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Re: [GTh] What is Gnosticism?

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  • Mark M. Mattison
    I wonder whether the term Gnostic is helpful in any case. The term Gnosticism isn t an ancient label, and it seems that very few of those in antiquity whom
    Message 1 of 12 , Apr 13, 2012
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      I wonder whether the term "Gnostic" is helpful in any case.

      The term "Gnosticism" isn't an ancient label, and it seems that very
      few of those in antiquity whom we call "Gnostics" actually used that
      terms of themselves. The labels seem to carry so much polemical
      "baggage" at this point that I wonder if it would be better to speak
      simply of "Valentinianism," "Sethianism," etc., rather than
      "Valentinian Gnosticism," etc.

      Just thinking aloud.

      -Mark
    • Bob Schacht
      ... Maybe I m just thinking under the influence of Pagels, but I thought that the big deal about Gnosticism was the secrecy-- the special gnosis that you had
      Message 2 of 12 , Apr 13, 2012
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        At 05:27 AM 4/13/2012, Mark M. Mattison wrote:
        I wonder whether the term "Gnostic" is helpful in any case.

        The term "Gnosticism" isn't an ancient label, and it seems that very
        few of those in antiquity whom we call "Gnostics" actually used that
        terms of themselves. The labels seem to carry so much polemical
        "baggage" at this point that I wonder if it would be better to speak
        simply of "Valentinianism," "Sethianism," etc., rather than
        "Valentinian Gnosticism," etc.

        Just thinking aloud.

        Maybe I'm just thinking under the influence of Pagels, but I thought that the big deal about Gnosticism was the secrecy-- the special gnosis that you had to have for salvation. This is in contrast with the developing catholic churches, which were open book. I don't know how early it became a slogan, but the idea that the Canon included all necessary and sufficient information for salvation impressed me as the counter-argument in chief.

        Of course, for this argument to be conclusive, they had to have a canon. And it was my impression that one of the forces driving the development of the Canon was exactly this point-- to exclude secret books or letters from being necessary or sufficient for salvation.

        From this perspective, trying to define gnosis in theological or metaphysical terms is pointless-- because we outsiders are not meant to know the secrets. And whatever we think we know about Gnostic theology is probably wrong or secondary.

        So, that's my thinking out loud.

        Bob Schacht
        Northern Arizona University
      • Mike Grondin
        ... Strictly speaking, you may be right, but gnostic and gnosis were ancient ... As to gnosis , I believe that Clement of Alexandria referred to the
        Message 3 of 12 , Apr 13, 2012
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          [Mark Mattison]:
          > The term "Gnosticism" isn't an ancient label ...
           
          Strictly speaking, you may be right, but 'gnostic' and 'gnosis' were ancient
          labels. In Against All Heresies (1.29) Irenaeus writes (about Ap.John):
           
          > multitudo Gnosticorum Barbelo exsurrexit ...
          ... which translates as something like:
          > a multitude of Barbeloite Gnostics have sprung up ...
           
          As to 'gnosis', I believe that Clement of Alexandria referred to "the so-called
          'gnosis'", although I can't lay my hands on it at the moment. This is not to
          say that 'gnostic' is a useful term, but just that it was in use, even if its form
          'gnosticism' may not have been.
           
          Mike Grondin
           
        • Mark M. Mattison
          Gnosis is used in that way in texts like 1 Timothy 5:20. It was certainly an important term, perhaps a technical term even, but I wonder about the
          Message 4 of 12 , Apr 13, 2012
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            "Gnosis" is used in that way in texts like 1 Timothy 5:20. It was
            certainly an important term, perhaps a technical term even, but I
            wonder about the heresiologists' use of the label. How many of these
            groups actually identified themselves as "Gnostics"?

            -Mark

            On 4/13/12, Mike Grondin <mwgrondin@...> wrote:
            > [Mark Mattison]:
            >> The term "Gnosticism" isn't an ancient label ...
            >
            > Strictly speaking, you may be right, but 'gnostic' and 'gnosis' were ancient
            > labels. In Against All Heresies (1.29) Irenaeus writes (about Ap.John):
            >
            >> multitudo Gnosticorum Barbelo exsurrexit ...
            > ... which translates as something like:
            >> a multitude of Barbeloite Gnostics have sprung up ...
            >
            > As to 'gnosis', I believe that Clement of Alexandria referred to "the
            > so-called
            > 'gnosis'", although I can't lay my hands on it at the moment. This is not to
            > say that 'gnostic' is a useful term, but just that it was in use, even if
            > its form
            > 'gnosticism' may not have been.
            >
            > Mike Grondin
            >
          • Mike Grondin
            ... No, not Pearson - Jordan Stratford. Pearson (according to Judy Redman) has four criteria, the one of which Judy employs against Jordan s position is this:
            Message 5 of 12 , Apr 13, 2012
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              [Bruce Brooks]:
               
              > Pearson (it seems) relies on the formula “gnosis saves,”
              ...
               
