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Gnosticism

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Photo by zugaldia via Flickr

Gnosticism was an early Christian heresy containing many ideas previously existing in different forms and places within the ancient world. These unorthodox beliefs are mentioned in the New Testament by St. Paul, and were more systematically condemned by the Christian Church from the 2nd-century onward.

The Greek word gnosis means “knowledge.” In the context of gnosticism this isn’t bookish but experiential knowledge, supposedly of the divine.

Most gnostics believed that they fully understood the interconnected workings of the heavens, earth and hell and how this related to cosmic redemption. The gnostics’ chief aim was to gain spiritual knowledge and, in effect, become one with the Christ entity.

Some sects claimed that Christ did not die on the cross. Others envisioned him as a cosmic principle that incarnated to raise the world of matter to a higher level of love, awareness and compassion.

Among 49 Gnostic texts and versions of texts that have been unearthed in the early to mid-20th century, each claims to present the final truth about Christ and the nature of the cosmos. But ironically enough, these alleged truths differ considerably among Gnostic sects.

Possibly influenced by Manichaeism, Platonic and even Egyptian lore, Gnostic theories about ultimate reality are often intricate and esoteric. Only apparently ‘special’ people can understand and access elusive Gnostic truths.

English: Gospel of Thomas or maybe gnostic Gos...

Gospel of Thomas or maybe gnostic Gospel of Peter (see talk page) via Wikipedia

By way of contrast, the New Testament is more concerned with universal salvation and less with complicated cosmological theories. Heaven is described in parables. No real attempt is made to ‘say it like it is,’ mainly because God’s creation is portrayed as far too great to be reduced to any human theory.

Hence, the New Testament’s clear and undoubtedly universal invitation: “Knock and the door will be opened (Matthew 7:7, Luke 11:9).

Gnosticism was effectively silenced by the Church Fathers but resurfaced in the Middle ages within Jewish mysticism. And the Gnostic idea of ‘knowing from direct experience’ flourishes today.

Religious studies scholars such as Wayne Meeks say that Gnosticism was particularly threatening to the early Church precisely because it had much in common with orthodox belief. Both say “You are gods” (Psalm 82:6 and John 10:34). And the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, which some say was written by a twin brother of Jesus, contains sayings of Christ that coincide with those in the New Testament. Other points do differ, however, and virtually no events in the life of Christ are recorded in Thomas.

On the issue of the apparent exclusivity of Gnosticism in contrast to orthodox Christianity, some might say this difference is arguably one of degree. Not a few Christian mystical saints have been regarded as persons more loved by or special to God than, say, the rest of the clergy. Claims like this run throughout, for instance, The Divine Mercy Diary of Saint Kowalska.

More recently, Gnosticism is generally used to denote any kind of spirituality that involves relaxation, meditation or contemplation. The photo featured in this entry, for instance, has the tag line “Practicing zen gnosticism.”

Related Posts » Anthroposophy, Blake (William), Hendrix (Jimi), Irenaeus, Origen, Serpent

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3 thoughts on “Gnosticism

  1. “Gnosticism An early Christian heresy arising in the 4th-century”

    Umm… Valentinus, perhaps the most famous Gnostic teacher, was born in 100 CE, and his writings were widely circulated by 130. That’s second century.

    The Gospel of Thomas is accepted by many biblical scholars, including Dr. Elaine Pagels, as contemporary with the Gospel of John in the late first/early second century.

    Gnostic texts such as “Thunder: Perfect Mind” dates approximately from 160 BCE – 200 years before the advent of Christianity.

    Gnosticism predated Manichaenism by centuries, and while some Gnostic ideas are found in Manichaenism, Manichaenism rejected gnosis as a means of salvation in favour of legalistic rituals and a strict dietary code.

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  2. Yes, I was probably referring to when it was all officially declared as ‘heresy.’ Of course the ideas had been around for some time before. At any rate, I’ll have to check up on that when time permits. Sometimes different sources have different interpretations as to just what that word means, when it began, etc.

    Thanks for your comment… I just made some edits. Appreciated.

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  3. Clement of Alexandria claimed to be a true Gnostic in contrast to those condemned by Paul. He says that there are some things that he would only pass on verbally since if they were in writing, some would misunderstand it.

    To him, the mystical teachings of Christ are those very shadows of Christ which were hidden in the Old Testament, but discernible now that we know Christ.

    Modern evidences for these would be all the scriptures that theologians wrestle over because they don’t know how the NT authors understood the Old Testament. The discussions over sensus plenior suggest that the apostles had a different hermeneutic from the ones taught in modern seminaries.

    Those attempting to understand the hidden knowledge contained in the Gospel of Thomas generally read it literally and then impose their misunderstandings upon it. It is simple childish riddle.

    The most difficult saying, that women would become men is discerned from Paul’s teaching that the woman was deceived. The female represents those who do not see clearly (the blind). It simply says that the blind will see, or that those who don’t understand will understand.

    The Sikhs extend the saying so that men must become virgins. This says that those who understand will become the bride of Christ.

    The riddle comes full circle with Jeremiah saying that men will become pregnant. This simply means that the bride will be fruitful. It is a virgin bride, which tells us that fruitfulness is not of the flesh, but of the spirit in sharing the gospel.

    The sensus plenior of the scriptures is discerned using the same childish riddles. God calls them “dark sayings” and tells us that searching them out is wisdom.

    Clement’s true Gnostic is one who knows God as evidenced by his Holy living and his ‘mystic’ knowledge of Christ as discerned through the Old Testament. John 1:1-4 is evidence that John knew how to discern Christ in Gen 1:1.

    If you would like more evidence before deciding the issue, or many examples of the sensus plenior of scripture, please let me know and I will be happy to provide you with them.

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