Modern Gnosticism

lunamoth

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Hi Friends,

I am interested in modern Gnosticism, trying to get a handle on what Gnostics today believe, or exactly how Gnosticism influences their life. I've read various wiki articles, but I am more interested in what individual Gnostics think. Here is a response from someone on another forum who identifies himself as a Christian Gnostic. Is this something you agree with?

Belief-wise Gnosticism is really quite simple;

God is infinite and essentially unknowable to the limited human mind.

The material world is not as real as the spirtual world, our spirit is trapped and blinded by the material. (See The Matrix for a good example of the "illusion of the world".)

Through personal spiritual effort we can re-gain the knowledge of our place within God (gnosis) and free ourselves of material illusion.

The distinction between the general Gnosticism described above and Christian Gnosticism is only that Christian Gnosticism is Gnosticism understood from the Christian perspective, using Christian language, Christian personalities etc (although adherants like myself would argue that Jesus himself was Gnostic, and thus original Christianity was Gnostic).

Thank you,
lunamoth
 
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Hi Luna, nice to see you around here again!

Belief-wise Gnosticism is really quite simple;

God is infinite and essentially unknowable to the limited human mind.

The material world is not as real as the spirtual world, our spirit is trapped and blinded by the material. (See The Matrix for a good example of the "illusion of the world".)

I'm O.K. with this so far.

Through personal spiritual effort we can re-gain the knowledge of our place within God (gnosis) and free ourselves of material illusion.

I would rephrase this: Through personal spiritual effort we can glimpse the knowledge of our place within God (gnosis) and understand the nature of material illusion. But I think that "effort" is the wrong term here. The gnosis isn't something that can be "grasped" or attained, only glimpsed through learning how to think in non-deductive ways.

The distinction between the general Gnosticism described above and Christian Gnosticism is only that Christian Gnosticism is Gnosticism understood from the Christian perspective, using Christian language, Christian personalities etc (although adherants like myself would argue that Jesus himself was Gnostic, and thus original Christianity was Gnostic).

I've never been able to identify or pin down what "original" Christianity was. I think that gnosticism was one early way it evolved, certainly earlier than Roman Catholicism or anything resembling what we've come to think of as Orthodoxy, but there doesn't seem to be any "pristine" Gnosticism as a sort of organized thing.

Here's a really great resource for modern Gnosticism:


http://www.metahistory.org/index.php

Chris
 

flowperson

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Luna and Chris;

I strongly suggest that if you are serious about learning about Gnosticism you must go back to the sources, and that would be the Gospel of Thomas and related writings. I found Elaine Pagels' book, The Gnostic Gospels, to be an excellent place to start. That will give you a basic knowledge, and many leads into other places to explore this knowledge. Gnosticism emphasizes individual knowing of the inner spiritual forces, and does not suggest obedience to outside hierarchical church authority as a way to knowing what Jesus meant.

Of course this will all inform you of older Gnostic beliefs, but it should also allow you to explore modern Gnosticism armed with basic understandings.

flow....:)
 

Gnosteric

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flowperson said:
I strongly suggest that if you are serious about learning about Gnosticism you must go back to the sources, and that would be the Gospel of Thomas and related writings. I found Elaine Pagels' book, The Gnostic Gospels, to be an excellent place to start.
Yes, the GoT and Pagels' books are a great place to start. The Gnostic Bible (edited by Barnstone & Meyer) is also a regular on my bedside nightstand and several modern Gnostics prefer the Gnostic Scriptures (translated by Bently Layton).

OK, I was going to give you the following links, but can't. :(

If one would like to read the writings without purchasing, The Gnostic Society has a great page with most (if not all) of the Gnostic texts at (not allowed):(

My favorite summary of modern Gnosticism can be found by Bishop Stephan Hoeller in "Gnosticism; New Light On The Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing." Bishop Hoeller is connected with the Ecclesia Gnostica. You can read their intro at (not allowed):(

Another modern Gnostic Church, the Apostolic Johannite Church, can be viewed at (not allowed):(

Oh well, maybe someone else can link them for me. IMO, they could be such helpful links......and I'm not related to any of them! :D
 

Abogado del Diablo

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Gnosticism isn't a religion, it's a method. It transcends religions for that reason. It is a means of taking an interior journey to find one's "self." Modern Gnosticism is more closely related to psychology, linguistic philosophy and anthropology then it is with religion. Indeed, I have been helped in my journey by reading Friedrich Neitzsche, Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell as much as any recognized "religious" text. I prefer the language of Christianity (my favorite ancient Christian text is the Gospel of Thomas) because I am most comfortable with having grown up in an "orthodox" Christian culture - but I was unable to ascertain its meaning for me until I walked away from it and began studying other myths. I am also very fond of the Tao Te Ching.

Gnostic myths are not to be taken literally. They are vehicles to aid in the inward journey and not an end in themselves. Consequently, it is not accurate to say "Gnostics believed Jesus was this . . . " or "Gnostics believed the existence of a 'demiurge' . . ." in the same sense that we talk about followers of a religion "believing" in the tenets of a particular faith.

