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314 The Egyptian Contribution to Christianity
were in part responsible for important developments in the
Christian Church. First and foremost they called forth a
systematic appeal to apostolic tradition. The Gnostics them-
selves claimed to be the recipients of traditions going back to the
Apostles. This was a claim which the body of the Church could
not ignore. The answer of responsible Church teachers, such as
Irenaeus of Lyons, was an appeal to apostolic tradition publicly
attested by apostolic scriptures and guaranteed by the teaching
continuously maintained by a succession of bishops in Apostolic
Sees. Thus the Gnostic movement in general, and particularly
the great Alexandrine Gnostics Basilides and Valentinus con-
tributed, by the reaction which they provoked, to the develop-
ment of the early Catholic Church.
But the influence of Gnosticism was not merely negative.
Positively the Gnostic teachers pointed the way which the
Church was afterwards to follow. Gnosticism produced the first
Christian exegetes. The commentary of Basilides on the
Gospel is the first work of its kind which is known to have
existed. The commentary of the Valentinian Heracleon upon
St. John's Gospel was well known to Origen, and if he more
often expresses dissent than agreement in discussing Heracleon's
exegesis, at least he treats it with respect. Furthermore, the
Gnostics were the first to attempt a systematic exposition of the
Christian teaching in terms of a religious philosophy derived in
part at least from Greek sources.
Now Origen was essentially different from the Gnostic here-
siarchs of the second century. He was, as we have seen, a
Church theologian who accepted the rule of faith and the
Scriptures not only of the New Testament but also—differing
in this from the chief Gnostic teachers—of the Old Testament
as well. Yet it is plain enough that Origen's system was no mere
inference from the Scriptures; it embodied fundamental Biblical
ideas, but it was derived from other sources as well as the Bible
itself. It is not an accident that Origen worked out his theology