Pistis Sophia

[p. xlviii]

revelation, they delighted in apocalyptic and in psychic story. The belief in a

post-resurrectional teaching had doubtless existed for long in many forms in Gnostic circles. It must have been widespread; for, as shown by Schmidt quite recently (Bib. 59), a Catholic writer in Asia Minor found himself compelled to steal the fire of the Gnostics and adopt the same convention in an orthodox document that was intended to be a polemic against Gnostic ideas, somewhere in the 3rd quarter of the 2nd century. However they arrived at their conviction, it seems highly probable that the writers of the P.S. must have sincerely believed they had high authority for their proceeding, and were in some way emboldened by ‘inspiration’ to carry out their task. As far as they were concerned, they do not by any means seem conscious of belonging to a decadent movement or of deterioration in the quality of the ideas they were attempting to set forth, as so many modern critics would have it. On the contrary, they thought they were depositories or recipients of profound mysteries never hitherto revealed, and that by a knowledge of these mysteries they could the more efficiently evangelize the world.

It is evident, however, that the P.S. was never intended to be circulated as a public gospel. Certain things are to be preached or proclaimed to the world, but only certain things. Certain mysteries, again, the recipients were to bestow under certain conditions, but others were to be reserved. The ‘Books of the Saviour’ are, therefore,

[p. xlix]

to be regarded as apocrypha in the original sense of the word–that is, ‘withdrawn’ or ‘reserved’ writings. As such they fell within the proscriptions of artificial secrecy common to all the initiatory institutions of the time and of all time. And artificial secrecy can with difficulty, if ever, avoid the moral and intellectual hazard of its innate obscurations. The P.S. was intended for already initiated disciples, for chosen learners, though no pledge of secrecy is mentioned. It was intended, above all, for would-be apostles, for those who should go forth to proclaim what was for them the best of good news; it is clearly the inner instruction of a zealously propagandist sect.

If ‘The Books of the Saviour’ in their full original form–for in the extant P.S. we have but selections from them and the formulae of the higher mysteries are

exotic, beauty, things of profound ethical significance, things of delicate spiritual

omitted,–and if what is given of the lower mysteries in Div. iv. were held back from public perusal owing partly at least to the fear of the unworthy making improper use of them, there is little danger to-day on this score, for this part of the miscellany remains so far the most securely incomprehensible. And indeed no little else remains obscure, even when we are of those who have made a protracted study of the psychical elements in mysticism and of the general psychology of religious experience. But there is much also in our Codex which has a charm of its own. There are things of rare, if


[p. l]

In any case, however all these very various elements and features in the syncretism be

judged and evaluated, the Pistis Sophia is unquestionably a document of the first importance, not only for the history of Christianized Gnosticism, but also for the history of the development of religion in the West.

In conclusion, a skeleton of the scheme under-lying the P.S. is added. It may prove of service generally to assist the reader in the maze of details.

The Ineffable.

The Limbs of the Ineffable.

The Highest Light-world or Realm of Light.

The First Space of the Ineffable.

The Second Space of the Ineffable, or The First Space of the First Mystery.

The Third Space of the Ineffable, or The Second Space of the First Mystery.

The Higher (or Middle) Light-world.

The Treasury of the Light.

The Emanations of the Light.

The Orders of the Orders.

The Region of the Right.

The Region of the Midst.

The Lower Light or Aeon-world, or The Mixture of Light and Matter.

The Region of the Left.

The Thirteenth Aeon.

The Twelve Eons. [p. li]

The Fate.

The Sphere.

The Rulers of the Ways of the (Lower) Midst. [*1]

The Firmament.

The World (Kosmos), especially Mankind.

The Under-world.

The Amente.

The Chaos.

The Outer Darkness.

of the subsequent writers.

Finally, the bibliography which follows is not simply a list of authors’ names and of the titles of their contributions to the subject, but is furnished with notes which may serve briefly to indicate the chief moments in the development of the literature and in the history of opinion. There doubtless are a few articles hidden away in the back numbers of periodicals which should be added fully to complete the list; but they cannot be of any importance, or they would have been referred to by some one or other


^li:1 I have printed this without a capital in the text to distinguish it from the higher Midst above.

Pistis Sophia, by G.R.S. Mead, [1921], at sacred-texts.com [p. lii]


1770. Art. in Brittische theol. Magazin (?); see Kostlin below, 13.

1773. Woide (C. G.). Art. in Journal des Savants (Paris).

1778. Woide (C. G.). Art. in J. A. Cramer’s Beytrage zur Beforderung theologischer und andrer wichtigen Kenntnisse (Kiel u. Hamburg), iii. 82 ff.

