new Hoeller book
- i just picked up a copy of the new Stephen Hoeller book, "Gnosticism: New
Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing," which is supposed to be
his attempt at a good introductory text on Gnosticism. he says himself in
the intro that it's not written in academic style, and that it's written
for a larger audience. it seems like it will be more a presentation of the
Hoeller system than one that the scholars will accept. i came across a
passage that seems a bit suspect:
"These texts proclaim the existence of a transcendent and totally benign
God, a substratum of reality that is unchanging and immeasurable,
transcending any particularity or limiting imposition one might attribute
to it. It goes without saying that this God image is quite incompatible
with the image of an arbitrary, tyrannical personal God in whom, to say
the least, good and evil seem to be liberally mixed." (11).
here, Hoeller says that Gnostic texts speak of a God that cannot be
limited or qualified, but he also says that it is a totally benign God. he
contradicts himself in the same sentence by limiting and qualifying the
Infinite. by calling the Infinite benign, he makes it out to be more of a
Good Christian God. he also seems to say that good and evil cannot be
mixed in the transcendent God (he is emphasizing the good over the
evil). in one way he is right i guess, since at the level of the Infinite,
good and evil actualized cannot be mixed, being finite categories that do
not apply. i don't think he meant it that way though.
i'm expecting this to be a bit new agey and fluffy bunny presentation of
Gnosticism (i hope he proves me wrong). he did have a cute little image of
the night sky being a sea of blackness (the Limit?) in which tiny
holes are poked and through which the light of the transcendent God passes
to us below via the stars. is this an image that anyone has seen
in Gnostic myths before, or is this a new Hoellerism? really, i think its
cute and romantic, but is it Gnostic?
- Ah, the confusion here is arising over word usage. "Gnosticism", is
not the same as "Gnostics" nor "Gnosis". This may sound like
splitting hairs, but the destinction is important. While the latter
two are historical, the word "Gnosticism" is the modern one and it's
purpose is to classify a number of groups via beliefs that we equate
as historically related... even though the groups in question did not
appear to do so (BTW, I mean 18th century.. not 1800s). In other
words, Carpocratians, Valintinians, and Sethians didn't seem to
go "look, we three groups hail under the rubric 'Gnosticism', so lets
just come together".
As a side note, notice even in these examples of people calling
themselves "Gnostics" that the description doesn't necessarily apply
to the group. For example....
>Epiphanius says that the Valentinians called themselves by thename "Gnostics": "... the Valentinians, who also call themselves
Gnostics..." (Panarion 31.1.1). "They say that they are the
spiritual class, as well as 'Gnostics'...' (Pan. 31.7.8). He also
claims -- Pan. 31.1.3 -- Basilides and others used "Gnostic" as a
A careful reading shows that the term "self-appellation" is probably
to be taken VERY litterally. In other words, Valintinians more likely
called themselves, individually, "Gnostics" (like "Pneumatic"), not
thier movement. It is also noteworthy that the examples we have are
not generally demonstrated in actual "Gnostic" sources.
For a more complete treatment of this subject, there is a whole book
on the matter that you can read. Take a look at "Rethinking
Gnosticism" by Michael Williams, it will clear up the confusion
better than I can.
--- In gnosticism2@y..., incognito_lightbringer <no_reply@y...> wrote:
> I am getting confused as to where the term gnostic first appeared
> (and whether this is one of those things that scholars just can't
> agree on??). I've read in several places that gnosticism is a more
> less modern designation. PMCV thinks so (quote below). But what
> groups that labeled themselves gnostic, and what would that
> I pulled the following from a poster off another message board:
> <<Porphyry gave the
> title "Against the Gnostics" to Plotinus' _Enneads_ 2.9 --
> originally called "Against Those That Affirm the Creator of the
> Cosmos and the Cosmos Itself To Be Evil."
> A number of groups who are now known as "gnostic" used the
> term gnostikos to label themselves. Hippolytus names the
> Naasenes (RH 5.1.1.; 5.6) and the Justinians (RH 5.18).
> Clement of Alexandria says that Prodicus and his followers
> "falsely claim the name of Gnostics for themselves."
> (Stromata 3.30.)
> Irenaeus names the Marcellians (which is to
> say the group of Carpocratians following Marcellina), who
> "style themselves Gnostics" (AH 1.25.6)
> Origen writes, "There are some who give themselves out as Gnostics"
> (see Contra Celsus 5.61), Christians "who deny that our God is the
> same as that of the Jews."
> Epiphanius says that the Valentinians called themselves by
> the name "Gnostics": "... the Valentinians, who also call
> themselves Gnostics..." (Panarion 31.1.1). "They say that they
> are the spiritual class, as well as 'Gnostics'...' (Pan.
> 31.7.8). He also claims -- Pan. 31.1.3 -- Basilides and others
> used "Gnostic" as a self-appellation.
> Then there are the Mandaeans. "Mandayi," which means "the
> knowing ones, the gnostics" Rudolph says it's "of more recent date"
> (Gnosis 343 -- that's his translation), but it can't be too late,
> since it turns up in the Book of John.
> Also note how Irenaeus uses the term. He refers again and
> again to people "who are falsely called gnostics."
> PMCV previously wrote #6248:
> <<That is of course a whole conversation in and of itself, but lets
> boil it down to the most basic elements. There are a very few
> historic groups who appear to have called themselves "Gnostic", but
> most of the groups we categorize as such did not. The groups that
> so seemed to be referring to a function rather than thier movement
> (with one possible exception). Of the groups that did appear to
> themselves "Gnostic" (or rather the individuals in the group
> themselves such), they did not seem to relate themselves to the
> groups that did so, and there is no historical reference to a
> categorization of "Gnosticism".
> The term "Gnosticism" first appears in the 1800s, when scholors
> reseraching the syncratism of the late antiquities needed a term to
> refer to common elements in a certain set of movments. Since that
> time the words usage has been refined a few times in the academic
> community (including the most well known "Messina" deffinition).
> club loosens that definition considerably, and is not so strict as
> purely academic club would be, but still uses the basic outline. A
> quick guideline you can use to know what I'm talking about is to
> at a movement via it's cosmogeny, world view, and most importantly
> its soteriology.