GNOSIS vs. GNOSTICISM: MAKING A DISTINCTION

by Bryan Rice on October 31, 2009.

(Though my views have changed since 2009 and I am not identified with radical dualistic gnosticism anymore, I thought I would re-blog this to make some distinctions that I think are worth pondering).

What is meant by gnosis? What is meant by Gnosticism?

Gnosis has many connotations. It is a Greek word that means knowledge. But in the context of “Gnostic” belief, it can refer to multiple forms of knowledge. The type of knowledge for a Gnostic is not mere conceptual, informative, data, nor analytical ideas, as many heresiologists might contend. For a Gnostic, gnosis means a direct experience of the Transcendent God, unmediated by anyone else, imparted to an individual. Gnosis is understood to be “knowledge of the divine”, or “self-knowledge”. I have come to know it as being “Divine acquaintance”. According to Elaine Pagels, gnosis means “insight”. Gnosis and the idea of Enlightenment are interchangeable. It also can mean “self-realization” or “illumination”. It is “A Way”, A “Path” one treads in an unfolding awakening process, in discovering their divine nature. The awakening that takes place through gnosis, is waking from ignorance in a person, about their divine origin, that they came from God’s Light, as children of the Light. Gnosis leads one to be anointed with the Christos, and to become a light-bearer. Gnosis also helps free individuals from the prison of matter, rather the illusion of separateness from the Transcendent God, who I have come to know as the Holy Androgyne, of not only Father+, but Mother+ too, and (not achieve) but attain Christ or Messianic Consciousness.

Gnosticism then, is a movement and a worldview dedicated to liberation from ignorance about one’s origin and to reaching one’s full potential or awakening in Christ Consciousness. According to Wikipedia Gnosticism “refers to diverse, syncretistic religious movements in antiquity consisting of various belief systems generally united in the teaching that humans are divine souls trapped in a material world created by an imperfect god. This being is frequently identified with the Abrahamic god.” There are several sects in traditional Gnostic spirituality and practice such as Mandeans, Manicheans, Cathars, and Valentinians. Roots of Gnosticism come from Zorastrianism from Egypt, from Greece, and from Jewish mysticism related to what is known as the Kabbalah. Gnosticism as a worldview typically exists in dualistic consciousness, with the idea that the Transcendent God is “illimitable” and the eternal light, and a half-creator, or Demiurge, that came from an Emanation from God named Sophia, who decided to give birth to an offspring without blessings from God. Typically in Gnosticism, the world and creation and the cosmos are seen as the doing of the Demiurge, who considered himself a god. He became known as the lesser god who after creating a “corrupt and perishable universe”, (as antiquity teaches), created archontic powers, seen by many to be fallen angels.

So, matter and light are typically in Gnosticism to be distinct from one another, despite the belief that divine sparks of light are trapped in every incarnate human. To many, Gnosticism is a reality seen through the lens of poetic mythology, metaphors, the alternative view of creation, as mentioned, and traveling a unique path of salvation, “The Way” to gnosis. The eternal, imperishable realm of the Transcendent God exists as an outward Emanation from him/her. The real God exists in the Pleroma, or Fullness of God. Emanating outward from God are “divine principles” or “faces of God” called Aeons. They extend out and down towards matter, where separation from God seems to occur. Gnosticism supports the idea that “self-realization” can lead to a second birth and a human’s spirit can become a begotten son or daughter, an Aeon, in the Pleroma. For a Gnostic, knowledge in the forms talked about above, is what saves a person from having to reincarnate back into matter in a cyclic pattern. This belief is contrary to mainstream Christianity for instance, which says people are saved from their sins because Jesus died on the cross for them. They believed that the shedding of his blood atoned for their sins and that his resurrection from the dead opened the door for humanity to eternity.

Messianic Consciousness: The Way to Christhood

What is meant by gnosis? What is meant by Gnosticism?

