Malankara World

THE GOSPELS IN THE SECOND CENTURY

AN EXAMINATION OF THE CRITICAL PART OF A WORK ENTITLED
'SUPERNATURAL RELIGION'

By W. Sanday, M.A.


CHAPTER 7

BASILIDES AND VALENTINUS

Still following the order of 'Supernatural Religion,' we pass with the critic to another group of heretical writers in the earlier part of the second century. In Basilides the Gnostic we have the first of a chain of writers who, though not holding the orthodox tradition of doctrine, yet called themselves Christians (except under the stress of persecution) and used the Christian books--whether or to what extent the extant documents of Christianity we must now endeavor to determine.

Basilides carries us back to an early date in point of time. He taught at Alexandria in the reign of Hadrian (117-137 A.D.). Hippolytus expounds at some length, and very much in their own words, the doctrines of Basilides and his school. There is a somewhat similar account by Epiphanius, and more incidental allusions in Clement of Alexandria and Origen.

The notices that have come down to us of the writings of Basilides are confusing. Origen says that 'he had the effrontery to compose a Gospel and call it by his own name' [Endnote 188:1]. Eusebius quotes from Agrippa Castor, a contemporary and opponent from the orthodox side, a statement that 'he wrote four and twenty books (presumably of commentary) upon the Gospel' [Endnote 189:1]. Clement of Alexandria gives rather copious extracts from the twenty-third of these books, to which he gave the name of 'Exegetics' [Endnote 189:2].

Tischendorf assumes, in a manner that is not quite so 'arbitrary and erroneous' [Endnote 189:3] as his critic seems to suppose, that this Commentary was upon our four Gospels. It is not altogether clear how far Eusebius is using the words of Agrippa Castor and how far his own. If the latter, there can be no doubt that he understood the statement of Agrippa Castor as Tischendorf understands his, i.e. as referring to our present Gospels; but supposing his words to be those of the earlier writer, it is possible that, coming from the orthodox side, they may have been used in the sense which Tischendorf attributes to them. There can be no question that Irenaeus used [Greek: to euangelion] for the canonical Gospels collectively, and Justin Martyr may _perhaps_ have done so. Tischendorf himself does not maintain that it refers to our Gospels _exclusively_. Practically the statements in regard to the Commentary of Basilides lead to nothing.

Neither does it appear any more clearly what was the nature of the Gospel that Basilides wrote. The term [Greek: euangelion] had a technical metaphysical sense in the Basilidian sect and was used to designate a part of the transcendental Gnostic revelations. The Gospel of Basilides may therefore, as Dr. Westcott suggests, reasonably enough, have had a philosophical rather than a historical character. The author of 'Supernatural Religion' censures Dr. Westcott for this suggestion [Endnote 189:4], but a few pages further on he seems to adopt it himself, though he applies it strangely to the language of Eusebius or Agrippa Castor and not to Basilides' own work.

In any case Hippolytus expressly says that, after the generation of Jesus, the Basilidians held 'the other events in the life of the Saviour followed as they are written in the Gospels' [Endnote 190:1]. There is no reason at all to suppose that there was a breach of continuity in this respect between Basilides and his school. And if his Gospel really contained substantially the same events as ours, it is a question of comparatively secondary importance whether he actually made use of those Gospels or no.

It is rather remarkable that Hippolytus and Epiphanius, who furnish the fullest accounts of the tenets of Basilides (and his followers), say nothing about his Gospel: neither does Irenaeus or Clement of Alexandria; the first mention of it is in Origen's Homily on St. Luke. This shows how unwarranted is the assumption made in 'Supernatural Religion' [Endnote 190:2] that because Hippolytus says that Basilides appealed to a secret tradition he professed to have received from Matthias, and Eusebius that he set up certain imaginary prophets, 'Barcabbas and Barcoph,' he therefore had no other authorities. The statement that he 'absolutely ignores the canonical Gospels altogether' and does not 'recognise any such works as of authority,' is much in excess of the evidence. All that this really amounts to is that neither Hippolytus nor Eusebius say in so many words that Basilides did use our Gospels. It would be a fairer inference to argue from their silence, and still more from that of the 'malleus haereticorum' Epiphanius, that he did not in this depart from the orthodox custom; otherwise the Fathers would have been sure to charge him with it, as they did Marcion. It is really I believe a not very unsafe conclusion, for heretical as well as orthodox writers, that where the Fathers do not say to the contrary, they accepted the same documents as themselves.

