Gnosis is the common Greek noun for knowledge (in the nominative case γνῶσις f.). It generally signifies a dualistic knowledge in the sense of mystical enlightenment or "insight". Gnosis taught the deliverance of man from the constraints of earthly existence through insight into an essential relationship, as soul or spirit, with a supramundane place of freedom.
The term is used in the context of ancient religions and philosophies, aspects of Judeo-Christian beliefs, particularly to the ideas that emerged during early Christian and Greco-Roman interaction during the 2nd century.
Gnosis is a feminine Greek noun which means "knowledge". It is often used for personal knowledge compared with intellectual knowledge (εἶδειν eídein), as with the French connaitre compared with savoir, or the German kennen rather than wissen.
Latin drops the Greek g so gno- becomes no- as in noscō meaning "I know", noscentia meaning "knowledge" and notus meaning "known". The g remains in the Latin co-gni-tio meaning "knowledge" and i-gno-tus and i-gna-rus meaning "unknown" and from which comes the word i-gno-rant, and a-gno-stic which means "not knowing" and once again this reflects the Sanskrit jna which means "to know", "to perceive" or "to understand".
Related adjective gnostikos
A related term is the adjective gnostikos, "cognitive", a reasonably common adjective in Classical Greek. Plato uses the plural adjective γνωστικοί – gnostikoi and the singular feminine adjective γνωστικὴ ἐπιστήμη – gnostike episteme in his Politikos where Gnostike episteme was also used to indicate one's aptitude. The terms do not appear to indicate any mystic, esoteric or hidden meaning in the works of Plato, but instead expressed a sort of higher intelligence and ability analogous to talent.
Plato The Statesman 258e
In the Hellenistic era the term became associated with the mystery cults.
Gnosis is used throughout Greek philosophy as a technical term for experience knowledge (see gnosiology) in contrast to theoretical knowledge or epistemology. The term is also related to the study of knowledge retention or memory (see also cognition), in relation to ontic or ontological, which is how something actually is rather than how something is captured (abstraction) and stored (memory) in the mind.
The Neoplatonic philosophers, including Plotinus, rejected the gnostics as being un-Hellenistic and anti-Plato due to their vilification of Plato's creator of the universe (the demiurge), arriving at dystheism as the solution to the problem of evil, taking all their truths over from Plato. Plotinus did express that gnosis, via contemplation, was the highest goal of the philosopher toward henosis.
Hellenistic Jewish literature
The Greek word gnosis (knowledge) is a standard translation of the Hebrew word "knowledge" (דעת da`ath) in the Septuagint, thus:
The Lord gives wisdom (sophia), from his face come knowledge (gnosis) and understanding (sunesis)"— Proverbs 2.6
Philo also refers to the "knowledge" (gnosis) and "wisdom" (sophia) of God.
Paul distinguishes "knowledge" (gnosis) and "knowledge falsely so-called" (pseudonymos gnosis). This last phrase (from 1 Timothy 6:20) is the origin of the title of the book by Irenaeus, On the Detection and Overthrow of False Knowledge, that contains the adjective gnostikos, which is the source for the 17th-century English term "Gnosticism".
In the writings of the Greek Fathers
The fathers of early Christianity used the word "knowledge" (gnosis) in the New Testament to mean spiritual knowledge or specific knowledge of the divine. This positive usage was to contrast it with how gnostic sectarians used the word. This positive use carried over from Hellenic philosophy into Greek Orthodoxy as a critical characteristic of ascetic practices, through St. Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus, Hippolytus of Rome, Hegesippus, and Origen.
Cardiognosis ("knowledge of the heart") from Eastern Christianity related to the tradition of the staretz and in Roman Catholic theology is the view that only God knows the condition of one's relationship with God.
The "Gnostic" sects
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Among the gnostics, gnosis was first and foremost a matter of self-knowledge, which was considered the path leading to the goal of enlightenment as the hidden knowledge of the various pre-Judeo-Christian pagan mystery religions. Knowledge that first relieved the individual of their cultural religious indoctrination and then reconciled them to their personal deity. Through such self-knowledge and personal purification (virtuous living) the adept is led to direct knowledge of God via themselves as inner reflection or will. Later, Valentinius (Valentinus), taught that gnosis was the privileged Gnosis kardias "knowledge of the heart" or "insight" about the spiritual nature of the cosmos that brought about salvation to the pneumatics— the name given to those believed to have reached the final goal of sanctity.
