(Volume I [867 pages], Volume II [525 pages])
In Volume I. pp. 824, 825, and supra, pp. 130, 131, I spoke of what was called the Eclectic philosophy. This I suspected was really the original Chrstianity. I shall now return to that subject. About the time of the Cæsars we find the mysterious secrets of Crhj-tianism beginning to creep out, to escape from the crypts, and to shew themselves to the world in various ways. We see this very particularly marked in the general expectation of the world, that some great one was to come. After a certain time, when the period of the new age was certainly passed, as it appears, from the passage in Juvenal,1 to have been well known to be, a belief gradually arose that the great one, the Crhj, the Saviour, had appeared. The first effect of this was, to produce a feverish state of the public mind, rendered worse by the utter contempt into which the corrupt state of the heathen religion had fallen; and the next effect was, to produce a great number of sects, of what were called Christians, each inquiring if the great one had come. Some thought that Herod,2 others believed that Cæsar, might be the person. Indeed, it is well known, that each of these was believed to be the person by vast numbers of devotees. Soon after this time, the destruction of Jerusalem, of its records, and of every thing which could give certainty to a report, having taken place, the popular voice fixed upon an individual who was said to have lived and taught there, and to whom was applied that part of the mythic mythos relating to the crucifixion and resurrection; and then it was found, for the first time, by the Paulites, that this Saviour was to be a spiritual not a temporal Messiah. It is impossible on reading the works of Plato, and perhaps of every one of that ancient philosophers, not to remark the nonsense with which their writings appear to abound : all this arises from their wish to keep their doctrines secret, and is well described by a passage in the Encyclopædia Britannica, in voce Platonism. Speaking of Plato, the author says, “After having said that he meant to wrap up his meaning in such obscurity, as that an adept only should fully comprehend it, he adds expressions to the following import : The Lord of nature is surrounded on all sides by his works : whatever is, exists by his permission : he is the fountain and source of excellence : around the second person are placed things of the second order; and around the third, those of the third degree. … (Opera, p. 1269.) Of this obscure passage a very satisfactory explanation is given by Dr. Olgilvie.” For want of attention to this principle, all translators have endeavoured to make these mystical works of the ancients to read into sense, and to find out from their literal meaning a system, which it is evident their authors never intended to teach. A system they had certainly; but it was not a system described or expressed by the common meaning of the words, but one which was hidden in jargon, purposely made unintelligible to common readers, when looking only to the common meaning of the words.3 Few people, I am persuaded, are aware of the extent to which this pernicious practice was carried. The moment the author of the above passage in the Encyclopædia has finished it he throws it aside; and, without any attention to the assertion of Plato, that he meant to couch his doctrine in obscure terms, he proceeds to reason upon their literal meaning, and to shew how they differ from the Christian Trinity. No unprejudiced person can doubt that the Trinity of Plato was substantially both the Trinity of the Christians, and the Trinity of the Hindoos, and no one but a devotee, who has sacrificed his understanding to fears for his future welfare, will doubt on the subject. The following is the account of the Eclectics,4 and of the greatest of the sect or school, Ammonius Saccas, given by Edinburgh Encyclopædia : “This learned man was born of Christian parents, and educated in their religion : the outward profession of which, it is said, he never entirely deserted. As his genius was vast and comprehensive, so were his projects bold and singular; for he attempted a general coalition of all sects, whether philosophic or religious, by framing a system of doctrines which he imagined calculated to unite them all, the Christians not excepted, in the most perfect harmony. In pursuance of this design, he maintained, that the great principles of all philosophic and religious truth, were to be found equally in all sects; and that they differed from each other only in their method of expressing them, and in some opinions of little or no importance; and that by a proper interpretation of their respective sentiments, they might easily be united into one body. Accordingly, all the Gentile religions, and even the Christian, were illustrated and explained by the principles of this universal philosophy; and the fables of the priests were to be removed from Paganism, and the commentaries and interpretations of the disciples of Jesus from Christianity. In conformity to this plan, he insisted, that all the religious systems of all nations should