The main questions that arise in regard to Basilides are two:
(1) Are the quotations supposed to be made by him really his?
(2) Are they quotations from our Gospels?

The doubt as to the authorship of the quotations applies chiefly to those which occur in the 'Refutation of the Heresies' by Hippolytus. This writer begins his account of the Basilidian tenets by saying, 'Let us see here how Basilides along with Isidore and his crew belie Matthias,' [Endnote 191:1] &c. He goes on using for the most part the singular [Greek: phaesin], but sometimes inserting the plural [Greek: kat' autous]. Accordingly, it has been urged that quotations which are referred to the head of the school really belong to his later followers, and the attempt has further been made to prove that the doctrines described in this section of the work of Hippolytus are later in their general character than those attributed to Basilides himself. This latter argument is very fine drawn, and will not bear any substantial weight. It is, however, probably true that a confusion is sometimes found between the 'eponymus,' as it were, of a school and his followers. Whether that has been the case here is a question that we have not sufficient data for deciding positively. The presumption is against it, but it must be admitted to be possible. It seems a forced and unnatural position to suppose that the disciples would go to one set of authorities and the master to another, and equally unnatural to think that a later critic, like Hippolytus, would confine himself to the works of these disciples and that in none of the passages in which quotations are introduced he has gone to the fountain head. We may decline to dogmatise; but probability is in favour of the supposition that some at least of the quotations given by Hippolytus come directly from Basilides.

Some of the quotations discussed in 'Supernatural Religion' are expressly assigned to the school of Basilides. Thus Clement of Alexandria, in stating the opinion which this school held on the subject of marriage, says that they referred to our Lord's saying, 'All men cannot receive this,' &c.

Strom. iii. I. 1.

[Greek: Ou pantes chorousi ton logon touton, eisi gar eunouchoi oi men ek genetaes oi de ex anankaes.]

Matt. xix. 11, 12.

[Greek: Ou pantes chorousi ton logon touton, all' ois dedotai, eisin gar eunouchoi oitines ek kiolias maetros egennaethaesan outos, kai eisin eunouchoi oitines eunouchisthaesan hupo ton anthropon, k.t.l.]

The reference of this to St. Matthew is far from being so 'preposterous' [Endnote 192:1] as the critic imagines. The use of the word [Greek: chorein] in this sense is striking and peculiar: it has no parallel in the New Testament, and but slight and few parallels, as it appears from the lexicons and commentators, in previous literature. The whole phrase is a remarkable one and the verbal coincidence exact, the words that follow are an easy and natural abridgment. On the same principles on which it is denied that this is a quotation from St. Matthew it would be easy to prove _a priori_ that many of the quotations in Clement of Alexandria could not be taken from the canonical Gospels which, we know, _are_ so taken.

The fact that this passage is found among the Synoptics only in St. Matthew must not count for nothing. The very small number of additional facts and sayings that we are able to glean from the writers who, according to 'Supernatural Religion,' have used apocryphal Gospels so freely, seems to be proof that our present Gospels were (as we should expect) the fullest and most comprehensive of their kind. If, then, a passage is found only in one of them, it is fair to conclude, not positively, but probably, that it is drawn from some special source of information that was not widely diffused.

The same remarks hold good respecting another quotation found in Epiphanius, which also comes under the general head of [Greek: Basileidianoi], though it is introduced not only by the singular [Greek: phaesin] but by the definite [Greek: phaesin ho agurtaes]. Here the Basilidian quotation has a parallel also peculiar to St. Matthew, from the Sermon on the Mount.

Epiph. Haer. 72 A.

[Greek: Mae bagaete tous margaritas emprosthen ton choiron, maede dote to hagion tois kusi.]

Matt vii. 6.