It was by W. that the New Testament, according to the text of the famous Codex Alexandrinus, was edited, in uncial types cast to imitate those of the MS., in 1786. In an Appendix to this great undertaking, in 1799 (see below, 5), he added certain fragments of the New Testament in the Thebaico-Coptic dialect, together with a dissertation on the Coptic version of the New Testament. The date of the C.A. is generally assigned to the 5th cent., and, with the exception of the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus, which are sometimes assigned to the 4th cent., is the oldest extant MS. of the New Testament. This being the case, it is of interest to quote from the Beitrage W.’s opinion on the date of the MS. of P.S., which was lent to this careful scholar by Dr. Askew and which he copied from the first word to the last:

“It [P.S.] is a very old MS. in 4to on parchment in Greek uncial characters, which are not so round as those in the Alexandrine MS. in London, and in the Claromontain MS. in Paris [Codex Regius Parisiensis, also an Alexandrine text]. The characters of the MS. [P.S.] are somewhat longer and more angular, so that I take them to be older than both the latter MSS., in which the letters eta, theta, omicron, rho and sigma are much rounder.”

Thus W. would date the MS. towards the end of the 4th cent.

1794. Buhle (J. G.). Literarischer Briefwechsel von Johann David Michaelis (Leipzig), 3 vols., 1794-96, iii. 69.

Under date 1773 there is a letter from Woide to Michaelis, in which the former says in reference to the P.S. Codex that Askew had picked it up by chance in a book-shop. There follows a description of the MS.

[p. liii]

1799. Woide (C. G.). Appendix ad Editionem Novi Testamenti Graeci e Codice MS. Alexandrino . . . cum Dissertatione de Versione Bibliorum Aegyptiaca quibus subjictur Codicis Vaticani Collatio (Oxford), p. 137.

W. gives the date of the P.S. Codex as about the 4th cent., and considers the writer of the Greek original to have been Valentinus.

1812. Munter (F.). Odae Gnosticae Salomoni Tributae, Thebaice et Latine, Prefatione et Adnotationibus philologicis illustratae; (Hafniae).

translation in 1851. Munter believed that the original treatise belonged to the 2nd

Bishop Munter, a learned Dane, probably got his text from Woide’s copy. His brief pamphlet is of no particular importance; nevertheless it was solely upon these few selections, the five Odes of Solomon, that, with the exception of Dulaurier, scholars formed their opinion of the P.S. up to the time of the publication of Schwartze’s

cent. For Odes of Solomon see below, 49, 53 and 60.

1838. Dulaurier (E.). Art. in Le Moniteur (sept. 27).

1843. Matter (J.). Histoire Critique du Gnosticisme et de son Influence sur les Sectes religieuses et philosophiques des six premiers Siecles de l’Ere chretienne (Paris), 2nd ed., ii. 41 ff., 350 ff. The first edition appeared in 1828 and contains no reference to P.S. In Dorner’s German translation the references are ii. 69 ff. and
163 ff.

M. rejects the authorship of Valentinus, though he bases himself otherwise entirely on Woide. He vaguely places the date of the original treatise between the end of the 2nd and the end of the 5th cent., but gives no opinion as to the school to which it belongs (p. 352).

1847. Dulaurier (E.). Art. in the Journal Asiatique, 4e serie, tom. ix., juin, pp. 534-548, ‘Notice sur le Manuscript copte-thebain, intitule La Fidele Sagesse; et sur la Publication projetee du Texte et de la Traduction francaise de ce Manuscript.’

D. had prepared a translation of the P.S. He writes: “The translation of the Pistis Sophia and the glossary which forms a complement to it are finished, and will be sent to the printers, when I have convinced myself that I have fulfilled the requirements that this task imposes, taking into consideration the present state of science and my own capabilities. The MS. from which I have made my translation is a copy which I have taken from the original, during my stay in England in 1838-1840, when I was charged by MM. de

[p. liv] [paragraph continues] Salvandy and Villemain, successive ministers of public instruction, with the commission of proceeding to London to study this curious monument.” (p. 542). D., however, did not publish his labours, nor have I as yet come across any record of the fate of his MS. He ascribes the treatise to Valentinus.

1851. Schwartze (M. G.). Pistis Sophia, Opus Gnosticum Valentino adjudicatum, e Codice Manuscripto Coptico Londinensi descriptum. Latine vertit M. G. Schwartze, edidit
J. H. Petermann (Berlin).

In 1848 Schwartze made a copy of the Codex in London, but unfortunately died before the completion of his labours on the P.S., and the MS. translation he left behind contained a number of blanks and passages which he intended to fill up and correct. His friend Petermann confined himself in his notes strictly to verbal corrections and suggestions as to variae lectiones. The consequence is that we have a translation without the notes of the translator and without a word of introduction. P. says the task of editing was so severe that he frequently suffered from fits of giddiness. In spite of numerous blemishes this first edition is said to be ‘an outstanding achievement.’ S. considers the original treatise, as we see from the title of his work, to have been written by Valentinus; but P. is of the opinion that it is the work of an Ophite, and promises to set forth his reasons at length in a treatise, which has unfortunately never seen the light. A review of S.’s work appeared in the Journal des Savants of 1852 (p. 333).

