Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament 
Gnosticism (Gr. γνῶσις, ‘knowledge’) is the name of a syncretistic religion and philosophy which flourished more or less for four centuries alongside Christianity, by which it was considerably influenced, under which it sheltered, by which at last it was overcome. Gnosis is first used in the relevant specific sense in 1 Timothy 6:20; γνῶσις ψευδώνυμος-‘science falsely so-called.’ By Christian writers the word ‘Gnostics’ was at first applied mainly to one branch: the Ophites or Naasenes (Hippol. Philos . v. 2: ‘Naasenes who call themselves Gnostics’; cf. Iren. i. xi. 1; Epiphan. Haer . xxvi.). But already in Irenaeus the term has a wider application to the whole movement. Gnosticism rose to prominence early in the 2nd cent. though it is much older than that, and reached its height before the 3rd century. By the end of the latter century it was waning.
The above description will require justification. What may be termed the popular view of Gnosticism has been to regard it as a growth out of Christianity, an overdone theologizing on the part of Christians, who under foreign influences simply carried to extreme lengths what had been begun by apostles. Meantime it may be said that, in the view of the present writer, such a theory is an entire misconception, and historically untenable. Gnosticism and Christianity are two movements originally quite independent, so much so that it would scarcely be an exaggeration to say that, had there been no Christianity, there could still have been Gnosticism, in all essentials the Gnosticism we know.
1. Authorities .-Of the vast literature produced by Gnostics little has survived, and what has survived is almost entirely from the last stages of the movement. We may mention as survivals Pistis Sophia , the Coptic-Gnostic texts of the Codex Brucianus , the two Books of Jeu , and an unnamed third book described by C. Schmidt, ‘Gnost. Schriften in kopt. Sprache aus dem Codex Brucianus’ ( Texte and Untersuchungen viii. ). Then we know something of works deeply tinged with Gnosticism, such as the Acts of Thomas . But our chief sources of knowledge are the writings of those Fathers who oppose Gnosticism, and who often give lengthy quotations from Gnostic works. These fragments have been carefully collected by Hilgenfeld in his Ketzer-geschichte . Most important of the Fathers for our purpose are Irenaeus ( adv. Haer . i. 4), Hippolytus ( Philosophoumena ), Clement of Alexandria ( Stromateis, Excerpta ex Theodoto ), Tertullian ( adv. Marcionem, adv. Hermogenem, adv. Valentinianos ), Epiphanius ( Panarion ).
2. Main features of Gnosticism .-Gnosticism has often been described as a hopelessly tangled mass of unintelligible fantastic speculations, the product of imagination in unrestrained riot, irreducible to order. In its various, and especially its later forms, it shows a wealth of details which are fantastic, but, if we do not lose ourselves in too keen a search for minutiae, we shall find in it an imposing and quite intelligible system. Probably Gnostics themselves regarded as unessential those details which to us seem so fantastic (cf. Rainy, Ancient Catholic Church , p. 119). Gnostic schools generally were at one in holding a system the main features of which were as follows.
(1) A special revelation .-The word γνῶσις has misled many into thinking that Gnostics are essentially those who prize intellectual knowledge as superior to faith. By gnosis , however, we have to understand not knowledge gained by the use of the intellect, but knowledge given in a special revelation. Not greater intellectual power than the Christians possessed, but a fuller and better revelation, was what the Gnostics claimed to have. They took no personal credit for it; it had been handed down to them. Its author was Christ or one of His apostles, or at least one of their friends. In several cases they professed to be able to give the history of its transmission. Thus Basilides claims Glaukias, an interpreter of St. Peter ( Strom . vii. 17 , 106f.), or Matthias (Hipp. vii. 20). Valentinus claims Theodas, an acquaintance of St. Paul’s ( Strom. loc. cit .). The Ophites claim Mariamne and James (Hipp. v. 7). Or they appealed to a secret tradition imparted to a few by Jesus Himself (so Irenaeus frequently).
(2) Dualism .-This is the foundation principle of all Gnostic systems, and from it all else follows. In the ancient world we meet two kinds of dualism, one in Greek philosophy, the other in Eastern religion. Greek dualism was between φαινόμενα and νούμενα, between the world of sense-appearance and the realm of real being. The lower was but a shadow of the higher; still it was a copy of it. The contrast was not, to any great extent at least, between the good and the evil, but between the real and the empty, formless, unreal. Eastern dualism, on the other hand, drew a sharp distinction between the world of light and the world of darkness, two eternal antagonistic principles in unceasing conflict. In Gnosticism we have a primarily Eastern dualism combined with the Greek form. The world of goodness and light is the Pleroma (‘fullness’), i.e. the realm of reality in the Greek sense; the kingdom of evil and darkness is the Kenoma (‘emptiness’), the phenomenal world of Greek philosophy. Hence the Gnostic dualism comes to be between God and matter, two eternal entities, and the ὑλη (‘matter’) is essentially evil.
(3) Demiurge .-As the Gnostic surveyed the world of matter, he found patent traces of law and order ruling it. How did matter, in itself evil and lawless, come to be so orderly? The Gnostic took the view of Nature which J. S. Mill took, and argued that either the Creator was not all-good or He was not all-powerful. The Gnostic reasoned that the world which with all its order is yet so imperfect cannot be the work of God who is wholly good and all-wise; it must be the production of some far inferior being. The world, then, it was taught, was the work of a Demiurge-a being distinct from God. The character of this Demiurge was variously conceived by different schools; some, e.g. Cerinthus, made him a being simply ignorant of the highest God. The tendency became strong, however, to make him hostile to God, an enemy of Light and Truth (the blasphemia Creatoris ). The God of the Jews was identified with this Demiurge. As to the origin of the Demiurge, some held him to belong ab initio to the realm of evil. But the characteristic view was that he was a much-removed emanation from the Pleroma. This theory of emanations is a prominent feature of most of the systems, and it is here that Gnosticism ran into those wild fancies that to some make the whole system so phantasmagoric. The view was that from God there emanated a series of beings called ‘aeons,’ each step in the genealogy meaning a diminution of purity; and the Demiurge was the creation of an aeon far down, indeed the very lowest in the scale. Nature and human nature, then, are productions of a Demiurge either ignorant of, or positively hostile to, the true God. While in a few schools there was only one Demiurge, most spoke of seven as concerned in cosmogony. The origin of this is clear. The seven are the seven astronomical deities of Perso-Babylonian religion. The fusion of Persian and Babylonian views resulted in those deities, originally beneficent, being conceived of as evil (Orig. c. Cels . vi. 22; Zimmern, KAT [Note: AT Zimmern-Winckler’s ed. of the preceding (a totally distinct work), 1902-03.]3[Note: Zimmern-Winckler’s ed. of the preceding (a totally distinct work), 1902-03.]ii. 620ff.).
(4) Redemption .-Christian and Gnostic agree in finding in this world goodness fettered and thwarted by evil. They differ entirely in their conception of the conflict. The familiar Christian view is that into a world of perfect order and goodness a fallen angel brought confusion and evil. The common Gnostic view is that into a world of evil a fallen aeon brought a spark of life and goodness. The fall of this aeon is variously explained in different systems, as due to weakness (the aeon furthest from God was unable to maintain itself in the Pleroma), or to a sinful passion which induced the aeon to plunge into the Kenoma. Howsoever the aeon fell, it is imprisoned in the Kenoma, and longs for emancipation and return to the Pleroma. With this longing the world of aeons sympathizes, and the most perfect aeon becomes a Redeemer. The Saviour descends, and after innumerable sufferings is able to lead back the fallen aeon to the Pleroma, where He unites with her in a spiritual marriage. Redemption is thus primarily a cosmical thing. But in redeeming the fallen aeon from darkness, the Saviour has made possible a redemption of individual souls. To the Gnostic, the initiated, the Saviour imparts clear knowledge of the ideal world to be striven after, and prompts him so to strive. The soul at all points, before and after death, was opposed by hostile spirits, and a great part of Gnostic teaching consisted in instructing the soul as to how those enemies could be over-come. Here comes in the tangle of magico-mystical teaching, so large an element of the later schools. All sorts of rites, baptisms, stigmatizings, sealing, piercing the ears, holy foods and drinks, etc., were enjoined. It was important also to know the names of the spirits, and the words by which they could be mastered. Some systems taught a multitude of such ‘words of power’; in other systems one master word was given, e.g. caulacau (Iren. i. xxiv. 5).
(5) Christology .-Gnosticism in union with Christianity identified its Saviour, of course, with Jesus. As to the connexion see below. All Christianized Gnostics held a peculiar Christology. Jesus was a pure Spirit, and it was abhorrent to thought that He should come into close contact with matter, the root of all evil. He had no true body, then, but an appearance which He assumed only to reveal Himself to the sensuous nature of man. Some, like Cerinthus, held that the Saviour united Himself with the man Jesus at the Baptism, and left him again before the Death. Others held that the body was a pure phantom. All agreed that the Divine Saviour was neither born nor capable of death. Such a view of Christ’s Person is Docetism, the antithesis of Ebionism.
(6) Anthropology .-Man is regarded as a microcosm. His tripartite nature (some had only a bipartism)-spirit, soul, body-reflects God, Demiurge, matter. There are also three classes of mankind-carnal (ὑλικοί), psychic (ψυχικοί), spiritual (πνευματικοί). Heathen are hylic, Jews psychic, and Christians spiritual. But within the Christian religion itself the same three classes are found; the majority are only psychic, the truly spiritual are the Gnostics. They alone are the true Church.
(7) Eschatology .-while Gnostics alone were certain of return to the Kingdom of Light, some at least were disposed to think charitably of the destiny of the psychics, who might attain a measure of felicity. Gnostics denied a resurrection of the body, as we should expect. The whole world of matter was to be at last destroyed by fires springing from its own bosom.
(8) Old Testament .-While there existed a Judaistic Gnosticism, represented by Essenes, Gnostic Ebionites, and Cerinthus ( qq.v. [Note: v. quœ vide, which see.]), who with various modifications accepted the OT, the great mass of Gnostics were anti-Judaistic, and rejected the OT. This followed logically from their identification of the God of the Jews with the Demiurge, an ignorant, and in some cases an evil, Being. No doubt they found also some plausible support in Pauline anti-legalism. We can see here what ground some schools could have for making heroes of the characters represented as wicked in the OT. If it was inspired by an ignorant or wicked Being, truth would be found by inverting its estimates.
Such in outline is Gnosticism as a system, though schools varied in detail under every heading (cf. Harnack, Dogmengeschichte ; P. Wernle, Beginnings of Christianity , Eng. translation, London, 1903-04; Schaff, Church History , ‘Ante-Nicene Christianity’).
(9) Gnostic cultus and ethic .-The full development of these (as of the whole system), of course, lies outside our period, but of the latter we see the tendencies in the NT itself; and it is desirable to say something of the former, to make our sketch of the main features of Gnosticism complete.
( a ) As to cultus , Gnosticism produced two opposite movements which are comparable with puritanism and ritualism respectively. The abhorrence of matter led some consistently to the utmost simplicity of worship. Some rejected all sacraments and other outward means of grace, and the Prodicians rejected even prayer (Epiphan. Haer . xxvi.; Clem. Alex. Strom . i. 15 , vii. 7 ). On the other hand, many groups, especially the Marcosians, went to the opposite extreme with a symbolic and mystic pomp in worship. This, while inconsistent with the Gnostic views of matter, is in line with the ideas of magico-mystical salvation indicated above. Sacraments were numerous, rites many and varied. It seems clear that they led the way in introducing features which became characteristic of the Catholic Church. They were distinguished as hymn-writers (Bardesanes, Ophites, Valentinians). The Basilideans seem to have been the first to celebrate the festival of Epiphany. The Simonians and Carpocratians first used images of Christ and others (see Church Histories of Schaff, Kurtz, etc.).
( b ) The ethic also took two directions-one towards an unbridled antinomianism, the other towards a gloomy asceticism. Antinomian Gnostics ( e.g. Nicolaitans, Ophites) held that sensuality is to be overcome by indulging it to exhaustion, and they practised the foulest debaucheries. The Ascetics ( e.g. Saturninus, Tatian) abhorred matter, and strove to avoid all contact with flesh as far as possible. This led them to forbid marriage and indulgence in certain kinds of food. This ethic in both branches is the unfailing outcome of the primary dualism characteristic of Gnosticism. Wherever dualistic notions are influential, we find this twin development of antinomianism and asceticism. In the NT we find both kinds of error referred to (see below). It is to be remembered that neither by itself is sufficient to indicate Gnosticism. There are many sources conceivable, for asceticism especially.
3. Origins .-The older view was that Gnostics are Christian heretics, i.e. errorists within the Church who gradually diverged from normal Christianity, under an impulse to make a philosophy of their religion. To fill up the blanks of the Christian revelation, they adopted heathen (mainly Greek) speculations. Mosheim was among the first to perceive that the roots of what is peculiar in Gnosticism are to be sought in Eastern rather than in Greek speculation. In recent times there has taken place a thorough examination of all Gnostic remains, and knowledge of Eastern speculation has advanced. The result of the two-fold investigation has been to show that Gnosticism is far more closely in affinity with Eastern thought than had been imagined, not only in its deviations from Christianity, but as a whole.
