by Jordan Stratford
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
1) Gnosticism is not a heretical sect of Christianity
Gnosticism is a distinct, pre-Christian religion. Its roots are in
Alexandria in Egypt, about 2200 years ago, where a “café-society” of
Greek-speaking and -educated Jews were syncretizing the myths of the
ancient world with Judaism and classical Greek philosophy.
These communities and their ideas greatly influenced Christianity as
it later emerged. As Christianity struggled in its first four
centuries to distinguish itself from the pagan world, it slowly began
to reject some of these Gnostic influences. But most of the people
who still favored these ideas considered themselves devout
Christians, not heretics.
Let us not forget that the most common topic in the New Testament –
more common than the power of love or redemption or the sacrifice of
the cross or even the divinity of Jesus – is that “other Christians
are getting it wrong”. Paul condemns James as a heretic. Jesus refers
to Peter as “Satan”.
2) Gnosticism is a lot like Buddhism
Because of Gnosticism’s insistence on personal responsibility and
ethics, its emphasis on singular prayer, the practice of compassion,
detachment from materialism and the striving for enlightenment, it
has been called “the Buddhism of the West”. The similarities between
Gnosticism and Mahayana Buddhism are so strong it has been speculated
that there may have been ongoing contact between the two religions.
3) The Gnostic Scriptures are, for the most part, contemporary with
None of the four canonical Gospels were written in the first century.
Mark was not written by Mark, nor Luke written by Luke. John was
written in two distinct phases, the first of which showed significant
Gnostic elements, and the latter a retraction and condemnation of
those elements. These were based on first century oral traditions
which varied greatly from region to region, but did not exist in
written form until at least 100 years after the events they describe.
Paul is the only first century Christian writer we have, and much of
his writings were edited centuries later into the form we have today.
The Gospel of Thomas, for example, is contemporary with the later
half of John, and there is some evidence to support that John’s later
editors were familiar with Thomas. The scriptural authors of the
second century were reaching for meaning, using their interpretation
what they had heard, their intuition, their creativity, and their
yearning for God.
4) Gnostics do not hate the physical world
Gnostic scripture frequently invokes favorably the beauty and power
of the natural world; the symbolism of pregnancy, midwifery,
childbirth, newborns, storms and ripe crops are frequently employed
by Gnostic authors. Gnostics do not view the flesh as evil, but
rather as temporary when contrasted with the immortality of the soul –
a view shared by most if not all Christians.
What Gnostics reject is not the earth, but they system: the
artificial world of injustice, prejudice, institutionalization and
5) Gnostics do not repudiate salvation through Grace
The role of Grace, and of the Holy Spirit, is of paramount importance
to the Gnostics. Where Gnosticism differs from Christianity is that
Gnosticism says that “blind faith” does not grant salvation. To be
saved from the forces of deception and ignorance (maya in Buddhist
parlance) one must attain enlightenment: the direct experiential
intimacy with G@d that is gnosis. This experience is the birthright
of every aware human person.
6) Gnosticism is not elitist
Do Christians distinguish between the saved and the unsaved? Is this
elitism? Gnostic teachings frequently reinforce the idea that
liberation via gnosis is available to everyone; that such distinction
is a matter of reclaiming birthright, of intent, choice, and effort.
In fact, Gnostic theology tends to support the idea of apokatastasis,
of universal salvation.
7) Gnosticism is not Utopian.
There is nothing in Gnostic scripture to support the idea that
Gnostics wish to make “heaven on earth” from human efforts, and no
connection whatsoever between Gnosticism and the reshaping of
society; neither from fascism nor socialism. There is
no “immanentizing the eschaton” in Gnosticism: Rather, this idea is
the hallmark of millennialist Christianity.
8 ) Most basic tenets of Gnosticism are supported by Christian
In fact there is a litany of Christian saints who are blatantly
Gnostic; St. Francis of Assisi, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the
Cross, St. Hildegard of Bingen and St. Joan of Arc all described in
detail the integrity of their experience of gnosis.
Paul says “The Kingdom of God is within you” which is probably the
best single summation of Gnostic theology. Jesus says “My kingdom is
not of this world” (Jn 18:36).
9) Gnosticism serves as a bridge between world religions
Gnosticism stands at the crossroads of Judaism, Christianity, and
Islam, representing a common ground. Historically Gnosticism
influenced Judaism in the development of Kabala, and Islam in the
development of Sufism; it both encouraged and challenged Christianity
through its early centuries and contributed profoundly to Christian
theology and identity.
10) Gnostic churches are thriving
Gnostics across North America and Europe gather weekly for prayer and
Eucharist in forms very similar to orthodox liturgy. We derive
inspiration from the Old and New Testaments, and also from Nag
Hammadi scripture such as The Gospel of Thomas and The Thunder:
Perfect Mind. A vital and growing Gnostic ekklesia is serving in
charities, missions and hospitals; writing, crafting, debating and
working in coffeehouses and dozens of parishes around the world. Most
Gnostics consider themselves Christian, their churches constituting
the Body of Christ. Other Gnostics gravitate to the symbolism and
traditions of the Divine Feminine in her aspect as Sophia (“wisdom”),
the Shekhina (“presence”) , and the Holy Spirit.
Despite book-burnings, despite the Albigensian Crusade and the
Inquisition, despite schlock-populism, and despite inane castigations
from self-appointed pundits, we are still here; still praying,
celebrating, exploring, and asking. Still Knowing.