[Greek: Mae dote to hagion tois kusin, maede bagaete tous margaritas humon emprosthen ton choiron.] The excellent Alexandrine cursive I, with some others, has [Greek: dte] for [Greek: dte]

The transposition of clauses, such as we see here, is by no means an infrequent phenomenon. There is a remarkable instance of it--to go no further--in the text of the benedictions with which the Sermon on the Mount begins. In respect to the order of the two clauses, 'Blessed are they that mourn' and 'Blessed are the meek,' there is a broad division in the MSS. and other authorities. For the received order we find [Hebrew: aleph;], B, C, 1, the mass of uncials and cursives, b, f, Syrr. Pst. and Hcl., Memph., Arm., Aeth.; for the reversed order, 'Blessed are the meek' and 'Blessed are they that mourn,' are ranged D, 33, Vulg., a, c, f'1, g'1, h, k, l, Syr. Crt., Clem., Orig., Eus., Bas. (?), Hil. The balance is probably on the side of the received reading, as the opposing authorities are mostly Western, but they too make a formidable array. The confusion in the text of St. Luke as to the early clauses of the Lord's Prayer is well known. But if such things are done in the green tree, if we find these variations in MSS. which profess to be exact transcripts of the same original copy, how much more may we expect to find them enter into mere quotations that are often evidently made from memory, and for the sake of the sense, not the words. In this instance however the verbal resemblance is very close. As I have frequently said, to speak of certainties in regard to any isolated passage that does not present exceptional phenomena is inadmissible, but I have little moral doubt that the quotation was really derived from St. Matthew, and there is quite a fair probability that it was made by Basilides himself.

The Hippolytean quotations, the ascription of which to Basilides or to his school we have left an open question, will assume a considerable importance when we come to treat of the external evidence for the fourth Gospel. Bearing upon the Synoptic Gospels, we find an allusion to the star of the Magi and an exact verbal quotation (introduced with [Greek: to eiraemenon]) of Luke i. 35, [Greek: Pneuma hagion epeleusetai epi se, kai dunamis hupsistou episkiasei soi]. Both these have been already discussed with reference to Justin. All the other Gospels in which the star of the Magi is mentioned belong to a later stage of formation than St. Matthew. The very parallelism between St. Matthew and St. Luke shows that both Gospels were composed at a date when various traditions as to the early portions of the history were current. No doubt secondary, or rather tertiary, works, like the Protevangelium of James, came to be composed later; but it is not begging the question to say that if the allusion is made by Basilides, it is not likely that at that date he should quote any other Gospel than St. Matthew, simply because that is the earliest form in which the story of the Magi has come down to us.

The case is stronger in regard to the quotation from St. Luke. In Justin's account of the Annunciation to Mary there was a coincidence with the Protevangelium and a variation from the canonical text in the phrase [Greek: pneuma kuriou] for [Greek: pneuma hagion]; but in the Basilidian quotation the canonical text is reproduced syllable for syllable and letter for letter, which, when we consider how sensitive and delicate these verbal relations are, must be taken as a strong proof of identity. The reader may be reminded that the word [Greek: episkiazein], the phrase [Greek: dunamism hupsistou], and the construction [Greek: eperchesthai epi], are all characteristic of St. Luke: [Greek; episkiazein] occurs once in the triple synopsis and besides only here and in Acts v. 15: [Greek: hupsistos] occurs nine times in St. Luke's writings and only four times besides; it is used by the Evangelist especially in phrases like [Greek: uios, dunamis, prophaetaes, doulos hupsistou], to which the only parallel is [Greek: hiereus tou Theou tou hupsistou] in Heb. vii. 1. The construction of [Greek: eperchesthai] with [Greek: epi] and the accusative is found five times in the third Gospel and the Acts and not at all besides in the New Testament; indeed the participial form, [Greek: eperchomenos] (in the sense of 'future'), is the only shape in which the word appears (twice) outside the eight times that it occurs in St. Luke's writings. This is a body of evidence that makes it extremely difficult to deny that the Basilidian quotation has its original in the third Synoptic.

2.

The case in regard to Valentinus, the next great Gnostic leader, who came forward about the year 140 A.D., is very similar to that of Basilides, though the balance of the argument is slightly altered. It is, on the one hand, still clearer that the greater part of the evangelical references usually quoted are really from our present actual Gospels, but, on the other hand, there is a more distinct probability that these are to be assigned rather to the School of Valentinus than to Valentinus himself.

The supposed allusion to St. John we shall pass over for the present.

