We have mentioned several times that there were numerous Gnostic teachers, each of whom produced his own version of the Gnostic mythology. This next series of articles will briefly describe the most important Gnostic personalities and their contributions to the heresy.
Simon and Menander
Simon the Samaritan (also known as “Simon the Sorcerer” or “Simon Magus”) was the original source of Gnosticism. Many of the concepts within Gnosticism had previously existed in paganism for millennia, but Simon is the one who produced Gnosticism as a heretical, pseudoChristian sect. Essentially, he adapted Christian terminology and Scripture to fit pagan concepts. This was his innovation, and as such, he is the father of all pseudo-Christian cultists.
Simon was a magician. His encounter with the Apostles is mentioned in Acts 8. According to Irenaeus, Simon “feigned faith, supposing that the apostles themselves performed their cures by the art of magic…; and with respect to their filling with the Holy Ghost, through the imposition of hands… that even this was done through a kind of greater knowledge of magic.”
After he was rebuked by Peter, Simon still failed to put faith in God but “set himself eagerly to contend against the apostles, in order that he himself might seem to be a wonder being, and applied himself with still greater zeal to the study of the whole magic art, that he might the better bewilder and overpower multitudes of men.”
Irenaeus goes on to describe how Simon was believed by many to be a god. Simon taught the it was himself who appeared among the Jews as the Son of God, that he descended in Samaria as God the Father, and that he came to other nations as the Holy Spirit. He called himself the loftiest of all powers and “the Father over all.”
Simon went on to purchase a female slave named Helena. He taught that he had created her through the power of Thought (Ennoea). He represented her as the mother of all and taught that in the beginning, he conceived in his mind, through her, angels and archangels, producing these by the creative power of Thought. These angels in turn created the physical world. The angels became jealous of the Ennoea (Helena) and detained her and subjected her to all kinds of suffering and humiliation. As the greatest degradation, they imprisoned her in a human body and for ages she passed in succession from one female body to another until finally she was manifested as a common prostitute. Simon taught that she was the subject of the Parable of the Lost Sheep. Simon was the good shepherd of that parable.
Simon taught that the Old Testament prophets uttered their prophesies under the inspiration of the evil angels who formed the world. For this reason, his followers reject the writings of the prophets.
Simon, and those who followed his sect, were known for the use of magical arts. They also used exorcisms, incantations, love-potions, charms, familiar spirits, dream-sending demons and whatever else of an occult nature that could be adapted to their purposes. His followers were called “Simonians,” and in the words of Irenaeus, “and from them ‘knowledge, falsely so called,’ received its beginning.”
Simon’s successor was another Samaritan by the name of Menander. Menander was also known for his skillful use of magic. He taught that Bythus continues to be unknown and that he himself had been sent by from the Pleroma to be a savior and deliverer of men. He taught that the world was created by angels. Through the use of magic, he taught knowledge that would enable one to overcome these angels. He allegorized the term “resurrection” teaching that his disciples, by being baptized into him, could die no more, but possessed immortal youth.
Saturinus and Basilides
Saturinus was a Syrian who arose to prominence among the Gnostics. He taught that the world and man were made by angels. As made by the angels, man was unable to stand erect, but wriggled on the ground like a worm. The Father of all then sent forth a “spark of life” which gave man an erect posture and made him live. After death, this spark of life returns to those things which are of the same nature and the rest of the body is decomposed.
He taught that Jesus was without birth, without body and without figure, but merely had the appearance of humanity. He taught that the God of the Jews was one of the angels – and one of particular evil. Christ came to destroy the God of the Jews, but to save those who believe in him, who possess his spark of life.
He taught that there were two kinds of men made by the angels, one wicked and the other good. He taught that marriage and procreation were from Satan and were forbidden. He taught abstinence from meat which gave his followers the appearance of self-control.
Basilides was from Alexandria, Egypt. He set for an elaborate version of the Gnostic pantheon which we will not describe in detail. He taught the existence of 365 heavens, the number of days in the year. These exist in increasing degrees of loftiness and these are inhabited by angels of increasing rank. At the lowest rank are those angels who formed the world and the chief of these is the God of the Jews. The angels divided the world and its inhabitants among themselves. The God of the Jews sought to subject the other angels to himself and the other nations to the Jews. For this reason, he was opposed by the other angels. For this reason, the nations are at enmity with his people (the Jews).
