Christian Churches of God

No. 202

 

 

 

 

The Nicolaitans

(Edition 2.0 19970524-19970722-20091101)

The doctrines of the Nicolaitans are condemned in Revelation 2:6 in the message to the Ephesian Church, which did not have the doctrines and hated them. The Pergamos Church was censured because it had those among it that held the doctrines of Balaam and the doctrines of the Nicolaitans (often spelt Nicolaitanes) which Christ states he hates. Who are they and what were their doctrines? Does modern Christianity understand the ramifications of this condemnation by Christ?

 

 

Christian Churches of God

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(Copyright © 1997, 2009  Wade Cox)

 

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The Nicolaitans

 


Introduction

The doctrines of the Nicolaitans are condemned by Messiah in Revelation in his message to the Churches. We see that the Church condemned the doctrines in the time of the Ephesians but by the time of Pergammos they had penetrated the Church.

Revelation 2:1-7  Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; 2 I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: 3 And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. 4 Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. 5 Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent. 6 But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God. (KJV)

The Tree of Life has meaning in relation to the Gnostic doctrines and the Mystery cults.

 

Here, the Church is praised for resisting, to the point of hatred, the doctrines of the Nicolaitans. Thus they must have been present at an early point in the history of the Church. They seemed to grow and penetrate the Church from Pergammos.

Revelation 2:12-17  And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges; 13 I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth. 14 But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. 15 So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. 16 Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. 17 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it. (KJV)

 

The Nicolaitans are an enigmatic sect mentioned only here. Who were they? What did they teach that was condemned so strongly? The answer is found in the maze of history.

 

The Historical Record Regarding the Nicolaitans

The first mention we have of them from the traditional authorities is in the writings of Ignatius. He is accredited as the disciple of John with Polycarp. He is dated 30-107 CE and, hence, he, while he was a child, is claimed to have seen Christ according to later legends. He was bishop of the Church from the death of John. He was martyred and bequeathed his spirit to Polycarp who assumed leadership of the Church. He was also called Theophorus which from his writings shows how deeply the early Christians felt the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (2Cor. 6:16). In Ignatius’ letter to the Trallians (Ch. XI, see ANF, Vol. I, p. 71) we see that Simon is condemned here as the firstborn son of Satan, together with Menander and Basilides. These were Gnostics and this epistle was written at the end of Ignatius’ life and before Basilides went to Alexandria where he prospered under the reigns of the emperors Adrian and Antoninus Pius circa 120-140 CE. Epiphanius says he was from Antioch and a disciple of Menander, but Eusebius and Theodoret state he was an Alexandrian by birth. Ignatius thus shows he was active as a disciple of Menander and, therefore, Simon Magus in Antioch and hence Epiphanius is correct (ibid., cf. J P Arendzen, Cath. Encyc., art. Basilides, Vol. II, p. 326. Arendzen probably drew the conclusion he did in order to reject the long epistle of Ignatius which is not Trinitarian and at odds with his position).

 

Thus the time frame we have of the Nicolaitans is at least prior to 107 CE from the early days of Gnosticism.

 

Ignatius in the long epistle says:

Flee also the Nicolaitanes, falsely so-called, who are lovers of pleasure and given to calumnious speeches (ANF, ibid.).

 

We deduce three things from this statement. Firstly, the Nicolaitans were incorrectly named. The deductions made or attributed to them as disciples of Nicolas, deacon of the Church, is false. We will examine this later.

 

Secondly, the Nicolaitans were lovers of pleasure and, thirdly, they were given to calumny in speeches. In other words, they accused and vilified their opposition. Thus, the writing of accusatory works falls into the category of the deeds of the Nicolaitans.

 

Ignatius again mentions them in his epistle to the Philadelphians. Ignatius says there that the Nicolaitan (falsely so-called) sees the end of all as pleasure and sees unlawful unions as a good thing. Thus, the end of action is pleasure (as a Hedonist would see it). From Ignatius’ comments we might deduce that the unlawful unions may have exceeded simple fornication and, indeed, as we will see, adultery was of no consequence to them. The comments from Chapter VI of this epistle also indicate that there was a problem in their view of the incarnation. Ignatius denies the doctrine that God the Word dwelt in a human body – being within it as the Word and not as a human soul. He seems to state it was as a human soul. Thus, the Nicolaitans are the precursors of the Trinitarians from this text. That factor probably explains why the epistle was shortened and rewritten at a later date.

 

From this earliest of insights into the Nicolaitans we go to Irenaeus who was the next line of succession, being trained by Polycarp and hence once removed from Ignatius, being born probably between 120 and 140 CE.

 

Irenaeus, disciple of Polycarp, who was the disciple of John wrote concerning the Nicolaitans in Against Heresies, Ch. XXVI (ANF, Vol. I, pp. 351-352).