According to Samuel Angus (1920), gnosis in these early sects was distinct from the secret teachings revealed to initiates once they had reached a certain level of progression akin to arcanum. Rather, these teachings were paths to obtain gnosis. (See e.g., "fukasetsu" (Japanese), or ineffability, a quality of realization common to many, if not most, esoteric traditions; see also Jung on the difference between sign and symbol.) Gnosis from this perspective being analogous, to the same meaning as the words occult and arcana. Arcanum is knowledge akin to prognostication (divination) derived by the various systems (metaphysical in nature) used to obtain foreknowledge from the Fates or fate (i.e. to tarot reading, cleromancy, magic or magical thinking).
The Gnostics in the Early Christian Era
In the formation of Christianity, various sectarian groups, labeled "gnostics" by their opponents, emphasised spiritual knowledge (gnosis) over faith (pistis) in the teachings and traditions of the various communities of Christians. The Gnostics considered the most essential part of the process of salvation to be this personal knowledge, in contrast to faith as an outlook in their world view along with faith in the ecclesiastical authority. They were regarded as heretics by the Fathers of the early church due to teaching this type of authority rejection referred to as antinomianism (see the lawless).
The knowledge of these Christian sectarian groups is contested by orthodox Christian theology as speculative knowledge derived from religio-philosophical (metaphysical) systems rather than knowledge derived from revelation coming from faith.
Gnosis itself is and was obtained through understanding at which one can arrive via inner experience or contemplation such as an internal epiphany for example. For the various sectarian gnostics, gnosis was obtained as speculative gnosis, instigated by the contemplation of their religio-philosophical (cosmological, metaphysical, salvational and rational) systems. These systems were pagan (folk) in origin and syncretic in nature.
According to Hegemonius (4th century) Mani (3rd century) vilified the creator God of the pagan philosophers (Plato's demiurge) and the creator God of Judeo-Christianity (creator). Gnosticism presents a distinction between the highest, unknowable God and the demiurgic “creator” of the material. Several systems of Gnostic thought present the Demiurge as antagonistic to the will of the Supreme Being: his act of creation occurs in unconscious semblance of the divine model, and thus is fundamentally flawed, or else is formed with the malevolent intention of entrapping aspects of the divine in materiality. Thus, in such systems, the Demiurge acts as a solution to the problem of evil. According to Samuel Angus (1925) the gnostic sectarians also sought to reconcile the individual to their own personal deification (henosis), making each individual God. As such the gnostic sects made a duality out of the difference between the activities of the spirit (nous), called noesis (insight), and those of faith.
During the early formation of Christianity, church authorities (Fathers of the Church) exerted considerable amounts of energy attempting to weed out what were considered to be false doctrines (e.g., Irenaeus' On the Detection and Overthrow of False Gnosis). The gnostics (as one sectarian group) held views which were incompatible with the emerging Ante-Nicene community. Among Christian heresiologists, the concept of false gnosis was used to denote different Pagan, Jewish or Christian belief systems (e.g., the Eleusinian Mysteries or Glycon) and their various teachings of what was deemed religio-philosophical systems of knowledge, as opposed to authentic gnosis (see below, Gnosis among the Greek Fathers). The sectarians used gnosis or secret, hidden knowledge to reject the traditions of the established community or church. The authorities throughout the community criticized this antinomianism as inconsistent with the communities teachings. Hence sectarians and followers of gnosticism were first rejected by the Jewish communities of the Mediterranean (see the Notzrim 139–67 BCE), then by the Christian communities and finally by the late Hellenistic philosophical communities (see Neoplatonism and Gnosticism).
Though his sources on Gnosticism were secondary, since the texts in the Nag Hammadi library were not yet widely available, Eric Voegelin (1901–1985), partially building on the concept of gnosis as used by Plato and the followers of Gnosticism, along with how it was defined by Hans Jonas, defined the gnosis of the followers of Gnosticism as religious philosophical teachings that are the foundations of cults. Voegelin identified a number of similarities between ancient Gnosticism and those held by a number of modernist political theories, particularly communism and nazism.
In Eastern Orthodox thought
Gnosis in Orthodox Christian (especially Eastern Orthodox) thought is the spiritual knowledge of a saint (one who has obtained theosis) or mystically enlightened human being. Within the cultures of the term's provenance (Byzantine and Hellenic) Gnosis was a knowledge or insight into the infinite, divine and uncreated in all and above all, rather than knowledge strictly into the finite, natural or material world. Gnosis is a transcendental as well as mature understanding. It indicates direct spiritual experiential knowledge and intuitive knowledge, mystic rather than that from rational or reasoned thinking. Gnosis itself is obtained through understanding at which one can arrive via inner experience or contemplation such as an internal epiphany of intuition and external epiphany such as the Theophany.
