Act Of Knowing

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Gnostics

Apparently, having or aiming for a direct experience of the divine is not an acceptable christian practice.

At least, that was the view of the early christian church in the 2nd century as various groups slugged it out, to establish who would be the big dog on the block. To the winner went the spoils of war – the power, prestige and wealth.

These heretics, collectively known as Gnostics were very active in the mediteranean region in the 1st and 2nd centuries after Christ, and in later centuries in various parts of europe as outsider or mystic groups, such as the cathars. Many faced persecution by their fellow christians of the established orthodox church.

Since they were effectively sidelined in the 2nd century AD, and persectued thereafter, only patchy information was available about them and their beliefs until the mid-twentieth century. Then a chance discovery of ancient texts in upper Egypt in 1945 revolutionised modern understanding of Gnosticism and led to a revaluation of some tenets of main stream christianity itself.

These texts are housed in the Nag Hammadi Library. Work on translating them was broadly completed in the 1970s, although scholars have continued to work on them since.

Several gospels, which it had been thought were lost for good were a part of this find, including those by Thomas, Philip and the gospel of Truth. Revelations were also forthcoming on the real nature of Mary Magdelene and here relationship with Jesus.

So, what did the gnostics believe? Well broadly speaking they were not much interested in dogma and theology for its own sake, they believed direct experience of the truths of existence was accessible to all human beings, and was their highest achievement.

Key amongst these truths, was the divine revelation of the source of self (or seed Self), which was an awakening to God.

As a consequence, texts and scriptures which the Gnostics found a source of great insight and value, were completely unacceptable to the orthodox church. Hence they were not included in the official New Testament.

They also believed in the union of man and woman as a potential mystical act for overcoming duality and reaching a oneness.

So, its not hard to see how they differed from orthodox christian views, and their reliance on intermediaries (i.e. a priest class) to manage man’s spiritual affairs.

A recommended starter for knowing more about these fascinating people and their beliefs is a book by Elaine Pagels:

The Gnostic Gospels.

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Or, if you want to dive in and become a fully-fledged heretic, then try this book:

The Gnostic Bible: Revised and Expanded Edition

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