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What is the Origin of Gnosis 

The Original Meaning of Gnosis.

In its original Greek usage, the term gnosis has always been differentiated from sensory perception as well as opinion. Ever since the time of Plato it has signified apprehending what really is [1]. The platonic view grants such a reality only to those objects which are unaffected by the corrupting effect of time; and obviously, only metaphysical realities can withstand this test. If therefore one could grasp such realities through a gnosis, and grasp them integrally through his higher intellectual faculties, he would be drawing himself out of the space time domain. In other words, gnosis could give the supreme level of being to those who relentlessly ignore fatigue: It is a quest to reach the Divine.

Even though a great variety of interpretations have, over the years, been given to the concept of Gnosis, nevertheless, it is generally agreed that whatever may be the subject of its enquiry, it must fall directly or indirectly within the realm of Divine Principles. Gnosis is therefore Knowledge of God, Cosmology, Cosmogony, Archetypes, the Essence and Origin of the human being. It is a Transcendental Knowledge to start with, which we register prior to transforming it into our substance. But, if this does not happen, and our internal psychic structure is not radically modified in accordance with this knowledge, then it has failed to accomplish its goal. Gnosis is a Knowledge of Life and Light which is itself Life and Light.

True Knowledge is meant to answer the haunting, insoluble questions that torment a few among us: Who is man? From where does he come? What is the meaning of this trifling eighty years which he spends to Earth and which emerge out of the vast dark ocean of pre-birth and after-death? Why should he come to Earth, toil, learn and then be engulfed by this horrible death? We should expect from a true Gnosis to quench our rebellious fears of death, our sometimes-overwhelming sense of meaninglessness.

We can easily understand that a Gnosis, which would answer such questions, must in fact be wholly founded on an Authentic, Revealed Tradition that constitutes the Esoteric depth of a Truly Divine Religion.

In the postscript to the first volume of B. Mouravieffs systematic work on Gnosis and the Esoteric Tradition of Oriental Orthodoxy, it is written: Gnosis did not represent in the eyes of the ancients a popular knowledge, but a vivifying Knowledge, superior to both Reason and Faith.[2]...Gnosis ... appealed then as that mysterious hidden wisdom according to Saint Pauls words ... (this work) intends by expounding the different aspects of that wisdom to let (the reader) perceive the hermetic meaning of its title.

The late Fathers of the Church as well as many Religious and laic researchers have come to consider Gnosis and Gnosticism as a monument of bizarre dreams, incoherence, strange myths and cosmological speculations borrowed from the Orient and imported in great part by the Neo-Platonists. This prevailing opinion is wrong in definitively rejecting all what pertains to Gnosis and Gnosticism. It is doubly wrong when it tries to justify its rejections by leaning on the authority of the oldest and most important Fathers of the Church; namely Irenaeus, Saint Clement of Alexandria, Hyppolimen and Origen; for these very Fathers of the Church had always carefully discriminated between a True Gnosis in Jesus Christ and a false and deviated gnosis, against which they fought mercilessly.

Irenaeus clearly discriminates between the Gnostic heresy and the heretical gnosis on the one part, and the true gnosis on the other. For him the word Gnostic is to be placed alongside the gnosis of the New Testament. As to the contents of the heretical Gnostic, he describes them in his own terms, as a gnosis falsely so called. He gives to the gnostic heretics, whom he attacks, the name of gnostic, in an ironical sense, as we would by placing the word before a question mark.[3]

Origen uses the name Gnostics as a synonym of true Christians and this is seen repeatedly in his writings.[4]

Here, we quote a passage from Saint Clement of Alexandrias Stromata, which demonstrates with finality, the exact value that these Fathers gave to the True Gnosis: If, then, we assert that Christ Himself is Wisdom, and that it was His working which showed itself in the prophets, by which the Gnostic tradition may be learned, as He Himself taught the apostles during His presence; then it follows that the gnosis, which is the knowledge and apprehension of things present, future and past, which is sure and reliable, as being imparted and revealed by the Son of God, is wisdom.[5] That same Wisdom about which St. Paul said: Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away.[6]

In spite of the sharp distinction made by these Early Fathers of the Church, later generations denied that there ever existed an authentic Gnosis, and even when the facts presented definite proofs ascertaining its undeniable existence, the very word Gnosis was made taboo, substituted by the word knowledge in order to never even mention the term itself. The conspicuous hatred which the Church has for gnosis up to the present day is quite apparent in C. De Mondeserts translation of the first Stromata of Saint Clement, in the collection Source Chretienne: Whenever we read in the text the word connaissance, a footnote refers to it as gnosis in the original Greek text as if the word would soil the text if left intact.

Let us not forget also that the Latin title given to Saint Irenaeus major work Adversus Heresae is far from the original Greek title that can be translated as To Expose and Refute the False Pretension to Have Knowledge.

In short the word gnosis has gradually been, over the years, loaded contemptfully with heretical significance of all kinds, to become in fine a curse. Sadly enough, the True Gnosis in accordance with Jesus Christ, and these are the very words of the Great Fathers of the Church, was buried in the mud. It was an immense loss because the Early Fathers had endowed Gnosis with the dynamic virtue of Salvation, a Superior and indispensable Knowledge, as we can easily see in all their works.

[1] The Prophet Mohammed asked of God to show him all things as they are in themselves; meaning that the reality of the objects of our vision and of our understanding are always veiled.


[2] In agreement with this, a similar definition is given in the little work ofby Serge Hutin concerning Gnostics. Gnosis, he says, is the total Knowledge incommensurably superior to Faith and reason, (which are yet indispensable to start with). Gnosticism is thus bound to the original primordial wisdom, the sole and unique Esoteric Tradition, which is the source of the diverse particular religions.

Serge Hutin - Les Gnostiques, p.5,6.Que Sais'je No. 808 - 1963.

[3] Cf. A Seperate God - by Simone Petrement.

[4] Cf. for example Contre Celsus, SC, vol. 5, p.61, among numerous other similar texts. In other terms, and this is of a high impact, Origen identifies the Gnostic with the true Christian.

[5] Straumata VI chapter 7. Eerdmans' edition of The Antinicene Fathers.

[6] 1 Cor., 2:6 RSV.



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