room, for parrots are plentiful all over Libya, and they distinctly mimic the human voice; and having kept these birds for some time, he taught them to say 'Apsethus is a god.' And when the birds in course of time were taught, and could speak that sentence which he supposed, when spoken, would cause him to pass for a god, then he opened their place of confinement.
and allowed the parrots to escape in different directions. And as the birds flew about, the sound was carried all over Libya, and the words travelled as far as the Greek territory (Cyrene); and thus the Libyans, being struck with amazement at the voice of the birds, and not suspecting the trick played them by Apsethus, accounted him a god. But one of the Greeks having clearly detected the contrivance of the supposed deity, did, by means of the self-same parrots, not merely confute, but also extinguish that vain-glorious and impudent fellow. This Greek caged several of the same parrots, and taught them to utter a contrary strain, 'Apsethus shut us up, and forced us to say Apsethus is a god.' But when the Libyans heard this recantation of the parrots, they all came together with one accord, and burnt Apsethus alive.
"In this light we ought to regard the magician Simon, and compare him to this Libyan, a man who made himself a god in that very expeditious manner; for in truth the comparison holds good in all particulars, and the sorcerer met with a fate not unlike that of Apsethus. I will therefore endeavour to un-teach Simon's parrots by showing that Simon was not the Christ 'Who hath stood, standeth, and shall stand,' but a man, mortal, generated from the seed of woman, begotten from blood and carnal concupiscence like the rest of mankind: and that such was the fact I shall clearly demonstrate in the course of my narrative. For Simon speaks, when interpreting the Law of Moses, in an impudent and fraudulent fashion, for whenever Moses says 'Our God is a burning and a consuming fire,' Simon, taking what Moses has said in a false sense, maintains that Fire is the Principle of all things. He does not perceive the true meaning that God is not 'a fire,' but 'a burning and a consuming fire,' and so not only mutilates the Law of Moses, but plagiarises from Heraclitus, surnamed 'the Obscure.' For Simon designates the Principle of all things 'Boundless Power' in the following words: 'This is the Book of the Declaration of the Voice, and of the Name, from the inspiration of the Great, the Boundless Power. Wherefore the same is sealed, hidden, wrapped up, stored in the dwelling wherein the Boot of all things is established.' This dwelling
he says, signifies Man here below, who is born of blood, and also signifies that there dwells within him that 'Boundless Power' which he asserts is the Root of all things. But this Boundless Power (or Fire, according to Simon) is not a simple substance, in the same way as most people who call the Elements 'simple' account Fire likewise as simple: on the contrary, he maintains that the nature of Fire is, as it were, double; and of this double number he terms one part the Insensible, the other the Visible; asserting that the insensible are contained within the visible parts of the Fire, and that the visible parts are generated by the invisible. (This is the same thing that Aristotle expresses by his 'Force' and 'Energy'; and Plato by his 'Intelligible' and 'Sensible.')
"Again the Visible part of Fire contains within itself all things whatsoever one can perceive, or even fail to perceive, of things visible. The Invisible, on the other hand, is whatsoever one can conceive as an object of thought, but which escapes the sense, or even what one fails to comprehend by the thought. And to sum up, it may be said that of all things that exist, whether objects of sense or of thought, or, as Simon terms them, Visible and Invisible, the store-house is the Great Fire that is above the heavens: 'As it were a great Tree, like to that seen in his dream by Nabuchadonosor, from the which all flesh was fed.' And the Visible he considers to be the trunk of the Tree and the branches, and the leaves, and the bark surrounding the same on the outside. All these parts of the great Tree, says he, are kindled from the all-devouring flame of the Fire, and are destroyed. But the Fruit of the Tree, if it takes a shape and assumes a proper form, is laid up in a storehouse, and not cast into the fire. For the fruit is made in order that it may be laid up in the storehouse, but the husk that it may be committed to the fire; which sake is the trunk, ordained not for the sake of the husk but of the fruit.
"And this, according to Simon, is what is written in the Scripture: 'The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the House of Israel, and a man of Judah the well-beloved branch thereof.' Now, if a man of Judah be the 'well-beloved branch,' it is a proof that the wood can be nothing else than a man. But as
regards the excretion and the dispersion from the same, the Scripture hath spoken fully and sufficiently for the instruction of all such as be brought to their perfect form: according to the saying, 'All flesh is grass, and the glory thereof as the flower of the grass; the grass withereth, the flower thereof fadeth, but the Word of the Lord endureth for ever.' Now this Word of the Lord, says Simon, is the word that is produced in the mouth, that is, Speech; for the 'place of its birth is nowhere else.
