One cannot begin to comprehend early struggles of Christianity for existence without at the least a rudimentary familiarity with its formative history. Thus, it behooves us to take a brief look at Gnosticism and its challenge to early Christianity.
Christianity’s infancy history comprised a period teeming with religious theories; a period when religious discussion was a popular occupation among thinkers of each and every type. So it was 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 kinds of opposition as it spread and came into experience of other cultural forms, heresy presented a many different type of contrariety. And even though conflict subsequently led to ameliorated understanding of this is of Christ and a more lucid presentation of Christian belief, heresy was undoubtedly the absolute most serious menace Christianity had to confront. The task was in the arena of thought. In its most sinister form it appeared beneath 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 several deviationists have been scorned by many orthodox Christians. It claimed to be always a sure way to knowledge, hence, the vision of God. Valentinian Gnosticism It claimed that its rites, ceremonies, prescriptions and its way to God were divinely inspired and transmitted to the elite esoteric via a mysterious tradition. Furthermore, and perhaps most offensive to Christianity, it claimed, basically, that its magical formulas offered an infallible means to salvation.
It’s beyond the scope of this information to go over the origin of Gnosticism. Suffice it to express that most theories seem to agree that it was a confluence of many diverse streams of thought emanating from pre-Christian mystery religions.
The basic 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 entire world, and so they really differentiated the supreme God from the creator of the world. To account for evil matter, the Gnostics evolved a doctrine of emanations from God. These emanations flowed from God and each further from God until finally there was 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 greatest of those emanations was the figure of Christ who was simply given the honor to be set besides all the emanations.
It’s required to also include here a record about several Gnostics called Docetists. They held the belief that Christ’s body was only a phantom and that the “true” Christ doesn’t have bodily form. This is an essential idea to the Gnostics since if matter was regarded as evil, then Christ couldn’t be burdened with a product body, for then He wouldn’t have now been able to perform 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 merely did Gnostics deny the incarnate Christ, but their ethics were in strict violation of traditional church views.
I cannot start 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 only to preserve the human historical Jesus. Thus, early Church fathers arose to the defense of the Christian faith.
Contrary to the denial of Christ’s humanity, Fathers of the Church underlined the fact of the incarnation and stressed the significance of the job of Jesus. Contrary to 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 people 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 big degree, the development of Christian doctrine was in reaction against Gnosticism. It’s difficult, or even impossible, to clearly discern when and where in fact 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 begin to see the nude body of Gnosticism in a number of our branches of religion.