Blogging about the Gnostics

Discussion about the New Testament, apocrypha, gnostics, church fathers, Christian origins, historical Jesus or otherwise, etc.
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Peter Kirby
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Re: Blogging about the Gnostics

Post by Peter Kirby »

Leucius Charinus wrote:However there must be a place for theories about "The Big Picture" in which all these books (orthodox and heretical) are simply objects in a political environment.
Maybe.

Source criticism comes first, however, and is done correctly when it is done atomistically, not in broad sweeping strokes and assumptions.
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Peter Kirby
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Re: Blogging about the Gnostics

Post by Peter Kirby »

Apparently the Christianity Seminar, in fall 2014, takes a diametrically opposite position (to "automatically marginalizing their relevance" on account of their "gnosticism" and therefore "heresy or second-rate theology," and to treating "Gnosticism" as any kind of coherent group) in calling for the abandonment of "Gnosticism" as an unhelpful and unworkable category, something suggested also by Michael Williams and Karen King.

http://www.westarinstitute.org/projects ... ng-report/
At the November meetings in San Diego, the first major sign emerged that Westar’s Christianity Seminar may play a significant role in how scholarship and the American public rethink early Christian history. The Christianity Seminar took votes of historic proportions, collectively setting aside what had been assumed for the last five generations and opening up a new collaborative path forward.

With at least twenty-five internationally known scholars in attendance, the Seminar voted with substantial majorities to rule “gnosticism,” the reigning boogey man of early Christian history, out of order. In successive votes, the following dramatic positions were taken:

The category of gnosticism needs to be dismantled. (Voted Red)
Michael Williams and Karen King have made compelling cases that the category “Gnosticism”—whether it names an ancient religion equivalent to “Judaism” or “Christianity” or it functions as a typological category for the grouping of various teachers, writings, and movements—no longer works. (Voted Red)
The relegation of gnosticism to the scholarly sidelines removes a confusing category for our ongoing Christianity Seminar work in rethinking the history of early Christianity. (Voted Pink)
It is difficult to overestimate what these decisions mean for the Seminar’s resolve to rewrite the history of early Christianity and for broader historical positions long held about how Christianity came into being. For at least a century “Gnosticism” has been understood as the primary and earliest major heresy that threatened a pre-ordained trajectory from the message of Jesus to the “Church Eternal.” Now, according to the Christianity Seminar, the idea that such a thing as “gnosticism” even existed is simply off the table.

The Christianity Seminar’s collective actions at its San Diego sessions so blatantly contradict the commonly-held story of how Christianity emerged that these votes must be summarized clearly. The Seminar did not vote that heretical gnosticism was so wrong in its ideas and beliefs that it can never be considered “Christian.” Nor did it conclude that “gnosticism” was not really so bad, and therefore was not a heresy. Rather, after strong discussion of major papers, the Seminar said clearly that most historians of the past 100+ years were wrong in thinking that such a phenomenon as “gnosticism” ever existed. In other words, historians must rethink the entire assumption that a unified heretical “gnosticism” played a primary role in how early Christianity came into being.
One of the main effects of the dependence on “gnosticism” for understanding the processes within Jesus and Christ movements of the second and early-third century was that the wide range of Jesus/Christ-related documents discovered since 1850 were by and large deemed to be “gnostic.” They were therefore regarded as either heresy or second-rate theology. This meant, for instance, that fifty-two such documents discovered at Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945 were almost immediately considered “gnostic,” and as such either problematic or damaging to what early Christianity was really about.

The Jesus Seminar was one of the first scholarly venues to contradict this picture of such recently discovered documents, when it rejected earlier scholarship that defined the Gospel of Thomas as both “gnostic” and from the second century. Instead, the Jesus Seminar led scholarship over the last thirty years in noticing the relative impossibility of defining this gospel as “gnostic.” More recently, similar work has been done on a number of these discoveries such as the Secret Revelation of John, the Sayings of Sextus, the Odes of Solomon, the Letter of Peter to Philip, the Gospel of Mary, the Thunder: Perfect Mind, and the Gospel of Truth.