It is well known that the age with which we deal was marked by nothing more strongly than by its syncretism . All the faiths and philosophies of the world met, and became fluid, so to say. Strange combinations resulted, and were dissolved again for lack of something round which they might crystallize. Alike in philosophy and religion, attempts were made to establish by syncretism a universal system out of the confusion. Gnosticism owes its being to that syncretism. In view of the lack of definite information, any attempt to trace or reconstruct its actual history must be made with diffidence. Probably we should regard its primary impulse as philosophical rather than religious. It was an answer to problem, Whence comes evil? (Tert. de Praesc. Haer . vii.; Historia Ecclesiastica (Eusebius, etc.)v. 27; Epiphan. Haer . xxiv. 6). This led to the other question, What is the origin of the world? Oriental thought identified the two questions. In the origin of the world was involved the existence of evil. A full explanation of the one included an explanation of the other.
In Perso-Babylonian syncretism, we take it, Gnosticism has its primary root, and from that alone many of its features may be plausibly derived. To this is to be added some influence of Judaism . There was a syncretistic Judaism of varied character. We know definitely of three forms: (l) Essenic (see articleEssenes); (2) Samaritan, which had been going on for centuries b.c., and from which sprang the system of Simon Magus (with his predecessor Dositheus, and his successor Menander), who is distinguished by the Fathers as the parent of Gnosticism; (3) Alexandrian, represented mainly by Philo, who produced an amalgam of Judaism with Greek philosophy. Probably it would be justifiable to add as a fourth example the Jewish Kabbâlâ. It is a body of writings unfolding a traditional and, partly at least, esoteric doctrine. Its most characteristic doctrines are found also in the two Gnostic leaders, Basilides and Valentinus (A. Franck, La Kabbale , Paris, 1843, p. 350 ff.). It is difficult, however, to prove that the Kabbâlâ is not later than Gnosticism, though there is practical certainty that its history was a long one before it took final shape.
A third and very important element manifest in the fully developed Gnostic systems is Greek philosophy . Genetically, then, Gnosticism may be defined as largely a syncretistic system rising from Perso-Babylonian religion, modified to some extent, difficult to estimate, by Judaism, and in some particulars borrowing from, and as a whole clarified ay contact with, Greek philosophy. These elements might be effective in very varied degrees, and produced varied systems as this or that element predominated. But from those three sources, apart altogether from Christianity, Gnosticism in all essentials may be derived. And all three were in active interaction before the appearance of Christianity. An important consideration follows, viz. that it is absolutely no proof of a late date for any NT writing that it contains allusions to even a comparatively well-developed Gnosticism.
4. Connexion with Christianity .-How is this connexion to be conceived or explained? What did Gnosticism owe to Christianity? Before Christianity we picture Gnosticism as vague, fluid, unstable. When Christianity was thrown into the mass of floating opinions in the ancient world, it afforded the vague Gnostic movements a point round which they could crystallize and attain a measure of permanence and definiteness, so that out of more or less loose speculations systems could be built. Men imbued with Gnostic views (the loose elements of the system described) would easily find points of resemblance between themselves and Christianity. It dealt in a way with the very problems that interested the Gnostic. And in apostolic teaching, especially in St. Paul, there were many points which it took little ingenuity to transform into Gnostic views. The world was to be overcome; it lay in wickedness; the flesh was to be mortified; there was a law in the members warring against the spirit. Divorced from the general teaching of the apostles, this could be claimed as just the Gnostic position. It is, we take it, a misconception to regard such apostolic teaching as the starting-point of Gnosticism. In our view Gnosticism had already a considerable history, and had attained a considerable development as a system, before Christianity appeared. But in such teaching Gnosticism found points of attachment to Christianity, and other points might be adduced. Gnosticism then came to shelter within the Church, never learning her essential spirit, but going on its own evolution. Growing at first from distinct roots of its own, it twined itself about the Church and became a parasite.
It is not easy to answer the question, Is the soteriology of Gnosticism borrowed from Christianity, or is it too an independent thing? Some points are quite plain which may justify our accepting the latter alternative. It is clear that between the Gnostic Σωτήρ (Saviour) and the historical Jesus there is no discernible likeness. The redemption of the fallen aeon by the Soter has nothing to do with a historical appearance on earth and in time. The Gnostic redemption-story is a myth, an allegory, not a historical narrative. But under the influence of Christianity, laborious attempts were made to bring this soteriology into union with the Christian account of the historical Jesus. The attempt was not a success. ‘In this patchwork the joins are everywhere still clearly to be recognized’ ( Encyclopaedia Britannica 11 xii.  157a). Indeed some Gnostics made no secret of the difference between their Soter and the Christ of ordinary Christians-the Soter was for Gnostics alone, Jesus Christ for ‘Psychics’ (Iren. i. vi. 1). The fact that one school required its members to curse Jesus is not without significance in the same direction. The most probable view is that Gnosticism in all its elements was independent of Christianity, but strove to put over itself a Christian guise, and represent itself as a fuller Christianity. But even the master minds which formulated the great systems of the 2nd cent. were baffled to conceal effectively what could not be hidden, the essentially alien nature and origin of their speculative flights.
5. Allusions in the NT .-In the NT there are several clear indications that the invasion of Christianity by Gnosticism is already in progress.
(1) We note regarding Simon Magus ( Acts 8:9 f.) only this, that in the narrative we have an allegory of what we conceive the relation of Gnosticism to Christianity to have been. He was attracted to the apostles, was baptized, and still remained in the ‘bond of iniquity.’ For this alone he may well be named the father of the Gnostics (see articleSimon Magus).
(2) There are some passages which seem not only to be designed to state the Christian position, but to be directed against errors characteristic of Gnosticism: ( a ) against Docetism; most striking is Hebrews 2:14-18; ( b ) against the demiurgic idea ( John 1:3, Hebrews 1:2, Colossians 1:16 ff.).
(3) A definite polemic against errorists who are almost certainly Gnostics is found in the following passages:
( a ) Colossians .-The errorists in question claim a superior knowledge ( Colossians 2:8; Colossians 2:18), pay great regard to angels-beings intermediate between God and man ( Colossians 2:18)-teach asceticism ( Colossians 2:21; Colossians 2:23); and probably their demiurgic notion is refuted in Colossians 1:16. These are the elements of Gnosticism, and most likely the Colossian errorists are Judaistic Gnostics of the same type as Cerinthus.
( b ) Pastoral Epistles .-The references to Gnosticism are so clear here that some find in them a main ground for assigning a late date to the Epistles. Gnosticism has already appropriated the name γνῶσις ( 1 Timothy 5:20). The errorists profess a superior knowledge ( Titus 1:16, 2 Timothy 3:7). Their profane and vain babblings ( 2 Timothy 2:16), old wives’ fables ( 1 Timothy 4:7), foolish questions and genealogies ( Titus 3:9), denial of the resurrection of the body ( 2 Timothy 2:18), asceticism and depreciation of ‘creatures’ ( 1 Timothy 4:3-4), and in other cases their antinomianism ( 2 Timothy 3:6, Titus 1:16)-all are tokens of Gnosticism.
( c ) Peter and Jude .-The gross errorists denounced in 2 Peter 2 and Jude show close affinity with the Ophite sect, the Cainites ( q.v. [Note: quod vide, which see.] ) (Hippol. viii. 20; Strom . vii. 17 ; Epiph. Haer . xxxviii.). They made Cain their first hero; and, regarding the God of the Jews as an evil being, and the Scriptures as, in consequence, a perversion of truth, honoured all infamous characters from Cain to Iscariot, who alone of the apostles had the secret of true knowledge. Naturally, they practised the wildest antinomianism, holding it necessary for perfect knowledge to have practical experience of all sins. The ‘filthy dreamers,’ who ‘speak evil of dignities’ and ‘go in the way of Cain,’ are certainly closely allied to this position.
( d ) 1 John .-There is throughout a contrast between true knowledge and false. Beyond reasonable doubt the Epistle has mainly, if not exclusively, Cerinthus in view. He is interesting in the history of heresy for his combination of Ebionite Christology with a Gnostic idea of the Creator (see articleCerinthus). It is mainly the former that is in view in 1 John ( 1 John 2:22; 1 John 4:3 ff.), but 1 John 2:4; 1 John 2:9 are directed against Gnostic antinomianism.
( e ) Revelation .-Here we have definite mention of a Gnostic sect, by name the Nicolaitans ( Revelation 2:6; Revelation 2:15). They derived their name from Nicolas of Acts 6:5. ‘They lead lives of unrestrained indulgence, … teaching that it is a matter of indifference to practise adultery, and to eat things sacrificed to idols’ (Iren. Haer. i. xxvi. 3). Clem. Alex. ( Strom . iii. 4 [436f.]) says that the followers of Nicolas misunderstood his saying that ‘we must fight against the flesh and abuse it.’ What Nicolas meant to be an ascetic principle, they took to be an antinomian one.
We have notice of another branch of antinomian Gnosticism in Revelation 2:20, where the ‘prophetess Jezebel’ in Thyatira is ‘teaching and seducing’ the faithful.
Gnosticism thus plays no inconsiderable part in the NT itself. It is, however, to exaggerate that, to find references to Gnosticism in verses where terms occur that afterwards became technical terms in Gnostic systems, viz. pleroma ( e.g. Ephesians 1:23), aeon ( e.g. Ephesians 2:2), gnosis (frequently). These had meaning before Gnostic systems made them peculiarly their own, and the passages in question may be understood without any reference to Gnosticism.
6. Concluding remarks .-If it be difficult to indicate accurately what Gnosticism owed to Christianity, it is no less difficult to determine to what extent Christianity was permanently influenced by Gnosticism. Theological prejudice will always affect the answer, and some will find in the Christological and other definitions of Œcumenical Councils a fruit of what Gnostics began. It is easy to see what indirect service Gnosticism rendered Christianity. In opposition to Gnosticism the Church was compelled ( a ) to develop into clear system her own creed; the true γνῶσις had to be opposed to the false; ( b ) to determine what writings were to be regarded as authoritative; against the Gnostic schools, each with its own pretended special revelation, the Church formed a canon of what were generally regarded as authentic apostolic writings; ( c ) to seek for a just view of the relation of Judaism to Christianity, and of the permanent value of the OT which Gnostics rejected. This is, it may be said, an unsolved problem still. In opposition to Gnosticism the Church was perhaps betrayed into the other extreme, as, to secure permanent authority for every part of the OT, a fanciful system of allegorizing was adopted.
As to direct influence, we have indicated above that Gnostics led the way in some developments of worship which found a permanent place in the Catholic Church. Probably also they led the way to the magical conception of Sacraments which became so prominent. The clearness with which the false character of Gnosticism was perceived, and the successful struggle against it, are among the most remarkable and praiseworthy things in the history of the early Church. It remains to be said that the various phenomena which constitute Gnosticism have appeared again and again in the history of the Church since then. Its speculative flights into regions where revelation does not guide and reason cannot follow; its special new revelations; its view of the world as essentially evil in itself; its stern asceticism or antinomian excess-all have appeared repeatedly.
Literature.- J. A. W. Neander , Die genetische Entwickelung der vornehmsten gnostischen Systeme , Berlin, 1818; F. C. Baur, Die christliche Gnosis , Tübingen, 1835; R. A. Lipsius, Gnosticismus , Leipzig, 1860; H. L. Mansel, Gnostic Heresies of the 1st and 2nd Centuries , London,1875; A. Hilgenfeld, Die Ketzergeschichte des Urchristenthums , Leipzig, 1884; W. Anz, Ursprung des Gnostizismus , do. 1897; R. Liechtenhahn, Die Offenbarung im Gnosticismus , Göttingen, 1901; E. de Faye, Introduction à l’étude du gnosticisme au ii e et au iii e siècle , Paris, 1903; W. Bousset. Hauptprobleme der Gnosis , Göttingen, 1907; A. Harnack, History of Dogma , Eng. translation, London, 1894-99; F. Loofs, Leitf. zum Studium der Dogmengeschichte 3, Halle, 1893; R. Seeberg, Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte , Leipzig, 1895-98: Church Histories of P. Schaff (Edinburgh, 1883-93), W. Moeller (Eng. translation, London, 1892-1900), G. P. Fisher (do. 1894), R. Rainy ( Ancient Catholic Church , Edinburgh, 1902).
