GLYN, EDWARD CARR: Church of England, bishop of Peterborough; b. at London Nov. 21, 1843. He was educated at Harrow School and University College, Oxford (B.A., 1867), and was ordained priest in the following year. He was curate of Doncaster under C. J. Vaughan in 1868-1871, vicar of St. Mary's, Beverley, in 1872-75, vicar of Doncaster in 1875-78, and vicar of Kensington in 1878-97, as well as rural dean in 1881-97. In the latter year he was consecrated bishop of Peterborough. He was also chaplain to the archbishop of York in 1877-93, honorary chaplain to Queen Victoria in 1881-84, and chaplain in ordinary 1884-97. His literary activity has been restricted to individual sermons and pamphlets.

GNAPHEUS, GULIELMUS. See Fullonius, Gulielmus.


Gnosis and Gnosticism (§ 1).
Origin and Meaning (§ 2).
Sources (§ 3).
A Religion, not a Philosophy (§ 4).
Reliance upon Authority (§ 4).
Its Dualism (§ 6).
The Church and Gnosticism (§ 7).

Gnosticism (derived from Gk. gnosis, "knowledge") is a degenerate form of true gnosis, the true meaning of which as regards Christianity is gained from the New Testament, and is the knowledge


1. Gnosis and Gnosticism.

and recognition of the divine plan of salvation by means of a God-given insight. According to the oldest tradition, the Lord said to his disciples (Matt. xiii. 11): "it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven." To the Apostle Paul, gnosis was a function of the spiritual man (I Cor. ii. 11 sqq.), which every Christian possessed in its essentials. But as "there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit" the gift of gnosis, as well, could be given to some one in special measure (I Cor. xii. 4 sqq.). In a narrower sense, the Apostle regarded gnosis as the discerning of the ways in which the divine purpose of salvation had led man, in particular the people of the Covenant, in the course of history, and which, therefore, could be gained only from Scripture. Paul was aware of the moral dangers of such a gnosis; he knew that the possessor of it might imagine himself to be somewhat better than other men; nor was gnosis one of the three things that abide (I Cor. xiii. 13). It is a theological, more properly a theosophical, function; and for that very reason must be subordinated to faith, the specifically religious function. This conception is the one that has always been upheld by the Church. Even where it might seem as though the possessor of gnosis occupied a higher place than the poor in spirit, yet the point is emphasized again and again, that the possession of gnosis as such does not carry with it the assurance of redemption; and Clement of Alexandria, the ecclesiastical Gnostic, writes: "There are not, then, in the same Word some `illuminated (Gnostics) and some animal (or natural) men'; but all who have abandoned the desires of the flesh are equal and spiritual before the Lord" (ANF, ii. 217).

But not all were of this opinion. At quite an early period in Christendom the contrary view sprang up, which in the First Epistle to Timothy (vi. 20, R.V.) is aptly designated as "the knowledge which is falsely so called." Not individuals alone, but whole groups of such men, professing to be Christians, called themselves Gnostics (Carpocratians, in Irenaeus, ANF, i. 350-351; cf. Epiphanius, MPG, xli. 373; Naasseni, in Hippolytus, ANF, v. 47 sqq.; in Origen, a loosely defined sect, ANF, iv. 570; cf. again, Epiphanius, MPG, xli. 321, 364, 641, and other passages). They boasted, moreover, "that they alone have sounded the depths of knowledge" (Hippolytus, ANF, v. 47; cf. I Cor. ii. 10), and these "deep things" they pretended to have "searched" through a speculative process not founded upon Scripture. Irenaeus, who opposes them, used the term Gnostics in this latter signification, and since that time it has come to be the current designation for them. But this, at best, is only a formal qualification, the concrete analysis of which is difficult in proportion to the diversity of the phenomena to be comprehended under one general head.