"To be brief therefore: since, according to Simon, the Fire is of the aforesaid nature, and all things that be, both visible and invisible, and vocal and voiceless, and numbered and unnumbered, are this Fire, therefore in his 'Great Revelation' he terms this the Fountain-head of all, the Great Intellectual, as constituting each individual of all things in their infinite order, which are capable of being conceived in the mind, and likewise of speaking, of thinking, and of acting. As Empedocles hath it--
"For Simon held that all the members of this Fire, both the Visible and the Invisible, possessed intelligence and a portion of mind. The world that is created, consequently, according to him, comes from the untreated Fire. The commencement of its creation was in this wise: six 'Radicals' (lit. Roots), the First Principles of the beginning of Creation, were taken by the Begotten One out of the Principle of that Fire; for he asserts that these Six Radicals emanated by pairs out of the Fire. These Six Radicals he names, 'Mind and Intelligence, Voice and Name, Reason and Thought.' And there exists in these Radicals taken together the whole of the 'Boundless Power,' but existing in potentiality, not in activity. And this Boundless Power Simon calls 'He who standeth, hath stood, and shall stand;' who, if he shall be figured (invested with form) when he is in those Six Powers, shall be in reality, force, power and perfection, the one and the same with the Unbegotten Boundless Power. But if he shall abide in potentiality
alone in those Six Powers, and not assume a form, he vanishes and perishes, as does a grammatical or a geometrical power in a man's mind. For potentiality, when it has gotten art, becomes the light of things generated; but when it has not gotten art (execution) it remains in inertness and darkness, and exactly as when it did not exist at all, and dies with the man upon his death.
"Now of these Six Powers, and of the Seventh which goes along with them, the First Thought Simon terms 'Mind and Intellect,' 'Heaven and Earth'; teaching that the one of the male sex looks down upon and takes care of his consort; whilst the Earth below receives from Heaven the 'Intellect,' and fruits of the same nature with the Earth, which are poured down from above. For this cause, says Simon, the Word, often looking down upon the things that spring out of Mind and Intellect, says, 'Hear, O Heavens, and receive with thine ears, O Earth! for the Lord hath spoken: I have begotten and brought up sons, but they have despised me.' He that saith this is the Seventh Power, 'He who standeth, hath stood, and shall stand;' for He is the author of those good things which Moses commended, saying that they were very good.
'Voice and name' are the Sun and Moon; 'Reason and Thought' are air and water. But with all of these is mingled and combined that Boundless Power, 'He who standeth,' as I have already mentioned.
"Therefore when Moses says, 'In six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested from all his works,' Simon, distorting the passage after the aforesaid fashion, makes himself out to be God. When therefore, the Simonians say that there were three days before the Sun and the Moon were made, they understand by it Mind and Intelligence, or Heaven and Earth, and also that 'Boundless Power' of theirs. For these three Powers were made before all the rest. Again, where it is said: 'Before all the world he hath begotten me,' these words, as they pretend, refer to the Seventh Power. Now this Seventh Power, who was a Power existing within the Boundless Power, and who was made before all the world, this, as Simon teaches, is that Seventh Power of whom Moses spake:
[paragraph continues] 'And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters,' that is to say, the Spirit containing all things within itself, the Image of the Boundless Power, concerning which Simon saith, the image is the incorruptible Power governing all things by himself!'
"Now the creation of the world having been after this or a similar fashion, God, says he, made Man out of clay taken from the earth; and he made them not single, but double, both as regards the image, and the likeness. For the image is the Spirit moving upon the face of the waters, who, if he be not clothed with form will perish together with the world, inasmuch as he abode merely in potentiality, and was not made concrete by activity. For this is the meaning of the Scripture: 'Lest we be condemned together with the world.' But if it shall take a form, and spring out of an indivisible point, it is what is written in the Revelation: 'The little shall become great.' This 'Great' shall continue to all eternity, and unchangeable, inasmuch as it is no longer to be made (i.e., no longer abstract).