W. D. Niven.
A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography 
Gnosticism. The zeal with which a learner commences the study of ecclesiastical history is not unfrequently damped at an early stage, when he finds that, in order to know the history of religious thought in the 2nd cent., he must make himself acquainted with speculations so wild and so baseless that it is irksome to read them and difficult to believe that time was when acquaintance with them was counted as what alone deserved the name of "knowledge." But it would be a mistake to think too disdainfully of those early heretics who go by the common name of Gnostics. In the first place, it may be said in their excuse that the problems which they undertook to solve were among the most difficult with which the human intellect has ever grappledâ€”namely, to explain the origin of evil, and to make it conceivable how the multiplicity of finite existence can all have been derived from a single absolute unconditioned principle. And besides, these speculators only did what learned theologians have constantly since endeavoured to doâ€”namely, combine the doctrines which they learned from revelation with the results of what they regarded as the best philosophy of their own day, so as to obtain what seemed to them the most satisfactory account and explanation of the facts of the universe. Every union of philosophy and religion is the marriage of a mortal with an immortal: the religion lives; the philosophy grows old and dies. When the philosophic element of a theological system becomes antiquated, its explanations which contented one age become unsatisfactory to the next, and there ensues what is spoken of as a conflict between religion and science; whereas, in reality, it is a conflict between the science of one generation and that of a succeeding one. If the religious speculations of the 2nd cent. appear to us peculiarly unreasonable, it is because the philosophy incorporated with them is completely alien to modern thought. That philosophy gave unlimited licence to the framing of hypotheses, and provided that the results were in tolerable accordance with the facts, no other proof was required that the causes which these hypotheses assumed were really in operation. The Timaeus of Plato is a favourable specimen of the philosophic writings which moulded the Gnostic speculations; and the interval between that and a modern treatise on physics is fully as wide as between Gnosticism and modern scientific theology. So it has happened that modern thought has less sympathy with heretical theories deeply coloured by the philosophy of their own time than with the plain common sense of a church writer such as Irenaeus, which led him to proceed by the positive historical method, and reject what was merely fanciful and speculative. And it may be said that deeply important as were some of the particular questions discussed in the conflict between the church and Gnosticism, an even more important issue of that conflict was the decision of the method by which religious knowledge was to be arrived at. The Gnostics generally held that the Saviour effected redemption by making a revelation of knowledge, yet they but feebly attempted to connect historically their teaching with his; what was derived from Him was buried under elements taken freely from heathen mythologies and philosophies, or springing from the mere fancy of the speculator, so that, if Gnosticism had triumphed, all that is distinctively Christian would have disappeared. In opposition to them, church writers were led to emphasize the principle that that alone is to be accounted true knowledge of things divine which can be shewn by historical tradition, written or oral, to have been derived from the teaching of Christ and His apostles, a principle the philosophic justice of which must be admitted if Christ be owned as having filled the part in the enlightenment of the world which orthodox and Gnostics alike attributed to Him. Thus, by the conflict with Gnosticism reverence in the church was deepened for the authority of revelation as restraining the licence of human speculation, and so the channel was marked out within the bounds of which religious thought continued for centuries to flow.
We deal here with some general aspects of the subject, referring to the articles on the chief Gnostic teachers for details as to the special tenets of the different Gnostic sects.
Use of the Word Gnosticism. â€”In logical order we ought to begin by defining Gnosticism, and so fixing what extension is to be given to the application of the term, a point on which writers are not agreed. Baur, for instance, reckons among Gnostics the sectaries from whom the Clementine writings emanated, although on some of the most fundamental points their doctrines are diametrically opposed to those commonly reckoned as Gnostic. We conform to more ordinary usage in giving to the word a narrower sense, but this is a matter on which controversy would be only verbal, Gnosticism not being a word which has in its own nature a definite meaning. There is no difficulty in naming common characteristics of the sects commonly called Gnostic, though perhaps none of them is distinctive enough to be made the basis of a logical definition. They professed to be able to trace their doctrine to the apostles. Basilides was said to have learned from a companion of St. Peter; gospels were in circulation among them which purported to have been written by Philip, Thomas, and other apostles; and they professed to be able to find their doctrines in the canonical scriptures by methods of allegorical interpretation which, however forced, could easily be paralleled in the procedure of orthodox writers. If we made our definition turn on the claim to the possession of such a Gnosis and to the title of Gnostic, we should have to count Clement of Alexandria among Gnostics and I. Timothy among Gnostic writings; for the church writers refused to surrender these titles to the heretics and, claiming to be the true Gnostics, branded the heretical Gnosis as "falsely so called." If we fix our attention on the predominance of the speculative over the practical in Gnosticism, which, as Baur truly remarks, led men to regard Christianity less as a means of salvation than as furnishing the principles of a philosophy of the universe, we must allow that since their time very many orthodox writings have been open to the same criticism. We come very close to a definition if we make the criterion of Gnosticism to be the establishment of a dualism between spirit and matter; and, springing out of this, the doctrine that the world was created by some power different from the supreme God, yet we might not be able to establish that this characteristic belongs to every sect which we count as Gnostic; and if we are asked why we do not count such sects as the Manicheans among the Gnostics, the best answer is that usage confines the word to those sects which arose in the ferment of thought when Christianity first came into contact with heathen philosophy, excluding those which clearly began later. A title of honour claimed by these sectaries for themselves, and at first refused them by their opponents, was afterwards adopted as the most convenient way of designating them.
We have no reason to think that the earliest Gnostics intended to found sects separated from the church and called after their own names. Their disciples were to be Christians, only elevated above the rest as acquainted with deeper mysteries, and called γνωστικοί , because possessed of a Gnosis superior to the simple faith of the multitude. Probably the earliest instance of the use of the word is by Celsus, quoted by Origen, v. 61, where, speaking of the multiplicity of Christian sects, he says that there were some who professed to be Gnostics. Irenaeus (i. xxv. 5, p. 104), speaking of the Carpocratians and in particular of that school of them which Marcellina established at Rome, says that they called themselves Gnostics. It is doubtless on the strength of this passage that Eusebius ( H. E. iv. 7), quoting Irenaeus in the same context, calls Carpocrates the father of the sect called that of the Gnostics. In the habitual use of the word by Irenaeus himself it does not occur as limited to Carpocratians. Irenaeus, in his first book, when he has gone through the sects called after the names of heretical teachers, gives in a kind of appendix an account of a number of sects in their general characteristics Ophite, but he does not himself use that name. He calls them "multitudo Gnosticorum," tracing their origin to Simon Magus, and counting them as progenitors of the Valentinians. And constantly we have the expression Basilidians, Valentinians, etc., "et reliqui Gnostici," where, by the latter appellation, the Ophite sects are specially intended. The form of expression does not exclude from the title of Gnostic the sects named after their founders; and the doctrine of the Valentinians is all through the work of Irenaeus a branch of "Gnosis falsely so called"; yet it is usually spoken of less as Gnosticism than as a development of Gnosticism, and the Valentinians are described as more Gnostic than the Gnostics, meaning by the latter word the Ophite sects already mentioned. In the work of Hippolytus against heresies, the name is almost exclusively found in connexion with the sect of the Naassenes or Ophites, and three or four times it is repeated (v. 2, p. 93; 4, p. 94; 11, p. 123) that these people call themselves Gnostics, claiming that they alone "knew the depths." The common source of Epiphanius and Philaster had an article on the Nicolaitanes, tracing the origin of the Gnostics to Nicolas the Deacon (see also Hippolytus, vii. 36, p. 258, and the statement of Irenaeus [II. ii. p. 188] that Nicolaitanism was a branch of Gnosis). Epiphanius divides this article into two, making the Gnostics a separate heresy ( Haer. 26). Hence ancient usage leaves a good deal of latitude to modern writers in deciding which of the 2nd-cent. sects they will count as Gnostic.
Classification of Gnostic Sects.â€”Some general principles of philosophic classification may be easily agreed on but when they come to be applied it is found that there are some sects to which it is not obvious where to assign a place and that some sects are separated whose affinities are closer than those of others which are classed together. A very important though not a complete division is that made by Clement of Alexandria (Strom. iii. 5) into the ascetic and licentious sects: both parties agreeing in holding the essential evil of matter; the one endeavouring by rigorous abstinence to free as much as possible man's soul from the bondage to which it is subjected by union with his material part and refusing to marry and so enthral new souls in the prisons of bodies; the other abandoning as desperate any attempt to purify the hopelessly corrupt body and teaching that the instructed soul ought to hold itself unaffected by the deeds of the body. All actions were to it indifferent. The division of Neander is intended to embrace a wider range than that just described. Taking the common doctrine of the Gnostic sects that the world was made by a Being different from the supreme God he distinguishes whether that Being was held to have acted in subordination to the Supreme and on the whole to have carried out his intentions or to have been absolutely hostile to the supreme God. Taking into account the generally acknowledged principle that the Creator of the world was the same as the God worshipped by the Jews we see that Gnostics of the second class would be absolutely hostile to Judaism which those of the former class might accept as one of the stages ordained by the Supreme in the enlightenment of the world. Thus Neander's division classifies sects as not unfriendly to Judaism or as hostile to it; the former class taking its origin in those Alexandrian schools where the authority of such teachers as Philo had weight the latter among Christian converts from Oriental philosophy whose early education had given them no prejudices in favour of Judaism. Gieseler divides into Alexandrian Gnostics whose teaching was mainly influenced by the Platonic philosophy and Syrian strongly affected by Parsism. In the former the emanation doctrine was predominant in the latter dualism. Undoubtedly the most satisfactory classification would be if it were possible as Matter suggested to have one founded on the history of the generation of the sects distinguishing the school where Gnosticism had its beginning and naming the schools which successively in different places altered in different directions the original scheme. But a good classification of this kind is rendered impossible by the scantiness of our materials for the history of Gnosticism. Irenaeus is the first to give any full details and he may be counted two generations later than Valentinus; for Marcus the disciple of Valentinus was resisted by one whom Irenaeus looked up to with respect as belonging to the generation above his own. The interval between Valentinus and the beginning of Gnosticism was moreover probably quite as great as that between Valentinus and Irenaeus. The phrase used by Hippolytus in telling us that the Naassenes boasted that they alone "knew the depths" was also a watchword of the false teachers reprobated in the Apocalypse (Rev_2:24). We can hardly avoid the inference that these Naassenes inherited a phrase continuously in use among heretical teachers since before the publication of the Revelation. Of the writers who would deny the pastoral epistles to be St. Paul's a large proportion date the Revelation only 2 or 3 years after St. Paul's death; therefore whether or not it was St. Paul who wrote of the "falsely called knowledge," it remains probable that heretical pretenders to Gnosis had arisen in his lifetime. If the beginnings of Gnosticism were thus in apostolic times we need not be surprised that the notices of its origin given by Irenaeus more than a century afterwards are so scanty; and that the teachers to whom its origin has been ascribed Simon Menander Nicolas Cerinthus remain shadowy or legendary characters. It follows that conclusions as to the order of succession of the early Gnostic sects and their obligations one to another are very insecure. Still some general facts in the history of the evolution of Gnosticism may be considered fairly certain; and we are disposed to accept the classification of Lipsius and count three stages in the progress of Gnosticism even though there may be doubt to what place a particular sect is to be assigned. The birthplace of Gnosticism may be said to be Syria if we include in that Palestine and Samaria where church tradition places the activity of those whom it regards as its founders Simon and Menander. It may also be inferred from the use made of O.T. and of Hebrew words that Gnosticism sprang out of Judaism. The false teaching combated in Colossians which has several Gnostic features is also distinctly Jewish insisting on the observance of Sabbaths and new moons. The Epp. to Timothy and Titus dealing with a somewhat later development of Gnosticism describe the false teachers as "of the circumcision," "professing to be teachers of the law" and propounders of "Jewish fables." It is not unlikely that what these epistles characterize as "profane and old wives' fables" may be some of the Jewish Haggadah of which the early stages of Gnosticism are full. The story of Ialdabaoth e.g. told by Irenaeus (i. 30) we hold to date from the very beginning of Gnosticism if not in its present shape at least in some rudimentary form as fragments of it appear in different Gnostic systems especially the representation of the work of Creation as performed by an inferior being who still fully believed himself to be the Supreme saying "I am God and there is none beside me," until after this boast his ignorance was enlightened. The Jewish Cabbala has been asserted to be the parent of Gnosticism; but the records of Cabbalistic doctrine are quite modern and any attempt to pick out the really ancient parts must be attended with uncertainty. Lipsius (p. 270 and GrÃ¤tz referred to by him) shews that the Cabbala is certainly not older than Gnosticism its relation to it being not that of a parent but of a younger brother. If there be direct obligation the Cabbala is the borrower but many common features are to be explained by regarding both as branches from the same root and as alike springing from the contact of Judaism with the religious beliefs of the farther East. Jewish Essenism especially furnished a soil favourable to the growth of Gnosticism with which it seems to have had in common the doctrine of the essential evil of matter as appears from the denial by the Essenes of the resurrection of the body and from their inculcation of a disciplining of man's material part by very severe asceticism. (See Lightfoot Colossians 119 seq.) Further the Ebionite sects which sprang out of Essenism while they professed the strongest attachment to the Mosaic law not only rejected the authority of the prophetical writings but dealt in a very arbitrary manner with those parts of the Pentateuch which conflicted with their peculiar doctrines. We have parallels to this in theories of some of the early Gnostic sects which referred the Jewish prophetical books to the inspiration of beings inferior to Him by Whom the law was given as well as in the arbitrary modes of criticism applied by some of the later sects to the books of Scripture. A form of Gnosticism thus developed from Judaism when the latter was brought into contact with the mystic speculations of the East whether we suppose Essenism to have been a stage in the process of growth or both to have been independent growths under similar circumstances of development. Lipsius notes as the characteristics of those sects which he counts as belonging to the first stage of Gnosticism that they still move almost or altogether within the circle of the Jewish religious history and that the chief problem they set themselves is the defining the relation between Christianity and Judaism. The solutions at which they arrive are very various. Those Jewish sects whose Essenism passed into the Ebionitism of the Clementines regarded Christianity as essentially identical with Judaism either religion being sufficient for salvation. These sects are quite orthodox as to the Creation their utmost deviation (if it can be called so) from the received belief being the ascription of Creation to the immanent wisdom of God. Other Jewish speculators came to think of the formation of matter as accomplished by a subordinate being carrying out it may be the will of the Supreme but owing to his finiteness and ignorance doing the work with many imperfections. Then came the theory that this subordinate being was the God of the Jews to which nation he had issued many commandments that were not good though overruled by the Supreme so as to carry out His ends. Lastly came the theory of the Cainites and other extreme Ophite sects which represented the God of the Jews as the determined enemy of the Supreme and as one whose commands it was the duty of every enlightened Gnostic to disobey. With all their variety of results these sects agreed in the importance attached to the problem of the true relations of Judaism to Christianity. They do make use of certain heathen principles of cosmogony but these such as already had become familiar to Syriac Judaism and introduced not so much to effect a reconciliation between Christianity and heathenism as to give an explanation of the service rendered to the world by the publication of Christianity the absolute religion. This is made mainly to consist in the aid given to the soul in its struggles to escape the bonds of finiteness and darkness by making known to it the supersensual world and awaking it to the consciousness of its spiritual origin. Regarding this knowledge as the common privilege of Christians the first speculators would count their own possession of it as differing rather in degree than in kind; and so it is not easy to draw a sharp line of distinction between their doctrine on the subject of Gnosis and that admitted as orthodox. Our Lord had described it as the privilege of His disciples to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven; later when His followers learned of a suffering Messiah and of the fulfilment in Jesus of the types of the Mosaic law they felt that the veil had been removed for them and that they enjoyed a knowledge of the meaning of the O.T. Scriptures to which their unconverted brethren were strangers. This feeling pervades the Ep. to the Hebrews and still more that of Barnabas. Another doctrine which St. Paul describes as a mystery formerly kept secret but now revealed through his gospel is the admission of the Gentiles on equal terms with the Jews to the inheritance of the kingdom of Christ. It was no part of orthodox Christian doctrine that all Christians possessed the true Gnosis in equal degree. Some required to be fed with milk not with strong meat and had not their senses exercised by reason of use to discern between good and evil. Clement of Alexandria distinguished between faith and knowledge. The difference therefore between the Gnostic doctrine and that of the church mainly depends on the character of what was accounted knowledge much of the Gnostic so-called knowledge consisting in acquaintance with the names of a host of invisible beings and with the formulae which could gain their favour.