2. Origin and Meaning.

Gnosticism was not a specifically Christian phenomenon but belonged to religious history in general. It happened quite often that Gnostic sects professed to be Christian when in reality they had nothing in common with Christianity; so that Origen justly said (ANF, iv. 585): "nor would Celsus, in his treatise against the Christians, have introduced among the charges directed against them statements which they never uttered." On the other hand, many a religious sect seemed to be independent which really was only a variety of Gnosticism: e.g., the Mandaeans and the Manicheans (qq.v.). At any rate the view that Gnosticism is only a partial phenomenon of Christian metaphysics, and only to that extent important, is too narrow; for, in order to understand Gnosticism completely, it should not be looked upon with the eye of the ecclesiastical historian and dogmatist, for whom those forms of Gnosticism are alone of interest which have acquired special significance in relation to the progress of Christianity, for the investigation of Gnosticism in religious history is yet in its rudiments, and has not hitherto produced convincing results. On the one hand, Gnosticism is apt to be closely associated with Hellenism, and is thought to be explained by reference to Greek philosophy (Joel), or, at any rate, in connection with the Greek mysteries (Weingarten and others), a theory culminating in Harnack's famous epigram, "the Gnostic systems represent the acute secularizing or Hellenizing of Christianity" (Dogma, i. 226). It is but an application of the same idea, to designate Gnosticism as Christian Orphism (Wobbermin), and by way of proof adduce the peculiar combination of theogonic and cosmogonic elements with the religious interest in expiation, consecration, deliverance. Others refer to the religious and magic sides of the Babylonian worship (Kessler: "the old Babylonian"; Anz: "the late Babylonian"), as though here was the native soil of Gnosticism, and mention also the influences of Zoroastrianism, and assume that the movement, as it spread over Christian Greek territory, lost its original character. However, no less expert an investigator than Jean Réville, in Revue de l'Histoire des Religions, xxxviii., 1898, 220-224), opposed this reference of Gnosticism to Chaldaic and Persian sources with the remark that an Egyptologist might advocate, with equal propriety, the derivation of Gnostic ideas from Egyptian speculative schools; and indeed Reitzenstein did derive a fair portion of Gnostic views from Egyptian syncretism. And yet those investigators might prove to be in the right who refer the origin of Gnosticism to the speculations of Babylonian or Zoroastrian priests. Bousset, taking for his guide some data supplied by Anz, has lately shown that the chief Gnostic problems are best explained by those Oriental conceptions (the seven and the meter; the mother and the unknown father; dualism; the first man; elements and substance; form of the redeemer; mysteries). In all the Gnostic systems he saw branches of a common tree whose roots deeply penetrated the syncretistic soil of the dying antique religion. And however it might be in particular instances, in general he judged correctly when be said; "Gnosis is not a phenomenon that presses forward; it is rather backward and stationary, a reaction of antique syncretism against the rising universal religion of Christianity" (W. Bousset, Hauptprobleme der Gnosis, p. 7, Göttingen, 1907). The doctors of the Church were right


in resisting with all their might these tendencies among their congregations, even if they did not always use the right remedies.

[The Gnostics may be divided into: the Judaizing Gnostics; the Anti-Judaistic Gnostics; the Gnosticizing pagans; the Ophites; and later the Manicheans and New Manicheans. The chief among the Judaizers were the followers of Basilides (q.v.), of Valentinus (q.v.), of Cerinthus (q.v.), and of Bardesanes (q.v.). The greatest leaders of the Anti-Judaizers were Saturninus (q.v.), Cerdo (q.v.), and Marcion (q.v.). One curious sect of them were the Archontici described by Epiphanius (Hær., xl.). Their founder was a hermit of Palestine, named Peter, but their principal seat was in Armenia. According to their sacred books there were seven heavens each with an archon or ruler, whence came their name; there was also an eighth heaven where dwelt the "mother of light." The ruler of the seventh heaven was the God of the Jews, and the Devil was his son. They rejected baptism but anointed the dying with oil and water to protect them from the archons of the lower heavens. See also Docetism. Among the Gnosticizing pagans were the Borborites or Borborians (dirt-eaters, from Gk. borboros, mud). See also the articles on Carpocrates and the Carpocratians, Simon Magus, Antitactae, Prodicians, Nicolaitans, Ophites, and Cainites. For an account of the later developments of Gnosticism see Encratites, Mandaeans, Manicheans and New Manichaeans.]

