Saturday, December 12, 2009

Gnosticism & The "Real" World Part 2

There was a certain irony to the meaning of the name of the man, Irenaeus (c. 120-202)= "peace," who most completely divided the Christian Church from the doctrinal viewpoint. His stand against the Gnostics has been the most devastating. When both scholars and ecclesiastical authorities sought to define the meaning of the word Gnosticism, it was to Irenaeus they turned-not exactly "fair and balanced" researching!

In 180 AD, Irenaeus was the bishop of Lyons. The see of Lyons had been founded by a Greek-speaking mission from Smyrna in Asia Minor. This mission had been led by Pothinos, who, like Irenaeus was a student of the martyr Polycarp.

Irenaeus's antipathy towards the "false" gnosis appears to have been born by painful events and experiences he witnessed (the word martyr means witness) under the persecution of Christians by the last of the "five good emperors", Marcus Aurelius in AD 177. The horrific things done to the martyrs of Lyons and Vienne became famous and infamous in the history of the Christian Church. Irenaeus "witnessed" these events first hand and it was very important to bishops like Irenaeus to in promoting the message of martrydom to non-Christians.

In Irenaeus's viewpoint, the meaning and significance of what exactly it was that Christians were dying for was the important thing. It happened that during the persecution of Marcus Aurelius that Irenaeus visited Rome to take issue with the bishop there for believing what Irenaeus regarded as false doctrines.

During his visit to Rome, Irenaeus also encountered an old friend-and to his horror and astonishment, this man had embraced the teaching of the Egyptian poet and Gnostic theologian Valentinus (Valentinus had been in Rome about two decades earlier). Irenaeus discovered both in Rome and southern Gaul that the theological concepts believed by those calling themselves Gnostics was not consistent with the teachings transmitted by Polycarp-who had died at the stake for his beliefs.

Quoting directly from Tobias Churton's 2005 book Gnostic Philosophy: From Ancient Persia to Modern Times: "Unsettled by his discovery, Irenaeus set about exposing the doctrines of "those who called themselves Gnostics" with great thoroughness, posing as one interested in their "secret" ideas. What he discovered from the Gnostics, and the manner in which he presented what he had discovered, has shaped our ideas of gnosticism from that time to the present-tarring Gnostic ideas forever with the brush of heresy, on which charge Gnostics could be codemned and excluded from the Church. Irenaeus's aim in producing his five book Against Heresies was to ensure that henceforth no one to whom his work was accessible could possibly confuse the "false gnosis" with the tradition of the apostles as he understood it."

However, Gnostic Christians taught and believed that they were the true Christians. The Gnostics believed themselves to be the custodians and guardians of these special insights into what they believed to be the real meaning of Christ's teachings. The ideological fighting between Irenaeus and the "heretics" came to have enormous consequences for the development of the Christian Church into a doctrinal control system. The final culmination of this development-theocratic dominion-can take partial credit for the perrenial interest in the Gnostics. Looking back, Gnostics can be portrayed sympathetically as rebels with a cause. It must be stated that when Irenaeus is talking about "blasphemous and mad" Gnostics-his description of them, he was speaking of very specific factions in southern Gaul and in Rome only.

Of these groups only a portion took the name gnostikoi, gnostics, as their ideological nickname. Here is a list of ideas from Churton's Gnostic Philosophy of what Irenaeus took issue with from pages 91 and 92: 1.) Objectionable was their view that salvation is attained through receipt of a recent knowledge of how to extricate the transmundane spirit in humans from material development, both corporeal and cosmic. Both body and cosmos are regarded with suspicion. 2.) Also troublesome was their belief that humanity is divided into three types. First, there are the pneumatikoi, or spirituals (who have awakened to their real nature through gnosis). Second, the psychikoi: psychics, whose soul-nature may be guided by faith, but who yet still stand in need of exceptional moral effort and spiritual enlightenment. Third, the hylikoi, hylics-that is the "materials": those who are aware only of matter alone, have no chance of salvation. They are, from the spiritual point of view, already "dead." My note: Some of this-especially the last sentences about the "hylikoi" remind me a great deal of the work of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky.

