Against Gnosticism

Sagesound – was the purpose of copy/pasting that selection to show Christianity sometimes being influenced by ideas which conflicted with Christ’s teaching? Because – if it was to lend support to Gnosticism – it failed utterly (did you read it?). Perhaps it was a display of intellectual honesty – presenting a view opposed to Gnosticism? Are you Unitarian or Gnostic or neither or … whut?

I would say that this particular selection you have chosen, presents Gnosticism as being the religion (not sure if that is a correct way to classify it) most opposed to Christ’s teachings.

I wouldn’t, however, use it as a source myself since it is utterly packed and running over its brim with falsities.

Now – I’m waiting on you to defend your argument that “the teachings of the early church have some contradictions with the teachings of Christ.” Still don’t feel like it just yet – or have you been working on it?

Take care.

[edit]forgot to reply to this question[/edit]

– Sagesound

I replied in the post right before the one in which you re-asked this question.

Somewhat… I actually wanted to just give you something to chew on for a while because trying to convince you of something I know you’ll never understand is a huge waste of my time.

Again, I just wanted you to go run in a circle and get agitated a little like I know you are. The guy has some interesting points, but not exactly the points that I would have spoken of.

Neither. I’m agnostic.

Like I asked before, was the comment about John not good enough for you? And you’ve said this…

I didn’t really find anything in that post you mentioned that was in regards to the comment on Paul…
…but if you really want an answer, how about this: John instituted the concepts of original sin and the foundation of what became the trinity, facilitating the concept of the belief in or of Jesus Christ rather than the following of his teachings. To get to the point, what Christ never spoke of, he put in Christ’s mouth in a manner of speaking… granting the influence to the early churches. Let’s face it, John used Christ as a stepstool to preach to the masses his own version of what he thought Christianity should be. Really, this says it all right here.

I’m sure Gnostics think of Christians as heretical… While Gnosticism is different from mainstream Pauline Christianity, one has to wonder why people like you get all wound up over it. Really, why not go around bashing all religious beliefs different from Christianity… oh wait… you already do that don’t you? Hmmm… not very Christ-like.

It is entirely possible that Christian Gnosticism sprung out from the idea that the feminine is superior to the masculine, and that this would jeopardize the power that Paul had… so to maintain his power, he had to make very direct comments about not just Christian Gnosticism, but all of Gnosticism. Would you accept that possibility?

Let’s get down to the bottom line… show me a passage where Christ himself spoke or did anything in terms of persecution of another belief system. Did he ever speak out against the Roman Gods calling them heresies to the divinity of himself? (That would have been interesting.)


I’m not sure why he copied and pasted the material he did, either, when of far more significance to the discussion is the material linked at the bottom of his post, called “Pauline Christianity.” What that material does, is to call into question any claims of any church in existence today to be genuinely orthodox in the sense of Christ’s teachings, or in a position to judge any teaching as heretical.

In essence, the history of the formation of the churches is as follows:

The Apostles and other followers of Jesus formed a community after the crucifiction of Jewish Nazarenes; these were a Jewish sect, not a separate religion (although the Jewish authorities considered them heretical). They followed Mosaic law, and although they revered Jesus as their founder and a great prophet and teacher, they had no concept of his divinity.

Paul, after his conversion, appointed himself the Apostle to the Gentiles, and created a new religion based on Jesus’ teachings but stripped of their Jewish elements. Over the first three centuries CE, churches descended from Paul’s mission spread throughout the Roman Empire. By the time Constantine began his efforts to unify the Church to serve the purposes of the Empire, Pauline Christianity was very diverse. One of the forms it engendered was Gnosticism.

Actually Gnosticism preexisted Christianity, Gnostics simply borrowed some Christian images and ideas because they were appropriate and powerful tools for the Work. Gnosis is more basic than any mere religious doctrine. I’ll come back to it shortly, but first a little more on the development of Christianity.

Pauline Christianity, prior to the reforms of Constantine, had no New Testament and no established creed. Once Paul himself was dead, it was allowed to diversify wildly. Some churches were communistic communities. Others blended economically with the community, owned slaves, etc. Some were individualistic, democratic organizations coming together only in faith and love. Others were more organized, doctrinaire, and authoritarian. It was the latter churches necessarily that generated the “bishops” who came to Nicaea on Constantine’s call to hammer out a unified creed.

When Constantine became Emperor, he designed to craft Christianity into a state religion for the Empire, to replace the old Roman pagan faith that no longer commanded allegiance. Christianity as it existed at the time was too diverse to permit that. The first Ecumenical Council at Nicaea called together the authority figures of the authoritarian churches, who discussed things and emerged with the Nicene Creed, and eventually with the New Testament, selected from among the various Christian writings then in circulation. This was the beginning of what I call the Imperial Church.

