It usually takes contradiction to come to a wise point of view. Thesis and antithesis bring about synthesis as we often oversimply from Hegel’s dialectics. I see caricatures all over the place, and the kind of thing that alienates most people from organised religion. We have our crass materialistic and legalist layman from California, but my days of caring about his opinions are over. Another caricature is the question of modern Gnosticism. An article by Fr Hunwicke – It is important to keep up the pressure – refers to the article (I found the link via Google) Gnosticism Today by Thomas G. Weinandy, OFM, Cap. Everyone seems to be calling others Gnostics like they might have used the expression bloody bastard in the past. Gnosticism is a highly complex world view with many double-edged swords, and few have the slightest understanding of it. There are plenty of stereotypes, to be sure, as there are for everything else – just like with autistics and every other individual who doesn’t fit in with the in-thing of the moment.
In my humble opinion neither the “Bergoglians” nor the traditionalists are anywhere near Gnosticism. If Gnosticism exists, it isn’t any kind of an “-ism” and it is a matter of individual persons, not groups. I am one of those who sincerely believe that the fulness of human intelligence and nobility is found in individuals, and that IQ drops proportionately with the size of a group. That may sound cynical to many, but it seems like fact to me.
There were Gnostic sects in the times of the early Church. Some remained within the doctrinal boundaries of traditional Christianity, and others took other paths akin to the ancient non-Christian mystery schools. Those tendencies that remained too near the Church for comfort were mercilessly persecuted. The collective leopard never changes its spots!
Most institutional Christianity has not learned its lesson, so most people follow another totalitarian religion, that of consumer materialism. A few seek a more individual and spiritual view, away from the noise and fashions of society. Most institutional churches treat people like babies, but many people find this appropriate for them because they are babies (even when they have adults’ bodies). We all need to grow up and became aware and conscious!
It is my hope that individual souls can come together in communion to live what I believe was Christ’s original intention for a church or communion of the noble of spirit. If the Church is not this, I really fail to see the point.
Wow, weighty and (as you suggest) “highly complex” matters, here!
To wade only a little into one – inlet? fjord?…: ” most people follow another totalitarian religion”. I am nearly finished reading de Maistre’s Considérations sur La France, where, in his last chapter he so interestingly digests and applies Hume’s treatment of the history of the English Civil War, Commonwealth, and Restoration – and, as the translator notes how impressed de Maistre was with Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, I have finally embarked on ‘going right through’ that (instead of browsing over the course of 46 years!). Meanwhile, we are enjoying LibriVox audiobooks with Baroness Orczy’s take on things in her Scarlet Pimpernel stories, and, because of the format and weight of my de Maistre ed., I took a real ‘pocket-sized’ book with me to a sort of village choir festival (in which I sang in 4 mini-concerts): Zamyatin’s We (in the 1972 English translation). So, I am having a varied impression of thinking about lots of people following other totalitarian religions (etc.)! I commend all these books, but will not yet attempt any sort of reflective ‘synthesis’.
After reading the articles (repeatedly), the most I can glean is that people use the term Gnostic to condemn ideas because it’s fashionable to do so, like using “binary” or “intersectional” in literary criticism. They would even call a materialist a Gnostic because the word is now just a generic slur. Am I on point?
Also, what does it mean that some Gnostics “remained within the bounds of traditional Christianity”? I have even read speculation that the Gospel of John has Gnostic influence, but it never explains why a saint would be influenced in that direction. The work always presumes readers who bring their own knowledge to the text, so it leaves that sort of thing unexplained for a lay audience.
Also, what does it mean that some Gnostics “remained within the bounds of traditional Christianity”?
What I had in my mind is the Alexandrian School, in particular St Clement of Alexandria and Origen, but others too. For anyone interested in reading about Gnosticism, I would recommend Elaine Pagels and Stephan A. Höller, Gnosticism. It’s heavyweight stuff, so each to his own level. A good introduction is Bernard Simon, The Essence of the Gnostics. We have to get out of hot-button words and the usual “post-truth” and ideological paradigm, and we might learn something. We don’t have to say Gnosticism is right!
Thank you, Father!
