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sects after the receiving the Christian faith.


as every one endeavoured to force the doctrines of the gospel into a conformity with their particular sentiments and tenets, so Christianity must have appeared in different forms, among the different members of a sect, which passed, however, under one general name. Another circumstance which also contributed to the diversity of sects among this people, was, that some being Jews by birth, (as Cerinthus and others,) could not so easily assume that contempt of Moses, and that aversion to his history, which were so virulently indulged by those who had no attachment to the Jewish nation, nor to its religious institutions. We observe, in the last place, that the whole religious and philosophical system of the Gnostics was destitute of any sure or solid foundation, and depended, both for its existence and support, upon the airy suggestions of genius and fancy. This consideration alone is a sufficient key to explain the divisions that reigned in this sect, since uniformity can never subsist with assurance, but upon the basis of evident and substantial truth; and variety must naturally introduce itself into those systems and institutions which are formed and conducted by the sole powers of invention and fancy.



X. As then the Christian religion was, in its Dositheus. first rise, corrupted in several places by the mixture of an impious and chimerical philosophy with its pure and sublime doctrines, it will be proper to mention here the heads of those sects, who, in the first century, cast a cloud upon the lustre of the rising church. Among these, many give the first place to Dositheus, a Samaritan. It is certain, that about the time of our Saviour, a man so named, lived among the Samaritans, and abandoned that sect; but all the accounts we have of him tend to show, that he is improperly placed among those called heretics, and should rather be


CENT. ranked among the enemies of Christianity. For I. this delirious man set himself up for the Messiah, whom God had promised to the Jews, and disowning, of consequence, the divine mission of Christ, could not be said to corrupt his doctrine [u].

Simon Ma

perly a retic.

XI. The same observation holds true with regus not pro-spect to Simon Magus. This impious man is not to be ranked among the number of those who corrupted with their errors the purity and simplicity of the Christian doctrine; nor is he to be considered as the parent and chief of the heretical tribe, in which point of light he has been injudiciously viewed by almost all ancient and modern writers. He is rather to be placed in the number of those who were enemies to the progress and advancement of Christianity. For it is manifest, from all the records we have concerning him, that, after his defection from the Christians, he retained not the least attachment to Christ, but opposed himself openly to the divine Saviour, and assumed to himself blasphemously the title of the supreme power of God [w].

His history,

XII. The accounts which ancient writers give us of Simon the magician, and of his opinions, seem so different, and indeed so inconsistent with each other, that certain learned men have considered them as regarding two different persons, bearing the name of Simon; the one a magician, and an apostate from Christianity; the other a Gnostic philosopher. This opinion, which supposes a fact, without any other proof than a seeming difference in the narration of the ancient historians, ought not to be too lightly adopted. To depart from the authority of ancient writers in

[u] See Basnage, Histoire des Juifs, lib. ii. cap. xiii. Rich. Simon, Critique de la Bibliothéque des Auteurs Ecclesiastiques de Du Pin, tom. iii. cap. xiii. p. 304.

[w] Origen adv. Celsum, lib. v. p. 272. edit. Spenceri.



this matter is by no means prudent; nor is it ne- CENT. cessary to reconcile the different accounts already mentioned, whose inconsistency is not real, but apparent only. Simon was by birth a Samaritan, or a Jew: when he had studied philosophy at Alexandria [x], he made a public profession of magic, (which was nothing very uncommon at that time,) and persuaded the Samaritans, by fictitious miracles, that he had received from God the power of commanding and restraining those evil beings by which mankind were tormented [y]. Having seen the miracles which Philip wrought by a divine power, he joined himself to this apostle, and embraced the doctrine of Christ, but with no other design than to receive the power of working miracles, in order to promote a low interest, and to preserve and increase his impious authority over the minds of men. Then St. Peter pointed out to him solemnly the impiety of his intentions, and the vanity of his hopes, in that severe discourse recorded in the viiith chapter of the Acts of the Apostles; then the vile impostor not only returned to his former ways by an entire defection from the Christians, but also opposed, wherever he came, the progress of the gospel, and even travelled into different countries with that odious design. Many things are recorded of this impostor, of his tragical end, and of the statue erected to him at Rome, which the greatest part of the learned reject as fabulous. They are at least uncertain, and destitute of all probability [z].

