Greek language What is Gnosis

Gnosis as the path of knowledge to the liberation of man

Lecture on April 29, 2003: Dr. Josef Frickel (Professor of Patristic Theology)


The Greek word “gnosis” means “knowledge” in general. As a spiritual current that occurs in late antiquity, more precisely in the 1st to 3rd centuries AD, Gnosis is a "saving knowledge" for the liberation of man from the compulsion of fate and human existence.

It is not actually about the human being made up of body and soul. Rather, Gnosis wants to free the inner man, that is, the spiritual man (Iren. I 21,4). Because man is not just a “spirit” who has a body, as many believe today; Instead, according to Gnosticism, the human being is “spirit” who is, as it were, in exile in this world, who is tied to the earth through his body.

This negative view of man is based on an anthropology that comes from the Orphic and then the Pythagorean religion, which the Greek philosopher Plato adopted and which has subsequently flowed into other traditions of ancient philosophy, especially popular philosophy.

From this negative view of man one can clearly see that the “gnosis” as salvation knowledge has its origin neither in genuine Judaism nor in Palestinian early Christianity, where man was understood biblically as an “image” of God, especially the body, which Body of man, but must have arisen among people who came from the popular philosophy influenced by Platonic and Pythagorean. However, this did not prevent “Gnosis” from penetrating parts of Hellenistic Judaism and Hellenistic Christianity very soon.

1) Gnosis and the ancient worldview

The question arises: How does the “spirit” of man come or how does the spiritual part of the human soul get into the body, into the body? The individual answers of the Gnostics are very different. However, it is always somehow based on the idea of ​​Plato that the spirit of man had a pre-worldly existence and that it somehow descended into the body during the creation or formation of the body. One then speaks of a "fall of the spiritual soul".

According to ancient belief, the human spirit does not belong to the visible world. He's invisible! According to its essence, the spirit does not belong to the earthly, but to the spiritual world, i.e. the divine realm. That is where his real home is. Hence the spirit has fallen out of the spiritual world in some way into this material world, be it culpably or not. In contrast to the mythical account of the book “Genesis” of the Hebrew Bible, where God first formed the human body out of earth and then enlivened this body through his breath.

As I said, the various Gnostic currents have various explanations ready for this incarnation of the spirit. But all are based on the ancient worldview, as it was in the 2nd century. after Chr. the astronomer and mathematician Ptolemy, who lives in Alexandria, summarized: The so-called Ptolemaic system or worldview, which remained authoritative up to Copernicus (1473-1543) and Galileo Galilei (+ 1642).

The Ptolemaic worldview is geocentric. It teaches: the earth is the center of the world and the sun and moon revolve it in circular orbits. Between the sun and moon, which are both planets themselves, the other five planets known at the time (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn) circle around the earth, in the so-called planetary spheres. According to ancient ideas, these planetary spheres are filled and animated with various spiritual beings. Even more: these seven planets, together with the twelve signs of the zodiac, determine the fate of humans. The numbers 7 and 12 are therefore of the utmost importance.

Now back to the fall of the souls from the spiritual world, which is located beyond the planetary spheres. On their fall down, the souls have to traverse all seven planetary spheres, and in each of these spheres each individual soul is increasingly enveloped with new matter (and thus with new vices) until it is finally trapped in the body, completely sunk in the matter.

This has the consequence - according to the teaching of Plato - that the soul loses the memory of its spiritual home and its divine being. The soul or spirit of man is thus in a state of forlornness from which he cannot free himself; he has lost his memory. He only darkly feels his “being thrown” into this world (the expression comes from the philosopher Martin Heidegger), but inside there is a deep longing to escape the chaos of matter and thus his downfall.

This is where "Gnosis" comes into play. It wants to make people aware of their lost state and, in a further step, to show people the way to their liberation, to their redemption from this world, the way to ascent into their heavenly home. That, then, is the essence of Gnosis: the knowledge that is decisive about being or not being.

2) The call to awakening

First of all, a person has to be awakened from his state of spiritual ignorance, he has to wake up, become aware of his situation. Man should not be satisfied with his fate like an animal, or even more numb himself through the deceptive enjoyment of earthly goods and pleasures. Indeed, this "awakening" is not unique to Gnosis; It is also valid in the Christian religions and generally in every religious movement that wants to lead people away from a primitive life of pleasure and towards a spiritual, humane life.

Therefore, in the Christian NT, the author of the letter to the Ephesians - just as in Gnosis - calls out to his readers (Eph. 5:14):
“Wake up sleeping and get up from the dead. And Christ will light up you ”. This is exactly the "awakening call", the first step to gnosis: "Wake up, you sleeper!"

And then on: “Get up from the dead!” (Anásta ek ton nekron) Let us hear this call carefully! It states explicitly that man should not only expect a "resurrection from the dead" at the Last Day, at the Last Judgment, but that we should "rise" from the dead now, here and today.

In the same NT, the author of 2 Timothy writes against such a conception of the resurrection because he sees it as a denial of the bodily resurrection for the Last Judgment. As in 1 Timothy 6:20, he turns against Christians who refer to a special “knowledge” (Gnosis). He names two men (Hymenaeus and Philetus), “who have gone astray as regards the truth: for they claim that the“ resurrection ”has already taken place”, and “they thereby deprive some of his faith (2.14-18 ).