3.) Also on Irenaeus's list was these groups' belief that the cosmos is a calamity and birth a catastrophe. The absolute God had not intention of producing a material universe. It came about due to a Fall within the original divine being (called the Pleroma or Fullness) consisted of a coterie of conceptual emanations: the archetypes, or aeons, who derived their origin from an unfathmable depth or profundity (Greek:bythos), also called the Father. The emanated archetypes were presented both as Platonic ideas and as spiritual beings, among whom the most significant were Anthropos (humanity) and Sophia (Wisdom)..."

Some Gnostics believe the material universe began (perhaps allegorically) with a tragedy. This was the result of Sophia's (Wisdom's) trying foolishly to know the unknowable. The only thing she accomplished was making a material copy, a false conception, resulting in a miscarriage in which she loses herself in her fall into matter, exiled from the Pleroma.

This tragic material cosmos, far removed from the Pleroma, is under the control of beings, archons ("rulers"), who, though they are entranced by the light of the Pleroma above them, are basically antagonistic to, or jealous of, the purely spiritual. The consensus belief of the Gnostics that Irenaeus was exposed to, was that human beings are the work of the chief archon, the Demiurge. He has various names, but is sometimes referred to and identified with the creator-God and legal judge of the Hebrew Bible.

The image is of a Gnostic Coptic Cross. I hope to have the next part here very soon-like beginning typing right after posting this. The next bit isn't as long as this part. Thanks again for all of your fantastic comments! I very, very much appreciate them! Peace and be well to anyone stopping by!

4 comments:

X. Dell said...

(1) The tension between the demiurges and the Pleroma echoes the Judeo-Christian mythology of Lucifer's battle with Jehovah. If so, the gnostics are really defining the material cosmos as hell.

Hmmm.

(2) I can see why the gnostics pissed off Irenaeus so. In a large sense, the mythology of a creator god (or goddess) legitimates power. Some societies, for example, deified their earthly leaders. In western society, we ascribed for centuries (and in some ways still do) to divine right rule.

If one says that the creator god is imperfect--especially if we piddly humans can detect the imperfection, whereas the god cannot--then it really has rammifications for earthly power. Although Irenaeus wasn't too keen about Roman rule, he probably wouldn't have thought to undermine his own claim to authority because of something he viewed as heresy.

Anadæ Effro said...

I only just this minute found an anti-Gnostic site here, just to show ya what the opposition is up to ~ Anadæ Effro (•8-D

Michael said...

"The absolute God had not intention of producing a material universe."

I'm with the Gnostics up till here. Absolute Gods produced nothing without intention. It's an oxymoron. There is no Plan B. The Demiurge is a reflection of our own ego. At least, that's the way I see it right now, probably changing in 5 minutes!

Anyway, thanks for posting this series, the heretical Gnostics have been much on my mind lately.

Cheers, Michael

Devin said...

Xdell -thanks again so very much for your comments-I agree very much about Irenaeus and the reasons they pissed him off!!
many (or all) of the Gnostic sects I have heard about do define our material world as a kind of hell-not a good place to be -all the best to you -thanks also for your great series over at Xspot!!

Anadae -thanks so much for the link to the opposition site -sometimes i think one can learn more from what the "enemies" of something you believe in are saying about it than the friends -I sort of -not nearly to the extent i used to -listen to reich wing radio or "faux" news to see what godawful new propaganda they are trying -or succeeding (unfortunately!) at selling
I finally stopped doing it so much because it was making me almost physically ill to listen to the aholes-especially the hypocrisy !! all the best in the world to you my friend and thanks for stopping by!!

Michael -thanks so much for stopping by MFM!! I will be very interested in any more viewpoints you have as this goes along about Gnosticism
I have no idea of a time posts will be here or anything-as i want to work on one or two other things along with the series as i want to be with it a long time
and dont want boredom to set in!
you already bring up a wonderful point!!
the Demiurge being a reflection of our own ego is very interesting to me -i never thought of it along those lines
I first became aware of gnostic thought about 20 years ago when i was reading an article in "Gnosis" magazine (whoda thunk it:-)
about the "archons"
and how our human pain and terror might be like feeding them a steak sandwich with all the fixins in emotional terms to them -and energetic terms to them!!
if you have updated i hope to have time to get by your blog today also as i plan to be online a while unless something intervenes
i want to do my articles here and history blog first so it may be awhile with all the breaks and my typing speed etcetera
all the best to you and Var
and thanks again for stopping by!!