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Learn who it is within you who makes everything his own and says, "My God, my mind, my thought, my soul, my body." Learn the sources of sorrow, joy, love, hate. Learn how it happens that one watches without willing, rests without willing, becomes angry without willing, loves without willing. ~ Monoimus

Gnosticism (from Greek gnosis, knowledge) is a term created by modern scholars to describe diverse, syncretistic religious movements, especially in the first centuries of the Common Era. Gnostics believe in gnosis, a knowledge of Ultimate Reality or God enabled by secret teachings. Some Gnostics have considered themselves Christian, identifying Jesus as the divine spirit incarnated to bring gnosis to humanity; however, forms of Gnostic dualism placed many in stark contrast to orthodox Christian teachings, and they were labelled heretics. Many Gnostic texts appear to have no Christian element at all, and many Gnostics were not even nominally Christian, while others were certainly devout mystic ascetics who worshipped Jesus and lived in their own unique ways according to His teachings. Simon Magus is believed by some Christians to be the founder of Gnosticism, but many gnostic elements and teachings predate the influence of this figure by centuries.


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  • Gnostic ideas had a considerable influence upon such idealists as Goethe, Novalis and Hegel. The theosophical movement of the 20th century with which Gnosticism has much in common, rightly claims the Gnostics as its spiritual ancestor. Jungian psychology, which owes not a little to this movement, can be of some help in interpreting Gnostic mythology and may help to show that behind it there is a religious experience of a certain type.
    • Encyclopaedia Britannica (1963 edition), Vol. 10, p. 506.
  • GNOSTICS, n. A sect of philosophers who tried to engineer a fusion between the early Christians and the Platonists. The former would not go into the caucus and the combination failed, greatly to the chagrin of the fusion managers.
  • The Gnostics were the earliest Christians with anything like a regular theological system, and it is only too evident that it was Jesus who was made to fit their theology as Christos, and not their theology that was developed out of his sayings and doings. Their ancestors had maintained, before the Christian era, that the Great Serpent — Jupiter, the Dragon of Life, the Father and "Good Divinity," had glided into the couch of Semele, and now, the post-Christian Gnostics, with a very trifling change, applied the same fable to the man Jesus, and asserted that the same "Good Divinity," Saturn (Ilda-Baoth), had, in the shape of the Dragon of Life, glided over the cradle of the infant Mary.
  • The term gnosticism comes from the Greek word gnōsis, which means knowledge. Gnostics are those who are "in the know." And what is it that they know? They know secrets that can bring salvation. For gnostics, a person is saved not by having faith in Christ or by doing good works. Rather, a person is saved by knowing the truth—the truth about the world we live in, about who the true God is, and especially about who we ourselves are. In other words, this is largely self-knowledge: Knowledge of where we came from, how we got here, and how we can return to our heavenly home. According to most gnostics, this material world is not our home. We are trapped here, in these bodies of flesh, and we need to learn how to escape. For those gnostics who were also Christian (many gnostics were not), it is Christ himself who brings this secret knowledge from above. He reveals the truth to his intimate followers, and it is this truth that can set them free.
    • Bart D. Ehrman, "Christianity Turned on Its Head: The Alternative Vision of the Gospel of Judas", in The Gospel of Judas (2006) ed. by R. Kasser, M. Meyer and G. Wurst, p. 84
  • Gnosticism has always appealed to intellectuals. Freud offered a particularly succulent variety. He had a brilliant gift for classical allusion and imagery at a time when all educated people prided themselves on their knowledge of Greek and Latin. He was quick to seize on the importance attached to myth by the new generation of social anthropologists such as Sir James Frazer, whose The Golden Bough began to appear in 1890. The meaning of dreams, the function of myth - into this potent brew Freud stirred an all-pervading potion of sex, which he found at the root of almost all human behavior. The war had loosened tongues over sex; the immediate post-war period saw the habit of sexual discussion carried into print. Freud's time had come. He had, in addition to his literary gifts, some of the skills of a sensational journalist. He was an adept neologian. He could mint a striking slogan. Almost as often as his younger contemporary Rudyard Kipling, he added words and phrases to the language: 'the unconscious', 'infantile sexuality,' the 'Oedipus complex', 'inferiority complex', 'guilt complex', the ego, the id and the super-ego, 'sublimation,' 'depth-psychology.'
  • In the Gnostic formula it is understood that, though thrown into temporality, we had an origin in eternity, and so also we have an aim in eternity.
  • Abandon the search for God and the creation and other matters of a similar sort. Look for him by taking yourself as the starting point. Learn who it is within you who makes everything his own and says, "My God, my mind, my thought, my soul, my body." Learn the sources of sorrow, joy, love, hate. Learn how it happens that one watches without willing, rests without willing, becomes angry without willing, loves without willing. If you carefully investigate these matters you will find him in yourself.
