Esenios - Gnostics - Cainites- Carpocratians - Valentinians Manicheism

The Essenes

A subtler device for discrediting Christianity and undermining belief in
the divine character of our Lord has been adopted by modern writers,
principally Jewish, who set out to prove that He belonged to the sect of
the Essenes, a community of ascetics holding all goods in common, which
had existed in Palestine before the birth of Christ.
Thus the Jewish
historian Graetz declares that Jesus simply appropriated to himself the
essential features of Essenism, and that primitive Christianity was
"nothing but an offshoot of Essenism."[95]

The Christian Jew Dr. Ginsburg partially endorses this view in a small pamphlet[96] containing most of the evidence that has been brought forward on the subject, and
himself expresses the opinion that "it will hardly be doubted that our
Saviour Himself belonged to this holy brotherhood."[97] So after
representing Christ as a magician in the Toledot Yeshu and the Talmud,
Jewish tradition seeks to explain His miraculous works as those of a
mere healer--an idea that we shall find descending right through the
secret societies to this day. Of course if this were true, if the
miracles of Christ were simply due to a knowledge of natural laws and
His doctrines were the outcome of a sect, the whole theory of His divine
power and mission falls to the ground. This is why it is essential to
expose the fallacies and even the bad faith on which the attempt to
identify Him with the Essenes is based.

Now, we have only to study the Gospels carefully in order to realize
that the teachings of Christ were totally different from those peculiar
to the Essenes.[
98] Christ did not live in a fraternity, but, as Dr.
Ginsburg himself points out, associated with publicans and sinners. The Essenes did not frequent the Temple and Christ was there frequently.
The Essenes disapproved of wine and marriage, whilst Christ sanctioned
marriage by His presence at the wedding of Cana in Galilee
and there
turned water into wine.

A further point, the most conclusive of all, Dr.Ginsburg ignores, namely, that one of the principal traits of the Essenes which distinguished them from the other Jewish sects of their day was their disapproval of ointment, which they regarded as defiling, whilst Christ not only commended the woman who brought the precious jar
of ointment, but reproached Simon for the omission: "My head with oil
thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed My feet with

It is obvious that if Christ had been an Essene but had
departed from His usual custom on this occasion out of deference to the
woman's feelings,
he would have understood why Simon had not offered Him
the same attention, and at any rate Simon would have excused himself on
these grounds. Further, if His disciples had been Essenes, would they
not have protested against this violation of their principles, instead
of merely objecting that the ointment was of too costly a kind?

But it is in attributing to Christ the Communistic doctrines of the
Essenes that Dr. Ginsburg's conclusions are the most misleading--a point
of particular importance in view of the fact that it is on this false
hypothesis that so-called "Christian Socialism" has been built up. "The
Essenes," he writes, "had all things in common, and appointed one of the
brethren as steward to manage the common bag; so the primitive

Christians (Acts ii. 44, 45, iv. 32-4; John xii. 6, xiii. 29)." It is
perfectly true that, as the first reference to the Acts testifies, some
of the primitive Christians after the death of Christ formed themselves
into a body having all things in common, but there is not the slightest
evidence that Christ and His disciples followed this principle. The
solitary passages in the Gospel of St. John, which are all that Dr.
Ginsburg can quote in support of this contention, may have referred to
an alms-bag or a fund for certain expenses, not to a common pool of all
monetary wealth. Still less is there any evidence that Christ advocated
Communism to the world in general. When the young man having great
possessions asked what he should do to inherit eternal life, Christ told
him to follow the commandments, but on the young man asking what more he
could do, answered: "If thou wilt be perfect go and sell that thou hast
and give to the poor." Renunciation--but not the pooling--of all wealth
was thus a counsel of perfection for the few who desired to devote their
lives to God, as monks and nuns have always done, and bore no relation
to the Communistic system of the Essenes.

