Christian Gnosticism Is the extension of previous schools of Gnostic thought into Christianity with Its roots in Judaism as well as paganism.The term”Gnosticism” [indicating a belief system] was coined in the eighteenth century and lacks a clear definition since there were so many variations.The word “Gnosis”is from the Greek and translates to”Knowledge” “Knowing”or”To Know”.To know your Inner self allows you to experience God Directly.The direct connection to God was reaffirmed by Martin Luther[the root of the Protestant movement] as the First of his ninety five theses hundreds of years latter.
This hub is about The developing face of Gnosticism and includes some of the influences it has had on figures in history.It also [hopefully]explains Some common denominators that Christian Gnostic groups held and are agreed upon today.
But first a window on the world of Christianity just after Christs death is necessary to put into context What Christian Gnosticism is.Christianity was a Hotbed of various understandings of Christs teachings during and after his”Walk”.Some believed in One God.Other groups in two.Still others in three hundred.Many believed in reincarnation.Many[including the Gnostic’s]believed that material form was the”Dungeon” of human existence.Then there were the Proto Orthodox who became the church we see today.Contrary to what most believe,Christianity had Many [some scholars put it at thirty,some even more] sects that Differed in there understanding of Jesus Christ or Jesus the Christ and his teachings.Some,such as the Carpocratians,were Radical!These sects were Not subordinate to one another though they Were of various sizes and social levels.The Proto Orthodox Christians of primarily Roman and Egyptian origin were,by a margin,larger and wealthier than other groups but had no power over other’s.
In 325 C E the Roman Emperor Constantine called the Council of Nicaea which made Proto Orthodox Christianity the Official religion of his empire as a political act of unification.A prudent choice considering the size and wealth of that particular sect.He continued along the path of paganism and was not baptised until he lay upon his death bed.The Orthodox Church used this position in an attempt to wipe from the face of the earth All other disagreeing groups.The term to describe these Others was Heretics.The Roman Christians employed polemics to refute heretics.They also murdered,burned heretic scripture,and destroyed heretic churches and temples.
The Gnostic’s were considered the Greatest threat to the Church because they were gaining converts at an alarming rate.They believed there was a transcendent principal of light that could be found during one’s life time,in a flash of Gnosis,that brought divinity into ones solitude.They were ,for the most part,Within the Church It’s Self which made them a high priority for the Heretic hunters.
Gnostic’s read the same gospels,books,and Letters as other Christians but had there Own understanding of Scripture and Refused to be held to the sanctioned twenty seven books that were deemed canonical by the Orthodox Church.
Gnostic’s had a Different and,they believed,Deeper understanding of scriptural text because they read from Other”Out Side”works and understood scripture to be symbolic and metaphorical.In her:Johannine Gospel in Gnostic Exegesis:Elaine Pagels compares Christian belief and gnostic heterodoxy:
Heracleon claims,for example,that those who insist that Jesus,a man who lived”in the flesh”,is”Christ”fail to distinguish between literal and symbolic truth.Those who write accounts of the revelation as alleged biographies of”Jesus of Nazareth”-or even Jesus as messiah-focus on mere historical”Externals”and miss the inner truth they signify.
The Bible that is today spread through out the world has Remnants or Flags that came from Gnostic writers and were not caught and edited by the early Heresiologists.At the end of the gospel of John,which is favored by the Gnostic’s,John Himself [or the pseudonymous author] Clearly states there are Many more sayings and acts that Christ did,enough to “Fill the Whole World”.This statement is a Flag that awakens some to the fact that Other Teachings Exist.Gnostic’s Continued to read and try to understand these forbidden writings to there own detriment.Over time they were virtually Wiped Out,only a very few remained and They had learned to keep a Very low profile.
With the discovery of the Lost Scrolls [not to be confused with the Dead Sea Scrolls]in December of 1945 at Nag Hammadi in upper Egypt these works came to be known again.The Orthodox Church Immediately Condemned them as Fakes and works written under pseudonyms.Virtually All religious writing was done in Pseudonymous form.The four Gospels of the canonical Bible came to be associated with Mathew,Mark,Luke,and John some years after they were written.Only a Few of the letters of Paul have been Authenticated as having come from the hand of one of Paul’s traveling companions.Keep in mind that Very Few[canonical or non canonical] original writings have ever been found,only copies of copies of copies,etc.
Be that as it may,the Gnostic’s employed Logic [Inherited from the Mid Platonians no doubt] as a primary tool in there studies.They held a Different understanding which generated there writings of Jesus the Christ and his teachings.