In fact: exactly this figurative or allegorical interpretation of the "resurrection" is typical for the Christianized Gnosis of the 2nd century, especially for the so-called Valentinians, pupils of the important gnostic Valentin from Alexandria, who then worked in Rome; just as for the author of the so-called Naassenerschrift, which the church writer Hippolytus of Rome (+235) gave us verbatim (EI 5,8,22-24).

There it says in the Gnostic interpretation of a syncretistic pagan cult song in honor of the Phrygian god Attis that the spiritual or inner man is called by the Phrygians, among other things, “a dead person”, which means that “he is in the body as in a crypt and in one Grave coffin (is) ”. The Gnostic interprets this very platonic explanation in parallel to a word of Jesus in the Gospels, where Jesus says in a dispute with the scribes and Pharisees:
“You are whitewashed graves, full of dead bones inside” (Mt. 23:27). And this is what Jesus says, the Gnostic explains, "because (in them) the living man is not".

According to this Gnostic teacher, Jesus wanted to understand the resurrection from the dead already for our present life: the Pharisees and scribes are “whitewashed graves” or “full of dead bones”, precisely because their inner being is still dead, not “living” "Is not" risen ".

And furthermore, the inner man is also called “God” in the Attis song. “For he becomes God”, it is said, “when he rises from the dead and enters through the gate into heaven”. Here again the teaching that the resurrection from the dead should take place now, in this life. We can see from this little digression on the resurrection that the allegorical interpretation of the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead was already there towards the end of the 1st century. and, secondly, that this allegorical interpretation of the resurrection has remained a central axiom of the Christianized Gnostics.

3) The inner enlightenment

After the call to wake up and the command to rise from the dead, it continues in Ephesians (5:14): "And Christ will shine for you". (One can also translate: “And Christ will shine for you as light”. “Enlightenment” is the third element that essentially belongs to Gnosis. Here it becomes clear that Gnosis cannot be equated with philosophy or rationally logical knowledge Gnosis is not actually about imparting knowledge like in a school, rather the person to be instructed should see from within. Therefore gnostic knowledge is only one and it is acquired in one act.

Werner Foerster (Die Gnosis, Volume 1, Introduction) rightly refers in this context to the gnostic Simon (nicknamed "the magician"), who says:
“It is true that in these sciences, which are common, everyone who has not learned has no knowledge either; but in matters of gnosis someone learned as soon as he heard "(Ps.-Klent., Recogn. III 35,7).

So this gnosis is about an inner insight, a sudden, spontaneous realization. The pagan-Gnostic script "Poimandres" (4) says similarly about this: when the revealer showed himself in his true form, "And everything suddenly became clear to me."

This is not about great science. Instead, a word from Jesus applies here, which appears like an erratic block in the Gospel of Matthew and Luke and comes from an older collection of sayings from Jesus (= Q). It is said:
“I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden this from the wise and the clever and have revealed it to minors” (Matt. 11:25 and Lk. 10:21).
The word of Jesus does not say what this revelation from God refers to. What is it that God reveals to the minors and the little ones, but has hidden from the wise and clever of this world?

At first glance, the Gospels give an apparently paradoxical answer that can be seen as a reversal of our natural values ​​and therefore initially seems incomprehensible to us. But it is like this: whoever wants to enter the kingdom of heaven has to rethink!

In short, the message is: "Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted" (Lk. 14:11). Or: when the disciples of Jesus were arguing about which of them would be greatest in the coming kingdom of heaven, Jesus said to them:
With you it should not be the same as with the great of this world, where those in power let themselves be called benefactors, "but the greatest among you shall be like the youngest and the ruler like the servant" (Lk. 22:26).

Is the message of Gnosis different? It is about knowing yourself, the world (or the cosmos) and God. These three things are the true objects of knowledge of Gnosis: the inner man, the cosmos in which man is lost and God, to whom man should return. So it says in the already quoted Naassenerschrift:
“The beginning of perfection is the knowledge of man, but the knowledge of God is the highest perfection” (5: 8, 38).

After the awakening and resurrection of the inner man, enlightenment begins on the way to his liberation from this world. A liberation that is essentially a self-redemption.

The Gnostic therefore does not need an actual “Redeemer”, a Savior who frees the world and the people in it from their sins. Even where gnosis introduces the figure of Jesus Christ and introduces and interprets the words of Jesus, he is only “the teacher” who proclaims the way of salvation. Gnosis does not need a redeemer in the traditional Christian sense who redeems people through his death on the cross.

4) The contrast between Gnosis and Christianity

This shows the inner contrast between Gnosis and Christian theology, which Jesus Christ proclaims as the crucified Savior, above all the Apostle Paul. The author of the Timothy letters, already quoted, recognized this contrast and therefore radically rejected the Gnostic message of salvation.

And this hostile attitude towards gnosis has continued and intensified among Christian doctrines and writers over the next three centuries.

The Gnostic currents outside and especially within Christianity are branded as false doctrines and persecuted polemically. This polemic of the early Christian writers must always be kept in mind when reading their news about the gnosis of the Christian Gnostics. All the more so since this information from the anti-heretical writers was the only information we had about "Gnosis" and the Gnostics until modern times.