 

After condemning the Ebionites, he proceeded to condemn the Nicolaitans but seems to ignore Ignatius’ comment and accept the origin of the sect as from Nicolas. This is probably an assumption. He says:

3. The Nicolaitanes are the followers of that Nicolas who was one of the seven first ordained to the diaconate by the apostles [the ANF note 1 says this is disputed by other ancient authorities]. They lead lives of unrestrained indulgence. The character of these men is very plainly pointed out in the Apocalypse of John [when they are presented], as teaching that it is a matter of indifference to practice adultery, and to eat things sacrificed to idols. Wherefore the Word has also spoken of them thus: “But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate.”

 

Irenaeus identifies from Chapter XXII the root of the heresies as being with the Gnostics and stemming from Simon and Menander – as does Ignatius. Unlike Ignatius, however, he seems to accept that Nicolas was the progenitor of the Nicolaitans. The probable truth is that a particular view of leniency was taken to extremes and the branch of the Church under Nicolas in which it first appeared became corrupt and withdrew. This is the sense we see in the letters of John. In 1John 2 we see the division in the Church that stems from this doctrine of the Godhead and the transgression of the law. It is possible that John was writing to correct the doctrines that sought to assert that the humanity and divinity of Christ were separated and also that the law was diminished as we see in the doctrines that emanated from the eastern Gnostics from Simon through Menander and the Nicolaitans. This text struck at the very heart of the trinitarian structure and so they had to alter the doctrine of Antichrist found in 1John 4:1-2. The Trinitarians altered the text to read:

1John 4:1-3  Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. 2 Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: 3 And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of Antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world. (KJV)

 

The original text however appears in Ireneaus and is written thus:

Hereby know ye the spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth Jesus Christ came in the flesh is of God; and every spirit which separates Jesus Christ is not of God but is of Antichrist.

 

Socrates the historian says (VII, 32, p. 381) that the passage had been corrupted by those who wished to separate the humanity of Jesus Christ from his divinity.

 

It seems, therefore, we are dealing with the Nicolaitans or a branch of them that introduced two specific heretical views. One concerned the Godhead and the other concerned the introduction of anti-nomianism touching also on the concept of love. Whilst the doctrine came to be modified in that the more gross and anti-social elements of sin were refined, the basic tenets of the elevation and separation of the humanity and divinity of Christ were retained. The doctrine was finally absorbed in the Trinity and became more aberrant as anti-nomianism in the sects but established as the grace eliminating law argument that is a function of modern mainstream Christianity. There are other aspects of the doctrines which we shall also examine.

 

We know from the writings of Clement of Alexandria that the Carpocratians also took up the view that the Nicolaitans had abused the name and words of the deacon Nicolas (see ANF, Vol. II, p. 385; also Elucidation, IV, p. 404).

 

In the Stromata or Miscellanies Book III (which is the only one not translated into English) at Chapter IV, we see Clement deal with the Carpocratians and the misuse of the teachings of Nicolas by the Nicolaitans. In the first section, he deals with the comments of Christ allegedly to Phillip made in Matthew 8:22 and Luke 9:60.

Let the dead bury their dead as for you follow me.

[Quod si usurpent vocem Domini, qui dicit Phillipo “Sine mortuos sepelire mortuos suos, tu autem sequere me”.]

 

From this form, the argument regarding the corruption of the body seems to be deduced. The argument against the Nicolaitans is reduced to this sense quoting Matthew 6:24 and Luke 16:13 noting convenientir Domini Praecepto, ‘duobus dominis servire’, voluptati et Deo”. We might render it “You cannot serve two masters, voluptuousness and God”.

 

Clement reduces, in this text, the heretics to two classes. The first class under which he places the Nicolaitans are those who have a reckless mode of life and the second class are those who impiously affect continence or celibacy. This is the major reason the work remains in Latin and is not rendered in English. The compilers of the Ante-Nicene Fathers did this deliberately as we see from note 1 to page 381:

After much consideration, the Editors have deemed it best to give the whole of this Book in Latin. [In the former Book, Clement has shown, not without a decided leaning to chaste celibacy, that marriage is a holy estate, and consistent with the perfect man in Christ. He now enters upon the refutation of the false-Gnostics and their licentious tenets. Professing a stricter rule to begin with and despising the ordinances of the Creator, their result was the grossest immorality in practice. The melancholy consequences of an enforced celibacy are, here, all foreseen and foreshown; and this Book, though necessarily offensive to our Christian tastes, is most useful as a commentary upon the history of monasticism, and the celibacy of priests, in the Western Churches. The resolution of the Edinburgh editors to give this Book to scholars only, in the Latin, is probably wise. I subjoin a succinct analysis in the elucidations.] (ANF, Vol. II, p. 381).

 

This text was left in the Latin seemingly to protect the great unwashed against their own ignorance or, more likely, the celibate clergy against the condemnation their non-biblical aberration so richly deserved.

 

Clement condemns the Gnostic arguments regarding celibacy as well as licentiousness and notes Peter as being married and also the deacon Philip having married daughters and supposes Paul to have been married also (see Elucidations, VII, p. 405).

 

There is no doubt that Clement saw the Nicolaitans as misusing the teachings of the deacon Nicolas and that they are classed with the profligate sect of heretics. Both of these classes he refuses to grant the title Gnostic because Clement was himself a quasi-Gnostic and saw the title as one of honour concerning knowledge of the faith bordering on the esoteric.

