The Gnostics and Their Remains, by Charles William King, , at sacred-texts.com
This treatise, ascribed to Valentinus (I know not on what authority), was discovered by Schwartze in a Coptic MS. preserved in the British Museum. He transcribed the Coptic text and translated it into Latin; both texts and version were published by Petermann in the year 1853. The original is copiously interspersed with Greek words and phrases; in fact, the Coptic was evidently so poor a language as to have no terms of its own to express any but the most materialistic ideas. The matter of its professed revelation is set forth also with endless repetitions, bespeaking a language destitute of relative pronouns, of conjunctions, and of all the other grammatical refinements necessary for the clear and concise expression of thought. *
The authorship of this record is assigned by itself in several places to Philip the Apostle, whom the Saviour bids to sit down and write these things! This circumstance made me at first conclude it to be the lost Gospel of Philip quoted by Epiphanius, but the particular anecdote adduced by him from that gospel is not to be discovered anywhere in this. But as the original is full of wide lacunae, which often fall in very interesting places, as if purposely defaced to escape the eyes of the profane, such an omission is not altogether conclusive against the identity of the two.
The nature of the book may be briefly sketched as follows. It professes to be a record of the higher teaching of the Saviour communicated to his disciples during the eleven years he passed with them on earth after his crucifixion, and when he had returned from his ascension into heaven. This ascension had been made from the Mount of Olives, where he received from on high two shining vestures inscribed with five mystic words (§16), and the names of all the powers whose domains he had to traverse. He thus (as he relates to the disciples) passes through the gate of the Firmament, the Sphere of Fate, and the regions
of the Twelve Great Æons, all of whom in succession are terror-smitten, and fall down before him and sing hymns of praise. On arriving at the thirteenth æon, he finds seated below and weeping the excluded Power Pistis-Sophia, * who gives her name to the revelation. She, having once caught a glimpse of the Supreme Light, was seized with a desire to fly upwards into it: but Adamas, the ruler of her proper place, being enraged at this act of rebellion against himself, caused a false light, a veritable ignis fatuus, to shine upon the waters of the subjacent chaos which lured down the hapless aspirant, and she was inextricably immersed in the abyss, and beset by the spirits thereof, all eager to deprive her of her native light. The doctrine of the admixture of light, derived from the Treasure of Light, with matter, its imprisonment therein, and its extraction and recovery by the appointed "Receivers of the Light," is the pervading idea of this revelation, to a greater extent even than in the Ophite scheme. As part of the same notion comes the frequent allusion to the κέρασμος or chaotic commixture of Light and Matter, to re-organise which is the special object of the Saviour's descent from above.
At least one half of the book is taken up with the account of the successive steps by which she ascends through all the Twelve Æons by the Saviour's aid, and the confession she sings at each stage of her deliverance out of chaos. Each confession is proposed by Jesus to a disciple for explanation, and is referred to some psalm or other prophecy containing parallel sentiments; this concordance being occasionally made out with considerable ingenuity. A remarkable peculiarity is that all throughout Mary Magdalene is the chief speaker, and the most highly commended for her spiritual knowledge, though once she is sharply rebuked by Peter for her presumption in thus perpetually putting herself forward unbidden--and not giving the men a chance to speak. After Pistis-Sophia has thus regained her lost position, the most valuable portion of the
exposition of doctrines commences. The Magdalene asks the great question as to the final cause of Sin (§ 281), to which Jesus returns a long and minute description of the composition of the soul of man, which is fourfold, the divine spark therein (a particle of the Light yet entangled in the κέρασμος) being encased in a threefold envelope formed out of the effluvia of the rebellious Æons, the tendency of which is to keep it in subjection to the passions and to themselves, so that when separated from the body it may not be able to escape out of their domains, "the regions of mid-space," here represented as places of pain. These Æons are elsewhere identified with the signs of the Zodiac. Next cones a detailed account of the Rulers of the regions of torment (§ 320), of their authentic forms, a crocodile, a bear, a cat, a dog, a serpent, a black bull, &c., and of their authentic names; these last are not Semitic, but either Coptic or belong, judging from their terminations, to the mystic language generally used upon the Gnostic stones. After this we have the several punishments appointed for the various sins of mankind, and the exact number of years and even of days required for the expiation of each in its proper dungeon (ταμεῖον). These places of torment are all enclosed within the Dragon of Outward Darkness. It is worthy of remark that the serpent, whenever introduced, is a thing of evil--a sure indication that the book is under the influence of the Kabbala. The same conclusion is deducible from the malignity pervading the entire dispensation which it pictures; and the evident delight it takes in creating and parcelling out the various punishments, of which heretics naturally get the largest share. The philosophic Gnostic schemes have no severer penalty for those who do not listen to them than the want of Knowledge, and the subjection to Matter. After purgation in these prisons the souls are put into new bodies, and begin a new probation upon earth.
