An Act of Irenaeus (Bishop of Lyon) Disputing with Gnostic Narcissus—and Roman Sages recount of the Early Christians
A Dramatic Act of Irenaeus disputing with Gnostic Narcissus, a pupil of Valentinus. The early Church saw the Gnostic’s intellectual form of Christianity incapable of reaching the poor, uneducated masses, these historians argue. The early Christians isolated Christianity from all other religions, and from any sense of philosophical Christianity. The early history begins with the differing schools among the Jews and early Christianity before its orthodox solidification was diverse. It had an intellectual brand of religious philosophy, which the early Christian officials, this scene suggests, considered unable to make sense to the masses. The argument, was that this could not gain traction, because the Gnostics were an intellectual circle, and education was a luxury of the elite. The Roman sages who witnessed the early Christians gives us a very familiar picture about them. Lastly, a very valuable piece is given, related to Gibbon’s account, and Dr. Richard Carrier’s lecture on how when the Christians were gaining thousands of new converts within the provincial cities throughout the Roman empire. New questions were being asked, and tactics developed to convert. The Christians replaced the logic and scientific thinking of the so-called Pagans with the dominant rule of faith over reason. The Christian canon (The Gospels, Acts and Epistles) are but fragments of gnostic wisdom, to which it owes its form and terminology. This pre-Christian ground-work was but built on the Mysteries of Initiation.
When the proto-Orthodox Christians gained imperial support and patronage from the Roman emperors, this sealed their authority. It was the proto-Orthodox Christians who rooted out any of the early unconventional schools of thought, e.g., as argued in Against Heresies, an overrated work of polemics in theology. The Hellenes, those Chrestians of the oracular temples, the Ophites and Therapeutae of Alexandria and Greece, the Roman educated elite and the temples, taught of a Virtue and SCIENCE, which they tried to widen the vision of the Christians with. The proofs of the divine the youth seek, can verily only come from that SCIENCE, and from an intellectual and mature religious philosophy. Christianity has created the false impression that, because Gnosticism was defeated, or no, “refuted” for certain “errors” not in line with the credo, that this means the Gnosis or the MYSTERIES is itself refuted and defeated. We beg to differ, and end the comedy played with Man, concerning this business of religion and priestly control.
“…the early Church Fathers, in their attempt to eliminate this more experiential Christianity in favor of building an orthodox institution—a universal, or catholic, church—declared the texts to be heretical. The Gnostics may well have buried the texts to avoid brutal purges being led by the notorious Bishop of Alexandria, Athanasius, in the year 367. Although many of the stories in what became the New Testament—the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection of Christ—are at least as strange as anything in the Gnostic texts, the Church leaders canonized the Gospels attributed to Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John as a reliable basis for a social organization with mass appeal. Gnosticism, with its emphasis on individual divinity and unmediated personal communion, was a threat to the authority of bishops and priests. Its suggestion, for instance, that the Resurrection of Jesus was a mythological vision, rather than, as the Synoptic Gospels assert, a historical event, was intolerable, and so was the Gnostic notion that God was both father and mother of Jesus. Thus, in the second century an orthodoxy began to take shape—and, with it, a temperament. Irenaeus, the orthodox Bishop of Lyons and one of the leading crusaders against the Gnostics, declared that, while certain heretics “boast that they possess more gospels than there really are,” no Church leader may, “however highly gifted he may be in matters of eloquence, teach doctrines different from these.” (David Remnick, The Devil Problem, April 3, 1995 Issue)DAVID REMNICK, THE DEVIL PROBLEM, APRIL 3, 1995 ISSUE
“The true Christians died with the last of the Gnostics, and the Christians of our day are but the usurpers of a name they no longer understand. As long as this is the case, Orientals cannot agree with Occidentals; no blending of religious ideas would be possible between them.” (Helena Blavatsky, Notes on Abbé Roca’s “Esoteric Christianity,” Le Lotus, Paris, Vol. 2, No. 9, December, 1887)
“The Church of Rome was Gnostic – just as much as the Marcionites were – until the beginning and even the middle of the second century; Marcion, the famous Gnostic, did not separate from it until the year 136, and Tatian left it still later. And why did they leave it? Because they had become heretics, the Church pretends; but the history of these cults contributed by esoteric manuscripts gives us an entirely different version. These famous Gnostics, they tell us, separated themselves from the Church because they could not agree to accept a Christ made flesh, and thus began the process of carnalizing the Christ-principle. It was then also that the metaphysical allegory experienced its first transformation – that allegory which was the fundamental doctrine of all the Gnostic fraternities.” (Helena Blavatsky, Notes on Abbé Roca’s “Esoteric Christianity,” Le Lotus, Paris, Vol. 2, No. 9, December, 1887)
“(…) there is the esoteric interpretation of the Christian texts which, read in the light of, and translated into, “the language of the Mysteries,” show us the identity of the fundamental and definitely universal truths; by this means, the four Gospels, as well as the Bible of Moses and everything else, from the first to the last, clearly appear to be a symbolic allegory of the same primitive mysteries and the Cycle of Initiation.
