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word Pleroma. It is well known, that this word held a conspicuous place in every system of Gnostic theology. The Pleroma was the name by which they described the dwelling-place of the first Cause, or supreme God. It is easy to see that this notion is fraught with absurdity : for if the Pleroma is not coextensive with the immensity of space, if there is any thing beyond or out of it, it follows, that either the Deity is made up of parts, and is in fact material; or at least, that there is a portion of space in which he is not. The Gnostics were obliged to admit the latter conclusion ; but they thought this a less inconsistency than to connect God in any manner with evil. They taught that Matter, which was coeternal with God, was out of the Pleroma ; but the Pleroma was the abode of God, and of the ons which he put forth. We may trace the groundwork of this notion in the Platonic philosophy, which made the first of the three worlds to be the invisible or intellectual, where the Ideas, or first conceptions of all things, resided in the mind of the Deity : but I do not find in the writings of Plato any use in this sense of the word Pleroma. It was certainly used by the later Platonists; and it has been disputed whether they did not borrow it from the Gnostics. It may be demonstrated also, that it was very common with the Gnostics before the time of Irenæus: and, what is more to our purpose, there is some evidence that it had a place in the vocabulary of Simon Magus. It is not very probable that he was the first inventor of it; and there are good reasons for supposing that this was one of the notions, for which the Gnostics were indebted to the Oriental philosophys. Whatever we may think of the origin of
this term, if it was at all common in the days of the apostles, there would be nothing extraordinary in our finding allusions to it in the New Testament.
It cannot be denied, that the word Pleroma is often used by the sacred writers without any other meaning than its common one of filling or completing. But this is no argument in the present question. Nothing can be more marked or peculiar than the use of the term Logos in St. John's Gospel, as applied to the Son of God; and yet St. John often uses the same term in its common signification of word or discoursek. In the same manner I only wish to inquire, whether there are not some places in St. Paul's Epistles, where he had in his mind the Gnostic notion concerning the Pleroma. We must remember, that the Pleroma was the abode of God and the Æons only : but it was the boast of the Gnostics, that they who had knowledge might in time ascend to the Pleroma. Now it seems to have been the object of St. Paul to get rid of this mystical and exclusive notion : and with this view he may be conceived to have said to the Ephesians, Christ is the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the pleroma or fulness of him that filleth all in all ; (i. 22, 23;)—and again, That ye may know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the pleroma or fulness of God. (iii. 19.) And again, Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the pleroma or fulness of Christ. (iv. 13.) In all these passages, the Ephe
* John i. 22. iv. 39. viii. 55. xii. 38. xxi. 23.
sians were told, that the body of believers was the real Pleroma of God and of Christ : they dwelt in Christ, and Christ in them : and they were to come to this Pleroma by the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge. Here also is an allusion to the doctrines of the Gnostics; and we may think so the more from what we read at the end of the last passage, that we be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive. (iv. 14.)
But there is a still more apparent allusion to the Pleroma of the Gnostics in those remarkable words which occur in the Epistle to the Colossians, where it is said of Christ, that it pleased that in him should all fulness dwell. (i. 19.) And again, In him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. (ii. 9.) In the first of these two places the Pleroma may mean, as before, the body of believers who dwell in Christ, and he in them; but in the second, where we read, Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ ; for in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily; in these impressive words St. Paul may be conceived to have said, Listen not to that vain philosophy, which boasts by knowledge falsely so called to bring you to God, who dwells in an imaginary Pleroma: He dwells in Christ, and Christ in Him : seek therefore by the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, to dwell in Christ, and so may ye come to the only real and true Pleroma. There is perhaps too much of fancy in this interpretation; but it is at least somewhat confirmed by what we
know to be the fact, that the Gnostics themselves dwelt with peculiar emphasis upon these texts, and drew from them a mystical meaning, to suit their own notions concerning the Pleroma 54.
I stated in my second Lecture, that all the Gnostics agreed in denying the inspiration of the prophets and of the Jewish scriptures. The God of the Jews, and of the Old Testament, was not the supreme God and Father of Jesus Christ: but, according to different systems of the Gnostics, he was either the Æon who created the world, or one of the many Angels who presided over the world, or the principle of evil, who was a kind of second God. It was a fundamental tenet of Gnosticism, that the supreme God was not revealed, till one of the Æons, called Christ, was sent to repair the evil which the Demiurgus, or creative Æon, had caused : consequently the supreme God was not revealed in the Jewish scriptures : and we have abundant evidence, that all the Gnostic sects agreed in holding this doctrine 55. It was in fact a natural consequence of their sentiments concerning the creation of the world, and the origin of evil.
Some persons may perhaps think that the Sadducees led the way to this impiety; since they have been charged with rejecting all the books of the Old Testament except the Pentateuch. But learned men have endeavoured to shew, and apparently with great force, that this opinion is founded upon a mistakes6; and if any Jewish sects led the way to the rejection of the prophets, it would rather be the Pharisees, and those who made the word of God of none effect by their traditions. This abuse of unwritten traditions was carried to the greatest length
in the Cabbala; and we have seen, that the Cabbala contributed greatly to the rise of Gnosticism. Whatever may be thought of the Sadducees, it can hardly be doubted that the Samaritans denied the inspiration of the prophetical books. Simon Magus, it will be remembered, was a native of Samaria ; and it is expressly said by many of the Fathers, that he and his immediate successors denied the prophets to be inspired by the supreme God. We have thus perhaps found the cause of this opinion being so constantly maintained by all the Gnostics. The great leader of the sect was bred up to deny the inspiration of the Jewish prophets: from his earliest childhood he had probably heard them abused with all the rancour of national antipathy: and when he perfected his scheme of philosophy, he made it an article of belief, that the supreme God could not have been the God of the Jews, nor could he have inspired the prophets.
The faith of the Christian converts was exposed to danger in this fundamental point, whenever they listened to a Gnostic teacher: and this perhaps may explain why the apostles, though addressing themselves to Gentile converts, so often quote the Jewish prophets. It was essential to them, to shew that the Jewish and Christian dispensations were parts of one and the same system : that the same God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, by whom also he made the worlds. (Heb. i. 1, 2.) This one sentence subverted several consequences of the Gnostic doctrine. The supreme God was not, as the Gnostics said, unknown till the time of Christ.