5) To the more recent and up-to-date sources on Gnosis

Only after the middle of the 19th century. Gnostic original writings from Egypt in the Coptic language became known for the first time. In the past 20th century there were also Manichaeic and Mandaean original texts, which in a broader sense also belong to Gnosis.

Of the utmost importance, however, is the manuscript find of Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt, discovered by chance in 1945. There 12 codices with a total of 53 papyrus manuscripts were found in a clay jug, not in rolls but in book form. All of these manuscripts are written in the Coptic language, some in different dialects. Coptic was the vernacular language of Christian Egypt, which has now been completely displaced by Arabic and is now extinct and is only used as a dead language in the Christian liturgy (the educated class of Egypt spoke Greek since the time of the Ptolemies).

All of these 53 newly found Coptic manuscripts were originally written in the Greek language and are from around the middle of the fourth century. A.D. has been translated into the Coptic vernacular by several translators.

Thanks to these new finds of original Gnostic scriptures, we now know that "Gnosis" in ancient times was a far more extensive spiritual movement than was previously assumed. A movement that is at least as old as Christianity itself, very possibly even older than it. A movement that is becoming tangible for the first time, especially in Asia Minor, in northern Palestine, and especially in Samaria, about 60-80 km north of Jerusalem.

The Samaritans (Luther calls them "Samaritans") were a mixed people of Israelites and foreign immigrants who formed their own religious community based on the example of the Jews around 400 BC, with their own temple on Mount Garizim near the city of Shechem. They considered the first five books of the OT, i.e. the five books of Moses, the so-called Pentateuch, to be inspired books, but not the other books of the OT, not even the prophets. According to the conviction of the earliest church fathers, the Gnosis started in Samaria (so Justin, Irenaeus of Lyon, Tertullian, Hippolytus of Rome, Epiphanios, etc.), and the great manuscript discovery of Nag Hammadi could even confirm this opinion, at least the Simonian one and concerns the Setian gnosis.

From Samaria, the first on the Pentateuch and on the Greek
Gnosis oriented towards popular philosophy spread to the west, where it soon found different forms, depending on whether it penetrated more Hellenistic or more oriental, Jewish or Christian circles. One can therefore speak of a more oriental or Hellenistic, or of a Jewish or Christian Gnosis. The relationship to the pagan gnosis of Hermetics has to be examined more closely.

All these different forms of “gnosis” have in common that they make the personal salvation of man dependent on his “knowledge” of himself, the mysteries of the cosmos and the mysteries of God.

The new Nag Hammadi discovery has greatly expanded our knowledge of Gnosis. The great majority of the 53 manuscripts are genuinely Gnostic texts, so that one has already spoken of the “Gnostic Library” of Nag Hammadi. However, there are also non-Christian Gnostic and even pagan texts in this library.

Some of the genuinely Gnostic texts are found twice (the so-called Gospel of Egypt and the letter of the “blessed Eugnostus”); a script, the "secret script (or the apocryphal) of John" is even present three times in the manuscripts.

This "Apocryphon of (Apostle) John" forms, with a number of other texts by Nag Hammadi, a separate group of a Christianized Gnosis, which is called "Setianism" or "Setian Gnosis". It is a variety of Gnosis that could not be recognized before the manuscript was found (H.M. Schenke).

This Gnosis is called "Sethian" after the biblical figure of "Seth" who appears in the 1st book of the Bible (Genesis) as the third son of the first parents Adam and Eve. As a reminder: the two first sons were known to be Cain and Abel; After Cain murdered his brother Abel and was cursed by God, Adam and Eve became the father of Seth, who had sons and daughters and, according to the Bible, lived to be 912 years (Gen 5: 8). This Seth is now made the bearer of heavenly revelation and appears in the Apocryphon in various forms and functions as redeemer in this Gnosis.

Due to the new manuscript discovery, several lines of development can now be shown in the late antique Gnostic currents, which can be named as follows (in the wake of H.-M. Schenke), with the 4th group added by me:

(1) the Setian lineage; Origin in Samaria;
{2) the Simonian lineage; Origin of Simon in Samaria;
(3) the Mandaean line of development; Origin Palestine or Samaria?
(4) the later line of philosophical development; Including Simonian and Setian goods, it combines Hellenistic philosophy and Christian revelation with a Gnostic attitude towards life (Basilides and Valentin and their students).

6) The message of Gnosis

Let us return to the actual message of Gnosis: revival, resurrection and enlightenment on the path of salvation.

An example of Gnostic awakening is offered by a revelation by the so-called Peraten (Hippolytus, El. 5,14,1), which begins like this: “I am the voice of awakening in the night” (cosmic revelations follow);

Similar to a writing of the Simonians, the substance of which is traced back to Simon himself: "This is the book of the revelation of the voice and the name from the knowledge of the great, infinite power" (Hippolytus, El. 6,9,4).

The beginning (in an older version) and a longer piece from the same Simonian revelation is also quoted in the syncretistic script of the Naasseners, who obviously share the central dynamic concept of God with the Simonians: “This is the word of God, which is a word of the Annunciation (Apophasis) of the great power ”(Hippolytus, EI. 5,9,5).

