Salvation through "esoteric spiritual knowledge"
Patrick J, Hamell, Handbook of Patrology
(Staten Island: Alba House, 1968), page 46.
"Gnosticism was the most influential of the early heresies. The term is
generic and embraces a great variety of teachings. Based on the theory of
a dual principle, it rejected creation, made great headway in the East and West,
and produced a rich and varied literature. With the exception of a few
works in Coptic, this literature has perished, and is known to us only in
fragments quoted by the ecclesiastical writers.
"... At the time of the appearance of Christianity, in the Roman Empire,
moral and religious feelings were in a state of ferment. Religious
aspirations, dissatisfied with official religion, turned anxiously to the exotic
Eastern religions and to Greek philosophy, both of which the Roman conquests had
made known. Every charlatan from the East was welcomed, and in spite of
State laws, the cults of Isis and Osirus, Mithra, etc. spread between
100 B.C. and 100 A.D., pandering to the craving for novelty.
Into this general ferment were thrown Jewish monotheism and Christianity, and by
some they were eagerly welcomed, if only temporarily. But (leaving aside
the question of Judaism) Christianity was a radical condemnation of all the
other religions and its appeal was limited. People sough to transform it
into a religious philosophy, or tried to give the religious mysteries a
philosophical explanation. Gnosis (knowledge) takes the place of
faith, and is a form of knowledge not vouchsafed to the ordinary mortal.
In the third century an orthodox gnosis sought to expound the mysteries
philosophically in conformity with faith, but in the second century it is an
heretical gnosis supplanting revelation."
The Wikipedia, s.v. "Gnosticism":
Gnosticism (from Greek
refers to a diverse, syncretistic
movement consisting of various belief systems generally united in the
teaching that humans are divine souls
trapped in a material
world created by an imperfect spirit, the demiurge,
who is frequently identified with the Abrahamic
God. The demiurge,
who is often depicted as an embodiment of evil, at other times as simply
imperfect and as benevolent as its inadequacy allows, exists alongside another
remote and unknowable supreme
being that embodies good. In order to free oneself from the inferior
material world, one needs gnosis,
spiritual knowledge available only to a learned elite. Jesus
of Nazareth is identified by some (though not all) Gnostic sects as an
embodiment of the supreme being who became incarnate to bring gnosis to the
Gnosticism was popular in the Mediterranean
eastern regions in the first centuries CE,
but it was suppressed as a dualistic
heresy in areas
controlled by the Roman
Empire when Christianity
became its official religion in the fourth century. Conversion to Islam
greatly reduced the remaining number of Gnostics throughout the middle
ages, though a few isolated communities continue to exist to the present.
Gnostic ideas became influential in the philosophies of various esoteric
movements of the late 19th
centuries in Europe
America, including some that explicitly identify themselves as revivals or
even continuations of earlier gnostic groups.
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Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, s.v. "Gnostic"
Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. Gnosticism