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Gnosticism drew upon this mingling of religions. This was a very important movement, but is so difficult to present in detail that we must be content to give only the most noteworthy outlines. Gnosis means “knowledge”; and this is in fact the first and most important point, that one must have a great fund of knowledge to be able to know all these doctrines about the different divine beings, and at the same time a great deal of penetration rightly to apprehend the deep thoughts which were hidden under such wonderful clothing. These Gnostics, or Knowers, were at the same time men who thought deeply about the 149origin of the world; and their ideas were again taken up by several of the most prominent philosophers of the nineteenth century.

One idea which continually recurs in their systems is that a deep division runs through the world. God is by nature good, pure, unspotted; the matter of which the world consists is also by nature evil, impure, tainted. God cannot therefore come into contact with this matter; and it would have remained for ever unorganised and devoid of any divine influence, if subordinate divine beings had not imparted this to it and converted it into an organised world. They do it, however, in a very imperfect way; for their own knowledge is quite limited. This is why the world is so faulty.

The soul and the body of men are by nature just as much strangers to one another as are God and the world. The soul comes from heaven, whether it be supposed that the creator of the world, that is to say, one of those divine, but subordinate, beings, created it, or that it represents a spark which emanated from the highest God Himself and descended into the gloomy kingdom of the world. The body, however, is a part of that matter of which the world consists, and therefore shares all its evil characteristics. Through the senses, and the spell which they exercise, it drags down the soul into the domain of the vile and common, and estranges it from its divine destiny. It is its prison, and the soul cannot escape from it, partly for the very good reason that it is no longer conscious of its divine origin. If, therefore, it is to be redeemed, some one must come who will first make it realise that it has come from God. But this can only be a being who has himself come from God, and possesses the knowledge of the divine in full measure—in other words, a god.


All Gnostics who confessed themselves Christians have found this being in Christ as he appeared upon earth. But the division which exists between the soul and the body of every man, of course affects him also, and even in a much stronger degree. A being so high and divine cannot really have a body which consists of earthly matter. Consequently, the Gnostics could only explain in one of two ways. Either the Christ who came down from heaven was only in an external way united to an ordinary man Jesus, who was born of Joseph and Mary, but was righteous in a peculiar degree: that is to say, he came down upon him at the baptism in the Jordan, but left him again before he suffered death, so that the person who underwent suffering was only the man Jesus. Or the heavenly Christ, during the whole of his sojourn upon earth, possessed himself of a phantom body, so that all his human acts, such as eating, sleeping, suffering, &c., were nothing more than appearance.

From what we have said, it will be clear that the chief task of this redeemer was to make the soul of man realise that it is of divine origin. But many souls are not able to apprehend this truth; and so the same disastrous division again makes itself felt, and separates men into two classes. In the nature of the case, it is very conceivable that the great sum of knowledge and the great depth of thought appertaining to Gnosis, could not be within the reach of many simple people. But the Gnostics assumed that the question who can attain to it has been decided long before one comes to know it; from eternity there are some, namely the Gnostics themselves, endowed with the capacity to appropriate it as soon as it is imparted to them, whereas to others this faculty is denied from eternity, and therefore they could never be happy.


From the time when the soul of the Gnostic comes to know its divine origin it is, strictly speaking, released from its fetters. A new life begins for it, and from this point it is already sure of returning to heaven as soon as death emancipates it from the body. For this reason, in 2 Tim. ii. 18, and of course in a tone of reproach, the doc trine of the Gnostics is represented thus: “the resurrection is come already.” And it is a resurrection only of the soul. The body can in no way share in the eternal happiness; it abides for ever in death. The Gnostics are equally firm in rejecting the idea that the Christ, who has risen and been exalted to heaven, will return to earth again, when the dead will be awakened and their works judged. Every soul at the moment of death of itself reaches its final state of happiness.

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