Under later Christian Emperors, the Imperial Church persecuted Christians who did not follow its doctrines, backed by the power of the state. Eventually, it also persecuted pagans and other non-Christians, forcing all residents of the Empire to be Christian or suffer punishment.

After the fall of the Western Empire and the rise of the Popes, the Imperial Church split into two branches, the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches. Both branches retained the doctrinaire, authoritarian leaning of the original Imperial Church, but differed in other ways, most obviously that the Orthodox Church rejects the authority of the Pope.

The Protestant Reformation occurred in Catholic territory and represented a rebellion against the Roman Catholic Church; all Protestant churches, therefore, are “the Roman Catholic Church amended as follows,” however different they may seem. They all use the Bible consolidated by the Imperial Church, and start with Roman Catholic doctrine, defining their independent existence in terms of where they disagree with that doctrine.

The point of all this is that of all the Christian groups that have ever existed, the original Jewish Christians of Judea have by far the strongest claim to be true to Jesus’ teachings. All versions of Pauline Christianity have a weaker claim, and anything filtered through the processing that led to the Imperial Church and its later schismatics a weaker claim still.

Quite frankly, this calls your entire argument against Gnosticism into question. That it diverges from so-called orthodox Christian teaching is obvious – but so what?

Of far more interest to me is the question, not of Gnosticism as Christian heresy, but of Gnosis as opposed to revelation. This goes very much to the core of the dispute, and why the Gnostics were condemned as heretics by the authoritarians within Pauline Christianity who later founded the Imperial Church under Constantine. The Imperial Church and its successors see Truth as something that could be revealed by God to certain human beings, and communicated in words to other human beings. (For purpose of this discussion, I’m going to call this view Revelationism and its believers Revelationists, just for convenience.) The Gnostics see Truth as something that can indeed be revealed, but cannot be communicated, and so in the end must be discovered each for himself or herself, in direct experience of God.

Revelationists see Gnosticism as leading people astray, away from the truth revealed to the prophets and communicated in sacred word. Gnostics see Revelationists as enamored of the dead letter, and blinding people to the direct experience that is the only way to Know. This conflict is not confined to Christianity, because not all Gnostics are Christian. The Sufis can be considered Gnostics, for example, and run into conflicts with orthodox Muslims along the same lines.

If you would be interested in steering the discussion in this direction, I would be happy to participate. If you only want to discuss Gnosticism in terms of whether it is or isn’t a Christian heresy, then I don’t see that there is any discussion to be done; Christian doctrine being what it is, formed in the crucible of Empire, Gnosticism most definitely is a heresy and that’s the end of that matter. But quite honestly, I don’t care.


Doesn’t your second sentence erase the effect of your first? If Jesus didn’t even comment on the obvious false and heretical nature of Roman polytheism, then we can’t expect Him to have anything to say on Gnosticism, or other relatively minor deviations, right?

That’s only true if you begin with the assumption – backed up by no evidence whatsoever – that Jesus considered Roman polytheism “obviously false and heretical.”


Of course I don’t supply any evidence for that, because I consider it obvious. If you know what ‘Roman polytheism’ is, and you know what the word ‘heresy’ means, then yes, it should be obvious that Roman polytheism is fale and heretical from the perspective of Christianity. If you need evidence, it’s what the Roman polytheists believed, what Christians believe, and how they differ.

Uccisore, the point here is that the concept of “heresy” itself is not supported in Jesus’ teachings.

Actually, if you think about it, Jesus was himself a heretic. So obviously he wasn’t opposed to heresy.

 Yes, and the word 'Bible' doesn't appear in the Bible, either.  I think it's clear that the explicit concept of heresy had to be introduced after the end of Jesus teachings, as a way or expressing the resistance to corrupting those teachings. That Jesus wouldn't want His teachings corrupted is implicit in the fact that He bothered to teach them at all.   

You know that’s silly, right?

Nope, it’s not. And I don’t agree that Jesus wouldn’t have wanted his teachings “corrupted,” and I’ll explain why.

“Heresy” is a concept peculiar to authoritarian, dogmatic religions. It implies something beyond “we don’t agree with this.” It implies an authoritative possession of truth, which no one is allowed to question. It sets certain statements behind barriers, as off-limits to discussion.