There is a string of allusions in the first book of Irenaeus, 'Adv. Haereses,' to the visit of Jesus as a child to the Passover (Luke ii. 42), the jot or tittle of Matt. v. 18, the healing of the issue of blood, the bearing of the cross (Luke xiv. 27 par.), the sending of a sword and not peace, 'his fan is in his hand,' the salt and light of the world, the healing of the centurion's servant, of Jairus' daughter, the exclamations upon the cross, the call of the unwilling disciples, Zacchaeus, Simon, &c. We may take it, I believe, as admitted, and it is indeed quite indisputable, that these are references to our present Gospels; but there is the further question whether they are to be attributed directly to Valentinus or to his followers, and I am quite prepared to admit that there are no sufficient grounds for direct attribution to the founder of the system. Irenaeus begins by saying that his authorities are certain 'commentaries of the disciples of Valentinus' and his own intercourse with some of them [Endnote 197:1]. He proceeds to announce his intention to give a 'brief and clear account of the opinions of those who were then teaching their false doctrines [Greek: nun paradidaskonton], that is, of Ptolemaeus and his followers, a branch of the school of Valentinus.' It is fair to infer that the description of the Valentinian system which follows is drawn chiefly from these sources. This need not, however, quite necessarily exclude works by Valentinus himself. It is at any rate clear that Irenaeus had some means of referring to the opinions of Valentinus as distinct from his school; because, after giving a sketch of the system, he proceeds to point out certain contradictions within the school itself, quoting first Valentinus expressly, then a disciple called Secundus, then 'another of their more distinguished and ambitious teachers,' then 'others,' then a further subdivision, finally returning to Ptolemaeus and his party again. On the whole, Irenaeus seems to have had a pretty complete knowledge of the writings and teaching of the Valentinians. We conclude therefore, that, while it cannot be alleged positively that any of the quotations or allusions were really made by Valentinus, it would be rash to assert that none of them were made by him, or that he did not use our present Gospels.

However this may be, we cannot do otherwise than demur to the statement implied in 'Supernatural Religion' [Endnote 198:1], that the references in Irenaeus can only be employed as evidence for the Gnostic usage between the years 185-195 A.D. This is a specimen of a kind of position that is frequently taken up by critics upon that side, and that I cannot but think quite unreasonable and uncritical. Without going into the question of the date at which Irenaeus wrote at present, and assuming with the author of 'Supernatural Religion' that his first three books were published before the death of Eleutherus in A.D. 190--the latest date possible for them,--it will be seen that the Gnostic teaching to which Irenaeus refers is supposed to begin at a time when his first book may very well have been concluded, and to end actually five years later than the latest date at which this portion of the work can have been published! Not only does the author allow no time at all for Irenaeus to compose his own work, not only does he allow none for him to become acquainted with the Gnostic doctrines, and for those doctrines themselves to become consolidated and expressed in writing, but he goes so far as to make Irenaeus testify to a state of things five years at least, and very probably ten, in advance of the time at which he was himself writing! No doubt there is an oversight somewhere, but this is the kind of oversight that ought not to be made.

This, however, is an extreme instance of the fault to which I was alluding--the tendency in the negative school to allow no time or very little for processes that in the natural course of things must certainly have required a more or less considerable interval. On a moderate computation, the indirect testimony of Irenaeus may be taken to refer--not to the period 185-195 A.D., which is out of the question--but to that from 160-180 A.D. This is not pressing the possibility, real as it is, that Valentinus himself, who flourished from 140-160 A.D., may have been included. We may agree with the author of 'Supernatural Religion' that Irenaeus probably made the personal acquaintance of the Valentinian leaders, and obtained copies of their books, during his well-known visit to Rome in 178 A.D. [Endnote 199:1] The applications of Scripture would be taken chiefly from the books of which some would be recent but others of an earlier date, and it can surely be no exaggeration to place the formation of the body of doctrine which they contained in the period 160-175 A.D. above mentioned. I doubt whether a critic could be blamed who should go back ten years further, but we shall be keeping on the safe side if we take our _terminus a quo_ as to which these Gnostic writings can be alleged in evidence at about the year 160.

A genuine fragment of a letter of Valentinus has been preserved by Clement of Alexandria in the second book of the Stromateis [Endnote 200:1]. This is thought to contain references to St. Matthew's Gospel by Dr. Westcott, and, strange to say, both to St. Matthew and St. Luke by Volkmar. These references, however, are not sufficiently clear to be pressed.

A much less equivocal case is supplied by Hippolytus--less equivocal at least so far as the reference goes. Among the passages which received a specially Gnostic interpretation is Luke i. 35, 'The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee: wherefore also the holy thing which is born (of thee) shall be called the Son of God.' This is quoted thus, 'The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee: wherefore that which is born of thee shall be called holy.'

