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Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Dead Dog No. 5: Gnosticism Rides Again

The Church struggled and prevailed against Gnosticism many, many centuries ago.  It was perhaps the earliest heresy.  Gnosticism existed well before the advent of Christ and infected many religions of antiquity.  It keeps popping up under many guises.  Sadly the Orthodox Church is not immune from it either. 

But what is Gnosticism?  This is by no means easy to answer.  There are many different forms and in that sense it is similar to cancer - many diseases but all sharing certain aspects in common.  "Gnosticism" comes from "gnosis" or "knowledge."  Now this isn't any old knowledge such as might entertain you on a quiz show on TV.  Gnosis is SAVING knowledge.  By it's very nature it is secret knowledge ... only available to those "in the know."  Get gnosis and you are home and dry. 

Rarely is gnosis associated with any kind of personal faith.  It is more like some sort of esoteric magic key, a special illumination, a way to eternal life untrammelled by the alleged crudities and imperfections of this mortal life.  Whenever folk speak of the soul as some sort of divine spark that needs liberating from the heaviness of the flesh, you know you are dealing with Gnosticism.  Whenever others declare the world to be evil, the creation of a lesser god (perhaps of the Old Testament - the Demiurge) then you know that the Gnostics have been active.  Whenever you are told (even by other Orthodox) that you need to join a secret society to advance in this world or the next - such as freemasonry - the smell of Gnosticism will be unmistakable.

Now earlier I claimed that even Orthodoxy is not immune - by which I mean that the ethos and even the practices of Gnosticism can sometimes be found amongst those in the Church who profess to be Orthodox.  The more blatant examples of this can easily be spotted ... although how many priests for example in Orthodox and non-Orthodox countries are able to hold a firm line against any intrusion of masonry into the Body of Christ?  One wonders.  The less blatant and more subtle forms of contemporary Gnosticism are, frankly, more worrying because (as usual) these "slip under the radar" sometimes undetected.  We need to be alert.

A key example of this form of Gnosticism is the tendency amongst some Orthodox to think that they have some sort of special insight and possession in the Church that others cannot possibly have because they are not "in the know."  Nor could they ever be "in the know" because Orthodox culture is closed to them.  Keeping this insight, this gnosis, SECRET is an essential part of preserving its character.  It is not to be shared with "barbarians."  Another gnostic mind set is revealed in the tendency to regard worldly involvement in politics and social issues as unworthy of a true Christian.  The gnostic "gospel" is only concerned with abandonment of this evil world for the sanctuary of heaven ... and access to this refuge is necessarily strictly limited.

In the early Church Gnosticism was combatted by two primary weapons of our faith ... the full humanity of Christ and the reality of the Incarnation as God's personal engagement with the world.  Moreover it was for the salvation of the world that Christ came.  Our Lord was immersed in the world and its affairs without using its methods or succumbing to its corruption.  He did not escape it; He transformed it by His healing touch and by the resurrection he finally liberated it from the grip of evil to be glorious and free.  Orthodoxy, true to its nature, lives this faith; but once again, Gnosticism must be purged from every aspect of our ecclesiastical life in both its blatant and more subtle forms.

3 comments:

  1. thank you for this. Glory to God. Good to hear these tendencies addressed.

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  2. agreeing with the observations but not sure about grouping them together under the term Gnosticism...

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    Replies
    1. Strictly speaking I agree but they constitute scattered elements of the same mindset. Heresies old and new arise when these converge. It is a bit like how viruses mutate by modifications in the assemblage of genetic material.

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