 

The next time we come upon the doctrine of the Nicolaitans is in the writings attributed to Tertullian (see S Thelwell’s translation of the appendix Against All Heresies, ANF, Vol. III, p. 649). Thelwell relegates it as a spurious treatise attributed to Tertullian written [according to Oehler] by Victorinus Petavionensis, i.e. Victor, bishop of Pettaw on the Drave, in Austrian Styria. Jerome states distinctly that Victorinus did write adverus omnes Haeresies. Allix is uncertain as to its authorship. If Victorinus wrote it, then it is still ante-Nicene as he was martyred in Diocletian’s persecution circa 303 CE.

 

Whether by Tertullian or Victorinus, the text states, after listing the history and views of the schools from Simon Magus through Menander to Basilides:

A Brother heretic emerged in Nicolaus. He was one of the seven deacons who were appointed in the Acts of the Apostles [Acts 6:1-6]. He affirms that Darkness was seized with a concupiscence - and indeed, a foul and obscene one - after Light: out of this premixture it is a shame to say what fetid and unclean (combinations arose). The rest (of his tenets), too, are obscene. For he tells of certain Aeons, sons of turpitude, and of conjunctions of execrable and obscene embraces and premixtures [see n. 7 to p. 650], and certain yet baser outcomes of these. He teaches that there were born, moreover, daemons, and gods, and spirits seven, and other things sufficiently sacrilegious alike and foul, which we blush to recount, and at once pass them by. Enough it is for us that this heresy of the Nicolaitans has been condemned by the Apocalypse of the Lord with the weightiest authority attaching to a sentence, in saying, “Because this thou holdest, thou hatest the doctrines of the Nicolaitans, which I too hate”.

 

The text then goes into the description of the Ophites who venerated the serpent because it was the serpent that gave man the knowledge of good and evil.

 

Thus, we are seeing that the position of the doctrine is a development of anti-nomian or licentious Gnosticism. Originally attributed to a development of Nicolas one of the original deacons, an assertion which was denied by the early disciples, it came to be accepted as a teaching arising from him.

 

It appears to form the basis of the heresy with which John had to combat in his epistles to the Parthians and was not simply confined to licentious behaviour but also to a view of the Godhead that sought to place the humanity and divinity of Christ on levels such that God as the Word entered the body and somehow the humanity of Christ was altered. This, of course, resulted in the trinitarian structure which altered the view of the structure of the humanity and divinity of the incarnation. For this reason the comments in 1John 4:1-3 were altered to obscure the text.

 

Augustine holds that the epistle of John was written to the Parthians (see Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers (NPNF), Series 1, Vol. VII, p. 459). We will examine the significance of this elsewhere but the scope of the Gnostic heresy was thus extensive as was the Church shown to be lodged within the Parthians.

 

Hippolytus mentions the Nicolaitans also (in The Refutation of all Heresies, Book VII, Ch. XXIV, ANF, Vol. V, p. 115) with the section on the Melchisedekians. He says of Nicolas:

But Nicolaus has been a cause of the wide-spread combination of these wicked men. He, as one of the seven (that were chosen) for the diaconate [the seven at Acts 6:5], was appointed by the Apostles. (But Nicolaus) departed from correct doctrine, and was in the habit of inculcating indifferency of both life and food. And when the disciples (of Nicolaus) continued to offer insult to the Holy Spirit, John reproved them in the Apocalypse as fornicators and eaters of things offered unto idols [Rev. 2:6].

The details are taken through a progression to this point from Irenaeus, I, 26; Tertullian Praescript., cxiv; Epiphanius Haer., cxxv; Eusebius Hist. Eccles., iii, 29; Theodoret Haer. Fab, I, 15; and then to Augustine Haer., cv.

 

We see the gradual twist of the argument from the false attribution to Nicolas and the twisting of the doctrines concerning the Godhead and the law to the indulgence in sin and promiscuity with no mention of the Godhead and the law which was a central issue when it was first discussed.

 

We get the idea, however, when we examine the section in Clement of Alexandria concerning the Nicolaitans where (in the Stromata or Miscellanies at Book II, Ch. XIX, ANF, Vol. II, p. 373) he says:

Such also are those who follow Nicolaus, quoting an adage of the man, which they pervert, “that the flesh must be abused.” But the worthy man showed that it was necessary to check pleasures and lusts, and by such training to waste away the impulses and propensities of the flesh. But they abandoning themselves to pleasure like goats, as if insulting the body, lead a life of self indulgence; not knowing that the body is wasted, being by nature subject to dissolution; while their soul is buried in the mire of vice; following as they do the teaching of pleasure itself, not of the apostolic man.