This is part of why "Christian" Gnostics were so infuriating to early Church "fathers" who sought to unify everything "christian" under one umbrella of right thinking. There are as many expressions of the experience of Gnosis as there are people to experience it. There is no right thinking - no "orthodoxy" or "catholic" vision - and hence no reason not to create new mythical vehicles, or borrow one from another culture's Gnostics if you come across one you like.

If one has grown up in a religious tradition, it is very difficult to ask the questions necessary to seeking gnosis using the vehicle of your own culture. As Campbell explains:

Joseph Campbell said:
Read myths. They teach you that you can turn inward, and you begin to get the message of the symbols. Read other people's myths, not those of your own religion, because you tend to interpret your own religion in terms of facts - but if you read the other ones, you begin to get the message. Myth helps you to put your mind in touch with this experience of being alive.

It is liberating to know and acknowledge the common experience that binds us all together. For me (and in the language of Christianity), it was the experience of the "second coming of Christ." The first was the momentary glimpse, the ephiphany, of a darkly glimpsed shadow of my connection to "God" through the sacrifice of Christ. But the second was the trascendent experience of discovering the mystery of Christ in me.

When the Way is forgotten
Duty and justice appear;
Then knowledge and wisdom are born
Along with hypocrisy.

When harmonious relationships dissolve
Then respect and devotion arise;
When a nation falls to chaos
Then loyalty and patriotism are born.

If we could abolish knowledge and wisdom
Then people would profit a hundredfold;
If we could abolish duty and justice
Then harmonious relationships would form;
If we could abolish artifice and profit
Then waste and theft would disappear.

Yet such remedies treat only symptoms
And so they are inadequate.

People need personal remedies:
Reveal your naked self and embrace your original nature;
Bind your self-interest and control your ambition;
Forget your habits and simplify your affairs.

- Tao te Ching

Jesus said, "If your leaders say to you, 'Look, the (Father's) 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 within you and it is outside you.


When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and you are the poverty."

- Gospel of Thomas
 

Gnosteric

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Abogado del Diablo said:
Gnosticism isn't a religion, it's a method.
For me it's both a method and a religion! :)
It is a means of taking an interior journey to find one's "self." Modern Gnosticism is more closely related to psychology, linguistic philosophy and anthropology then it is with religion.
I believe that the Gnostic religion helps us understand the experience of Gnosis. I also believe it helps us increase the likelihood of experiencing Gnosis. For me, the religious container helps me translate "wild gnosis" into transformative action and pychological/spiritual growth. It also helps me find community.

In 8 more posts (when I'm off probation) I'll link to a directory of the many Gnostic churches. There are several of us that believe as I do regarding the religion of Gnosticism.
 

lunamoth

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Hi All, Thank you for the great replies. I've got a lot of thoughts running around in my head and I fear they are all going to come out in a rather rambling manner. Oh well. So, this post is all about me, which many will find rather dull, so feel free to skip it and I'll get to some more specific comments in the above posts in later replies.

Thank you China Cat for the 'nice to see you' comment. I guess I have not been posting as much, but I'm here, lurking...if not writing.

And Abogado, it's great to see you posting again! It was your reply in the Creeds thread that started me thinking about all of this.

Gnosteric, greetings and welcome to CR. :) The ban on links is to cut down the hit and run spam; I'm sure you understand.

Part of my motivation in asking the question comes from asking myself the question, "What makes me any different from someone who calls themself a Gnostic Christian? Hey, maybe I am a Gnostic Christian!" Not that I feel any need to have some kind of distinction--being just me is fine.

So, I just read a little Paul Tillich, The Courage to Be, and he seems pretty out there and beyond the average lay Christian in his thinking about God, or the God above God as he says. But nothing he said was really shocking to me or anything I'd have a strong disagreement with (the parts I understood, anyway). And as we've discussed in other threads, China Cat, I have not read Spong but I get the idea from what's been said that he's kind saying the same things as Tillich. Wow, see I am rambling. Bear with me while I try to get to a point.

I guess you'd call me an orthodox believer. I go to the Episcopal Church and I love it. I love what I hear there, but perhaps I've always been fortunate to be exposed to pretty progressive priests and the Episcopal approach to doctrine is not the hit you over the head with it and nail you down kind of thing. I say I hold my doctrine like a live bird, firmly but gently so as not to crush the life out of it.

But, I view the Gospel and the writings of Paul much as expressed here by Abogado del Diablo, as well as in other posts I've read by AdD. I read that post and I think hey, I like that a lot and I don't see any place where it conflicts with my approach to Christianity. It's not so much that I throw the historicity (is that a word?) of the Gospel and the Passion out the window as I just don't so much worry very much about what may or may not have literally happened. Yet I say the Nicene Creed with no problem in my heart or my head. And through the Gospel Christ speaks to me today--that's what's important.

But then I read things most other Gnostics say they believe and I think wow, I do not believe that (sorry).