              No, not Pearson - Jordan Stratford. Pearson (according to Judy Redman) has four
              criteria, the one of which Judy employs against Jordan's position is this:
               
              ·         A dualistic way of looking at God – there is a super-transcendent supreme God utterly alien
               to the world and a lower deity who is responsible for creating and governing the world
               
              If I may also use this note to add a little something I left out of my earlier note to
              Mark Mattison, the Irenaeus quotation is from Appendix 4 of an invaluable source
              for (and titled) The Apocryphon of John, edited by Michael Waldstein and Frederik
              Wisse. Published by Brill in 1995, it has the lengthy subtitle 'Synopsis of Nag Hammadi
              Codices II,1; III,1; and IV,1 with BG 8502,2'. Anyone seriously interested in Ap.John,
              a text that surely meets Pearson's criteria, should have access to this book. It contains
              both source-language and English translations, comparing (as the subtitle indicates)
              four versions of Ap.John, with indices of Coptic and Greek words, and a number of
              other valuable add-ons. In the article I'm currently working on, I suggest that it was
              Ap.John's interest in numbers that inspired the numerically-based hidden structures
              that appear only in Coptic Thomas (which of course follows Ap.John in Codex II).
               
              Mike Grondin
            • Mike Grondin
              ... I m not aware that they identified themselves as anything, perhaps because they thought of themselves as individuals rather than as members of a group.
              Message 6 of 12 , Apr 13, 2012
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                [Mark Mattison]: 
                > "Gnosis" is used in that way in texts like 1 Timothy 5:20. It
                was
                > certainly an important term, perhaps a technical term even, but
                I
                > wonder about the heresiologists' use of the label. How many of
                these
                > groups actually identified themselves as "Gnostics"?
                 
                I'm not aware that they identified themselves as anything, perhaps because
                they thought of themselves as individuals rather than as members of a group.
                But, BTW, I can't find 'gnosis' in 1 Tim 5:20 ("Those who sin are to be
                rebuked publicly, so that others may take warning.")
                 
                Mike
              • Mike McLafferty
                Mike Grondin wrote : *** ... [...] As to gnosis , I believe that Clement of Alexandria referred to the so-called gnosis , although I can t lay my hands on
                Message 7 of 12 , Apr 13, 2012
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                  Mike Grondin wrote:

                   

                  ***

                  [...] In Against All Heresies (1.29) Irenaeus writes (about Ap.John):

                  > multitudo Gnosticorum Barbelo exsurrexit ...

                  [...] As to 'gnosis', I believe that Clement of Alexandria referred to "the so-called
                  'gnosis'", although I can't lay my hands on it at the moment. This is not to
                  say that 'gnostic' is a useful term, but just that it was in use, even if its form
                  'gnosticism' may not have been.

                  ***


                  MM: I think you're referring to Irenaeus himself, in 'Against Heresies' (fully titled 'On the Detection and Overthrow of /Knowledge Falsely So Called/') [/tes pseudoonymou gnooseoos/] which quotes 1 Tim 6:20.

                   

                  --M. McLafferty

                   
                • Mark M. Mattison
                  Mike, sorry, that was a typo, I meant 1 Timothy 6:20. -Mark
                  Message 8 of 12 , Apr 13, 2012
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                    Mike, sorry, that was a typo, I meant 1 Timothy 6:20.

                    -Mark
                  • Mike Grondin
                    ... Thanks, Mike, for correcting me and also Mark s citation. For those who don t have their Bible at hand: Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your
                    Message 9 of 12 , Apr 13, 2012
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                      > MM: I think you're referring to Irenaeus himself, in 'Against
                      Heresies' (fully titled
                      > 'On the Detection and Overthrow of /Knowledge Falsely So
                      Called/') [/tes
                      > pseudoonymou gnooseoos/] which quotes 1 Tim 6:20.
                       
                      Thanks, Mike, for correcting me and also Mark's citation. For those who don't have their
                      Bible at hand:
                       
                      "Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter
                      and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge ('gnosis'), which some have
                      professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith."
                       
                      Mike Grondin
                    • Judy Redman
                      Bruce says: Judy Redman s recent interchange with others on the GThomas list brings up, at least for me, the root question of What is Gnosticism? Pearson (it
                      Message 10 of 12 , Apr 13, 2012
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                        Bruce says:

                        Judy Redman’s recent interchange with others on the GThomas list brings up, at least for me, the root question of What is Gnosticism? Pearson (it seems) relies on the formula “gnosis saves,” whereas Judy, while conceding a “significant ascetical emphasis” in Thomas, finds “no evidence of the cosmogony that has the earth created and overseen by a secondary divine being.” Such is the width and variety of current criteria. I think it is quite possible that the root Gnostic idea had several forms in several places, so that we may be better referring to Type A Gnosticism, etc, than always to the generic term. Indeed, I seem to hear that there is Jewish Gnosticism as well as Christia n Gnosticism. To me this suggests the need to refine categories, and not always use the generic term to decide particular cases.

                        But perhaps the generic term itself could still be sharpened.