1852. Bunsen (C. C. J.). Hippolytus and seine Zeit, Anfange and Aussichten des Christenthums and der Menschheit (Leipzig), i. 47, 48. Hippolytus and his Age (London, 1852), i. 61, 62.

of the latest and stupidest mysticism about letters, sounds and words.”

“Great, therefore, were my hopes in 1842, that the ancient Coptic manuscript of the British Museum, inscribed Sophia, might be a translation, or at least an extract, from that lost text-book of Gnosticism [the work quoted by Hippolytus, sub Valent.]: but unfortunately the accurate and trustworthy labours of that patient and conscientious Coptic scholar, Dr. Schwartze, so early taken away from us, have proved to me (for I have seen and perused his manuscript, which I hope will soon appear), that this Coptic treatise is a most worthless (I trust, purely Coptic) offshoot of the Marcosian heresy,

[p. lv]

.’s Marcosian theory has been partially revived by Legge (below, 57), but is supported by no one else, and we doubt whether B. could have read Schwartze’s MS. with any great

1853. Baur (F. C.). Das Christenthum and die christliche Kirche der drei ersten Jahrhunderte (Tubingen), notes on pp. 185, 186, and 205, 206.

B. evidently added these notes at the last moment before publication. On page 206 he leans to the idea of an Ophite origin.

1854. Kostlin (K. R.). Two arts. in Baur and Zeller’s Theologische Jahrbucher (Tubingen), xiii. 1–104 and 137–196, ‘Das gnostische System des Ruches Pistis Sophia.’

was the first to make an exhaustive analysis of the contents of the treatise, with the special object of setting forth the system of P.S., and his labours were used later by Lipsius in his art, in Smith and Wace’s Dictionary of Christian Biography (below, 20). He assigns its date to the first half of the 3rd cent., and thinks that it is of Ophite origin. In a note to page 1, K. writes:

“The MS. from which the work is published belongs to the collection of MSS. collected by Dr. Askew of London during his travels in Italy and Greece, of which The British Theological Magazine (Das Brittische theol. Magazin) for the year 1770 (vol. i. part 4,

p. 223) gives more particulars.”

We know nothing of these travels, and there is no such magazine in the catalogue of the British Museum. The Theological Repository for 1770 contains no information on the subject; and no permutation of names solves the mystery. There were very few magazines published at that early date, so that the choice is limited.

1856. An Anonymous Translation in Migne’s Dictionnaire des Apocryphes, tom. i. app. part. ii. coll. 1181–1286; this tome forms vol. xxiii. of his third Encyclopedie Theologique.

The translation is a sorry piece of work, more frequently a mere paraphrase from Schwartze’s version than translation; there are also frequent omissions, sometimes as many as 40 pages of Schwartze’s text; e.g. pp. 18, 19, 36 ff., 50, 51, 72, 73, 86-90,

108-135, 139, 157-160, 162, 171, 179, 180, 184-186, 221-243, 245-255, 281-320, 324-342.

These are some of the omissions; but there are many more. It is, therefore, entirely useless to the student. The anonymous

[p. lvi]

writer vaguely suggests a late date for the treatise because of the complicated nature of the system.

1860. Lipsius (R. A.). Art. ‘Gnosticismus,’ in Ersch and Gruber’s Encyclopadie, separately published at Leipzig, 1860, pp. 95 ff. and 157 ff.

considers P.S. an Egypto-Ophite treatise, and with Kostlin assigns its date to the first half of the 3rd cent. See his Art. in Dict. of Christ. Biog. (1887).

1875-1883. The Palaeographical Society, Facsimiles of MSS. and Inscriptions, Oriental Series, ed. by William Wright (London).

Plate xlii. The editor says that the original is later than Valentinus, and places the MS. in the 7th cent. There is a careful analysis of the text from the technical standpoint, and the facsimile is of f. 11 a.

1877. Jacobi (H.). Art. ‘Gnosis,’ in Herzog’s Theolog. Real Encyclopadie (Leipzig), 2nd ed., 1888; Translation (New York), 1882, 1883.

believes in an Ophite origin.

1887. King (C. W.). The Gnostics and their Remains, Ancient and Mediaeval (London), 2nd ed. The first ed. appeared in 1864, but contains no reference to P.S.

scattered throughout the volume, there are translations from Schwartze of pages

regards the P.S. as the most precious relic of Gnosticism. Besides many references
227-239, 242-244, 247-248, 255-259, 261-263, 282-292, 298-308, 341, 342, 358, 375. K.

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