I've come through a period akin to fundamentalism, my experience in the Baha'i Faith, where I took more of the Bible literally than I would today, and I can feel myself shedding a lot of my limiting notions about God, feel myself letting go. I've always felt that religion itself is in all cases a man-made instrument, except in my days as a Baha'i, but that does not mean that I don't have faith in the Church. I believe that the Holy Spirit is at work, has always been at work, and Her work comes out in the community, the Church. Not necessarily the consensus, not necessarily in the individual doctrines, not excluding the inspiration She gives to each of us as individuals. (BTW, i guess you could say that in my view the Church is an ideal, something we are baptized into, but not limited to those who are baptized.)

Yikes, this is really rambling, but I wanted to get some of this out there to give you some perspective on where I am coming from. If these and my further replies don't make much sense, please forgive me. I guess I'm in some kind of period of transition. It's not doubt. Does not feel at all like doubt. But, the water is a bit murky. :)

luna
 

lunamoth

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test post

OK, for some reason the browser does not like the post I am trying to make in reply to China Cat. Trying again.

China Cat Sunflower said:
OP:1) God is infinite and essentially unknowable to the limited human mind.

2) The material world is not as real as the spirtual world, our spirit is trapped and blinded by the material. (See The Matrix for a good example of the "illusion of the world".)


CC: I'm O.K. with this so far.
I would say 1) God is both unknowable and knowable, or beyond knowablity, or other than knowability. When it comes to talking about knowing God I can only view it as a koan: Is God unknowable? Yes. Is God knowable? Yes. Perhaps I am actually a Zen Christian. :)

2) The material world and the spiritual world are one. Implying that our spirit is trapped and blinded by the material suggests that the material world is bad, like a prison, or at least like a veil. I prefer the orthodox Christian view on this one. The Baha'i view is in between. The body is not bad, the material world is not bad, but it is like a cage for our spirit and we can become more attached to it than attracted to God.

CC: I would rephrase this: Through personal spiritual effort we can glimpse the knowledge of our place within God (gnosis) and understand the nature of material illusion. But I think that "effort" is the wrong term here. The gnosis isn't something that can be "grasped" or attained, only glimpsed through learning how to think in non-deductive ways.
I'm with you here, if I'm understanding you correctly. Do you think it's possible, though, that the orthodox Christian practice offers one way to learn how to break down the illusion and 'think in non-deductive ways.' I'm thinking specifically of the contemplative approach, but perhaps this also found in the simple faith, the 'I believe,' of many Christians.


I've never been able to identify or pin down what "original" Christianity was. I think that gnosticism was one early way it evolved, certainly earlier than Roman Catholicism or anything resembling what we've come to think of as Orthodoxy, but there doesn't seem to be any "pristine" Gnosticism as a sort of organized thing.
Pinning down the historical development of Christianity is very interesting to me, but it also seems to have very little impact on my faith. I probably would have been a terrible early Christian, as evidenced by the fact that I failed as an early Baha'i. Anyway, there does not seem to be anything simple or pristine about it--it most likely was an organic process influenced by all the typical things, good and bad, that influence people today. I suppose my one personal 'gnosis' is that religion is about community, our relationship with each other as much as it is about our relationship with God. Please note that I am not saying that I am in it for the pot luck suppers and business contacts. I don't mean community as in social opportunity, but as in the basis for how we treat each other and get along with each other. I do think that the work of the Spirit eventually emerges from the chaos of relationships we forge in the Community of Christ.

Here's a really great resource for modern Gnosticism

Chris
Thank you, I will check it out.

luna
 

lunamoth

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flowperson said:
Luna and Chris;

I strongly suggest that if you are serious about learning about Gnosticism you must go back to the sources, and that would be the Gospel of Thomas and related writings. I found Elaine Pagels' book, The Gnostic Gospels, to be an excellent place to start. That will give you a basic knowledge, and many leads into other places to explore this knowledge. Gnosticism emphasizes individual knowing of the inner spiritual forces, and does not suggest obedience to outside hierarchical church authority as a way to knowing what Jesus meant.

Of course this will all inform you of older Gnostic beliefs, but it should also allow you to explore modern Gnosticism armed with basic understandings.

flow....:)
Hi Flow,
I have read The Gnostic Gospels and Beyond Belief by Pagels and found them both interesting. I also read a tome by Dominick Crosson, "The Birth of Christianity," which although written from a more or less orthodox view places credence in the Gospel of Thomas as perhaps one of the earliest Gospels and he relies heavily upon it in his analysis of the synotpic Gospels.

I think that AdD has given the key to my confusion. Gnosticim is an approach, but it is also the name given to a religion, and actually to a plehtora of religions that are highly individualistic. This seems as true today is it was 2000 years ago, although I assume that there were schools of gnostic thought, as evidenced by the preservation of the Gnostic Gospels (if only one person found meaning in them they probably would not have been copied and preserved). Manichianism, for example, was a competing school of gnostic thought that challenged orthodoxy in Augustine's day. If there was a mentor and followers in any gnostic school of thought, there must have been some kind of consensus on what the life and teachings of Jesus meant, not just anything goes.

luna
 

lunamoth

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Hi Gnosteric,

Welcome to CR, and thank you for your replies. :) I must say that your post leaves me with more questions than answers, and not just because of the missing links :D .

