Gnosticism | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
|In Online Essays . According to Voegelin, the ancient gnostic speculations engendered in . Such symbolism reappears at a later date as the now familiar .. Eric Voegelin, Science, Politics, and Gnosticism (Chicago: Henry. Science, Politics and Gnosticism comprises two essays by Eric Voegelin ( 85), arguably Get your Kindle here, or download a FREE Kindle Reading App. had since been done on the subject and bring his discussion up to date. Science of Politics Voegelin also refers to works by Eugène de Faye (), Simone.
In other words, nature is, for modern Existentialism, merely indifferent, while for the Gnostics it was actively hostile toward the human endeavor. Time and history come to be understood as the provenance of the human mind, over-against futile idealistic constructions like law and order, nomos and cosmos.
Knowledge, at this point, becomes a concrete endeavor—a self-salvific task for the human race. Becoming aware of itself, the self also discovers that it is not really its own, but is rather the involuntary executor of cosmic designs. Knowledge, gnosis, may liberate man from this servitude; but since the cosmos is contrary to life and to spirit, the saving knowledge cannot aim at integration into the cosmic whole and at compliance with its laws.
The obvious question, then—Where did we come from? Interpretation or hermeneutics, according to Aristotle, does not bring us to a direct knowledge of the meaning of things, but only to an understanding of how things come to appear before us, and thereby to provide us with an avenue toward empirical knowledge, as it were.
In this sense, we may say that the "art of interpretation" is a distinctly historical method of understanding or coming to terms with reality. Knowledge or understanding, then, is not of immutable and eternal things in themselves, but rather of the process by which things—that is, ideas, objects, events, persons, etc.
The attention to process and the emergence of meaning occurs on the most immediate experiential level of human existence, and therefore contains about it nothing of the metaphysical. However, the birth of metaphysics may be located within this primordial or phenomenal structure of basic "brute" experience; for it is the natural tendency of the human mind to order and arrange its data according to rational principles.
The question will inevitably arise, though, as to whence these rational principles derive: If we take the first question as an answer, we are led to phenomenology, which "discovers, in place of an idealist subject locked within [a] system of meanings, a living being which from all time has, as the horizon of all its intentions, a world, the world" Ricoeur, p.
According to the general contemporary or "post-modern" formulation, such a "living being" is directed, intentionally, always and only toward a multiplicitous world or realm in which human activity itself becomes the sole object of knowledge, apart from any "transcendent" metaphysical ideals or schemas. For the Gnostics, on the other hand, who worked within and upon the latter question, giving it a positive, if somewhat mytho-poetical answer, rational principles, which seem to be culled from a mere contact with sensible reality, are held to be reminders of a unified existence that is an eternal possibility, open to anyone capable of transcending and, indeed, transgressing this realm of experience and process —that is, of history.
Reception and Revelation Where are we heading? This question is at the very heart of Gnostic exegesis, and indeed colors and directs all attempts at coming to terms, not only with the Hebrew Scriptures, which served as the main text of Gnostic interpretation, but with existence in general.
Voegelin on Gnosticism, Modernity, and the Balance of Consciousness -
The standard hermeneutical approach, both in our own era, and in Late Hellenistic times, is the receptive approach—that is, an engagement with texts of the past governed by the belief, on the part of the interpreter, that these texts have something to teach us.
Whether we struggle to overcome our own "prejudices" or presuppositions, which are the inevitable result of our belonging to a particular tradition by way of the hermeneutical act Gadameror allow our prejudices to shape our reading of a text, in an act of "creative misprision" Bloom we are still acknowledging, in some way, our debt to or dependence upon the text with which we are engaged. Indeed, while the receptive hermeneutical method implies that we have something to learn from a text, the method employed by the Gnostics, which we may call the "revelatory" method, was founded upon the idea that they the Gnostics had received a supra-cosmic revelation, either in the form of a "call," or a vision, or even, perhaps, through the exercise of philosophical dialectic.