Gnosis manifests itself here as the “Word of God” itself. No teacher speaks here, not even the author of a religion. Rather, “Gnosis” comes directly from the deity himself. This is expressed particularly strongly in a lesson that Valentin, the founder of perhaps the most important Gnostic school, is said to have written; it begins like this: "The indestructible Nus" (ie the first manifestation of the divine itself), this Nus of God "greets the indestructible" (these are the Gnostics). "I tell you unnamed, unspeakable, super-heavenly secrets that neither will nor authority nor subordinate ... can be devised ..." (Epiphanios, Pan 31,5,1-2).

These four examples of the beginning of a book of revelation can illustrate the absolute claim to truth with which the heads and teachers of Gnosis appeared. For their followers they were absolute, unquestionable authorities: they were the mouthpiece of the deity itself. Towards them there was only unconditional allegiance, complete submission.

7) The two or three classes of people

The question arises as to whether all human beings are also able to hear this divine voice and to follow it. Experience has shown that only relatively few people are open to spiritual questions, while the great majority seems to get lost in the pursuit of material success.

On this question we can see an interesting development in the Gnostic texts known to us.

The older gnosis of the Simonians assigned the godly soul, the divine spark of life, to every human being, although of course they saw very well that very many people did not care about their divine calling. Therefore Simon teaches in the "Great Revelation" (the "Apophasis Megale") that the divine - which he understands as "unlimited power" - is hidden in every thing, as it were as its innermost core, also in the material Things: in minerals as well as in every plant and animal. This divine, i.e. the divine power, is present in man in a special way, because it can become conscious of itself in man!

But, there is no self-awareness in every person! Why? Simon replies: The divine lies in every human being only as a disposition, i.e. only as a possibility or "potency", i.e. still unfolded, not yet as reality or (in philosophical terms) not yet as "actuality". But its destiny is to be developed, i.e. to become reality! So it should be unfolded. The divine possibility resting in man should become reality! If that happens, the person recognizes himself and the possibilities that lie within him. Then man will discover unexpected powers in himself, yes he will in a certain sense become God himself!

Simon expresses this fact figuratively when he says: The divine in man is like a tiny little seed that is supposed to break up and grow, so that this seed is ultimately to become a very large tree, in which the birds of the sky build their nests. But so that, says Simon, this divine power hidden in man actually unfolds, besides the awakening, appropriate instruction is required, namely through Gnosis. He gives an example of this from everyday life.

It is, says Simon, like a person's disposition for geometry or for foreign languages. If such a system is recognized and properly promoted so that it becomes an art, then such a system will be a gift for this person and for many others. If this promotion does not take place, however, the inherent disposition remains undeveloped, then this disposition in us dies with the death of the person: it perishes as if it had never existed.

It is very similar, says Simon, with the divine spark in man: If man becomes aware of himself, if he then also receives the correct instruction and if he unfolds the divine in himself, he will release undreamt-of powers in himself and, as it were, close himself Become god. If this does not happen, however, then the divine power resting or lying in him remains undeveloped, thus a mere possibility, and it dies with the death of the person, as if it had never existed.

Such a teaching might sound strange the first time; if you think about it you will see that it is very deep. Therapies in medicine and psychology are based on the principle of self-healing, in that the forces resting in us are recognized and released. (Let us consider: a Gnostic in the first century AD applied this principle to the possibility of being deified that lies hidden in man.)

Simon, from whom this teaching is supposed to originate, meets us for the first time in the NT, in the Acts of the Apostles chap. 8, where he is portrayed as a "magician" (sorcerer) who astonished the whole people of Samaria with magical powers. This description can be understood well against the background of the doctrine just explained of the divine power lying as a possibility in every human being. The historical core of the news about Simon is likely to be that this man has succeeded in activating the forces within him to a high degree. His basic doctrine, according to which the divine is “infinite” or “unlimited” spiritual power, which is hidden in the spiritual realm, but manifests itself in the physical and visible realm, is no less relevant today. For people, the divine power lies as a possibility in everyone: whoever knows how to develop it will be saved, whoever cannot do it perishes.

According to another Gnostic, Saturneilos from Antioch in Syria, who lived a little later and was influenced by Simon, people are divided into two types from the outset: good and bad, depending on whether they have received the divine spark of life or not. Salvation is only for the good, i.e. for those who carry the divine spark of life within themselves and believe the Savior, who therefore follow his instruction. According to Saturnil's teaching, marriage and child-fathering are of the devil, and most of them abstain from animal diets.

In this dichotomy of people, an underlying dualism is clearly reflected, which was also present in Simon. It is the contrast between the highest God and subordinate angelic powers who created the world and then man, without knowing the actual deity.

This dualism between deity and world creators is not an absolute one, since the world creators themselves do not have an eternal existence, but were created themselves - not by God, but by a (divine) intermediate being.

Here, on the one hand, we can see the distinction already found in Plato between the highest God and a subordinate creator of the world, the demiurge; on the other hand, however, a negative worldview appears here for the first time, in that the world creators are viewed as ignorant or, in other cases, even as evil.