In the Philokalia it is emphasized that such knowledge is not secret knowledge but rather a maturing, transcendent form of knowledge derived from contemplation (theoria resulting from practice of hesychasm), since knowledge cannot truly be derived from knowledge but rather knowledge can only be derived from theoria (to witness, see (vision) or experience). Knowledge thus plays an important role in relation to theosis (deification/personal relationship with God) and theoria (revelation of the divine, vision of God). Gnosis, as the proper use of the spiritual or noetic faculty plays an important role in Orthodox Christian theology. Its importance in the economy of salvation is discussed periodically in the Philokalia where as direct, personal knowledge of God (noesis; see also Noema) it is distinguished from ordinary epistemological knowledge (episteme—i.e., speculative philosophy).
- Chaos magic
- Fana (Sufism)
- Fathers of Christian Gnosticism
- Gnosticism in modern times
- Hans Jonas
- History of Gnosticism
- Ilm, Islamic concept of knowledge and gnosis
- Neoplatonism and Gnosticism
- Kurt Rudolph
- Valentinus (Gnostic)
- Samael Aun Weor
- Stanley E. Porter; David Yoon (2016). Paul and Gnosis. BRILL. p. 9. ISBN 978-90-04-31669-0.
- Gnosticism, Encyclopedia Britannica
- Kurt Rudolph (2001). Gnosis: The Nature and History of Gnosticism. A&C Black. p. 2. ISBN 978-0-567-08640-2.
- Liddell Scott entry γνῶσις , εως, ἡ, A. seeking to know, inquiry, investigation, esp. judicial, “τὰς τῶν δικαστηρίων γ.” D.18.224; “τὴν κατὰ τοῦ διαιτητοῦ γ.” Id.21.92, cf. 7.9, Lycurg.141; “γ. περὶ τῆς δίκης” PHib.1.92.13 (iii B. C.). 2. result of investigation, decision, PPetr.3p.118 (iii B. C.). II. knowing, knowledge, Heraclit.56; opp. ἀγνωσίη, Hp. Vict.1.23 (dub.); opp. ἄγνοια, Pl.R.478c; “ἡ αἴσθησις γ. τις” Arist.GA731a33: pl., “Θεὸς γνώσεων κύριος” LXX 1 Ki.2.3. b. higher, esoteric knowledge, 1 Ep.Cor.8.7,10, Ep.Eph.3.19, etc.; “χαρισάμενος ἡμῖν νοῦν, λόγον, γνῶσιν” PMag.Par.2.290. 2. acquaintance with a person, πρός τινα Test. ap.Aeschin.1.50; “τῶν Σεβαστῶν” IPE1.47.6 (Olbia). 3. recognizing, Th.7.44. 4. means of knowing, [“αἱ αἰσθήσεις] κυριώταται τῶν καθ᾽ ἕκαστα γ.” Arist.Metaph.981b11. III. being known, γνῶσιν ἔχει τι, = γνωστόν ἐστι, Pl.Tht.206b. 2. fame, credit, Hdn.7.5.5, Luc.Herod.3. IV. means of knowing: hence, statement in writing, PLond.5.1708, etc. (vi A. D.). V. = γνῶμα, Hsch. s. h. v.
- Pagels, Elaine (1995). The Origin of Satan. Allen Lane, The Penguin Press. p. 167.
- LSJ entry γνωστ-ικός , ή, όν, A. of or for knowing, cognitive: ἡ -κή (sc. ἐπιστήμη), theoretical science (opp. πρακτική), Pl.Plt.258e, etc.; τὸ γ. ib.261b; “ἕξεις γ.” Arist.AP0.100a11 (Comp.); “γ. εἰκόνες” Hierocl.in CA25p.475M.: c. gen., able to discern, Ocell. 2.7. Adv. “-κῶς” Procl.Inst.39, Dam.Pr.79, Phlp.in Ph.241.22.
- In Perseus databank 10x Plato, Cratylus, Theaetetus, Sophist, Statesman 2x Plutarch, Compendium libri de animae procreatione + De animae procreatione in Timaeo, 2x Pseudo-Plutarch, De musica
- Cooper and Hutchinson. "Introduction to Politikos." Cooper, John M. & Hutchinson, D. S. (Eds.) (1997). Plato: Complete Works, Hackett Publishing Co., Inc. ISBN 0-87220-349-2.
- Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 12 translated by Harold N. Fowler. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1921.
