Κυριακή, 31 Αυγούστου 2014

INTRODUCTORY NOTES TO H.P.B.’s COMMENTARY ON THE PISTIS SOPHIA.*

 

CONVENTION OF THE T.S., LONDON, 1891

INTRODUCTORY NOTES TO H.P.B.’s COMMENTARY ON THE PISTIS SOPHIA.*

The Codex Askewianus in the British Museum is known as the Pistis Sophia.
This Coptic manuscript is complete, except as noted below, in excellent state of preservation, and contains material of the Valentinian or Ophite schools of Gnosticism. Pistis Sophia is written in the dialect of Upper Egypt, called Thebaidic or Sahidic. It is a translation from the Greek, as Greek words—mostly technical terms and names—abound throughout the manuscript. This is thought to be the result of the translator being unable to find suitable terms in the Coptic (Thebaidic or Sahidic) to express the ideas found in a Greek manuscript. Such terms and names are simply transliterated from the Greek. The date of the Pistis Sophia manuscript is not agreed upon by the various competent scholars who have studied it, but it is generally placed in the 2nd and 3rd century A.D. The many quotations from the Old and New Testament provide no clue to the exact dating.

The manuscript consists of 346 pages, written on both sides of vellum in two columns, and is bound much like a modern book. The pages are numbered in Coptic characters, establishing the fact that only four leaves—eight pages—are missing since the manuscript was bound. It contains parts of five “books,” none of which are complete. The manuscript is the work of more than one scribe which may account for the lacunae and repetitions found in several places. It was called “Pistis Sophia” because at the head of one page, apparently without reason, was written in Coptic,“The Second Tome of the Pistis Sophia.”

This manuscript was acquired in 1785 by the British Museum with the purchase of the library of Dr. Askew. Where Dr. Askew himself obtained the manuscript remains a mystery.*
The earliest reference to the Pistis Sophia manuscript is a statement—unverified —that in 1770, C. G. Woide published an article in a British Theological Magazine on the Pistis Sophia. G. R. S. Mead tried in vain to trace such a magazine or any article on the subject near that date. C. G. Woide was the editor of the New Testament
according to the famous Codex Alexandrinus. He placed the date of the Pistis Sophia manuscript in the third century. 
In 1773 and 1778 articles by Woide on the Pistis Sophia appeared in journals published in France and Germany. In 1779 Woide copied by hand the whole of the Askew and Bruce manuscripts but no translation was published. In 1838-40 the manuscripts were copied by the French savant Dulaurier,but no translation ever came to light.

In 1848 M. G. Schwartze copied the Pistis Sophia manuscript and made a Latin translation, which was edited after his death by J. H. Petermann, and published in 1851 All the early English translations of the Pistis Sophia are translations of Schwartze’s Latin version.
The first partial English translation published was that of C. W. King in the second edition (1887) of his Gnostics and their Remains.* This fragment consisted of a few pages translated from Schwartze’s Latin text. An anonymous translation in French appeared in Migne’s Dictionnaire des Apocryphes, which G. R. S. Mead calls “. . . . a sorry piece of work, more frequently a mere paraphrase from Schwartze’s version than a translation.”† 

Many learned articles appeared between the publication of the Latin text and the end of the century. In 1895 É. Amélineau published a French translation from the Coptic. In 1905 C. Schmidt published what is considered to be a very fine German translation of the Coptic text, and in 1924 an excellent English translation from the Coptic was published by George Horner. This was the first translation directly from the Coptic into English. It is designated as a “literal translation,” and while this does not always make for as easy and smooth a reading as some of the freer translations, it does preserve, as nearly as possible in English, the exact wording, and in some cases definite clues to the meaning of the original writers.
Horner’s English translation contains a very fine and thorough Introduction by Francis Legge.

In 1890-91 G. R. S. Mead published in H. P. Blavatsky’s magazine Lucifer a translation into English of the first two “books,” about half of the Pistis Sophia. This was again a translation of Schwartze’s Latin text. It was the first English translation, except for the several pages published in the second edition of King’s Gnostics and their Remains. In Lucifer, voluminous footnotes and commentaries are appended to the text of the translation In 1896 Mead published a complete translation of this work with an excellent Introduction, but without notes or commentaries on the text.

In the Introduction (p. xxxv) he says: “I went over the whole again and checked it by Amélineau’s version,” and on p. xxxvi: “In 1890 I had already translated Schwartze’s Latin version into English and published pages l to 252, with a commentary, notes, etc., in magazine form from April, 1890, to April, 1891.” The magazine referred to is,of course, Lucifer, edited by H. P. Blavatsky, and the above is the only mention made by Mead anywhere of the commentaries and footnotes in Lucifer.

