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History of Philosophy
Heretical Systems
by Turner, William (S.T.D.)


Of the heretical systems which sprang up during the first centuries of the Christian era, Monarchianism, Arianism, and Apollinarism belong exclusively to the history of theological opinions. Gnosticism and Manicheism are of greatest interest in the history of Patristic philosophy.

Sources. Besides the work entitled Pistis Sophia and a few fragments, which constitute the entire body of original Gnostic literature, we have the writings of Irenaeus and Hippolytus. To these must be added the works of Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Eusebius, St. Augustine, and the second of the Enneads of Plotinus. For our knowledge of Manichean doctrines we are indebted to the writings of St. Augustine.

Gnosticism. Cerinthus, ~~~~ainus, Marcion, Carpocrates, Basilides, and Valentinus, all of whom flourished during the second century, were the principal teachers of the Gnostic doctrine. Dissatisfied with the explanation which the Christian religion had to offer on such questions as the origin of evil and the nature of man, the Gnostics turned to pagan philosophy for a solution of these and other problems. But, while they thus made reason the basis and criterion of all truth, they were not willing to set aside altogether the authority of Christ's teaching. They had recourse, therefore, to the theory that Christ, besides the exoteric doctrines which He imparted to all His listeners, committed to His chosen disciples a higher esoteric doctrine, which constitutes the true essence of Christian teaching. This esoteric doctrine, gn˘sis is the alleged source of all that the Gnostics taught.

In point of fact, the Gnostic teaching is a mixture of the philosophies of Philo and Plotinus with certain elements of Christianity. The Gnostics maintained the essential antithesis of the spiritual and the material; the origin, by emanation from God, of numberless aeons, the sum of which is the pleroma; and the final return of all things to God by a universal redemption. They recognized no mystery in the Christian sense of the word, the gnosis being the merest subterfuge, and human reason the really ultimate test of all truth, supernatural as well as natural.

Manicheism. This sect was founded by Manes, a Persian, who in the third century became a Christian and sought to introduce into Christian theology and philosophy the Parsee conception of the dualism of God and Matter. There is no doubt that his followers, in developing the teachings of the founder of the sect, were influenced to a large extent by the Gnostic dualism, and laid claim, as the Gnostics did, to a special gnosis. They concerned themselves chiefly with the problem of evil, assuming the existence of two eternal principles, the one essentially good and the other essentially evil, and deriving from the latter all the evil, physical and moral, which exists in the world. They maintained that from the good principle there emanated, in the first place, primeval man, who was the first to enter into the struggle with evil; in the next place the Spirit of Life, who rescued primeval man from the powers of darkness; finally the World-Soul, Christ, the Son of primeval man, who restored to man the light which he had lost in the struggle with darkness. They distinguished in man two souls -- the soul that animates the body, and the soul of light, which is part of the World-Soul, Christ. The former is the creation of the powers of darkness, the latter is an emanation from light itself. Thus, man's soul is a battlefield on which light and darkness are at war, as they are in the universe. Human action depends on the outcome of the contest: there is no freedom of choice. All matter is evil and the cause of evil.

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