In carnalizing the central figure of the New Testament, in imposing the dogma of the Word made flesh, the Latin Church sets up a doctrine diametrically opposed to the tenets of Buddhist and Hindu Esotericism and the Greek Gnosis. Therefore, there will always be an abyss between the East and the West, as long as neither of these dogmas yields. Almost 2,000 years of bloody persecution against Heretics and Infidels by the Church looms before the Oriental nations to prevent them from renouncing their philosophic doctrines in favor of that which degrades the Christos principle. Then again statistics are available to prove that two-thirds of the population of the globe are still far from agreeing to gravitate to “one single Shepherd.” Armies of missionaries are sent to every corner of the earth; money by the millions is sacrificed by Rome every year and by tens of millions by the 350 to 360 Protestant sects, and what is the result of so much effort?” (ibid)
What did Roman sages think of the new religion, which was later to become highly popular through the conversion of Emperor Constantine, and change the course of history? Edward Gibbon explains it regarding the rise of the Christians during the Decline of Rome:
“The names of Seneca, of the elder and the younger Pliny, of Tacitus, of Plutarch, of Galen, of the slave Epictetus, and of the emperor Marcus Antoninus, adorn the age in which they flourished, and exalt the dignity of human nature. They filled with glory their respective stations, either in active or contemplative life; their excellent understandings were improved by study; philosophy had purified their minds from the prejudices of the popular superstition; and their days were spent in the pursuit of truth and the practice of virtue. Yet all these sages (it is no less an object of surprise than of concern) overlooked or rejected the perfection of the Christian system. Their language or their silence equally discover their contempt for the growing sect which in their time had diffused itself over the Roman empire. Those among them who condescend to mention the Christians consider them only as obstinate and perverse enthusiasts, who exacted an implicit submission to their mysterious doctrines, without being able to produce a single argument that could engage the attention of men of sense and learning.” (Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 1, Chapter 15, 1788.)
The Age of the Rule of Faith: The Christian Scheme
“It must be remembered that this period of history was particularly brilliant. The Roman Empire of that day was filled with minds well-schooled in the philosophy of Plato, Pythagoras, Aristotle and Zeno. The religious and philosophical systems of Egypt, Chaldea, Persia and India were known to many scholars. The work of Apollonius had greatly augmented the already existing interest in the philosophies of the Far Fast. Thousands of students were pouring out of the great Schools of Alexandria and Ephesus each year, and all of them were armed with knowledge. How could men like these accept the idea that the Jews were the only nation to whom God had revealed Himself? Knowing the Scriptures of other nations, how could they acknowledge the Jewish Bible as the only revelation of God? Being fully acquainted with the lives of other great Teachers, how could they accept Jesus as the only one? But some of them could, and did…”
“Constantine, the first Christian Emperor, published an edict giving freedom to all slaves who would embrace Christianity, and promising a white robe and twenty pieces of gold to all Roman citizens who would profess the Christian faith. As a result of this edict, twenty thousand men, with a proportionate number of women and children, were baptized in the city of Rome alone. This method of procuring converts naturally added nothing to the dignity of the Christian religion, and may have had something to do with the silence of contemporary historians.
