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Just as many other settings of the Sayings and Doings of the Lord existed prior to and alongside of the canonical Gospels, so were there, prior to and alongside of the subsequently selected or canonical Acts, many other narratives professing to record the doings and sayings of the Apostles and Disciples of the Lord. Most of these originated in circles which were subsequently called heretical, and many of them were later on worked over by orthodox editors to suit doctrinal preconceptions, and so preserved for the edification of large numbers in the Catholic or General Church.
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G. R. S. Mead
THE BIG NEST
LONDON ∙ NEW YORK ∙ TORONTO ∙ SAO PAULO ∙ MOSCOW
PARIS ∙ MADRID ∙ BERLIN ∙ ROME ∙ MEXICO CITY ∙ MUMBAI ∙ SEOUL ∙ DOHA
TOKYO ∙ SYDNEY ∙ CAPE TOWN ∙ AUCKLAND ∙ BEIJING
Published by The Big Nest
This Edition first published in 2016
Copyright © 2016 The Big Nest
Images and Illustrations © 2016 Stocklibrary.org
All Rights Reserved.
Just as many other settings of the Sayings and Doings of the Lord existed prior to and alongside of the canonical Gospels, so were there, prior to and alongside of the subsequently selected or canonical Acts, many other narratives professing to record the doings and sayings of the Apostles and Disciples of the Lord.
Most of these originated in circles which were subsequently called heretical, and many of them were later on worked over by orthodox editors to suit doctrinal preconceptions, and so preserved for the edification of large numbers in the Catholic or General Church.
As Lipsius says: “Almost every fresh editor of such narratives, using that freedom which all antiquity was wont to allow itself in dealing with literary monuments, would recast the materials which lay before him, excluding whatever might not suit his theological point of view--dogmatic statements, for example, speeches, prayers, etc., for which he would substitute other formulæ of his own composition, and further expanding and abridging after his own pleasure, or as the immediate object which he had in view might dictate.”
Some of these edited and re-edited documents, though for the most part they have come down to us in a very fragmentary condition, still preserve distinct traces of their Gnostic origin; and Lipsius has shown that their Gnosticism is not to be ascribed to third century Manichæism, as had been previously assumed by many, but to the general Gnosis of the second century.
There was a very wide circulation of such religious romances in the second century, for they formed the main means of Gnostic public propaganda.
The technical inner teachings of Gnosticism were assailed by the subsequently orthodox Church Fathers with misrepresentation and overwhelmed with ridicule.
To these onslaughts the Gnostics, as far as we are aware, made no reply; most probably because they were bound by oaths of secrecy on the one hand, and on the other knew well that the mysteries of the inner life could not be decided by vulgar debate.
The mystic teachings of their Gospel were for those who knew the nature of the inner life by direct experience; for the rest they were foolishness.
Their Acts-romances also appear often to be based on actual occurrences of the inner life and on direct spiritual experience, subsequently worked up into popular forms; the marvellous complexity and baffling sublimity of apocalyptic ecstasy, and the overabundant and pregnant technology which delighted the member of the inner circles of the Gnostic Christians, were excluded, and all was reduced to simpler terms.
These marvellous narratives may seem vastly fantastic to the modern mind, but to every shade of Christianity in those days, they were entirely credible. The orthodox did not repudiate the marvellous nature of the narratives; what they opposed with such bitterness was the doctrinal implications with which they were involved.
These Acts-romances thus formed the intermediate link between the General Church and the inner teachings of Gnosticism, and they were so popular that they could not be disposed of by ridicule simply. Another method had to be used.
To quote from Lipsius again: “Catholic bishops and teachers knew not how better to stem this flood of Gnostic writings and their influence among the faithful, than by boldly adopting the most popular narratives from the heretical books, and, after carefully eliminating the poison of false doctrine, replacing them in this purified form in the hands of the public.”
Fortunately for some of us, this “purification” has not been complete, and some of the “poison of false doctrine” has thus been preserved. Among other things of great beauty for which we are grateful, we especially thank a kindly providence for the preservation of the Hymn of Jesus.
The earliest collection of these Gnostic Acts is said to have been made by a certain Leucius, surnamed Charinus. There is a tradition, though of somewhat doubtful authenticity, that this Leucius was a disciple of John. If we accept it at all, this John must be taken for the writer of the Fourth Gospel, and not the John of the original Twelve.
It would be impossible here to enter into any discussion of the baffling Johannine problem; those of our readers, however, who are interested in the manifest Gnostic implications with which this problem is involved as far as it relates to the Fourth Gospel, should read Kreyenbuhl’s exhaustive and instructive study Das Evangelium der Wahrheit (Berlin; 1900, 1905). His “new solution of the Johannine question,” which Kreyenbuhl entitles “The Gospel of the Truth,” boldly claims an immediate Gnostic origin for the Fourth Gospel; and this courageous pioneer of a new way even goes so far as to contend that the writer of what is indubitably the most spiritual of all the Gospels, was no other than Mænander, the teacher of Basilides. It is instructive to remark that this voluminous and important work has been passed over with complete silence in this country.
At any rate the Leucian Acts were early; in the opinion of Zahn this collection was made at a time when the Gnostics were not yet considered heretical, that is to say prior to 150 A.D.--say 130 A.D.
Lipsius on the other hand places them in the second half of the second century, towards the end, and so does Hennecke.
This maximum of date they are compelled to concede, because Clement of Alexandria at the end of the second century quotes from the Gnostic Acts of John which indubitably formed part of the Leucian collection.
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