The Gnostic’s took the same”Leap of Faith”as other Christians in there affirmations but considered themselves to be the intellectuals of the Church,having a deeper understanding of scripture.The bible,time and again,tells us,”he who has an ear,let him hear”,as well as alluding to the”Deep”things of God.Each Gnostic followed his or her Own path,thus the many variations in Gnostic writings.They believed that Jesus was Endued [Symbolized by the Dove Descending upon him at his Baptism] by the Aeon[Emanation] Christ [Reveal-er] and studied his teachings Very closely.When Gospels,Books and other Works began to be written buy the Gnostic’s they were written assuming the reader already had the necessary Background Knowledge to Understand there texts.
A Close analogy would be reading about a baseball game.
The Game,would not Teach You the History, Rules or Terminology of baseball.
You are Expected to already Know that.To understand Gnostic works you must become familiar with these same elements.History,Rules,and Terminology.
After centuries of growth and then it’s virtual obliteration Gnosticism was revived by dissident poets,playwrights,philosophers,alchemists and scientists.Traces of Gnostic knowledge were basic to intellectual history.
The Swiss physician and alchemist Paracelsus was the first modern doctor of chemical medicines…and a student of Gnostic thought.He sought to purify and transform natures elements so as to cure the body and mind much as Christian Gnostic’s sought to reunite with and purify the soul.
The philosopher Giordano Bruno opposed Catholicism with his”Cosmic theory of Deity” and was accused of Gnostic perversions,his reward was to be burned at the stake.
The German mystic Jacob Bochme spoke of the blemished but ever creating Sophia[A Gnostic Aeon]who fell from the Pleroma and the seven divine source spirits of the Gnostic’s
.William Blake embodied Gnostic thought with his anger against clerical orthodoxy that runs throughout the”Songs of innocence and experience”Blake steps fully into Gnostic cosmogonies and theogony in his poem about the God of reason in”The book of Urizen” recounting how in the prison of earth the mind is deprived of eternity and light.
Gnostic thought runs through Nietzsche’s alienated[alienation of spirit upon the earth is a pillar of Christian Gnosticism] hero in “Thus Spake Zarathustra”.
Even.More recent is the alienated”Beat”generation of Kerouac’s”On the Road” and Ginsberg’s”Plutonian Ode”where he chants a fitful Gnostic Dirge”I salute you…Ialdabaoth,Aeon from Aeon born ignorant in an Abyss of Light”.
Franz Kafka who’s depressed,skeptical orphan must climb forever,seeking an interior light that lies in dark error,the struggle of the Gnostic seeker..
The discovery and authentication of the Lost Scrolls reopened the works of the Gnostic’s in a way that allowed Real study of there teachings Not defamed by there Proto Orthodox Detractors.Until the discovery of the Lost Scrolls the most common source of Gnostic texts available [Chiefly through fragmentary quotations the Heretic hunters were refuting] was Suspect at best and we now know,usually distorted.
Excerpt::”Whatever the school,there are general principles that go through all the Gnostic teachings.We are confined to the earthly cycles of birth and death in a materialistic universe,captive in the innermost dungeon that is the earth.We are remnants of spirit fallen into bodies that retain a tiny element of salvation in them.That salvic hope is precisely the spark,the light of the spirit in the darkness of the flesh,but it remains unconscious and unknown until Gnosis,revelatory knowledge,can extricate it’s light from cosmic involvement.Then,free of matter,the liberated spirit can rise and be reunited into the unknowable God.Gnosis is a personal activity,and through reading,meditation,and search,its instant of appearance is as wordless as it is revelatory.Such is the nature of mystical experience,of ecstatic information,of epiphany wherever it is found–whatever previous information has been fed into the instant and however the ineffable is then translated back into speech,reason,or myth.In Gnostic meditations there is a different and distinctive preparatory word,a darkness,illumination,and union,and after the oblivion of absence a new translation of the mystical experience for the world.”::Lost Christianities:by Bart D Ehrman
So,what Are the tenets of Christian Gnosticism.
In the beggining there was One totally perfect spirit,indescribable,beyond qualities,and attributes.An unknowable and incomparable One.This One cannot be described because to describe the One would require something in comparison.The One is so Other that explanations which require this comparison in order to make something unknown known simply can not work.This unknowable One,for some unknowable reason,generated a divine realm.The perfect essences of this One become self existent.
The One spends eternity thinking and thought is created.Since the thought must exist it becomes an entity.
The One has always existed there fore eternity exists.
The One is living and so life exists,becoming it’s own entity
These qualities and emanations thought,eternity,life,wisdom,and so on are the aeon’s of the Pleroma or divine realm and are personified in stories and myths so as to be taught to others.Understanding the attribute each personification symbolises is key to understanding the Gnostic version of Christianity.When Named beings interact in Gnostic writings the name is Symbolic of an emanation.A very simple example is
Barbelos without the companionship of Sophia falls into Sin.