"In what way therefore, and after what manner did God form man? In Paradise--for in this point Simon also agreed. But this 'paradise' must be the womb (according to him), and that such is the true explanation is proved by the Scripture, which saith, 'I am he that formed thee in thy mother's womb,' for so he will have it to be written. The womb Moses called Paradise by an allegory, if we choose to listen to the word of God; for if God did form man in his mother's womb, that is, in paradise then 'Paradise' must needs signify the womb. 'Eden' is that same region, and the river going forth out of Eden to water the garden, is the navel. This navel is divided into four heads; because from each part thereof proceed two arteries running side by side, channels for the breath; and also two veins, channels for the blood. When, therefore, this navel proceeding out of the region, Eden, is attached to the fœtus at the lower belly which we commonly term the navel. . . [Here some words are evidently lost]. And the two veins through which the blood flows, and is carried out of the region Eden, through what are called 'the gates of the liver' which nourish
the embryo. Again, the two tubes which we have spoken of as the channels of the blood, embrace the bladder at each side of the pelvis, and touch the great artery which runs along the same, called the aorta; and thus the breath, passing through the veins into the heart, produces the motion of the embryo. For so long as the child is being formed in 'paradise,' it neither takes nourishment through the mouth, nor breathes through the nostrils; for, placed as it is in the midst of fluid, it would be instant death for it, were it to breathe, inasmuch as it would draw a fluid and be destroyed. Moreover, the child is conceived within an envelope, which is called the aminium; but it receives nourishment through the navel, and takes in the essence of the breath through the dorsal artery above described. The River, therefore, going forth out of Eden, is divided into four heads, namely, Seeing, Hearing, Smelling, Touching and Tasting, for these are the only senses that the infant formed in Paradise is possessed of.
"This then, according to Simon, is the law which Moses gave and his Four Books are written in accordance with that law, as their own titles do manifest. For the first book is Genesis; the very title, he affirms, were sufficient for the understanding of the whole matter. For this 'Genesis' is the Sight, into which one section of the River branches off, because the whole outer world is perceived through the sight. Again, the title of the second book is Exodus, which signifies that it was necessary for the thing born to pass through the Red Sea (meaning by 'Red Sea,' the blood), and to enter into the wilderness, and to drink of the bitter water (Marah). Now this 'bitter water' which lies beyond the Red Sea, is the path of knowledge during life, which leads through places toilsome and unpleasant. But after it hath been changed by Moses, that is, by the Word, that same bitter water becometh sweet. And that such is the reality one may learn from everybody who exclaims in the words of the poet:--
"Even what is said by the Gentiles is sufficient for the understanding
of the whole matter unto him that hath ears to hear. He that tasted of the fruit given by Circe * was not only himself not changed into a beast, but by making use of the virtue of the self-same fruit, remodelled, reformed and recalled those already transformed by her into their own proper shape. For the Faithful Man, and the beloved by that sorceress, is found out by means of that divine and milky potion.
"In the like manner Leviticus is the Third Book (or River); which signifies the sense of smell, or the respiration; for the whole of that Book is concerning sacrifices and oblations. But wheresoever there is sacrifice, there also dues a sweet smell of perfume arise up from the sacrifice; concerning which sweet odour the sense of smelling is the approver.
"'Numbers,' the Fourth of the Books, signifies the Taste, for then the speech is active, inasmuch as it is through the Speech that all objects are designated in numerical order.
"'Deuteronomy,' Simon makes out, is so named in reference to the child that has been formed for Touching. For as the Touch doth by feeling reciprocate and confirm the impressions received by the other senses; proving an object to be either hard, or hot, or slippery--in the like manner the Fifth Book of the Law is a recapitulation of the four preceding Books.
"All things, therefore (continues he), that are not created exist within us in potentiality, not in activity; like the science of grammar, or of geometry, In the case, therefore, where they shall have met with the proper training and instruction, there 'shall the Bitter be turned into Sweet'; that is, 'the spears shall be turned into reaping-hooks, and the swords into ploughshares;' they shall be no longer chaff and sticks born for the fire, but the Perfect Fruit, like and equal, as already said, unto the Unbegotten and Boundless Power. But where the Tree shall stand alone, not bearing fruit, there, because it hath not received form, it shall be destroyed. 'For now (saith he) the axe is nigh unto the root of the tree. Every tree therefore that beareth not good fruit, is hewn down and cast into the fire.'