I’ll add two ‘classics’ to the list:
Hans Jonas, The Gnostic Religion: The Message of the Alien God & the Beginnings of Christianity (ed. 1, 1958: see his German Wikipedia article for earlier works; his French one notes La Religion gnostique : Le Message du Dieu Étranger et les débuts du christianisme, traduit de l’anglais par Louis Evrard, Flammarion, 1978);
Kurt Rudolph, Gnosis: The Nature and History of Gnosticism (UK ed. 1, 1984, US 1986, translating German 1980 “second, revised and expanded edition”).
I don’t know Pagels and Höller, but I remember reading some sharply critical scholarly reviews of her book, The Gnostic Gospels (1979), when it appeared, and, e.g., her Adam, Eve and the Serpent: Sex and Politics in Early Christianity (1988) was no less controversial.
Jonas (who I have found always worth reading – e.g., also The Phenomenon of Life: Toward a Philosophical Biology, The Imperative of Responsibility: In Search of Ethics for the Technological Age, and Philosophical Essays: From Ancient Creed to Technological Man) made an interesting and, in some ways, influential comparison between some 20th-c. ‘existential philosophy’ and antique Gnosis. Wikipedia notes, “From 1982 to 1983 Jonas held the Eric Voegelin Visiting Professorship at the University of Munich.”
Voegelin is even more influential, and, in ways different from Pagels controversial, in his analysis of much 19th- and 20th-c. thought/ideology in terms of (resemblances to antique) ‘Gnosticism’. His Wissenschaft, Politik und Gnosis (München 1959) translated into English as Science, Politics and Gnosticism (1968) is well worth reading in this context.
Gershom Scholem is very interesting on Gnostic influences in various strands of Jewish mysticism in such works as Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941), Jewish Gnosticism, Merkabah Mysticism, and the Talmudic Tradition (1960) and many of his contributions to the Encyclopaedia Judaica, collected and reprinted in Kabbalah (1974). Peter Schäfer has an interesting lecture on his work available online (note what he says “In Summary” on page 18):
Click to access 12th-Sacks-Lecture-Gershom-Scholem-Reconsidered-The-Purpose-of-Early-Jewish-Mysticism.pdf
For a more “lightweight” introduction to Gnosticism I’d recommend “Memoirs of a Gnostic Dwarf” by David Madsen. I say “lightweight” but the book does contain flashes of insight which are humorous in nature and many other layers. It’s the sort of book you have to read twice.
Thank you both.
With your indulgence, I’ll add a calendar note I published a while ago, for the Feast of St. Irenaeus later this month (28 June):
Irenaeus, as a boy, knew St. Polycarp of Smyrna who was in turn a disciple of St. John the Evangelist. Coming west (like his older contemporary, St. Justin, whose Feast is 1 June), St. Irenaeus studied in Rome, and, travelling further at the invitation of its first bishop, became a priest in Lyons (something of a western centre of international trade).
Living up to his name (‘peace-loving’ in Greek), he was sent in the midst of persecution in Gaul to plead in Rome for leniency towards Montanists (for whom he had little sympathy) in Phrygia. Returning, he was made successor to the martyred St. Pothinus as bishop. A decade or so later he was off to Rome again, now to plead, successfully, that their tradition of celebrating Easter on the 14th day of the Jewish month Nisan, even when it was not a Sunday, was no reason to break communion with various Eastern Churches (though he favoured the Sunday tradition himself).
His great work, The Detection and Overthrow of the False Knowledge,* shows how set he was against the danger of saying ‘peace’ when there is no peace. Its careful setting out of the teachings of various Gnostic schools, in order to show in detail where and why each is getting it wrong, was our principal source about them, until supplemented by a major archaeological discovery of a library of later papyrus books in 1945.
*The late-nineteenth-century translation by Alexander Roberts and William Rambaut is handily available online in transcription at newadvent.org amomg the Church Fathers (listed as Adversus haereses and, when the link is followed, Against Heresies, while his Wikipedia article has External Links to various texts and translations, and even a 25-and-a-half hour volunteer-read audiobook version!
Very interesting. Thank you.