Posted by: Standing Solus Christus | July 12, 2008

Gnosticism – Part 2

Gnosticism – Part 2


Endemic to all forms of Gnosticism is a notion of hyper-spiritualizing, however the implications of this principal among the different strands was interpreted differently.  Most Gnostics believed this physical world needed to be transcended and that it was in some sense a place of training or rehabilitation prior to entering the real world.  In light of the fact that the spiritual is the ultimate and the material is to be transcended the question became how to react to the material.  Many forms of Gnosticism embraced a form of asceticism when it came to the elements of the physical world.  The ascetic overcame the material by denying it and abstaining from it as much as humanly possible.  These ideas ultimately do perpetuate themselves into the rise of monasticism within the more orthodox expressions of the Christian faith.  The way to transcend the physical was to discipline the body, affirm the spirit and suppress the desires of flesh. 


On the other hand, there were some Gnostics who proceeded to the opposite end of the spectrum from that of the ascetics.  They concluded that since the body is fundamentally temporary and unimportant it doesn’t matter what you do with the body.  A relatively small number within this group would have even promoted the notion that excess in the life was a way of demonstrating the independence one had over the body.  Thus, they perceived that they were free to indulge in gross immorality, although defiling the body, would leave the spirit intact.          


In almost all instances the Gnostic took the liberty of reinterpreting the faith in fundamental ways, especially in the account of the fall of Adam.  Some of the most notable ways were through the identification of the serpent in the garden as the bearer of divine truth.  He is primarily classified as a hero in some Gnostic circles due to his promotion that Eve, partake of the tree of the “knowledge” of good and evil.  In many forms of Gnosticism, the Triune Covenant Lord Yahweh, is seen as an evil character who wants to keep people in ignorance.  In these instances we find a radical revision of the biblical account, in order to make them more consistent with Gnostic worldview.  When the Church sensed the seriousness of this problem posed by the Gnostics, it began to confront it in the second and third century.  It is indicative of the fact that the Church, since its inception has always had to be discerning about the truth of its doctrine. 


An early Gnostic teacher, Basilides, received critical responses from various Christians and apologists about the error of his views.  In Basilides in particular we are exposed to the complicated nature that the Gnostic mythology tended to be.  The over-arching Gnostic principle, which evidently was the source of the convoluted mythology, was the quest to make God as transcendent as possible.  For many of the Gnostics the great problem with the material world is that it is ever changing.  In order to remain consistent with their radical interpretation of Platonic philosophy they seek to distance God from the material to preserve the notion of an unchanging truth.  Thus, they seek to define God as a being as far removed from this material changing world as much as possible.  This results in a God who has no possible direct contact with the material world, and must have a series of intermediate beings or archons with a diminishing scale.  This scale ever so slightly becomes more and more contaminated by the material world until eventually direct contact is made.


The following provides an illustration of this concept:


Divine being (pure spirit)

            Archon 1

                        Archon 2

                                    Archon 3

                                                Archon 4

                                                            Archon 5

                                                                        Archon 6 (God of the Bible could possibly at this level)

                                                                                    Archon 7

                                                                                                Archon 8

                                                                                                    Physical world


Of course, the Gnostics would probably have a much more complex illustration to convey their view.  Nonetheless, hopefully this is sufficient to illustrate the point we are trying to articulate.  As we can gather from this process of separating the Divine with the physical world, an attempt is being made to eliminate any defilement of the spirit with the physical world.  The problem is that no matter how many intermediate beings are inserted into the equation there will always be a percentage of contact with the physical.  It actually ends up falling into an infinite regress that is irreconcilable with the Gnostic view unraveling like pulling the string on a cable net sweater.


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