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Thursday, 9 April 2015


The word ‘Gnostic’ comes from the Greek word ‘gnosis’ meaning knowledge. In particular it refers to the belief that there was once a special secret knowledge, a key to a superior understanding, available only to a select few.

Gnosticism was already infecting the church in New Testament times. Around AD 60 St Paul wrote a letter to the church at Colosse in Asia Minor (Colossians) to combat various false teachings arising from other pagan philosophies that were an early form of Gnosticism. His major concern was the teaching that Jesus did not have a physical body, and only appeared to be a man, hence he did not die a physical death, thus expunging the message of the cross.

By the beginning of the third century, Gnosticism had reached the height of its influence as a Christian sect. The majority of the more cerebral Christian congregations were to different degrees influenced by it. Various Christians wrote extensive critiques in an attempt to save the church from this heresy. One of the most important and influential was Saint Irenaeus of Gaul (130-202) whose Against Heresies, was an attempt to refute the teachings of various Gnostic groups.

Gnosticism’s philosophy of the spiritual world being real and the physical world illusory and evil persuaded many to renounce all physical desires and take up a strict ascetic lifestyle. By this means it was believed their immortal souls would be liberated from their physical existence. This helped pave the way for the rise of monasticism in the church.

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