On this belief, all knowledge belonged to these Gnostics, and any interpretation of the biblical text would be for the purpose of explaining the true nature of things by elucidating the errors and distortions of the Demiurge. This approach treated the past as something already overcome yet still "present," insofar as certain members of the human race were still laboring under the old law—that is, were still reading the Scriptures in the receptive manner. The Gnostic, insofar as he still remained within the world, as an existing being, was, on the other hand, both present and future.
That is to say, the Gnostic embodied within himself the salvific dynamism of a history that had broken from the constraint of a tyrannical past, and found the freedom to invent itself anew.
The Gnostic understood himself to be at once at the center and at the end or culmination of this history, and this idea or ideal was reflected most powerfully in ancient Gnostic exegesis. We must now turn to a discussion of the concrete results of this hermeneutical method. Rather, the Gnostic vision of the world was based upon the intuition of a radical and seemingly irreparable rupture between the realm of experience pathos and the realm of true Beingthat is, existence in its positive, creative, or authentic aspect.
The problem faced by the Gnostics was how to explain such a radical, pre-philosophical intuition. This intuition is "pre-philosophical" because the brute experience of existing in a world that is alien to humankind's aspirations may submit itself to a variety of interpretations.
And the attempt at an interpretation may take on the form of either muthos or logoseither a merely descriptive rendering of the experience, or a rationally ordered account of such an experience, including an explanation of its origins.
The ancient Greek explanation of this experience was to call it a primal "awe" or "wonder" felt by the human being as he faces the world that stands so radically apart from him, and to posit this experience as the beginning of philosophy cf.
Aristotle, Metaphysics b and Plato, Theaetetus d. But the Gnostics recognized this "awe" as the product of a radical disruption of the harmony of a realm persisting beyond becoming—that is, beyond "becoming" in the sense of pathos, or "that which is undergone. The myth is always an explanation of something already known, and therefore carries its truth-claim along with it, just as the immediacy of an event forbids any doubt or questioning on the part of the one undergoing it.
Such criteria proceeds directly from the logos, or divine "ordering principle," to which the Gnostics believed themselves to be related, by way of a divine genealogy. Although Gnostic onto-theology proceeds by way of an elaborate myth, it is a myth informed always by the logos, and is, in this sense, a true mythologythat is, a rendering, in the immediacy of language, of that which is ever-present to the Gnostic as a product of privileged reflection.
The Myth of Sophia According to Gnostic mythology in general We, humanity, are existing in this realm because a member of the transcendent godhead, Sophia Wisdomdesired to actualize her innate potential for creativity without the approval of her partner or divine consort. Her hubris, in this regard, stood forth as raw materiality, and her desire, which was for the mysterious ineffable Father, manifested itself as Ialdabaoth, the Demiurge, that renegade principle of generation and corruption which, by its unalterable necessity, brings all beings to life, for a brief moment, and then to death for eternity.
However, since even the Pleroma itself is not, according to the Gnostics, exempt from desire or passion, there must come into play a salvific event or savior—that is, Christ, the Logos, the "messenger," etc. Apocryphon of John [Codex II] 9: The purpose of this re-integration implicitly is to establish a series of existents that are ontologically posterior to Sophia, and are the concrete embodiment of her "disruptive" desire—within the unified arena of the Pleroma.
‘Gnosticism’ - Oxford Handbooks
Indeed, if the Pleroma is really the Fullness, containing all things, it must contain the manifold principles of Wisdom's longing.
In this sense, we must not view Gnostic salvation as a simply one-sided affair. The divine "sparks" that fell from Sophia, during her "passion," are un-integrated aspects of the godhead. We may say, then, that in the Hegelian sense the Gnostic Supreme God is seeking, eternally, His own actualization by way of full self-consciousness cf.
Hegel, History of Philosophy vol. But it is not really this simple. The Supreme God of the Gnostics effortlessly generates the Pleroma, and yet or for this very reason! This is because all members of the Pleroma known as Aeons are themselves "roots and springs and fathers" Tripartite Tractate When the disruption, brought about by the desire of Sophia, disturbed the Pleroma, this was not understood as a disturbance of an already established unity, but rather as the disturbance of an insupportable stasis that had come to be observed as divine.