In Gnostic texts Barbelos is the personified name for Thought,Sophia for Wisdom,Sin for Error…so we have
Thought without Wisdom is in Error
Once we learn to translate we begin to understand and interact with the Gnostic texts[a seeker is Born].
The result of God’s Emanations and there combining is a Spiral of further and further removed emanations or beings that are Less and Less Refined.There are a number of Realms in this downward cascade.
Gnostic’s believe that Some people have a Spark[spirit] of God that has become Imprisoned in material form With In Them,that Gnosis will Awaken people to there True Identity.Gnostic’s Consciously Realize that We Do Not Originate in This World.
Gnostic’s Believe that Evil Can Not come from Perfection and Must originate in a Lesser emanation or being that cannot in it’s self be Perfect,that Evil and Suffering are “Written Into The Fabric”of the material world due to the Imperfection of the Demierg[Greek for Maker]who caused it to be.
Here are Christian groups that are fearless in there denunciation of our material existence.This world is not just fallen.it is inherently evil,a cosmic Catastrophe;it is a place to be Escaped,not enjoyed.it may seem acceptable to say on one level that humans have corrupted it.You can account for war and oppression and injustice by pointing the finger at someone else.But the suffering of this world is Far deeper than that.Droughts that bring Massive starvation,unstoppable floods,volcanoes that Devastate entire populations,Rampant disease,pain that Racks the body,Infirmity,Death.The Gnostic’s take the suffering of this world Seriously…and they turn there back on it.This,they argue,Cannot be laid at the feet of God.
The concept of”Sin”to Gnostic’s is Anything that takes the focus of the mind Away from Nurturing the Soul.Therefore sin is Unavoidable.A synonym for sin is”Error”which also contributes to spiritual growth indirectly.
Gnostic’s have the task of developing there Souls in the material world through use of the Mind which is the Spirits Sensory component and Connects the Spirit and Soul.The Mind is directed and brought to Focus through the Will.Anything that draws away the focus of the Mind from the task of Soul building is Sin[Error].Sin has no connotation other than Indirect,Inefficient learning.
The Gnostic Goal is to Leave this world Spirit and Healthy Soul Intact.The Path Gnostic’s have chosen to follow was laid out by Jesus the Christ[weather metaphor or a real person is irrelevant] through his Teachings Not his death.
To Gnostic’s the resurrection is Spiritual not Physical.Spirits are drawn Upward threw the Pleroma into the Perfect Realm from which they come as”Sparks of God”.To Gnostic’s the Good News that Christ brought is there Identity and ,Once Awakened,there Path Home.It is this Gnosis that Defeats death,Death being Entrapment in the Realm of Matter.
Each Gnostic follows his or her Own understanding of Scripture,External works,Life experience,and Revelation in their journey toward salvation[release from the material realm Spirit and Soul Intact].Gnostic’s share personal understanding and Support each other on this journey but it is the responsibility of Each to work out his or her Own path threw Gnosis,and following the teachings laid before them by Jesus the Christ.
These are only a Few of the precepts of Christian Gnosticism which has Many branches and variations.Modern Gnostic terminology[as in language it’s self] is an evolution of the teachings left by the original schools of thought which are so well documented in the Lost Scrolls recovered from the Nag Hammadi Library.Some examples of Gnostic writing.
“I am the forethought of pure light,I am the thought of the Virgin Spirit,who raises you to a place of honor.Arise,remember that you have heard,and trace your root,which is I,the compassionate”.
Jesus Christ, From “The Secret Book Of John”
“I said to Him,”Lord,I saw you today in a vision”-“Blessings on you,since you did not waver at the sight of me.Where the Mind is,there is the treasure”-“I said to Him,”Lord,how dose a person see a vision,through the Soul or through the Spirit”?-The Savior Answered,saying”A person sees neither through the Soul nor the Spirit.The Mind,which lives between the two,Sees the vision….
from”The Gospel of Mary”
Regardless of the method used,the Internal search for Who and What Each of us are will lead to our highest understanding of our own Nature as human Beings.For those who have an interest in Christian Gnosticism I recommend The Gnostic Bible[not in the same sense as”The”bible] by Willis Barnstone & Marvin Meyer,as one collection of gnostic writings.The compilers of this book have included archaeological and linguistic translations in the foot notes.There is No preaching,interpretation of content,or attempts at evangelising here.This book is a presentation from a Scholars point of view only.
…Feed your Head…