Gnosticism, in its first stage, did not proceed far outside the limits of Syria. What Lipsius counts as the second stage dates from the migration of Gnostic systems to Alexandria, where the myths of Syriac Gnosis came to be united to principles of Grecian philosophy. Different Gnostic systems resulted according as the principles of this or that Grecian school were adopted. Thus, in the system of Valentinus, the Pythagorean Platonic philosophy predominates, the Stoic in that of the Basilidians as presented by Hippolytus. In these systems, tinged with Hellenism, the Jewish religion is not so much controverted or disparaged as ignored. The mythological personages among whom in the older Gnosis the work of creation was distributed are in these Hellenic systems replaced by a kind of abstract beings (of whom the Valentinian aeons are an example) which personify the different stages of the process by which the One Infinite Spirit communicates and reveals itself to derived existences. The distinction between faith and knowledge becomes sharpened, the persons to whom faith and knowledge respectively are to serve as guides being represented as essentially different in nature. The most obvious division of men is into a kingdom of light and a kingdom of darkness. The need of a third class may have first made itself felt from the necessity of finding a place for members of the Jewish religion, who stood so far above heathenism, so far below Christianity. The Platonic trichotomy of body, soul, and spirit afforded a principle of threefold classification, and men are divided into earthly (ὑλικοί or χοϊκοί ), animal (ψυχικοί ), and spiritual (πνευματικοί ). In these Hellenic Gnostic systems the second class represents not Jews but ordinary Christians, and the distinction between them and the Gnostics themselves (who are the spiritual) rests on an assumed difference of nature which leaves little room for human free will. Salvation by faith and corresponding works is disparaged as suitable only for the psychical, the better sort of whom may, by this means, be brought to as high a position in the order of the universe as their nature is capable of; but the really spiritual need not these lower methods of salvation. It suffices for them to have the knowledge of their true nature revealed for them to become certain of shaking off all imprisoning bonds and soaring to the highest region of all. Thus ordinary historical Christianity runs the risk of meeting the same fate in the later Gnostic systems that befell Judaism in the earlier. The doctrines and facts of the religion are only valued so far as they can be made subservient to the peculiar notions of Gnosticism; and the method of allegorical interpretation was so freely applied to both Testaments that all the solid parts of the religion were in danger of being volatilized away.
The natural consequence of this weakening of the historic side of Christianity was the removal of all sufficient barrier against the intrusion of heathen elements into the systems; while their moral teaching was injuriously affected by the doctrine that the spiritual were secure of salvation by necessity of their nature and irrespectively of their conduct. Gnosticism, in its third stage, struggles in various ways to avoid these faults, and so again draws nearer to the teaching of the Catholic church. Thus the Docetae of Hippolytus allow of immense variety of classes, corresponding to the diversity of ideas derived from the world of aeons, which each has received; while again they deny to none a share in our Lord's redemption, but own that members of different sects are entitled, each in his degree, to claim kinship with Jesus and to obtain forgiveness of sins through Him. So again in one of the latest of the Gnostic systems, that of Pistis Sophia there is no assertion of an essential diversity of nature among men, but the immense development of ranks and degrees in the spiritual world, which that work professes to reveal, is used so as to provide for every man a place according to his works. In the system of Marcion, too, the theory of essentially different classes is abandoned; the great boast of Christianity is its universality; and the redemption of the Gospel is represented, not as the mere rousing of the pneumatic soul to consciousness of privileges all along possessed, but as the introduction of a real principle of moral life through the revelation of a God of love forgiving sins through Christ.
We add brief notes on a few main points of the Gnostic systems.
Creation and Cosmogony. â€”Philo ( de Op. Mund. ) had inferred from the expression, "Let us make man," of Genesis that God had used other beings as assistants in the creation of man, and he explains in this way why man is capable of vice as well as virtue, ascribing the origin of the latter to God, of the former to His helpers in the work of creation. The earliest Gnostic sects ascribe the work of creation to angels, some of them using the same passage in Genesis (Justin. Dial. cum Tryph. c. 67).
Doctrine with respect to Judaism. â€”The doctrine that the Creator of the world is not the supreme God leads at once to the question, What then is to be thought of the God of the Jews, who certainly claimed to have created the world? This question is most distinctly answered in the doctrine of the Ophite system ( Iren. i. 30). According to it he who claimed to be a jealous God, acknowledging none other, was led by sheer ignorance to make a false pretension. He was in truth none other than the chief of the creative angels, holding but a subordinate place in the constitution of the universe. It was he who forbad to Adam and Eve that knowledge by which they might be informed that he had superiors, and who on their disobedience cast them out of Paradise.
Doctrine concerning the Nature of Man. â€”With the myth, told by Saturninus, of the animation of a previously lifeless man by a spark of light from above, he connected the doctrine, in which he was followed by almost all Gnostic sects, that there would be no resurrection of the body, the spark of light being taken back on death to the place whence it had come, and man's material part being resolved into its elements. Saturninus is said to have taught the doctrine, antagonistic to that of man's free will, that there were classes of men by nature essentially different, and of these he counted twoâ€”the good and the wicked. The doctrine became common to many Gnostic systems that the human frame contained a heavenly element struggling to return to its native place.
Redemption and Christology. â€”The Gnostic systems generally represent man's spirit as imprisoned in matter, and needing release. The majority recognize the coming of Christ as a turning-point in human affairs, but almost all reduce the Redeemer's work to the impartation of knowledge and the disclosure of mysteries. With regard to the nature of Christ, the lowest view is held by Justinus, who describes Jesus but as a shepherd boy commissioned by an angel to be the bearer of a divine revelation, and who attributes to Him at no time any higher character. Carpocrates makes Jesus a man like others, only of more than ordinary steadfastness and purity of soul, possessing no prerogatives which other men may not attain in the same or even higher degree if they follow, or surpass, His example. Besides furnishing an example, He was also supposed to have made a revelation of truth, to secret traditions of which the followers of Carpocrates appealed. At the opposite pole from those who see in the Saviour a mere man are those who deny His humanity altogether. We know from St. John's epistle that the doctrine that our Lord had not really come in the flesh was one which at an early time troubled the church.
Authorities. â€”The great work of Irenaeus against heresies is the chief storehouse whence writers, both ancient and modern, have drawn their accounts of the Gnostic sects. It was primarily directed against the then most popular form of the heresy of Valentinus, and hence this form of Gnosticism has thrown all others into the shade, and many modern writers when professing to describe Gnosticism really describe Valentinianism. Irenaeus was largely copied by Tertullian, who, however, was an independent authority on Marcionism; by Hippolytus, who in his work against heresies adds, however, large extracts from his independent reading of Gnostic works; and by Epiphanius, who also gives a few valuable additions from other sources. The Stromateis of Clement of Alexandria, though provokingly desultory and unsystematic, furnish much valuable information about Gnosticism, which was still a living foe of the church. The writings of Origen also yield much important information. The matter, not borrowed from Irenaeus, to be gleaned from later heresiologists is scanty and of doubtful value.
Modern works which have made valuable contributions to the knowledge of Gnosticism include Neander, Genetische Entwickelung (1818), and Church Hist. vol. ii. (1825 and 2nd ed. 1843, trans. in Clarke's series); Burton, Bampton Lectures (1829); Baur, Christliche Gnosis (1835); Die christliche Kirche der drei ersten Jahrhunderte (1853, 2nd ed. 1860); and Mansel, The Gnostic Heresies (1875).
Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible 
1. Gnosticism proper . The term, which comes from the Gr. gnÃ´sis , ‘knowledge,’ is now technically used to describe an eclectic philosophy of the 2nd cent. a.d. which was represented by a number of sects or divisions of people. The philosophy was constructed out of Jewish, Pagan, and Christian elements, and was due mainly to the inevitable contact and conflict between these various modes of thought. It was an attempt to Incorporate Christian with Jewish and Pagan ideas in solving the problems of life. The more important of these problems were (1) How to reconcile the creation of the world by a perfectly good God with the presence of evil; (2) how the human spirit came to be imprisoned in matter, and how it was to be emancipated. The first problem was solved by predicating a series of emanations starting from a perfectly good and supreme God, and coming down step by step to an imperfect being who created the world with its evils. Thus there was an essential dualism of good and evil. The second problem was solved by advocating either an ascetic life, wherein everything material was as far as possible avoided, or else a licentious life, in which everything that was material was used without discrimination. Associated with these speculations was a view of Christ which resolved Him into a phantom, denied the reality of His earthly manifestation, and made Him only a temporary non-material emanation of Deity. Gnosticism culminated, as the name suggests, in the glorification of knowledge and in a tendency to set knowledge against faith, regarding the former as superior and as the special possession of a select spiritual few, and associating the latter with the great mass of average people who could not rise to the higher level. Salvation was therefore by knowledge, not by faith. The will was subordinated to the intellect, and everything was made to consist of an esoteric knowledge which was the privilege of an intellectual aristocracy.
2. Gnosticism in relation to the NT . It is obvious that it is only in the slightest and most partial way that we can associate Gnosticism of a fully developed kind with the NT.
There is a constant danger, which has not always been avoided, of reading back into isolated NT expressions the Gnostic ideas of the 2nd century. While we may see in the NT certain germs which afterwards came to maturity in Gnosticism, we must be on our guard lest we read too much into NT phraseology, and there by draw wrong conclusions. One example of this danger may be given. Simon Magus occupies a prominent place in the thoughts of many 2nd and 3rd cent. writers, and by some he is regarded as one of the founders of Gnosticism. This may or may not have been true, but at any rate there is absolutely nothing in Acts 8:1-40 to suggest even the germ of the idea.