Indeed, when the Greeks first looked to the sky and admired the regularity of the rotations of the stars and planets, what they were admiring, according to the Gnostics, was not the image of divinity, but the image or representation of a "divine" stagnancy, a law and order that stifled freedom, which is the root of desire cf. The passion of Sophia—her production of the Demiurge, his enslavement of the human "sparks" in the material cosmos, and the subsequent redemption and restoration—are but one episode in the infinite, unfolding drama of spiritual existence.
We, as human beings, just happen to be the unwitting victims of this particular drama. But if, as the Gnostics hold, our salvation consists in our becoming gods Poimandres 26 or "lord[s] over creation and all corruption" Valentinus, Fragment F, Layton then how are we to be confident that, in ages to come, one of us will not give birth to another damned cosmos, just as Sophia had done?
Christian Gnosticism The Christian idea that God has sent his only "Son" the Logos to suffer and die for the sins of all humankind, and so make possible the salvation of all, had a deep impact on Gnostic thought. In the extensive and important collection of Gnostic writings discovered at Nag Hammadi, Egypt inonly a handful present the possibility of having originated in a pre-Christian, mostly Hellenistic Jewish milieu.
The majority of these texts are Christian Gnostic writings from the early second to late third centuries CE, and perhaps a bit later. When we consider the notion of salvation and its meaning for the early Gnostics, who stressed the creative aspect of our post-salvific existence, we are struck by the bold assertion that our need for salvation arose, in the first place, from an error committed by a divine being, Sophia Wisdomduring the course of her own creative act cf.
Since this is the case, how, we are led to ask, will our post-salvation existence be any less prone to error or ignorance, even evil?
The radical message of early Christianity provided the answer to this problematical question; and so the Gnostics took up the Christian idea and transformed it, by the power of their singular mytho-logical technique, into a philosophically and theologically complex speculative schema.
Basilides The Christian philosopher Basilides of Alexandria fl. Through the union of Wisdom and Power, a group of angelic rulers came into existence, and from these rulers a total of heavens or aeons were generated Irenaeus 1.
The final heaven, which Basilides claimed is the realm of matter in which we all dwell, was said by him to be ruled by "the god of the Jews," who favored the Jewish nation over all others, and so caused all manner of strife for the nations that came into contact with them—as well as for the Jewish people themselves. This behavior caused the rulers of the other heavens to oppose the god of the Jews, and to send a savior, Jesus Christ, from the highest realm of the Father, to rescue the human beings who are struggling under the yoke of this jealous god Irenaeus 1.
Since the realm of matter is the sole provenance of this spiteful god, Basilides finds nothing of value in it, and states that "[s]alvation belongs only to the soul; the body is by nature corruptible" Irenaeus 1.
He even goes so far as to declare, contra Christian orthodoxy, that Christ's death on the cross was only apparent, and did not actually occur "in the flesh" Irenaeus 1. The notion that material existence is the product of a jealous and corrupt creator god, who favors one race over all others, is really the "mythical" expression of a deeply rooted ethical belief that the source of all evil is material or bodily existence.
Indeed, Basilides goes so far as to assert that sin is the direct outcome of bodily existence, and that human suffering is the punishment either for actual sins committed, or even just for the general inclination to sin, which arises from the bodily impulses cf.
Fragments F and G. In an adaptation of Stoic ethical categories, Basilides declares that faith pistis "is not the rational assent of a soul possessing free will" Fragment C ; rather, faith is the natural mode of existence, and consequently, anyone living in accordance with the "law of nature" pronoiawhich Basilides calls the "kingdom," will remain free from the bodily impulses, and exist in a state of "salvation" Fragment C.
However, Basilides goes beyond simple Stoic doctrine in his belief that the "elect," that is, those who exist by faith, "are alien to the world, as if they were transcendent by nature" Fragment E ; for unlike the Stoics, who believed in a single, material cosmos, Basilides held the view, as we have seen, that the cosmos is composed of numerous heavens, with the material realm as the final heaven, and consequently corrupt.
