Religious Rebellion: The Christian Gnostics

The Gnostics never called themselves ‘Gnostics’. The word ‘Gnostics’ is actually a term coined by a 17th century philosopher to describe early Christian sects who held spiritual beliefs different from another powerful Christian group, lead by Irenaeus, who wanted to establish ‘authorized’ scriptures, specific beliefs and a hierarchy of authority. The early Gnostic Christian movement was actually a diverse group, most of whom had their own ‘Gospels’ (Gospels are records of Christ and his teachings). The Gnostics studied and embraced several Gospels, some of which would become part of the Bible. Other Gospels would be rejected from becoming part of the Bible such as the Gospel of Judas. Bottom line was the Gnostics had different spiritual interpretations of Christ’s life and message. Many of the Gnostics blended Christ’s message with other, more ancient metaphysical teachings.

It is important to understand that there was no ‘official’ Christian Bible from the time of Christ’s crucifixion until 331 AD. At that time Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, a convert to Christianity, ordered the assembly of sacred scriptures, including gospels, that were ‘most needful for the instruction of the Church’. The purpose was to establish a consistent teaching of Christianity, a set doctrine. Any other teachings of Christianity could be considered ‘heresy’. Basically, the Gnostics, including many of their spiritual scriptures (including several of their gospels) were cut out of Christianity, especially their interpretation of Christ’s teachings and purpose AND any spiritual scriptures or gospels that supported their position.

The simplest definition of gnosis is “to know, knowledge, to learn”. The ancient Greek word “gno” became our modern word “know”. The early Gnostics, who developed their doctrines primarily throughout the first and second centuries, A.D., held to a broader, personal definition of Christianity: “To know God from within”. This was the central tenet of faith for many of the sects that comprised the Gnostics. It is what they practiced and preached. This belief that a person could know God from within (and this experience was more important than written scripture) set the Gnostics at odds with those who felt ONLY Christ could lead to salvation. And the path to Christ was through Gospels could only be accurately interpreted by ‘experts’, ie, the Bishops of the Church. There were many other philosophical differences the Gnostics and those who would establish the Catholic Church, but this idea that anyone could seek out the ‘truth’ and ‘experience God’ within, and do so studying the Gospels and other spiritual scriptures on their own was clearly an interpretation of Christianity that had to be crushed.

So, as mentioned, Emperor Constantine, with the power of Rome behind him, began the process of created established scriptures, a bible, and with it a Church. With the Emperor of Rome behind them, many Christians gathered to create and orthodox Christian Church – which go on to become the Catholic Church. This new Church rapidly gained power and influence. The persecution of the more secretive branches (often referred to as the Mystery Schools) of the Christian faith began.

As the Church grew and spread the faith across Europe, a clearly defined hierarchy was established along with a strict doctrine. Henceforth, the true interpretation of the Gospels was the exclusive province of the Bishops, followed by the priests and then the deacons. Moreover, the message was made plain that, although the faith was based upon the religious experiences of the Apostles, personal religious experience was a road no longer open to the individual. The Word of God had already been delivered for all time. Any new revelations were not to be trusted or sanctioned. Only within the Church could Christianity be defined, which was a process that would for centuries take place behind closed doors.

This doctrine ‘top down control’ and strict control of the interpretation Christianity for ALL of humanity was something the Gnostic faithful could not tolerate. Personal relationship with the divine was, to them, the birthright of every human being. Not only that, but the Gnostics (as a group) pursued many paths to self-knowledge – there was a tolerance of how other’s chose to interpret scripture. The Christian Gnostics strove to understand the Will of God not, primarily, from Scripture, but from within themselves. Some writers of that time went so far as to insist that personal spiritual revelation could be trusted even if it contradicted the existing Gospels. The same could be said for any individual’s relationship with God. These writers criticized the Catholic Church for dismissing the very foundations of its own heritage.

Many Gnostics defended their perceived right to personal visionary experience in the face of immense resistance and even great danger. Even when Roman judges would offer them a way to avoid the death penalty, if they would only renounce their “heretical” convictions (and this happened quite often), there were still those who refused to recant. For such Gnostics, inwardly experienced Truth was more precious than life. Indeed, it was worth dying for – for it was eternal, whereas physical life was only transitory.

For almost 2,000 years almost all that was known about the Gnostics came from the critics of gnosticism, primarily a man named Irenaeus. In fact, the main reason we know of Irenaeus today is because he railed against the Gnostics and wrote a series of books called Against Heresies around 200 AD. He was a ‘Church Father’, considered instrumental in the forming of early Christian orthodoxy – and would eventually be declared a saint. Gnostic scriptures and spiritual writings were largely destroyed from 200 AD forward, so the various sects of Gnosticism never really got a chance to speak for themselves … until 1945.

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In 1945, in Egypt, thirteen leather-bound papyrus codices containing original Gnostic thought and including the only known complete copy of the Gospel of Thomas was discovered. The discovery would be called the Library of Nag Hammett. For the first time Gnostic scriptures could be studied scholars. It has become a chance for the Gnostics to speak for themselves. Unsurprising, scholars have discovered not all that has been written about the Gnostics was true. What was true is that the Gnostics did, indeed, have a unique perspective on Christianity. There is no question that much of Christian Gnostic metaphysics, philosophy and mythology is contrary to today’s interpretation of Christianity. After all, Gnosticism comes from a time before the Bible, before the orthodox Church, in a time when many were discussing, learning and exploring the meaning of the appearance of a ‘Christ’ on earth.

Time will tell if other Gnostic discoveries arise. It appears the Christian Gnostic rebellion continues.

If you would like to talk with a psychic who has a rich appreciation for Christianity, call Psychic Rheda at 1-866-407-7164. You might also appreciate talking with Psychic Teelia who is great with Tarot and working with spirit guides. Give her a call at 1-866-327-9032.

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