Gnosticism

Learn who it is within you who makes everything his own and says, "My God, my mind, my thought, my soul, my body." Learn the sources of sorrow, joy, love, hate. Learn how it happens that one watches without willing, rests without willing, becomes angry without willing, loves without willing. ~ Monoimus

Gnosticism (from Greek gnosis, knowledge) is a term created by modern scholars to describe diverse, syncretistic religious movements, especially in the first centuries of the Common Era. Gnostics believe in gnosis, a knowledge of Ultimate Reality or God enabled by secret teachings. Some Gnostics have considered themselves Christian, identifying Jesus as the divine spirit incarnated to bring gnosis to humanity; however, forms of Gnostic dualism placed many in stark contrast to orthodox Christian teachings, and they were labelled heretics. Many Gnostic texts appear to have no Christian element at all, and many Gnostics were not even nominally Christian, while others were certainly devout mystic ascetics who worshipped Jesus and lived in their own unique ways according to His teachings. Simon Magus is believed by some Christians to be the founder of Gnosticism, but many gnostic elements and teachings predate the influence of this figure by centuries.

QuotesEdit

Alphabetized by author
A human being can overcome the differentiation of this world, its dividedness into multiplicity, and merge again into the primordial unity. ~ Herbert Christian Merillat
  • Gnostic ideas had a considerable influence upon such idealists as Goethe, Novalis and Hegel. The theosophical movement of the 20th century with which Gnosticism has much in common, rightly claims the Gnostics as its spiritual ancestor. Jungian psychology, which owes not a little to this movement, can be of some help in interpreting Gnostic mythology and may help to show that behind it there is a religious experience of a certain type.
    • Encyclopaedia Britannica (1963 edition), Vol. 10, p. 506.
  • GNOSTICS, n. A sect of philosophers who tried to engineer a fusion between the early Christians and the Platonists. The former would not go into the caucus and the combination failed, greatly to the chagrin of the fusion managers.
  • The Gnostics were the earliest Christians with anything like a regular theological system, and it is only too evident that it was Jesus who was made to fit their theology as Christos, and not their theology that was developed out of his sayings and doings. Their ancestors had maintained, before the Christian era, that the Great Serpent — Jupiter, the Dragon of Life, the Father and "Good Divinity," had glided into the couch of Semele, and now, the post-Christian Gnostics, with a very trifling change, applied the same fable to the man Jesus, and asserted that the same "Good Divinity," Saturn (Ilda-Baoth), had, in the shape of the Dragon of Life, glided over the cradle of the infant Mary.
  • Abandon the search for God and the creation and other matters of a similar sort. Look for him by taking yourself as the starting point. Learn who it is within you who makes everything his own and says, "My God, my mind, my thought, my soul, my body." Learn the sources of sorrow, joy, love, hate. Learn how it happens that one watches without willing, rests without willing, becomes angry without willing, loves without willing. If you carefully investigate these matters you will find him in yourself.
  • In the concluding document of Messina the proposal was 'by the simultaneous application of historical and typological methods' to designate 'a particular group of systems of the second century after Christ' as 'gnosticism', and to use 'gnosis' to define a conception of knowledge transcending the times which was described as 'knowledge of divine mysteries for an élite'.
  • "To seek myself and know who I was and who and in what manner I now am, that I may again become that which I was:" This is a characteristic formulation of the Gnostic goal. According to Gnostics, we must realize that there is at our core a spark of spirit which was once part of the universal spirit; that this individual spirit has become embedded in gross matter, in the body, through activities of lesser powers (often called archons or rulers), like the creator-lawgiver god of the Jews, who wish to keep the human spirit in thrall; that we can escape this bodily prison by recognizing our true original home and evade the grasp of the archons and ascend again to that home — the spiritual Pleroma, the Fullness — to be reunited in Oneness. To put it another way, a human being can overcome the differentiation of this world, its dividedness into multiplicity, and merge again into the primordial unity.
  • Gnosis is a Greek word for knowledge — not, in this context, knowledge in the sense of rational learning but intuitive knowledge reaching beyond the limits of reason to truths hidden from ordinary experience and intellect. One leading scholar of Gnosticism, Bentley Layton, translates "gnosis" as "acquaintance," comparing it to the French "connaitre" rather than "savoir." There can be no precise counterpart of so imprecise a term as gnosis, but we presumably ought to read into whatever word is used some sense that the Gnostic — the Knower — felt seized by a great truth that dominated his or her view of life and being.
    Gnosis was thought to lead to a unitive, or mystical, experience in which the composite world would be left behind and a primordial, undifferentiated Oneness regained. A close resemblance to Indian notions of "enlightenment," "illumination," and "release" is readily apparent, and … we will find many clues suggesting a strong affinity with Indian thought in at least part of the early Christian world. And the quest for an inner spiritual or mystical truth beyond the experience of worldly life is found among later Christian mystics, Muslim Sufis, Jewish Kabbalists, and various contemporary religious movements in the West.
    • Herbert Christian Merillat, in The Gnostic Apostle Thomas: "Twin" of Jesus? (1997) Ch. 3 : The True Wedding.
  • Those of us who are Gnostics believe that all people are ultimately saved and that God always loves us, no matter what we do. These beliefs are true, but they can very easily be simplified and misunderstood. God is never angry with us in the way in which a vengeful human would reject us, but God’s love for us has a dark side and one which we should rightfully fear. God loves us not in a sentimental way which aims at our ease and pleasure but, rather in a way which aims at our highest good and with an intensity which no one, even the highest angels, can understand. God is absolutely determined, with an infinite determination, to rid us of all that does not reflect His Goodness. As one of our hymns puts it,
“But unto wrong what is His Name?
Our God is a consuming flame
To every wrong beneath the sun!”
And, because of that, God’s punishments are terrible, and it is wise to fear them.

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Last modified on 2 April 2014, at 00:44