Since this final heaven represents the "last gasp" of divine emanation, as it were, and is by no means a perfect image of true divinity, adherence to its laws can lead to no good. Further, since the body is the means by which the ruler of this material cosmos enforces his law, freedom can only be attained by abandoning or "becoming indifferent to" all bodily impulses and desires.
This indifference adiaphoria to bodily impulses, however, does not lead to a simple stagnant asceticism. Basilides does not call upon his hearers to abandon the material realm only to dissolve into negativity; instead, he offers them a new life, by appealing to the grand hierarchy of rulers persisting above the material realm cf. When one turns to the greater hierarchy of Being, there results a "creation of good things" Fragment C, translation modified.
Love and personal creation—the begetting of the Good—are the final result of Basilides' vaguely dialectical system, and for this reason it is one of the most important early expressions of a truly Christian, if not "orthodox," philosophy.
Marcion Marcion of Sinope, in Pontus, was a contemporary of Basilides. According to Tertullian, he started his career as an orthodox Christian—whatever that meant at such an early stage of development of Christian doctrine—but soon formulated the remarkable and radical doctrine that was to lead to his excommunication from the Roman Church in July CE, the traditional date of the founding of the Marcionite Church Tertullian, Against Marcion 1.
Kurt Rudolph, Gnosisp. The teaching of Marcion is elegantly simple: The one is just, but the other is good" Irenaeus 1. Marcion believed that this cosmos in which we live bears witness to the existence of an inflexible, legalistic, and sometimes spiteful and vengeful God.
This view arose from a quite literal reading of the Old Testament, which does contain several passages describing God in terms not quite conducive to divinity—or at least to the idea of the divine that was current in the Hellenistic era.
Marcion then, following Paul in Romans 1: Quite the contrary, Marcion believed that he knew the God of this realm all too well, and that He was not worthy of the devotion and obedience that He demanded.
Therefore, Marcion rejected the teaching of the orthodox Christian Church of his era, that Yahweh or Jehovah is the Father of Christ, and, through a creative excision of what he termed "Judaistic interpolations" in Luke and ten Pauline Epistles, Marcion simultaneously put forth his notion of the "alien God" and His act of salvation, and established the first Canon of Scripture used in a "Christian" Church Jonas, pp.
Marcion was not a philosopher in the sense that term has come to imply. He never developed, as far as we can tell from the surviving evidence, a systematic metaphysical, cosmological, or anthropological theory in the manner of a Basilides or a Valentinus whom we shall discuss belownor did he appeal to history as a witness for his doctrines. This latter point is the most important. Unlike the majority of Gnostics, who elaborated some sort of divine genealogy e. According to Marcion, the god who controls this realm is a being who is intent on preserving his autonomy and power even at the expense of the human beings whom he created.
The "alien" God, who is the Supremely Good, is a "god of injection," for he enters this realm from outside, in order to gratuitously adopt the pitiful human beings who remain under the sway of the inferior god as His own children. This act is the origin of and reason for the Incarnation of Christ, according to Marcion. In spite of the absence of any solid philosophical or theological foundation for this rather simple formulation, Marcion's idea nevertheless expresses, in a somewhat crude and immediate form, a basic truth of human existence: Yet, if we follow Marcion's argument to its logical or perhaps "anti-logical" conclusion, we discover an existential expression not a philosophy of the primal feeling of "abandonment" Geworfenheit.
We are alone in a world that does not lend itself to our quest for unalterable truth, and so we befriend wisdom, which is the way of or manner in which we attain this intuited truth. According to Marcion, this truth is not to be found in this world—all that is to be found is the desire for this truth, which arises amongst human beings.
However, since this desire, on the part of human beings, only produces various philosophies, none of which can hold claim to the absolute truth, Marcion concludes that the noetic beings humans of this realm are capable of nothing more than a shadow of wisdom. Moreover, instead of attempting to discover the historical connection between the revelation of Christ and the teachings of the Old Testament, Marcion simply rejected the latter in favor of the former, on the belief that only the Gospel thoughtfully edited by Marcion himself points us toward complete wisdom Irenaeus 1.
