FREDERICK BLIGH BOND, F.R.I.B.A
THOMAS SIMCOX LEA, D.D.
ANNOTATED AND TRANSCRIBED BY
PETER WAKEFIELD SAULT
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THE EXISTENCE OF THE GNOSIS.
But of the actual or possible theological import of these books or of the whole matter something must needs be said.
The mere existence of the books implies a system, and students of that system, and a belief that the study was worthy of the effort it involved. And it is notorious that there were Graeco-Egyptian schools of mathematical theosophy, and that there was some connection between some Christians and some of these schools, though the results are generally believed to have been neither theologically orthodox nor morally sound, if indeed what may be gleaned of the so-called ‘Gnostic remains’ be truly representative of their teachings. It is probable however that the doctrines of the mystical school were not, in the best days, committed to writing, but in their decadence some effort was made to preserve from total loss knowledge which was lapsing, or in danger of lapsing, and the books in question may be the witnesses of such an endeavour.
But as the authors of these books are unknown, no personal question can arise, nor can any formal ecclesiastical condemnation of them be found. They must speak for themselves.
Moreover the system of Gematria they contain has
features identical with that discoverable in some of the books of the New Testament.
Tentatively and provisionally the Pistis Sophia may be considered to be the allegorical work of an author who had access to, but had not necessarily mastered, a mathematical theory of the origin of the universe. He names mysteries which he does not always explain. The books of IEOU, which are referred to in the Pistis Sophia as a revelation, are much more advanced. But what the authors do plainly believe is, that certain entities such as the relation of the Square root of Two to Unity, or the area of the Equilateral Triangle to that of the Square on the same base, are aeonial, in the sense of being deeply rooted in the construction of things seen, necessarily involved in all phenomena of symmetric form. And the Church, reading Hebrews i. 2 on Christmas Day, would be in accord with these old authors.
But these relations, however complex and beautiful, are not all that exists. There is a Geometry of the Heavenly Places here indicated – and herein lies the possibility that this work is important. For the present state of science shews a distinct readiness to investigate whether such geometry exists, or what laws govern the unexplored regions in which life, growth, and the dynamic phenomena of nature seem to have their origin.
It is fully in accordance with scientific principles to proceed from the known to the unknown, nor is there anything foreign to this method in the idea that our Lord did actually use the geometry such as any builder might have knowledge of, for the building up of the wisdom of His Church. Even as mere metaphor, this sort of imagery would have its value. How greatly, for example, is the work of the preacher facilitated by the use of the architectonic symbolism of the Bible. But even as metaphor, there may be a better and more real foundation for
these building allegories than is at first sight obvious to anyone who seeks to compare things intelligible to the reason with truths of a spiritual nature. Between ideas derived from these two sources the human consciousness seems at all times to have discovered an affinity, and it is hardly too much to say that in the study of the growth of religious and philosophic systems they are found to be inevitably associated. In this respect, the human mind may be attesting subconsciously its recognition of truths which it has been unable to formulate by ordinary mental process or to prove in the terms of ordinary human language. But it is possible that the realities of this correspondence may be conveyed by a language whose terms are those aeonial things, geometry and number, and that the Gnosis of the Apostolic Church had reference to such a system.
The attitude of these early Christian writers, who put forward what purport to be Resurrection Discourses of Jesus in geometrical language and formulae, will have to be appraised most carefully. Geometry is independent of matter; it is aeonial, and by its aid the human mind can almost reach transcendent space. The higher powers of the mind claim kinship with geometry and choose it instinctively as their interpreter for the expression of their ideal conceptions. And it furnishes an avenue to the greater realities beyond human ken.
Now did the Early Christians hold ideas of higher dimensions of space? That is hypothesis only at present. But there is much that makes this hypothesis probable. And it may well be that the mystical geometry which has been imported into their scriptures will itself supply a clue. Thus we should have a locus for miracles, for it is a common characteristic of the miracles of the New Testament that they harmonise with all that can be predicated of action in and from a higher space.
