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HolyGround >> Gnosticism: Legitimate Tradition or Blasphemy?


8/17/10 9:39 AM
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salsero
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I'm trying to learn a bit more about gnosticism.

I believe that early Christianity seemed to rather quickly divided itself after the end of the Apostolic age . . . if this is the case, then is it possible that gnosticism was just as much legitimate interpretation of Christ and his teachings as other traditions?

My only (and admitted weak) argument in support of this possibility lies in the fact that early Christianity quickly developed differences in key aspects about the nature of God & Salvation (e.g. arguments for/against universalism).

Please feel free to comment.
8/17/10 1:52 PM
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Ridgeback
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 If matter is evil then why the heavy emphasis on material mysteries in Christianity from communion to baptism to unction?  
8/17/10 2:13 PM
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Robert Wynne
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 there was no divide as your elaborating, if you was not part of the Roman catholic/protestant, take over of the new christian religion, you were assigned the status by them of being an agnostic.

no difference between then and now.
8/17/10 5:02 PM
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zealot66
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 You are right in saying its a valid branch of christianity in a purely historical sense. Being a historical branch doesnt necessarily legitimate its teaching. Say for instance Some third wheel political party may be a legit political party but that doesnt mean they are useful.
8/18/10 7:03 PM
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Ridgeback
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zealot66 -  You are right in saying its a valid branch of christianity in a purely historical sense. Being a historical branch doesnt necessarily legitimate its teaching. Say for instance Some third wheel political party may be a legit political party but that doesnt mean they are useful.

 I have no problem with the historical branch idea, but my understanding was that gnosticism predated Christianity and kind of meshed pagan beliefs with some of the teachings of Jesus.  They certainly weren't successors of the Apostles as far as I know.  I really haven't read about it in the kind of detail I should though.

Most of the interest in gnosticism these days seems to be related to its perceived status as being an alternative to orthodox Christianity.  I am not sure why any modern person would actually admire the beliefs and a lot of gnostic books are just terrible.  The only part of gnosticism that I think has some similarity to orthodox Christianity is the idea that this world is ruled by dark powers or an evil god.  That coincides with the Christian notion that Satan is the "prince of this world."  Of course the beliefs diverge when gnostics consider all matter evil vs. the Christian belief that a good creation has fallen and become subject to corruption and death.
8/19/10 1:53 AM
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Juijitsuboxer
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2 Peter 2

False Teachers and Their Destruction

1But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. 3In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.
8/19/10 2:56 PM
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Grakman
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 I was interested in Gnosticism for a brief time, and read a lot of material on the subject. I was eventually turned off by the 'mythological' tone of their creation myths, with gods giving birth to other gods, who gave birth to other gods or archons, who had certain limited powers, etc. If I recall correctly, the god of this earth, Yahweh, is a demi-urge or demi-god who wanted to create worlds of light but didn't have the power of the other gods so he created his world out of matter. And then forgot who he was and now we're all stuck here. Very pessimistic outlook on life and the world here.
8/19/10 4:24 PM
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zealot66
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 Ridge, good catch. Gnosticism does predate christianity and then the two combined somehow. Frend does a good job in his magnus opus. I seem to be slipping these days. Yet the evil ones grow sharper hahahahahaahahahahah.
8/20/10 8:03 AM
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Juijitsuboxer
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I think Christianity was probably a big draw for mystics and magic practitioners at the time due to all the miracles and power that was exemplified by the followers of Christ.

As you can see with my post above, that reference and many others point to an early movement within Christianity to take what was taught and morph it into something different for people to start their own followings, etc.

That is why I think Gnosticism and Mythra picked up many Christian elements. If you look at Mythra and Gnosticism, both existed before Christianity and were drastically different before Christianity came on the scene.

Christianity was a powerful force that changed many traditions due to it's real power. That is why so many try to say Christianity came from other traditions, etc. because it's influence is falsely placed before Christianity came on the scene.
8/21/10 10:36 AM
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scaredy cat
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I think it depends what you mean by legitimate tradition. There are many Bible scholars who have clearly demonstrated the roles of Gnostics in the early Christian communities. It has been clearly demonstrated that these communities were not theologically homogenous by any stretch of the imagination. It was only with the rise of certain influential Bishops that "heresies" such as Gnosticism, Arianism, Pelgianism, and others, were identified.

Some might argue that the scriptures circulating the Christian communities at the time, that did not make it into the Bible were no less valid than those which were agreed upon by the Bible's editorial board. Obviously this idea is rejected by those who hold the Bible as the inerrant word of God.

In my opinion, if you are interested in Gnosticism, you should read the Nag Hammadi Scriptures. Start with the Gospel of Thomas. Just sit with it for a while and see if there is anything in there that resonates with you. Perhaps move on to the Gospel of Philip or the Apocryphon of John after that. Then hit up the scholars to gain some kind of historical context. Elaine Pagels "The Gnostic Gospels" is an accessible start. For a brutally hard slog you could try Kurt Rudolph's "Gnosis: The History and Nature of Gnosticism". Check out some of April D Connick's blog posts too, such as this one: http://forbiddengospels.blogspot.com/2009/11/what-are-different-gnostic-types.html


Now, here's my full exposure: I consider myself a Gnostic Christian. I'm not really interested in converting anyone to Gnosticism but I can suggest the odd bit of reading here and there if someone is interested. Unlike a number of Christians from other traditions, I'm not interested in trying to decide who is or who is not a Christian either ("My command is this: Love each other" John 15:17).