"According to Simon, therefore, that blessed and inscrutable thing lies hidden, and within every man, but in potentiality alone, not in activity; the which is 'He who standeth, hath stood, and shall stand'; who standeth above in the Unbegotten Power, who hath stood below in the 'River of Waters' when he was begotten in the image, and who shall stand above by the side of the Blessed and Boundless Power, provided that he shall have received form. For there are three that stand, and unless there be the three Æons that stand, 'the Begotten One is not adorned,' meaning Him, who, according to Simon's teaching, moved upon the face of the waters; who hath been re-created after the image, perfect and heavenly; who likewise is in no degree lower than the Unbegotten Power."
"This is a saying amongst the Simonians, 'I and thou are one; thou before me, I after thee.' 'This is the One Power, divided into Above and Below, begetting itself, nourishing itself, seeking after itself, finding itself, being its own mother, its own. father, its own sister, its own consort, its own daughter, son mother, father, inasmuch as it alone is the Root of all things.'
"That Fire is the origin of the generation of all things generated, Simon demonstrates after this fashion. 'Of all things whatsoever that exist, being generated, the final cause of the desire for their generation proceeds out of Fire. For "to be set on fire" is the term used to designate the desire of the act of generation and propagation. Now this "Fire," which is one, is changed into two. For in the male the blood which is hot and red, like Fire in a visible shape, is converted into seed; in the female this same blood is converted into milk. And this change in the male becomes the generation-faculty itself; whilst the change in the female becomes the instrument (efficient cause), of the thing begotten. This (according to Simon) is the "Flaming Sword," which is brandished to keep the way unto the Tree of Life. For the blood is turned into seed and into milk; and this Power becomes both father and mother; the father of those that be born, and the nutriment of those that be nourished; standing in need of none other, sufficient unto itself. Moreover the Tree of Life, which is guarded by the brandished flaming sword is, as we have said, the Seventh Power, the self-begotten,
which comprehends all the others, and which is deposited within the other Six Powers. For if that Flaming Sword should not be brandished, then would that beautiful Tree be destroyed and perish; but when it is changed into the seed and the milk, then He that is stored up within them in potentiality, having obtained the necessary Logos (Reason) and the fitting place wherein that Logos may be generated, then, beginning as it were from the smallest spark, he shall wax great to perfection, and increase, and become a Power without end, and without change, being equal and like unto the infinite Æon, being no more begotten again to all eternity.'
"Now, on the strength of this theory, as all are agreed, Simon made himself out a god unto the ignorant, like that Libyan Apsethus above mentioned; 'being begotten and subject to passion so long as he is in potentiality, but not subject to passion after he shall have been begotten, and have received the image, and having been made perfect shall pass out of the dominion of the first two Powers, that is, of Heaven and Earth.' For Simon speaks expressly upon this point in his 'Revelation,' in the following manner. 'Unto you therefore I say what I say, and write what I write. The Writing is this. There are Two stocks of all the Æons put together, having neither beginning nor end, springing out of one Root, the which is Silence, invisible, inconceivable, of which Stocks, the one shows itself from above, the which is a great Power, Mind of the all, pervading all things, and of the male sex: the other, showing itself from below, is the Great Intelligence, and is of the female sex; generating all things. From thence they correspond with each other, and keep up a partnership, and illuminate the Middle Space lying between them (which is the air), inconceivable, having neither beginning nor end. In this Middle Space is the Father, who bears up all things and nourishes the things that have beginning and ending. This is "He who standeth, hath stood, and shall stand; being both male and female, a Power after the image of the pre-existing infinite Power, that hath neither beginning nor ending, existing in Unity." For the Intelligence in Unity proceeded out of this last and became Twain. Now He (the Father) is One, for whilst he contained that
[paragraph continues] Power within himself he was single; nevertheless he was not the First, although he was pre-existent, but when he was manifested to himself out of himself, he became Second, and neither was he named the "Father," before that Power called him Father. In the like manner therefore as the drawing-forth himself out of himself manifested unto himself his own Intelligence, so did this Intelligence also, when manifested, not create, but contemplate Him; and thereby stood-up the Father within herself, that is to say, the Power. And this Intelligence likewise is both a male and female Power; on which account they answer to one another, for the Power differs not at all from the Intelligence, being one and the same. From that which is above, indeed, is formed the Power; from that which is below, the Intelligence. Of the same kind therefore is the Unity, which is manifested out of them both; for being one it is found to be Twain; both male and female, containing within itself the female. In this manner the Mind exists within the Intelligence; which, when severed from each other, although they are One, are found to be Two.'
