Samuel M. Frost, Th. M.
“Gnosticism” is a terms that gets thrown around a lot. In this vein, it usually is a slur, a pejorative for an view that is so “spiritually minded that it is no earthly good.” There have usually been two polar sides of perennial issues that involve the physical and the metaphysical; that each of these considerations can be lopsided. To use Carl Sagan’s famous quote, “The Cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.” This would be a materialist position, devoid of any sense of spirit, soul, mind, Good, Evil, which are all metaphysical concepts and ideas. Usually, with these types, since the cosmos is all there is (Naturalism), then pleasure becomes the main normative impetus for carving out a life to be lived. Taking care of yourself and the planet. Nature itself is the only real thing to be marveled at and adored.
Then, too, you have the Gnostics. Gnosis is simply a Greek word that means ‘knowledge’ (kno-gnoledge for the stem). In the case of the Mystics, the Buddhists, and much of Hindi thought, Mysticism is an attempt to enter the blissful, the nirvanic, the escape from this world of matter, things, and appearances and achieve harmony with Spirit, Good, Ultimate Sense of Purpose, Goddess Power. Razors and showers usually do not come with these type of folks.
Mircea Eliade’s masterful three volume work, A History of Religious Ideas, notes that a gnostic is, in general, believes that “the only object worth pursuing was the deliverance of that divine particle and its reascent to the celestial spheres” (p.374, volume 2). There are several (and I mean several) forms of Gnosticism(s) floating around in the second century and their precursors before then. The body is a prison house to be escaped (coming from Plato). For most of the Gnostics, though, there are some shared ideas. First, matter and spirit are forever to be separated. Creation – that is, this cosmos – will burn out eventually. “God is not interested in man as such but in the soul, which is of divine origin…” (394). “The body is demonic by nature” (394).
Basically, the Scriptures present Creation as that which is pronounced good by God who made all things. Gnostics have no end goal for creation other than it eventually burning out of existence, along with all material things. Material creation has been so corrupted by flesh that it is “fallen” and “beyond reclaiming.” It was never, in fact, meant to be the home of man, but a transitory, temporary place for enlightening man for his original Higher Goal: Spiritual Bliss. Man is not to look at things seen, but is to transcend these things through “knowledge” of the Suprasensable World above – the true, heavenly world of the Divine. That world is the real world, whereas this world will never come to “know” that world, and never be transformed by it – since that is reserved for the Soul only – the true essence of man. The idea, as Eliade notes, that the human body would be raised from the dead and enter into the Transcendent World permanently was “madness” to the Greeks. Yet, that was the very controversy the Early Church Fathers preached from the get go. Jesus, the man born of a woman, the seed of David, the son of man, ascended into heaven bodily and remains for eternity. This idea simply could not be fathomed. It is not that it could not be understood, but that it could not be explained as to why God would redeem that which is so corrupted by Evil. What would be the purpose of redeeming that which is utterly lost? What concern would the God of the SupraWorld have for placing the stamp of eternality to matter? The whole point of matter, fallen as it is, is to contrast that with the spiritual life that comes from above and releases us from this world to that world. What, then, would be the reason for such redemption of this world?
It was this idea, the idea that Jesus, a man with a “rational soul and body” as the Orthodox defined him, could be redeemed with that same rational soul and body and permanently remain as a heavenly, exalted man, that confounded the world. Christianity brought together the two things that could not ever meet: matter and soul in the Incarnation (in-carnis – flesh) of the Logos with the “man, Christ Jesus.” In Jesus God affirmed his creation (matter and body), raised it, glorified it, and made it to ascend to his right hand. Also, he affirmed the invisible qualities of creation and soul by offering renewal to it as well. Both were affirmed in the resurrection, glorification and ascension of Jesus, son of man. This was shocking then, as it is shocking now. For the materialist, the idea of a long dead, long, wind blown scattered ashes of a few thousand year old corpse being “raised from the dead” is the height of absurdity of all foolish absurdities. For the spiritualist, it is simply something that has no purpose in happening since the soul is already redeemed, and is the only true essence of who we are. The idea of God reuniting a body to it – a fallen body – is simply and equally absurd. Of course, some so called Christians have tried to “middle man” the issue by offering the idea that the soul gets a fresh, brand new, never tainted by sin or death body when they expire (or are freed from this mortal shell). But, Paul’s words are emphatic: the body that is sown, that very body is the one that is raised. And, his main proof for his assertion is Jesus and the empty tomb, and the fact that he is ‘in heaven at the right hand of the Father’ as the Church has confessed in unison for 2000 years. Christianity is most alive when it still shocks the mindset of human thinking. It when it stops shocking it that I begin to worry. A Christianity “at home” in the world is not a Christianity that is needed; a Christianity that turns the world upside down is. And the Incarnated Son of Man in heaven does just that, for in that message is contained the idea that God “will quicken your mortal bodies” in the same manner as Jesus. Will the son of man find faith, or will he find scoffers?