 

We see, therefore, that the teachings of the deacon Nicolas in overcoming the lusts of the flesh were misused by the Gnostic intruders into the Church. These Nicolaitans, as they called themselves, attacked the nature of God and the law and thus regressed to sin. The reason the arguments have never been expressed by the theologians in their true vein is simple. Clement shows the intent in the next sequence with the words:

... Wherefore the divine law appears to me necessarily to menace with fear, that, by caution and attention, the philosopher may acquire and retain absence of anxiety, continuing without fall and without sin in all things. For peace and freedom are not otherwise won, than by ceaseless and unyielding struggles with our lusts. For these stout and Olympic antagonists are keener than wasps, so to speak; and Pleasure especially, not by day only but by night, is in dreams with witchcraft ensnaringly plotting and biting. How, then, can the Greeks any more be right in running down the law, when they themselves teach that Pleasure is the slave of fear? ...

 

Here, we see the centre of the argument is the law and its reduction in anti-nomianism. Thus, the Godhead had to be reduced and Christ elevated in order to reduce or eliminate the laws of the Old Testament and of God. This doctrine has not been adequately expounded because it is the centre of the grace-law arguments of mainstream trinitarian Christianity. They cannot expose it or they expose themselves and, so, little is actually written on the doctrine.

 

This is the reason that John wrote on the nature of sin and the doctrine of Antichrist in the one epistle combining it also with the doctrine of love. These three elements were combined in the heresy which attacked the Church and could only have been a development of this Gnostic heresy which became the progenitor of the mainstream Christian church. It seems most probable from an examination of the history of the doctrine that we are looking at the refutation of the Gnostic doctrines later called Nicolaitan in the epistle of 1John and that this heresy first split the Church. It later became the founder of the more moderate mainstream Christian system which adopted the duality of the ascetic and liberal systems combining them within the church in the priest/laity distinctions as we also saw in Manichean dualism and Montanism (see also the paper Vegetarianism and the Bible (No. 183)).

 

This view then leads into another important aspect that is taken on into trinitarian or mainstream Christianity which is attendant upon, or which can be extracted from, the meaning of the name. The Nicolaitans carried the view of law and grace and it became modified as with all aspects of the syncretic Babylonian system of the whore.

 

The name is allegedly derived from Nicolas but it is perhaps as appropriate to examine the structure from the original Greek.

 

Before we examine the structure of the name, another aspect to be considered about them is that Fleury says about them:

Les Nicolaites donnaient une infinité de noms barbares aux princes et aux puissances qu’ils mettaient en chaque ciel. Ils en nommaient un calaucauch, abussant d’un passage d’Isaie, se lisent ces mots hebreux: cau-la-cau, cau-la-cau, pour representer l’insolence avec laquelle les impies se moquaient du prophète, en répétant plusiers fois quelques-unes de ses paroles (ANF, Vol. V, p. 154) reading:

The Nicolaitans gave an infinity of barbarous names to the princes and powers whom they place in each heaven (lit. sky). They named one of them Caulaucauch, misusing a passage from Isaiah, where these Hebrew words may be read: “cau-la-cau, cau-la-cau,” representing the insolence with which the impious mock the prophet, by repeating several times some of his words (tr. Walter Steensby, Carole Dailley, ed. Wade Cox).

 

This reference relates to the refutation of the doctrines of the Naasseni by Hippolytus (The Refutation of All Heresies, ANF, Bk. V, Ch. III, p. 52).

 

The three terms were Caulacau, Saulasau and Zeesar meaning, respectively, hope, tribulation and hope as yet little (see n. to p. 52 and to Irenaeus, ANF, p. 350). The comments refer to Isaiah 28:10. This text is directed against Judah who is like Samaria in its unrestrained Hedonism and this is the basis of the reaction to the text among the licentious Gnostics such as the Nicolaitans. Knowledge is gained precept upon precept, line upon line – hence, the repetition in Saulasau and Caulacau. Precept here is SHD 6673 tsav as an injunction meaning a commandment and, hence, a law or precept. The anti-nomians were striking at the law and calling it tribulation. Line upon line is SHD 6957 kav or kawv hence line upon line or kawv-la-kawv. It is a cord used for measuring and also a musical string and, hence, accord. It is from this sense a line. By the law all was measured and this is the sense of the text in Isaiah and thus ridiculed by the Naasseni and featured in the cosmology of the Nicolaitans. The Gnostics and, here, also the Nicolaitans were thus the progenitors of the grace not law argument of modern anti-nomian Trinitarians who are their logical descendants.

 

We see the history of the Nicolaitans listed in Eusebius (Church History, NPNF, Series 2, Vol. 1, p. 161). After dealing with Cerinthus he says:

At this time the so-called sect of the Nicolaitans made its appearance and lasted for a very short time. Mention is made of it in the Apocalypse of John. They boasted that the author of their sect was Nicolaus, one of the deacons who, with Stephen, were appointed by the apostles for the purpose of ministering to the poor. Clement of Alexandria in his third book of his Stromata, relates the following things concerning him [see Stromata III. 4]. “They say that he had a beautiful wife, and after the ascension of the saviour, being accused by the apostles of jealousy, he led her into their midst and gave permission to any one that wished to marry her. For they say that this was in accord with that saying of his that one ought to abuse the flesh. And those that have followed his heresy, imitating blindly and foolishly that which was done and said, commit fornication without shame. But I understand that Nicolaus had to do with no other woman than her to whom he was married, and that, so far as his children are concerned, his daughters continued in a state of virginity until old age, and his son remained uncorrupt. If this is so, when he brought his wife, whom he jealously loved, into the midst of the apostles, he was evidently renouncing his passion; and when he used the expression ‘to abuse the flesh,’ he was inculcating self-control in the face of those pleasures that are eagerly pursued. For I suppose that, in accordance with the command of the saviour, he did not wish to serve two masters, pleasure and the Lord.