While other Christian thinkers of the era were busy allegorizing the Old Testament in order to bring it into line with New Testament teaching, Marcion allowed the New Testament albeit in his own special version to speak to him as a singular voice of authority—and he formulated his doctrine accordingly. This doctrine emphasized not only humankind's radical alienation from the realm of their birth, but also their lack of any genealogical relation to the God who sacrificed His own Son to save them—in other words, Marcion painted a picture of humanity as a race displaced, with no true home at all cf.
Giovanni Filoramo, A History of Gnosticismp. The hope of searching for a lost home, or of returning to a home from which one has been turned out, was absent in the doctrine of Marcion.
Like Pico della Mirandola, Marcion declared the nature of humankind to be that of an eternally intermediate entity, poised precariously between heaven and earth cp.
Pico della Mirandola, Oration on the Dignity of Man, 3. However, unlike Pico, Marcion called for a radical displacement of humankind—a "rupture"—in which humanity would awaken to its full if not innate possibilities.
Valentinus later went to Rome, where he began his public teaching career, which was so successful that he actually had a serious chance of being elected Bishop of Rome. He lost the election, however, and with it Gnosticism lost the chance of becoming synonymous with Christianity, and hence a world religion.
This is not to say that Valentinus failed to influence the development of Christian theology—he most certainly did, as we shall see below. It was through Valentinus, perhaps more than any other Christian thinker of his time, that Platonic philosophy, rhetorical elegance, and a deep, interpretive knowledge of scripture became introduced together into the realm of Christian theology. The achievement of Valentinus remained unmatched for nearly a century, until the incomparable Origen came on the scene.
Yet even then, it may not be amiss to suggest that Origen never would have "happened" had it not been for the example of Valentinus. The cosmology of Valentinus began, not with a unity, but with a primal duality, a dyad, composed of two entities called "the Ineffable" and "Silence. Valentinus refers to this divine collectivity as the "first octet" Irenaeus 1. This octet produced several other beings, one of which revolted or "turned away," as Irenaeus tells us, and set in motion the divine drama that would eventually produce the cosmos.
According to Irenaeus, who was writing only about five years after the death of Valentinus, and in whose treatise Against Heresies the outline of Valentinus' cosmology is preserved, the entity responsible for initiating the drama is referred to simply as "the mother," by which is probably meant Sophia Wisdom. The realm of matter is described as a "shadow," produced from the "mother," and from which Christ distanced himself and "hastened up into the fullness" Irenaeus 1.
In the account preserved by Irenaeus, we are told nothing of any cosmic drama in which "divine sparks" are trapped in fleshly bodies through the designs of the Demiurge. However, it is to be assumed that Valentinus did expound an anthropology similar to that of the classical Sophia myth as represented, for example, in the Apocryphon of John; cf. The account preserved in Irenaeus ends with a description of a somewhat confused doctrine of a heavenly and an earthly Christ, and a brief passage on the role of the Holy Spirit Irenaeus 1.
From this one gets the idea that Valentinus was flirting with a primitive doctrine of the Trinity. Indeed, according to the fourth century theologian Marcellus of Ancyra, Valentinus was "the first to devise the notion of three subsistent entities hypostasesin a work that he entitled On the Three Natures" Valentinus, Fragment B, Layton.
Valentinus was certainly the most overtly Christian of the Gnostic philosophers of his era. We have seen how the thought of Basilides was pervaded by a Stoicizing tendency, and how Marcion felt the need to go beyond scripture to posit an "alien" redeemer God. Valentinus, on the other hand, seems to have been informed, in his speculations, primarily by Jewish and Christian scripture and exegesis, and only secondarily by "pagan" philosophy, particularly Platonism. This is most pronounced in his particular version of the familiar theological notion of "election" or "pre-destination," in which it is declared following Paul in Romans 8: Valentinus writes, in what is probably a remnant of a sermon: From the beginning you [the "elect" or Gnostic Christians] have been immortal, and you are children of eternal life.