This opinion of ignorant demiurges is first found in Simon, then in his successors, as well as in Saturn ailos and also in the Setian Gnosis, and is characteristic of the Gnostic systems of the second century.

As this dualistic doctrine of creation is consistently applied to the Creator God of OT, the Jewish God is degraded to an angel, often even to one of seven creation angels, which together form the world and man. Quite logically, the law, which according to Jewish teaching God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai, is no longer traced back to the highest deity, but to subordinate angels, whereby the law is in many ways deprived of its binding force. Therefore, many of the Gnostics no longer felt bound by the law.

With Valentinos, a Gnostic teacher who worked around the middle of the 2nd century. came to Rome, this dualism is softened again. He divides people into three classes: the pneumatics, the psychics and the hylics or Sarkics, which is translated as the pneumatic people who have the divine spirit, the spiritual or natural people who can achieve subordinate salvation, and the earthly or carnal people who perish for good with death.

The Valentinians adopted this division of people into three groups from Paul, who especially in 1 Corinthians uses these terms to characterize the moral behavior of different people, without, however, denying non-pneumatic people the possibility of conversion and thus of salvation, as is the case with happened to the Gnostics.

The Valentinians have developed the distinction between three groups of people into their own teaching. Depending on the spirit that animates them, they are pneumatics, psychics or Sarkics. But only the pneumatics have with the pneuma a divine spark of life or seed in them, which must be awakened and educated in this world.

But the psychics who cannot grasp the Spirit of God must (according to the Valentinians) in this world be purified by obeying the commandments and by simple faith, not by knowledge or gnosis. Since they do not have God's spirit, they cannot enter the spiritual world after death either. They stay in a kind of intermediate realm in which they can be content and happy in their own way. always provided that they have lived righteously. If they do not, they will perish with death.

This sad fate, namely that everything is actually over with the death of man, is also granted to the Hylics or Sarkikers, i.e. the utterly earthly minded people: they perish with death as if they had never existed ...

In this three-way division of the human being among the Valentinians, one can still clearly see the older scheme of the Simonians, who knew only two types of human beings: the Gnostics, who recognize their divine destiny and are deified, and the non-Gnostics, who do not recognize their destiny and therefore perish unenlightened. In contrast, the three-dimensional division of Valentine is more accurate, in that it also better reflects the gradual ascent of the soul, which is important for every progress in a person's spiritual life. For man is called to change from an initially fleshly living being, which he is at his birth, to a spiritual being, i.e. a being gifted with reason; a process that, according to the ancients, should begin around the age of seven, in which, in addition to physical growth, intellectual formation should begin. And he should then continue to develop from a rational (or mental) person to a “spiritual” person in which the “true” person only comes to maturity.

This educational ideal is therefore an ideal of humanity and it must be noted that the religious formation is an absolute part of it. Because the human being is a "transcendent" being, who, based on his reason, can and should recognize his dependency beyond himself. Correspondingly, Christian mysticism also teaches a threefold path for the soul to ascend to the divine. First the path of purification, trying to avoid conscious wrongdoing (i.e. sin). Then the path of enlightenment, on which one learns to entrust oneself to God's inner guidance; and thirdly, the way of unification, whereby the inner presence of the divine becomes more and more conscious to the human being (despite some darkness) so that he lives his life in an ever-increasing spiritual unity with the divine. In this phase, the divine actually lives in a person through his spirit, who is therefore also a “spirit-filled” person, a “pneumatics”. The tripartite division of people from Paul therefore remains timelessly topical.

For the Valentinians, marriage between man and woman plays a major role in this upbringing or maturation of the “pneumatics”, insofar as they are supposed to help each other on their way to perfection. In this form of philosophical gnosis, which originated in Egypt, the ancient Egyptian high esteem for marriage and family is still clearly tangible. According to them, marriage is the earthly image of the heavenly pair connections (syzygies), in which the “pneumatics” will participate after his death together with the angels in the heavenly “pleroma”.

In contrast to the Valentinians, other Gnostic currents do not emphasize marriage, but sexual asceticism. Such is the already mentioned “Naassenerschrift”, which of course also took up Valentine's ideas. As already mentioned, this writing is a Gnostic commentary on a syncretistic (pagan) song in honor of the Phrygian god Attis. The Phrygian cult also came to Rome in pre-Christian times. Its central myth tells how the mother of the gods Cybele (worshiped in Rome as "Magna Mater") mutilates her lover Attis. For the Gnostic this is a symbol that a woman's intercourse with a man is “something very bad and forbidden”. The Gnostic has to abstain from this intercourse and attain a higher being, "where there is neither woman nor man, but a new creation, a new man who is male-female" (El 5,7,13ff.). And the words of Jesus from the Gospel “Do not throw sacred things before dogs and pearls not before pigs” (Mt. 7,6), which means, they say, that a woman's company with a man is worthy of pigs and dogs (El 5 , 8.33).

All moral varieties are therefore possible in the Christianized Gnosis, both affirmation of marriage and sexual asceticism, as well as in not a few cases sexual libertinism. Of the latter, Irenaeus of Lyons and especially Epiphanius of Salamis at the end of the 4th century draws particular attention. a dramatic picture.

