Gnosticism: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

This piece is, in part, a response to those who from time to time have suggested that the Yeshua21 Blog is promoting a gnostic message.  While I initially intended to go into some detail about the history of that blog and the teachings shared therein, I found that by doing so, the piece grew exceedingly long and rather top-heavy.  As such, it has seemed best to make it into two separate essays–this one, on gnosticism proper; and then, a separate piece– entitled To Know OR Not to Know?which provides a bit of the back-story.  This piece– which still seems rather long –picks up where that one leaves off.  Because of its length, I am publishing it here, as a “page”– in its entirety –but will also be breaking it up into a series of smaller “posts”, as well.

Accusations of “gnosticism” yield more heat than light . . .

To begin with, it is worth noting that many people– following the lead of Michael Allen Williams, perhaps, and Karen King –are beginning to argue that the terms gnostic and gnosticism are so broad as to be almost meaningless.   A case in point is this suggestion by Cynthia Bourgeault:

“First of all, I would call for a moratorium on the use of the term
‘Gnosticism.’  It carries so many connotations, most of them negative and hugely inaccurate, that it sheds far more heat than light. . . . Second, we need to deprogram the negative imprinting and begin to encounter these texts again on their own terms, with accurate translations and empathetic understanding. . . . Finally, we need to stop thinking about these texts as uniform — as if they all espouse a single philosophy or “Gnostic” point of view.  They span several centuries, and like the canonical gospels themselves, they reflect a variety of viewpoints and levels of spiritual understanding” (Lecture on Gnosis and Gnosticism, April 2010 — See also The Meaning of Mary Magdalene).

And Karen King writes:

“Why is it so hard to define Gnosticism? The problem, I argue, is that a rhetorical term has been confused with a historical entity.” —Karen L. King,  “What Is Gnosticism?”

That rings true, insofar as my critics were playing the gnostic card in a purely rhetorical way which allowed them to dismiss my point of view (with extreme prejudice, as it were), but without any real, serious discussion–much less any real meeting of the minds.

Nevertheless, it seems to me that since both Christian and non-Christian authors of antiquity wrote treatises in opposition to “the Gnostics” (e.g. Irenaeus, Plotinus, et al) — and since, moreover, there are no shortage of modern folk who continue to identify themselves as gnostic or Gnostics (see Gnosticism in modern times) — it looks as though Cynthia Bourgeault’s call for a moratorium is hardly realistic.  As such, it seems to me that we would all do well to do a modicum of research on the topic and to begin using these terms with considerably more care.  Below are some of the fruits of my own research in this regard.

Gnosticism:  The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

For my part– and without claiming any significant expertise of a scholarly sort  –I seem to discern three types of gnosticism– or better, perhaps, three aspects or facets of gnostic life and thought –which I will personally and provisionally designate as follows:

  1. Unitive/Nondual Insight (the good)
  2. Mythical/Metaphysical Beliefs (the bad)
  3. Unconventional/Licentious Lifestyles (the ugly)

good bad ugly 3

These are not by any means mutually exclusive– quite the contrary –but seem to be found in a variety of combinations which may emphasize any one or two of these facets to the exclusion or marginalization of the other(s).  Nevertheless, it seems to me that the primary reason for the push-back against gnosticism in the early church– and the primary reason for viewing it with suspicion today –has more to do with numbers 2 and 3 (beliefs and lifestyles) rather than the unitive or nondual element which is, in many respects, merely implicit in the (so-called) gnostic texts (as it is in our canonical scriptures, as well, only more so).  Thus, rank and file Gnostics may be (or may have been) very enthusiastic about 2 and 3 without really experiencing the cutting insight of number 1 (just as fundamentalist Christians may be very enthusiastic in a purely egocentric way about their “Christian worldview” and “Christian values” without, in fact, knowing the mind of Christ and the power of the Spirit).

