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Full text of "The Legacy Of Egypt"

312      The Egyptian Contribution to Christianity
These scattered items of evidence—important though they
are—scarcely do more than whet our curiosity. But we have
other information about early Christianity in Egypt which
serves to link it up with the most important currents of thought
in second-century Christianity. The Gnostic teachers, Basilides
and his greater successor Valentinus, both taught in Alexandria
in the reign of Hadrian (117-38). Basilides, though he travelled
outside Egypt, seems to have spent the greater part of his time
in Alexandria and the Delta. Valentinus started his career as
a teacher at Alexandria, but was later (c. A.D. 136) drawn to
Rome, where indeed we are told that he entertained the hope
of succeeding to the episcopal see.1 These are the first definite
names that we can link up with Egyptian Church History. How
far they were representative of Egyptian Christianity and
whether they secured ascendancy in the Church are questions
which we cannot answer. It has been suggested that the meagre-
ness of our information about early Christianity in Egypt is to be
explained by the peculiar character of Alexandrine teaching;
that Gnostic influences were so far dominant in the earlier part
of the second century, that when later on the Canonical New
Testament and the Church's rule of faith came to win accep-
tance, the earlier chapters in the Church's history were intention-
ally forgotten. Whether this was really so, or whether at
Alexandria as elsewhere there was a nucleus of popular tradi-
tional faith which maintained itself alongside the Gnostic
coteries we know too little to be able to say. In any case, there
can be no doubt that both Basilides and Valentinus themselves,
though they were affected by ideas which were widespread out-
side the Christian tradition with regard to the divine origin of
the soul and the need for its redemption from the material
1 Tert. Adv. Talent. 4. But the story is suspected. See E. Preusschen in
Hauck-Hertzog, R.E. xx, pp. 396 f. According to Irenaeus, iii. 4. 3 (Greek
text in Eus. H.E. iv. 11.1) Valentinus came to Rome under Hyginus and lived
on there till the episcopate of Anicetus, i.e. c. A.D. 136-165.