Thursday, March 2, 2017

Gnosticism Part I - The Eastern Jesus

 "If those who lead you say to you, 'See, the kingdom is in the sky,' then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, 'It is in the sea,' then the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty." -Jesus
The Gnostic Society Library, The Nag Hammadi Library, The Gospel of Thomas

Gnosticism - The Series 

Gnosticism is a multi-post series on certain strains of early christian thought that were declared heresies and suppressed. For centuries, little was known about these heresies except for what was published by orthodox critics. Fairly recent discoveries of ancient texts have shed amazing insight into the amazing diversity of early christian belief. This is the first post in this series

Gnosis Defined

Gnostic comes form the Greek root:

Gnosis is the common Greek noun for knowledge (γνῶσιςgnôsis, f.). It generally signifies a dualistic knowledge in the sense of mystical enlightenment or "insight". Gnosis taught the deliverance of man from the constraints of earthly existence through insight into an essential relationship, as soul or spirit, with a supramundane place of freedom.

Contrast this with it antonym Agnostic:

Agnostic (from Ancient Greek ἀ- (a-), meaning "without", and γνῶσις (gnōsis), meaning "knowledge") was used by Thomas Henry Huxley in a speech at a meeting of the Metaphysical Society in 1869 to describe his philosophy, which rejects all claims of spiritual or mystical knowledge.

Know Oneself

Gnosticism encourage not a scientific knowledge but a knowledge of ones self:

"Yet to know oneself, at the deepest level, is simultaneously to know God; this is the secret of gnosis. Another gnostic teacher, Monoimus, says:

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 ... If you carefully investigate these matters you will find him in yourself."

Gnostic/Christian Chasms

Judeo-Christian thought:
  • Places gulf between god and man.
  • Sin and repentance based.
  • Jesus saves.
  • Western oriented thought.
Gnostic thought:
  • Self knowledge and divine are identical
  • Illusion and enlightenment based.
  • Jesus is a guide.
  • Eastern oriented thought

Jesus Buddha

There was some contact between Buddhists and early Christians particularly in centers such as Alexandria Egypt: - Approaching Gnostism

 In a hallmark essay published in 1967, renowned Buddhist scholar Edward Conze outlined 17 key similarities between Buddhism and Gnosticism. But comparative studies of this kind are totally out of fashion today, and comprehensive historical perspective on Gnosticism is non-existent.

Diversity of Early Christian Thought

Early Christianity has been mythologized as simple, pure and harmonious source but early Christian thought was actually quite diverse with not a lot of agreement between various factions. The uncovering of ancient gnostic texts over the past several centuries has highlighted just how varied early christian beliefs were.

The Christian movement probably began not from a single center but from many different centers where different groups of disciples of Jesus gathered and tried to make sense of what they had experienced with him and what had happened to him at the end of his public ministry. Each of those groups probably had a very different take on what the significance of Jesus was. Some of them understanding his death and the resurrection experience, if they focused on it, in terms of exaltation. Others understanding it in terms of a resuscitation of the corpse of Jesus, others not worrying very much at all about the resurrection of Jesus, but concentrating on his teaching and trying to propagate that.

2nd Century Universal Mono Christ



Late Middle English: from Old French catholique or late Latin catholicus, from Greek katholikos ‘universal’, from kata ‘in respect of’ + holos ‘whole’.

In the second century, this wide of diversity of christian thought was stamped out. It was during the second century that the church focused on:
  • Canon
  • Creed
  • Clergy - Second Century

From the time of Jesus to the end of the Fourth Century, Christianity developed as an institution.  The three aspects which undergirded this Christian institution were the Canon, Creed, and Clergy.  While some view this institutionalization of Christianity as a negative development, it was necessary.  Think of it this way:  the Canon, or Scripture, was the message given to the Apostles from God by inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, it was the standard by which to measure true Christian faith and practice.  But who was to define and interpret the faith?  The Clergy.  And the Canon is long (think Old and New Testaments) and so an abridged or shortened version of the major teachings was needed, this was the Creed. 

Rebirth of Heresy

Heresy is any belief or theory that is strongly at variance with established beliefs or customs. A heretic is a proponent of such claims or beliefs. Heresy is distinct from both apostasy, which is the explicit renunciation of one's religion, principles or cause, and blasphemy, which is an impious utterance or action concerning God or sacred things.

The early Catholic church did a superb job between the 2nd and 4th centuries of erasing all traces of heresies so much so that little was known about them except for the written condemnation of them by church fathers until the surviving documents gradually started being uncovered.

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