In light of this, if my Christian vision is to be accurately designated as gnostic, it can only be by virtue of its emphasis on unitive insight or nondual awareness (since it bears no relationship whatsoever to numbers 2 and 3).  Nevertheless, by characterizing my mode of discourse as gnostic, these aforementioned critics– who seem hardly to have a clue about any of this –managed (intentionally or unintentionally)  to associate what I have to say with a whole history anti-gnostic thought and sentiment that was not at all directed to the kind of seeing and knowing that I am attempting to share, but rather (or at least primarily) toward those metaphysical teachings and licentious sexual practices of the so-called Gnostics of antiquity that clearly conflicted with the dominant Christian culture of that era and continue to do so today.  As such– in order to clarify all the issues at stake and lay the ground work for fair and honest discussion in which we can compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges –I want to present a brief overview of all three facets of gnostic thought and culture, but in a slightly different order–beginning with the bad, continuing with the ugly, and concluding with, as I see it, the good

NOTE:  As indicated above, these value judgments reflect, in part, what I take to be the perspective of the dominant Christian culture from the beginning.  I do not mean to suggest that anyone who is honestly convinced that the truth is to be found in what I am referring to as bad or ugly gnosticism should not pursue these, but I do want to distance myself from both those positions and create a safe-space for what I take to be the good gnosticism of unitive insight or nondual awareness.  This, in my opinion, offers a viable way forward for those who are sincerely seeking the Way, the Truth, and the Life in the 21st century–a way forward in which traditional Christian teachings may become, again, both living and intelligible.

Mythical/Metaphysical Gnosticism (the bad)

the badBart Erhman (who may or may not have a clue when it comes to what I am referring to as nondual gnosticism) offers a good beginning overview of that which I am referring to as metaphysical gnosticism and licentious gnosticism in his YouTube lectures on The Gospel of Judas.   In the first of two YouTube videos on this topic, he devotes about 7 minutes to the very general– quasi-mythical, quasi-metaphysical –framework that I am referring to as the bad gnosticism.  Here is that segment cued to begin at the 21:41 minute mark:

This is offers a pretty standard view of mythical/metaphysical gnosticism.   For those who don’t have time to listen to the segment indicated, here is his power-point outline:

ehrman - gnosticism
the gnosticsMore detailed and/or alternative presentations are widely available on the Internet.  I also recommend reading the first two chapters of Jaques Lacarriere’s book, The Gnostics, and will share two brief summaries from chapter three of that work:

“So, to have done with this problem and give an exact definition of Gnostic thought – as I understand it, at least – all institutions, laws, religions, churches and powers are nothing but a sham and a trap, the perpetuation of an age-old deception.

“Let us sum up: we are exploited on a cosmic scale, we are the proletariat of the demiurge-executioner, slaves exiled into a world that is viscerally subjected to violence; we are the dregs and sediment of a lost heaven, strangers on our own planet.
“The point is that the history of man reproduces very closely the initial drama – and the farce – of the cosmos. Man, like the universe, is a failed creation, a lamentable imitation, the mere semblance of a man, a counterfeit man, or, in anthropological terms, a pseudanthrope. In man, the forgery is more immediately apparent than it is in the universe, for the human body is better known, and more accessible to us, than the light of the distant stars. Let us therefore summarize, as simply as possible, the precise reason for our being what we are, that is to say, trespassers in a body which is ill-suited to us.

“In the beginning, in the world of possibilities and virtualities, an image of man was born in the intelligible brain of the true God of the highest circle: a potential man, the mental matrix of he whom the true God might one day have made real. This image was perceived by the demiurges, the archons or angels of the lower circles. How? Why? A mystery. But perceive it they did and were dazzled, as if by the light, the force, the beauty, the coherence which emanated from this mentally conceived Anthropos. They therefore decided to imitate and reproduce him” (The Gnostics 29, 31 —see PDF, pages 20, 22).