8) On Gnostic Cosmology

After the anthropology now a few words about the cosmology of the late antique Gnostic systems. As the opposite of the divine, the cosmos is necessarily the object of gnosis. Here, too, we find different views. In any case, there is a dualism between God and the world, which in some systems, e.g. the Setians, about whom Hippolytus reports, seems to be an absolute one, i.e. the world or the world.Matter appears as an equally eternal principle alongside God: as darkness compared to light, as chaos compared to order.
Already in ancient Persian Zoroastrianism or in Orphicism, later in Manichaeism.

In the Christian Gnosis of the second century. However, if the dualism is not an absolute or eternal, but a relative one, i.e. the second principle, both matter and the demiurge, arises after the first and is derived somewhere, albeit very indirectly, from the divine original principle. Here, too, the teaching of the Simanians offers a relatively simple scheme, which is briefly described by the Christian apologist Justin, who comes from Samaria. Then Simon, who also came from Samaria and was a contemporary of the apostles, later came to Rome, where he also found followers who worshiped him as a god because of his miracles there too. He is said to have had a woman named Helena, who used to work in a brothel, as his partner, whom he described as his “first thought”.

Justin's work “Against Heresies” has been lost. His short remark in his “Apology” (chap. 26), which he wrote a little later, that Simon was considered the embodiment of “divine power” and his companion as his “first thought” (próte énnoia), shows that after Simon the world is one "Thought act" owes its origin to the deity.

According to the report by the church father Irenaeus, which was written a little later, Simon's myth or notion of the origin of the world becomes more tangible. Said Helena thus embodied the first conception of the divine spirit (prima mentis eius conceptio), and the original thought of God contained (as complete self-knowledge of God) all future things, indeed all things conceivable at all, which is why this thought “mother of all things “(Mater omnium). Now: through his (all-embracing) thought, the Godhead thought of creating angels and archangels in the beginning, i.e. the heavenly world. Since this thought (énnoia) proceeded from God and recognized what the Father wanted, she descended into the “lower regions” and there gave birth to the angels and powers by which this world was then made.

But then Ennoia was “held back below” by her own children out of envy, since they did not want to be held for the children by anyone. Because the highest God and Father of Ennoia remained completely unknown to the angelic powers. The Ennoia now suffered every possible disgrace and was even, as a soul, enclosed in a human body, from where (as a result of the transmigration of souls) it passed into other female bodies as if from one vessel to the other. During this transmigration of souls, she suffered new shame in each new body and finally came to a prostitute's house, from which she released Simon.

This mixture of myth and popular philosophical speculation has, as the comparison with related but later cosmological systems shows, based on the biblical account of creation in the first chapters of the book “Genesis” and tries to explain how “heaven and earth” were created at the beginning became (Gen 1,1 ff.). The creation of the first humans or the emergence of the woman from the man (Gen 2: 21-22) was projected into a pre-worldly area, namely into the deity itself, so that God originally only exists there and only then does his first thought (Ennoia ) emerges from him and recognizes the deity in its infinite fullness. Therefore, this thought of God is “mother of all things” (mater omnium), similar to her earthly image Eve in paradise, the “mother of all living” (mater cunctorum viventium: Gen. 3, 20).

At the same time, in this myth, Ennoia is understood not only as the all-encompassing thought of God, but also as the sum of the divine sparks of life which the angelic powers later hold captive as souls in the creation of the first human being. To liberate them, the deity himself came down to bring them salvation through the knowledge (gnosis) of their heavenly origin.

In this brief sketch of the Simonian myth, the gnostic is enlightened about the three essential areas that are the subject of gnosis: about the deity, about the world and its origin, and about the human being who carries the divine spark of life within himself, who carries through Self-knowledge to return to his heavenly home.

9) On the Gnostic concept of God 

About Simon's dynamic concept of God behind everything, who defined the deity as immeasurable, unlimited power, we learn more from the "Great Revelation" (Apophasis Megale) attributed to Simon himself, from which Hippolytus of Rome (+ 235) has handed down several fragments . According to this, the divine power is “fire”; of course not earthly fire, but in a spiritual sense, as it is said in the Bible that God is a "consuming fire" (Dt. 4,24). But fire has a double nature, a "hidden" and a "revealed" one. The hidden is hidden in that which appears from the fire, and that which appears from the fire comes from the hidden. Thereby God is hidden as “unlimited power” in all appearing things, so that in truth he is “the root of the universe” (El 6,9,5-6). According to this pantheistic theology, God is like a giant tree that grew out of a tiny seed.

So God was, as it were, the smallest thing that can be imagined; but in this tiniest seed all the infinite or infinite power lies hidden.
This cosmology shows a certain kinship with the modern theory of evolution. One difference lies in the fact that with Simon the becoming of the world does not begin with a big bang, but proceeds silently or "in silence", in that his own thought emerges "wordlessly" from the original principle, in which God confronts himself as it were and in this way recognizes the unlimited being of the father, first of all his will: namely the development and realization of himself in the universe.

