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.
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.”
- Pre-Christian Christ Gnosticism: 2 (vridar.wordpress.com)
- Gnostic Ebionites? (vridar.wordpress.com)
- Agnostic? Gnostic. (thesecretatheist.wordpress.com)
- Gnostic writings omitted for good reason – The Pueblo Chieftain: Life (hartleyd.wordpress.com)
- Paul’s Gnostic heritage & Gnostic opposition (vridar.wordpress.com)
- On Gnosticism, An Introduction (apologus.wordpress.com)
- Gnostic Gnostrils! (bizarrocentral.com)
- Pre-Christian Christ Gnosticism: 3 – the pre-christian date (vridar.wordpress.com)
- Pre-Christian Christ Gnosticism 5 – The Christ Title (2) (vridar.wordpress.com)