The concept of a higher space is familiar to mathematicians who use its symbols, the higher powers of Number, as a necessary element in their calculations. The idea is familiar also to those who make a thoughtful study of nature and who can find no scope for an explanation of her subtle and mysterious processes within the limits of our physical space. The phenomena of Life – appearing first as a microscopic germ, yet holding within itself the potentiality of growth and infinite reproduction, engender this thought – from what unseen source does it arrive? Modern science is again being compelled to look beyond the visible confines of our space to account for the play of Nature’s forces. More than all, in the region of psychology, we touch upon a mysterious field in which the every-day working of natural law seems set at naught. From time to time in history there are recorded outpourings of spiritual force among men, accompanied, as tradition strongly tells us, and more recent chronicles affirm, by the development of strange gifts and powers, endowments of the human will and understanding which enable it to achieve conquests over ordinary or material law.
Such outpourings vary in degree as in kind, from the transient and popular type, which among the simple and unlearned may produce new religious fervour and emotional crisis, with a train of what we may call ‘spiritual phenomena’ – to the profounder world-movement which is born in chaos, darkness, and the dissolution of older faiths: and for its guidance and for the reconstruction of social and religious order calls forth teachers illuminated with a higher wisdom, inspired by the flame of compassion for the race, and who, by union with the great Realities, have laid hold on the spiritual powers and substances.
Such was the condition of the civilised world when
the Christian religion appeared, and such the character of its apostles. That these men had come into conscious contact with higher realities there can be no doubt. Read the eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews – not as a theological treatise or sermon, but as a scientific record of experience – and the conviction arises that their faith was not a mere matter of intellectual and moral assent, but a living and real experience of some order of things transcending the physical, and that they could operate in this higher field.
Prominent among the spiritual possessions with which the Christian religion endowed its converts was a Knowledge of which frequent mention is made by the evangelists and apostles.
The term used to describe this Knowledge is GNWSIS, a word implying in this connection a higher sort of knowledge or a deeper wisdom. It would be used both in a general and in a specific sense, but there is little doubt that it had acquired among the later Greeks a very specific meaning in regard to religious teachings.
In the canonical books of the New Testament there are places in which GNWSIS is clearly spoken of in the general sense, as in II. Cor. vi. 6; but there are numerous other instances in which the context rather implies some definite teaching which the spiritually enlightened were capable of assimilating.
So intimately is this GNWSIS linked with other good gifts such as ALHQEIA and SWFIA, PISTIS and MUSTHRIA, that it must be regarded as an essential element in the spiritual inheritance of the disciples. These words are usually accompanied in the text by the definite article, though not always so. Where the word is in the nominative as the subject of a sentence, or a repetition, no specific meaning is to be attached to the article. But in oblique cases its presence is said by
grammarians to give a certain emphasis. Such a passage therefore as Luke xi. 52 might be rendered thus, “Woe unto you, lawyers, for ye have taken away the key of the Knowledge” (ouai umin toiV nomikoiV, oti prate thn kleida thV gnwsewV). But it is by no means easy to understand the principle on which the translators have dealt with such words as these, since they do not receive equal treatment in all cases. For example, the word ALHQEIA is sometimes given the article in English where it does not appear in the Greek, e.g., II. Thess. ii. 13, where en . . . pistei alhqeiaV is rendered ‘belief of the truth’ – and no doubt rightly so (see also I. Tim. ii. 4). But it is noteworthy that the term GNWSIS is not accorded the same treatment, and the expression is thus deprived of any specific meaning.
An instance of what appears to be a somewhat arbitrary suppression of the article in connection with the Mysteries and the Knowledge occurs in I. Cor. xiii. 2 (kai eidw ta musthria panta kai pasan thn gnwsin) – translated ‘and understand all mysteries and all knowledge’. But it can hardly be denied that the words ‘ta musthria panta’ convey a very specific meaning and would have done so to the Greeks of the day, who would have connected the words with the religious rites of a secret nature to which they had been accustomed. Similarly pasa h gnwsiV would mean to them a certain body of knowledge associated with those mysteries.
Perhaps however the most cogent argument for the recognition of a genuine GNWSIS held by the faithful would be based on the passage in I. Tim. vi. 20, where Timothy, as a bishop, is cautioned by Paul against the oppositions of the False or Pseudonymous Gnosis (anti-qeseiV thV yeudwnumon gnwsewV) – given in our authorised version as ‘the oppositions of science falsely so-called’ but amended in the revised version, which
reads ‘oppositions of the knowledge which is falsely so called’.
That there was a False Gnosis the writings of the Church Fathers themselves testify, and the sectarian teachings of the GNWSTIKOI, who represented a number of traditions, or the systems of several schools combined, are held up to condemnation by Epiphanus under this very term, ¢H AiresiV thV yeudwnumon gnwsewV.
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