“By definition, all men were in need of salvation; therefore, of faith and repentance in faith”

The revolt against the Gnostic influence depended on two things. There was the capacity of individual anti-Gnostic writers, such as Irenaeus of Lyons. There was also—and far more important—the actual belief of the separate Churches. It was on many points yet undefined; there were speculative points on which it has not yet been defined. But all those groups in all those cities, founded in the apostolic doctrine, made it clear that they did not, in fact, believe what the Romantic philosophers declared; that this was not the Faith as they had received and held it. What did the Churches believe? They believed that Almighty God—the final Deity—had Itself created heaven and earth, and was, as the First and Only Cause of them, finally responsible for them. They believed that Jesus Christ was the Son of the Father–in that Deity–and had been materially born on earth ex Maria Virgine. They believed, that is, that the First and Only Cause initiated, operated, and concluded Redemption. They rejected, with great energy, the idea that cause belonged to a subordinate Demiurgus and the idea that there was a special kind of superior redemption for superior persons. No doubt there were prophets and speakers with tongues and teachers and so on; no doubt Almighty God operated peculiarly through certain individuals. But they repudiated any opposition between faith and vision. Faith was not a poor substitute for vision; it was rather the capacity for integrating the whole being with truth. It was a total disposition and a total act. By definition, all men were in need of salvation; therefore, of faith and repentance in faith. The Gnostic view left little room for the illuminati to practise love on this earth; “they live as though they were indifferent,” said Irenaeus. The Church anathematized the pseudo-Romantic heresies; there could be no superiority except in morals, in labour, in love. See, understand, enjoy, said the Gnostic; repent, believe, love, said the Church, and if you see anything by the way, say so.

In some sense, the Gnostics avoided any “scandal” to the mind and soul. The stones they offered fitted the comers of many temples; only not of the City of Christendom. God was not really responsible for the appalling putrescence of misery which we call the world. The soul and the body (so to divide them formally) were not responsible for each other. Men were not responsible for each other. The Gordian knot of the unity was cut, and the bits fell radically apart. Toothache, cancer, women’s periods, frustrated sex-love, these and other ills were without relation to the activity of the celestial spheres. “In the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar the Christ came down from heaven,” wrote Marcion, one of the last and one of the greatest of the Gnostics, but the orthodox answer was that, years earlier, he had been generated on earth: “the book of the generations of Jesus Christ.”

Charles Williams

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