be restored to their original purity, and reduced to their primitive standard, viz., the ancient philosophy of the East, preserved uncorrupted by Plato; and he affirmed, that this project was agreeable to the intentions of Jesus Christ, whose sole view in descending upon earth was, to set bounds to the reigning superstitions, to remove the errors that had blended themselves with the religions of all nations, but not to abolish the ancient theology from which they were derived. He, therefore, adopted the doctrines which were received in Egypt concerning the universe and the Deity, considered as constituting one great whole : concerning the eternity of the world, the nature of souls, the empire of providence, and the government of the world by dæmons. He also established a system of moral discipline, which allowed the people in general to live according to the laws of their country and the dictates of nature; but required the wise to exalt their minds by contemplation, and to mortify the body, so that they might be capable of enjoying the presence and assistance of the dæmons, and ascending after death to the presence of the Supreme Parent. In order to reconcile the popular religions, and particularly the Christian, with this new system, he made the whole history of the Heathen Gods an allegory, maintaining that they were only celestial ministers, entitled to an inferior kind of worship : and he acknowledged that Jesus Christ was an excellent man, and the friend of God; but alleged that it was not his design entirely to abolish the worship of dæmons, and that his only intention was to purify the ancient religion. This system so plausible in its first rise, but so comprehensive and complying in its progress, has been the source of innumerable errors and corruptions in the Christian church. At its first establishment it is said to have had the approbation of Athenagoras, Pantænus, and Clemens the Alexandrian, and of all who had the care of the public school belonging to the Christians at Alexandria. It was afterwards adopted by Longinus, the celebrated author of the treatise on the Sublime, Plotinus, Herennius, Origen, Porphyry, Jamblicus the disciple of Porphyry, Sopater, Edisius, Eustathius, Maximus of Ephesus, Priscus, Chrysanthius the master of Julian, Julian the Apostate, Hierocles, Proclus, and many others, both Pagans and Christians. The above opinions of Ammonius are collected from the writings and disputations of his disciples, the modern Platonics; for he himself left nothing in writing behind him : nay, he imposed a law upon his disciples not to divulge his doctrines among the multitude; which injunction they made no scruple to neglect or violate.”
1 See Volume I. pp. 187, 579. 2 See supra, p.233.
3 Written originally in a language of numeral symbols or what we call ciphers.
4 Eclectic, from ..., I choose. The Eclectics were called Analogetici, or, as Dr. Brewster says, never assumed any distinct name. Thus, under this designation, the ancient Chrstains have been hidden.
In considering the above description, it should be recollected, that it is written by a person not only profoundly ignorant, if my idea of philosophy be correct, but by a person whose prejudices lead unconsciously to misrepresent it in every way. But yet enough transpires to shew us, that, according to this account, all the leading points which I have been advocating through the whole of my work are to be found in it : and, indeed, that the system must have been the same with some trifling discrepancies, in which it is probable that both I and those who have represented to us the doctrines of Ammonius, may have fallen into mistakes. It were ridiculous to suppose that either I or they can have wholly avoided error; and I beg every candid reader to recollect, that the malicious exaggeration of trifling errors ought not to be permitted to influence his mind with respect to the remainder. In the list of the advocates of this system we have unquestionably the most illustrious names of antiquity, both Christians and Gentiles. It is worthy of observation, that we have in this list, persons said to be the greatest enemies of Christianity, which make me suspect that these men were only enemies to the prevailing sect of the Paulites. Let it not be forgotten, that we have the works of Julian, Longinus, Porphyry, &c., only from the hands of the Paulites, who, we know, omitted nothing to misrepresent and blacken their enemies, having recourse to frauds and forgeries of every kind. For an instance, I have only to name the Philosophy of Oracles, forged in the name of Porphyry, as declared by Lardner. How can we know that the same may not have been done for Julian ? In the account given by the Encyclopædia, there seems nothing in the system which may not easily be shewn to be rational and consistent with sound philosophy, except the part relating to dæmons, which was, in fact, the doctrine of the Romish church, under the name of angels. It may be collected from the latter part of the account that Ammonius fell into the usual error of all the philosophers, of endeavouring to keep the system secret, in consequence