Pistis Sophia

Pistis Sophia (1. i.e. the Believing Wisdom) is the name of a newly discovered Gnostic work, fully entitled Pistis Sophia, Opus Gnosticum e codiae manuscripta Coptico-Latine vertit M. G. Schwartze, edidit J. H. Petermann (Berl. 1851). The date is doubtful; it evidently belongs to the period when Valentinian Gnosticism had reached its full development-about the close, therefore, of the 2d century. The general dogmas of the Valentinian system are found in it, though half buried in a luxurious and monotonous vegetation. The theme is always the same-a gnosis, or hidden doctrine, which brings salvation by simple illumination. Jesus Christ returns from the heavens into which he had reascended, and appears to his disciples on the Mount of Olives, to reveal to them the sublime mysteries of the truth. They form around him the inner and privileged circle of the spiritual ones, whose charge it is to transmit this hidden manna to the pneumatic men of future generations. All these revelations revolve around the destiny of Sophia, who here symbolizes, far more clearly than among the early Valentinians, the melancholy condition of the human soul, which, as the punishment for having sought to overpass the limits of its original sphere, is tormented by the cosmical powers, among which we recognize the Demiurgus. He produces, by emanation, a terrible power with a lion face, which, surrounded by other similar emanations, terrifies the noble and ardent exiled Sophia, even in the dark regions of matter, flashing before her eves a false and misguiding brightness. Nevertheless she does not lose courage; she still hopes and believes. Hence she deserves the name of the Believing Wisdom. Twelve times she invokes the Deliverer in strains of passionate and truly sublime supplication; these are her twelve repentances ("Nunc cujues πνεῦμα alacre, progreditor, ut dicat soluitonem duodecimae μετάνοιας πίστεως σοφίας," Pist. Soph. p. 70). Her deliverance is accomplished by means of an equal number of interventions on the part of Jesus. As the fall, or sin, is nothing more than an obscuration produced by matter, so salvation is simply a return to the light. This division of the lamentations of Sophia and the interventions of Jesus produces a wearisome amount of repetition; the aspirations of the soul are, however, rendered with a force all the more poetic because so largely derived from the Old Testament. In particular, all the penitential Psalms are applied to Sophia, being wrested from their natural meaning.

"O Light of lights," she exclaims, "thou whom I have seen from the beginning, listen to the cry of my repenting" (Lumen luminum, cui ἐπίστευσα inde al) initio, aildi igitur nunc, lumen, mean μετάνοιαν, ibid. p. 33). "Save me, O Light, from my own thoughts, which are evil. I have fallen into the infernal regions. False lights have led me astray, and now I am lost in these chaotic depths. I cannot spread my wings and return to my place, for the evil powers sent forth by my enemy, and most of all this lion faced power, hold me captive. I have cried for help, but my voice dies in the night. I have lifted up my eves to the heights, that thou mayest come to my aid, O Light. But I have found -none but hostile powers, who rejoice in my affliction, and seek to increase it by putting out the spark of thine which is in me. Now, O Light of truth, in the simplicity of my heart I have followed the false brightness which I mistook for thine. My sin is wholly before thee. Leave me not to suffer longer, for I have cried to thee from the beginning. It is for thee that I am plunged into this affliction. Behold me in this place weeping, crying out again for the light which I have seen upon the heights. Hence the rage of those who keep the doors of my, prison. If thou wilt come and save me, great is thy mercy; grant my supplication. Deliver me from this dark matter, lest I be, as it were, swallowed up in it" (Libera me e Þλῃ hujus caliginis, ibid. p. 4). "O Light, cast upon me the flame of thy compassion, for I am in bitter anguish. Haste thee, hear me. I have waited for my spouse that be might come and fight for me, and he comes not. Instead of light, I have received darkness and matter. I will praise thee, I will glorify thy name; let my hymn rise with acceptance to thee at the gates of light. Let my whole soul be purified from matter, and dwell in the divine city. Let all souls which receive the mystery be admitted therein" (Ψυχαί hornm qui snscipient mysteriuni, ibid. p. 36). The same cry rises twelve times to the Deliverer. "I am become," says Sophia again, "like the daemon who dwells in matter, in whom all light is extinct. I am myself become matter. My strength is turned to stone in me" (Atque mea vis congelascuil in me, ibid. p. 43). "I have set my love in thee, O Light, leave me not in the chaos. Deliver me by thy knowledge" (Libera mea in tua cognitione, ibid. p. 56). "My trust is in thee; I will rejoice, I will sing praise to thy glory, because thou hast had pity on me. Give me thy baptism, and wash away my sins." This mythology, full of poetic sadness, was skillfully spread as a veil over the abstractions of Gnosticism, and adapted them to the taste of subtle and unhealthy minds. The dialogue between Jesus and his disciples, in spite of its uniformity, pleased the readers of the apocryphal Gospels, and satisfied those feverish imaginations which had lost the sense of true beauty. Pride found its gratification in these new mysteries, which emulated in every respect those of Eleusis or of Mitra. See Cramer, Beitrage zur Befirderung theolog. Kenntnisse (1778), 3, 82 sq.; Kostlin, Das gnostische System des B. Pistis Sophia, in Zeller's Theol. Jahrb. (Tüb. 1854), vol. 1 and 2. SEE GNOSTICISM. (J. H. W.)

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