It is necessary to consider carefully the main idea of gnosis , ‘knowledge,’ in the NT. ( a ) It is an essential element of true Christianity, and is associated with the knowledge of God in Christ ( 2 Corinthians 2:14; 2 Corinthians 4:6 ), with the knowledge of Christ Himself ( Philippians 3:8 , 2 Peter 3:18 ), and with the personal experience of what is involved in the Christian life ( Romans 2:20; Rom 15:14 , 1 Corinthians 1:5; 1 Corinthians 3:19 , Colossians 2:3 ). In the term epignosis we have the further idea of ‘full knowledge’ which marks the ripe, mature Christian. This word is particularly characteristic of the Pauline Epistles of the First Captivity (Phil., Col., Eph.), and indicates the Apostle’s view of the spiritually-advanced believer. But gnosis and epignosis always imply something more and deeper than intellectual understanding. They refer to a personal experience at once intellectual and spiritual, and include intellectual apprehension and moral perception. As distinct from wisdom, knowledge is spiritual experience considered in itself, while wisdom is knowledge in its practical application and use. In Colossians it is generally thought that the errors combated were associated with certain forms of Gnosticism. Lightfoot, on the one hand, sees in the references in ch. 2 Jewish elements of scrupulousness in the observance of days, and of asceticism in the distinction of meats, together with Greek or other purely Gnostic elements in theosophic speculation, shadowy mysticism, and the interposition of angels between God and man. He thinks the references are to one heresy in which these two separate elements are used, and that St. Paul deals with both aspects at once in Colossians 2:8-23 . With Gnostic intellectual exclusiveness he deals in Colossians 1:18 and Colossians 2:11 , with speculative tendencies in Colossians 1:15-20 , Colossians 2:9-15 , with practical tendencies to asceticism or licence in Colossians 2:16-23 . Hort ( Judaistic Christianity) , on the other hand, sees nothing but Judaistic elements in the Epistle, and will not allow that there are two independent sets of ideas blended. He considers that, apart from the phrase ‘philosophy and vain deceit’ ( Colossians 2:8 ), there is nothing of speculative doctrine in the Epistle. He says that angel-worship was already prevalent quite apart from philosophy, and that there is no need to look beyond Judaism for what is found here. This difference between these two great scholars shows the extreme difficulty of attempting to find anything technically called Gnosticism in Colossians. ( b ) The Pastoral Epistles are usually next put under review. In 1 Timothy 1:4; 1 Timothy 4:8 , we are hidden by Lightfoot to see further developments of what had been rife in ColossÃ¦. Hort again differs from this view, and concludes that there is no clear evidence of speculative or Gnosticizing tendencies, but only of a dangerous fondness for Jewish trifling, both of the legendary and casuistical kind. ( c ) In the First Epistle of John ( 1 John 4:1; 1 John 4:3 ) we are reminded of later Gnostic tendencies as represented by Cerinthus and others, who regarded our Lord as not really man, but only a phantom and a temporary emanation from the Godhead. The prominence given to ‘knowledge’ as an essential element of true Christian life is very striking in this Epistle, part of whose purpose is that those who possess eternal life in Christ may ‘know’ it ( 1 John 5:13 ). The verb ‘to know’ occurs in the Epistle no less than thirty-five times. ( d ) In Revelation ( Revelation 2:6; Revelation 2:15; Revelation 2:20; Revelation 2:24; Revelation 3:14; Revelation 3:21 ) it is thought that further tendencies of a Gnostic kind are observable, and Lightfoot sees in the latter passage proof that the heresy of ColossÃ¦ was continuing in that district of Asia Minor. The precariousness of this position is, however, evident, when it is realized that the errors referred to are clearly antinomian, and may well have arisen apart from any Gnostic speculations.
From the above review, together with the differences between great scholars, it is evident that the attempt to connect the NT with the later Gnosticism of the 2nd cent. must remain at best but partially successful. All that we can properly say is that in the NT there are signs of certain tendencies which were afterwards seen in the 2nd cent. Gnosticism, but whether there was any real connexion between the 1st cent. germs and the 2nd cent. developments is another question. In the clash of Judaistic, Hellenic, and Christian thought, it would not be surprising if already there were attempts at eclecticism, but the precise links of connexion between the germs of the NT and the developments of the 2nd cent. are yet to seek.
One thing we must keep clearly before us: gnosis in the NT is a truly honourable and important term, and stands for an essential part of the Christian life. Of course there is always the liability to the danger of mere speculation, and the consequent need of emphasizing love as contrasted with mere knowledge ( 1 Corinthians 8:1; 1 Corinthians 13:2 ), but when gnosis is regarded as both intellectual and moral, we see at once how necessary it is to a true, growing Christian life. The stress laid upon epignosis in later books of the NT, Pauline and Petrine, and the marked prominence given to the cognate terms in 1 John, clearly indicate the importance placed on the idea by Apostolic writers as a safeguard of the Christian life. While it is the essential feature of the young Christian to have (forgiveness); and of the growing Christian to be (strong); it is that of the ripe Christian to know ( 1 John 2:12-14 ). Knowledge and faith are never contrasted in the NT. It is a false and impossible antithesis. ‘Through faith we understand’ ( Hebrews 11:3 ). Faith and sight, not faith and reason, are antithetical. We know in order to believe, credence leading to confidence; and then we believe in order to know more. Knowledge and trust act and react on each other. Truth and trust are correlatives, not contradictories. It is only mere speculative knowledge that is ‘falsely so called’ ( 1 Timothy 6:20 ), because it does not take its rise and find its life and sustenance in God’s revelation in Christ; but Christian gnosis received into the heart, mind, conscience and will, is that by which we are enabled to see the true as opposed to the false ‘to distinguish things that differ’ ( Philippians 1:10 ), and to adhere closely to the way of truth and life. The Apostle describes the natural earth-bound man as lacking this spiritual discernment; he has no such faculty ( 1 Corinthians 2:14-15 ). The spiritual man ( 1 Corinthians 2:15; 1 Corinthians 3:1 ), or the perfect or ripe man ( 1 Corinthians 2:8 ), is the man who knows ; and this knowledge which is at once intellectual, moral and spiritual, is one of the greatest safeguards against every form of error, and one of the choicest secrets of the enjoyment of the revelation of God in Christ.
W. H. Griffith Thomas.
Holman Bible Dictionary 
Importance of Gnosticism The significance of gnosticism for students of Christianity has two dimensions: the first is its prominence in the history of the church, and the second is its importance for interpreting certain features of the New Testament. Gnosticism emerged in schools of thought within the church in the early second century and soon established itself as a way of understanding Christianity in all of the church's principal centers. The church was torn by the heated debates over the issues posed by gnosticism. By the end of the second century many of the Gnostics belonged to separate, alternative churches or belief systems viewed by the church as heretical. Gnosticism was thus a major threat to the early church; and the early church leaders, such as Irenaeus (died about 200), Tertullian (died about 220), and Hippolytus (died about 236), wrote voluminously against it. Many of the features of gnosticism were incorporated into the sect of the Manichees in the third century, and Manichaeism endured as an heretical threat to the church into the fourth century.
Gnosticism is also important for interpreting certain features of the New Testament. Irenaeus reported that one of the reasons John wrote his Gospel was to refute the views of Cerinthus, an early Gnostic. Over against the gnostic assertion that the true God would not enter our world, John stressed in his Gospel that Jesus was God's incarnate Son. Other interpreters of the New Testament understand gnosticism to be crucial at many other points in interpreting the New Testament as will be discussed to follow.
Heretical Gnostic Sects The Gnostics who broke away or were expelled from the church claimed to be the true Christians, and the early Christian writers who set themselves to refute their claims are the major source for descriptions of the heretical gnostic sects. Although wide variations existed among the many gnostic sects in the details of systems, certain major features were common to most of them—the separation of the god of creation from the god of redemption; the division of Christians into categories with one group being superior; the stress on secret teachings which only divine persons could comprehend; and the exaltation of knowledge over faith. The church rejected such teachings as heretical, but many people have continued to find attraction in varieties of these ideas.
Gnostics generally distinguished between an inferior god whom they felt was responsible for the creation and the superior god revealed in Jesus as the Redeemer. This was a logical belief for them because they opposed matter to thought in a radical way. Matter was seen as inferior, sin-causing, and always deteriorating; thought or knowledge distinguished persons from matter and animals and was imperishable, capable of revealing god, and the only channel of redemption. The gnostic Marcion thus rejected the Old Testament, pointing out that the lesser or subordinate god revealed in it dealt with matter, insisted on law rather than grace, and was responsible for our decaying, tragedy-filled world. The god who revealed himself in Jesus and through the additional secret teachings was, on the other hand, the absolute god, and was not incarnate in human flesh because the absolute god would not enter evil matter—Christ only seemed or appeared to be a person, but He was not.
Gnostics divided Christians into groups, usually the spiritual and the carnal. The spiritual Christians were in a special or higher class than the ordinary Christians because they had received, as the elect of the good deity, a divine spark or spiritual seed in their beings which allowed them to be redeemed. The spiritual Christians were the true Christians who belonged to the heavenly world which was the true one. This belief that the spiritual Christians did not really belong to this world resulted in some Gnostics seeking to withdraw from the world in asceticism. Other gnostic systems took an opposite turn into antinomianism (belief that moral law is not valid for a person or group). They claimed that the spiritual Christians were not responsible for what they did and could not really sin. Thus they could act in any way they pleased without fear of discipline.
Gnostics placed great stress on secret teachings or traditions. This secret knowledge was not a product of intellectual effort but was given by Jesus, the Redeemer from the true deity, either in a special revelation or through His apostles. The followers of the gnostic Valentinus claimed, for example, that Theodus, a friend of Paul's, had been the means of transmission of the secret data. The secret knowledge was superior to the revelation recorded in the New Testament and was an essential supplement to it because only this secret knowledge could awaken or bring to life the divine spark or seed within the elect. When one received the gnosis or true knowledge, one became aware of one's true identity with a divine inner self, was set free (saved) from the dominion of the inferior creator god, and was enabled to live as a true child of the absolute and superior deity. To be able to attain to one's true destiny as the true deity's child, one had to engage in specific secret rituals and in some instances to memorize the secret data which enabled one to pass through the network of powers of the inferior deity who sought to keep persons imprisoned. Salvation was thus seen by the gnostics in a cosmic rather than a moral context—to be saved was to be enabled to return to the one true deity beyond this world.
The Gnostics thought faith was inferior to knowledge. The true sons of the absolute deity were saved through knowledge rather than faith. This was the feature of the various systems that gave the movements its designation: they were the Gnostics, the knowers. Yet what this precise knowledge was is quite vague. It was more a perception of one's own existence that solved life's mysteries for the Gnostic than it was a body of doctrine. The knowledge through which salvation came could be enhanced by participation in rituals or through instruction, but ultimately it was a self-discovery each Gnostic had to experience.
Origins of the Gnostic Concepts Gnosticism would not have been a threat to the early church if it had not been quite persuasive in the first centuries of the Christian era, and the question of where such ideas came from and what human needs they met must be addressed.
The classic answer to the question of why gnosticism arose is that it represents the “radical Hellenizing of Christianity.” In this view, gnosticism resulted from the attempt of early Christian thinkers to make Christianity understandable, acceptable, and respectable in a world almost totally permeated by Greek assumptions about the reality of the World. The expansion of Christianity from Palestine and its Jewish world of thought to the Roman Empire where Greek thought reigned called for an interpretation of Christianity that was more understandable. Common Hellenistic perceptions, such as the fact that matter and spirit were thought to be alien to one another, were incorporated into this re-statement of Christianity with the various gnostic systems as a result.
This classic view of the heretical gnostic sects as distortions of Christianity by Hellenistic thought has much strength because it is easily demonstrated how the Gnostics could use New Testament texts, bending them to their purposes. In 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 , for example, Paul chides the Corinthian Christians for being “people of the flesh” (NRSV) or carnal when they should be spiritual. This text could with ease be used as the foundation for supporting the Hellenistic idea of the superiority of certain persons in the Christian community. In this and many other instances, terms or expressions in the New Testament, especially in the writings of Paul and John, could be lifted out of context and used in ways not originally intended by the authors to support gnostic doctrines.
The classic explanation does leave some problems unsolved, however. Little doubt exists that there are ideas, attitudes, and practices incorporated into many of the gnostic heresies that are found outside of Hellenistic thought and much earlier than the second century of the Christian era. In particular, the ultimate goal of the Gnostics—to return to the absolute deity beyond matter and to be in some sense absorbed into the deity—belongs to near eastern pre-Christian mystical thought and not primarily to the Hellenistic world.
The existence of such non-Hellenistic features in the gnostic sects has occasioned studies of the possibility of there being a pre-Christian gnosticism which could be understood in itself rather than as an heretical offshoot of the Christian faith. Some researchers came to the conclusion that there was a full-fledged, organized, pre-Christian gnostic religion with a literature and most crucially—the hope of a redeemer who would be sent from the true deity and ascend back to him after awakening the spiritual persons to their redemption. Some radical scholars even went so far as to maintain that the way the early Christians proclaimed Christ was dependent on and modeled after such gnostic expectation. This view thus came to be almost the exact opposite of the classic view of the gnostic sects as Christian heresies and made Christianity heavily dependent on gnosticism. This quite radical view of gnosticism has been shown to be inadequate because no literary evidence whatsoever exists for a full-blown pre-Christian gnosticism. As for a pre-Christian gnostic redeemer expectation, it is now generally acknowledged that this was a figment of the researcher's imagination without any relevant documentary evidence.