Gnosteric said:
Yes, the GoT and Pagels' books are a great place to start. The Gnostic Bible (edited by Barnstone & Meyer) is also a regular on my bedside nightstand and several modern Gnostics prefer the Gnostic Scriptures (translated by Bently Layton).
Do you view these Scriptures as a canon of sorts? Do these Bibles include the synoptic or John's Gosples? Other NT writings? Writings from outside Christianity?

If one would like to read the writings without purchasing, The Gnostic Society has a great page with most (if not all) of the Gnostic texts at (not allowed):(
Actually I think that Brian has a lot of them collected here at CR, as well. I will take a look at the link when you can post it. Hey, why not start a thread in the introductions forum and we'll get your post count up quickly. :)

My favorite summary of modern Gnosticism can be found by Bishop Stephan Hoeller in "Gnosticism; New Light On The Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing." Bishop Hoeller is connected with the Ecclesia Gnostica. You can read their intro at (not allowed):(
Now I am really confused. Bishops? Ecclesia? All of this suggests the hierarchy that most Gnostics I've heard from reject like the plague.

Another modern Gnostic Church, the Apostolic Johannite Church, can be viewed at (not allowed):(
What do you you do at a Gnostic Church compared to a Traditional/Orthodox Christian Church?

Oh well, maybe someone else can link them for me. IMO, they could be such helpful links......and I'm not related to any of them! :D
Looking forward to hearing more from you.

luna
 

seattlegal

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Gnosteric said:
Yes, the GoT and Pagels' books are a great place to start. The Gnostic Bible (edited by Barnstone & Meyer) is also a regular on my bedside nightstand and several modern Gnostics prefer the Gnostic Scriptures (translated by Bently Layton).

OK, I was going to give you the following links, but can't. :(

If one would like to read the writings without purchasing, The Gnostic Society has a great page with most (if not all) of the Gnostic texts at (not allowed):(

Oh well, maybe someone else can link them for me. IMO, they could be such helpful links......and I'm not related to any of them! :D
Here's the link for the Gnostic Library (which includes the Pistis Sophia, which can be hard to find online.)
http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/nhlintro.html
 

taijasi

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Stephan Hoeller is also an excellent speaker. I heard him about 15 years ago in Chicago, but much of it was over my head ... I wish I had a second opporunity, to see if I could follow him any better. Very respectable, at any rate.

taijasi
 

Gnosteric

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luna said:
Welcome to CR, and thank you for your replies. I must say that your post leaves me with more questions than answers, and not just because of the missing links.
Great! Many believe that the process of Gnosis starts with questions…..and the “not knowing.”
Do you view these Scriptures as a canon of sorts? Do these Bibles include the synoptic or John's Gosples? Other NT writings? Writings from outside Christianity?
I do (wasn’t Paul a Gnostic?), but I certainly can’t speak for all Gnostics…. not even all Christian Gnostics. Please understand that there are Sethian Gnostics (who might be considered pre-Christian), Valentinian Gnostics (some believe Valentinus was almost voted in as Pope way back when), Hermetic Gnostics, Pagan Gnostics, and Phildickian Gnostics. Just to name a few, so their chosen books will vary.
Finding Gnostic consensus is a very tall order, indeed.
Now I am really confused. Bishops? Ecclesia? All of this suggests the hierarchy that most Gnostics I've heard from reject like the plague.
I would have to argue with your claim that “most Gnostics” feel this way, but, yes, a good minority would probably be uncomfortable in a church setting. That said, there are many of us that acknowledge that some Gnostics (just like any other tradition) are further down the path than others. (Maybe they’ve had a few more incarnations.) I know that many Gnostic Priests have much to offer me and I would love to have such an elder as a mentor. We try not to let our egos get in the way.
Although it is probably safe to say that the average Gnostic is more autonomous and non-conformist than your average Methodist or Baptist. Clergy also act more like guides than “chosen ones.” Gnostics have direct access to Gnosis and don’t need them to mediate.
What do you do at a
GnosticChurch compared to a Traditional/Orthodox Christian Church?
Eat babies and partake in orgies. :eek: :p Just ask Irenaeus! :D
Seriously, on the outside the average Gnostic church probably looks much like a Catholic one to a stranger. They have Priests (men and women) who wear collars. They celebrate the sacraments (plus a couple more) and engage in prayer and readings. Much, but not all, of the language is the same or similar.
On the inside though, things are very different. A Priest of the AJC says that Gnostics are “Catholic on the outside and Buddhist on the inside.”
Looking forward to hearing more from you.

Likewise. :)
 

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Hi Lunamoth -

In discussing gnosticism, or modern gnosticism in particular, one must distinguish between the subjective and objective realities.

Subjectively, and this seems the far greater topic of discussion, gnosticism represents a person freedom and degree of self-determination that is not available to the Christian, who appears to labour under the burden of creeds, dogmas, doctrines and disciplines which occludes any notion of interiority.

