Ahhhh . . . but he did. He spoke in parables intended to convey many of his most important teachings that went right over the heads of many of his listeners, including his disciples, to whom he offered explanations out of earshot from the Pharisees and "Joe Citizen." This is a recurring theme of the Synoptics - that the message is "for He to has ears to hear." Mark 4:9, 4:23; Luke 8:8, 14:35.
And he also ensured that the truth of his message will be conveyed in its fullness:
"And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, [even] unto the end of the world. Amen." (Matthew 28:18-20)
It is clear from the above, and the synoptics in general, and Acts, that He explained the meaning of these parables to the apostles, even if, as John himself states (eg John 20:8), they did not understand them in their entirety, until certain events unfolded (and nor, I would suggest, could anyone else have forseen the outcome). Nevertheless, Acts opens with the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles:
"And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty wind coming: and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them parted tongues, as it were of fire: and it sat upon every one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost: and they began to speak with divers tongues, according as the Holy Ghost gave them to speak."
On this occasion, we are told, some three thousand were converted.
Germain to this point - the orthodox line has always been that only the apostles would know what 'observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you' meant and they in turn would pass this on to their successors.
I would further say that the disciples were not only in receipt of an oral teaching, but they were in the Presence of Christ, an experience which we simply cannot quantify.
The perennial problem for the orthodox Christian is discussion with the gnostic is the issue of selective discrimination and scripture taken out of context. The same few references are thrown up again and again, whilst the orthodox argue the reference itself is meaningless unless read against the total testimony of scripture and tradition, the same argument used against fundamentalists. This in turn leads on to the idea that the Christian sees the heterodox or heresiarch as operating a selective process according to his own pre-determined criteria, or his own critical faculty - the gnostic chooses what to accept, and what not, of the data of Revelation itself, in a process that thereby accommodates the data of revelation to a pre-existing concept. In this sense the Christian can only regard the gnostic as being not 'open' to the message, one whom does not 'observe all things' as Christ commanded, but rather observes what suits. Read in this light it is the Christian would argue that the faithful are the ones who have the ears to hear, and accepts the message in its entirely, even if it is not fully understood, and observes them in the fullness of faith, to the best of their abilities, whereas the gnostic, on the other hand, hears, and selects what he or she chooses to accept or deny.
This highlights the sharp distinction between 'catholic' and not - catholic means universal, and the immediate definition is a church which holds one faith universally, but there is another understanding, and that is that the church accepts the data of revelation wholly and unconditionally, and this is another, esoteric, reading of catholic.
On the other hand the gnostic cannot claim universality, no two gnostic schools taught precisely the same thing, so there was never a 'gnostic church' as such - never a cohesive body - and this, more than Christianity, was primarily the cause of its evaporation, the schools were too dependent upon the charisma of individuals and too diffuse in their focus on the charism of truth.
When we turn to the writings of Paul, he actually is talking about a secret plan concealed within the Jewish scriptures that is known by only a few. 1 Cor. 2:7, 4:1.
Indeed St Paul says: "But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, a wisdom which is hidden, which God ordained before the world, unto our glory" (1 Cor 2:7), but if we read on he says "But to us God hath revealed them by his Spirit" and further: "Now, we have received not the spirit of this world, but the Spirit that is of God: that we may know the things that are given us from God. Which things also we speak: not in the learned words of human wisdom, but in the doctrine of the Spirit, comparing spiritual things with spiritual."
And this states explicitly that Paul is talking of the Mystery of God, revealed in and by Christ, and moreover yet, he rejects 'the learned words of human wisdom' which is the speculative philosophies of man, under which the early Christians would include any doctrine which sought to discriminate and 'pick and choose' from the Word of God.
Gnosticism is being badly straw-manned in this thread. It isn't based on "secret teachings." It's based on seeing the meanings the same teachings and knowing the message in the story itself. For people who know the meaning, the same stories are revelatory on a profoundly personal and more intimate level. The Gospel is a sign, but not the thing signified.
The 'Christian gnostic' has always (and still does) claim to have esoteric knowledge of the secret inner meaning of the text - in this sense secret, that is not public.