A prophet, visionary, or innovator, like Jesus, has a mind-set completely contrary to this notion. To such a person, nothing is off-limits, nothing is immune to question. Jesus himself approached the Jewish religious authorities of the time (the priests, Pharisees, and lawyers) without any reverence and often with complete contempt, which in his view they deserved. That’s typical of the breed. The last thing such a person would ever want, is to become The Unquestionable Authority himself. Or no, that’s the second-last thing. The very last thing would be to die, and have someone else exalt himself as The Unquestionable Authority in the prophet’s name. Which is, of course, what happens, all too often. It happened in Judaism, which is why Jesus called the authorities of his time vipers, hypocrites, whitewashed tombs, and all those other friendly epithets.

What I’m saying here goes deeper than defense of any particular heretical idea. I’m saying that the very concept of “heresy” is an enemy of truth.

That you call the concept of heresy “an enemy of the truth” reveals much.
You notice that you said a lot about the kind of Church that has to exist in order for the concept of heresy to exist, but you said nothing at all about what heresy itself is? That’s because we’re equivocating on two different definitions of the term. In your mind, and the minds of others, to this point, heresy has meant “A heroic speaking out against the Evil Church Authority who tries to suppress the Truth.” Coming from that perspective, I can see what you mean.
But wait, if Heresy means that, then what’s the purpose of this thread? Someone says “Gnosticism is a heresy” and the Gnostics say “Hell yeah!”, end of story. But No. Because the above isn’t the definition of heresy, it’s a bunch of emotional baggage we’ve applied to the term. When one actually says it and means it

“Thou heretic”,

they’re talking about a sort of spiritual treason, which has at it’s heart falsehood. To say that Gnosticism is a heresy is to say that Gnosticism isn’t true, NOT that it’s the way to go if you’re the hip, rebellious type.
Luther would have never called himself a heretic. It was the Church, the Christian world, that was heretical and he was restoring it to Orthodoxy in his mind. Jesus never would have called Himself a heretic,
it was mankind’s very nature that was in heresy, and He was offering a way to Orthodoxy.

So, if ‘heresy’ denotes nothing more than speaking out against religious authority, then of course you aren’t going to see Jesus condemning the act. To that definition, He, and the first Christians that followed Him, were heretics. However, if heresy denotes spiritual falsehood, then it goes without saying that Jesus would be against it.

Precisely, and I believe I said as much above. From the perspective of orthodox Christianity, Gnosticism is a heresy.

Yes? And so?

But there’s still a discussion to be had on the subject of Gnosticism, and that covers the underlying reason WHY the Church regarded it as heresy – and I believe that has to do with the conflict between revelation and Gnosis.

Of course it is, but that’s just two different perspectives on the same thing. Because the Church says Gnosticism isn’t true, only because it diverges from authoritative Church doctrine. And so we come back to intellectual authoritarianism once more, without which no concept such as “heresy” can exist.

To compare Luther with Jesus doesn’t make a lot of sense, though. What you say about Luther is correct, in that Luther was an authoritarian all the way down. A symptom of this is that he was always reluctant to break with the Catholic Church. He saw himself as a reformer, and only formed a new church when events moved beyond what he instigated. He was also quite abominable in his behavior towards other Protestants more radical than himself.

However, I don’t believe it characterizes Jesus at all. Many of the metaphors he used in describing the Pharisees were anti-authoritarian, implying that they had arrogated to themselves an authority they did not rightfully possess. Nor did he assert that he, himself had such an authority – never did he condemn anyone merely for disagreeing with him; instead, he would argue with such people, and show why he believed they were wrong. A stronger contrast with Martin Luther could hardly be imagined; Luther was a Pharisee at heart.

It is that mind-set in particular which has no room for the concept of heresy.

But heresy does, in practice, mean going against doctrinal authority, and it becomes “spiritual falsehood” if and only if one accepts the claim of that authority that it uniquely possesses the truth.

Without that claim, a person might see something they believe to be wrong, and argue against it. But they would never call it “heresy,” because to do so is to claim for oneself the authority to determine what is true and what is false, and usually to back up that claim with rewards for orthodoxy and punishments for heresy.

By the way, just to make sure everything’s clear:

The fact that a religious authority calls an idea heretical does not, by itself, make that idea true or desirable. In fact, what I’m saying here is that it says NOTHING about the idea one way or another, except that the religious authority in question condemns it.

Ideally, for an idea to be proclaimed heretical should not make us either more or less likely to agree with it. The proclamation of heresy should not guide us in either direction. It should simply be ignored.

I noticed a post of mine about Madeleine was banned. Why?
Shez all there is to gnosticism. Isis.