Dr. Ginsburg goes on to say: "Essenism put all its members on the same
level, forbidding the exercise of authority of one over the other and
enjoining mutual service; so Christ (Matt. xx. 25-8; Mark ix. 35-7, x.
42-5). Essenism commanded its disciples to call no man master upon the
earth; so Christ (Matt. xxiii. 8-10)." As a matter of fact, Christ
strongly upheld the exercise of authority, not only in the oft-quoted
passage, "Render to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's," but in His
approval of the Centurion's speech: "I am a man under authority, having
soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to
another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth
it." Everywhere Christ commends the faithful servant and enjoins
obedience to masters. If we look up the reference to the Gospel of St.
Matthew where Dr. Ginsburg says that Christ commanded His disciples to
call no man master on earth, we shall find that he has not only
perverted the sense of the passage but reversed the order of the words,
which, following on a denunciation of the Jewish Rabbis, runs thus: "But
be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your master, even Christ, and all ye
are brethren.... Neither be ye called masters: for one is your master,
even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant."
The apostles were therefore, never ordered to call no man master, but
not to be called master themselves. Moreover, if we refer to the Greek
text, we shall see that this was meant in a spiritual and not a social
sense. The word for "master" here given is in the first verse [Greek:
didaskalos], i.e. teacher, in the second, [Greek: kathêgêtês] literally
guide, and the word is servant is [Greek: diakonos].
When masters and
servants in the social sense are referred to in the Gospels, the word
employed for master is [Greek: kurios] and for servant [Greek: doulos].
Dr. Ginsburg should have been aware of this distinction and that the
passage in question had therefore no bearing on his argument. As a
matter of fact it would appear that some of the apostles kept servants,
since Christ commends them for exacting strict attention to duty:

Which of you, having a servant ploughing or feeding cattle, will
say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit
down to meat? And will not rather say unto him, Make ready
wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have
eaten and drunken; and afterwards thou shalt eat and drink? Doth he
thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded to
him? I trow not.[99]

This passage would alone suffice to show that Christ and His apostles
did not inhabit communities where all were equal, but followed the usual
practices of the social system under which they lived, though adopting
certain rules, such as taking only one garment and carrying no money
when they went on journeys. Those resemblances between the teaching of
the Essenes and the Sermon on the Mount which Dr. Ginsburg indicates
refer not to the customs of a sect, but to general precepts for human
conduct--humility, meekness, charity, and so forth.

At the same time it is clear that if the Essenes in general conformed to
some of the principles laid down by Christ, certain of their doctrines
were completely at variance with those of Christ and of primitive
Christians, in particular their custom of praying to the rising sun and
their disbelief in the resurrection of the body.[100] St. Paul denounces
asceticism, the cardinal doctrine of the Essenes, in unmeasured terms,
warning the brethren that "in the latter times some shall depart from
the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils, ...
forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God
hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and
know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be
refused, if it be received with thanksgiving ... If thou put the
brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister
of Jesus Christ."

This would suggest that certain Essenean ideas had crept into Christian
communities and were regarded by those who remembered Christ's true
teaching as a dangerous perversion.

The Essenes were therefore not Christians, but a secret society,
practising four degrees of initiation, and bound by terrible oaths not
to divulge the sacred mysteries confided to them
. And what were those
mysteries but those of the Jewish secret tradition which we now know as
the Cabala?
Dr. Ginsburg throws an important light on Essenism when, in
one passage alone, he refers to the obligation of the Essenes "not to
divulge the secret doctrines to anyone, ... carefully to preserve the
books belonging to their sect and the names of the angels or the
mysteries connected with the Tetragrammaton and the other names of God
and the angels, comprised in the theosophy as well as with the cosmogony
which also played so important a part among the Jewish mystics and the
Kabbalists."[101] The truth is clearly that the Essenes were Cabalists,
though doubtless Cabalists of a superior kind.
The Cabal they possessed
very possibly descended from pre-Christian times and had remained
uncontaminated by the anti-Christian strain introduced into it by the
Rabbis after the death of Christ.[102]

The Essenes are of importance to the subject of this book as the first
of the secret societies from which a direct line of tradition can be
traced up to the present day. But if in this peaceful community no
actually anti-Christian influence is to be discerned, the same cannot be
said of the succeeding pseudo-Christian sects which, whilst professing
Christianity, mingled with Christian doctrines the poison of the
perverted Cabala, main source of the errors which henceforth rent the
Christian Church in twain.