But many more of these discoveries still lay hidden under the assumption that they are a part of “gnosticism,” automatically marginalizing their relevance. With the Christianity Seminar now rejecting “gnosticism” as a viable analytical category for the study of early Christianity, an even stronger possibility exists to integrate many of these newer documents into more diverse and complex pictures of the emerging Christian phenomena. In two different ballot items in San Diego, the Christianity Seminar affirmed strongly the necessity to claim Nag Hammadi and other recently discovered works from the first two centuries as an integral part of rethinking early Christian history.

Such progress hauntingly now manifests itself for the Christianity Seminar in the crucial need for scholars who know the Nag Hammadi and other documents well, and who can help elaborate their meanings and track how early Christianity developed in ways quite different than has been perceived so far. This new direction presses current and future scholars to redouble their study of the recently discovered documents.
"... almost every critical biblical position was earlier advanced by skeptics." - Raymond Brown
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Re: Blogging about the Gnostics

Post by andrewcriddle »

Peter Kirby wrote:Apparently the Christianity Seminar, in fall 2014, takes a diametrically opposite position (to "automatically marginalizing their relevance" on account of their "gnosticism" and therefore "heresy or second-rate theology," and to treating "Gnosticism" as any kind of coherent group) in calling for the abandonment of "Gnosticism" as an unhelpful and unworkable category, something suggested also by Michael Williams and Karen King.

http://www.westarinstitute.org/projects ... ng-report/
At the November meetings in San Diego, the first major sign emerged that Westar’s Christianity Seminar may play a significant role in how scholarship and the American public rethink early Christian history. The Christianity Seminar took votes of historic proportions, collectively setting aside what had been assumed for the last five generations and opening up a new collaborative path forward.

With at least twenty-five internationally known scholars in attendance, the Seminar voted with substantial majorities to rule “gnosticism,” the reigning boogey man of early Christian history, out of order. In successive votes, the following dramatic positions were taken:

The category of gnosticism needs to be dismantled. (Voted Red)
Michael Williams and Karen King have made compelling cases that the category “Gnosticism”—whether it names an ancient religion equivalent to “Judaism” or “Christianity” or it functions as a typological category for the grouping of various teachers, writings, and movements—no longer works. (Voted Red)
The relegation of gnosticism to the scholarly sidelines removes a confusing category for our ongoing Christianity Seminar work in rethinking the history of early Christianity. (Voted Pink)
It is difficult to overestimate what these decisions mean for the Seminar’s resolve to rewrite the history of early Christianity and for broader historical positions long held about how Christianity came into being. For at least a century “Gnosticism” has been understood as the primary and earliest major heresy that threatened a pre-ordained trajectory from the message of Jesus to the “Church Eternal.” Now, according to the Christianity Seminar, the idea that such a thing as “gnosticism” even existed is simply off the table.

The Christianity Seminar’s collective actions at its San Diego sessions so blatantly contradict the commonly-held story of how Christianity emerged that these votes must be summarized clearly. The Seminar did not vote that heretical gnosticism was so wrong in its ideas and beliefs that it can never be considered “Christian.” Nor did it conclude that “gnosticism” was not really so bad, and therefore was not a heresy. Rather, after strong discussion of major papers, the Seminar said clearly that most historians of the past 100+ years were wrong in thinking that such a phenomenon as “gnosticism” ever existed. In other words, historians must rethink the entire assumption that a unified heretical “gnosticism” played a primary role in how early Christianity came into being.
One of the main effects of the dependence on “gnosticism” for understanding the processes within Jesus and Christ movements of the second and early-third century was that the wide range of Jesus/Christ-related documents discovered since 1850 were by and large deemed to be “gnostic.” They were therefore regarded as either heresy or second-rate theology. This meant, for instance, that fifty-two such documents discovered at Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945 were almost immediately considered “gnostic,” and as such either problematic or damaging to what early Christianity was really about.

The Jesus Seminar was one of the first scholarly venues to contradict this picture of such recently discovered documents, when it rejected earlier scholarship that defined the Gospel of Thomas as both “gnostic” and from the second century. Instead, the Jesus Seminar led scholarship over the last thirty years in noticing the relative impossibility of defining this gospel as “gnostic.” More recently, similar work has been done on a number of these discoveries such as the Secret Revelation of John, the Sayings of Sextus, the Odes of Solomon, the Letter of Peter to Philip, the Gospel of Mary, the Thunder: Perfect Mind, and the Gospel of Truth.