"Simon, therefore, by publishing these notions, did not merely distort and wrest to his own purpose the sayings of Moses, but equally those of the heathen poets. For he makes an allegory out of the Trojan Horse of wood, and the story of Helen with the torch, and much else, which he applies to his own fables concerning himself and his 'Intelligence.' * Again he makes out the latter to be the Lost Sheep, which, always taking up her abode in the persons of women, doth cause trouble amongst all earthly Powers by reason of her incomparable beauty; wherefore the Trojan War came to pass because of her. For this 'Intelligence' * of his took up her abode in Helen who was born just at that time; and so, when the Powers laid claim to her possession, strife and discord arose amongst all the nations to whom she manifested herself. At any rate, it was on this account that Stesichorus, for having reviled her in his verses, was deprived of sight; but afterwards, when he had repented,
and written his 'Recantation,' in which he sang her praises, he recovered the use of his eyes. Then, after she had been placed in another body by the Angels and the Powers below (who according to Simon wore the creators of the world), she was standing upon a housetop * in Tyre, a city of Phœnicia, where he found her on his landing. For he pretends to have gone thither expressly in quest of her, to deliver her out of bondage; and, after having ransomed her, he always carried her about with him, pretending that this was the Lost Sheep, and he himself was the Power that is over all. But the truth is, the impostor had become enamoured of this harlot, whose real name was Helena, so that he bought and kept her; but out of shame as regards his disciples, he invented the aforesaid fable. Furthermore, nowadays those that be the followers of this deceiver and magician, Simon, imitate his example, asserting that it is right to have intercourse with all women promiscuously, for they say 'All land is land, and it matters not where one sows his seed so long as he does sow it.' Nay more, they pride themselves upon this promiscuous intercourse, affirming that this is the 'Perfect Love,' and quote the text 'The Holy of holies shall be made holy.' For they hold that they are bound by no obligation as regards anything usually accounted wicked, inasmuch as they have been redeemed. In this way, Simon, after he had ransomed Helena, granted salvation unto men by means of his own Knowledge (or the Gnosis). For inasmuch as the Angels governed the world badly by reason of their own ambitiousness, Simon pretended that he was come to set all things right, having changed his form, and made himself like to the Principalities, the Powers, and the Angels; wherefore it was that he appeared in man's shape, though not a man at all, and had suffered the Passion in Judæa, although he had not suffered it; moreover that he had manifested himself to the Jews as the Son, in Samaria as the Father, and amongst the Gentiles elsewhere as the Holy Ghost, but that he submitted to be called by whatever name men pleased. The Prophets were inspired by the Angels, creators of the world, when they
delivered their prophecies; on which account those who believe in Simon and Helena pay no regard to them, even in our times; and they do whatever they please, affirming that they are redeemed through his grace. For nothing is the cause of damnation, supposing a man to act wickedly, for Evil is evil not through the nature of things but by convention. For the Angels who created the world ordained it to be so (as they assert), in order that they might keep in subjection, by means of such fictions, all men who should listen to them. Furthermore they explain the dissolution of the world as referring to the redemption of their own sect.
"The disciples, therefore, of this Simon, practise magic arts and incantation, and make philtres and seductive spells; they likewise send the so-called 'dream-bringing' demons to trouble whomsoever they choose. They likewise practise the rites of the gods named Paredroi (the Assessors); they have also an image of Simon in the guise of Jupiter, and likewise one of Helena in the figure of Minerva; and these they worship, calling one the 'Master,' the other the 'Mistress.'" *
So much for the system of the renowned Samaritan, in which, it will have been seen, the place of logical reasoning is supplied by quibbles upon words, taken absolutely without any reference to the context--a style of argument, however, for which it must be confessed that he had highly respectable authority. In strong contrast to this stands the next system, which displays much of the refinement and sound training (amidst its extravagance) of the Grecian mind.
65:* Simon has here forgotten his "Odyssey"; the antidote Moly having been given to Ulysses by Hermes.
68:* That is his wife Helena. By a remarkable, though doubtless un-designed coincidence, Fra Dolcino of Novara also went about accompanied by a similar female "Intelligence."
69:* A euphemism for "living in a brothel," such being the mode in which these ladies advertised themselves.
70:* Here follows the account of his career and end, already extracted (pp. 21, 22).