What needs to be acknowledged is that 'gnosticism' encompasses its own exteriority, its creeds drawn from Egyptian, Greek or Oriental mysticism, the Golden Tablet of Hermes Trismegestus, the works of Pythagoras or Plato, of Levi and Paracelcus; the Greek Myths, the Kaballa, the Gospel of Thomas, Alchemy ... in fact whatever language of interiority shapes the gnostics' world view - creed means, quite simply, "I believe" - there is a creed. Where there is no creed, there is no belief ... where there is no belief, there is no meaningful redemptive activity.

In the same vein, what needs to be acknowledged is the undeniable presence of Christian interiority - in the lives of the saints and sages down through the ages - in the lives of countless Christians who labour without distinction in the cause of their faith.

To say that the church occludes this interiority, that her dogmas and doctrines snuff out this inner light, is a patent nonsense - faith, and a specifically Orthodox and Catholic faith - has produced mystics, saints, doctors, scientists and artists of every ilk - there are libraries of the most profound mystical texts ... really I am astounded that some seem to not notice, or somehow separate the great mystics from the church they love, that somehow Eckhart or Mount Athos is not connected with Orthodox Christianity.

Dogma, doctrine and discipline flows from what man holkds to be true. Whilst there is a wide resource of gnostic literature freely available, the access to gnostic practice, method and discipline (in the sense of ascesis) is not so readily available, nor so readily absorbed. The ancients spoke of theurgy and some practiced the most austere ascetic regimes, the Pythagorians had their rules, the Epicurean and the Stoic likewise (the Christians borrowed freely from the latter in both thought and act), the Essenes (ditto). All the Mysteries had their preparations, and some lengthy and testing ... and some far more restrictive and demanding in terms of personal freedom than Christian doctrine ... as was elsewhere, ask the Cathars!

The main issue, however, lies with the objective data of gnostic doctrine.

Now it must be said to speak of Gnosticism as a movement is somewhat misleading, for there was no single concrete organisation, church or culture. Gnostic adherents were invartiably focussed on their teacher. I wonder how the guru maintained discipline within his sect?

Furthermore a particular defining characteristic of gnosticism was its ease and ability in selecting, assimilating and identifying itself with a language and ideas received from without. This being said, there are certain 'universal' ideas, common to all the sects:

1 - Most of the schools were thoroughly dualistic - with an infinite distance between the realm of spirit and matter, the latter being regarded as intrinsically evil.

2 - The insistence that the material world is not the handiwork of the Ultimate God.

3 - The insistence that the material world is the result of a primeval disorder in a sub-divine or demiurgic realm. (Where, for example, the Old Testament was acknowledged, it was held that this scripture was authored by the demiurge whom the Jews took to be the One God).

4 - The gnostic holds that the soul or spiritual element in man (and in some cases among the elite of mankind only) is a stranger to this world and which yearns for freedom and release from the bonds of matter and ascend to its true home. In some schools the world is actually punitive, in others (eg. as suggested by Origen) pedagogic.

5 - Mediators have and continue to appear from the successive aeons or heavens to help this spiritual element home. These ideas and others were expounded in a setting of ever-more elaborate cosmologies.

6 - Redemption is brought about by knowledge, and essentially this knowledge, the insight into the interior meaning of the gnostic myths, brough realisation, illumination and salvation. The knowledge of the supramundane worlds would enable the gnostic, after death, to traverse the pitfalls of the successive stages of an upward journey.

The Christian response, founded on the Scripture of the Jews, and the Tradition and teaching of the Church - opposed many of these doctrines head-to head:

1 - The world is essentially good. The Cosmos is a theophany.

2 - The world was made by God in a free act of the Divine will - and so was man, and man was endowed with this freedom of will 'in the image and likeness' of his Maker, the One God, Father Almighty.

3 - The disorder of the material world was brought about by the Fall, an act of man alone, in definace of the Divine, in becoming enamoured of his own freedom - by pitting his own will against God.

4 - Soul and Body are one: To be fully human is to be body and soul in harmony, in which the cosmos is brought to fruition.

5 - The Incarnation is a one-time event, for all time - and He alone is the mediator - not an angel, nor an avatar, but the irruption of the Divine, manifest in the material order (something unthinkable to the gnostic).

6 - Redemption is brought about by love.

The root cause, as Irenaeus pointed out, was that because the gnostic disparages the material world, he had little or no interest in history as a dynamic process, as something in which God would take an active interest - as something that is both a theophany and itself on the road to perfection, in which man plays his part as a corporeal and psychospiritual dynamic, a mode of being in the material - as a presence - it is this reason, this fundamental attitude towards the world (that shapes any particular doctrine) that prevents the gnostic from giving a full and complete assent to the fundamental doctrine of the Incarnation.

Everything turns on this point, for it is impossible for the gnostic (in the historical sense) to embrace Christianity without abandoning everything he holds to be the case, and it is equally impossible for a Christian to be a gnostic (in the historical sense) for the selfsame reason.