But many more of these discoveries still lay hidden under the assumption that they are a part of “gnosticism,” automatically marginalizing their relevance. With the Christianity Seminar now rejecting “gnosticism” as a viable analytical category for the study of early Christianity, an even stronger possibility exists to integrate many of these newer documents into more diverse and complex pictures of the emerging Christian phenomena. In two different ballot items in San Diego, the Christianity Seminar affirmed strongly the necessity to claim Nag Hammadi and other recently discovered works from the first two centuries as an integral part of rethinking early Christian history.

Such progress hauntingly now manifests itself for the Christianity Seminar in the crucial need for scholars who know the Nag Hammadi and other documents well, and who can help elaborate their meanings and track how early Christianity developed in ways quite different than has been perceived so far. This new direction presses current and future scholars to redouble their study of the recently discovered documents.
This is possibly confusing two issues.

The texts and ideas popularly regarded as Gnostic could well be relatively late and marginal without being part of an overarching category usefully called Gnosticism.

Andrew Criddle
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Re: Blogging about the Gnostics

Post by slevin »

Such progress hauntingly now manifests itself for the Christianity Seminar in the crucial need for scholars who know the Nag Hammadi and other documents well, and who can help elaborate their meanings and track how early Christianity developed in ways quite different than has been perceived so far.
I doubt that anyone on this forum would dispute that point.

What I like about this statement is that it would appear that at least some academicians are open to searching for alternative explanations for the origin of Christianity. That's encouraging, if so.

What is needed right now, in terms of this thread, is a link to gnostic studies which preceded Nag Hamadi, and preferably, texts or monuments or coins, from the first century CE, or earlier, of unequivocally gnostic origin.
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Re: Blogging about the Gnostics

Post by Leucius Charinus »

Peter Kirby wrote:Apparently the Christianity Seminar, in fall 2014, takes a diametrically opposite position (to "automatically marginalizing their relevance" on account of their "gnosticism" and therefore "heresy or second-rate theology," and to treating "Gnosticism" as any kind of coherent group) in calling for the abandonment of "Gnosticism" as an unhelpful and unworkable category, something suggested also by Michael Williams and Karen King.

http://www.westarinstitute.org/projects ... ng-report/



The Secret Revelation of John is Christian. (Voted Pink)

Apocryphon_of_John

http://gnosis.org/naghamm/apocjn-davies.html
  • The Inexpressible One

    The One rules all. Nothing has authority over it.
    It is the God.
    It is Father of everything,
    Holy One
    The invisible one over everything.
    It is uncontaminated
    Pure light no eye can bear to look within.

    The One is the Invisible Spirit.
    It is not right to think of it as a God or as like God.
    It is more than just God.

    Nothing is above it.
    Nothing rules it.
    Since everything exists within it
    It does not exist within anything.
    Since it is not dependent on anything
    It is eternal.

    It is absolutely complete and so needs nothing.
    It is utterly perfect
    Light.

    The One is without boundaries
    Nothing exists outside of it to border it
    The One cannot be investigated
    Nothing exists apart from it to investigate it
    The One cannot be measured
    Nothing exists external to it to measure it

    The One cannot be seen
    For no one can envision it
    The One is eternal
    For it exists forever
    The One is inconceivable
    For no one can comprehend it
    The One is indescribable
    For no one can put any words to it.

    The One is infinite light
    Purity
    Holiness
    Stainless,

    The One is incomprehensible
    Perfectly free from corruption.
    Not “perfect”
    Not “blessed”
    Not “divine”
    But superior to such concepts.
    Neither physical nor unphysical
    Neither immense nor infinitesimal
    It is impossible to specify in quantity or quality
    For it is beyond knowledge.

    The One is not a being among other beings
    It is vastly superior
    But it is not “superior.”

    It is outside of realms of being and time
    For whatever is within realms of being was created
    And whatever is within time had time allotted to it
    The One receives nothing from anything.
    It simply apprehends itself in its own perfect light

    The One is majestic.
    The One is measureless majesty

    Chief of all Realms
    Producing all realms

    Light
    Producing light

    Life
    Producing life

    Blessedness
    Producing blessedness

    Knowledge
    Producing knowledge

    Good
    Producing goodness

    Mercy
    Producing mercy

    Generous
    Producing generosity

    [It does not “possess” these things.]