- They claimed to be a privileged caste of beings, in whom alone God was interested, and who were saved not by their own efforts but by some dramatic and arbitrary divine proceeding; and this, Plotinus claimed, led to immorality. Worst of all, they despised and hated the material universe and denied its goodness and the goodness of its maker. For a Platonist, that is utter blasphemy – and all the worse because it obviously derives to some extent from the sharply other-worldly side of Plato's own teaching (e.g. in the Phaedo). At this point in his attack Plotinus comes very close in some ways to the orthodox Christian opponents of Gnosticism, who also insist that this world is the work of God in his goodness. But, here as on the question of salvation, the doctrine which Plotinus is defending is as sharply opposed on other ways to orthodox Christianity as to Gnosticism: for he maintains not only the goodness of the material universe but also its eternity and its divinity. A.H. Armstrong introduction to II 9. Against the Gnostics Pages 220–222
- The teaching of the Gnostics seems to him untraditional, irrational and immoral. They despise and revile the ancient Platonic teachings and claim to have a new and superior wisdom of their own: but in fact anything that is true in their teaching COMES FROM PLATO, and all they have done themselves is to add senseless complications and pervert the true traditional doctrine into a melodramatic, superstitious fantasy designed to feed their own delusions of grandeur. They reject the only true way of salvation through wisdom and virtue, the slow patient study of truth and pursuit of perfection by men who respect the wisdom of the ancients and know their place in the universe. A.H. Armstrong introduction to II 9. Against the Gnostics Pages 220–222
- New Testament studies: Society for New Testament Studies - 1981 "see also the more extensive analysis of gnosis in Philo by Hans Jonas, Gnosis und spatantiker Geist 11/1"
- feminine nominative adjective
- Donald K. McKim, Westminster dictionary of theological terms, 1996, p. 39
- A concise dictionary of theology by Gerald O'Collins, Edward G. Farrugia pg 130 Publisher: T. & T. Clark Publishers (August 30, 2004) ISBN 978-0-567-08354-8
- In pointing the way of communion with deity in a 'mystery', the mystery religions were preparing the way or the orientalization of the Western religious thought known as Gnosticism; but also, as religion became universally recognized as a definite Gnosis, they accommodated themselves to this new demand. In the prevalent syncretism the Mysteries approached in varying degrees the religious movements and revivals called Gnostic, so dissimilar in many aspects, but all linked together by identification of religion with 'Knowledge' (Gnosis not episteme, conceptual knowledge) or rather, that view of religion which gave to Knowledge a central place in asserting the realization of deity by union, not by faith. Common to the Mysteries and Gnosticism were certain ideas, such as pantheistic mysticism, magic practices, elaborate cosmogonies and theogonies, rebirth, union with God, revelation from above, dualistic views, the importance attaching to the names and attributes of the deity, and the same aim at personal salvation. As Gnosticism took possession of the field East and West, the Mysteries assumed an increasingly gnostic character. The dividing line is sometimes difficult to determine. Thus, Hermetic may be viewed as a Mystery-Religion or as a phase of Gnosticism. Page 54, The mystery-religions: a study in the religious background of early Christianity by Samuel Angus, ISBN 978-0-486-23124-2
- III The Mystery-Religions were systems of gnosis akin, and forming a stage to, those movements to which the name of Gnosticism became attached; pg. 52, The Mystery religions: A Study in the Religious Background of Early Christianity by Samuel Angus (1920). Republished by Courier Dover Publications, 1975, ISBN 978-0-486-23124-2
- The Social World of the First Christians (1995) ISBN 0-06-064586-5, essay "Prolegomena to the Study of Ancient Gnosticism" by Bentley Layton
- "Orthodox Dogmatic Theology: A Concise Exposition" Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky. (Appendix II) The Heresies which disturbed the church in the first millennium Pg 376 Gnosticism "The foundation of the Gnostic system is the idea of the creation of a higher religio-philosophical knowledge (gnosis) by uniting Greek philosophy and the philosophy of the learned Alexandrian Jew Philo with the Eastern religions, especially the religion of Zoroaster. Section reprinted here due to not being included in the online version
- According to Mani, the devil god which created the world was the Jewish Jehovah. Mani said, "It is the Prince of Darkness who spoke with Moses, the Jews and their priests. Thus the Christians, the Jews, and the Pagans are involved in the same error when they worship this God. For he leads them astray in the lusts he taught them." Mani founder of Manicheism "Now, he who spoke with Moses, the Jews, and the priests he says is the archont of Darkness, and the Christians, Jews, and pagans (ethnic) are one and the same, as they revere the same god. For in his aspirations he seduces them, as he is not the god of truth. And so therefore all those who put their hope in the god who spoke with Moses and the prophets have (this in store for themselves, namely) to be bound with him, because they did not put their hope in the god of truth. For that one spoke with them (only) according to their own aspirations." Classical Texts:Acta Archelai of Mani [www.fas.harvard.edu/~iranian/Manicheism/Manicheism_II_Texts.pdf] Page 76
- Mystery Religions and Christianity by Samuel Angus (1925). Re-published by Kessinger Publishing, 2003, ISBN 978-0-7661-3101-9
- i.e. "Each of the Nine Ecumenical Councils condemned specific heresies of their time exactly because they deviated from this cure by attempting to transform the medical practice of the Church into systems of philosophical and mystical speculations and practices."