of which, it was not committed to writing; and, as might be expected, it was first grossly misrepresented, and then finally lost. In order the better to disguise the truth respecting its advocates, the Paulites called them Eclectics; but the name by which they called themselves was Philaletheans, or lovers or friends of truth. In not committing his doctrines to writing, we find Ammonius Saccas treading strictly in the footsteps of Socrates, Pythagoras, and his master—Jesus. I think when the author of the above-cited article represents this system as new, it is obvious that he grossly misrepresents it, and that this was nothing but the oldest and original system taught by Jesus, and held by the enlightened part of his followers in the school of Alexandria; at least that it was held by them to be so. So far from being new, it is manifest that the Eclectic or Philalethean sect,* one of whom Jesus Christ was, existed before his time, and was previously taught by Potamon, who was succeeded first by Jesus, then by Ammonius. The doctrines taught by them both were the ancient, oriental, uncorrupted Gnosis or Wisdom, which I have shewn existed in all nations and all religions. We are misled in our estimate of it by seeing it through the prejudices instilled into us by our education in the doctrines of Paul, who founded one of the numerous and low or inferior sects. This sect, as I have frequently remarked, aided by Constantine, got possession of all power, and thus was enabled to destroy or corrupt all evidence by which the truth might have been discovered. We must not forget that, in these ancient systems, philosophy cannot be separated from religion—for philosophy was religion, and religion was philosophy. If we take this view of the subject, we may not find it difficult to discover the reason why, in all ages, the Paulite priesthood have been so addicted to fraud and dishonest practices; for it is evident that, without these infamous measures, they never could have succeeded in so completely deceiving mankind as they have done. This readily accounts for their systematic destruction of all books, Christian as well as Gentile, except the contemptible trash of their own sect. It seems pretty clear to me, that when we meet with the epithet anti-Christian applied to such men as Porphyry and Julian, we may almost always read instead of it the word anti-Paulite. It must not be supposed, I maintain, that there were not differences among the Philaletheans—for instance, between Clemens and Porphyry. No doubt there were differences; but though these differences are unquestionable, yet it is evident they themselves maintained, that their doctrines were virtually the same.
* Of which sect I beg to be considered a member.
I now conclude with a simple statement of what, (as it appears to me,) an unprejudiced and dispassionate inquirer after truth may reasonably believe respecting Jesus and his doctrines. If any learned and liberal-minded priest shall think that I have mistaken any fact, or erred in the conduct of any argument, or in any conclusion which I may have drawn, I shall be extremely happy to receive this correction. I shall notice it, with the respect it deserves, in an appendix, which I shall publish for this and other purposes.* In the time of Tiberius appeared a man of the name of John. He was a Nazarite, of the monastic order of the Pythagorean Essenes, and lived the life of a hermit. He was put to death by Herod, for rebuking him for his vices. About the same time lived a person, who was his cousin, whose original name has probably been changed, like that of Abraham, Jacob, Joshua, Pythagoras, &c., but who has since been known by the name of Jesus Christ. This person was also a Nazarite, of the same sect or monastic order—the Pythagorean Essenes. He, like his cousin John, was a philosopher, a teacher of morality and of reformation of manners to his Jewish countrymen. He was put to death** by the priests of the Pharisees, the prevailing or orthodox sect, at that time, in Judea, against whose vices he loudly declaimed, and whose hypocrisy he exposed. He was a person of a most virtuous life and amiable manners—the Socrates or Pythagoras of his day. We know that he taught a very strict and pure morality, the unity of God, the immortality of the soul, and that this life is only a state of probation for a state of future existence, in which every person will be rewarded or punished according to his merits or demerits. These are the facts which we know respecting Jesus and his doctrines,—and as I believe that the facts are real, and that the doctrines are true, I consider that I am his follower, his disciple, and a Christian.
* “In the midst of life we are in death.” Two years and a half before this sentence was printed, the Author was numbered with the dead ! Editor.
** As this part of the Author’s MS. was transmitted, by his direction, to the printer, unaltered, it may admit of doubt whether he was fully satisfied with the evidence adduced from Irenæus in proof that Jesus Christ was not crucified, but attained the age of fifty. See supra, pp. 120-123, 142, 228. Editor.
END OF ANACALYPSIS.