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Gnosticism: what is this religious doctrine and what ideas does it hold

Gnosticism: what is this religious doctrine and what ideas does it hold

May 24, 2022

Gnosticism is a phenomenon that is related to the Judeo-Christian tradition . This phenomenon groups different religious systems that were considered heretics during the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. However, they proposed different ways of understanding the nature of human beings that continue to be discussed to this day.

Next, we will review the definitions of Gnosticism, its characteristics and the practices that are most representative of this philosophical and religious doctrine.

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What is Gnosticism?

Gnosticism is a term used to refer to a group of ideas and religious systems that existed between the 1st and 2nd centuries AD Broadly speaking, the systems that are grouped within Gnosticism, propose that everything that exists in the material world is created by a God who fixes a divine spark inside the body of the human being.


This spark is trapped inside that body, but can be released. To liberate it, it is possible to resort to a group of sages who are the possessors of the "gnosis" (the special knowledge of the divine). Through this liberation, it would be possible to liberate the true essence of the human being and identify it with God. Likewise, the problem par excellence of religious thought would be solved: where does evil come from?

This doctrine was considered heretical by Christians of the time to be considered an esoteric practice and away from the values ​​of Christianity. Not only that, but it is related to Hellenic culture and Eastern religions, and thus, to the emergence of Christianity itself. Therefore, Gnosticism is part of the doctrines that formed the basis of the Western worldview.


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The gnosis and knowledge of the divine

In some contexts the words "gnosis" and "gnosticism" are used as if they were synonyms. In others, the word "gnosis" refers to "authentic Christianity." Likewise, the word "gnostic" serves to refer to the members of religious sects.

Gnosticism is a concept created in modernity, which takes the term "gnostikoi" who were the compilers of the catalogs of heresies. Through this concept they wanted to designate the multiplicity of movements, sects or schools and their common features.

For its part, "gnosis" comes from a Greek word meaning "knowledge", and in the context of religions refers to a saving knowledge, which is acquired through a revelation.

According to Culdaut (1996), the historian F.C Baur (1792-1860) is the founder of research on gnosis. This author talks about Gnosticism, not as a heresy but as a new religion that synthesizes the pagan religious forces of before Christianity .


Main characteristics of Gnosticism

According to Culdaut (1996), the movements and doctrines of Gnosticism share three characteristic features: Gnosis is acquired through a revelation ; the base of knowledge is dualistic; and there are constructions and mythological stories.

1. Faith versus knowledge

The knowledge of gnosis is not simply a belief. Therefore, it goes beyond the attitude that we call "faith". The latter is considered inferior to the ability to know, with which, gnosis is a knowledge that is acquired by means of a revelation, and get it means redemption in itself .

The maximum knowledge that can be acquired is the knowledge about oneself, of the true being; for Gnosticism, this is what would make human beings come closer to God.

2. The fundamental dualism

At the base of the systems and doctrines of Gnosticism is found a dualistic interpretation of the cosmos . In this interpretation, God and the world are two opposite entities. God is separated from the material, it is transcendent. The material is then, anti-God.

From there it is understood that everything that is composed of matter, is bad, with which, the main task of Gnostic practices is liberate the "true being" from its anti-divine (material) components .

And this is so because Gnosticism opposes the figure of the Demiurge (who is the god who creates the material world), to that of the "true God" (who is the saving God), with which, it is understood that the earthly world is least important. What is truly important is the divine ascent of souls.

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3. The mythological stories

To explain and transmit the previous points, Gnosticism resorts to mythological stories. These stories are the way to understand what "I" is , where it comes from and where it goes. Above all, to understand how the soul can return to the spiritual world and free itself from the evil of the material.

In these stories, the central theme is how to direct the destiny of the soul that has fallen on earth. In the history of Western civilization, these stories can be traced back to before the first and second centuries, in the Greek myths of Homer .

Despite being hidden and repressed, the Gnostic movement represented an important way of exerting pressure on Christianity, which ultimately influenced the conformation of Christian thought and Western thought.

Bibliographic references:

  • Coullaut, F. (1996). The birth of Christianity and Gnosticism. Akal: Madrid.
  • Sun, E. (2016). Gnosticism and its rituals. A general introduction Foreground, 5: 225-240. //www.ucm.es/data/cont/docs/106-2016-05-03-15.%20Elena%20SOL%20JIMÉNEZ.pdf.

Gnosticism and its influence on Christianity (FULL) (May 2022).


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