[x] Clementina Homil. ii. p. 633. tom. ii. P. P. Apost. [y] Acts viii. 9, 10.

[z] See Beausobre Histoire de Manich. p. 203. 395. Van. Dale's Dissertation, De Statua Simoni, subjoined to his discourse concerning the ancient oracles. Dellingius, Observat. Sacr. lib. i. Observ. xxxvi. p. 140. Tillemont, Memoires pour servir à l'Histoire de l'Eglise, tom. i. p. 340. The circumstances of Simon's tragical end, viz. his having pretended to fly, by a miraculous power, in order to please the



and doctrines.

XIII. It is beyond all doubt, that Simon was in the class of those philosophers, who not only maintained the eternity of matter, but also the existence of an evil being, who presided, and thus shared the empire of the universe with the supreme and beneficent mind. And as there was a good deal of variety in the sentiments of the different members of this sect, it is more than probable, that Simon embraced the opinion of those, who held, that matter moved from eternity, by an intrinsic and necessary activity, had by its innate force produced, at a certain period of time, from its own substance, the evil principle which now exercises dominion over it, with all his numerous train of attendants. From this pernicious doctrine, the other errors attributed to him concerning fate, the indifference of human actions, the impurity of the human body, the power of magic, and such like extravagances, flow naturally, as from their true and genuine source [a]. But this odious magician still proceeded to more shocking degrees of enormity in his monstrous fictions; for he pretended, that in his person resided the greatest and emperor Nero, who was fond of magic; his falling to the ground, and breaking his limbs, in consequence of the prayers of St. Peter and St. Paul; and his putting himself to death, through shame and despair, to have been thus defeated by the superior power of the apostles; all these romantic fictions have derived their credit from a set of ecclesiastical writers, who, on many occasions, prefer the marvellous to the truth, as favourable to a system of religion, or rather superstition, which truth and reason loudly disown.

[a] The dissertation of Horbius, concerning Simon the magician, which was published not long ago in the Biblioth. Hæresiologica of Voigtius, tom. i. par. III. p. 511. seems preferable to any thing else upon that subject, though it be a juvenile performance, and not sufficiently finished. He follows the steps of his master Thomasius, who, with admirable penetration, discovered the true source of that multitude of errors with which the Gnostics, and particularly Simon, were so dismally polluted. Voigtius, in the place above cited, p. 567. gives a list of the other authors who have made any mention of this impostor.



most powerful of the divine æons; that another æon CENT. of the female sex, the mother of all human souls dwelt in the person of his mistress Helena [b], and that he came, by the command of God, upon earth, to abolish the empire of those that had formed this material world, and to deliver Helena from their power and dominion.

XIV. Another wrong-headed teacher, named Menander. Menander, a Samaritan also by birth, appeared in this century. He is said to have been instructed by Simon; though this opinion has no other foundation than the general notion, that all the various sects of the Gnostics derived their origin from that magician; and this notion is entirely groundless. Be that as it will, Menander should rather be ranked with the lunatics, than with the heretics of antiquity, seeing he also took it into his head to exhibit himself to the world as the promised Saviour. For it appears by the testimonies of Irenæus, Justin, and Tertullian, that he pretended to be one of the æons, sent from the pleroma, or celestial regions, to succour the souls that lay groaning under bodily oppression and servitude, and to maintain them against the violence and stratagems of the dæmons that hold the reins of empire in this sublunary world. As this doctrine was built upon the same foundation with that of Simon Magus, therefore the ancient writers looked upon him as the instructor of Menander.

XV. If then we separate these three persons, Nicolainow successively mentioned, from the heretics oftans. the first century, we may rank among the chief of the Christian sectaries, and particularly of those that bear the general name of Gnostics, the Nico

[b] Some very learned men have given an allegorical explication of what the ancient writers say concerning Helena, the mistress of this magician, and imagine, that by the name Helena is signified either matter or spirit. But nothing is more easy than to show upon what slight foundations this opinion is built.

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