    It gives forth light beyond measure, beyond comprehension.

    [What can I say?]

    His realm is eternal, peaceful, silent, resting, before everything.
    He is the head of every realm sustaining each of them through goodness.
This could well have been written by a Platonic philosopher familiar with the Enneads of Plotinus.

All the Christianity Seminar has done is to stick a Christian flag into this text (by the Voting of Christian scholars) in an act of "Christian Colonisation" (of literature) and thereby decreed it to be Christian.





LC
A "cobbler of fables" [Augustine]; "Leucius is the disciple of the devil" [Decretum Gelasianum]; and his books "should be utterly swept away and burned" [Pope Leo I]; they are the "source and mother of all heresy" [Photius]
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Re: Blogging about the Gnostics

Post by Peter Kirby »

What is your opinion regarding the Apocryphon of John? Do you regard it as non-Christian or plausibly so? Do you think its author had knowledge of the New Testament? Where do you place it in the sweep of history?
"... almost every critical biblical position was earlier advanced by skeptics." - Raymond Brown
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Re: Blogging about the Gnostics

Post by Robert Tulip »

What does source criticism have to say about the Gnostic concept of the cosmos?

It seems likely to me there is an elision from the ancient equation cosmos=world (a cultural construct) to the modern view of cosmos=universe (the natural creation).

I say this because it makes sense to my reading that Gnostic authors viewed our constructed social world as evil, and Yahweh as an evil demiurge of that social power dynamic, while seeing the natural universe as good.

If true, that revision of the Gnostic concept of cosmos undercuts much evangelical condemnation of Gnosticism regarding the line in Plotinus that some Gnostics held that matter is evil.
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Re: Blogging about the Gnostics

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PJ wraps up his "Gnostic" series of posts:

The Gnostics and the Interwar Crisis
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/anxiousben ... he-temple/
That 70-130 period, then, marks not only a crisis within Judaism itself, but among movements that had grown up within the Jewish framework. We might usefully describe this era, in fact, as an interwar period, one that lived with the after-effects of one disaster while grimly awaiting the near-inevitable second phase. Anti-Judaism became more common, as did critical attitudes towards Jewish claims to exclusivism. Thinkers were struggling to build a Jewish-derived world-view without the necessity to accept the exclusive God of the Hebrew Bible, with his burdensome Law. Gnosticism is much more than anti-Judaism, but without that element, it is impossible to sustain.
From Qumran to the Gnostics
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/anxiousben ... -gnostics/
In the very influential 1 Enoch (late third century BC) we hear a great deal about the power of the angels, good and evil, with the fallen angels exercising power over the world. Angelic speculations were also central to the Dead Sea sect. The idea of an evil angel ruling the world was quite familiar.
In the second century AD, angels played a central role in all schools of Gnostic thought. According to Irenaeus, Simon Magus claimed to have been incarnated because the angels ruling the world exercised their power badly, with each struggling for supremacy. His successor Menander likewise instructed how to overcome the angels who had made the world.
In the early second century AD, Menander’s own successor Saturninus of Antioch headed the Syrian school of Gnostic thought. According to Irenaeus, “The world, again, and all things therein, were made by a certain company of seven angels. Man, too, was the workmanship of angels, a shining image bursting forth below from the presence of the supreme power.”
Of Saturninus, Irenaeus writes that “This heretic was the first to affirm that two kinds of men were formed by the angels, the one wicked, and the other good. And since the demons assist the most wicked, the Savior came for the destruction of evil men and of the demons, but for the salvation of the good.” Like the emphasis on angels, this division into evil and good races would have been thoroughly familiar to the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Other parallels abound, for instance in the interest in astrology, and the common emphasis on predestination.
"... almost every critical biblical position was earlier advanced by skeptics." - Raymond Brown
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Re: Blogging about the Gnostics

Post by Leucius Charinus »

Peter Kirby wrote:What is your opinion regarding the Apocryphon of John?
WIKI = There are four separate surviving manuscripts of "The Secret Book of John". Three of these were found in the Nag Hammadi codices in 1945, while the fourth was found independently 50 years earlier from another site in Egypt. All four versions date to the 4th century
Do you regard it as non-Christian or plausibly so?
The extract I quoted above entitled "The Inexpressible One" seems to be more or less straight out of the Platonic philosophy of Plotinus' Enneads. So the question is then why do we find it with a Christian context?
Do you think its author had knowledge of the New Testament?
Yes of course I do. But is he a Christian or a Platonist, or a Christian Platonist or a Platonist Christian?
Where do you place it in the sweep of history?
Here's where I differ from the mainstream, and place the author after Nicaea. After the NT Bible codex was raised to political prominence.

