Gnosticism – Is ‘special’ knowledge valuable or misleading?

Here’s another Think Free entry I’ve been meaning to revise for the past few days. Yes, I did spark up ChatGPT but it wasn’t very good with this topic, so my final edit only adds a few names, phrasings I liked, and the odd idea not found in my original entry. After all my additional edits, I’d say it’s about 99.6% me and 0.4% machine! 😁

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 allegedly of the divine.

Most gnostics believed 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 Christ did not die on the cross. Others envisioned him as a cosmic principle incarnated to raise the world of matter to a higher level of love, awareness, and compassion. Many supposed the material world was created by an inferior god, not the true God.

In addition to the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip, and the Pistis Sophia, a plethora of Gnostic texts and versions of texts have been unearthed in the early to mid-20th century, each claiming to present the final truth about God and the nature of the cosmos. But ironically enough, these alleged truths differ considerably among Gnostic sects.

Possibly influenced by Manichaeism, Platonic, Zoroastrian, and the Greek and Egyptian lore in Hermeticism, 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 instead of 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 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 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 Gospel of Thomas, which some say was written by a twin brother of Jesus, contains sayings of Christ coinciding with those in the New Testament. Some teachings 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 not absolute but relative. For instance, 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. Moreover, Matthew 13:13 says

This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.”

Basically, this implies that some have reason to believe and others do not. Those who do not are given parables to hopefully better if not fully understand the big picture as portrayed in the New Testament. Meanwhile, the Old Testament story has God communicating through prophets for the benefit of the Jewish people or for all of mankind, depending on what you believe.

“Pope Francis has consistently warned against reverting to Gnosticism” – LA CROIX

More recently, Gnosticism encompasses a range of beliefs and practices, from traditional gnostic teachings to more eclectic and personal forms of relaxation, meditation or contemplation.

Related » Anthroposophy, William Blake, Jimi Hendrix, Irenaeus, Origen, Serpent


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