Likewise the Christian understands gnosis in a way that is meaningless, and a scandal to the gnostic. The Word, to the gnostic, is only ever a metaphor for somewhere-other-than-what it says, somewhere-other-than-here. The Word, for the Christian, evokes the reality of a love that underlies all existence, that chooses to manifest Itself in solidarity with the here-and-now.

+++

For the modern gnostic, it is insufficient to declare himself such without offering adequate definition of what, to him, the term implies, precisely because its understanding has become so diffuse as to be all but meaningless - and one in which 'I believe in Christ but not in what the church says' is intellectually insufficient - it is no argument - any more that the insistence that 'I am the authority for my own existence' stands in the face of the evidence of psychology and the science of perception.

The one crucial thing man absolutely cannot guarantee is himself.

At this point I should note that many now regard Plato's Myth of the Cave as actually sounding the end of the era of mythology. Philosophy had rendered it's answers insufficient for anything other than speculation, as it has laid bare the processes of speculation itself - of fantasia and imaginatio - it could not answer the questions of being and existence - of man's tragic and short-lived state - in any way adequately in a world that was revealing its secrets to the emergence of science.

The gnostic believes in knowledge. The philosopher asks what is knowledge, and what do we really know? How do we know?

What finished gnosticism, what bankrupted myth, was progress - man was 'growing up' (albeit in an unfortunate direction) - and it is impossible to turn back the clock. We cannot undiscover what has been discovered any more than we can turn back the clock. The church might be blamed for resisting this process, but the gnostic simply rejects it.

The question facing the gnostic is that either he has learned nothing from history, or his version of history has nothing to teach him.

In so doing, personal taste and practice are, effectively, of no consequence, or rather of subsidiary interest, the princiople point being one is obliged to state one's spiritual and cosmological understanding before any meaningful dialogue can take place, which is a rather overblown way of repeating Lunamoth's original question.

Last point:

To say, as many do, that gnostics (as the term is commonly and historically understood) and Christians believe in the same thing is patently not true. One doesn't even have to look to Christian doctrine, but the Jewish scriptures and Hebraic anthropology - gnosticism is 'real' dualism, or a 'real' monism - whereas in Judaism, Christianity and Islam dualism is only ever relative - man is a corporate being, body and soul, and only such.

Will people please stop saying Paul was a gnostic, Jesus was a gnostic, etc. The Christian Way is a way of gnosis, any way towards interiority is a way of gnosis, Buddhism is a way of gnosis, but one cannot conflate Christianity with gnosticism as it is expressed, any more than one can say Christianity and Buddhism is the same thing.

Now I am sure this will invite adverse comment, but can we perhaps stick to the basics, to what is believed, and not how one believes, in the first instance, because this is where the difference lies.

Thomas
 

Gnosteric

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Hi Thomas. By the tone of your post, you sound more interested in trashing modern Gnosticism than discussing it as a topic. We probably have too much disagreement to have a productive discussion. That's too bad. :(

BTW, I wouldn't join a Roman Catholic thread just to belittle your tradition.
 

taijasi

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As for your six points, Thomas, I can agree with the last 5 of Gnosticism wholeheartedly ... and I find that the Christian response seems artificial in some cases (2-5), #6 is not at odds at all between the two systems (the approaches complement each other!), and similarly, #1 seems to be a point of view.

Yes, Gnosticism is characterized by an inherent duality and a regard for the material world - product of the Demiurge, the Jewish YHWH - as an inferior emanation of God, rather than a direct and literal "Creation." But then, science itself supports this view (more than Creationism) ... speaking of progress with which certain systems (AHEM!) seem to be fighting claw, tooth and nail these days.

In light of the struggle which Xianity still wages against science (as epitomized in the first few chapters of Dan Brown's Angels & Demons, which I have begun reading), doesn't what you say about Gnosticism seem a bit hypocritical?

Thomas said:
What finished gnosticism, what bankrupted myth, was progress - man was 'growing up' (albeit in an unfortunate direction) - and it is impossible to turn back the clock. We cannot undiscover what has been discovered any more than we can turn back the clock. The church might be blamed for resisting this process, but the gnostic simply rejects it.

The question facing the gnostic is that either he has learned nothing from history, or his version of history has nothing to teach him.

Indeed, the Gnostic doesn't suggest, as do Creationists, that things just simply appeared (some 4000 years ago, or what-have-you). Rather, the emanation, or work of the Demiurge, occurred according to a PROCESS ... which is described in some detail in the Kabbalah, from what I gather - yet is certainly given in detail by various Theosophical authors, these resonating considerably with the Neo-Platonics (eg, Plotinus) in their explanations.

Hmmm ...

Namaskar,

taijasi
 

lunamoth

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Abogado del Diablo said:
Gnosticism isn't a religion, it's a method. It transcends religions for that reason. It is a means of taking an interior journey to find one's "self." Modern Gnosticism is more closely related to psychology, linguistic philosophy and anthropology then it is with religion. Indeed, I have been helped in my journey by reading Friedrich Neitzsche, Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell as much as any recognized "religious" text. I prefer the language of Christianity (my favorite ancient Christian text is the Gospel of Thomas) because I am most comfortable with having grown up in an "orthodox" Christian culture - but I was unable to ascertain its meaning for me until I walked away from it and began studying other myths. I am also very fond of the Tao Te Ching.
This distinction you make between gnosticism as an approach vs. a religion has helped me understand why I have such difficulty getting a handle on what people mean when they say they are gnostic. When you use this idea of gnosticism as an approach I can relate to it, the means of an interior journey. I think this explains why many of your posts resonate with me, but other aspects of gnosticism fall flat.