                        [Judy:] Pearson certainly differentiates between different kinds of gnosis. He looks at Sethian gnosis, Basilides and Basilidian gnosis, Valentinus and Valentinian gnosis; what he calls ‘three-principle systems’, under which he includes the Naasenes, the Peratics, the Docetists, Monoimus the Arabian and the Paraphrase of Shem (I haven’t read the book for some time so I am not sure exactly what he says about these). He then looks at various Coptic gnostic texts of uncertain affiliation, Hermes Trismegistus and Hermetic gnosis, Mani and Manichaeism, Thomas Christianity, and finally at the Mandaeans. He says ”The Gospel of Thomas is not a Gnostic text, though some scholars argue that it is. But there is no doctrine of pleromatic emanations in it, no Sophia myth, and no ignorant or malevolent Demiurge. What it does share is the emphasis on self-knowledge, but that is not something specific to Gnosticism as we have defined it” (p 257). He also identifies the doctrine of the soul in Thomas as one that is rooted in Middle Platonism.

                        Judy__

                      • richfaussette
                        Hi Judy, I was drawn here initially because of the similarities between Zen koans and some of the GofT logions. I went back to DT Suzuki the Zen master and
                        Message 11 of 12 , Apr 19, 2012
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                          Hi Judy,

                          I was drawn here initially because of the similarities between Zen koans and some of the GofT logions. I went back to DT Suzuki the Zen master and read his history of the development of the koan. He writes that the koans were employed to maintain the direct Zen experience that was being lost through excessive textual intellectualization; which is to say that there were so many different intellectual explanations of what Zen was that Zen got lost in them. The koans were created to provide a glimpse *of* the Zen experience rather than talking *about* what it was to maintain the target experience that was being lost in the multiplicity of philosophies that had proliferated to attain it.

                          "...With the growth of Zen literature it was perfectly natural now for Zen followers to begin to attempt an intellectual solution or interpretation of it... This was disastrous, yet inevitable. Therefore, the zen master who wished for the normal development of Zen consciousness and the vigorous growth of Zen tradition would not fail to recognize rightly the actual state of things, and to devise such a method as to achieve finally the attainment of Zen truth... The worst enemy of Zen experience, at least in the beginning, is the intellect, which consists and insists in discriminating subject from object. The discriminating intellect, therefore, must be cut short if Zen consciousness is to unfold itself, and the koan is constructed eminently to serve this end."
                          From Zen Buddhism, DT Suzuki, Doubleday, page 136

                          Suzuki relates the coming of the Bodhi-dharma to China from the west in AD 520.

                          "He [Bodhi-dharma] came to China with a special message which is summed up in the following lines:

                          'A special transmission outside the scriptures;
                          No dependence on words and letters;
                          Direct pointing at the soul of Man;
                          Seeing into one's nature and the attainment of Buddhahood.'

                          In Romans, Paul, like the founder of Zen Buddhism in China, also eschews the written law for the law written on the human heart:

                          "... a letter written not with ink but with the spirit of the living god; written not on stone tablets but on the pages of the human heart." 2 Cor. 3:3

                          Notice that Paul's faith is also 'a special transmission outside the scriptures.'

                          Hebrews 12:5 reads:
                          "You have forgotten the text of Scripture which addresses you as sons and appeals to you in these words:

                          'My son, do not think lightly of the Lord's discipline,
                          nor lose heart when he corrects you;
                          for the Lord disciplines those he loves;
                          he lays the rod on every son whom he acknowledges.'
                          You must endure it as discipline: God is treating you as sons. Can anyone be a son, who is not disciplined by his father?"

                          The gnosis is a self sacrifical state achieved through discipline. Gnosticisms are philosophies *about* the gnosis but not *of* the gnosis, so I think it is misleading to talk of a Sethian gnosis or a Valentinian gnosis. It is more helpful to say: Sethian gnosticism or Valentinian gnosticism, because at its core, the gnosis is the same regardless of the system (the -ism) created to explicate it.

                          It helps to separate the personal gnosis which is a state achieved via discipline from gnosticisms and their texts which contain cosmogonies and philosophies that purport to talk *about* a gnostic system but do little to portray the state *of* gnosis.

                          Here is where the the Gospel of Thomas logions, particularly the paradoxes, function like the Zen koans. They are literary devices that provide a glimpse into the state *of* gnosis which is achieved via self-sacrificial discipline; the same way Zen enlightenment is achieved.

                          "When such problems [as we find in koans] are presented to the uninitiated for solution, what is the object of the master? The idea is to unfold the Zen psychology in the mind of the uninitiated and to reproduce the state of consciousness, of which these statements are the expression. That is to say, when the koans are understood, the master's [Jesus'! /rf] state of mind is understood, which is satori (enlightenment) and without which Zen is a sealed book."

                          Zen is the "seeing into own's own nature." The Greeks from whom we get the word "gnosis" said "know thyself."

                          The Gospel of Thomas, in light of the history of the Zen koan, was apparently written by a religious man who was concerned that the essence of the Jesus experience had been allegorized and over-intellectualized and was in danger of being lost. He compiled these sayings, some of which also became Zen koans, to help a disciple get directly to the core of the self sacrifical experience without the impediment of intellectualization.


                          Regards,
                          Rich Faussette
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