  • In the concluding document of Messina the proposal was 'by the simultaneous application of historical and typological methods' to designate 'a particular group of systems of the second century after Christ' as 'gnosticism', and to use 'gnosis' to define a conception of knowledge transcending the times which was described as 'knowledge of divine mysteries for an élite'.
  • "To seek myself and know who I was and who and in what manner I now am, that I may again become that which I was:" This is a characteristic formulation of the Gnostic goal. According to Gnostics, we must realize that there is at our core a spark of spirit which was once part of the universal spirit; that this individual spirit has become embedded in gross matter, in the body, through activities of lesser powers (often called archons or rulers), like the creator-lawgiver god of the Jews, who wish to keep the human spirit in thrall; that we can escape this bodily prison by recognizing our true original home and evade the grasp of the archons and ascend again to that home — the spiritual Pleroma, the Fullness — to be reunited in Oneness. To put it another way, a human being can overcome the differentiation of this world, its dividedness into multiplicity, and merge again into the primordial unity.
  • Gnosis is a Greek word for knowledge — not, in this context, knowledge in the sense of rational learning but intuitive knowledge reaching beyond the limits of reason to truths hidden from ordinary experience and intellect. One leading scholar of Gnosticism, Bentley Layton, translates "gnosis" as "acquaintance," comparing it to the French "connaitre" rather than "savoir." There can be no precise counterpart of so imprecise a term as gnosis, but we presumably ought to read into whatever word is used some sense that the Gnostic — the Knower — felt seized by a great truth that dominated his or her view of life and being.
    Gnosis was thought to lead to a unitive, or mystical, experience in which the composite world would be left behind and a primordial, undifferentiated Oneness regained. A close resemblance to Indian notions of "enlightenment," "illumination," and "release" is readily apparent, and … we will find many clues suggesting a strong affinity with Indian thought in at least part of the early Christian world. And the quest for an inner spiritual or mystical truth beyond the experience of worldly life is found among later Christian mystics, Muslim Sufis, Jewish Kabbalists, and various contemporary religious movements in the West.
    • Herbert Christian Merillat, in The Gnostic Apostle Thomas: "Twin" of Jesus? (1997) Ch. 3 : The True Wedding.
  • Those of us who are Gnostics believe that all people are ultimately saved and that God always loves us, no matter what we do. These beliefs are true, but they can very easily be simplified and misunderstood. God is never angry with us in the way in which a vengeful human would reject us, but God’s love for us has a dark side and one which we should rightfully fear. God loves us not in a sentimental way which aims at our ease and pleasure but, rather in a way which aims at our highest good and with an intensity which no one, even the highest angels, can understand. God is absolutely determined, with an infinite determination, to rid us of all that does not reflect His Goodness. As one of our hymns puts it,
“But unto wrong what is His Name?
Our God is a consuming flame
To every wrong beneath the sun!”
And, because of that, God’s punishments are terrible, and it is wise to fear them.
  • A separate issue is the return of ancient gnostic ideas under the guise of the so-called New Age. We cannot delude ourselves that this will lead toward a renewal of religion. It is only a new way of practicing gnosticism-that attitude of the spirit that, in the name of a profound knowledge of God, results in distorting His Word and replacing it with purely human words. Gnosticism never completely abandoned the realm of Christianity. Instead, it has always existed side by side with Christianity, sometimes taking the shape of a philosophical movement, but more often assuming the characteristics of a religion or para-religion in distinct, if not declared, conflict with all that is essentially Christian.
    • John Paul II. Crossing the threshold of hope. As quoted in Swarup, Ram, & Johannes, P. (1995). Pope John Paul II on Eastern religions and yoga: A Hindu-Buddhist rejoinder.
  • Aristotle died in the year 322 B.C. By A.D. 100 the predominant centre of intellectual development had shifted to Alexandria. ...By the later Alexandrian period... salvation had become paramount and men doubted whether, without... Divine Revelation, their perplexities about Nature could be resolved... The principle... that men... must offer cogent arguments in support of their statements had been abandoned. In the intermediate period we find... men as Archimedes, Hipparchus, and Euclid retained the rational scientific ideals of the classical philosophers, and carried their analyses to new levels of refinement and sophistication. But alongside... we find the beginnings of gnosticism—the claim that one can more certainly achieve... truth by way of asceticism, purification and mystical practices. Between these extremes lie two major schools of philosophers, whose teachings could be interpreted in alternative ways—either as rational systems of natural philosophy or with an eye to their religious significance. These two aspects were already present in the case of Epicurus for whom atomism was as much a weapon against the terrors of contemporary religion as it was a detailed theory of Nature. And a similar double purpose is apparent in the world-system of the Stoics.

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