Gnostic myths are not to be taken literally. They are vehicles to aid in the inward journey and not an end in themselves. Consequently, it is not accurate to say "Gnostics believed Jesus was this . . . " or "Gnostics believed the existence of a 'demiurge' . . ." in the same sense that we talk about followers of a religion "believing" in the tenets of a particular faith.
Many gnostics speak as if they do take the myths literally, or perhaps I misunderstand them.

This is part of why "Christian" Gnostics were so infuriating to early Church "fathers" who sought to unify everything "christian" under one umbrella of right thinking. There are as many expressions of the experience of Gnosis as there are people to experience it. There is no right thinking - no "orthodoxy" or "catholic" vision - and hence no reason not to create new mythical vehicles, or borrow one from another culture's Gnostics if you come across one you like.
But there were various identifiable schools of gnostic thought, and they cared enough about their own ideas that they would challenge the orthodox ideas. Something just does not seem to add up here. I mean, back in the day, each school thought itself correct, right? Only in retrospect can we look back and say well, this school of thought became dominant so now we call it orthodox. However, what you say above does agree with what Thomas says about the catholic, as in unifying, vision.

It is liberating to know and acknowledge the common experience that binds us all together. For me (and in the language of Christianity), it was the experience of the "second coming of Christ." The first was the momentary glimpse, the ephiphany, of a darkly glimpsed shadow of my connection to "God" through the sacrifice of Christ. But the second was the trascendent experience of discovering the mystery of Christ in me.
I frankly do not see what is unorthodox about what you've described here. :)
When the Way is forgotten
Duty and justice appear;
Then knowledge and wisdom are born
Along with hypocrisy.

When harmonious relationships dissolve
Then respect and devotion arise;
When a nation falls to chaos
Then loyalty and patriotism are born.

If we could abolish knowledge and wisdom
Then people would profit a hundredfold;
If we could abolish duty and justice
Then harmonious relationships would form;
If we could abolish artifice and profit
Then waste and theft would disappear.

Yet such remedies treat only symptoms
And so they are inadequate.

People need personal remedies:
Reveal your naked self and embrace your original nature;
Bind your self-interest and control your ambition;
Forget your habits and simplify your affairs.

- Tao te Ching
We've got to get ourselves back to the garden.

Jesus said, "If your leaders say to you, 'Look, the (Father's) 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 within you and it is outside you.


When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and you are the poverty."

- Gospel of Thomas
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
 

lunamoth

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Gnosteric said:
I do (wasn’t Paul a Gnostic?), but I certainly can’t speak for all Gnostics…. not even all Christian Gnostics. Please understand that there are Sethian Gnostics (who might be considered pre-Christian), Valentinian Gnostics (some believe Valentinus was almost voted in as Pope way back when), Hermetic Gnostics, Pagan Gnostics, and Phildickian Gnostics. Just to name a few, so their chosen books will vary.
Paul was a Jew, I believe.

Finding Gnostic consensus is a very tall order, indeed. I would have to argue with your claim that “most Gnostics” feel this way, but, yes, a good minority would probably be uncomfortable in a church setting. That said, there are many of us that acknowledge that some Gnostics (just like any other tradition) are further down the path than others. (Maybe they’ve had a few more incarnations.) I know that many Gnostic Priests have much to offer me and I would love to have such an elder as a mentor. We try not to let our egos get in the way. ... Although it is probably safe to say that the average Gnostic is more autonomous and non-conformist than your average Methodist or Baptist. Clergy also act more like guides than “chosen ones.” Gnostics have direct access to Gnosis and don’t need them to mediate.
Mediate what? What is your concept of God? Would you express it that you have some kind of personal relationship with God? Is Gnosis a breakthrough in understanding God or understanding yourself, or yourself in God? Do Gnostics agree on this point? BTW, priests are not viewed as chosen ones in my tradition. It's more of a specialized role. I also do not see priests as 'mediating' between me and God. More like an assistant in that respect.

Eat babies and partake in orgies. :eek: :p ...
Seriously, on the outside the average Gnostic church probably looks much like a Catholic one to a stranger. They have Priests (men and women) who wear collars. They celebrate the sacraments (plus a couple more) and engage in prayer and readings. Much, but not all, of the language is the same or similar. On the inside though, things are very different.
Specifically how are things different?