Your points are well taken, Navigator. Yes, heresy implies something more than incorrectness, it implies a deviation from authority. What would the existence of a Christian God do to the concept of religious authority, though? Doesn’t putting a will and a mind as the ultimate reality sort of guarentee that those concepts will exist?
For example, Jesus, as seen as a reformer, still believed in a personal God (being one with Him will do that), and so, would still believe in the concept of an absolute religious authority, since that’s what God must be. Now, Jesus might see that there are no such infallible authorities on earth, but a deviation from God’s will would still meet the definition of heresy- and if we allow that the point of Jesus’ ministry was to make God’s will accessible to people in some degree, doesn’t it amount to the same thing?
Another way to say the same thing- suppose we grant that heresy is a deviation from a valid religious authority. Suppose further that we go back in time to the Church Fathers who were declaring this or that deviation from the norm to be heretical. Suppose we explain to them that the only valid religious authority is God Himself. Were we do to that, and were the Church Fathers to agree with us 100% on this matter, it wouldn’t change anything at all- even based on the premise of God being the only valid religious authority, they would still use the concept of heresy, and apply it to the exact same things they in fact ended up applying it to, yes?

No, because to do it that way makes no sense. The position of the Church is that God very much cares what religious beliefs people have, yet has also created human beings with critical minds, and furthermore He has not communicated “the truth” to most people directly. Now, there is a logical contradiction in this position, because God (if He exists) is certainly capable of making His wishes known, not merely through an old book, nor through a religious authority that – what an amazing coincidence! – also happens to be the one elevated by the Roman Empire, but directly, speaking from His mind to that of His children. Yet He does not. (In most cases.)

From this I can only conclude either that He does not exist, or that He does not much care what we believe intellectually about Him and chooses to let us employ our critical minds as He made them and work things out for ourselves. Perhaps He knows that our minds are incapable of understanding Him anyway, and so it is more important that we undergo the growth process of groping in the dark, than have the divine will revealed in a way we wouldn’t comprehend. Perhaps He made us with minds capable of independent thought for a good reason.

As observed above, God (if He exists) apparently doesn’t care all that much about our religious beliefs. And Jesus, being one with God, would be in a position to know that. There’s quite a lot in the Gospels to reinforce this idea, by the way. Jesus had little patience with i-dotters and t-crossers, who failed to understand the Law’s heart. What was the phrase? Straining at gnats and swallowing camels? Something like that?

What you are asserting here is that the Church was in a position to know the mind of God. I am entirely skeptical regarding that assertion. In fact, virtually my entire complaint about Christianity is that it tends to claim an authority to which it has no right. But again, this goes to the issue of revelation versus Gnosis.

To answer your question, the Church I am sure DOES believe God to be the only valid religious authority, but also believes that God has bestowed that authority on the Church. A claim with which I vehemently disagree. And so, while they might indeed apply the concept of heresy to the exact same things, they would be in error to do so.

:laughing: I think it’s time I wash my hands of this thread entirely… Navigator seems to be way more qualified to carry out this discussion. I might as well drop out of this discussion anyway since I’m going to be away from ILP for a while. Personal reasons…

I’m sure Nav is more than capable of adequately debating Ich… I look forward to reading more on the development of this thread when I get back.

Well, that’s not a logical contradiction, that’s a counter-intuitive situation, which is a big difference. But I don’t really see how that relates- Yes, if there’s a God as the Christian describe Him, then there is an ultimate authority on what religious beliefs a person ought to have, sure.

Unless I'm misreading you, you just argued that God would beam the knowledge directly into our heads if He really cared what we thought about religion, then gave two good reasons for why He would never do that. Which is exactly why it's not a contradiction in the first place. 
So God Incarnated one aspect of Himself as Jesus, and sent Him to Earth to teach the world that He doesn't care what we do? Talk about contradictions! Ok, technically that's not one either, but still. I don't think you can presume deism, and then go on to talk about Jesus as though He matters. 
Nonono, I'm just asserting that the [i]think[/i] they do. Whether or not it's true is irrelevant- my point is just that if you tell the Church that God Himself is the only legitimate religious authority, they'll keep doing as they  are doing, because they think their actions express the will of God. 

Yes, agreed, except with the ‘vehemently disagree’ part. Anyways, my whole point in bringing this up was to say that heresy, as used by the Church, does not mean a rebellion against fallible, man-made religious authority. It means a rebellion against God’s Truth. Now, if you disagree with the Church’s claim to authority, then you can argue correctly that heresy is in practice a deviation from man’s authority only, sure. But that’s still not what the word means when the Church uses it. To say that Gnosticism is a heresy means much more than “The Gnostics disagree with the Church”, though of course it includes that.