The judge of souls is the Virgin of Light, attended by her seven handmaids. Certain sins, but few in number, are punished by annihilation, and admit of neither expiation nor atonement. But for all the rest instant remission is procurable, if the friends of the deceased celebrate on his behalf the "Mystery (or, Sacrament) of the Ineffable One." This must be
the very earliest notice extant of the belief in the efficacy of the offering up of a sacrament for the redemption of souls. There is a singular provision made for the salvation of a perfectly righteous man, but who in his life-time has not enjoyed the opportunity of being converted. The angels take his departed soul, and carry it through all the realms of punishment with the utmost rapidity, and then conduct him before the Virgin of Light, who clothes it in a new body to recommence its earthly career, to obtain there the advantage of the mysteries and so become an heir of Light. The nature of the particular Mystery, so perpetually alluded to in this work, is in no place explained; it is, however, the highest of the Four and Twenty: for such is the number of the Mysteries here mentioned, one for each of the grades in its celestial hierarchy, for the Five Marks, for the Seven Vowels, for the Five Trees and for the Seven Amens. Throughout are interspersed frequent allusions to the seals, and the numbers of the Mysteries, courses, and divine personages, borrowed partly from the usages of the Temple, partly from those of the old Egyptian worship. They are repeated and involved in a multitudinous, inextricable sequence, that to one not having the key thereto belonging, strongly calls to mind the numerical vagaries that flit before the mind when slightly delirious: and which even the plodding German editor confesses, in his preface, often made his brain whirl as he attempted to transcribe them.
Lastly comes a long fragment (§ 358), headed "a Portion of the Prayers of Jesus," which tells more directly upon the subject of these researches than anything that has fallen in my way. The Saviour, attended by his disciples, standing sometimes on a mountain, sometimes by the sea, and sometimes in mid-air, addresses prayers to the Father, prefaced with long formulae of the same character, and often in the same words, as those covering the more important Gnostic monuments. Some of these opening invocations are expounded, and seemingly paraphrased, in the prayers following them, though not in a very satisfactory manner. Also Jesus celebrates, with many singular formalities, a sacrifice of wine and water, which, there is reason to believe, is the grand Mystery or Sacrament so often lauded in the foregoing chapters. The whole closes with a
long exposition by him of the influence of the Æons of the Zodiac upon the soul of the infant born under each, and of the fortunate or malign intervention of the planets in such cases. Of the latter the sacred names are communicated apparently as used by the Magi. A few Egyptian deities, e.g. Bubastes and Typhon, are named here, and the Syrian Barbelo is frequently introduced, as a personage of the very highest importance, being no less than the heavenly mother of the Saviour himself. His earthly Mother is indeed represented as attending at these revelations, but she plays a very secondary part therein to the Magdalene and even to Salome. The last thing to be noticed in this most remarkable fruit of a crazy, mystic imagination--it is hard to say whether more Kabbalist, or Magian, or Christian--is the opposed dualism of many of the Powers introduced as agents in the economy of the universe: for example, there is an obedient and a rebellious Adamas (that highest name with the earlier Naaseni), a great and a little Sabaoth, and similar antitheses to be met with also in the later Ophite schemes.
14:* It is intended to issue an English translation as a supplement to the present work.
15:* This banishment of Sophia from the society of the other Æons is the grand turning-point of the principal Gnostic schemes, although each assigns a different reason for her degradation, as in the system of Valentinus, and also that of the later Ophites.