Gnosticism is a philosophical and religious movement which started in pre-Christian times. The term is derived from the Greek word gnosis which means "knowledge". It is pronounced with a silent "G" (NO-sis). Gnostics claimed to have secret knowledge about God, humanity and the rest of the universe of which the general population was unaware. It became one of the three main belief systems within 1st century Christianity, and was noted for three factors which differed from the two other branches of Christianity:
- Novel beliefs about Gods, the Bible and the world which differed from those of other Christian groups.
- Tolerance of different religious beliefs within and outside of Gnosticism.
- Lack of discrimination against women.
- A belief that salvation is achieved through knowledge.
In the words of The Gnostic Apostolic Church humanity needs to be awakened and brought "to a realisation of his true nature. Mankind is moving towards the Omega Point, the Great day when all must graduate or fall. This day is also the Day of Judgement in that only those who have entered the Path of Transfiguration and are being reborn can return to the Treasury of Light." 1
The movement and its literature were essentially wiped out by the end of the 5th century CE by heresy hunters from mainline Christianity. Its beliefs are currently experiencing a rebirth throughout the world.
One "uncomplete" and historical definition of Gnosticism would be:
A collective name for a large number of greatly-varying and pantheistic-idealistic sects, which flourished from some time before the Christian Era down to the fifth century, and which, while borrowing the phraseology and some of the tenets of the chief religions of the day, and especially of Christianity, held matter to be a deterioration of spirit, and the whole universe a depravation of the Deity, and taught the ultimate end of all being to be the overcoming of the grossness of matter and the return to the Parent-Spirit, which return they held to be inaugurated and facilitated by the appearance of some God-sent Saviour.
Many scholars would hold that every attempt to give a generic description of Gnostic sects is labour lost.
Gnosticism possessed no central authority for either doctrine or discipline; considered as a whole it had no organization similar to the vast organization of the Catholic Church. It was but a large conglomeration of sects, of which Marcionism alone attempted in some way to rival the constitution of the Church, and even Marcionism had no unity. No other classification of these sects is possible than that according to their main trend of thought. We can therefore distinguish: (a) Syrian or Semitic; (b) Hellenistic or Alexandrian; (c) dualistic; (d) antinomian Gnostics.
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