All of this is sufficiently alien to orthodox Christian interpretations of the Judeo-Christian scriptures as to suggest the first reason for the early churches entrenched opposition to Gnosticism.  While such mythical and metaphysical speculation is fascinating, to say the least (and can be instructive as a kind of philosophical exercise or thought experiment), if taken literally, they clearly conflict with more traditional readings of Genesis (i.e. more conventional readings which also seem to be expressed or implied in the dominant strains of New Testament thought).  Moreover, if we attend closely to the Lacarriere quotation, above– which suggests that the cosmic deception extends to “all institutions, laws, religions, churches and powers” –we can begin to understand the way in which mythical / metaphysical gnosticism morphs (or might tend to morph) into unconventional / licentious gnosticism, as well.   For if the dominant culture is deceptive, the way to to find deliverance from the prison of this world– the way to find out who you really are –might be to intentionally live in a way that runs very much counter and contrary to the dominant culture.

NOTE:  Be forewarned, this can get rather ugly, at times, and is not for the squeamish or the faint of heart…

Unconventional/Licentious Gnosticism (the ugly)

the uglyEhrman devotes about 4 minutes of the second YouTube video on The Gospel of Judas to that which I am referring to as the ugly gnosticism.  Fielding a question as to the plausibility of a romantic or sexual relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, he relates, as an aside, Epiphanius‘ account of the Phibionites in a 4 minute segment which I have cued to begin at the 24:45 minute point:

Jacques Lacarriere also appeals to Epiphanius‘ account as he, too, documents in some detail their very unconventional lifestyles (including the putatively licentious sexual practices attributed the 4th century  Carpocratians and the Phibionites — see chapters 7 and 8 of The Gnostics).  Note:  As Lacarriere indicates, it is also worth comparing and contrasting those groups to the Cathar communities which thrived in southern Europe about 10 centuries later.  It seems clear that if their alternative mythology and metaphysics was not enough, the alternative social and sexual practices of these groups almost guaranteed that they would be marginalized and ultimately condemned by the institutional church.  It is also worth noting, however, that The Gospel of Judas characterizes the mainstream church as similarly immoral (albeit, one assumes, in a metaphorical way — see segment 35:15 – 36:55).

In any event (whatever the details), just as we may learn from bad gnosticism, construed as a philosophical exercise or thought experiment, so per chance we may also learn from ugly gnosticism–i.e. by immersing ourselves in a very unconventional, counter-culture lifestyle, for a time (not unlike the prodigal son, perhaps, who does seem to have ended up wiser than his elder brother).  Nevertheless, it is hardly surprising that the mainstream, institutional church condemned and continues to condemn such seemingly far-out, unconventional beliefs and behaviors.

What both Bart Ehrman and his more conservative colleagues (seemingly) fail to understand, however– something that, no doubt, has been overlooked many self-described Gnostics over the centuries, as well –is that one does not necessarily come to know who or what they really are (much less really find deliverance from the human predicament) simply by adopting an alternative metaphysics, mythology, and/or lifestyle.  Indeed, so doing, one may merely exchange one egoic delusion for another.  What is needed, instead, is an altogether different kind of vision.  An alternative metaphysics, mythology, and lifestyle are, at best, preparatory and remain dualistic, whereas the seeing itself is unitive or nondual.

Unitive/Nondual Gnosticism (the good)

the good2In a related piece entitled, To Know OR Not to Know? (published concurrently), I explain the occasion for this essay and provide a number of links to the Yeshua21 Blog where the unitive/nondual Christian vision (which evoked the accusation of gnosticism in the first place) is articulated.  I also share elements of that vision in an essay, here, on Nonduality It should be apparent by now, that if this were really what my critics had in mind when they bandied about the words gnostic and gnosticism, I would have happily pled guilty as charged.  Unfortunately, it seems to me that they were just reacting to one thing which they don’t understand (i.e. my references to nondual awareness or seeing) by attempting to paint me with the broad brush of something else they don’t understand (i.e. gnosticism as historically condemned).  When it comes to the historical controversy, it seems unlikely to me that the Gnostics of antiquity would have been condemned for the nondual elements of their teaching considered in isolation from their alternative metaphysics and lifestyle.  The question remains whether or not that element can stand on its own as a part of the orthodox faith.