 

This teaching is a reference to Matthew 6:24 as we see also from the reference in the Stromata by Clement above. Eusebius also holds that Matthias taught the same way and this is noted in the NPNF note 5 to page 161 which refers back to the gospel of Matthias mentioned by Eusebius in Chapter XXV. It is also mentioned by Origen (Hom in Lucam I), by Jerome (Paef in Matt), and by other later writers. The gospel is no longer extant. Clement preserves some fragments in Stromata II. 9; III. 4; VII. 13. This gospel emphasised asceticism. Little is known about it but Lipsius holds that it was “identical with the [paradoseis Marthion] which were in high regard in Gnostic circles, and especially among the Basilideans” (see Lipsius, Dict. of Christ. Biog., II, p. 716; cf. NPNF, ibid., p. 157 n. 30).

 

It is not difficult to see that Eusebius of Caesaria, writing from the distance of several centuries, still saw that these people were of Gnostic influence and that they rightly belonged to the categories of Gnostics that stemmed from Syria and the Samaritans Simon Magus and his disciple Menander from Caparattea (NPNF, ibid., p. 158), and which were passed on to Basilides and the Nicolaitans who were more correctly Syrian free living Gnostics who took the name Nicolaitans probably from a desire to invade and disrupt the Church as we see from John, but who were forced out. Eusebius seems to think that they did not last long for, by the time he came to write, the system had been adapted and taken over to a large extent by a syncretic form of Gnosticism which combined both liberal and ascetic Gnostic views in two levels of development.

 

Mosheim (Ecclesiastical History, Pt. II, Ch. V, fourth edition, William Tegg, London, 1865, p. 49) is of the view that the Nicolaitans originally may have been a different group than the sect referred to by the later second century writers from Irenaeus, Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria but this does not take into account the work of Ignatius. It is most likely that Mosheim is quite correct in linking them with the Gnostic doctrines developed as we have seen and that they did not arise with Nicolas the deacon. Mosheim’s view regarding the reproach of Christ not charging them with errors in matter of faith is insupportable and assumes no sense of prophecy in the texts in Revelation. His comments on the Nicolaitans are considered superficial. He also places Menander as a madman rather than a heretic and seems to hold a lesser connection between Simon Magus and Menander than the early writers assumed.

 

According to the later writer pseudo-Dorotheus there was a Nicolas, bishop of Samaria, who fell into heresy and evil ways under the influence of Simon Magus and he is thought to have given his name to the sect. But he is considered a late and untrustworthy witness (ERE, art. ‘Nicolaitans, Vol. 9, p. 364). The same is said of pseudo-Abdias (Acta Apost. Apoc.) who introduces another Nicolas converted by the apostle Andrew after a life of self indulgence (ibid.). The ERE is of the view that we are looking at a libertine Gnostic sect (ibid., p. 363). They are condemned for eating things sacrificed to idols and for gross immorality (ibid., cf. Rev. 2:14,20). The view of Moss (ERE, ibid., p. 365) is that the later Gnostic sect of the Nicolaitans at the beginning of the third century in Asia Minor (Epiphanius Haer., XXV; cf. pseudo-Tert. adv. omn. Haer., 1 and Hipp. Haer., VII, 24) was unrelated. Their worship was of the Mother Goddess and the Goddess of Heaven and its attendant prostitution. Such argument ignores the continuity of the history.

 

In the later disputes on the doctrines, the married priests were attacked as immoral by the proponents of celibacy. The argument was used by Cardinal Humbert (Contra Nicetam 25) who described the Nicolaitan heresy as the justification of clerical marriage.

 

This view of Humbert was officially recognised at the Council of Piacenza (March 1095).

 

What we are seeing is the emergence of the Nicolaitan priest/laity system of mainstream Christianity dedicated ultimately to the Mother Goddess system as Mariolatry and attendant pseudo-celibacy derived from Gnostic sources.

 

On Marriage and the Early Church Doctrines

Eusebius, in his history, refers to Clement and confirms that Peter and Philip not only were married but had children and he holds that:

Paul does not hesitate, in one of his epistles, to greet his wife, whom he did not take about with him, that he might not be inconvenienced in his ministry.

 

He notes also Clement’s notation that Peter’s wife was martyred in Peter’s sight and he called encouragement to her. His daughter is attributed as Petronilla but probably incorrectly from the grave of Aurelia Petronilla filia dulcissima buried in the Christian cemetery of Flavia Domitilla. This view is based on the incorrect assumption that Petronilla is a diminutive of Petrus. His children’s names are not known with certainty.