Seeing these things happening, the supreme Father (who is without birth and nameless) sent Nous (Christ) to deliver those who believe in him from the angels. He did not suffer death by crucifixion, but Simon of Cyrene died in his place. Simon of Cyrene was in fact transfigured by Christ so that he appeared to be Jesus while Christ took the appearance of Simon. While Simon was being crucified, Christ stood by deriding and laughing at them.
Basilides further taught that those who know these things (Gnostics) have been freed from the angels who made the world. For this reason, they had no reason to confess “him who was crucified,” but rather, “him who cam in the form of a man, and was thought to be crucified.” He declared, “If any one confesses the crucified, that man is still a slave, and under the power of those who formed our bodies; but he who denies him has been freed form these beings, and is acquainted with the dispensation of the unborn father.” He taught that salvation belongs to the soul alone and the body is by nature subject to corruption and will not be saved. He disregarded the Old Testament Scriptures as the product of inferior angels and the God of the Jews. They also practiced magic.
Carpocrates, like his predecessors, taught that the world and man were created by angels. He taught that Jesus was like any other man, except that because his soul was steadfast and pure, he was able to remember all those things he had witnessed in his previous existence. This made him the peculiar target of the angels and for this reason the unbegotten God sent a power that descended on him, enabling him to escape from the creators of the world. He taught that even though Jesus was educated in the beliefs and practices of the Jews, he regarded these with contempt.
To Carpocrates and his followers, “Christ-likeness” consisted in despising the rulers and creators of the world (and consequently the God of the Jews and the physical creation). The more intensely one despised the created world, the more superior he regarded himself. Like others, they practiced magic and communicated with familiar spirits and dream sending demons and declared that they possessed the power to rule over the princes and formers of this world and all things that are in it.
They led particularly licentious lives and declared that they had liberty in all sorts of abominable practices.
They held the idea that souls are reincarnated from body to body and that in their course of successive lives one should have experience of every kind of life and every kind of
action. They taught that the body is the “prison” of the soul and that the goal is to escape this prison through Gnostic knowledge.
They used special marks and brands to identify themselves. They used images, including a “likeness of Christ” that was supposedly made by Pilate and circulated among themselves.
Cerinthus, Ebionites, Nicolaitanes, Cerdo
Cerinthus, like Basilides, was an Egyptian. He taught that the world was made by a power far inferior to, and ignorant of, the unbegotten Father. He taught that Jesus was the son of Joseph and Mary. Christ descended on Jesus at his baptism and departed from him before his crucifixion.
The Ebionites were similar in their doctrines to Cerinthus and Carpocrates, but had a distinctive Jewish flavor. They accepted the Old Testament Scriptures, allegorically interpreted, and the Gospel of Matthew only. They repudiated Paul as an apostate from the Law. They practiced circumcision and Jewish customs.
The Nicolaitanes followed Nicolas, who was one of the seven deacons in Acts 6. This Nicolas became an apostate and led away many disciples from the faith. They led lives of “unrestrained indulgence.”
Cerdo taught essentially the same things as Simon, Menander and others. He is noteworthy as living and teaching in Rome.
Marcion taught that the God of the Old Testament was the author of evils, delighted in war, was weak, and was self-contradictory. He called this God, Cosmocrator (“the ruler of this world”). Jesus came to abolish the Law and the Prophets and to destroy the works of Cosmocrator.
Marcion is particularly infamous for corrupting the text of Scripture. Irenaeus writes that he “multilates the Gospel which is according to Luke… dismembered the Epistles of Paul… and passages from the prophetical writings.” He “furnished [his disciples] not with the Gospel, but merely a fragment of it.” Irenaeus further wrote of Marcion that he was “the only one who has dared openly to mutilate the Scriptures.” It is significant that Irenaeus accuses Marcion primarily of deleting portions of Scripture rather than adding to them, although doubtless he was guilty of both.
He taught, like other Gnostics, that salvation is of the soul only, and only those souls which had learned his doctrine. The body, because it was taken from the earth, was incapable of sharing in salvation. He taught that Cain, the Sodomites, the Egyptians, and all others who walked in all sorts of abomination were saved by the Lord when he descended into Hades because they ran to him and welcomed him. But Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and the other righteous men of the Old Testament and all the prophets were not saved because they were accustomed to being tempted by their God and supposed that when Christ came, this was yet another temptation and did not believe his announcement.
by Roger Samsel Copyright © Pristine Faith Restoration Society March 2008