Orthodoxy has every right (in fact it has a Christ-given right) to protect the truth, to ensure that the message is transmitted correctly, and in its fullness, to all. The gnostic can claim many things, but again and again, his embrace of revelation can only be seen as discriminatory, selective, and thereby limited, picking only those texts that support his cause, whilst at the same time declaring those that do not as empty or invalid, or misinterpreted. It's hard to get around the fact that the gnostic reads scripture as a sign to what he has already decided for himself.
The problem for "orthodoxy" is that Gnostics acknowledge the "truth" of the Gospel without holding to the truth of the stories as literal, historical accounts.
Au contraire - the problem for "gnostics" is they cannot let go of their pre-conceptions and see the reality of the Incarnation for what it is, and thus what it signifies:
"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and our hands have handled, of the word of life. For the life was manifested: and we have seen and do bear witness and declare unto you the life eternal, which was with the Father and hath appeared to us. That which we have seen and have heard, we declare unto you: that you also may have fellowship with us and our fellowship may be with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ."
(1 John 1:1-3)
By the mid-second century we begin to see the creation of a "proto-orthodoxy" seeking to distance itself from adherents to the various and similar "mystery" religions common throughout the Empire by making the claim that unlike other metaphorical mystery myths, theirs actually happened.
Effectively the gnostic says "because what I believe is a myth, what you believe must be a myth also" - to which the Christian replies, no it isn't - nor is that an argument.
Again, I would argue, from Scripture and all evidence, that orthodoxy was the case from the very outset. What are the epistles but communications to instruct and correct error? cf 2 Timothy 3:16: "All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice." That's all scripture, not some of it.
This proto-orthodoxy really gelled in the late second century in the person of Ireneaus, but there's little evidence that this notion of "right thinking," or the approved doctrines and dogmas of orthodoxy were prevelant before the second century.
Then look at Scripture again - in Paul, John, Peter - in every epistle there is a call to right thinking. What is the Prologue of John if not an exhortation to 'make straight the way of the Lord' as the Old Testament commands? The argument that orthodoxy, doctrines or dogmas suddenly appeared is insupportable. Every doctrine, every dogma, every line of the creed, traces itself back to the Word of Christ.
Likewise this argument declares Irenaeus the father of orthodoxy, which is not the case. Irenaeus offered a systematic, or rather theological, retutation of error, but he was not the first, nor alone in this; one can count Justin, Hippolytus, Epiphananius, Clement of Alexandria, Origen ...
The central theme of this "anti-heresy" approach to Christianity is to prosecute, making orthodox Christianity its own antithesis for those who have ears to hear.
No, that's ignoring the reality. The central theme was to protect the truth for those who have the ears to hear. I would argue that the gnostics heard the word, and assumed it meant the same thing as their myths told them. It's the Christians are the ones who heard the word, not the other way round...
And history bears witness to the fruit of its methods. When you start reading the myth as a literal account, you set yourself up for losing the connection the myth was there to forge in the first place. Which is what Gnosticism is about.
I agree. Gnosticism is all about myths. Christianity is all about realities. Myths are presentiments of spiritual realities. Again, and this is fundamental, because gnostics believe in myths, that does not mean nor prove that every other object of belief is necessarily a myth.
I've always loved Joseph Campbell's explanation of this fundamental difference in "The Power of Myth" interviews he did with Bill Moyers:
The purpose of the creeds is to squelch individual experience and contain the artistic impulse that is the product of genuine epiphany. Dogma trades on the good will associated with the "cosmic religious experience" (as Einstein puts it), at the same time it drains that experience of its meanings. And that is what the Nicene Creed was for. It was also to create a law by which those who disagreed could be prosecuted.
Really? How does he explain away the Cappadocians? Boethius? Hilary of Poitiers? Dionysius the Areopagite? Ephrem the Syrian, St Maximus ... Francis, Thomas, Bonaventure, Catherine of Siena? The Cloud of Unknowing? The Imitation of Christ? Julian of Norwich? ... Eckhart, Merton, Therese of Liseaux, John of the Cross, de Chardin ... all squelched? None of their insights the fruit of a genuine epiphany?
I would counter with a saying of Chesterton: "There's two types of people in the world. Those who know they follow a creed, and those who do not."
The real point of difference is not how the gnostic believes (which is invariably what the argument seems to focus on) - personal freedom to believe what one likes as opposed to the orthodox disciplina arcani - but what the gnostic believes - and the fundamentals common to the diverse gnostic doctrines are at odds with scripture in its literal, metaphorical, and eschatalogical senses.