- The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin By Eric Voegelin, Ellis Sandoz, Gilbert Weiss, William Petropulos Published by Louisiana State University Press, 1989 ISBN 978-0-8071-1826-9
- Glossary of Voegelin terms online Gnosis "Knowledge." Originally a general term in Greek for knowledge of various sorts. Later, especially with the Gnostic movement of the early Christian era, a purported direct, immediate apprehension or vision of truth without the need for critical reflection; the special gift of a spiritual and cognitive elite. According to Voegelin, the claim to gnosis may take intellectual, emotional, and volitional forms." [Webb 1981:282]
- Glossary of Voegelin terms online Gnosticism "A type of thinking that claims absolute cognitive mastery of reality. Relying as it does on a claim to gnosis, gnosticism considers its knowledge not subject to criticism. As a religious or quasi-religious movement, gnosticism may take transcendentalizing (as in the case of the Gnostic movement of late antiquity) or immanentizing forms (as in the case of Marxism)." [Webb 1981:282]
- "Spiritual knowledge is the state of spiritual theoria, when one sees invisibly and hears inaudibly and comprehends incomprehensibly the glory of God. Precisely then comprehension ceases and, what is more, he understands that he does not understand. Within the vision of the uncreated Light man also sees angels and Saints and, in general, he experiences communion with the angels and the Saints. He is then certain that resurrection exists. This is the spiritual knowledge which all the holy Prophets, the Apostles, Martyrs, ascetics and all the Saints of the Church had. The teachings of the Saints are an offspring of this spiritual knowledge. And, naturally, as we said earlier, spiritual knowledge is a fruit of the vision of God. "THE ILLNESS AND CURE OF THE SOUL" Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos
- St. Symeon the New Theologian in Practical & Theological Discourses, 1.1 The Philokalia Volume Four: When men search for God with their bodily eyes they find Him nowhere, for He is invisible. But for those who ponder in the Spirit He is present everywhere. He is in all, yet beyond all
- Faith And Science In Orthodox Gnosiology And Methodology by George Metallinos "The scientist and professor of the knowledge of the Uncreated, in the Orthodox Tradition, is the Geron/Starets (the Elder or Spiritual Father), the guide or "teacher of the desert." The recording of both types of knowledge presupposes empirical knowledge of the phenomenon. The same holds true in the field of science, where only the specialist understands the research of other scientists of the same field. The adoption of conclusions or findings of a scientific branch by non-specialists (i.e. those who are unable to experimentally examine the research of the specialists) is based on the trust of the specialists credibility. Otherwise, there would be no scientific progress. The same holds true for the science of faith. The empirical knowledge of the Saints, Prophets, Apostles, Fathers and Mothers of all ages is adopted and founded upon the same trust. The patristic tradition and the Church's Councils function on this provable experience. There is no Ecumenical Council without the presence of the glorified/deified (theoumenoi), those who see the divine (this is the problem of the councils of today!) Orthodox doctrine results from this relationship." University of Athens - Department of Theology
- The Philokalia Volume Four Palmer, G.E.H; Sherrard, Philip; Ware, Kallistos (Timothy). ISBN 0-571-19382-X, glossary, pg 434, Spiritual Knowledge (γνῶσις): the knowledge of the intellect (q.v.). As such, it is knowledge inspired by God, as insight (noesis) or revelational, intuitive knowledge (see gnosiology) and so linked with contemplation and immediate spiritual perception.
- Glossary of terms from the Philokalia pg 434 the knowledge of the intellect as distinct from that of the reason(q.v.). Knowledge inspired by God, and so linked with contemplation (q.v.) and immediate spiritual perception.
- The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, SVS Press, 1997. (ISBN 0-913836-31-1) James Clarke & Co Ltd, 2002. (ISBN 0-227-67919-9) pg 218