of the Gnostic Attitude
From Eric Voegelin, Science, Politics & Gnosticism
(NY: Henery Regnery, 1968; Wilmington: ISI
Books, 2007), 64-65
More important for our
purposes than definitions and questions of genesis are the features by which we
can recognize gnostic movements as such. Let us list, therefore, the six
characteristics, that, taken together, reveal the nature of the gnostic
It must be pointed out that the gnostic is dissatisfied with his
situation. This, in itself, is not especially surprising. We all
have cause to be not completely satisfied with one aspect or another of the
situation in which we find ourselves.
Not quite so understandable is the second aspect of the gnostic
attitude: the belief that the drawbacks of the situation can be attributed
to the fact that the world is poorly organized. For it is likewise
possible to assume that the order of being as it is given to us men (wherever
its origin is to be sought) is good and that it is we human beings who are
inadequate. But gnostics are not inclined to discover that human beings
in general and they themselves in particular are inadequate. If in a
given situation something is not as it should be, then the fault is to be found
in the wickedness of the world.
The third characteristic is the belief that salvation from the evil of the world
From this follows the belief that the order of being will have to be changed in
an historical process. From a wretched world a good one must evolve
historically. This assumption is not altogether self-evident, because the
Christian solution might also be considered—namely, that the world throughout
history will remain as it is and that man's salvational fulfillment is brought
about through grace in death.
With this fifth point we come to the gnostic trait in the narrower sense—the
belief that a change in the order of being lies in the realm of human action,
that this salvational act is possible through man's own effort.
If is is possible, however, so to work a structural change in the given order of
being that we can be satisfied with it as a perfect one, then it becomes the
task of the gnostic to seek out the prescription for such a change.
Knowledge—gnosis—of the method of altering being is the central concern of
the gnostic. As the sixth feature of the gnostic attitude, therefore, we
recognize the construction of a formulas for self and world salvation, as well
as the gnostic's readiness to come forward as a prophet who will proclaim his
knowledge about the salvation of mankind.
These six characteristics,
then, describe the essence of the gnostic attitude . In one variation or
another they are to be found in each of the movements cited.