In fact, when it comes to that which I refer to (loosely) as nonduality, I have little doubt that (in sharp contrast to it’s attitude toward the early Christian heresy of gnosticism, per se) the institutional church will eventually realize that a unitive or nondual interpretation of the gospel will, on balance, provide the best point of entry into the teaching of both Jesus and St. Paul–both in the 21st century and beyond (see for example these Seven Themes explored by Fr. Richard Rohr).  For while both Jesus and Paul may have had good reason to believe (2000 years ago) that an apocalyptic conclusion to world history was shortly forthcoming– and while they may also have had good reason to believe in any number of particulars about the resurrection of the body and and our life in the world to come, as well –the real key to their message (insofar as it truly timeless and universal) is the possibility of being reconciled to God NOW  (being atOne with the Father) through the Mind of Christ (“I Am”) and the power of the Spirit (“[who] will guide [us] into all the truth“).  NOTE:  None of the foregoing is meant to suggest that there is no resurrection or that there is no life in the world to come–just that we need not necessarily understand those terms in precisely the same way that they have been traditionally imagined any more than we are inclined to understand the Genesis account of creation or the apocalypse of St. John in the same way that the early or medieval church did.

From this standpoint, then, preoccupation with historical and prophetic narratives become somewhat academic.  To be sure, we need to teach those narratives as coherently and consistently as possible insofar as they remain an integral part of the exoteric tradition which is, indeed, preparatory and, as such, very important (N.T. Wright, among others, seems to be making some important contributions in this regard, but without acknowledging the importance of Christian gnosis).  Nevertheless, from the point of view of the good gnosticism (i.e. the inner or esoteric truth that comes through unitive insight or nondual awareness), it is clearly seen that we are ultimately reconciled to God through the mind of Christ and the Power of the Spirit– NOW –rather than through our understanding of the events of antiquity or through our anticipation of an apocalyptic future, as ordinarily understood or imagined.

Moreover, it can hardly be overemphasized that this Mind and this Spirit involves a seeing and a knowing that transcends our egoic minds and personal stories (including those historical and metaphysical constructs– gnostic or orthodox –which, while being significant and preparatory, are nevertheless tailor-made for the strictly limited and dualistic point of view of “the separate self” ).

In contrast, the kind of unitive insight which is characteristic of the mind of Christ— rather than being something the ego does or achieves –involves a nondual realization of the very seeing and knowing in which and by virtue of which the ego is able to appear to itself as a separate entity in the first place — a realization of that apart from which our egos would not and could not appear at all.  Indeed, walking in this light, it is seen that our egos shine in and by virtue of the light of the world— in and by virtue of the light in which we see light –just as certainly as the moon shines in and by virtue of the (borrowed) light of the Sun.  The problem is that prior to this realization, the ego tends to imagines itself as  self-contained and self-sufficient when nothing could be further from the truth.  Consequently, it is by taking up our cross and by recognizing and honoring the the light of the World, as such– the cutting edge of unconditioned consciousness –that we are truly raised with Christ in newness of life (however the end of the age actually unfolds–and whatever may actually obtain in the wake of our apparent physical demise).  Concurrent with this realization, the ego seems to step down from the throne of our hearts and, so, is sometimes described as having been regenerated or as a having submitted to the Lordship of Christ.  From this standpoint we can truly say, glory be to God for all things!

Unfortunately, conventional Christian teaching tends to conceal as much (if not more) of all this than it reveals–especially from the standpoint of modern skepticism/criticism.  And even those who have a measure of insight into the light of the world based on conventional Christian teachings alone may still associate this seeing and this knowing with a particular interpretation of scripture and/or particular aspects of the tradition which, as such, are held to in a rather dogmatic, sectarian fashion.  As a result, such believers are still at great risk of falling into unnecessary divisions and disputations.

What is needed– both for the benefit of the sincere skeptic and honest critic; and for the benefit of those who find it difficult to imagine that anyone else can know God without believing and behaving precisely as they do –is a clearer distinction between the carnal mind (aka the egoic mind) and the mind of Christ (aka unitive or nondual awareness), together with an understanding of a correlate distinction between the outer (exoteric) narrative and the inner (esoteric) truth of the tradition.   When the latter distinction is fully appreciated, we can begin to give due diligence to the quazi-historical, quazi-metaphysical narratives of Christian orthodoxy without missing out on the cutting insight which is the narrow gate that leads to life (referred to in Matthew 7:14).  Heretofore, the alternative myth, metaphysics, and lifestyles of the bad and the ugly gnosticism may have given it some advantage in this regard (inasmuch as it tended to shake its adherents out of their entrenched habits of thought and enabled them to see the world differently), but increasingly, in our post-modern age, there is an almost universal appreciation for the relativity of all such myths and teachings.  As such, there is less and less need for anyone to take refuge in the bad and the ugly gnosticsm which has been consistently condemned by the church.

