One cannot begin to understand the first struggles of Christianity for existence without at the very least a rudimentary familiarity with its formative history. Thus, it behooves us to take a brief look at Gnosticism and its challenge to early Christianity.
Christianity’s infancy history comprised a period teeming with religious theories; a period when religious discussion was a popular occupation among thinkers of each type. So it absolutely was inevitable that in the enthusiastic interchange of religious ideas, truth and error would intermingle and the pure doctrines of Christianity soon became threatened.
Though Christianity faced many and varied types of opposition because it spread and arrived to experience of other cultural forms, heresy presented a many different sort of contrariety. And even though the conflict subsequently resulted in ameliorated understanding of this is of Christ and a more lucid presentation of Christian belief, heresy was undoubtedly probably the most serious menace Christianity had to confront. The task was in the arena of thought. In its most sinister form it appeared under the title of Gnosticism.
Gnosticism is just a term produced from the Greek “gnosis” and translates “knowledge.” It generally applied collectively to many those second century movements which called themselves Christian or borrowed heavily from Christian sources. Gnosticism denotes the teachings of a small grouping of deviationists have been scorned by many orthodox Christians. It claimed to become a sure method to knowledge, hence, the vision of God. It claimed that its rites, ceremonies, prescriptions and its road to God were divinely inspired and transmitted to the elite esoteric via a mysterious tradition. Valentinian Gnosticism Furthermore, and perhaps most offensive to Christianity, it claimed, in essence, that its magical formulas offered infallible methods to salvation.
It’s beyond the scope of this informative article to talk about the origin of Gnosticism. Suffice it to express that many theories seem to agree so it was a confluence of many diverse streams of thought emanating from pre-Christian mystery religions.
The basic nature of second century Gnosticism was firmly rooted in a dualism between spirit and matter. It held that matter is actually evil. For the Gnostics, God couldn’t be held in charge of the evil constitution of the world, and so they differentiated the supreme God from the creator of the world. To account fully for evil matter, the Gnostics evolved a doctrine of emanations from God. These emanations flowed from God and each further from God until finally there clearly was one so distant from Him so it could touch matter. This emanation was the creator of the world.
Adding insult to injury, there were some Gnostics who believed that the emanations flowing from God were actual forces and divine persons in whom the Deity unfolded His being. The best of the emanations was the figure of Christ who was given the honor of being set aside from all the emanations.
It’s necessary to also include here a statement about a small grouping of Gnostics known as Docetists. They held the belief that Christ’s body was only a phantom and that the “true” Christ has no bodily form. This is a significant idea to the Gnostics since if matter was regarded as evil, then Christ couldn’t be burdened with a material body, for then He would not have already been able to accomplish the redemption from matter.
The Gnostic system of belief simultaneously destroyed the divinity and humanness of Jesus, and cast a dark unholy shadow on the doctrine central to the Christian faith. Not merely did Gnostics deny the incarnate Christ, but their ethics were in strict violation of traditional church views.
I cannot begin to impress upon you the apparent power of Gnosticism’s influence. It threatened to undermine the fundamental foundations of Christianity. These foundations the Church was bound to guard if simply to preserve the human historical Jesus. Thus, early Church fathers arose to the defense of the Christian faith.
Contrary to the denial of Christ’s humanity, Fathers of the Church underlined the reality of the incarnation and stressed the significance of the work of Jesus. Contrary to the denial of Old Testament truths, the Fathers maintained the identity of Creator and Savior and developed a theology of salvation history. The Gnostics annulled the unity of the human race by dividing it into spiritual, psychic and material classes. This led the Fathers to extol free will and personal responsibility of every individual.
To a big degree, the development of Christian doctrine was in reaction against Gnosticism. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to clearly discern when and where in fact the Gnostic movement was halted by the Church. The biggest thing is that Christianity was successful in its defense of the faith.
Unfortunately, the spirit of Gnosticism lives on even today. The clothing is apparently different, but once disrobed we begin to see the nude body of Gnosticism in quite a few branches of religion.