Gnostic Passages

2002-02-09

I finished re-reading The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels the other day. There is much to like in gnostic thinking. Here are some passages I found especially interesting....

A quote from church father Tertullian, arguing against the gnostics:

These heretical women -- how audacious they are! They have no modesty; they are bold enough to teach, to engage in argument, to enact exorcisms, to undertake cures, and, it may be, even to baptize! [60]

I think that speaks for itself.

In contrast to the orthodox (catholic) church, the gnostics used qualititative rather than quantitative criteria to determine whether someone was a true Christian. For the gnostics that meant evidence of spiritual maturity or knowledge (gnosis):

Gnostic Christians, on the contrary, assert that what distinguishes the false from the true church is not its relationship to the clergy, but the level of understanding of its members, and the quality of their relationship with one another. The Apocalypse of Peter declares that "those who are from the life ... having been enlightened," discriminate for themselves betwee what is true and false. Belonging to "the remnant ... summoned to knowledge [gnosis]," they neither attempt to dominate others nor do they subject themselves to the bishops and deacons, those "waterless canals." Instead they participate in "the wisdom of the brotherhood that really exists ... the spiritual fellowship with those united in communion."

The Second Treatise of the Great Seth similarly declares that what characterizes the true church is the union its members enjoy with God and with one another, "united in the friendship of friends forever, who neither know any hostility, nor evil, but who are united by my gnosis ... (in) friendship with one another." Theirs is the intimacy of marriage, a "spiritual wedding," since they live "in fatherhood and motherhood and rational brotherhood and wisdom" as those who love each other as "fellow spirits." [106]

The gnostics held that the orthodox "do not seek after God" (Authoritative Teaching):

The gnostic understands Christ's message not as offering a set of answers, but as encouragement to engage in a process of searching: "seek and inquire about the ways you should go, since there is nothing else as good as this." The rational soul longs to "see with her mind, and perceive her kinsmen, and learn about her root ... in order that she might receive what is hers." [112]

I like the final chapter a lot -- with a title like "Gnosis: Self-Knowledge as Knowledge of God", how could I not? I made a copy of that chapter and mean to read it yet again soon, so I'll probably have more quotes to share before long.


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