As reflected in the fragments of the history of Philip of Side the controversy that commenced at the Council of Nicaea and ensued for centuries was not any form of an internal conflict between Christians (although that is how Eusebius, and the 5th century continuators of Eusebius, present the picture). These fragments (which I have listed below with a link to Roger's site) clearly indicate that the conflict was between two separate parties. On the one hand there were "Our Bishops" (the Nicene Christian orthodoxy) and on the other hand there were "many philosophers" (the hirelings of Arius).

In the sweep of history we are all well aware that, with the assistance of Constantine, the philosophers lost and the bishops won the day. During the rest of the 4th century, in the words of Ammianus, "the highways were covered with galloping bishops". What happened to the philosophers? We know what happened to one of the leading, if not the leading Platonic philosopher Sopater. Constantine publically executed him c.336 CE.

This is precisely where these gnostic (Greek philosophical) treatises IMHO fit in to the sweep of history. The philosophers attempted to adapt to Nicene Christianity, especially when they realised that they could not openly dare to challenge the doctrines of Constantine. The philosophers went underground. They attempted to adapt their philosophical doctrines to the dogma of the NT Bible, and all sorts of hybrid treatises were authored as a result, including the Apocryphon of John.

But Constantine wanted only One True Holy Writ with which to bind the empire together under a centralised monotheistic state religion. As a result, he and his regime persecuted, and were intolerant of any "additional texts". The philosophers treatises (blending the NT Bible with Plotinic philosophy) were prohibited and burnt in Alexandria. Someone gathered up the surviving Greek manuscripts and took them 400 miles down the Nile to Nag Hammadi, where they were translated to Coptic and preserved in codices.




LC




http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/phili ... nts.htm#Fr. 5.6
  • Fr. 5.6 = [Supporters of Arius at the Council of Nicaea]
    Anonymous Ecclesiastical History 2.12.8-10 [p. 47, lines 5-19 Hansen][160]

    (8) When these things were expressed by them—or rather, through them, by the Holy Spirit—those who endorsed Arius' impiety were wearing themselves out with murmuring (these were the circles of Eusebius of Nicomedia and Theognis of Nicaea, whom I have already pointed out earlier), and yet they were looking with favor on the "hirelings" of Arius, certain philosophers who were indeed very good with words; Arius had hired them as supporters of his own wickedness, and arrived with them at that holy and ecumenical council.

    (9) For there were present very many philosophers; and having put their hopes in them, as I have said just now, the enemies of the truth were reasonably caught, along with the one who actually taught them their blasphemy. The Holy Scripture was fulfilled in him and in them, which says, "Cursed is everyone who has his hope in a mortal man, and whose heart has departed from the Lord."[161]

    (10) For truly, the blasphemous heart of the fighter against God, Arius, and of those who shared in his impiety, departed from the Lord—they dared to say that the Son of God, the creator of the universe and the craftsman of both visible and invisible created natures, is something created and something made.






    Fr. 5.7 = [The Arian Philosopher and the Simple Old Man]
    Anonymous Ecclesiastical History 2.13 [p. 47, line 20 - p. 50, line 5 Hansen][162]