The Gnostics

The first school of thought to create a schism in Christianity was the collection of sects known under the generic name of Gnosticism.

In its purer forms Gnosticism aimed at supplementing faith by knowledge of
eternal verities and at giving a wider meaning to Christianity by
linking it up with earlier faiths. "The belief that the divinity had
been manifested in the religious institutions of all nations"[103] thus
led to the conception of a sort of universal religion containing the
divine elements of all.

Gnosticism, however, as the _Jewish Encyclopædia_ points out, "was
Jewish in character long before it became Christian."[104] M. Matter
indicates Syria and Palestine as its cradle and Alexandria as the centre
by which it was influenced at the time of its alliance with
Christianity. This influence again was predominantly Jewish
. Philo and
Aristobulus, the leading Jewish philosophers of Alexandria, "wholly
attached to the ancient religion of their fathers, both resolved to
adorn it with the spoils of other systems and to open to Judaism the way
to immense conquests."[105] This method of borrowing from other races
and religions those ideas useful for their purpose has always been the
custom of the Jews. The Cabala, as we have seen, was made up of these
heterogeneous elements. And it is here we find the principal progenitor
of Gnosticism. The Freemason Ragon gives the clue in the words: "The
Cabala is the key of the occult sciences. The Gnostics were born of the

For the Cabala was much older than the Gnostics. Modern historians who date it merely from the publication of the Zohar by Moses de Leon in the
thirteenth century or from the school of Luria in the sixteenth century
obscure this most important fact which Jewish savants have always
clearly, recognized.[107]

The _Jewish Encyclopædia_, whilst denying the certainty of connexion between Gnosticism and the Cabala, nevertheless admits that the investigations of the anti-Cabalist Graetz "must be resumed on a new basis," and it goes on to show that "it was Alexandria of the first century, or earlier, with her strange commingling of
Egyptian, Chaldean, Judean, and Greek culture which furnished soil and
seeds for that mystic philosophy."[108] But since Alexandria was at the
same period the home of Gnosticism, which was formed from the same
elements enumerated here, the connexion between the two systems is
clearly evident. M. Matter is therefore right in saying that Gnosticism
was not a defection from Christianity, but a combination of systems into
which a few Christian elements were introduced. The result of Gnosticism
was thus not to christianize the Cabala, but to cabalize Christianity by
mingling its pure and simple teaching with theosophy and even magic. The
_Jewish Encyclopædia_ quotes the opinion that "the central doctrine of
Gnosticism--a movement closely connected with Jewish mysticism--was
nothing else than the attempt to liberate the soul and unite it with
God"; but as this was apparently to be effected "through the employment
of mysteries, incantations, names of angels," etc., it will be seen how
widely even this phase of Gnosticism differs from Christianity and
identifies itself with the magical Cabala of the Jews.

Indeed, the man generally recognized as the founder of Gnosticism, a Jew
commonly known as Simon Magus, was not only a Cabalist mystic but
avowedly a magician, who with a band of Jews, including his master
Dositheus and his disciples Menander and Cerinthus, instituted a
priesthood of the Mysteries and practised occult arts and
exorcisms.[109] It was this Simon of whom we read in the Acts of the
Apostles that he "bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that
himself was some great one: to whom they all gave heed from the least to
the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God," and who
sought to purchase the power of the laying on of hands with money.
Simon, indeed, crazed by his incantations and ecstasies, developed
megalomania in an acute form, arrogating to himself divine honours and
aspiring to the adoration of the whole world. According to a
contemporary legend, he eventually became sorcerer to Nero and ended his
life in Rome.[110]

The prevalence of sorcery amongst the Jews during the first century of
the Christian era is shown by other passages in the Acts of the
Apostles; in Paphos the "false prophet," a Jew, whose surname was
Bar-Jesus, otherwise known as "Elymas the sorcerer," opposed the
teaching of St. Paul and brought on himself the imprecation: "O full of
all subtlety and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of
all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the

