Wednesday, June 29, 2005

gnosis 4: definitions

Because MacGregor's Gnosis is probably out of print and hard to get, I will continue to provide solid quotes from it so that his main points thereby become available on-line. Today I'm also focussing on definitions of Gnosis and Gnosticism, so I'm reproducing the 16 definitional items (extracted from an article by T.P. van Baaren) that MacGregor discusses. There are far too many items to deal with today but this definition is clearly a good starting point, despite having been bagged by MacGregor and others.

(1) Gnosis is not primarily intellectual but is an insight into the total state of affairs and is necessary for salvation from our present plight.

(2) Gnosis is related to certain ways of understanding time and space.

(3) Gnosis is essentially secret, not available to all comers.

(4) Sacred writings such as the Bible are interpreted allegorically. Where the question arises, there is a tendency to disparage or downgrade the Old Testament.

(5) God transcends human thought yet is indisputably good; nevertheless God is revealed to some extent through emanations and intermediaries such as angels.

(6) The world is regarded with pessimism, being the work of a demiurge or other such being who has created it or brought it about in ignorance of God's will or even against his will.

(7) Man is a mixture of spiritual and material components. The spiritual ones are the cause of his longing to return to God.

(8) Human beings are of three kinds: (i) those who possess full gnosis (the pneumatics) and are therefore capable of full salvation; (ii) those who have faith (pistis) and have a limited capacity for salvation; (iii) those who are wholly absorbed by the cares of the world and are consequently incapable of salvation.

(9) Gnostics make a clear distinction between pistis and gnosis.

(10) The mind-matter dualism generally leads to a severely ascetical manner of life, though it can also lead to a libertinism that is the very opposite.

(11) Gnosticism is a religion of revolt.

(12) Gnosticism appeals to the desire to belong to an elite.

(13) Where the question arises, the tendency to distinguish sharply between Christ as "heavenly Saviour" and "the man Jesus" is prominent. Hence the docetism that was a popular outlook in first-century Christian thought.

(14) Where the question arises, Christ is accounted the turning point in the cosmic process. As evil has come about by the fall of a former aeon, Christ ushers in a new aeon, a new age, by proclaiming the hitherto unknown God.

(15) In connection with the Person of Christ is often found the notion that as Redeemer he is himself redeemed. He has achieved par excellence the redemption he makes available to others, his chosen ones.

(16) Salvation consists in the complete emancipation of the spiritual from the corporeal. This is expressed in the myth of "the ascent of the soul".

original source:
T. P. van Baaren, "Toward a Definition of Gnosticism,"
in U. Bianchi, ed., Le Origini dello Gnosticismo
(Leiden, 1967).
as quoted in:
MacGregor, Gnosis, pp. 37-46.

I will leave it there for today and return to these elements as they arise during my reflections.


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