In Fragments of a Faith Forgotten, p. 456, Mead writes: “When, in 1896, I published a translation of the Pistis Sophia, I had intended to follow it up with a commentary, but I speedily found that in spite of the years of work I had already given to Gnosticism, there were still many years of labour before me, ere I could satisfy myself that I was competent to essay the task in any really satisfactory fashion; I have accordingly reserved that task for the future.”
After Mead’s death in 1933, a careful search through his unpublished manuscripts by John M. Watkins, his literary executor, failed to uncover anything dealing with the Pistis Sophia.

A “New and Completely Revised” edition of the Pistis Sophia was published by Mead in 1921, also without notes or commentary. This version was thoroughly compared and checked with Schmidt’s German translation* from the Coptic (1905).
In the Preface, p. xx, Mead says: “The second edition is practically a new book.” There exists also a manuscript by P. A. Malpas, (1875-1958) a life-long student of Theosophy, containing a translation of the Pistis Sophia, together with the notes and commentaries from Lucifer and extracts from the writings of the Church Fathers.
Mr. Malpas’ translation of the Pistis Sophia is apparently a recension of Latin, German and French translations.

As already pointed out, the translation of the Pistis Sophia published in Lucifer has been superseded by better translations, including Mead’s own later edition of 1921. The text which appeared in Lucifer (Vols. 6, 7 & 8) is not complete; contains many abridgments and summaries of repetitive passages.
Students wishing to make a study of the complete text of the Pistis Sophia are referred to the 1921 edition of Mead’s Pistis Sophia, or to George Horner’s Pistis Sophia, with Introduction by F. Legge. The introductions to both of these volumes are very valuable as showing the viewpoints of two quite different scholarly approaches
to the Pistis Sophia itself, and Gnosticism in general.
Only sufficient material will be quoted from Mead’s recension in Lucifer to make H.P.B.’s footnotes and commentaries clearly intelligible.

The quotations from the Bible in the present Introduction are according to the Authorized (King James) Version, Oxford University Press. The quotations from the Church Fathers are from The Ante-Nicene Fathers, The Rev. Alexander Roberts, D.D., and James Donaldson, LL.D., editors, (American reprint of the Edinburgh Edition). The extracts from the writings of the Church Fathers included in H.P.B.’s Commentaries are from some other English edition, or possibly translated from a French edition. The references given by H.P.B. with regard to Book, Chapter, and Section do not always correspond to the place where the quotations are found in the American Edition. As far as is known, no English translation of the Panarion of Epiphanius is available, and it is very likely those passages from it have been translated from Migne’s original texts.

Quotations from The Secret Doctrine are based on the original edition of 1888. A helpful definition of the title’s meaning has been supplied by P. A. Malpas.
“Title: Pistis-Sophia is a combination of two Greek substantives, usually translated Faith and Wisdom. But H. P. Blavatsky plainly shows that Faith in the modern sense is quite an inadequate rendering of the term Pistis.

It is better described as Intuitional Knowledge, or knowledge not yet manifest to the mere intellect, though felt by the Soul to be true. This definition leaves the way open for dogmatists to say that it means precisely what they call faith, and the genuine enquirer needs to be careful in accepting dogmatic definitions of the soul and intellect and to beware of thinking that Pistis has anything to do with “believing” things that are not otherwise known. “Faith” is too often merely another name for “self persuasion,” which may not be, but usually is, delusion, in one of its fascinating forms. The whole book is highly instructive as to what Pistis really is. 

The importance of the correct understanding of the word cannot be overestimated for students of the New Testament, when it is realised that Paul was a Gnostic using the Gnostic term in its technical sense, and that however pleasing it may be to attach quite another sense to it, it did not and does not mean what it is usually taken to mean by Europeans of our own day. In the drama of Pistis-Sophia and her sufferings it is clear that her unshakeable intuition that she will be saved by her divine part is the link that enables that divine part to save her. It is the actual testimony that she is not yet finally lost, and in the end it is fully vindicated. Job, another drama of initiation, teaches the same lesson in an ancient Egyptian setting. 

Gnosticism was a syncretistic philosophico-religious movement which included all the manifold systems of belief prevalent in the first two centuries of the Christian era. Originating somewhat prior to Christian times, it combined various elements of Babylonian, Judaic, Persian, Egyptian and Greek metaphysics with certain teachings of dawning Christianity.

As a name, Gnosticism is derived from the Greek gnosis (Γνώσις) “knowledge,” more specifically spiritual knowledge or esoteric wisdom, a knowledge not attainable by ordinary intellectual processes, and only to be gained by mystical enlightenment or the awakening of the Buddhic elements in man. The emphasis on knowledge as the means of attaining a higher evolutionary stage, and the claim to the possession of this knowledge in ones own doctrine, are common features of the numerous groups in which the Gnostic movement historically expressed itself, even though there were only a few of these groups whose members expressly called themselves Gnostics (Gr. gnostikos—(γνωστικός Lat. gnosticus), the “Knowing Ones”*—Compiler.]

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