The peculiarity of this theology and cosmology lies in two points. On the one hand it is a question of cosmogony (world generation), because the first thought of the deity presented as male-female is female, and the unlimited abundance of the original principle contained in it is therefore the result of a spiritual fertilization. Logically, in the myth, the Ennoia then descended into the lower regions and gave birth to the angels and powers by which the world was then made. Just as man and all life in general arise from the connection of male and female poles through procreation, the world also arises from the connection of the (male) elemental force presented “above” and its female thoughts presented “below”. These two poles, which are initially “one”, separate as a male and female pole, and then unite to form a pair (syzygy). The fruit of this union is the spiritual cosmos, in which the unlimited fullness of the Godhead unfolds. As its image (through the Ennoia) the angels are first produced, who then create their own planetary spheres; this "heavenly" world is - without this being said - an image of the "super-heavenly" world of the actual deity. Only then is the earthly world created by the angels and in this man.

The fact that “matter” had to be produced to create the heavenly and earthly worlds as well as mankind is not mentioned in Irenaeus' myth, which is only rudimentarily handed down by Irenaeus. However, according to the ancient worldview, it is self-evident and therefore necessarily presupposed. It is. However, it is significant that matter is not an equally eternal principle with the Simonians alongside God, as is the case in older Greek philosophy and here especially with Plato. This is clearly shown by the above-mentioned fragments from Simon's “Great Revelation”, which we owe to Hippolytus. There, as already said, God is defined as “unlimited power” of a double nature, the hidden and the revealed or visible. The invisible divine power, however, is hidden in that which appears from the divine fire, which is why God is “the root of all” in the absolute sense.

This definition of God is explained even more clearly in a fragment from the same writing by Simons, which Hippolytus quotes verbatim in his detailed report on the “Naassener”. The deity reveals himself here as “the great power” (cf. Acts 8:10), which is “father”, ie the origin of all things in general: “of aeons, forces and thoughts, of gods, angels and spirits, of Being and non-being, what has become and what is generated ... ”(El 5,9,5). In short: the deity is the “father” (origin) of all things, of the spiritual as well as of the material, yes of everything that can only be thought (El 6:11). All this, therefore and especially matter, was “potentially” present in the divine original principle from the beginning. Consequently, matter must also be included and recognized in the father's first thought (Ennoia), in which God thinks himself.

However, it remains unclear how matter has become “reality” from its “possibility”, which is present in the original principle, through the mediation of Ennoia. However, since it is a "cosmogony" in which the Ennoia "born" the angelic powers, who then become world creators, the assumption is that during or after this "birth" the Ennoia somehow also produced matter Has. Very similar ideas among the Setians, who are related to the Simonians, and among the Valentinians, can only confirm this assumption.

In any case, it is certain that matter is not an eternal principle for the Simonians, but is traced back, albeit indirectly, to God himself. And this is the second peculiarity of Simonian theology and cosmogony: there is no original or absolute dualism of God and matter, but matter emerged, albeit indirectly, from the divine itself.

The central and characteristic peculiarities of the Simonian gnosis, that the deity is defined as male-female and as absolutely monotheistic, so that even matter is somehow derived from God and brought into existence, are essential for understanding the gnosis of the second century AD. of highest importance. A comparison with the gnostic currents known to us of this time shows that all of these two central points, which deviate radically from current Greek philosophy, agree with the Simonian gnosis, even if these different currents try in different ways to match the basic scheme to compensate for given difficulties in different ways. The by the Christian heretic fighters of the 2nd to 4th century. The assertion made that the most diverse Gnostic currents can be traced back directly or indirectly to the Simonian Gnosis becomes relevant again and will have to be re-examined in the light of the new Gnostic writings of Nag Hammadi.

10) Speculation about the inner workings of the deity

Now a few brief words about the secret knowledge of the Gnostics about the inner nature of the deity, presented according to the Simonian gnosis. God first appears there as an absolute principle, as one and only. But since he always carries his own thoughts within himself, the duality and with it the coming unfolding into multiplicity, yes into infinity, is already preprogrammed, from which the influence of the New Pythagorean philosophy can already be clearly recognized.

According to Simon (or his early successors) the primal force or primal root of being is divided into six offspring or roots from which all becoming arises. In addition, there is a seventh force, the “infinite”, which is contained in the six roots that first emerged and which is the actual embodiment of the original principle, “the root of the universe”.

This inner-divine unfolding of the original principle in six or seven forces is relatively simple compared to later Gnostic speculations and could represent a projection of the seven planetary spheres of the ancient worldview into the actual deity, i.e. a projection of the “heavenly” world into the “supernovae”. But the Gnostic paraphrase of Simon's “Great Revelation”, which Hippolytus (El 6,9-18) passed on, is in many points unclear and perhaps also incompletely reproduced. In any case, this much is clear:

The original principle itself manifests itself first in two and then in four further roots, i.e. a total of six roots, which appear as three pairs of roots (syzygies); they have Greek names which translate as: understanding and imagination, voice and name, judgment and consideration (El 6:13). These names indicate abilities and activities of the human mind and speech. Accordingly, Simon or his early students understood the spiritual functions of humans as "images" of the divine being and therefore projected similar abilities and activities into God.

These divine functions have six correspondences in the created cosmos: The concept of the mind manifest as the mythical basic elements of heaven and earth, which are related to one another as male and female, in that heaven fertilizes the earth and the earth the fruits (the angelic powers and matter) gives birth.