    2.13

    (1) A certain one of the hirelings of Arius, a philosopher, who was marvelled at much more than all the others, contended much, indeed very much, on Arius' behalf with our bishops for very many days, with the result that there was a great lecture every day arising from their verbal encounters: the crowd of those who were gathering would rush together, and the philosopher would put forward the impious blasphemies of Arius against what was said by the holy council, saying about the Son that "there was a time when he was not," and that "he is a created being, made from nothing, and from a different substance[163] and existence[164] [than the Father]." (2) On behalf of these abominable doctrines of Arius, he had a great struggle, and [sent forth] his "showers" of arguments, as he raved against the Son of God and attacked the chorus of those holy priests[165]--the enemy of human salvation was speaking in him and through him. (3) But the defenders of the truth, our bishops, calmly brought to bear against him the necessary and appropriate counter-arguments, on behalf of the Apostolic doctrines, imitating the great prophet and king, David, who said, "I was made ready, and I was not disturbed."[166] For they burned through the philosopher's convoluted propositions by means of the divine word, as though with fire through hempen fibers. (4) But even so, the philosopher continued to be confident in his diabolical facility with arguments, and began to shoot his arrows against the truth proclaimed by the bishops, applying good and glib responses to all the considerations advanced against him—so he thought—and, slippery as an eel, he struggled to solve the issues raised. For in the midst of what he thought he was contriving for his own benefit, slipping out of the logical arguments that were being brought quite powerfully against him, he was caught, on the basis of is own words, and collapsed along with them. (5) But even so, in an arrogant frenzy, he moved against the most peaceful council, hoping to defeat the invincible power of the unconquerable Spirit of Christ that was in them. (6) But God, "who catches the wise in their cunning,"[167] in order to demonstrate that his kingdom does not stand "on talk but on power,"[168] not only powerfully silenced the wicked demon that was speaking in the philosopher, but even cast it out, through one of his servants who was there. (7) For a certain man, one of the holy confessors who was present at the council, with as simple a nature as any other of the saints [has had], and one who knew nothing "except Jesus Christ, and him crucified"[169] in the flesh according to the Scriptures, was with the bishops and saw the philosopher swooping down to attack our holy bishops, and arrogantly engaged in his malicious disputation; he asked the bishops, the priests of God, to give him an opportunity for discussion with the philosopher. (8) Then, the holy bishops on our side, perceiving the man's simplicity and his lack of experience with letters, tried to persuade him not to put himself into the fray, for fear that it would provoke laughter among the malicious enemies of the truth. (9) But he, not content with this, approached the philosopher and said to him, "In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word of God who is always with the Father, listen to the doctrines of truth, O philosopher." And the other said to him, "Go ahead and speak." And the saint said to him, "There is one God, who created the heavens and the earth and the sea, and all things that are in them, who also formed man from the earth and subjected everything to his Logos and to the Holy Spirit.[170] (10) This Logos, O philosopher, we know and worship as the Son of God, believing that for the sake of our redemption he was made fleshand was born and became a man, and that through the suffering of his flesh on the cross and his death he freed us from eternal condemnation, and that through his resurrection he procured eternal life for us; and we have hope that as he went up into the heavens he will come back and will judge us concerning all that we have accomplished. Do you believe in these things, O philosopher?" (11) And the philosopher, as though he had never had experience of words spoken in opposition to him, was dumbfounded and fell silent just like that, as though he were mute and speechless, after saying to him, in a most pitiable voice, only the following: "I too think this is so, and I think no differently that as you have just said." (12) And the old man said to him, "If you believe that this is so, O philosopher, stand up and follow me, and let us hurry to the church, in which you will receive the sign of this faith." (13) And the philosopher, transforming his whole self toward the true reverence for the God of the universe, stood up and followed the old man and, turning around, said to his disciples and to all those who had gathered to hear [the discussion], "Listen, men. As long as I was enthusiastic for arguments, I would place words in opposition to words and would overturn the matters presented to me by my skill in speaking; (14) but now that instead of words, some divine power has come forth from the mouth of my interlocutor, my words no longer had the strength to resist this power. For neither is a human being able to stand in opposition to God. Therefore, if any of you is able to understand, as I have now come to think, he shall believe in Christ—and let him follow this old man, in whom God spoke.

    (15) In this way, the philosopher recovered and, being illuminated and becoming a Christian, rejoiced to have been beaten by the old man.

    And when this philosopher had been baptized and was joined to the Church of God and found relief and exulted, the council rejoiced over the mighty acts of God.
A "cobbler of fables" [Augustine]; "Leucius is the disciple of the devil" [Decretum Gelasianum]; and his books "should be utterly swept away and burned" [Pope Leo I]; they are the "source and mother of all heresy" [Photius]
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