ND   JMC : History of Medieval Philosophy / by Maurice De Wulf


95. Gnosticism. -- Gnosticism, which is the principal heresy of the early Christian centuries,{1} presents many points of contact with the declining Grecian philosophy, and, like the latter, offers us a syncretic alloy of all the then existing theories. The origin of evil and of the world in which it reigns is the fundamental problem of all the Gnostic systems. To solve this problem they have recourse to a pretended science higher than even revealed faith, a special religious knowledge which they called gnôsis The essential dualism of God, the principle of all being and of all good, and Matter, the principle of evil (Philo); the evolution of the Divine Being producing by emanation (probolê a series of aeons less and less perfect (Plotinus); the mixture of Divine and material elements giving birth to the world: such are the fundamental ideas of Gnostic metaphysics and cosmology. Creation and Christian redlemption are, accordingly, natural and necessary phenomena, mere episodes in the struggle of the Divine element with matter from which it tries to set itself free. Redemption will be completed by the cosmic return of everything to its proper place (apokatastasis pantôn). To reconcile these tenets with the teaching of Scripture, the Gnostics interpret the latter in an allegorical sense (Philo), so as to bend the text to their preconceived ideas.{2} Gnosticism assumed many forms. In the third century it was strenuously opposed by the Christian school of Alexandria.

{1} There were many other heretical sects: the Manichaeans, the Ebionites, the Elcesaïtes, the Monarchists, the Millenarians, the Montantists, etc.

{2} We find the same philosophical principles underlying Manichaeism, although their application to Catholic dogma is not the same as in Gnosticism.

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