The voice-name pair manifests as the sun and moon, and the judgment-recital pair manifests as air and water. In these six manifestations of the original principle, the “great power”, which is infinite, itself contained, is consequently mixed and mingled with it. And one recognizes in these six manifestations the classic four basic elements (fire, earth, air, water), from which the world arises, as well as the two formative forces sun and moon (the warm and the cold), which shape the four basic elements.

As Hippolytus correctly recognized, the Simonians here adopted the teachings of the New Pythagoreans, who defined the sun as a great geometer and calculator, as the demiurge of all things created (El 6,28,1-2) and at the same time the Platonic doctrine of the heavenly Adapted ideas as models for earthly things.

We learn more about these speculations inside the deity from the Valentinians, whose doctrines of aeons follow the neo-Pythagorean lines of thought of the Simonians, but expand them in many ways, above all adding or replacing the names of the divine emanations (eons) with biblical terms and ideas (Hippolytus, El 6,29,16,36,4; older teachings of the Valentinians as early as Irenaeus).

With them the inner unfolding of the deity takes place in several steps (whereby with younger Valentinians the primordial principle is lifted as absolutely transcendent from the aeons). Here, too, the emanation of the first two eons takes place, which multiply as a pair to form the Pythagorean tetrad, which now doubles as an eighth. From two further procreations ten or twelve new aeons emerge, so that the unfolded supra-heavenly world includes a total of thirty divine powers or aeons, for which Valentine has adopted the biblical name “Pleroma” (fullness) (cf. Col. 2.9 ).

These thirty eons are all male-female, fifteen male and fifteen female, each forming a community of couples. From this pleroma, the creation of the world begins roughly like this (with strong deviations in the various Valentinians). The last of the thirty aeons, who is female and is called Sophie (= wisdom), wants to produce a conception without her male couple out of ignorance, which of course cannot succeed. She is expelled from the pleroma and, after her conversion, brings forth a son, Christ (the anointed), who enters the pleroma. Sophia, emptied of her spiritual being, then produces another son, the demiurge or all-ruler of the world; this then brings forth the heavenly world of the spheres with the associated angels from the matter which has also arisen. Ultimately he creates the earthly or visible world and in it ultimately man, in whom the divine spark of life is mysteriously captured. This must be freed from the body and redeemed from the material world.

These speculations of Valentine's, indicated here in very abbreviated form, about the inner secrets of the deity, the emergence of the demiurge and the material world, have been modified in many ways by Valentine's students. Irenaeus of Lyon was the first to deal with her theological and cosmological considerations in detail in his great work “Against the Heresies” and tried to refute them successfully.Among many other things, he has clearly recognized that the divine distinctions of the Valentinians between God as intellect (Nus) and his own thought (Ennoia), between the word (Logos) and life (Zoe), are basically nothing other than projections of mental processes that we observe in our own thinking, which are transferred to God, insofar as man is understood above all spiritually as the “image of God”. All these mental distinctions projected into God are only the affects or impulses that we can perceive in ourselves.

In man who is a composite being (so argues Irenaeus) one can speak of his mind and his consciousness as different functions; also that consciousness emerges from understanding, reflection from consciousness, and then from reflection the Wart (logos). Not so with God, who transcends our thinking. For God is undivided one: he is all understanding and all word; he thinks what he says and he speaks what he thinks. For his thinking is the word and the word is his understanding, and the all-embracing understanding is the Father himself. Consequently, the human mental functions must not be projected into God, whose essence is unfathomable (Adv. Haer. II 28,5) .

The Gnostics saw things differently. Their speculations, which Valentin and his students saw as "divine revelations", were for them "secret", i.e. "revealed knowledge" about the deity itself, about the cosmos, about man as a spiritual being and his salvation or redemption or this world. The Gnostic, like all human beings, leaves his earthly body down here in death, where it falls apart. The soul freed from the body, however, rises into the air region surrounding the earth in order to begin its journey upwards through the spheres of the planets and their princes (archents). It can only do this if it knows the key word for each sphere and its archons, which opens the access and passage of these spheres for it (Irenaeus has passed on some of these "slogans" known to him: Adv. Haer. I 21,5). The "souls" of the pneumatics in each planetary sphere leave behind the various passions and affects that they once received from the planetary spirits when they descended through these spheres to be born on earth.

Then the pneumatics must climb through the sphere of the demiurge lying above the planetary regions, whereby the pneumatics, who carries the divine pneuma within himself, leaves his "soul", which is "natural" and not pneumatic, there, ie in the one above the planetary spheres "Paradise". The pneumatic “man”, however, goes beyond paradise into the heavenly realm of pure light and life in order to be eternally happy with the Son of the good God and the perfect and infinite Father even in the “pleroma”.

11) Final remark

Not many people today will share the speculations and ideas of the Gnostics. Many live in ignorance, indifference, skepticism. But: those who believe in the divine life and the divine spirit in themselves and trust in God's providence and guidance in their life, also know today that they will not "seep away like a brook into the desert", but that after death they will " a new shore ”will reach.

The poet's word applies to him:
“I won't want anything, I'll just be.
I will, I will be close to you like never before.
I will connect to the sea like a drop of water ”(Martin Gutl).