3. Sources

The Gnostic writings were of all kinds: Gospels (of Eve, Mary, Jude, Thomas, Philip, etc.); Apocalypses (of Adam, Abraham, Nicotheus, Zoroaster, etc.); Acts (of Peter, John, Thomas, Andrew, and Matthew); hymns (Naaaseni, Bardesanes, "Books of Jeu"); odes (Basilides); psalms (Valentinus, Bardesanes, Marcionites); and homilies (Valentinus). Then, too, the Gnostics had their theological literature; dogmatic and philosophic treatises (Isidore, Valentinus, Theodotus, Bardesanes, Marcion); critical investigations (Ptolemmus, Apelles); commentaries on sacred writings and prophetic revelations (Basilides, Heracleon, Isidore); mystery books (Pistis Sophia, "Books of Jeu," etc.). Of all these books, only a few have been preserved; but enough to apply a check to the heresy refutations (see below), and to give an insight into the Gnostic beliefs and ideas. Preserved intact are: (1) The letter of the Valentinian Ptolemaeus (see Valentinus) to Flora (Greek text edited by A. Harnack in H. Lietzmann's Kleine Texte, No.9, Bonn, 1904); (2) Pistis-Sophia, the two "Books of Jeu," and a Gnostic work of unknown origin, in Coptic (ed. C. Schmidt, Leipsic, 1905; see Ophites); there is an Eng. transl., Pistis Sophia. A Gnostic Gospel (with Extracts from the Books of the Saviour appended). Originally translated from Greek into Coptic and now for the first time Englished from Schwartze's Latin Version of the only known Coptic MS. and checked by Amélineau's French Version, with an Introduction by G. R. S. Mead (London, 1896); (3) three Gnostic writings of the second century: "Gospel according to Mary," "Wisdom of Jesus Christ," "Acts of Peter," in Coptic (not yet published. The "Gospel of Mary" is the source which Irenaeus used for his account of the Barbelo-Gnostics: cf. C. Schmidt, in Philotesia für Kleinert, Berlin, 1907). There are also preserved many fragments, especially in Clement and Origen, which afford much information about Basilides and Isidore, Valentinus and Heracleon, as also about the Valentinians of the Oriental school (the so-called Excerpta Theodoti). Bardesanes has quite a different aspect when he is seen not only by the light of the polemics of Ephraim, but also by that of his own ideas, as shown by one of his pupils, in the "Book of the Laws of the Lands" (Spicilegium Syriacum, Syriac, Greek, and English, ed. Cureton, London, 1855). Again enough is known of Marcion and Apelles for a clear conception of their work.

The polemics of the ecclesiastical writers against heretics are, at best, but a secondary source, and that strongly colored by both defective knowledge and personal ill-will; although still a valuable source of our acquaintance with Gnosticism. Unfortunately the earliest writings of this kind (by Agrippa, Castor, Justin, Rhodon, Philip of Gortyna, Modestus, Hegesippus; see the separate articles) have been lost. In all probability, however, their substance was incorporated into extant writings on heresies by Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Epiphanius, Theodoret of Cyrrhus, into the so-called "Catalogues of Heretics" of the pseudo-Tertullian and are treated in the works of Philastrius, Augustine, Praedestinatus, etc. There is also a pagan tract on the subject: the discourse of Plotinus, Adv. gnosticos (Ennead, ii. 9).

4. A Religion, not a Philosophy.

The chief defect in all these expositions and refutations is the impossibility of adapting oneself to the opponent's platform; the eagerness to impute to him motives and intentions such as he either has not at all, or at least does not hold and pursue in the manner charged against him. The combaters of the heretics seem to maintain again and again that the speculative utterances of the Gnostics are merely philosophical, not religious; merely cosmological, not soteriological. This view is false. In the sense of the Gnostics, gnosis is religion; knowledge is redemption: to know, that is to be redeemed, is possible only for the spiritual man who has come from heaven and is prepared for eternity. Hence Gnostics and spiritual men become synonymous terms, and gnosis is the gift of grace which is imparted to the spiritual man in his very cradle and develops with his growth, resolving the riddles that surround him. "We are freed by the knowledge of these things: who we were, what we have become; where we were, and whither we were brought; whither we hasten and whence we were delivered; what birth is, and what regeneration" (MPG, ix. 696). The means of solving these questions varied, in each case, according to the spiritual elevation of the questioner: dualistic and pantheistic, mythological and pagan, Oriental and Hellenistic; mystical and profoundly thoughtful, speculations contributed their several strands to the composite fabric. Yet even in so abstruse a product as the philosophy of the Books of Jeu, redemption is still brought back to the divine


revelation as manifested in Christ. Now the surest sign that this gnosis was a matter of religion and not of philosophy was the fact that its advocates made efforts to form associations; although it was not always clear where the school stopped and the church began, nor were Gnostics like Valentinus to be classed with the Oriental sectaries included under the designation of Ophites (q.v.), with whom organization on a mystic basis can be shown most distinctly. Still, not among these alone, but rather almost everywhere in Gnostic communities, mystic consecrations and symbolic rites of the utmost variety were customary alike at the beginning and end of religious services: such as induction into the bridal chamber, branding the right ear, baptism with water, fire, and spirit, anointing, celebration of communion, unction of the dying, and so on. Nor is it to be overlooked, that the religious way to salvation is also accompanied by the moral way. The spiritual man either strives to suppress and annihilate that which still fetters him to the material, by weakening and mortifying his body; or, thanks to his exalted state of mind in the possession of salvation, he believes himself exempt from accountability in respect to the deeds of his body, thus giving free course to the sensual desires, since they can not stain the spirit. In short, both asceticism and libertinism were prevalent among Gnostic sects.

