Introduction Gnosis, The Divine Redeemer, “What liberates is the knowledge of who we were, what we became; where we were, where into we have been thrown; whereto we speed, where from we are redeemed; what birth is and what rebirth.”‘
Deliverance from this material world , in other word , can come only by liberating knowledge (gnosis).
Humans are imprisoned in the material universe of fate that the archons control, though we carry within ourselves the leftover sparks of the divine and precosmic Pleroma (Fullness) that existed before the demiurgic construction com-pany took over. Human beings are thus, in essence, absolutely superior to the ecosystem—not stewards or even masters, but strangers in a strange land.
“What liberates is the knowledge of who we were, what we became; where we were, where into we have been thrown; whereto we speed, where from we are redeemed; what birth is and what rebirth.”‘ The primary polarity of Gnostic psychology is not sin and redemption, but ignorance and }gnosis, forgetting and memory, sleep and the awaken-ing of knowledge. The Gnostic sought the pure signal that overrides the noise and corrosive babel of the world—an ineffable rush tinged with the Platonic exaltation of mind, a first-person encounter with the Logos etched into the heart of the divine self within.
“Having conceived that nothing is impossible to you, consider yourself immortal and able to understand everything, all an, all learning, the temper of every living thing…. Collect in your-self all the sensations of what has been made, of fire and water, dry and wet; and be everywhere at once, on land, in the sea. in heaven; be not yet born, be in the womb, be young, old, dead, beyond death. And when you have understood all these at once—times, places, things, qualities, quantities—then you can understand god.”
On one level, this illumination penetrates to the subtlest spheres of consciousness—the call to “be not yet born” recalls the Zen koan that asks the practitioner to recall her original face, the face “before you were born.” But unlike the Zen quest, which proceeds largely by emptying the mind of its obsession with mental bric-a-brac, the budding Promethean Gnostic is here encouraged just to keep loading it up. Hermes is not told to merge with the great ineffable Oneness, but to expand the conceptual and empirical mind, the mind that knows and understands the things of this world, quantities as well as qualities, information as well as wisdom. Gnosis enables die mystic not only to know God, but to know what God knows. Even more important, this cognitive ecstasy is not characterized as something that happens to the aspirant through God’s infinite grace. but as a feat that the aspirant pro-duces through his own mystical, magical, and intellectual labor—in a word, self-divinization.
“Through [the Demiurge’s] unknowing agency the spiritual seed was implanted in the human soul and body, to be carried there as if in a womb until it had grown sufficiently to receive the Logos. The pneuma sojourns in the world in order to be pre-formed there for the final “information” through the gnosis.”
Theories of Change With God being utterly transcendent and unknowable, all the lower realms basically being corrupted (of which the human body is constructed), and the goal being a complete liberation from it all, the fundamental gnostic theory of change and way to this salvation is centered on the acquisition of “knowledge,” or gnosis. The idea here is that God sends Divine Light down to humans thereby enabling them to share in God’s existence.
Such knowledge from and of God not only liberates one from the body’s corrupting passions, but is itself the “ultimate perfection” that transforms the sou1.
In speaking about the relation between the knower and the known, Jonas writes, “There, the mind is “informed” with the forms it beholds and while it beholds (thinks) them: here, the subject is “transformed” (from “soul” to “spirit”) by the union with a reality that in truth is itself the supreme subject in the situation and strictly speaking never an object at all.”
It is, therefore, by one’s reception of Divine knowledge, that one is called, awakened, and finally liberated from all the lower realms. There are also two additional purposes of this gnosis: it gives a magical quality to make the soul impenetrable and invisible to lower gods; and to give knowledge of how one can force their passage to the higher realms.
Gnostic transformation, which is “long and endless” and often confining but also joyous is therefore rooted in one’s communion with this knowledge. This journey, however, is not considered to be made alone, especially in Christian versions of Gnosticism. A “transcendent savior” is believed to bring this “saving knowledge” from beyond these realms in which humans are imprisoned.
This savior comes to bring liberation and He must descend and “assimilate himself to the forms of cosmic existence and thereby subject himself to its conditions.
Gnostics pretty much have a singular focus when it comes to the aims of their religion. On this, Jonas asserts, “The goal of gnostic striving is the release of the “inner [person]” from the bonds of the world and [her or his] return to [her or his] native realm of light.”
It is to be “reunited with the divine substance’ ;” a breaking through and awakening from the spirit’s slumbering.309 He continues, “It is no exaggeration to say that the discovery of this transcendent inner principle in [humanity] and the supreme concern about its destiny is the very center of gnostic religion.”
Given the realm of prisons that the spirit is enclosed within, both cosmically and anthropologically, the goal is the gnostic ascent is through the concentric circles and one’s self to the beyond where God dwells.
Being a thoroughly dualistic perspective, it is through this ascent, via a series of stages, that the immanence of the spirit attains to the transcendence of God.