The reasons I gave were reasons why God would NOT care what we believed about religion – we’re incapable of understanding Him anyway, and the growth we would achieve through groping in the dark might be more important to Him than any direct revelation of His nature, which we wouldn’t be able to grasp in any case.

But I don’t think you see where I’m going with this, Uccisore. I’m not suggesting any of this as an argument against the existence of God. I’m presenting it as an argument against the authority of the Church, and against Christianity’s claim to be able to speak for God.

I frankly don’t think that God cares what we believe intellectually about religion. But IF He did, then he wouldn’t impart that knowledge to us through the shakey and error-ridden vehicle of a mere human institution (setting aside the fact that it’s quite clear where Christianity got its authority in Medieval European society, and I’m sorry but the Roman Empire was not a sacred vehicle). He would do so directly.

What we believe. What we do is a much broader subject, and would take a major dissertation to go into in all the ramifications.

I’m not presuming deism. Please read more carefully here. I’m a Gnostic, not a deist.

Well, obviously they do think they do, or I wouldn’t have anything to complain about, would I? :sunglasses:

But I don’t agree that it’s irrelevant. It goes very much to the heart of this thread, and this whole dispute.

No, I don’t agree, and here is why. These two statements do not conflict:

“The Church means by the word ‘heresy’ a rebellion against God’s Truth.”


“That Gnosticism has been called ‘heresy’ means only that Gnostics disagree with the Church.”

The second sentence conflicts, not with the first sentence, but only with this third one:

“Heresy is in fact a rebellion against God’s Truth.”

Can you see the difference between the third sentence and the first one?

 Yes, I think I rather have lost the point! All I stepped in to say was that Jesus not commenting on Gnosticism can't be taken one way or the other, because he had nothing to say about other religions period. Pointing out that Jesus didn't comdemn Roman polytheism or what-have-you is as empty as pointing out that he didn't condemn pedophilia or pirating music off the internet. One can't read into it either way. 
   You make a good point that Jesus' words were anti-institutional.  However, they can be easily taken to be against the instutions [i]of his day[/i], and not the idea of organized religion as a whole. Indeed, it's hard for me to see how the words of Jesus could have been preserved from then to now without organized religion. 
   Your argument against God's revelation to man still doesn't work for me. I see the same hole in it that I see in the "God wouldn't have created a world like this" aspect of the Problem of Evil.  Speculating about what God would or wouldn't do simply does not show a logical contradiction, at best, it's an inductive argument. 
    Finally, your point on heresy. 
Yes I do, but I disagree with the way your applying meaning.  If  we take the first sentence as true, then the second sentence is not true. When the Church says Gnosticism is a heresy, they do not mean only that the Gnostics disagree with the Church, and that's not what the statement means.  It may be the [i]case[/i], but if so, that just means the Church's accusation of heresy is wrong, not that they didn't mean what they intended to. 
But all of that is a rather small quibble. I think it's neat to have an intelligent Gnostic about the place.

Perhaps calling it a logical contradiction was too strong a phrase. Let me say, instead, that there is an inherent implausibility in the claimed authority of the Church and of Christianity. It does not mesh with what we observe to be true about God and about religious experience, which can occur in the context of any religion, or none. Christians have no monopoly on insight, on inspiration, on virtue, or on wisdom; and thus there is no clear reason why we should believe them when they say they have a monopoly on true revelation, from which these other things should derive if that is true.

I suppose this is an inductive argument. And actually, to my mind, that makes it a stronger case than if it were a logical contradiction, since deductive reasoning is only as strong as its premises, and so (if it relates to the real world) rests in the end on induction anyway.

Hmm. I believe the confusion may have arisen because I employed the word “mean” in both of them, but in different senses. The first sentence used the word in the sense of “intend,” but the second in the sense of “imply.” Let me try again with a restatement:

“The Church means by the word ‘heresy’ a rebellion against God’s Truth.”

“That Gnosticism has been called ‘heresy’ implies only that Gnostics disagree with the Church.”

And actually, I’m saying a bit more than that the Church’s accusation is wrong. I’m saying that, since God’s truth is inherently unknowable, there can be no rebellion against it, and so there can be no such thing as heresy, as the Church defines it. Yet the word does have a meaning: it is a rebellion against Church doctrine, and the error of the Church lies in claiming that Church doctrine is equivalent to God’s truth.

You are too kind, sir.

I hope this discussion goes someplace beyond Biblical citations. But that may not be possible. We shall see.