Re: Gnostic beliefs on matter
You raise a good point for clarification concerning an ambiguos use
of "tradition" on my part. I do think it is possible to draw a
distinction between "historical" Gnosticism and "traditional"
Gnosticism and when done, the tension of which I spoke might become
Historical Gnosticism existed in a place (Easterm Mediterranean?) and
time (a couple, three centuries on both sides of the time of Jesus?)
and what we know about it is contained in books (New Testament, Nag
Hammadi, Oxyrhynchus, etc.). When speaking of Historical Gnosticism,
we can be very specific, though what we say may differ significantly
based on our interest, hermeneutic, agenda, etc. Whatever we say,
however, must confine itself to this historical time and place and
documents. This is the reason d'etre of this particular list.
Historical Gnosticism, however, is the historical artifact of a
living tradition and historical Gnosticism is only one window into
this tradition. Within this historical window, we hear of this thing
called "gnosis" that cannot be expressed nor contained by words.
Traditional Gnosticism begins with the rumors and glimpses of this
gnosis as expressed culturally in Historical Gnosticism and attempts
to trace it through the ages and even into the present in hopes of
living it. Traditional Gnosticism is the lived and living gnosis of
which Historical Gnosticism, as described above, is only a snapshot
in a given time and place and as contained in certain documents.
Without anchoring itself to this historical "snapshot," however,
Traditional Gnosticism loses its connection with Gnosticism and
merely becomes a generic from of spirituality or mysticism.
I'm rambling now, but it is when this connection is lost or ignored
in the modern and current expression of a spiritual experience that
the person can no longer claim to have a Gnostic experience, but at
most an experience of gnosis, which has become synonymous with a
As for the tension of which I spoke: Historical Gnosticism is an
account of applied Gnosticism as practiced in a certain time and
place and as contained in certain documents; Traditional Gnosticism
attempts to take those historical practices and apply them in the
here and now as possibly adapted to fit the current culture.
The raison d'etre of this list is Historical Gnosticism; the grace of
this list is that it allows for Traditional Gnosticism; anathema on
this list is modern experiences of gnosis with no grounding in
Gnosticism, whether Historical or Traditional.
I hope this provides some clarification on my use.
--- In email@example.com, pmcvflag <no_reply@...> wrote:
> Hey Mark
> >>>I would also see intellect and critical perspective as
> attributes, along with will, of historical Gnosis. Saying
> that "books have nothing to do with gnosis" is like saying that a
> river's banks have nothing to do with the direction the water
> There will always be a tension between traditional Gnosis and
> applied gnosis today in part because traditional Gnosis had much to
> do with application.<<<
> Although I find the tension you are talking about to be a bit odd,
> think there is no question that it is there in many cases. I have
> theories, but I see no reason to foist them into the conversation
> this point.
> I have a question for the sake of clarification. I get the
> impression that when you say "traditional" you may not only be
> meaning "historical". Is that true? The reason I say that is
> obviously there would be no tension on the part of historical
> Gnostics in this case.
> That could be a good arbitrary definition in this forum, and I
> believe it may have come up in the past. It could help us make an
> even further destinction between the entirely modern "gnostics"
> have very little in common with the historical meaning of the term,
> and some modern groups that a bit closer to the thinking of
> historical movements and ideas.
> Or maybe that would just confuse the issue, I don't know. I am
> always looking for ways to make the lingo a bit more specific
> because some of the differences really do confuse a lot of people
> who are less familiar with the hisorical texts and groups.
- Hey Mark
>>>At times when reading the Gnostic texts and some of theirinterpreters, I often wonder to what degree an "historical" Gnostic
practitioner might have presented, or appeared, as a modern day
Could you help me by telling me what you mean by "charismatic"? I am
not sure if you mean this in the generic, or if you mean it in the
modern evangelical sense, or if you mean it etymologically.
>>>Thus, I think experience was important, maybe even critical, toHistorical Gnosticism. But such an experience only helped to start
them on the path, and it was not the whole of the path. If you want
to find a person who has lost faith, then find a charismatic who can
no longer experience the "Spirit." I think Historical Gnosticism
would agree with the idea that faith may be initiated through an
experience, but faith grows through an act of will. Experience is
the proverbial icing on the cake. Without a doubt, beautiful and
delicious, but without a substance that sustains and nurishes.<<<
This could raise an interesting question for another thread. One may
wonder exactly what function pistis, praxis, and gnosis have in the
larger concept of Gnosis (with a capital "G") for historical (and
traditional) practitioners. Is there a correct mix or specific
interaction that one can find stated (or even implied) in the texts?
>>>I am a fairly firm believer that every generation castratesthe previous one in order to individuate themselves. Or to put it
differently, each generation has the right or obligation to recast in
their own terms/lingo that which their ancestors held as sacred.
This is not the same as rejecting. Many, perhaps due to an
intellectual laziness, find it easier simply to reject tradition,
instead of re-interpreting it. Tradition, in its most meanigful
sense, however, is this very process of re-interpretation through
Interesting point. I find I can't disagree.
There is, as you point out, a move to reject all notion
of "tradition" itself. I find it interesting that the rhetoric used
in these cases are very often based on singular experience and a
reaction against that experience (people who were raised with strict
fundementalist backgrounds). This is then cast in a lingo that is
very closely related to racist doctrins, i.e., all notion of
tradition or structure of any sort must be spiritually dead (the
proof being their personal experience with one single false claim)
and need not be examined or understood before making such a
More important to our subject is how shockingly many people who are
interested in Gnosticism are very much using Gnosticism (and by this
I mean the historical texts) as a weapon for this kind of reaction
without really wanting to try and understand the texts in and of
themselves (I am tempted to call it the Da Vinci code complex, but
maybe there are better terms).
>>>When it comes to the questions of what is outdated and what mustbe changed, I think we need to be careful to distinguish between
the "form" of the Gnostic "truths" and the "content" of those
truths. In other words, there were many social and political norms
that "formed" the Gnostic content and we must account for these,
which is the domain of hermeneutics. Nonetheless, I think there are
some spiritual truths that worked then and that work now, regardless
of the "forming" influence of culture. In this sense, these texts
are not just "moldy old texts and docrines," but give "form" to a
spiritual "content" that speaks to us today.<<<
In the end, that may be key to the whole issue. When you state this,
though, do you have any specific examples in mind? If not, could we
impose upon you to find a couple? It seems to me that the point may
be too core to the conversation to be left abstract.
>>>What is the "truth" the texts intend?<<<Well, I guess I could counter by asking "what is truth", but I think
Darkchylde already does this. Frankly, though, it isn't so much my
point. Rather, I was trying to raise the question of whether the
authors of the texts believed in a "truth" or whether they were
relativists like the modern popular postmodernists (or maybe bits of
To be fair, let me try to give my own perspective on the texts and
some examples of what they may posit as "truths".
For one, I think they intend their cosmology as a genuine
functional "truth" (whether that cosmology is literal or allegorical
may be a different question, but from the functional perspective it
may not matter).
I think they intend to offer a specific soteriology as a literal
truth based directly on the functionality of the cosmology (again,
whether that cosmology is literal or allegorical).
I am open to debate on these points, as always, but I just wanted to
offer what I think to be the intended function of many of these
texts so that it doesn't seem like I am standing outside the issue.