Gnosis has many connotations. It is a Greek word that means knowledge. But in the context of “Gnostic” belief, it can refer to multiple forms of knowledge. The type of knowledge for a Gnostic is not mere conceptual, informative, data, nor analytical ideas, as many heresiologists might contend. For a Gnostic, gnosis means a direct experience of the Transcendent God, unmediated by anyone else, imparted to an individual. Gnosis is understood to be “knowledge of the divine”, or “self-knowledge”. I have come to know it as being “Divine acquaintance”. According to Elaine Pagels, gnosis means “insight”. Gnosis and the idea of Enlightenment are interchangeable. It also can mean “self-realization” or “illumination”. It is “A Way”, A “Path” one treads in an unfolding awakening process, in discovering their divine nature. The awakening that takes place through gnosis, is waking from ignorance…

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UNMEDIATED GRACE AND TONGUES OF FIRE: SPIRIT/GNOSIS FREELY GIVEN

If you are tired of hearing me talk about gnosticism, I apologize, but as I distance myself from it, I see some of the fruits of it. That is what I was trying to hint at in my last blog. No, I don’t believe that a lesser spiritual entity, something lesser than God, The most High God who I can accept as a Holy Androgyne of Father-Mother (after all, we were made in the image of God, male/female), created the universe, shaped it, gave it form, tried to breath life into it, then trapped light particles into what became known as the first man, Adam. I don’t give evil that much credit. I do believe as most Christians do, that there is a Satanic Diabolical Intelligence, or being, that influences creation negatively, but, in the end God will always overpower and defeat His Fallen Angel. Evil is clever, but not Ineffable. Satan and his minions are flawed and corrupt while God is all powerful and Imperishable.

Though evil lurks in the shadows and shows itself through things appealing to the eyes and senses, trying to gain our allegiance, we are also pursued ten fold more aggressively by God through His/Her love, grace, outpouring of light and spirit, and His/Her tactics to bring us into full Union with His/Her Fullness, what gnostics call The Pleroma. The experience that I think mainstream Christians need to adopt for the sake of full Self-Realization in God, is the experience of gnosis, or knowledge – self-knowledge and knowledge of God. The source of such experiences are Light, therefore the meaning of Illumination and Enlightenment are known. I believe that this should be an intergal part of not only spiritual formation, but an essential element of salvation (no, I’m not saying these should be the primary means, like gnosticism does; again I think that we need to judge a tree by its fruits and find a cohesion through comparitive religion, something that Jesus did do too) and well-being.

The direction of this blog depends on mentioning what I have to this point.  As a Christian and Catholic, I think we’ve inherited a bankrupt system of sin, punishment, rewards, and what A Course In Miracles calls “special love” and “special hate”. A big problem the whole of Judeo-Christian and Islamic faith systems need to examine are perhaps unconscious beliefs of being “special”, “chosen”, or “the elect” of God. Granted scribes of Holy Books may not have had the contemporary word for the Ego, the type of beliefs I just listed are qualities of an inflated ego. I’m not only pointing my fingers at these faith systems. In a past blog, I pointed out that experiences of gnosis can lead to inflation too.

Understanding that God passionately pursues us, and wants us to “know” him intimately, in our hearts and in our entire beings, is key to the point I want to make today, one that we should fruitfully and freely adopt from gnostic theology and soteriology. Gnostics teach that the experience of gnosis or what others may call “Christ consciousness”, is an unmediated experience of grace. The idea is that priestcraft or episcopasy (bishops) should not ever stand in the way of a personal experience of God’s love, rather gnosis is not dependent upon an intermediary. As a seminarian, I need to maintain my identity as a member of the laity, from this day onwards, on the day of my ordination to the priesthood, and every day thereafter. My studies in gnosticism have humbled me. I’m not going to advocate that everyone abandon their faith practices, take up gnosticism or a perverted ascetic form of it, and become a recluse. Please don’t misunderstand what I am trying to advocate for. As a Catholic, I have integrated Buddhist interests, and ideas from spiritual teachers such as Eckhart Tolle, Gary R. Renard, Deepak Chopra, and Wayne Dyer. This doesn’t make me any less Christian. Perhaps the teachings of other spiritually advanced mentors, carry some of the yeast to make the Bread of Life rise to its potential.