Perversion is the keynote of all the debased forms of Gnosticism.
According to Eliphas Lévi, certain of the Gnostics introduced into their rites that profanation of Christian mysteries which was to form the
basis of black magic in the Middle Ages.[111] The glorification of evil,
which plays so important a part in the modern revolutionary movement,
constituted the creed of the Ophites, who worshipped the Serpent
([Greek: ophis]) because he had revolted against Jehovah, to whom they
referred under the Cabalistic term of the "demiurgus,"[112] and still
more of the Cainites, so-called from their cult of Cain, whom, with
Dathan and Abiram, the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah
, and finally
Judas Iscariot, they regarded as noble victims of the demiurgus.[113]
Animated by hatred of all social and moral order, the Cainites "called
upon all men to destroy the works of God and to commit every kind of

These men were therefore not only the enemies of Christianity but of
orthodox Judaism, since it was against the Jehovah of the Jews that
their hatred was particularly directed. Another Gnostic sect, the
Carpocratians, followers of Carpocrates of Alexandria and his son
Epiphanus--who died from his debaucheries and was venerated as a
god[115]--likewise regarded all written laws, Christian or Mosaic, with
contempt and recognized only the [Greek: gnosis] or knowledge given to
the great men of every nation--Plato and Pythagoras, Moses and
Christ--which "frees one from all that the vulgar call religion" and
"makes man equal to God."[116]

So in the Carpocratians of the second century we find already the
tendency towards that _deification of humanity_ which forms the supreme
doctrine of the secret societies and of the visionary Socialists of our
day. The war now begins between the two contending principles: the
Christian conception of man reaching up to God and the secret society
conception of man as God, needing no revelation from on high and no
guidance but the law of his own nature. And since that nature is in
itself divine, all that springs from it is praiseworthy, and those acts
usually regarded as sins are not to be condemned. By this line of
reasoning the Carpocratians arrived at much the same conclusions as
modern Communists with regard to the ideal social system. Thus
Epiphanus held that since Nature herself reveals the principle of the
community and the unity of all things, human laws which are contrary to
this law of Nature are so many culpable infractions of the legitimate
order of things. Before these laws were imposed on humanity everything
was in common--land, goods, and women. According to certain
contemporaries, the Carpocratians returned to this primitive system by
instituting the community of women and indulging in every kind of

The further Gnostic sect of Antitacts, following this same cult of humannature, taught revolt against all positive religion and laws and the
necessity for gratifying the flesh; the Adamites of North Africa, going
a step further in the return to Nature, cast off all clothing at their
religious services so as to represent the primitive innocence of the
garden of Eden--a precedent followed by the Adamites of Germany in the
fifteenth century.[117]

These Gnostics, says Eliphas Lévi, under the pretext of "spiritualizing
matter, materialized the spirit in the most revolting ways.... Rebels to
the hierarchic order, ... they wished to substitute the mystical licence
of sensual passions to wise Christian sobriety and obedience to laws....
Enemies of the family, they wished to produce sterility by increasing

By way of systematically perverting the doctrines of the Christian faith
the Gnostics claimed to possess the true versions of the Gospels, and
professed belief in these to the exclusion of all the others.[119] Thus
the Ebionites had their own corrupted version of the Gospel of St.
Matthew founded on the "Gospel of the Hebrews," known earlier to the
Jewish Christians; the Marcosians had their version of St. Luke, the
Cainites their own "Gospel of Judas," and the Valentinians their "Gospel
of St. John." As we shall see later, the Gospel of St. John is the one
that throughout the war on Christianity has been specially chosen for
the purpose of perversion.

Of course this spirit of perversion was nothing new; many centuries
earlier the prophet Isaiah had denounced it in the words: "Woe unto them
that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and
light for darkness!" But the role of the Gnostics was to reduce
perversion to a system by binding men together into sects working under
the guise of enlightenment in order to obscure all recognized ideas of
morality and religion. It is this which constitutes their importance in
the history of secret societies.

