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Bardesanes [1]

a Gnostic heresiarch, scholar, and poet of the second century at Edessa, in Mesopotamia (about A.D. 170). Lucius Verus, it is said, tried to seduce him from the Christian faith, and at last threatened him. He replied "that he feared not death, from which he should not escape, even if he complied with the emperor's desire." According to Epiphanius, he defended the faith against Apollonius, a Stoic, and wrote against Marcion; but afterward he fell into the errors of the Valentinian Gnostics, though in some points he differed materially from Valentinus. Jerome speaks highly of the style in which his works were written, and Eusebius speaks of his recantation of error before his death. His treatise on Fate will be found translated in Cureton's Spicilegium Syriacurm (Lond. 1855). See Eusebius, Prep. Evang. lib. 6, ch. 10. Bardesanes left a son called Harmonius, and many other disciples, who added to the errors which he had sown. He maintained that the supreme God. being free from all imperfection, created the world and its inhabitants pure and incorrupt; that the Prince of Darkness, who is the fountain of all evil and misery, enticed men to sin; in consequence of which, God permitted them to be divested of those ethereal bodies with which he had endued them, and to fall into sluggish and gross bodies, formed by the evil principle; and that Jesus descended from heaven, clothed with an unreal or aerial body, to recover mankind from that body of corruption which they now carry about them; and that he will raise the obedient to mansions of felicity, clothed with aerial vehicles, or celestial bodies. The errors of Bardesanes arose chiefly from his attempt to explain the origin of evil. Admitting a beneficent Supreme Being, he could not believe him the source of evil. He sought that source in Satan, whom he described, not as the creature, but the enemy of God, and as endowed with self-existence ( Ἐγὼ Τὸν Διάβολον Αὐτοφυῆ Λογίζομαι , Καὶ Αὐτογέννητον , is the phrase of the Bardesanist in Origen, Dial. Cont. Marcionitas ) . Yet he represents God alone as immortal, and therefore probably held Satan to be the production of matter (which he supposed eternal), and that he would perish on the dissolution of his component particles. He taught that the soul, created pure, was not originally clothed with flesh, but after the fall was imprisoned in flesh, the "coat of skins" of  Genesis 3:21 (comp. Clem. Alex. Strom. 3 , 466). Hence a perpetual conflict; the union of soul and body is the cause of all existing evils, and hence the apostle's desire to be freed from the "body of this death" ( Romans 7:24). To deliver man, Christ came, not in sinful flesh, but with an ethereal body; through the Virgin, but not formed of her substance ( Διὰ Μαρίας Ἀλλ᾿ Οὐκ Ἐκ Μαρίας ) . Fasting and subjugation of the body are the means of becoming like Christ; and his followers at the resurrection will have a body like his ( 1 Corinthians 15:37), with which, and not with "flesh and blood," they shall inherit the kingdom ( 1 Corinthians 15:50). Bardesanes was the first Syrian hymn-writer, and his hymns, being very attractive, were popular, and contributed largely to diffuse his opinions. As a poet, his fame rested upon the 150 psalms which, in imitation of David, he composed for the edification of his countrymen. The popularity of this work was immense, and when Ephrem Syrus subsequently replaced it by another more agreeable to sound doctrine, he was compelled to associate his orthodoxy with the heretical tunes to which the musical genius of his antagonist had given birth. None of Bardesanes's psalms are preserved, and we only know that his metrical system was entirely of his own invention, and was based upon accent instead of quantity. Nor are any of his prose writings extant; a dialogue under his name, fragments of which have been preserved by Eusebius, being undoubtedly spurious, and chiefly derived from the Pseudo-Clementine Recognitiones. See Hilgenfeld, Bardesanes, der letzte Gnostiker (Leipz. 1864); North British Review, Aug. 1853, art. vi; Christian Remembrancer, Jan. 1856, p. 201; Lardner, Works, 2:318 sq.; Origen, Dial. cont. Marcionitas; Jeremnie, Church History, p. 125; Jour. Sac. Lit. Jan. 1856, p. 256; Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 4:30; Augustine, De Haeres. 35; Mosheim, Comm. 1:477; Beausobre, Hist. du Manicheisme, t. 2, l. iv, c. 9; Hahn, Bardesanes Gnosticus (Lips. 1819); Kuhner, Bardesanis numina astralia (Hildb. 1833); Neander, Church History, 1:441. (See Gnosticism).