Although the radical conclusions of some scholars regarding a highly developed pre-Christian gnosticism have been discounted, it does seem clear that there were many ideas, assumptions, and perceptions about deity, reality, and the relationships of persons to gods and the world that were incorporated into the gnostic sects from outside Hellenistic sources. Two literary discoveries have both inspired and tended to support this line of research—the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran in 1946 and the Nag Hammadi library in 1945 with many gnostic documents. The value of the study of gnosticism for interpreting the New Testament is greatest from the point of view that there was a pre-Christian gnosticism which was not an organized religion but was more a general attitude among thoughtful persons that although ignorance abounded, one could through knowledge come to understand one's true identity and find union or relationship with the absolute deity. This way of conceiving of a pre-Christian gnosticism supplements the classic view by providing an explanation for the rapid and widespread development of so many diverse gnostic heretical sects so quickly. This view also offers an explanation of why the New Testament could so easily be exploited by gnostic sects. The early Christian preachers and writers, seeking to speak and write to be understood, used terms current in the first century world in the vague context of gnostic religious longings and gave them new meaning in the context of the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Harold S. Songer
Heresies of the Church Thru the Ages 
(Greek: Gnosis , knowledge)
Salvation by knowledge. Gnostics were people who claimed to know mysteries of the universe; various pantheistic sects, antedating the Christian era and lasting to the 5th century and borrowing the formulas of various religious, particularly of Christianity, to express their view of matter as inimical to spirit, and of the universe as a depravation of the Deity. It is an extinct force, so far as religion is concerned today, but there are survivals of it in Swedenborgianism, New Thought, and in some of the sects of Occultism.
Morrish Bible Dictionary 
An early system of philosophy professedly Christian. One of their theories was that the Lord was an Ã†on and not really a man. Apparently to refute this the apostle insists on Christ having come 'in flesh.' 1 John 4:2,3; 2 John 7 . The same may be alluded to in Colossians 2:9 , "in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily ," in opposition to their mysticism. See Genealogies
Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature 
A. Gnosis. — The New-Testament writers were occasionally determined in their choice of prominent words by the expressions which were current among the people they addressed. Such words as logos and gnosis, having acquired a peculiar signification in the schools, were recognized by them, and appropriated to a sacred use. We concede, indeed, that the latter word ( Γνῶσις ) usually denotes in their writings simply what its etymology implies, the mere act of knowing, or the objective knowledge thus acquired. In those primitive times it was seldom that any systematic or scientific exposition of Christian truth was demanded. The contest was with reference to the simple facts of the Gospel, and Christianity was fain to secure an existence in the world before it had leisure to speculate upon abstract points. Not only was it unwise to divert men's minds from, practical religion, but many true believers were too carnal to be intrusted with a higher wisdom. Paul, therefore, and his fellow-laborers determined to confine their apostolic ministrations to such a historical presentation of Jesus Christ and him crucified as might be called the simplest milk of the word. He declares, however ( 1 Corinthians 2:6), that he sometimes made known a higher wisdom among such as were perfect, though a wisdom, he is careful to say, very different from that which some heathen and Jewish philosophers had claimed. In other passages he applies the word gnosis to this kind of wisdom. He specifies "the word of knowledge" among those peculiar gifts of the Spirit which were possessed by the more eminent teachers ( 1 Corinthians 12:8), and commends a knowledge through which the more discerning believers rose above the fear of the heathen gods, and ate of the things offered to idols as of things in themselves indifferent ( 1 Corinthians 8:7). He speaks also of a gnosis falsely so called, and thus implies that there was another which truly deserved the name ( 1 Timothy 6:20). In subsequent times this use of the word became common, and great pains were taken to make obvious the distinction between the true ( Γνῶσις Ἀληθινή ) and the false gnosis ( Γνῶσις Ψευδώνυμος ). A lately (1715) discovered treatise of Irenaeus (entitled Γνῶσ . Ἀληθ . ), and an extended description of the true Gnostic at the close of the Stromata of Clement of Alexandria, have preserved to us the views of the Church on this subject near the close of the 2d century.
It was admitted on all sides that there was a knowledge of divine things superior to that of the multitude, not in its importance to the salvation of the soul, but in its intellectual power. It belonged not so much to the pulpit as to the schools, and was important not so much to the personal salvation as to the comfort and growth of believers, and to the acceptance of the Gospel among the more educated classes. It took up those facts which were objects of the common faith, and made them subjects of speculation and profound thought. It arranged them, drew from them logical conclusions, reconciled their apparent discrepancies with each other and with the conclusions of science, and applied them to long-agitated questions which were only hinted at, but not solved, in the Christian Scriptures. At this point, however, the true and the false gnosis separated, and took different directions. The former submitted itself without reserve to the authority of the Scriptures, and professed never to venture beyond what was written. It presented itself to all men without discrimination of natural talents or social condition. The latter claimed to be above the reach of the vulgar, and to be derived from sources superior to the written word. Clement describes the true Gnostic as one who grows gray in the study of the Scriptures. I A scientific culture may be indispensable to the higher departments of that study, and a true spiritual discernment can be acquired only by divine grace, but the natural talents which must be used in its acquisition have been given to all, and each one's success will be proportioned to his prayerful diligence. The sources of knowledge, too, were the same for the humblest believer and the most eminent Gnostic, for all had access to the Scriptures and the common tradition ( Παράδοσις ) which had been transmitted in 11 the churches. The gnosis was. simply a faith made perfect, an expansion. of what faith had received, a building constructed wholly of materials supplied by faith. Its advocates made much use of a passage in Isaiah 7:9 (Sept.): "If ye believe not, neither shall ye understand;" from which they inferred not only that faith is indispensable to knowledge, but that knowledge should spring from faith. And yet it cannot be denied that many, especially of the Alexandrian school, gave an undue prominence to this higher knowledge, as if it were indispensable to all religion, and disparaged the great body of believers ( Πιστικοί ) as incapable of a true spiritual life, as in communion only with the Christ of an earthly and sensuous life, and as actuated only by a fear of punishment and a desire of personal benefits. The true Gnostic, — on the other hand, they believed to be favored with such an intuitional faculty for the discernment of truth, and such a perpetual tuition under the divine Logos, that he could dispense, in a great degree, with outward demonstrations; and they claimed that his love of knowledge was so intense and disinterested, that if it could even be separated from his eternal salvation he would not hesitate still to choose it. The subjects on which they delighted to expatiate were chiefly: God, as he must be conceived of in his absolute being, the incarnation and redeeming work of Christ, the influence of these upon our race and upon other beings, the vast chain of existence between man and God, the fall of some links in this chain and their probable recovery, the origin of this world, the source of moral evil and its elimination from the universe, and the future history and destiny of all things. In the discussion of such themes, we need not be surprised to find that they not unfrequently transcended the province both of reason and of faith, and that some of their speculations were condemned by their more temperate brethren (Neander, Hist. 1:544-52; Hase, Hist. § 85; Schaff, Hist. Christ. Church, volume 1, chapter 4).
B. Heretical Gnosticism. —
I. General Character. — The name Gnosticism has been applied to a variety of schools which had sometimes little in common except the assumption of a knowledge higher than that of ordinary believers. Most of them claimed a place in the Church, and complained bitterly when this was denied them; and yet they generally spoke of Christianity as insufficient to afford absolute truth, and not unfrequently they assumed a hostile attitude towards it. They seldom pretended to demonstrate the principles on which their systems were founded by historical evidence or logical reasonings, since they rather boasted that these were discovered by the intuitional powers of more highly endowed minds, and that the materials thus obtained, whether through faith or divine revelation, were then worked up into a scientific form according to each one's natural power and culture. Their aim was to construct not merely a theory of redemption, but of the universe a cosmogony. No subject was beyond their investigations. Whatever God could reveal to the finite intellect, they looked upon as within their range. What to others seemed only speculative ideas, were by them hypostatized or personified into real beings or historical facts. It was in this way that they constructed systems of speculation on subjects entirely beyond the range of human knowledge, which startle us by their boldness and their apparent consciousness of reality.
II. External Origin . — And yet we have reason to believe that Gnosticism originated no speculations which were essentially new. It only recognized and selected what seemed to it true in earlier systems, and then combined these fragments in new relations — not in the way of a crude syncretism, but with mutual affinities and living power. No question, however, has more perplexed historians than that which refers to the direct origin of Gnosticism. We are in possession of scarcely any authenticated documents which have come down to us from persons living at the time and in countries in which it had its birth. We are dependent for our information respecting it almost entirely upon the representations of opponents, who knew almost nothing of Oriental systems, and were acquainted with it only in its maturity. Unfortunately, too, the question of the origin of Gnosticism has recently become complicated with others on which violent party feelings have been exercised. Those who have denied the apostolic origin of the epistles in which traces of Gnosticism have been discovered, have felt an interest in removing both the epistles and Gnosticism to as late a period as possible. From the discussion of this subject, however, there are some facts which may now be regarded as incontrovertible.
1. Ever since the conquests of Alexander the Great, an intense interest had been felt throughout Asia Minor and Egypt in Hellenistic philosophy and Oriental theosophy; and while the old mythologic fables and professed systems of positive revelation had lost their authority, many thoughtful persons had discovered under these what they looked upon as a uniting bond of truth and the elements of a universal religion.
2. The result was that, near the time of the first promulgation of Christianity, a number of new systems of religious philosophy sprung up independently in different countries, and exhibited similar characteristics. They were usually formed by incorporating with the national religion what seemed attractive elements in foreign systems, and softening down what was harsh and incredible in the popular faith and worship. In this way we discover a nearly simultaneous origin of the Judaistic philosophy at Alexandria, of Essenism and Therapeutism in Egypt and southern Palestine, of the Cabbalistic literature in Syria and the East, and of New Platonism among the Hellenistic nations. These were all offshoots from the same general root, and not necessarily deriving anything original, but unquestionably drawing much assistance from one another. Similar circumstances everywhere called forth similar phenomena with no conscious interdependence.
3. We thus account for the origin of Gnosticism, and easily reconcile the conflicting views of different writers respecting it. As the early ecclesiastical writers were themselves acquainted almost exclusively with Occidental literature, they ware in the habit of ascribing the rise of Gnosticism to the study of Grecian philosophy, and especially of Platonism, and they appeal to the cosmogonies of Hesiod and others for the exemplars of the Gnostic speculations. Modern historians, however, have found in most of the Gnostic systems such a predominance of Oriental elements, that- they have been led to infer a direct influence not merely from Alexandrian Judaism, but dualistic Parsism, and even from pantheistic Buddhism. There can, in fact, be no question regarding the influence of all these systems. The Platonic doctrines of a God, without distinctions in his nature, withdrawn entirely within himself, intelligible only to the initiated, and that only through the mediation of the Nous, a higher ideal sphere reflecting itself in a lower phenomenal world, a hyle ( Ὕλη ) and an undefined dualism between it and God, a fall of spiritual beings from the divine to the sensuous sphere, the derivation of sin from a contact with the material element; the Pythagorean doctrine of numbers; the Brahminic doctrine of emanation eshypostatizing of the divine attributes; the Parsic representation of the divine essence as light. of a dualism in which God is subject to the continual aggression of a world of matter, and of a good principle in eternal conflict with the prince of darkness; and the Buddhist notions of a God in process of development, of souls longing to be freed from the bonds of matter, and to be raised above all sensible things, and reunited with the divine source of life, are all unmistakable, and indicative of their respective sources. We need not, however, suppose that these elements were derived directly from their original sources. The Alexandrian literature, in which most of these elements had found a place, was diffused among the educated classes in all those countries in which Gnosticism flourished, and might have been the mediating agency through which the mind of the East was brought into communication with that of the West. From the heterogeneous commingling of such diverse systems, and especially from their contact with the young energies of Christianity, the Gnostic spirit might easily draw forth such materials as suited its purpose. The sources of Gnosticism, however, like those of the Nile, are to a great extent concealed, and those who imagine they have discovered its principal head not unfrequently learn that another remains far beyond. As its friends boasted, there were secret agencies by which truth was conveyed to the elect race under symbols and an outward letter which only they could understand. (See Baxmann, in the Ames. Theol. Review for 1862, page 666-76).
III. Classification . — It has been found very difficult to arrange the several Gnostic sects according to any principle of classification. They have been grouped together by different writers according to their origin, their geographical position, and their speculative views. Neander (Hist. Christ. Religion, 1:379-86) divides them into Judaizing and anti-Judaizing Gnostics, according to their agreement or opposition to ancient Judaism. Gieseler (Eccl. Hist. volume 1, § 44) arranges them according to their geographical order, as Alexandrian, Syriac, and miscellaneous. Hase (Hist. Chr. Ch. § 76) makes four classes, Syrian, Hellenistic, Judaizing, and specially Christian. Similar to this is Matter's division into those of Svria, Asia Minor, Egypt, and the rest of the Roman world (Hist. crit. du Gnost.). Baur (Chr. Gnosis, 1835) arranges the several sects into three principal classes according to their relation to the three earlier religions with which they came in contact:
1. Those who combined Christianity with Judaism and heathenism;
2. Those who entirely separated it from them, and opposed it to them; and,
3. Those who identified it with Judaism, but opposed it to heathenism. This ingenious, and, in many respects, satisfactory division, fails to bring out the historical progress and internal development of the Gnostic systems, and offers no suitable place for Manichaeism. It has, however, found much favor on account of its simplicity, and has been adopted with some modificationss by Niedner, Marheineke (Weltalter, th. 2, page 246), Tennemann (Manual of the Hist. of Philippians § 200), and others. Dr. Schaff proposes a classification, according to an ethical point of view, into the speculative and theosophic, the practical and ascetic; and the Antinomian and libertine (Hist. of the Chr. Ch. 1:234). It is evident that no classification can combine together a chronological local, and logical distribution, and hence we shall probably gain something by presenting these separately. IV. History. — In attempting to give a historical outline of the course of Gnosticism, our object is not so much to present particular details of the several schools, since these will be found, as far as possible, under their several heads in this work, but to indicate in general the order and position of each. Lipsius, in a recent work ( Gnosticism, Its Essence, Origin, And Development, 1860), endeavors to show that this course of development was a curve which commenced with only a slight departure from orthodoxy, and, after diverging more and more from it, finally comes back again gradually to the true path. Another writer (Hilgenfeld) has attempted a distinct definition of the three stadia of this development. It is difficult to discover in the actual history the regularity of departure and return implied in such a figure, and yet we may derive from it a correct notion of the general direction. In the first stadium we have the Judaizing Gnostics, and then the several classes who, in their opposition to Judaism, deify nearly all the godless characters of the Old Testament. In the second we have not merely Old-Testament history, but Greek philosophy, a contempt of the common faith, the opposition of the psychic and pneumatic natures, and mythical personifications of speculative ideas. In the third and last stadium this opposition between the pneumatic and psychic natures begins to be modified, and finally, under the Marcionites, the Gnostic speculation approximates very nearly that of the more liberal Catholic teachers. It is in this last stadium that we find the greatest difficulty in seeing how the curve approximates with much uniformity the orthodox highway for some classes of the later Marcionaites, and, above all, the Manichees, seem rather to have been the extreme consummation of Gnosticism.