Luke i. 35.

[Greek: Pneuma hagion epeleusetai epi se, kai dunamis hupsistou episkiasei soi, dio kai to gennomenon [ek sou] hagion klaethaesetai huios Theon.]

Ref. Omn. Haes. vi. 35.

[Greek: Pneuma hagion epeleusetai epi se... kai dunamis hupsistou episkiasei soi... dio to gennomenon ek sou hagion klaethaesetai.]

That St. Luke has been the original here seems to be beyond a doubt. The omission of [Greek: huios Theou] is of very little importance, because from its position [Greek: hagion] would more naturally stand as a predicate, and the sentence would be quite as complete without the [Greek: huios Theou] as with it. On the other hand, it would be difficult to compress into so small a space so many words and expressions that are peculiarly characteristic of St. Luke. In addition to those which have just been noticed in connection with Basilides, there is the very remarkable [Greek: to gennomenon], which alone would be almost enough to stamp the whole passage.

We are still however pursued by the same ambiguity as in the case of Basilides. It is not certain that the quotation is made from the master and not from his scholars. There is no reason, indeed, why it should be made from the latter rather than the former; the point must in any case be left open: but it cannot be referred to the master with so much certainty as to be directly producible under his name.

And yet, from whomsoever the quotation may have been made, if only it has been given rightly by Hippolytus, it is a strong proof of the antiquity of the Gospel. The words [Greek: ek sou], will be noticed, are enclosed in brackets in the text of St. Luke as given above. They are a corruption, though an early and well-supported corruption, of the original. The authorities in their favour are C (first hand), the good cursives 1 and 33, one form of the Vulgate, a, c, e, m of the Old Latin, the Peshito Syriac, the Armenian and Aethiopic versions, Irenaeus, Gregory Thaumaturgus, Tertullian, Cyprian, and Epiphanius. On the other hand, for the omission are A. B, C (third hand), D, [Hebrew: Aleph symbol], and the rest of the uncials and cursives, another form of the Vulgate, b, f, ff, g'2, l of the Old Latin, the Harclean and Jerusalem Syriac, the Memphitic, Gothic, and some MSS. of the Armenian versions, Origen, Dionysius and Peter of Alexandria, and Eusebius. A text critic will see at once on which side the balance lies. It is impossible that [Greek: ek sou] could have been the reading of the autograph copy, and it is not, I believe, admitted into the text by any recent editor. But if it was present in the copy made use of by the Gnostic writer, whoever he was, that copy must have been already far enough removed from the original to admit of this corruption; in other words, it has lineage enough to throw the original some way behind it. We shall come to more of such phenomena in the next chapter.

I said just now that the quotation could not with certainty be referred to Valentinus, but it is at least considerably earlier than the contemporaries of Hippolytus. It appears that there was a division in the Valentinian School upon the interpretation of this very passage. Ptolemaeus and Heracleon, representing the Western branch, took one side, while Axionicus and Bardesanes, representing the Eastern, took the other. Ptolemaeus and Heracleon were both, we know, contemporaries of Irenaeus, so that the quotation was used among the Valentinians at least in the time of Irenaeus, and very possibly earlier, for it usually takes a certain time for a subject to be brought into controversy. We must thus take the _terminus ad quem_ for the quotation not later than 180 A.D. How much further back it goes we cannot say, but even then (if the Valentinian text is correctly preserved by Hippolytus) it presents features of corruption.

That the Valentinians made use of unwritten sources as well as of written, and that they possessed a Gospel of their own which they called the Gospel of Truth, does not affect the question of their use of the Synoptics. For these very same Valentinians undoubtedly did use the Synoptics, and not only them but also the fourth Gospel. It is immediately after he has spoken of the 'unwritten' tradition of the Valentinians that Irenaeus proceeds to give the numerous quotations from the Synoptics referred to above, while in the very same chapter, and within two sections of the place in which he alludes to the Gospel of Truth, he expressly says that these same Valentinians used the Gospel according to St. John freely (plenissime) [Endnote 203:1]. It should also be remembered that the alleged acceptance of the four Gospels by the Valentinians rests upon the statement of Irenaeus [Endnote 203:2] as well as upon that of the less scrupulous and accurate Tertullian. There is no good reason for doubting it.

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