With all this in mind, I will point once again to various resources that may shed light on the kind of unitive insight or nondual awareness  (aka gnosis) that I am referring to.  Then, I will refer the reader to some putatively gnostic texts that may be profitably understood in that light.  And finally, I will refer my Christian readers, especially, to additional resources which suggest that a unitive or nondual Christian gnosis can, indeed, supply the key to authentic Christian living in the 21st century.

Points of Entry into Non-Dual Awareness

Alan Watts describes the Bible as follows:

taboo“…’the Good Book’—that fascinating anthology of ancient wisdom, history, and fable which has for so long been treated as a Sacred Cow that it might well be locked up for a century or two so that men could hear it again with clean ears. There are indeed secrets in the Bible, and some very subversive ones, but they are all so muffled up in complications, in archaic symbols and ways of thinking, that Christianity has become incredibly difficult to explain to a modern person. That is, unless you are content to water it down to being good and trying to imitate Jesus, but no one ever explains just how to do that. To do it you must have a particular power from God known as ‘grace,’ but all that we really know about grace is that some get it, and some don’t” (THE BOOK on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are 4 — see PDF pages 9-10).

To hear the Bible again with clean ears is, indeed, what is needed, to be sure…  How wonderful, in fact, to see our religious traditions once again– in their entirety –with fresh eyes, as well!  Unfortunately, neither typical Christians, in their dogmatic piety, nor typical atheists/agnostics, in their cynical skepticism, tend to have clean ears or fresh eyes.   As such, neither are particularly motivated to see or hear differently except in the wake of, 1)  deep suffering, or 2) a realization of something profoundly incongruous about their respective worldviews (e.g. their Sunday school theology OR their reductive, mechanistic understanding of the natural world conceived of as the whole of reality).  Assuming that either one or both of these motivations are present, however (i.e. personal suffering and/or epistemic incongruity), some of the pointers from the essay on Nonduality—  or from the material posted on the Yeshua21 Blog –could provide the needed clues (see, for example, this thought experiment).   Readers for whom all this is totally unfamiliar terrain should probably have a look at one or all of those links, before continuing.

Some So-Called Gnostic Texts

All that remains, at this point, is to look at a few putatively gnostic texts and decide what to make of them.  It is my contention that these texts are best understood as pointing to the kind of unitive insight or nondual awareness referred to above.  There are three texts, in particular, that I find of interest in this regard:

  • The Gospel of Thomas
  • The Gospel of Truth
  • The Hymn of the Pearl

Extended excerpts from each of these have been posted at Yeshua21.Com (under Gnostic Accents) together with links to the complete texts and other documentation elsewhere on the web.  In addition, I will conclude this piece with several key verses from each–that is, with selected texts that strike me as especially suggestive of the kind of unitive insight or nondual awarness which I have characterized as the good gnosticism.

forest trees rubiks cubeIt will be tempting to understand these texts metaphysically (and possibly, at times, even historically).  Unfortunately, to understand them that way is, as I see it, to misunderstand them.  In a sense, these texts, too– like their canonical counterparts –are puzzles which conceal as much as they reveal.   In order to “solve” these puzzles — in order to “find the interpretation” — it is necessary first to solve the puzzle of the Self — i.e. to recognize and honor the light of awareness as our eternal life (NOW).  For walking in that lightand resting in that life —the Truth is known and we are, thereby, set free (a la John 8:32).   And finding the interpretation in this way, the texts may then be read with understanding.  In the meantime, it certainly doesn’t hurt (and may very well help) to puzzle over them–so go ahead, knock yourself out!  As always, take what you find helpful and leave the rest…

Let us begin with The Gospel of Thomas:

(1) And he said: He who shall find the interpretation of these words shall not taste of death.

