One cannot begin to comprehend the first struggles of Christianity for existence without at the very least a rudimentary knowledge of its formative history. Thus, it behooves us to have a brief look at Gnosticism and its challenge to early Christianity.
Christianity’s infancy history comprised an occasion teeming with religious theories; an occasion when religious discussion was a well known occupation among thinkers of each type. So it had been 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 as it spread and came into experience of other cultural forms, heresy presented a totally different sort of contrariety. And even though the conflict subsequently triggered ameliorated understanding of the meaning of Christ and a more lucid presentation of Christian belief, heresy was definitely probably the most serious menace Christianity had to confront. The challenge was in the arena of thought. In its most sinister form it appeared under the title of Gnosticism.
Gnosticism is really a term produced from the Greek “gnosis” and translates “knowledge.” It generally applied collectively to nearly all those second century movements which called themselves Christian or borrowed heavily from Christian sources. Gnosticism denotes the teachings of a small grouping of deviationists who have been scorned by many orthodox Christians. Valentinian Gnosticism It claimed to be a sure solution to knowledge, hence, the vision of God. It claimed that its rites, ceremonies, prescriptions and its way to God were divinely inspired and transmitted to the elite esoteric by way of a mysterious tradition. Furthermore, and perhaps most offensive to Christianity, it claimed, basically, that its magical formulas offered an infallible method to salvation.
It’s beyond the scope of this article to discuss the origin of Gnosticism. Suffice it to express that a lot of theories appear to agree that it was a confluence of many diverse streams of thought emanating from pre-Christian mystery religions.
The essential nature of second century Gnosticism was firmly rooted in a dualism between spirit and matter. It held that matter is basically evil. For the Gnostics, God couldn’t be held accountable for the evil constitution of the planet, and so they really differentiated the supreme God from the creator of the world. To take into account evil matter, the Gnostics evolved a doctrine of emanations from God. These emanations flowed from God and each further from God until finally there is one so distant from Him that it could touch matter. This emanation was the creator of the world.
Adding insult to injury, there have been some Gnostics who thought that the emanations flowing from God were actual forces and divine persons in whom the Deity unfolded His being. The maximum of the emanations was the figure of Christ who was simply given the honor of being set aside from all other 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 just a phantom and that the “true” Christ does not have any bodily form. This was an important 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 black unholy shadow on the doctrine central to the Christian faith. Not only did Gnostics deny the incarnate Christ, but their ethics were in strict violation of traditional church views.
I cannot commence 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 and then preserve the human historical Jesus. Thus, early Church fathers arose to the defense of the Christian faith.
Against the denial of Christ’s humanity, Fathers of the Church underlined the truth of the incarnation and stressed the importance of the work of Jesus. Against 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 large degree, the development of Christian doctrine was in reaction against Gnosticism. It’s difficult, or even impossible, to clearly discern when and where in actuality 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 start to see the nude body of Gnosticism in a number of our branches of religion.