This attainment therefore “involves a process of gathering in, of re-collection of what has been so dispersed, and salvation aims at the restoration of the original unity.”
In short, the central spiritual formation goal of gnostic Christianity is a liberation of this imprisoned spirit into the realm of God that is utterly transcendent to and beyond all of creation.
We know that gnostic practices were important since the acquisition of unknowable knowledge of God was considered to come via “sacred and secret lore or through inner illumination,” either directly, or through a savior. Such knowledge, Jonas asserts, was not just related to gnosis, but also to the way of life that gnostics should live. On this, he writes, “On the practical side, however, it is more particularly “knowledge of the way,” namely, of the soul’s way out of the world, comprising the sacramental and magical preparations for its future ascent and the secret names and formulas that force the passage through each sphere.”
The Savior must be born in us as He was born in the world; must put off in us, (by fighting for us against our spiritual enemies,) those evils which He put oft with the maternal human; must be crucified in us to the death, or quiescence of our former life; must resuscitate in divine truth in us, and establish His kingdom of love in us, before we can be fitted for His heavenly kingdom, and before the incarnation of the Divine Human can produce in us its triumphant and eternally saving effects.
Thus shall we recover the image and likeness of God, in Jesus Christ, which can never more be effaced; the external, though distinct in degree, will be united with the internal in cone-sponding harmony, and the church immortal, which now descends from heaven, will establish its dominion with us forever.
Many whom curiosity may incite to contemplate the wonders of the new dispensation, which is gradually diffusing its light through the world, may, for a while, gladly receive the testimony in the imaginative delights of the natural mind, but none can have any part or lot in the benefits of the second advent, who do not undergo the process of the first.
We must die to self, before we can have life in the Lord; we must have genuine truth before we can have heavenly love. The Lord is the way, the truth, and the life, and every one who would participate the life, must, with heartfelt humiliation, apply to the manifested Jeho-vah as the only way which can introduce the sincere penitent to that divine truth which alone can enlighten, and to that divine love, which, in its bosom. contains eternal felicity.
By the external senses, we know this world ; but if they are disordered, they are not the mediums of correct knowledge. Through the mind only can we know a spiritual world, and only as the mind is qualified by spiritual love and thought, can we thus know it.
Thus only can we know the things of that world, as by the bodily senses only do we perceive things of this. To learn the properties of each, we must have the qualifications for each. Spirit is known only through spirit, love through love, and wisdom through wisdom ; as matter and its properties are known through material organs.
The former process is imaged and illustrated in the latter, as the spiritual world is imbodied and represented in the forms and objects of this. Because this world corresponds to that within and above it, and man possesses in his spiritual body, and in the material body which covers the spiritual body, the rudiments of both worlds, therefore he is capa-ble of knowing both worlds, of living in both, and of ascending by an orderly process from one to the other ; from a natural life to a spiritual, and from earth to heaven.
In the spiritual world there is good and there is evil, light and dark-ness; and the more perfectly man follows the light of the spiritual world, by obeying it in the love of it, the more fully are the rudiments of that world within him developed into form and energy ; and the more do they take the ordering and government of the world without.
Each, thus, becomes a more perfect medium of knowing the other. The spiritual descends more and more deeply into the nat-ural man, to arrange, purify, and regenerate it ; the natural, thus transformed and conformed, rises up and calls the spiritual blessed in ascribing the salvation to the Lord. The world without, be-comes, as it were, a mirror in which arc reflected the images of the world within. The forms and qualities of the spiritual world are thus manifested through the natural.
The content of the Gnostic teaching consists of the belief that God is radically transcendent. The God who created the world, the Demiurge, is seen as a lower deity. The highest God has nothing to do with this world, except with human beings. They are bound to him in their deepest selves, but they have forgotten this. It is the task of the Saviour to remind the human beings of their bond with God and thus of their true identity. Moreover he has to overcome the demonic powers which keep human beings imprisoned in this cosmos. For a Gnostic believer, the com-plete realization of redemption consists in the return to God after death (the journey of the soul). Already in this life believers must strive to be free of matter and its passions by following an ascetic lifestyle.
Knowledge in this manner knows where he comes from and where he is going. He knows as one who having been drunk has turned away from his drunkenness, (and) having returned to himself, has set right what are his own’ . Clement of Alexandria provides a summation of Gnostic self-understanding: ‘It is not the bath (washing) alone which makes us free, but also the knowledge: who were we? what have we become? where were we? into what place have we been cast? whither are we hastening? from what are we delivered? what is birth? what is rebirth?’ (Exc. Theod. 78.2; Foerster, Gnosis 1.230). Williams notes that
most of the Sethian sources reflect a preoccupation with the question of human nature and human origins. . . . Recovery of an awareness of one's membership in this divine family belongs to the essence of salvation in Sethian traditions' (Sethianism’).