(3) …the kingdom is within you, and it is outside of you. When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will know that you are the sons of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you are in poverty, and you are poverty.

(15) Jesus said: When you see him who was not born of woman, fall down upon your faces and worship him; that one is your Father.

(19) Jesus said: Blessed is he who was before he came into being. If you become disciples to me (and) listen to my words, these stones will minister to you. For you have five trees in Paradise which do not change, either in summer or in winter, and their leaves do not fall. He who knows them shall not taste of death.

(24) His disciples said: Teach us about the place where you are, for it is necessary for us to seek it. He said to them: He who has ears, let him hear! There is light within a man of light, and he lights the whole world. If he does not shine, there is darkness.

(51) His disciples said to him: On what day will the rest of the dead come into being, and on what day will the new world come?  He said to them: What you await has come, but you do not know it.

(66) Jesus said: Show me the stone which the builders rejected; it is the cornerstone.

(67) Jesus said: He who knows the all, (but) fails (to know) himself, misses everything.

(76) Jesus said: The kingdom of the Father is like a merchant who had a load (of goods) and found a pearl. That merchant was wise. He sold the load and bought for himself the pearl alone. You also, seek after his treasure which does not fail (but) endures, where moth does not come near to devour nor worm to destroy.

(77) Jesus said: I am the light that is above them all.  I am the all; the all came forth from me, and the all attained to me. Cleave a (piece of) wood; I am there.  Raise up a stone, and you will find me there.

(83) Jesus said: The images are revealed to man, and the light which is in them is hidden in the image of the light of the Father. He will reveal himself, and his image is hidden by his light.

(84) Jesus said: When you see your likeness, you rejoice. But when you see your images which came into existence before you, which neither die nor are made manifest, how much will you bear?

(90) Jesus said: Come to me, for my yoke is easy and my lordship is gentle, and you will find rest for yourselves.

(107) Jesus said: The kingdom is like a shepherd who had a hundred sheep; one of them, the biggest, went astray; he left (the) ninety-nine (and) sought after the one until he found it. After he had laboured, he said to the sheep: I love you more than the ninety-nine.

(113) His disciples said to him: On what day will the kingdom come? <Jesus said:> It will not come while people watch for it; they will not say: Look, here it is, or: Look, there it is; but the kingdom of the father is spread out over the earth, and men do not see it.

(Find additional selections at Yeshua21.Com)

Let us continue with The Gospel of Truth:

2. Now the Gospel is the revelation of the hopeful, it is the finding of those who seek him. For since the totality were searching for him from whom they came forth—and the totality were within him, the incomprehensible inconceivable, he who exists beyond all thought— hence unacquaintance with the Father caused anxiety and fear. Then the anxiety condensed like a fog so that no one could see.

3. Wherefore confusion grew strong, contriving its matter in emptiness and unacquaintance with the truth, preparing to substitute potent and alluring fabrication for truthfulness. But this was no humiliation for him, the incomprehensible inconceivable. For the anxiety and the amnesia and the deceitful fabrication were nothing— whereas the established truth is immutable, imperturbable and of unadornable beauty. Therefore despise confusion! It has no roots and was in a fog concerning the Father, preparing labors and amnesia and fear in order thereby to entice those of the transition and take them captive.

4. The amnesia of confusion was not made as a revelation, it is not the handiwork of the Father. Forgetfulness does not occur under his directive, although it does happen because of him. But rather what exists within him is acquaintanceship—this being revealed so that forgetfulness might dissolve and the Father be recognized. Since amnesia occurred because the Father was not recognized, thereafter when the Father is recognized there will be no more forgetting.

5. This is the Gospel of him who is sought, which he has revealed to those perfected thru the mercies of the Father as the secret mystery:
Y’shua the Christ!
He enlightened those who were in darkness because of forgetfulness. He illumined them. He gave them a path, and that path is the truth which he proclaimed.