5. Reliance upon Authority.

It is, finally, of particular significance that the heretical gnosis too was founded upon revelation authorities, and so emulated orthodox Christendom. The founders of sects and the foremost oracles of the Spirit drew power and instruction from direct converse with deity; prophecy stood in high esteem; great value was laid on tradition: whereby, just as the Church did, they contrived to link themselves to primitive Christianity. Basilides named Glaukias, supposedly an interpreter of Peter, as his teacher; Valentinus professed to have heard Theodas, a disciple of Paul; the Naasseni referred to James, brother of the Lord, and in like manner they esteemed Scripture tradition highly, although most of the Christian Gnostics saw the enemy of their gnosis in the God of the Jews, and consequently rejected his book, the Old Testament. Nevertheless the documents of primitive Christianity, in so far as they could trace them back to the Apostles, ranked with them as Holy Scripture; even though they tried first to render them orally acceptable by means of dogmatic interpretation. Above all, however, they enriched sacred literature with their own productions (cf. 3, above).

6. Its Dualism

Then the radical Gnostic tendency that gave special offense to the orthodox mode of thinking was its dualism which was strongly opposed to orthodox Christianity, based on monism. This dualism was plain in every way, and may be treated under the following heads: (1) Dualism in theology and cosmology: for the Gnostics separated the supreme God and the creator of the world. So, too, in the elaborated forms of gnosis, the supreme God was considered as the God of the new covenant, the creator of the world as the God of the old covenant; but in seeking to show the highest honor to Christianity by separating its God from the God of Judaism, they thereby uprooted Christianity from the very soil in which it had been planted as a historic religion. (2) Dualism in Christology: the divine eon, sent from on high to redeem the spiritual that is in the material, was Christ, but a sharp distinction was drawn between this supermundane Christ and the historical Jesus. With the latter the eon either merely contracted a temporary union (joined him in baptism, but forsook him before death); or the Jewish Jesus was only the manifestation of the heavenly redeemer, who was obliged to assume a body in order to become visible; or, lastly, the entire visible apparition of the redeemer, his birth, life, and death, was in semblance only. (3) Dualism in anthropology: men were distinguished as spiritual men, in whom the divine portion to be redeemed lived bound to the material portion; and as material men, who, having deteriorated into matter, were not an object of redemption. There were besides, in certain cases, the men " of soul," who were destined to a certain degree of blessedness, and for whose understanding the verities of salvation had to be clothed in their historic dress. (4) Dualism in soteriology: redemption was separation of spirit from matter: a. beginning even at present; hence there was either mortification and contempt of the material, by way of asceticism, or else libertinism. b. The process became complete in the future: hence there was rejection of the primitive Christian hopes as to a future life: especially the belief in the resurrection of the body.

7. The Church and Gnosticism

The Church did right in opposing this dualism with all possible vigor. The crisis evoked by the assaults of Gnosticism was the greatest and most momentous in its consequences of all the convulsions to which Christianity was exposed in the course of its growth in the soil of antique civilization. Had Gnosticism not been overcome, then Christianity had forfeited its peculiar genius; torn loose from its historic foundation, it would have been drawn into the general vortex, thus perishing - like the religions of collapsing paganism. The danger was especially serious in so far as the still immature organization of the congregations, only partly formed and insecurely established as they were then, was easily accessible to perversions and offered the enemy various points for attack. Men of might then strove to strengthen this organization, by creating the standards the acknowledgment of which was absolutely required of every one who would be a Christian; such as the Apostles' Creed, the collection of Apostolic writings, the Apostolic office. Like shrewd physicians, too, they did not scruple to inject into the sick body some of the poison that threatened to destroy its life, and in fact, both in faith and in manners and customs, the ancient catholic Church distinctly showed the influence exerted by the vanquished syncretism on its successful conqueror.

Gnosticism was indeed the bastard offspring of genuine, real gnosis; yet injustice would be done if it were forgotten that amid the well-nigh inex-


tricable tangle of the most heterogeneous tendencies and strivings, there lurked many a sublime invention. The reader of the Books of Jeu, to be sure, is not prepared by their introductory strain of beautiful praise for the living Jesus to be plunged afterward into that ocean of barren formulas in magic, the bulk of their contents. On the other hand, the reader who lays aside the Naassenian Hymn without feeling its inward hold on him, may well begin to ask himself, does he know what religion is? Athwart the transparent envelop of Valentine's wonderful cosmic poem may be caught gleams of the loftiest and profoundest ideas in a very noble setting.