But yeah, that's just my 2 cents as the token Gnostic. :)
8/21/10 3:00 PM
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Grakman
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 Can you point to any sources / reputable Biblical scholars who 'clearly demonstrate the role of the Gnostics in early Christian communities?'

How does one become a Gnostic Christian these days? What does it entail?
8/21/10 10:58 PM
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scaredy cat
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Grakman -  Can you point to any sources / reputable Biblical scholars who 'clearly demonstrate the role of the Gnostics in early Christian communities?'

How does one become a Gnostic Christian these days? What does it entail?


There is a problem with defining reputable in terms of bible scholars. People influenced by the likes of the Moody Institute or Wheaton College, will never find anyone reputable who acknowledges the plurality of Christianites in the early post-apostolic era. I'll mention some Bible scholars I'd suggest: April DeConick, Marvin Meyer, James M Robinson, and Bart D Ehrman. Also read the heresiologists of the time, such as Irenaenus of Lyon. While his work is not all that accurate in terms of Gnostic theology, it does show that Gnosticism was prevalent enough to require some pretty full on attacks by Theologians of the time. There is also argument to suggest that Valentinus may have nearly become Bishop of Rome, though that is sometimes greatly overstated by some modern Gnostics.


There are lots of ways to be a Gnostic Christian these days. Some Gnostic Christians are content to read the scriptures (both Gnostic and orthodox) and practice their religion at home through medidation. hesychasm, centering prayer, or other practices. Others are members of local orthodox Christian churches, of whatever tradition, and engage in sacraments and worship while holding a different understanding of what's going on than some or most of the rest of the congragation. Yes, the person sitting next to you in church could be a filthy Gnostic ;)
In my case, I was lucky enough to be able to find and be, baptised and confirmed, in a Gnostic Christian Church. I even joined their seminary program but flunked out in the first year due to personal issues (though God willing they may be letting me in). Our local priest is an hour's plane ride away so we don't get to see him as often as we'd like but he comes up to Brisbane and shares the Eucharist with us. We have a tiny Gnostic group here that meets occasionally for lay liturgy and discussion. Who knows, one day if I can get my shit together we might have our own parish here in Brisbane.

Now for some general rambling. Gnostic Christianity isn't for everyone. I don't think any one Christian tradition is. It just works for me. My Church isn't trying to be some Gnostic reconstructionist/reenactment group. We firmly see ourselves as a part of the wider Christian tradition and take inspiration from theologians and mystics from both the Western and Easterns rites.
There is a lot of misinformation spread about the original Gnostics by both modern Gnostics and orthodox Christians. What is important is praxis and one's own relationship to God.

Anyway, I hope my Sunday morning rambling is of some interest.
10/27/11 3:10 PM
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Juijitsuboxer
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Scaredy Cat, thanks for your perspective. I love hearing different points of view.

What do you think of 2 John:

7 I say this because many deceivers have gone out into the world. They deny that Jesus Christ came[d] in a real body. Such a person is a deceiver and an antichrist. 8 Watch out that you do not lose what we[e] have worked so hard to achieve. Be diligent so that you receive your full reward. 9 Anyone who wanders away from this teaching has no relationship with God. But anyone who remains in the teaching of Christ has a relationship with both the Father and the Son.



?
10/31/11 11:27 PM
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Ali
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What are the criteria for legitimacy?

Gnosticism is not a tradition that has survived -- at least not self-consciously and under that name. So it's not a "legitimate tradition" in that sense.

I don't think "blasphemy" is the appropriate binary opposition, though. But then, I don't self-identify as a christian any more (and haven't for a while), so the whole idea of "blasphemy" is not something that resonates with me at all. It seems like a power-play, and a suppression of free speech and free thought, at best.
11/1/11 12:14 AM
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yusul
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^i think there's a lot of evidence that gnosticism survived and became the percurser to modern paganism and pantheism, which are often integrated, especially in the oprah world.
11/1/11 8:58 AM
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Ali
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^sure, maybe. And as Ridgeback has pointed out, Harold Bloom has made the case that gnosticism has survived as a precursor to American Protestantism. Lots of things are precursors that are not "surviving traditions" though, right? Definition of terms is necessary.
11/2/11 3:48 PM
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Juijitsuboxer
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Wouldn't you say the main points about Gnosticism are that Christ did not come in the flesh, but in spirit. The God of the old testament is an evil God apart from Christ? That the God of the Old testament is a created being from Sophia and that there are other divine beings or Aeons, etc?

I am not sure how these beliefs relate to Protestantism.