 

It is assumed by the editors of the NPNF that Philip the apostle is confounded with Philip the evangelist as Acts 21:9 shows Philip the evangelist has four daughters who were virgins. Clement tells us that they were later married if we assume he is speaking of the same Philip, but Polycrates tells us that two at least remained unmarried (see NPNF, ibid., p. 162 n. 3,4). We might therefore be speaking of two different Philips, the apostle and the evangelist.

 

Regarding Paul, the answer is most likely that Paul was either single but contemplating marriage when Corinthians was written and the reference in Eusebius and Clement is to another epistle which names his wife. This may be Romans written two years or so after Corinthians and, if this is the case, Chapter 16 may refer to his wife. Rufus and his mother may be his brother-in-law and mother-in-law with a female beloved as his wife. He may also have been widowed. Whatever the case, the history refutes celibacy in the elect apostles and elders who were all faithful husbands and fathers and deals with the facts that the Nicolaitans were falsely attributed to the deacon Nicolas and were anti-nomian Gnostics.

 

It was understood by Clement, and also here by Eusebius, that Paul was married and this is attributed to 1Corinthians 9:5 by the NPNF which holds that 1Corinthians 7:8 seems to imply the opposite. The answer might be in the structure of the texts. Certainly, from 1Corinthians 9:5, we know that Peter and the brothers of the Lord were all married and Paul demands the right that they be able to be accompanied by their wives as these and the other apostles also do.

 

It is thus thought for several centuries that all of the apostles including Paul were married. Also, Judas the brother of Christ was married and had sons. Christ’s brothers are Judas, James, Joses and Simon (Matt. 13:55). Christ’s uncle Clopas was also married to Mary mother of James the Less and Joses. He was also held to be father of Symeon, second bishop of Jerusalem. It is this similarity of names which gives rise to the Catholic claim that Christ’s brothers were really his cousins. However, the brother of Christ was distinguished as James the Just, not Little James as his cousin was called. Eusebius himself a Unitarian Subordinationist alleges that Hegesippus records that Clopas was the brother of Joseph (Eusebius, ibid., Ch. XI, p. 146; cf. Bk. IV, Ch. 22).

 

John 19:25 states clearly that Mary the wife of Clopas was the sister of Mary mother of Messiah. Thus, we have either two brothers marrying two sisters or the record by Hegessipus is misconstrued to show that Clopas was the brother of Joseph.

 

James the Just and the Symeon, Christ’s cousin, were martyred (see also Eusebius, ibid., Bk. IV, XXII, p. 199). At this time the sons of Judas brother of Messiah took the lead of every Church as witnesses and blood relatives of Jesus Christ through the reign of Domitian until at least the reign of Trajan when Symeon was martyred before Atticus governor of the time (see Eusebius, ibid., p. 164). Eusebius also confirms that Ignatius was bishop of Antioch and second in succession to Peter (following Enodius) (see NPNF, ibid., p. 166 and n. 4).

 

These blood relatives of Jesus Christ were called the desposyni meaning literally in Greek Belonging to the Lord. This name was reserved exclusively for his blood relatives and for the first century and a half was highly respected and esteemed. The entire ancient Jewish Christian Church had always been ruled by their own desposynos and each one carried the names traditional in Jesus’ family: Zachary, Joseph, John, James, Joses, Simeon, Matthias and so on but no one was ever called Jesus or Yehoshua, i.e. Joshua. There were three well known and authentic lines of legitimate blood descendants from Jesus’ own family. The Roman Catholic historian Malachi Martin attempts to confine these lines of desposyni as follows. These were:

one from Joachim and Anna, Jesus’ maternal grand parents. One from Elizabeth, first cousin of Jesus’ mother, Mary, and Elizabeth’s husband Zachary. And one from Cleophas and his wife who was also a first cousin of Mary (M Martin Decline and Fall of the Roman Church, Secker and Warburg, London, 1981, p. 42).

 

He acknowledges that there were numerous blood descendants of Joseph (p. 43) but, as all Roman Catholics, he seems to attempt to deny their direct lineage from Mary, even though he acknowledges they had clung to the Church throughout the early years.

 

Martin records that the descendants, as leaders of the Church, held a meeting with Sylvester bishop of Rome about the whole nature of the Church in the year 318 CE (ibid.). The emperor provided sea transport as far as Ostia for eight of them and then they rode on donkeys to Rome and the Lateran where Sylvester now lived in splendour. They wore rough woollen clothes, with leather boots and hats. The conversation was in Greek as they spoke Aramaic and had no Latin, and Sylvester spoke no Aramaic. Martin considers it probable that Joses the oldest of the Christian Jews spoke on their behalf.

 

Martin claims that the first split in 49 CE was over the circumcision issue where Peter and Paul had broken with them insisting that they were bound by the Torah. This, of course, is a false assertion based on Catholic grounds but it demonstrates the problem that we see developing through these Gnostic intrusions and finally by 318 CE had resulted in the glaring discrepancy between the way the Church was governed by the original Jewish descendants of Christ and the so-called orthodox Catholic Church. Since Hadrian’s conquest of Jerusalem in 135 CE, all Jews and thus all Jewish Christians had been forbidden to enter Jerusalem. Thus, the doctrinal position of the original system was excluded from Jerusalem which was seen as central to the faith. The Jewish Christians had comprised the only Christian Church in Jerusalem until 135 CE. They had left it only once, before the capture of Jerusalem by Titus in 70 CE, where they fled to Pella under Simeon according to Martin (ibid.). In 72 CE they returned to Jerusalem until Hadrian’s ban in 135 CE. They set up Christian churches all over Palestine, Syria and Mesopotamia but they came into conflict with the Greek Christian churches because of the problems with the observance of the law or Torah. This is thought by modern Catholicism to be because Peter and Paul had set up a separate system with the Greek, but that was not the case.