6. Therefore confusion was enraged at him and pursued him in order to suppress and eliminate him. He was nailed to a tree, he became the fruit of recognizing the Father. Yet it did not cause those who consumed it to perish, but rather to those who consumed it he bestowed a rejoicing at such a discovery. For he found them in himself and they found him in themselves— the incomprehensible inconceivable, the Father, this perfect-one who created the totality, within whom the totality exists and of whom the totality has need. For he had withheld within himself their perfection, which he had not yet conferred upon them all.

10. He was nailed to a tree in order to publish the edict of the Father on the cross. Oh sublime teaching, such that he humbled himself unto death while clad in eternal life! He stripped off the rags of mortality in order to don this imperishability which none has the power to take from him. Entering into the empty spaces of the terrors, he brought forth those who had been divested by amnesia. Acting with recognition and perfection, he proclaimed what is in the heart of the Father, in order to make wise those who are to receive the teaching. Yet those who are instructed are the living, inscribed in this book of life, who are taught about themselves and who receive themselves from the Father in again returning to him.

11. Because the perfection of the totality is in the Father, it is requisite that they all ascend unto him. When someone recognizes, he receives the things that are his own and gathers them to himself. For he who is unacquainted has a lack— and what he lacks is great, since what he lacks is Him who will make him perfect. Because the perfection of the totality is in the Father, it is requisite that they all ascend unto him. Thus each and every one receives himself.

19. Each one shall receive himself in the unification and shall be purified from multiplicity into unity in acquaintanceship— consuming matter in himself like a flame, darkness with light, and death with life. Since these things have thus happened to each one of us, it is appropriate that we think of the totality so that the household be holy and silent for the unity.

23. For who is the existent-one, except for the Father alone? All dimensions are his emanations, recognized in coming forth from his heart like sons from a mature person who knows them. Each one whom the Father begets had previously received neither form nor name. Then they were formed thru his self-awareness. Although indeed they had been in his mind, they had not recognized him. The Father however is perfectly acquainted with all the dimensions, which are within him.

25. Whoever lacks root also lacks fruit, but still he thinks to himself: ‘I have become, so I shall decease— for everything that earlier did not yet exist, later shall no longer exist.’ What therefore does the Father desire that such a person think about himself?: ‘I have been like the shadows and the phantoms of the night!’ When the dawn shines upon him, this person ascertains that the terror which had seized him was nothing. They were thus unacquainted with the Father because they did not behold him. Hence there occurred terror and turmoil and weakness and doubt and division, with many deceptions and empty fictions at work thru these.

27. Then the moment comes when those who have endured all this awaken, no longer to see all those troubles— for they are naught. Such is the way of those who have cast off ignorance like sleep and consider it to be nothing, neither considering its various events as real, but rather leaving it behind like a dream of the night. Recognizing the Father brings the dawn! This is what each one has done, sleeping in the time when he was unacquainted. And this is how, thus awakened, he comes to recognition.

28. How good for the person who returns to himself and awakens, and blest is he whose blind eyes have been opened! And the Spirit ran after him, resurrecting him swiftly. Extending her hand to him who was prostrate on the ground, she lifted him up on his feet who had not yet arisen. Now the recognition which gives understanding is thru the Father and the revelation of his Son. Once they have seen him and heard him, he grants them to taste and to smell and to touch the beloved Son.

(Find additional selections at Yeshua21.Com)

And, finally, let us conclude with The Hymn of the Pearl:

I went down into Egypt,
And I dressed in their dress,
that they might not hold me in abhorrence,

because I was come from abroad in order to take the pearl,
and arouse the serpent against me.

But in some way other or another
they found out that I was not their countryman,

and they dealt with me treacherously,
and gave their food to eat.

I forget that I was a son of kings,
and I served their king;

and I forgot the pearl,
for which my parents had sent me,

and because of the burden of their oppressions
I lay in a deep sleep.

But all this things that befell me
my parents perceived, and were grieved for me;
And they wove a plan on my behalf,

that I might not be left in Egypt;

and they wrote to me a letter,
Call to mind that thou art a son of kings!
See the slavery,–whom thou servest!