Whether the Gnostics themselves can be described as a secret society, or
rather as a ramification of secret societies, is open to question. M.
Matter, quoting a number of third-century writers, shows the possibility
that they had mysteries and initiations; the Church Fathers definitely
asserted this to be the case.[120] According to Tertullian, the
Valentinians continued, or rather perverted, the mysteries of Eleusis,
out of which they made a "sanctuary of prostitution."[121]

The Valentinians are known to have divided their members into three
classes--the Pneumatics, the Psychics, and the Hylics (i.e.
materialists); the Basilideans are also said to have possessed secret
doctrines known to hardly one in a thousand of the sect. From all this
M. Matter concludes that:

1. The Gnostics professed to hold by means of tradition a secret
doctrine superior to that contained in the public writings of the

2. That they did not communicate this doctrine to everyone....

3. That they communicated it by means of emblems and symbols, as
the Diagram of the Ophites proves.

4. That in these communications they imitated the rites and trials
of the mysteries of Eleusis.[122]

This claim to the possession of a secret oral tradition, whether known
under the name of [Greek: gnosis] or of Cabala,
confirms the conception
of the Gnostics as Cabalists and shows how far they had departed from
Christian teaching. For if only in this idea of "one doctrine for the
ignorant and another for the initiated,"
the Gnostics had restored the
very system which Christianity had come to destroy.[123]


Whilst we have seen the Gnostic sects working for more or less
subversive purposes under the guise of esoteric doctrines, we find in
the Manicheans of Persia, who followed a century later, a sect
embodying the same tendencies and approaching still nearer to secret
society organization.

Cubricus or Corbicius, the founder of Manicheism, was born in Babylonia about the year A.D. 216. Whilst still a child he is said to have been bought as a slave by a rich widow of Ctesiphon, who liberated him and on
her death left him great wealth. According to another story--for the
whole history of Manes rests on legends--he inherited from a rich old woman the books of a Saracen named Scythianus on the wisdom of the
. Combining the doctrines these books contained with ideas
borrowed from Zoroastrianism, Gnosticism, and Christianity, and also
with certain additions of his own, he elaborated a philosophic system
which he proceeded to teach. Cubricus then changed his name to Mani or
Manes and proclaimed himself the Paraclete promised by Jesus Christ. His
followers were divided into two classes--the outer circle of hearers or
combatants, and the inner circle of teachers or ascetics described as
the Elect. As evidence of their resemblance with Freemasons, it has been
said that the Manicheans made use of secret signs, grips, and passwords,
that owing to the circumstances of their master's adoption they called
Manes "the son of the widow" and themselves "the children of the widow,"

but this is not clearly proved. One of their customs is, however,
interesting in this connexion.

According to legend, Manes undertook to cure the son of the King of Persia who had fallen ill, but the prince died, whereupon Manes was flayed alive by order of the king and his corpse hanged up at the city gate. Every year after this, on Good
Friday, the Manicheans carried out a mourning ceremony known as the Bema
around the catafalque of Manes, whose real sufferings they were wont to
contrast with the unreal sufferings of Christ.

The fundamental doctrine of Manicheism is Dualism--that is to say, the existence of two opposing principles in the world, light and darkness,
good and evil--founded, however, not on the Christian conception of this
idea, but on the Zoroastrian conception of Ormuzd and Ahriman,
and so
perverted and mingled with Cabalistic superstitions that it met with as
vehement denunciation by Persian priests as by Christian Fathers. Thus, according to the doctrine of Manes, all matter is absolute evil, the
principle of evil is eternal
, humanity itself is of Satanic origin, and
the first human beings, Adam and Eve, are represented as the offspring
of devils.[124] Much the same idea may be found in the Jewish Cabala,
where it is said that Adam, after other abominable practices, cohabited
with female devils whilst Eve consoled herself with male devils, so that
whole races of demons were born into the world. Eve is also accused of
cohabiting with the Serpent.[125] In the Yalkut Shimoni it is also
related that during the 130 years that Adam lived apart from Eve, "he
begat a generation of devils, spirits, and hobgoblins."[126] Manichean
demonology thus paved the way for the placation of the powers of
darkness practised by the Euchites at the end of the fourth century and
later by the Paulicians, the Bogomils, and the Luciferians.

So it is in Gnosticism and Manicheism that we find evidence of the first
attempts to pervert Christianity. The very fact that all such have been
condemned by the Church as "heresies" has tended to enlist sympathy in
their favour, yet even Eliphas Lévi recognizes that here the action of
the Church was right, for the "monstrous gnosis of Manes" was a
desecration not only of Christian doctrines but of pre-Christian sacred