 

Their system of government based on that of the congregation was also in issue. In 318 CE they asked Sylvester, who now had Roman patronage, to revoke his confirmation of the authority of the Greek Christian bishops at Jerusalem, in Antioch, in Ephesus, and in Alexandria, and to name desposynos bishops in their stead. In addition, they asked that the practice of sending cash to Jerusalem as the mother church be resumed. This practice is easily recognisable as the tithe of the tithe system which had been in force in the Church until emperor Hadrian’s ban in 135 CE.

 

Sylvester dismissed their claims and said that, from now on, the mother church was in Rome and he insisted they accept the Greek bishops to lead them.

 

This was the last known dialogue with the Sabbath-keeping church in the east led by the disciples who were descended from blood relatives of Messiah. In Martin’s words:

By his adaptation, Sylvester, backed by Constantine, had decided that the message of Jesus was to be couched in Western terms by Western minds on an imperial model (ibid., p. 44).

 

Martin records that from this time they had no place in such a church structure. They managed to survive until the first decades of the fifth century but, one by one, they disappeared. Some reconciled themselves with the Roman church but only as individuals. Some passed into the anonymity of the Eastern rites. The rest were hunted as outlaws. But most of them died by the sword hunted by Roman garrisons as outlaws or by starvation when they were deprived of their small farms and were forced into the cities to be controlled and to be reduced to zero birthrate.

 

From 318 CE, the Nicolaitans had emerged victorious over the descendants of blood relatives of Messiah.

 

Their inheritors were forced underground as the Paulicians and in Europe where they became persecuted as Vallenses (see the paper The Role of the Fourth Commandment in the History of the Sabbath-keeping Churches of God (No. 170)).

 

The Victory of Nike and the Mysteries

A new system of government had been inflicted on the church which has its place in the Gnostic and Phrygian Mystery systems.

 

The Phrygians developed the Mystery cults which also entered Rome with pirates captured by Pompey circa 64 BCE. This introduced the Mithras system and the sun cults to Rome and, later, to Christianity. The Phrygians’ cults called their leaders papa or father and this is the reason Christ forbade anyone to be called father on earth (Matt. 23:9). Father became a rank of the Mithras system (with Lion and Raven etc.) from the Phrygians (who also developed augury by the flight of birds; ANF, Vol. II, p. 65) and entered Catholicism as a modification of that pagan system.

 

The Phrygian Mother was Cybele (ANF, Vol. VI, p. 462). It was a centre of the Mysteries (ibid., Vol. VI, p. 497). The Phrygians had their effect on Christianity through Gnosticism and through Tertullian and the Montanists (see Vol. II, ibid., p. 62).

 

The god Attis was loved by the Mother of the Gods. The abstinence from wine in the ascetic cults comes from the fact that Attis disclosed the secrets of Acdestis under the influence of wine and, hence, it is unlawful for those who drink to come into his sanctuary. This element of the Mysteries from the Phrygians concerning the worship of the god Attis and the Great Mother (who ultimately became identified with Mary) and the decoration of the sacred pine with flowers etc. (i.e. the Christmas tree) entered Christianity through Gnostic asceticism (see also the papers Vegetarianism and the Bible (No. 183) and The Cross: Its Origin and Significance (No. 39); cf. ANF, Vol. VI, p. 492).

 

According to Asterius Urbanus, the Montanist heresy first arose in Phrygia and this also is not surprising given what we have seen to date and of the Gnostic nature of the heresy. John’s epistle to the Parthians is important in this regard also.

 

It was from here also, with the rise of the Montanists that speaking in tongues as strange utterances contrary to the prophetic tradition of the Church in this matter first occurred (ANF, Vol. VII, pp. 335 ff.).

 

The Phrygians and the Naasseni held similar doctrines on the resurrection and we have seen that the early Church linked the Nicolaitans with the Naasseni in their doctrines. Hippolytus does this and expounds the heresy of the Phrygians and the Naasseni in the resurrection to the perfect man. They held that the title Papa was to apply to the perfect man who was to enter in to the true gate. They saw in Jesus this gate. Entering through this gate, one is born again.

 

Thus, the term Papa is applied to the perfect man and belongs simultaneously to all creatures celestial, terrestrial and infernal. The Phrygians held that on death every man enters this gate into heaven and becomes a god (ANF, Vol. V, p. 54).

 

Thus we are dealing with the Gnostic system of entry to heaven on death and the denial of the physical resurrection. These heavenly series of the Aeons were also found among each of these groups. The Phrygian doctrines concerning the intercourse of male and female as of the goat system aipolis was linked to the concept of feeding not that which is holy to dogs (or swine) (see ANF, ibid., p. 55).