Remember the pearl,
for which thou was sent to Egypt!

Think of thy robe,
and remember thy splendid toga,

which thou shalt wear and (with which) thou shalt be adorned,
when thy name hath been read out in the list of the valiant,

and thy brother, our viceroy,
thou shalt be in our kingdom.”

My letter is a letter,
which the king sealed with his own right hand,
…flew in the likeness of an eagle,
the king of all birds;

it flew and alight beside me,
and became all speech.

At its voice and the sound of its rustling,
I started and arose from my sleep.

I took it up and kissed it,
and I began (and) read it;

and according to what was traced on my heart
were the words of my letter.

I remembered that I was a son of royal parents,
and my noble birth asserted itself.

I remembered the pearl,
for which I had been sent to Egypt,

and I began to charm him,
the terrible loud breathing serpent.

I hushed him asleep and lulled him into slumber,
for my father’s name I named over him…
And I snatched away the pearl,

and turned to go back to my father’s house.

And their filthy and unclean dress I stripped off,
and left it in their country;

and I took my way straight to come
to the light of our home in the East.

And my bright robe, which I had stripped off,
and the toga that was wrapped with it,

…my parents had sent thither

by the hand of their treasures,
who in their truth could be trusted therewith.

And because I remembered not its fashion,–
for in my childhood I had left it in my father’s house,–

on a sudden, when I received it,
the garment seemed to me to become like a mirror of myself.

I saw it all in all,
and I to received all in it,

for we were two in distinction
and yet gain one in one likeness.
and the image of the king of kings
was embroidered and depicted in full all over it,

and like the stone of the sapphire too
its hues were varied.

And love urged me too run
to meet it and receive it;

and I stretched forth and took it.
With the beauty of its colors I adorned myself,

and I wrapped myself wholly in my toga
of brilliant hues.

I clothed myself with it, and went up to the gate
of salutation and prostration;

I bowed my head and worshipped the majesty
of my father who sent me,–

(Find additional selections at Yeshua21.Com)

~ ~ ~


There you have it: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, indeed!  It should be clear, now, why the early church tended quite naturally to oppose gnostics and gnosticism.  Considering their alternative mythology and metaphysics, on the one hand, and their proclivity for alternative social and sexual conventions on the other, it is hardly surprising that they were strongly opposed by the mainstream church and that the reaction of Christians, today, toward anything that may be plausibly associated with them (however tenuously) continues to be extremely negative.  It does seem, historically– by virtue of both their beliefs and behaviors –that many so-called Gnostics came into significant conflict with important elements of New Testament thought and culture.  Nevertheless, I have argued that with regard to the cutting insight that constitutes gnosis itself, there is no such conflict.  Not only is the same insight perfectly consistent with a more conventional understanding of Genesis (see, for example, All Things Are New and The Curse and the Kingdom), once the light of the world is seen, there is no call to disparage our bodily existence or to look for a way of escape through what would seem to be– at least for some participants –nihilistic forms of belief and behavior.  All things are lawful for us, but all things are not expedient (Cf. I Corinthians 10:23).  Let us rather see that being raised with Christ in newness of life, the kingdom of God is indeed within us; among us; at handspread out upon the earth although most human beings (in despair) do not see it.

The take-home message is clear:  Let us repent–  deny our separate selves –take up our cross, and enter into life . . . NOW!

–>  To Know OR Not to Know?

NOTE:  While the idea of a unitive or nondual Christian Gnosis will no doubt seems strange to many on first hearing, it is, in fact, well on its way to becoming mainstream.  Here are several Christian authors who have advanced somewhat compatible views:

Francois du Toit
Wayne Teasdale
David Steindl-Rast
Richard Rohr
Henry Nouwen
Ted Nottingham
Thomas Merton
Thomas R. Kelly
Thomas Keating
Bede Griffeths
James Finley
Cythia Bourgeault


2 Responses to Gnosticism: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

  1. kenthamaker says:

    Have you read Jacob Needleman’s “Lost Christianity?” It deals with this issue exactly. He defines it in terms of the difference between “gnosis” and “gnosticism.”

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