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The Gnostics and Their Remains, by Charles William King, [1887], at

Profession of Continence

p. 419

A distinguishing feature of Gnosticism was the profession of continence, at least as far as regards the propagation of the human species, which was denounced to the "spiritual" as the doing in the highest measure the will of the Demiurgus, and the perpetuating the reign of Matter. The strange means they adopted to preserve their vow inviolate may be learnt by referring to Clemens, where he quotes their interpretation of the ancient fable about Saturn's devouring his own children, or to Epiphanius when he describes the rites of the Ophite eucharist. In no other doctrine of the Gnosis is the Buddhistic influence more clearly traceable than in this, for any intrinsic merit in similar asceticism (as practised purely for its own sake) was never dreamed of by the Grecian philosophy, that offspring of reason in her brightest and most uncorrupted development. This self same affectation of purity contributed, even more than the proclaimed liberty of conscience, to promote the spread of Gnostic tenets in every age of their development, from Valentinus down to the grand apostle of Languedoc, Nicetas of Constantinople. His Manichean bishops owed their success in great measure to their black robes and professed abstinence from, nay, more, pious horror of, all the pleasures of sense. For any preaching is certain to obtain flocks of converts that shall make, besides the promise of fully explaining things too high for man's understanding, an outward and noisy profession of asceticism, and proclaim the exaltation of the poor and the certain damnation of the rich as a capital article of its creed. For the vulgar mind ever admires what is difficult merely because it is difficult, however useless in itself may be the result, or even pernicious to society in its consequence, if logically carried out; and inasmuch as the abstinence from sensual pleasures is to them the hardest of all tests, so much the more is the ostentation of similar self-denial the most effectual method for gaining ascendency over brutish intelligences, utterly incapable of distinguishing the means from the end. Moreover, such doctrines find powerful allies, ready existing for them, in the natural enviousness and greed of common souls. The actually poor being ever the vast majority in the land, such hearers joyfully receive the teaching that promises

p. 420

the punishment of their betters in the next world, purely as a counterbalance to their superior happiness in this: whilst as scarcely any one considers himself as a truly rich man, but is constantly climbing upwards towards a point that constantly recedes before him at every successive stage of his ascent, even the wealthy convert is enabled to hold the comfortable assurance that he himself continues in the category of the poor, and that the anathema is only launched against the one immediately above himself on the social ladder. In this feeling lies the true secret of the amazing success of Manicheism, its rapid absorption into itself of the earlier Gnostic forms, and above all, of the facility with which it got possession of those very regions where the Catholic Church was the most richly endowed; and where her clergy, particularly the Regular, were attracting the greatest envy by their wealth and ostentation.

The Templars began their course in actual poverty, leading a doubly hard laborious life--that of monk and soldier combined. To express this poverty the original device, or common seal, of the Order, bore two knights mounted upon the same horse, the most striking exemplification of humility that could be imagined in those days of chivalry. Becoming ashamed of such a badge as they grew in power, they altered it into the somewhat similar outline of a Pegasus--such at least is the old tradition. The Winged Horse, however, may from the first have involved a more spiritual meaning, allusive to the heavenward aspirations of those initiated into the Order. And when their career was drawing to a close, amidst the wealth and luxury that drew down upon them so cruel a destruction, the brethren, no doubt through some ingenious node of self-deception, still flattered themselves that their vows were as faithfully observed as in the very springtide of their institution.

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