SO, UNMEDIATED GRACE. PERSONAL EXPERIENCES OF GOD. EVENTS SIMILAR TO PENTECOST WHEN TONGUES OF FIRE AND THE HOLY SPIRIT POURED ITSELF OUT FREELY ON ON THE APOSTLES, without expectation or foreknowledge (other than that Yeshua the Messiah send he would send an Advocate) – this is something to savor and encourage. I need to talk out of both sides of my mouth for a minute. Adopting this belief, where you may “close the door, and meet the Father in your inner room”, don’t excuse you from being an active member of The Body of Christ. As Father Richard Rohr taught in a series about the Apostle Paul, the life of the Church is participation. He emphasized this over and over, but DID say that what we can learn from Paul’s life as well, is finding deep meaning and love in personal revelations of God to his Children.

So, if the Holy Fire descends upon you, you don’t necessarily need to talk in tongues or prophecy. You are allowed to cherish the experience and remain in God’s love. Eventually, though, like the Apostles who saw Jesus transfigured, you do have to come down off that mountain top experience and go back into the valleys and get your hands dirty, or incarnate again. I wouldn’t be responsible if I didn’t say to the everyday enlightened gnostic: “remain in that love, KNOW HIM/HER, but please, devote yourself to sharing what you learn/experience with a world desperately in need of Light workers.” Yes, you are one too.

I just want to say, in closing, that I have integrated a practice into my life that has been fruitful, intensely loving, and full of that Holy Fire. Awhile back, even before I began to study gnosticism, I felt moved by the Holy Spirit to celebrate The Eucharist or Holy Communion. No, I haven’t been formally ordained or received the laying on of hands and thereby receiving apostolic succession, but like on Pentecost, the spirit comes and it does transform the elements of bread and wine into the Spiritual Food, I like so many people savor. This isn’t a replacement for experiencing traditional sacraments ministered by a priest or a deacon. I do value clergy very highly. In a recent internet search, I found a site belonging to The Gnostic Order of Christ. They advocated for and had a Eucharistic liturgy for people who could not get to a priest.  They consider it valid and powerful. I do too. So, why become a priest? Standing in for Christ and being Christ for others is a necessary vocation. People need a shepard, and Christ calls them into service to Him and The Holy Androgyne. I am meant to do more than administer sacraments. I want to be a spiritual director, a healer, and a vehicle to inspire peace, love, justice, surrender, transformation, transcendence of the violence that keeps cultures intact, and to be a “deathwalker”, as shamans call it, helping souls transition to the realm of eternity. Wishing you peace and resolve.

Messianic Consciousness: The Way to Christhood

If you are tired of hearing me talk about gnosticism, I apologize, but as I distance myself from it, I see some of the fruits of it. That is what I was trying to hint at in my last blog. No, I don’t believe that a lesser spiritual entity, something lesser than God, The most High God who I can accept as a Holy Androgyne of Father-Mother (after all, we were made in the image of God, male/female), created the universe, shaped it, gave it form, tried to breath life into it, then trapped light particles into what became known as the first man, Adam. I don’t give evil that much credit. I do believe as most Christians do, that there is a Satanic Diabolical Intelligence, or being, that influences creation negatively, but, in the end God will always overpower and defeat His Fallen Angel. Evil is clever, but not…

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JUDGE A TREE BY IT’S FRUITS

Messianic Consciousness: The Way to Christhood

This was originally posted in August 2009 on the blog Holy Fire by Brother Bryan after initial feelings of doubt about continuing to study classical Gnosticism.

I’ve been having a hard time dismissing the creation myths/stories/origins of the universe according to gnostic sources. One reason is that created nature has so much chaos and violence in it and gnostic teachings attribute that to a cosmic tradegy of miscreation involving corrupt matter that take the responsibility off of the shoulders of Adam and Eve. I guess what I was never able to understand is how nature and the cosmos went into “disorder” following the Fall of Adam and Eve. Whether I continue as an Independent Catholic or not, I still believe that scapegoating Adam and Eve for the mass chaotic cosmic tragedy is unthinkable because the chaos and violence that exists in the many kingdoms of this world, even in space…

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