Another reason for their silence may be found in the Christian attitude toward knowledge. The adoption of the Christian religion depended then, as it depends now, upon the profession of faith. The pursuit of knowledge was condemned by the Church from the first, and those who professed knowledge were first denounced, then persecuted and finally burned at the stake. As early as the second century we find Tertullian, the Church Father, declaring that,
“Schoolmasters and professors of literature are in affinity with manifest idolatry and sin.”
In the fourth century Eusebius complained against some of the more enlightened who continued their intellectual studies after their conversion to Christianity. He accused them of abandoning the rule of faith in favor of the “subtile precepts of logic,” and declared that they were corrupting the simplicity of the Gospels by the refinements of reason.
Passing over the Middle Ages, where any man who professed knowledge was in danger of his life, and coming to the enlightened year of 1870, we find Pope Pius IX making this assertion:
“We therefore pronounce false every assertion which is contrary to the enlightened rule of faith. Moreover, the Church holds likewise from God the right and the duty to condemn knowledge falsely so-called, lest any man be cheated by philosophy and vain deceit.”
This hostile attitude toward knowledge seems to have been confined entirely to the Christians. Before the days of the first Christian Emperor, we can search in vain for any enactment against the acquisition of knowledge, or for any persecution of those who possessed it. Every one was allowed intellectual freedom, and men like Galen, Lucian and Plotinus, who in the Middle Ages would have been burned at the stake, lived in perfect peace and security under the Roman standard, fully protected by the Roman law.
Perhaps it was this denunciation of knowledge and this criticism of those who possessed it which kept men like Seneca, the older and the younger Pliny, Tacitus, Plutarch, Dion Cassius, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius from evincing any interest in Christianity. For, as Gibbon says in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:
“All these men overlooked or rejected the perfection of the Christian system. Those among them who condescend to mention the Christians consider them only as obstinate and perverse enthusiasts, who exacted an implicit submission to their mysterious doctrines, without being able to produce a single argument that could engage the attention of men of sense and learning.”
It must be remembered that this period of history was particularly brilliant. The Roman Empire of that day was filled with minds well-schooled in the philosophy of Plato, Pythagoras, Aristotle and Zeno. The religious and philosophical systems of Egypt, Chaldea, Persia and India were known to many scholars. The work of Apollonius had greatly augmented the already existing interest in the philosophies of the Far Fast. Thousands of students were pouring out of the great Schools of Alexandria and Ephesus each year, and all of them were armed with knowledge.
How could men like these accept the idea that the Jews were the only nation to whom God had revealed Himself? Knowing the Scriptures of other nations, how could they acknowledge the Jewish Bible as the only revelation of God? Being fully acquainted with the lives of other great Teachers, how could they accept Jesus as the only one? But some of them could, and did, accept Jesus as the last of a long line of teachers. They recognized that his teachings were only repetitions of ancient ethical precepts, and that the legends surrounding his life were identical with those of his predecessors. Knowing that Truth is universal, and that expressions of Truth had appeared in different lands at different times, they took those universal truths, wove them into the Christian tradition, and presented them to the world as the true spirit of Christianity.
These men tried to show the philosophical basis of Jesus’ teachings. They tried to prove that there is a science of the soul as well as a science of the body. They tried to present Christianity in a form which would appeal not only to the untutored mind, but at the same time give the greatest minds their fullest scope. These men were known by many names. The world today calls them the “Christian” Gnostics, but the Church of that day called them Heretics, and the whole history of the second and third centuries of Christianity revolves around the attempts of the Church to refute and destroy their teachings.
The original source from which the Gnostics drew their teachings is known as the Gnosis. The word means knowledge, and refers to the ancient Wisdom-Religion, the secret science of sciences from which all true systems of religion and philosophy have sprung. The Gnosis has always existed, and there have always been the knowers of it: the true Gnostics. These are the great Adepts of history, the Mahatmas, the spiritual Teachers of the race.” (Great Theosophists Series—The Gnostics, Theosophy Magazine, Vol. 24, No. 11, September, 1936)
The Age of the Rule of Faith and Christian attitudes affirm Dr. Richard Carrier’s arguments in Ancient Roman Creationism: Scientific-Thinking Pagans versus Armchair Christians.