As there were strong tendencies towards Gnosticism both in Judaism and heathenism, we might reasonably infer that the Gnostics must have been powerfully attracted by Christianity. It was, however, more consistentwithethe essential spirit ofthat movement to attempt to mold the new system to its fancy than to submit with docility to the exclusive authority of the Gospel. Among the remnants of Oriental tribes in Samaria we are not surprised to find such a man as Simon, who succeeded in making the multitude believe that he was the great power of God. It is said that he called himself the creative world-spirit, and his female companion the receptive world-soul. We have here a likeness of the Gnostic doctrine of aeons and syzigies. In the tradition of the subsequent Church, this half- mythical personage became the patriarch of all heretics, but especially of heathen Gnostics (Irenaeus, Adv. haer. lib. 1, c. 27, § 4; Hippol. 1:62 sq.). During the twenty years which intervened between the first Christian Pentecost and the later epistles of Paul, we know that theosophic speculations were everywhere prevalent in Syria and Asia Minor, and that these were strangely min-led with Christian doctrines. Great freedom was allowed to religious thought, even among the early Christians, as long as the moral and religious life of the people was not perverted. But Paul very soon discovered dangerous tendencies in the churches which he had recently established in Asia Minor. Josephus tells us that Alexander the Great had sent into the provinces of Lydiae and Phrygia 2000 Mesopotamian and Babylonian Jewes to garrison the disaffected towns there, and. we are informed that the inhabitants of that region have always since been prone to mystical and Oriental superstitions (Alford, How to use the Epistles, Epistle to the Colossians, Sunday Mag. 1867, page 829). The errors which he reproved at Colossae were doubtless a curious commixture of Jewish and heathen speculations. The ancient historian Hegesippus informs us (Euseb. Eccl. Hist. 3:32) that the heretical gnosis did not make its appearance with an uncovered head until after the death of the apostles, but that it previously worked in secret. After all the contentions of various writers on the question how far this error prevailed in apostolic times, there is a general agreement that, while most of the heresies of that period were Judaistic, there was an obvious difference between those reproved in the Galatian churches and those noticed in the epistles to the Colossians and Timothy. The latter are treated much more mildly, and we readily perceive that they must have been much less developed and less subversive of the Christian system. They are expressly called ( 1 Timothy 6:20) a false gnosis, and were characterized by empty sounds without sense and subtle oppositions to the truth, a depreciation of the body, sand a worship of angels ( Colossians 2:18; Colossians 2:23), and interminable genealogies and myths ( 1 Timothy 1:4).
These seem more akin to Jewish than to heathen speculations, and imply not the completed Gnosticism of the second century, but the manifest germs of Docetic emanations and Gnostic dualism. Irenseus, on the authority of Polycarp, relates (Adv. haer. 1:26) that John was acquainted with Cerinthus, and wrote the fourth gospel to refute his errors. Both he and Epiphanius (Haer. page 28) say that Cerinthu's taught that the world was not made by the Most High God, but by a lower power, or by angels, and that Jesus was an ordinary man, whom the supreme Logos became united with at his baptism, but forsook during his last sufferings, to reunite with him in the future kingdom of Messianic glory. (See Cerinthus).
Here the Gnosticism becomes plainly perceptible, and we can certainly understand a number of passages in John's Gospel and Epistles better if we suppose a reference in them to these and similar errors. The Nicohaitans of the Apocalypse and the false teachers of the Epistle of Jude despised Judaism as the work of evil angels, ridiculed and trampled upon the law that they might insult these limited powers, and thus fell into a strange complication of gross licentiousness and bodily mortifications (Burton, Heresies of the Apost. Age; Potter in the old and W.L. Alexander in the new edition of Kitto's Cycop.; Conybeare, in Conybeare and Howson's Life of St. Paul, note at the end of volume 1. Comp. C.C. Tittmanns, De vestigiis Gnosticor. in N.T. frustra quaesitis, Leips. 1773; transl. and publ. in Contributions to Foreign Literature, New York, 1827). No sooner bad the direct influence of the apostles and their immediate successors ceased than the speculative interest and numbers of the Gnostics began to increase mightily. Near the commencement of the 2d century, flourished about the same time Basilides in Alexandria and his son Isidore (See Basilides), the dualistic and ascetic Saturninus in Antioch, Carpocratesaof Alexandria, and his son Epiphanes. The last two maintained that every one who could soar to the same height of contemplation might attain the same powers with Christ, and that Christ differed in no respect from the wise and good of all nations. About the same time we first become acquainted with the party commonly called Ophites, though Origen says that it was founded by a certain Euphrates, who must have lived as early as the time of Christ. Their common appellation (Ophites, Heb. Naasenes) was given them by their opponents (for they always called themselves simply Gnostics), because they were said to pay great honor to the serpent as the instrument of the temptation in Eden. As the prohibition then transgressed was designed to keep man back from knowledge, what is commonly called the Fall was, in fact, a transition to a higher state. When first known they resided principally in Egypt and in Phrygia. They afterwards became numerous, sand branched off into various subdivisions. (See Ophites).
Great differences however, are discoverable between those who bear the same name. In the next generation (A.D. 140-160) belongs Valentinus, who flourished first in Egypt and then in Rome, and finally died in the island of Cyprus (about A.D. 160). The school named after him was the most influential of all the Gnostic parties, and contained a large number of talented and eminent teachers. It was divided into an Oriental and an Italian branch, in both of which was inculcated a highly exalted style of religion. Among its most esteemed writers may be mentioned Heracleon of Alexandria, who wrote a commentary on John's Gospel, some extracts from which, preserved in Origen, admirably bring out the profound spirit of this evangelist; Ptolemy, whose epistle to Flora has come down to us in Epiphanius, and' endeavors to show that his system was not inconsistent with the Catholic faith; Marcus, probably a Jew of Palestine, in whose poetic and symbolical work divine sons discourse in liturgical forms; and Bardesanes, an Armenian of Edessa (about 170), who, with his son Harmonius, was immensely popsular as a writer of hymns and imitations of David's Psalms. (See the articles under these names.) Contemporary with Valentinus lived Cerdon, a Syrian, and his pupil Marcion of Sinope, in Pontus, who carried their zeal for Pauline and primitive Christiatnity to such an extreme that they rejected not only as secret traditions, but large portions of the New Testament. They opposed heathen religions as the work of the devil, and Judaism as the product of an inferior and wrathful deity, who was to be put down by Christ and the revelation through him of the supreme God. Kindred with him were Apelles of Alexandria, and his pupils Lucas and Marcus, who approximated still nearer a Christian orthodoxy, though with singular inconsistencies. Tatian, a Syrian, a rhetorician in Rome, during the latter part of his life is said to have fallen into Gnostic errors, and to have prescribed a system of extreme abstinence as the only means of disengaging ourselves from the world. A party of Encratites, calling themselves by his name or by that of his pupil Severus, continued as late as the 4th century. A class of persons represented by the Clementine Homilies at Rome, and sometimes reckoned among the Gnostics, ought rather to be classed with the Ebionites. (See Clementines).
We now come in contact with several classes of the Ophites, many of whom, according to Origen, went so far in their opposition to ordinary views that they admitted none to their assemblies who did not curse Christ (Neander, 1:446 sq.). The whole system of the God of the Jews was looked upon by this sect as oppressive to man, and whoever is represented in the scriptural history as rebelling against it were regarded as saints. Hence some of the worst characters of the Old and New Testament were held in the highest honor. Even Jesus was reckoned among agents of the Jewish Jehovah, and his betrayal by Judas Iscariot was extolled as done with the best of motives and results. Those who maintained this position were called Cainites, while such as dissented from such extravagances were distinguished as Sethites. The Perates, who have recently become known to us through the Philosophoumena, appear to have approximated much nearer the Catholic doctrine. During the 3d century Gnosticism appears to have lost its power, for the orthodox party had now attained more scientific precision of thought, and their formulas of faith presented scriptural doctrine in a style consistent with the highest culture of the age. Towards the close of that century, however, arose in the distant East one more attempt to combine Christianity with Oriental theosophy. Manicheeism sprang up in a region where neither Hellenism nor Judaism was familiar; and its object appears to have been to reform the corrupted Parsism of that day by incorporating with the original system of Zoroaster numerous elements taken from a gnosticized Christianity and Buddhism. To Christianity, however, it seems to have been indebted more for its names and symbols than for its essential history or characters. Personages and facts taken from scriptural records find in that system an entirely new significance. Its founder (Mani or Manes, a Magian banished from Persia) discovered many points of agreement between the doctrines of Parsism, Buddhism and Gnostic Christianity, and endeavored to combine these three systems into one universal religion. He accounted for all things on dualistic principles. His followers were soon driven by persecution from their earliest seats, but were numerous during the fourth century in every part of the East, and in Africa, Sicily, and Italy. Many persons of noble spirit were attracted by it, but it soon fell into gross licentiousness by its professed exaltation above outward things, and of course lost its place in common esteem, and fell into contempt. Some vestiges, however, both of Marcionism and Manichaeism, remained even into the Middle Ages, and by means of the Priscillianists, the Paulicians, the Bogomiles, and the Cathari, transmitted the leading features of Gnosticism to distant ages and countries.
Many of these sects can hardly be recognized as within the pale of Christianity. While some of them claimed a place within the Church, and refused to leave it when they were disowned by its authorities, others openly abjured the Christian name. Certainly such complete subverters of the essentials of the Gospel as the Carpocratians, Perates, Sethites, Cainites, and Manichaeans deserve to be called rather gnosticized heathen than Christian Gnostics. In the history of the Church they deserve a place only because they, like other heathen, influenced it from without. In a history of Gnosticism even these must have no unimportant position. Indeed, no history of this system is quite complete without embracing some still more remote systems — Cabbalistic Judaism, Neo-Platonism, etc., which had their origin under Gnostic influences. V. General Principles. — The ultimate aim of Gnosticism was to present a perfect solution of the great problem of the origin and destiny of the universe, and especially of the origin of evil, Πολυθρύλητον Ζήτημα , Πόθεν Ἡ Κακία . The three ideas which were fundamental to all its speculations were:
1. A supreme being, unconnected with matter, and incapable of being affected by it;
2. Matter, Υ̓́λη , eternal,, the source of evil, and opposed to God; and,
3. A series of beings intermediate between these two
The primary source of all spiritual existence was an eternal abyss ( Βυθός ) , so utterly beyond human representation that no one should venture to name him, or even to conceive of him. He was the absolute one, and virtually and logically non-existent ( Οὐκ Ὣν ) . In his nature, however, there was some inconceivable ground of self-evolution ( Προβολή ) , in consequence of which his infinite powers became revealed in a series of aeons, or hypostatized divine attributes. It is only through these that he can have communication with finite natures. They are called aeons ( Αἰῶνες ) because they are Eternal Ones, representing the eternal Source of all ( Αἰών ). According to Valentinus, they emanated in pairs (syzigies) of different sexes. Basilides and Marcion ascribed their existence to an act of love and to a creative word, but the more pantheistic sects to a necessary process of emanation which is usually spoken of as by generation. Their number varies in different systems; sometimes it is determined by planetary relations (12), sometimes by the days of the year (365), sometimes by the years in the life of Christ (32), but not unfrequently it is left indefinite. The first eons were Nous, Logos, Sophia, Dunamis, Aletheia, Zoe, etc., generated either by the original being or by one another in ever-increasing imperfection as they recede from their source. Together they constitute the Pleroma, the world of light and divine fullness, but far removed from the infinite abyss with which none can directly communicate.
