Gnosticism and Orthodox Christianity: Similarities

As we move along seeking a Gnostic Orthodoxy, it will be useful to see points of commonality between the two worldviews.  The following is a revised and expanded version of comparisons discussed back here.

1.  Both orthodox Christianity and Gnosticism agree that there is one God, and that He is infinitely powerful, completely good, perfect in all ways, and composed purely of spirit.

2.  Both systems agree that God’s original creation was of the bodiless intelligences (pure minds—the Pleroma) and that this original creation was perfectly good.

3.  At some point posterior to its creation, there was a rupturing of the unity of the Pleroma as a result of the actions of some of its members.

4.  The material world was created posterior to the spirit world, and posterior to the rupture of the Pleroma (orthodoxy isn’t completely consistent on this, since there are differences of opinion on the “time” scale; but the Fall of Lucifer is always set before the Fall of Man, and usually before the creation of man altogether, if not the whole cosmos).

5.  Beings consisting of a body and a soul–humans–are created and placed in the material cosmos.

6.  The material cosmos, at least as currently constituted, is deeply flawed and has many evils, imperfections, etc.

7.  The material cosmos as currently constituted will not endure forever, instead coming to an end at some point.

8.  At least some humans (universalists such as myself would say “all”, but that’s for a future series), either in their souls or their complete being will return to God and/or the Pleroma at the end of time.

In a more general way, I’d add two other commonalities:

9. Both Gnosticism and orthodoxy are religions of the Book. Many religions have sacred scriptures, but in most (e.g. Hinduism) the scriptures are the provenance of specialists (e.g. Brahmins or monks) and are almost irrelevant in day-to-day life for most believers. The Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) are different in that they give their holy books a centrality lacking in other religions. Gnosticism is even more enthusiastic about scriptures, having produced far more of them than the orthodox. Jeremy Puma has felicitously referred to many of Gnostic scriptures as “fanfic”; and I think that properly understood, this is a very good (and not at all derogatory) description. It applies, in fact, to much orthodox scripture as well, in my opinion.

10. As I’ve discussed at greater length before, both religions, to an extent that perhaps neither likes to admit, are very much dualistic

Posted on 22/09/2012, in Christianity, Gnosticism, religion and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I had thought Gnosticism posed a duality between an evil god of matter and a good god of spirit. Am I oversimplifying?

    Although I remain Christian, I find that understanding the Tanach requires seeking explanation from a Talmudic scholar, and what explanations I can obtain without forty years of study make sense.

    One is that there are no fallen angels. The notion is ludicrous. The Hebrew malachim does not properly translate to the Greek angelos (messenger). Unlike humans, malachim have no more free will than my arm has free will when it lifts a glass to my lips. Lucifer son of the morning was a poetic reference to the fall of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. The serpent in the garden was not the same as Satan, who was God’s tester, not his adversary.

    What happened in the garden is not wildly different from what you’ve outlined, but the details make sense (to me) of much that seemed cloudy and contradictory.

    All living beings have a nefesh, which makes it alive, rather than a pile of putrefying flesh. Humans have a nefesh chayyim (loosely translated living soul), or neshama. The original association of the neshama to the biologically evolved body was that of me sitting in my car driving. What the neshama reached for prematurely was the kind of close association that I would have if I could feel every movement of every component of the car, totally integrated with it.

    The neshama was meant to be in control, but by tasting of “the fruit of knowledge of good and evil” prematurely, the nefesh was overwhelmed by the base biological instincts, with results we know all too well.

    But yes, we will all be reunited with the higher plane at some point.

    • It’s true that mal’akh means “messenger”, and seems (at least in the earlier parts of the OT) to indicate a manifestation of God Himself rather than a separate being. However, Orthodox Judaism, as well as Christianity and Islam, has always believed that there are separate, individual beings, minds without bodies, whom we call “angels”, which were created by God and serve (or in the case of the devils, reject) Him. The Sadducees, in fact, did reject the existence of angels (in the ordinary sense of the word); and if you do, too, that’s fine. On this issue, though, for various reasons, I go with Jewish, Christian, and Islamic tradition and assume their existence.

      I’m not sure I have a concept of the relationship of the soul to the body of which I’m quite sure. That will be something I’ll discuss in coming posts, as well.

  1. Pingback: Towards a Gnostic Orthodoxy: Index « The Chequer-board of Nights and Days

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