G. KrĂĽger.

Bibliography: For the extant literature of the Gnostics consult: the edition of Irenaeus by A. Stieren, i. 901-971, Leipsic, 1853; the Pistis Sophia, ed. M. G. Schwartze and J. H. Petermann, Gotha, 1851-53 (Coptic and Latin), cf. the Fr. transl. by E. Amélineau, Paris, 1895, Eng. transl., mentioned above in § 3; Codex Brucianus, ed. C. Schmidt in TU, vii. 1-2 (1892); idem, in SBA, 1896, pp. 839-847; Harnack, Geschichte, i. 143201; idem, Zur Quellenkritik des Gnosticismus, Leipsic, 1873, and cf.: G. Volkmar, Die Quellen der Ketzergeschichte bis sum Nicänum, Leipsic, 1855; R. A. Lipsius, Zur Quellenkritik des Epiphanios, Vienna, 1865; H. Stähelin, Die gnostischen Quellen Hippolyts, in TU, vi. 3 (1891); J. Kunze, De historia: gnosticismi fontibus, Leipsic, 1894.

On the system in general the fullest discussion is still J. Matter, Hist. critique du gnosticisme, 3 vols., Paris, 1843-44. Consult further: A. Neander, Genetische Entwickelung der vornehmalen gnostischen Systeme, Berlin, 1818; idem, Christian Church, consult Index; E. Burton, Heresies of the Apostolic Age, Oxford, 1829; J. A. Mohler, Der Ursprung des Gnosticismus, Tübingen, 1831; F. C. Baur, Die christliche Gnosis oder die christliche Religionsphilosophie, ib. 1835; R. Massuet, in Stieren's Irenaeus, ut sup., ii. 54 sqq.; R. A. Lipsius, Der Gnosticismus, Leipsic, 1860; W. Möhler, Geschichte der Kosmologie in der griechischen Kirche, Halle, 1860; E. Amélineau, Essai sur Ie gnosticisme égyptien, Paris, 1866; T. Mansel, The Gnostic Heresies of the First and Second Centuries, London, 1875; J. B, Lightfoot, in his Commentary on Colossians, ib. 1879; M. Joel, Blicke in die Religionsgeschichte, i. 114-170, Breslau, 1880; G. Koffmane, Die Gnosis nach ihrer Tendenz and Organisation, ib. 1881; A. Hilgenfeld, Die Ketzergeschichte des Urchristentums, Leipsic, 1884; C. W. King, The Gnostics and their Remains, London, 1887; A. Dieterich, Abraxas. Studien zur Religionsgeschichte des späteren Altertums, Leipsic, 1891; G. Amich, Das antike Mysterienwesen, Göttingen, 1894; A. Harnack, Untersuchungen über das gnostische Buch Pistis-Sophia, in TU, vii. 2 (1891); idem, Dogma, passim, consult Index; H. Gunkel, Schöpfung und Chaos, Göttingen, 1895; G. Wobbermin, Religionsgeschichtliche Studien zur Frage der Beeinflussung des Urchristentums durch das antike Mysterienwesen, Berlin, 1896; W. Anz, in TU, xv. 4 (1897); M. Friedländer, Der vorchristliche judische Gnosticismus, Göttingen, 1898; G. R. S. Mead, Fragments of a Faith Forgotten; Sketches among the Gnostics of the first two Centuries, London 1900; E. H. Schmitt, Die Gnosis. Grundlagen der Weltanschauung einer edleren Kultur, Leipsic, 1903; E. Preuschen, Zwei gnostische Hymnen, Giessen 1904; R. Reitzenstein, Poimandres, Leipsic, 1904; E. Bischoff, Im Reiche der Gnosis; die mystischen Lehren des judischen und christlichen Gnosticismus, Mandäismus und Manichäismus und ihr babylonisch-astraler Ursprung, ib. 1906; W. Bousset, Hauptprobleme der Gnosis, Göttingen 1907; E. Buonniuti, Lo Gnosticismo, Rome, 1907; DCB, ii. 678-687; KL, v.765-775; the literature under the articles named in tho first paragraph of this article, the text-books and treatises on the church history of the period, and the works on the history of dogma.


CCEL home page
This document is from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library at
Calvin College. Last modified on 08/11/06. Contact the CCEL.
Calvin seal: My heart I offer you O Lord, promptly and sincerely