A Priest of the AJC says that Gnostics are “Catholic on the outside and Buddhist on the inside.”
There is an affinity between Traditional Christianity and Buddhism, I think.
 

lunamoth

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Hi Thomas, Thank you for your well-considered reply. I'll make a few responses but point by point would be tedious for us all, I think. :)

Thomas said:
To say that the church occludes this interiority, that her dogmas and doctrines snuff out this inner light, is a patent nonsense - faith, and a specifically Orthodox and Catholic faith - has produced mystics, saints, doctors, scientists and artists of every ilk - there are libraries of the most profound mystical texts ... really I am astounded that some seem to not notice, or somehow separate the great mystics from the church they love, that somehow Eckhart or Mount Athos is not connected with Orthodox Christianity.
This is a distinction between mysticism and gnosticism, I think. Mysticism maintains its relationship to the religion from which it arises, and acknowledges the doctrine or dogma of the Church (or whichever religion), while gnosticism changes, minimizes or simply eradicates the dogma.

Dogma, doctrine and discipline flows from what man holkds to be true. Whilst there is a wide resource of gnostic literature freely available, the access to gnostic practice, method and discipline (in the sense of ascesis) is not so readily available, nor so readily absorbed. The ancients spoke of theurgy and some practiced the most austere ascetic regimes, the Pythagorians had their rules, the Epicurean and the Stoic likewise (the Christians borrowed freely from the latter in both thought and act), the Essenes (ditto). All the Mysteries had their preparations, and some lengthy and testing ... and some far more restrictive and demanding in terms of personal freedom than Christian doctrine ... as was elsewhere, ask the Cathars!
I got some of this from reading Pagels, actually. It seems that at least part of Ireaneus' objection to Gnosticism was that it created an elite within the community, a community within the Christian community that was seperated by their extra practices and beliefs. It is ironic, in a way. A criticism of orthodoxy is that it is for everyone, the 'unthinking' masses, and so it is limiting to those who are inclined to find their own truth. Yet, that is exactly what Ireaneus perceived as the strength, the grace, of what became orthodoxy. It is for everybody.

Everything turns on this point, for it is impossible for the gnostic (in the historical sense) to embrace Christianity without abandoning everything he holds to be the case, and it is equally impossible for a Christian to be a gnostic (in the historical sense) for the selfsame reason.
But it seems that at least some modern gnostics do not claim that they embrace Christianity so much as they use the Christian metaphors and language in their personal gnosis. I would guess that if modern Gnostics do perform similar sacraments in their churches as Christians, these sacraments would have a very different meaning for them than they would for orthodox/traditional Christians.

Likewise the Christian understands gnosis in a way that is meaningless, and a scandal to the gnostic. The Word, to the gnostic, is only ever a metaphor for somewhere-other-than-what it says, somewhere-other-than-here. The Word, for the Christian, evokes the reality of a love that underlies all existence, that chooses to manifest Itself in solidarity with the here-and-now.
Are you sure about this Thomas? I know that gnostics tend to speak in terms of knowledge, rather than love, but I'm not certain that they mean a knowledge that is disconnected from the here and now.

For the modern gnostic, it is insufficient to declare himself such without offering adequate definition of what, to him, the term implies, precisely because its understanding has become so diffuse as to be all but meaningless - and one in which 'I believe in Christ but not in what the church says' is intellectually insufficient - it is no argument - any more that the insistence that 'I am the authority for my own existence' stands in the face of the evidence of psychology and the science of perception.
Yes, I agree with this, but I think AdD's use of the term gnosticism as an approach is fairly universal. I don't think in this sense that a Gnostic, even one who associates himself with Christianity in some way, would say "I believe in Christ." Perhaps he would say "I am Christ" or "Christ is the Way."

The one crucial thing man absolutely cannot guarantee is himself.

At this point I should note that many now regard Plato's Myth of the Cave as actually sounding the end of the era of mythology. Philosophy had rendered it's answers insufficient for anything other than speculation, as it has laid bare the processes of speculation itself - of fantasia and imaginatio - it could not answer the questions of being and existence - of man's tragic and short-lived state - in any way adequately in a world that was revealing its secrets to the emergence of science.
I'm not familiar with the Myth of the Cave, but I could see how Plato and the Greek Philosophers ushered in the Age of Reason, leading to the equation of myth with superstition or outright ignorance. Yet somehow, in a way I don't quite understand, Gnosticism seems to be about using myth to overcome ignorance. My own reading in existentialism is very limited.

The gnostic believes in knowledge. The philosopher asks what is knowledge, and what do we really know? How do we know?

What finished gnosticism, what bankrupted myth, was progress - man was 'growing up' (albeit in an unfortunate direction) - and it is impossible to turn back the clock. We cannot undiscover what has been discovered any more than we can turn back the clock. The church might be blamed for resisting this process, but the gnostic simply rejects it.
And the only cure for the death of myth is God among us, the Real Incarnation. I think I get that. But, I think this still sells modern Gnosticism short. I don't think we need to view Gnosticism in antagonism to Christianity, except of course when it sees itself as such.

The Christian Way is a way of gnosis, any way towards interiority is a way of gnosis, Buddhism is a way of gnosis, but one cannot conflate Christianity with gnosticism as it is expressed, any more than one can say Christianity and Buddhism is the same thing.
I agree. Would not many Gnostics also agree with this?
 
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