2. Over against this Pleroma and this eternal abyss stands the world of matter ( Υ̓́λη ), sometimes contradistinguished as the Kenoma, or the world of emptiness or darkness. This was usually spoken of as eternal, but chaotic, and disordered by internal strifes. It was generally described as far removed from the kingdom of light, but sometimes as very near, and even on the confines of that kingdom. Some conceived of it as dead and powerless until it became animated by influences from the Pleroma, but others, and especially Manes and his followers, represented it as active and aggressive. According to the former, one of the lowest and feeblest of the divine sons (called by Valentinus Sophia, the lower wisdom or Achamoth, the Κάτω in distinction from the Ἄνω Σοφία ) fell from the abode of light and came under the power of matter. Though Valentinus makes this, to some extent, a free act of apostasy on the part of the divine eon, as she was wandering beyond the bounds of the Pleroma, and agitated by her intense desire to get out of her proper sphere and enter into more direct communication with the infinite Source, it was usually described as the result of an incapacity to retain a hold upon the superior world, and a consequent precipitation into the darkness of the Kenoma.
3. At this point we meet with the idea of the Demiurge. The name signifies a public worker ( Δημιουργός ), and Le Esi the same with the Avelion of Basilides and the Jaldabaoth ( יֲלדָּאאּבִהוּת , the chaosborn) of the Ophites. He came into being from the commingling of the light-nature in the Sophia (the Πνευματικόν Σπέρμα ) with matter. As the fruit of such a parentage, he was possessed of a nature neither pneumatic nor material, but psychical, and he occupies an intermediate position between the supreme God and the material world. He is not, of course, an evil, but only a limited and imperfect being, and yet evil springs from the defects of his work and of his plans. He acts in general with sincerity according to his power and light. By him the chaos of matter was transformed into an organized universe. The planetary heavens, and the sidereal spirits who are over them, and the whole course of the world, are under his control. In all this, however, he is the unconscious instrument of higher powers in the world of light, who secretly influence all his movements. Of this control he finally and gradually became aware, and by some teachers he is said to have become vexed and goaded into opposition by the discovery, and by others to have gladly welcomed and submitted to it. He was the author of Judaism, and to some extent of Christianity; and hence by many Gnostics the former system was looked upon as defective, if not false, and even the latter, especially in its mere letter, as incapable of imparting the highest wisdom. Only by Marcion was he regarded as entirely independent of the supreme God in the work of creation and providence, since he was here in a department which belonged wholly to him. He remained the God of this world until the coming of Christ, who vanquished him at the crucifixion.
4. With respect to anthropology, the Gnostics held that the whole kingdom of the Demiurge was fallen. He was himself the creature of a fallen eon, and the world he created and rules is subject to imperfection. From his connection with matter there was produced a human race, which in its totality is a microcosm, representing within itself the three principles of the great universe, the supreme God, the Demiurge, and matter. This was inconsequence of the creation of three classes of men, higher or lower in proportion to their freedom from matter. Marcion alone made this distinction dependent upon the will of man himself; the other Gnostics made it a result of creation, or of a divine communication of the spark of light and life from the upper world. The highest of these, i.e., the spiritual ( Πνευματικοι ) , share largely in the nature of the lowest aeon ( Σοφία ) , who originally fell from the Pleroma, and hence they are the only ones who can attain perfection. They alone are capable of recognizing and receiving the light which is communicated from above. The second class, the psychical ( Ψυκικοί ) , have the nature of the Demiurge himself, who has power to raise them to some extent above the debasement of matter, and, by giving them legal forms, to impart to them a legal righteousness, but not to afford them a recognition of those divine mysteries which are beyond his own reach. The third class are the fleshly or hylic ( Σαρκικοί , Ὑλικοί ) natures, in whom matter has usurped human form and passion ( Πάθος ), has entire control, and who are therefore destined to share the fortunes of matter alone. Historically, the spiritual predominated under the Christian dispensation, the psychical under the Jewish, and the fleshly among the heathen of all ages. Individuals, however, of each class are numerous under all these dispensations. In the aristocratic spirit of ancient Platonism, many Gnostics allowed of no transition from the one to the other of these classes, while others looked upon it as possible for the lower to rise to the higher in consequence of a divine communication of special powers.
5. The Gnostic idea of redemption was simply that of a liberation of the light-spirit from its connection with matter. Of course it is confined to the two higher classes of our race in whom that spirit is found. In every condition of humanity, some favored individuals are represented as sighing for deliverance. In this way were explained some glimpses of a higher knowledge, which break forth at intervals in the prophecies and psalms of the Jewish Scriptures, and in the writings of pagan philosophers. Some sparks of light were supposed to have been thrown into the breasts of nobler persons, and the rational creation, as a whole ( Κτίσις ), is represented as sighing for redemption ( Romans 8:22). A recently discovered work (Pistis Sophia) contains the penitential sighings and longings of the neon ( Σοφία ) when she had herself fallen from her original condition of divine intuition to that of mere faith. In pity for this sighing spirit, Christ, one of the highest of all the aeons, descends, and brings her, after innumerable sufferings, back to the Pleroma, and undertakes the deliverance of all pneumatic natures. To accomplish this, he assumes, not a material form, since he can have no contact with matter, but only the appearance of one. In answer to the longings of the Jews, the Demiurge had promised and actually sent among them a Messiah with only psychical powers. Most of the Gnostics suppose that the heavenly Christ (Soter) took possession of this Messiah, who had proved himself unable to accomplish what had been promised in his behalf, and that from the baptism by John until the crucifixion this true Redeemer acted through this personage. Some, however, held that the man Jesus, with whom the aeon Christ then became connected, combined in his own nature all human elements with the powers of an aetherial spirit. As this Christ cannot suffer, everything in him which seemed like it, or like any imperfection, was either a docetic illusion, or wholly in the human personage with which he was united: This work of Christ, however, commenced not wholly with the life of Jesus, but, to some extent, with creation itself, in which the Redeemer inspired the unconscious Demiurge with many divine ideas, and during the whole process of the world's government he is drawing congenial spirits to himself, and correcting many errors of the world-ruler. His redeeming work, however, is effected entirely by the communication of the Gnosis, and especially the revelation of the true God. In the end, all pneumatic and psychical natures capable of redemption will be gathered and raised to the Pleroma. Valentinus supposes that all psychical natures are exalted only to a lower degree of blessedness in a peculiar kingdom of the Demiurge. Matter with all fleshly natures will either be consumed by its own powers, or sink back into its original condition of utter deadness and absolute separation from the light, or of internal confusion.
6. The sources from which the Gnostics professed to derive their knowledge were,
(a.) Tradition, not so much that of the Church, which they generally looked upon as unphilosophical, and fit only for the multitude, but that which was said to have been communicated by Christ to a narrow circle of congenial spirits, and by them transmitted to others. Marcion alone made this tradition accessible to all.
(b.) The ordinary Christian Scriptures were only partially received among them. Marcion and the more strenuous Judaistic Gnostics entirely rejected the Old Testament, and the more moderate recognized a distinction between its pneumatic, psychic, and hylic elements. Many of them disparaged portions of the New Testament also, while others accepted only of Paul's writings and an expurgated gospel of Luke.
(c.) Other writings of highly enlightened persons belonging to particular sects. Thus Manes's writings were much venerated among his followers, and the prophecies of Cain and of a pretended seer named Parchor among the followers of Basilides, and the apocryphal books of Adam, Enoch, Moses, Elias, Isaiah, Baruch, and others.
(d.) Even the writings of the heathen poets and philosophers were much used by some, who, by a course of allegorical explanations, like those which they applied to the Scriptures, discovered ineffable mysteries under the most unpromising outward letter.
7. With the exception of the followers of Manes, we have no evidence that the Gnostics ever attempted a distinct ecclesiastical organization. Many of them were never excluded from the orthodox churches, within which they only sought to form schools and social circles. They practiced baptism, and believed that in this rite, as in the baptism of Christ, the higher spirit was more abundantly imparted, and the human spirit was emancipated from the power of the Demiurge. Most of them were inclined by their poetic fancies and their love of symbols to a gorgeous style of worship, but the more common ordinances and observances of the Church were neglected as useful only to such as were on the ground of mere faith.
8. Their ethics and practical morality were usually dependent upon dualistic principles. Among the Hellenistic Gnostics it took the form of a struggle against matter, which so unfrequently ran into asceticism, and sometimes into the use of charms and astrological practices. The Oriental Gnostics, on the other hand, are said in many instances to have plunged into immoralities, sometimes with the view of showing their contempt for the Demiurge and his laws, or because they regarded the body as an indifferent thing to a spirit united with the supreme God, and subject to no inferior law. Saturninus, Marcion, and Manes rejected marriage; but many Gnostics not only submitted to it, but looked upon it as the highest law of pneumatic natures. We have no evidence that the standard of morality was lower among the Gnostics generally than among orthodox Christians in general.
One is amazed at the boldness, the fanciful nature, and the high pretensions of Gnosticism. In the course of a century and a half it comes and goes before us like a splendid vision.. And yet its influence upon Christianity was profound and permanent. It gave occasion to a great expansion of Christian thought, to a clearer idea of the historical relation of Christianity to earlier and surrounding religions, and to a better definition of the basis of true faith. It deserves a more careful study than it has usually received.
VI. Literature . — The original authorities are the ecclesiastical writers of the period generally, but especially Irenaeus and Epiphanius, Adv. Haereses ; Tertullian, De Praescript. Haer., Contra Gnost. Scosp., Adv. Valentinanos, Adt. Marcianum ; Hippolytus, Κατὰ Πασ . Αὶρ . Ἔλεγχος , and the Philosophoumena usually ascribed to him; Theodoret, Haer. Fabb. Also Clemens, Alex. and Origen in many passages; Gnostic fragments in Grabe's Spicilegium; Munter's Odae Gnosticae (Kopenh. 1812); Pistis Sophia (a Gnostic work translated from a Copt. Codex by Schwartz and edited by Petermanns Berlin, 1851); Cerdus Nazaraeus (ed. by Norberg, and sometimes called the Bible of Gnosticism); Bardesanes Gnosticus Syrorum primus Hymnologus, and Antitheses Marcionis Gnosiici (two Gnostic works published by Aug. Hahn, Leips. 1819, 1823); also the Neo- Platonist work of Plotinus, Πρὸς Τ . Γνωστικόυς (Emend. 2, lib. 9). The English reader can gain access to many of these ecclesiastical writers by means of the Ante-Nicene Chr. Lib. , edited, by Drs. Roberts and Donaldson, now in course of publication at Edinburgh.
The modern literature of Gnosticism is very abundant. Besides the general ecclesiastical histories of Gieseler, Neander, Hase, and Schaff, the doctrinal histories of Hagenabach, F.K. Meier, F.C. Baur, A. Neander, L. Noack, and Shedd, and the histories of philosophy by H. Ritter, Tennemann, F.D. Maurice, and the French history translated by C.S. Henry, the more important special works on the subject are, A. Neander, Genet. Entwickl. d. vorn. gnost. Syst. (Berl. 1818); J. Matter, Histoire crit. et Gnosticisme (Par. 1828 , 2 volumes); Dr. Edward Burton, Bampton Lectures on the Heresies on the Apost. Age (1829; Oxford, 1830); F.C. Baur, Die christ. Gnosis (Tub. 1835), and Das Christenthum (Tub. 1853), pages 159-213; J.A. Moehler, Versuch u. d. Urspr. d. Gnost. (Tub. 1831); M Ö ller, Gesch. der Kosmologie d. Griech. Kirche (1862); R.A. Lipsius, Gnosticismus, etc. (Leips. 1860); Norton's Hist. of the Gnostics (1845); C.A. Lewald, De doctrina Gnost. (1818); H. Rossel, Gesch. d. Untersuch. it. d. Gnost. in Theol. Nachl. (Berl. 1847). Articles on Gnosticism have been published by F.R. Licke in Berl. theol. Zeitschr. (1819); J.C.L. Gieseler, in Hal. lit. Zeit. (1823) and Stud. u. Krit. (1830); F.C. Baur, Stud. u. Krit. (1837); H. . Cheever, in Asser. Bibl. Repository, October 1840; R. Baxmann, in Deutsche Zeitschr. (1861), and transl. in Amer. Theol. Rev. October 1862; and on the later history of the Nazoreans, or Mandai Jahia, in the Christian Review January 1855: an excellent article by J.L. Jacobi may be found in Herzog's Real-Encyklop. fur prot. Theol. See also Appleton's, Brande's, and Chambers's Cyclopaedias. (C.P.W.)
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia 
During the period of the prevalence of Gnosticism there took place the earlier developments of Christian theology. Gnosticism gave a powerful impetus to the formation of a New Testament canon of Scripture; and to the shaping of the earliest creed. See James M.A. DD General Editor. Entry for 'Gnosticism'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/isb/g/gnosticism.html. 1915.APOSTLES Copyright Statement These files are public domain and were generously provided by the folks at WordSearch Software. Bibliography Information Orr
- ↑ Gnosticism from Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament
- ↑ Gnosticism from A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography
- ↑ Gnosticism from Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible
- ↑ Gnosticism from Holman Bible Dictionary
- ↑ Gnosticism from Heresies of the Church Thru the Ages
- ↑ Gnosticism from Morrish Bible Dictionary
- ↑ Gnosticism from Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
- ↑ Gnosticism from International Standard Bible Encyclopedia