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CENT. I.

PART II.

The oriental philosophers divided in their senti

ments.

recourse to wild fictions and romantic fables, in order to give an account of the formation of the world, and the origin of mankind.

-sects.

VI. Those who, by mere dint of fancy and invention, endeavour to cast a light upon obscure points, or to solve great and intricate difficulties, are seldom agreed about the methods of proceeding; and, by a necessary consequence, separate into different Such was the case of the oriental philosophers, when they set themselves to explain the difficulties mentioned above. Some imagined two eternal principles from whence all things proceeded, the one presiding over light, and the other over matter, and by their perpetual conflict, explained the mixture of good and evil, that appears in the universe. Others maintained, that the being, which presided over matter, was not an eternal principle, but a subordinate intelligence, one of those whom the Supreme God produced from himself. They supposed that this being was moved, by a sudden impulse, to reduce to order the rude mass of matter, which lay excluded from the mansions of the Deity, and also to create the human race. A third sort fell upon a system different from the two preceding, and formed to themselves the notion of a triumvirate of beings, in which the Supreme Deity was distinguished both from the material, evil principle, and from the creator of this sublunary world. These, then, were the three leading sects of the oriental philosophy, which were subdivided into various factions, by the disputes that arose, when they came to explain more fully their respective opinions, and to pursue them into all their monstrous consequences. These multiplied divisions were the natural and necessary consequences of a system which had no solid founda.. tion, and was no more, indeed, than an airy phantom, blown up by the wanton fancies of self sufficient men. And that these divisions did really

subsist, the history of the christian sects, that embraced this philosophy, abundantly testifies.

CENT. I.

PART II.

jons concern

VIL. It is, however, to be observed, that, as all Their opin these sects were founded upon one common prin- ing the Deity. ciple, their divisions did not prevent their holding, in common, certain opinions concerning the Deity, the universe, the human race, and several other subjects. They were all, therefore, unanimous in acknowledging the existence of an eternal nature, in whom dwelt the fulness of wisdom, goodness, and all other perfections, and of whom no mortal was able to form a complete idea. This great being was considered by them as a most pure and radiant light, diffused through the immensity of space, which they called pleroma, a Greek word, which signifies fulness; and they taught concerning him, and his operations, the following things "the eternal nature, infinitely perfect, and infinitely happy, having dwelt from everlasting in a profound solitude, and in a blessed tranquillity, produced, at length, from itself, two minds of a different sex, which resembled their supreme parent in the most perfect manner. From the prolific union of these two beings others arose, which were also followed by succeeding generations; so that, in process of time, a celestial family was formed in the pleroma. This divine progeny, being immutable in its nature, and above the power of mortality, was called, by the philosophers, æon,' a term

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'It appears highly probable, that the apostle Paul had an eye to this fantastic mythology, when, in the first chapter of his First Epistle to Timothy, ver. 4, he exhorts him not to give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, &c.

The word, ay or con, is commonly used by the Greek writers, but in different senses. Its signification in the gnostic system is not extremely evident, and several learned men have despaired of finding out its true meaning. Ay, or con, among the ancients, was used to signify the age of man, or the duration of human life. In after times, it was employed by philosophers to express the duration of spiritual and VOL. I.

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PART II.

CENT. I. which signifies, in the Greek language, an eternal nature. How many in number these aons were, was a point much controverted among the oriental

this

sages.