From Wiki:

The notion of a remote, supreme monadic divinity, source - this figure is known under a variety of names, including 'Pleroma' (fullness, totality) and 'Bythos' (depth, profundity);


The introduction by emanation of further divine beings known as Aeons, which are nevertheless identifiable as aspects of the God from which they proceeded; the progressive emanations are often conceived metaphorically as a gradual and progressive distancing from the ultimate source, which brings about an instability in the fabric of the divine nature;

The introduction of a distinct creator God or demiurge, which is an illusion and a later emanation from the single monad or source. This second God is a lesser and inferior or false God. This creator god is commonly referred to as the demiourgós (a technical term literally denoting a public worker the Latinized form of Greek d?miourgos, ??????????, hence "ergon or energy", "public God or skilled worker" "false God" or "God of the masses"), used in the Platonist tradition.[17]

The gnostic demiurge bears resemblance to figures in Plato's Timaeus and Republic. In the former, the demiourgós is a central figure, a benevolent creator of the universe who works to make the universe as benevolent as the limitations of matter will allow; in the latter, the description of the leontomorphic 'desire' in Socrates' model of the psyche bears a resemblance to descriptions of the demiurge as being in the shape of the lion; the relevant passage of The Republic was found within a major gnostic library discovered at Nag Hammadi,[18] wherein a text existed describing the demiurge as a 'lion-faced serpent'.[16]

Elsewhere, this figure is called 'Ialdabaoth',[16] 'Samael' (Aramaic: sæm?a-?el, 'blind god') or 'Saklas' (Syriac: sækla, 'the foolish one'), who is sometimes ignorant of the superior God, and sometimes opposed to it; thus in the latter case he is correspondingly malevolent.
The demiurge typically creates a group of co-actors named 'Archons', who preside over the material realm and, in some cases, present obstacles to the soul seeking ascent from it;[16]

[The demiurge] is blind; because of his power and his ignorance and his arrogance he said, with his power, "It is I who am God; there is none apart from me." When he said this, he sinned against the entirety. And this speech got up to incorruptibility; then there was a voice that came forth from incorruptibility, saying, "You are mistaken, Samael" - which is, "god of the blind."

From The Hypostasis of the Archons or The Reality of the Rulers, Nag Hammadi Library, Codex II, trans. Bentley Layton.[19]

The estimation of the world, owing to the above, as flawed or a production of 'error' but possibly good as its constituent material might allow.[20] This world is typically an inferior simulacrum of a higher-level reality or consciousness. The inferiority may be compared to the technical inferiority of a painting, sculpture, or other handicraft to the thing(s) of which those crafts are supposed to be a representation. In certain other cases it takes on a more ascetic tendency to view material existence, negatively. Which then becomes more extreme when materiality, and the human body, is perceived as evil and constrictive, a deliberate prison for its inhabitants;
The explanation of this state through the use of a complex mythological-cosmological drama in which a divine element 'falls' into the material realm and lodges itself within certain human beings; from here, it may be returned to the divine realm through a process of awakening (leading towards salvation). The salvation of the individual thus mirrors a concurrent restoration of the divine nature; a central Gnostic innovation was to elevate individual redemption to the level of a cosmically significant event.
11/2/11 10:22 PM
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Ali
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Edited: 11/03/11 10:41 AM
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Perhaps, jujuboxer - in fact, yes... I would. I think the insane demiurge is a key point. But if you've followed the HG when Ridgeback is posting about American Protestantism, you'd see a different usage of the word. And if you want to know how that works, apart from wikipedia, the reference is Harold Bloom's "The American Religion" (if I have that right). Haven't read it.

Anyway... I suppose part of where I got confused is I took "legitimate" to mean continuing. I think Gnosticism (which, by the immediate preceding post's criteria, really does need to be capitalized) -- ahem... I think Gnosticism is not a living tradition at all. There are influences. Some fringe culture types call themselves Gnostics, and it's survived in (Western) Qabalah....

But that's just how influence works. I don't think there's any tradition left of Gnosticism. Maybe ask scaredycat if his self-description as a Gnostic fits with your post -- the historical description.

Historically whether it it was "legitimate" is another question. My own opinion is that of course it was "legitimate". (I'll of course acknowledge scaredycat on this thread, as a self-identifying Gnostic Christian; there's also David Tibet in (somewhat more) popular culture, calling himself that or something like it.

Of course Gnosticism IS blasphemy to mainstream (living, such as it is) tradition. But one tradition's legitimacy is another's blasphemy, almost by definition.

Let me take back a bit of what I said. To be more precise, I think Gnosticism was as legitimate a tradition as any other.

Then again, there's another set of semantics. If there are criteria for legitimacy, like apostolic succession, then it's not legit. Which is one reason it's discussed as a heresy. But again, obviously different traditions have varying criteria for legitimacy.

OK, this gets too far and wide... but I suppose finally the question is just not very clear!
11/5/11 11:47 AM
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THE CACTUS KID
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11/8/11 12:04 PM
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Juijitsuboxer
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I enjoyed the video, thanks.
11/8/11 12:17 PM
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prof
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Edited: 11/08/11 12:48 PM
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Well, that video served up a steaming, heaping plate 'o crazy for the day.

Thanks.

Time for some fresh air...

Prof.

(It was actually interesting until the wacky theology of the narrator intruded).
11/11/11 6:16 PM
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ocianain
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Blasphemy

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