 

In similar manner, the Naasseni hold the perfect man as “a green ear of corn reaped” (ibid.). From this system we see that the Gnostic systems in Asia Minor saw in Christianity a reflection of the Mystery systems and replaced Attis with Christ. In the same way the Athenians, like the Phrygians, initiated people into the Eleusinian Mysteries. The ear of corn reaped was the initiation into the highest levels of these Mysteries (ibid.). Thus the Wave-sheaf was taken over and, finally, Easter took over the Passover system. Thus the Mystery systems, of which the Nicolaitans were but a manifestation of one element holding doctrines common to all, entered Christianity. The Nicolaitans were probably the element openly expressing the sensual elements we see in the Mysteries probably around Aphrodite (cf. ANF, ibid., p. 55).

 

Hippolytus holds that the Mysteries of the Phrygians have a joint object of worship with the Naasseni. He holds that the Naasseni allegorise the scriptural account of the Garden of Eden and then apply the allegory to the life of Jesus (ibid., Ch. IV, p. 56).

 

The whole system takes the father of the Universe as the pre-existent Amygdalus and from him takes a theory of progression. The theory that angels are of a lower order than the elohim or theoi as sons of God is a belief of the Gnostics from the Phrygian Mysteries called the Mysteries of the Great Mother, carrying within them the names of the associated deities from Attis to Apollo, Adonis, Jupiter, Osirus, and on to Papa or pope, corpse and god or green ear of corn (cf. ibid., pp. 56-57).

 

The entire system is one and the same with manifestations of different phases of the Mysteries emerging so that the continuous whole is not readily understood by the uninitiated observer. The Nicolaitans did not die out – they simply merged with the other Gnostic elements and then went underground with the more anti-social aspects of their behaviour. In time, the entire system was absorbed.

 

This leads us into another aspect of the meaning of the name Nicolaitan or Nicolaitane. There is a reason why they would have chosen this name and then tried to derive descent from the centre of the elect.

 

The name of the Nicolaitans is derived from two words:

·       Nike meaning conquest or, more particularly, personified victory (see ERE, indexes; I 328a; IX 794; XII 695 [wings VII 136; XII 741]) and which is itself a deity; and

·       laos meaning people.

 

The name Nicolas is thought to be derived from the concept of victory over the people but it is much more than that. For example, Nike is a name which is used to define a concept of a deity which is itself derived from the elementary divinities whose natures are identical. Thus, Nike and Zelos are identified with Phobos, Deimos, Kydoimos and with Uranus, Gaia, Demeter and Chaos. All are figures which in the later evolution unite themselves to the elementary divinities (see ERE, Vol. I, art. ‘Allegory’, p. 328).

 

Nike has hardly any particular place in myth and when she is worshipped it is usually as a particular form of another divinity usually Athene, Artemis or Aphrodite (see ERE, art. Personification (Roman), Vol. IX, p. 794) and, thus, Nike is linked here to the Mystery system of the Phrygians. That is the fundamental concept underlying the choice of the name in Gnostic Christianity.

 

Nike is usually seen as another epithet of Athene, goddess of war, where Nike is goddess of victory. Athene-Nike had an altar and shrine on the bastion south of the entrance to the Acropolis. It was erected at the time of Perikles to commemorate the victory of the Greeks over the Persians. Nike is seen as the messenger rather than the giver of the victory and so the association with the Logos function is logically taken up (cf. ERE, Vol. XII, p. 695).

 

Archemos of Chios is held to be the first Greek sculptor to represent Nike with wings and she represents the victories. She was placed on the outstretched right hands of the giant gold and ivory statues of Zeus and Athene at Olympia and Athens by Phidias. Iris as a messenger of the gods is hardly distinguished from Nike except in relation to the rainbow (ERE, Vol. XII, p. 741). Again we associate the Logos function.

 

SGD 2992 laos means a people in general rather than one’s own people.

 

The name, therefore, is a combination of two words which convey the concept of the victory over the people.

 

Thus, the name was probably chosen for its mystical allegorical associations. The concept of the division of the classes within the system into the priesthood who adopted the classic doctrines of the ascetic Mystery cults and even assumed the titles of Papa or father together with the ascetic rather than the licentious aspects of the Nicolaitans is a development of the association of the two aspects of the Mystery systems.

 

This process developed into one of the division of the body into discrete classes and the terms ministry and laity were coined to describe or regularise a situation that derived from these systems.

 

The Sabbath-keeping churches from the time of Christ and his immediate family in the Church has not accepted such a system.

 

The doctrine of the Nicolaitans, therefore, is much more involved and longstanding than we might have imagined.

 

The desposyni were also allowed to be destroyed as a system because they, too, had become tainted. This concept is the true meaning behind the statement by Christ that his family is those who do the will of his Father (Matt. 12:46-50).

 

This doctrine was coupled with that of the doctrine of Balaam which Christ also condemned but they were not the same doctrines, and they will be dealt with separately.

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