” … But what is of special interest to us is the treatment meted out to the Christian Mystics, whom Hippolytus stigmatizes as heretics, and whose teaching he deliberately asserts to be simply that of the Pagan Mysteries.
He had come into possession of a secret document belonging to one of these sects, whom he calls the Naassenes; this document he gives in full, and it certainly throws a most extraordinary light upon the relation which this early Christian sect held to exist between the New, and the Old, Faith.
Mr G. R. S. Mead, in his translation of the Hermetic writings entitled Thrice-Greatest Hermes, has given a careful translation and detailed analysis of this most important text … [ … ] edited by Hippolytus, in the Refutation, about 222 A. D. Thus the ground covered is roughly from 50 B. C. to 220 A. D. 1 [ … ] Mr Mead, in his introductory remarks, summarizes the evidence as follows:
“The claim of these Gnostics was practically that Christianity, or rather the Good News of The Christ, was precisely the consummation of the inner doctrine of the Mystery-institutions of all the nations: the end of them all was the revelation of the Mystery of Man.” 1
[ … ]
In other words the teaching of these Naassenes was practically a synthesis of all the Mystery-religions, and although Hippolytus regards them as nothing more than devotees of the cult of the Magna Mater, we shall see that, while their doctrine and teaching were undoubtedly based mainly upon the doctrine and practices of the Phrygian Mysteries, they practically identified the deity therein worshipped, i.e., Attis, with the presiding deity of all the other Mysteries.
Mr Mead draws attention to the fact that Hippolytus places these Naassenes in the fore-front of his Refutation; they are the first group of Heretics with whom he deals, and we may therefore conclude that he considered them, if not the most important, at least the oldest, of such sectaries. 2
[ … ]
At the outset it will be well to understand that the central doctrine of all these Mysteries is what Reitzenstein sums up as “the doctrine of the Man, the Heavenly Man, the Son of God, who descends and becomes a slave of the Fate Sphere: the Man who, though originally endowed with all power, descends into weakness and bondage, and has to win his own freedom, and regain his original state.
This doctrine is not Egyptian, but seems to have been in its origin part and parcel of the Chaldean Mystery-tradition and was widely spread in Hellenistic circles. 1
Thus, in the introductory remarks prefixed by Hippolytus to the document he is quoting he asserts that the Naassenes honour as the Logos of all universals Man, and Son of Man–“and they divide him into three, for they say he has a mental, psychic, and choïc aspect; and they think that the Gnosis of this Man is the beginning of the possibility of knowing God, saying, ‘The beginning of Perfection is the Gnosis of Man, but the Gnosis of God is perfected Perfection.’
All these, mental, psychic, and earthy, descended together into one Man, Jesus, the Son of Mary.” 2
Thus the Myth of Man, the Mystery of Generation, is the subject matter of the document in question, and this myth is set forth with reference to all the Mysteries, beginning with the Assyrian.
Paragraph 5 runs: “Now the Assyrians call this Mystery Adonis, and whenever it is called Adonis it is Aphrodite who is in love with and desires Soul so-called, and Aphrodite is Genesis according to them.” 3
But in the next section the writer jumps from the Assyrian to the Phrygian Mysteries, saying, “But if the Mother of the Gods emasculates Attis, she too regarding him as the object of her love, it is the Blessed Nature above of the super-Cosmic, and Aeonian spaces which calls back the masculine power of Soul to herself.” 4
In a note to this Mr Mead quotes from The Life of Isidorus: “I fell asleep and in a vision Attis seemed to appear to me, and on behalf of the Mother of gods to initiate me into the feast called Hilario, a mystery which discloses the way of our salvation from Hades.”
Throughout the document reference is continually made to the Phrygians and their doctrine of Man. The Eleusinian Mysteries are then treated of as subsequent to the Phrygian, “after the Phrygians, the Athenians,” but the teaching is represented as being essentially identical.
We have then a passage of great interest for our investigation, in which the Mysteries are sharply divided into two classes, and their separate content clearly defined.
There are–“the little Mysteries, those of the Fleshly Generation, and after men have been initiated into them they should cease for a while and become initiated in the Great, Heavenly, Mysteries–for this is the Gate of Heaven, and this is the House of God, where the Good God dwells alone, into which House no impure man shall come.” 1
Hippolytus remarks that “these Naassenes say that the performers in theatres, they too, neither say nor do anything without design–for example, when the people assemble in the theatre, and a man comes on the stage clad in a robe different from all others, with lute in hand on which he plays, and thus chants the Great Mysteries, not knowing what he says:
‘Whether blest Child of Kronos, or of Zeus, or of Great Rhea,
Hail Attis, thou mournful song of Rhea!
Assyrians call thee thrice-longed-for Adonis;
All Egypt calls thee Osiris;
The Wisdom of Hellas names thee Men’s Heavenly Horn;
The Samothracians call thee august Adama;
The Haemonians, Korybas;
The Phrygians name thee Papa sometimes;
At times again Dead, or God, or Unfruitful, or Aipolos;
Or Green Reaped Wheat-ear;
Or the Fruitful that Amygdalas brought forth,
This is the Attis of many forms, of whom they sing as follows:
‘Of Attis will I sing, of Rhea’s Beloved,
Not with the booming of bells,
Nor with the deep-toned pipe of Idaean Kuretes;
But I will blend my song with Phoebus’ music of the lyre;
–for thou art Pan, thou Bacchus art, and Shepherd of bright stars!'” 1
On this Hippolytus comments:
“For these and suchlike reasons these Naassenes frequent what are called the Mysteries of the Great Mother, believing that they obtain the clearest view of the universal Mystery from the things done in them.”
And after all this evidence of elaborate syncretism, this practical identification of all the Mystery-gods with the Vegetation deity Adonis-Attis, we are confronted in the concluding paragraph, after stating that “the True Gate is Jesus the Blessed,” with this astounding claim, from the pen of the latest redactor, “And of all men we alone are Christians, accomplishing the Mystery at the Third Gate.” 2