And you wanted death to be allocated to yourselves so that you might spend it and use it up, and that death might die in you and through you. For when you nullify the world and are not yourselves annihilated, you are lord over creation and all corruption Valentinus, Fragment F.
This seems to be Valentinus' response to the dilemma of the permanence of salvation: By declaring that it is the role and task of the "elect" or Gnostic Christian to use up death and nullify the world, Valentinus is making clear his position that these elite souls are fellow saviors of the world, along with Jesus, who was the first to take on the sin and corruption inherent in the material realm cf. Therefore, since "the wages of sin is death" Romans 6: Zur Theorie der Geschichte und Politik.
The fourth volume, The Ecumenic Age, appeared in It broke with the chronological pattern of the previous volumes by investigating symbolizations of order ranging in time from the Sumerian King List to Hegel. Work on the final volume, In Search of Order, occupied Voegelin's final days and it was published posthumously in Although transcendence can never be fully defined or described, it may be conveyed in symbols. A particular sense of transcendent order serves as a basis for a particular political order.
- Eric Voegelin
A philosophy of consciousness can therefore become a philosophy of politics. Insights may become fossilised as dogma. Voegelin is more interested in the ontological issues that arise from these experiences than the epistemological questions of how we know that a vision of order is true or not.
For Voegelin, the essence of truth is trust. All philosophy begins with experience of the divine. Since God is experienced as good, one can be confident that reality is knowable. As Descartes would say, God is not a deceiver. Given the possibility of knowledge, Voegelin holds there are two modes: Visions of order belong to the latter category. The truth of any vision is confirmed by its orthodoxy, by what Voegelin jokingly calls its lack of originality. Voegelin's work does not fit in any standard classifications, although some of his readers[ who?
Voegelin often invents terms or uses old ones in new ways. However, there are patterns in his work with which the reader can quickly become familiar. He defined gnosis as "a purported direct, immediate apprehension or vision of truth without the need for critical reflection; the special gift of a spiritual and cognitive elite.
Relying as it does on a claim to gnosis, gnosticism considers its knowledge not subject to criticism. Gnosticism may take transcendentalizing as in the case of the Gnostic movement of late antiquity or immanentizing forms as in the case of Marxism. He identified the root of the Gnostic impulse as alienationthat is, a sense of disconnection from society and a belief that this lack is the result of the inherent disorder, or even evil, of the world.
This alienation has two effects: The first is the belief that the disorder of the world can be transcended by extraordinary insight, learning, or knowledge, called a Gnostic Speculation by Voegelin the Gnostics themselves referred to this as gnosis.
The second is the desire to implement and or create a policy to actualize the speculation, or Immanentize the Eschatoni. According to Voegelin the Gnostics are really rejecting the Christian eschaton of the kingdom of God and replacing it with a human form of salvation through esoteric ritual or practice. This stands in contrast to a notion of redemption that is achieved through the reconciliation of mankind with the divine.
Marxism therefore qualifies as "gnostic" because it purports that we can establish the perfect society on earth once capitalism has been overthrown by the "proletariat". Likewise, Nazism is seen as "gnostic" because it posits that we can achieve utopia by attaining racial purity, once the master race has freed itself of the racially inferior and the degenerate.
In the two cases specifically analyzed by Voegelin, the totalitarian impulse is derived from the alienation of the individuals from the rest of society.
This leads to a desire to dominate libido dominandi which has its roots not just in the Gnostic's conviction of the imperative of his vision but also in his lack of concord with a large body of his society. As a result, there is very little regard for the welfare of those who are harmed by the resulting politics, which ranges from coercive to calamitous e. Because Voegelin applied the concept of Gnosis undiscriminatingly to Marxism, communism, National Socialism, progressivism, liberalism and humanism,  critics have pointed out that Voegelin's concept of Gnosis lacks theoretical precision.
Rather, the term "Gnosticism" as used by Voegelin is more of an invective just as "when on the lowest level of propaganda those who do not conform with one's own opinion are smeared as communists".