Gnosticism was a
religious philosophical dualism that professed salvation through
secret knowledge, or gnosis. Gnosticism
is the best explained
as a syncretic cross religious movement that started with the
Hellenic Philosophical Syncretism.
Scholars have attributed the origins of gnosticism to a
number of sources:
the Greek mystery cults;
the Kabbalah of Judaism; and
that sense it existed long before
Christianity. But it
got a push with the resurrection of Jesus
when it syncretised Christianity with Platonic thoughts.
This danger always remained within Christianity especially
as Christianity became a successful religion based on individual
rebirth. Gnostic groups
apparently became very strong within Christianity and they use
Christian titles, as well
as the Jewish/Christian scriptures. The movement reached a
high point of development during the 2d century AD in the Roman
and Alexandrian schools founded by Valentius. In fact a large
number of Gnostic scriptures based on the life and teachings of
Jesus came to be written.
Gospels are a collection of about fifty-two ancient texts based
upon the teachings of several spiritual leaders, written from the
2nd to the 4th century AD. These includes: Gospel of Thomas,
Gospel of Mary, Gospel of Truth (Nag Hammadi Library) Gospel of
Philip (Nag Hammadi Library) and
the Gospel of Judas.
Christians considered Simon Magus (Acts 8:9 - 24) as the founder
of gnosticism. Important
early Gnostics include Simon Magus, Cerinthus, Carpocrates,
Basilides, Mani, Marcion, Theudas, Nicolas of Antioch (the
Nicolaitans of Revelations) and Jezebel of Thyatira.
Bardaisan or Bardansanes, was a contemporary or immediate
forerunner of Mani. He was a Valentianian at one point but later
rejected them and returned to Orthodox Christianity. The prophet
Mani founded a religion called Manicheanism but also described
himself as "the apostle of Jesus Christ".
Mani's ministry was instrumental in the Syncretic Gnostic
religion known today as Hinduism.
In fact Bardesanes after his return to Christianity
defeated Mani in a confrontation which took place in Ranni, Kerala,
India which saved Kerala and kept it Christian until the seventh
of eighth century AD.
these syncretic forces in to America and Europe appears today as
New Age which finds lots of followers. It defines itself as
"a spirituality without borders or confining dogmas"
that is inclusive and pluralistic. Gnostic Churches around the
world, Martinist, Masonic, Rosicrucian, Theosophical
Societies all today provide these impetus.
is difficult to define Gnosticism since it has no borders or
defined dogmas. But
the following are the basic beliefs:
The notion of a remote, supreme monadic
divinity, source – this figure is known under a variety of
names, including "Pleroma" (fullness, totality) and
"Bythos" (depth, profundity);
The world is a dual system consisting of
Good and Bad
The material world is bad, the spirit
world is good. The material world is under the control of evil
which is nothing but ignorance of who we are.
A divine spark is somehow trapped in some
(but not all) humans and it alone, of all that exists in this
material world, is capable of redemption.
Salvation is attained when individuals
realize the spark of the divine in themselves and come to know
themselves, their origin and destiny.
There will be an ongoing cycle of lives
until this is realized.
into Christianity to produce a powerful heretic community. The
Manichaeans, the largest Gnostic denomination in history that
thrived across the world for centuries, universally believed in
reincarnation. In Against the Manichaeans and Against the
Donatists (p. 40), Saint Augustine’s description of the
Manichaean attitude on reincarnation is similar to the Hindu
notion of spirits transmigrating into life forms other than human,
depending on their amassing of Gnosis. Augustine wrote:
that the herbs and the trees are alive and the life that is in
them is endowed with sensibility and able to suffer when hurt.
This is why no one can sever or pluck anything without inflicting
suffering upon it.’
Augustine also claimed that the Manichaeans believed that they may
be reborn into certain vegetation like melons or cucumbers as a
step up from being a human.
The Cathars, who
flourished between the 11th and 13th Centuries in Southern France,
also held a strong belief in reincarnation.
believed that the soul would go through many lifetimes before it
achieved salvation…The importance of reincarnation was that it
gave the soul repeated attempts at attaining freedom from this
world and hence salvation and a return to the true God. According
to the Cathars, the soul transmigrates from one body to another,
including animal bodies.’( Andrew Phillip Smith: The Gnostics
evangelized India and brought changes in the reincarnation
thoughts of the Jains and the Buddhists as it is today as a
detailed science in Hinduism.