Concerning VIII. "Beyond the mansions of light, where the origin of dwells the Deity with his celestial offspring, there lies a rude and unwieldy mass of matter, agitated by innate, turbulent, and irregular motions. One of the celestial natures descending from the pleroma, either by a fortuitous impulse, or in consequence of a divine commission, reduced to order this unseemly mass, adorned it with a rich variety of gifts, created men, and inferior animals of different kinds, to store it with inhabitants, and corrected its malignity by mixing with it a certain invisible beings. These philosophers used the word povos, as the measure of corporeal and changing objects; and aov, as the measure of such as were immutable and eternal. And as God is the chief of those immutable beings which are spiritual, and consequently not to be perceived by our outward senses, his infinite and eternal duration was expressed by the term alay, or con, and that is the sense in which that word is now commonly understood. It was, however, afterward attributed to other spiritual and invisible beings; and the oriental philosophers, who lived about the time of Christ's appearance upon earth, and made use of the Greek language, understood by it the duration of eternal and immutable things, the space or period of time, in which they exist. Nor did the variations, through which this word passed, end here; from expressing only the duration of beings, it was by a metonomy, employed to signify the beings themselves. Thus the Supreme Being was called alov, or con; and the angels distinguished also by the title of cons. All this will lead us to the true meaning of that word among the gnostics. They had formed to themselves the notion of an invisible and spiritual world, composed of entities or virtues, proceeding from the Supreme Being, and succeeding each other at certain intervals of time, so as to form an eternal chain, of which our world was the terminating link; a notion of eternity very different from that of the platonists, who represented it as stable, permanent, and void of succession. To the beings that formed this eternal chain, the gnostics assigned a certain term of duration, and a certain sphere of action. Their terms of duration were, at first, called, asoves, and they themselves were afterward metonymically distinguished by that title.

PART II.

portion of light, and also of a matter celestial and CENT.L divine. This creator of the world is distinguished from the Supreme Deity by the name of demiurge. His character is a compound of shining qualities, and insupportable arrogance; and his excessive lust of empire effaces his talents and his virtues. He claims dominion over the new world he has formed, as his sovereign right; and, excluding totally the Supreme Deity from all concernment in it, he demands from mankind, for himself and his associates, divine honours."

Concerning the state and

human souls.

IX. "Man is a compound of a terrestrial and corrupt body, and a soul which is of celestial origin, destination of and, in some measure, an emanation from the divinity. This nobler part is miserably weighed down and encumbered by the body, which is the seat of all irregular lusts and impure desires. It is this body that seduces the soul from the pursuit of truth, and not only turns it from the contemplation and worship of the Supreme Being, so as to confine its homage and veneration to the Creator of this world, but also attaches it to terrestrial objects, and to the immoderate pursuit of sensual pleasures, by which its nature is totally polluted. The sovereign mind employs various means to deliver his offspring from this deplorable servitude, especially the ministry of divine messengers, whom he sends to enlighten, to admonish, and to reform the human race. In the mean time, the imperious demiurge exerts his power in opposition to the merciful purpose of the Supreme Being, resists the influence of those solemn invitations by which he exhorts mankind to return to him, and labours to efface the knowledge of God in the minds of intelligent beings. In this conflict, such souls, as, throwing off the yoke of the creators and rulers of this world, rise to their Supreme Parent, and subdue the turbulent and sinful motions, which corrupt matter excites within them, shall, at the dis

PART II.

CENT.I. solution of their mortal bodies, ascend directly to the pleroma. Those, on the contrary, who remain in the bondage of servile superstition, and corrupt matter, shall, at the end of this life, pass into new bodies, until they awake from their sinful lethargy. In the end, however, the Supreme God shall come forth victorious, triumph over all opposition, and, having delivered from their servitude the greatest part of those souls that are imprisoned in mortal bodies, shall dissolve the frame of this visible world, and involve it in a general ruin. After this solemn period, primitive tranquillity shall be restored in the universe, and God shall reign with happy spirits, in undisturbed felicity, through the ev erlasting ages.

Of the Jewish philosophy.

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x. Such were the principal tenets of the oriental philosophy. The state of letters and philosophy among the Jews comes next under consideration; and of this we may form some idea from what has been said already concerning that nation. It is chiefly to be observed, that the dark and hidden science, which they called the kabbala, was at this time taught and inculcated by many among that superstitious people." This science, in many things, bears a strong resemblance to the oriental philosophy; or, to speak more accurately, it is indeed that same philosophy accommodated to the Jewish religion, and tempered with a certain mixture of truth. Nor were the doctrines of the Grecian sages unknown to the Jews at the period now before us; since, from the time of Alexander the Great, some of them had been admitted, even into the Mosaic religion. We shall say nothing concerning the opinions which they adopted from the

"See Jo. Franc. Buddei Introductio in Historiam Philos. Hebræorum; as also the authors which B. Wolf mentions, with encomiums, in his Bibliotheca Hebraica, tom iii.

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