Post by Admin on Feb 1, 2019 16:10:47 GMT
The Angelus - February 1980
Heresy! Part 1: Gnosticism
The article on the history of Americanism in our November 1979 issue evoked considerable interest—particularly in the extent to which errors which are destroying the American Church today are simply a repetition of the errors of that particular heresy. We have asked Pastor Historicus to provide us with a series of articles on the major heresies which have plagued the Church since Her foundation to enable our readers to appreciate the extent to which the so-called "brilliant new insights" of contemporary Modernist theologians are no more than a re-hash of very stale and long discredited old heresies! This promises to be one of the most interesting series which we have yet run!
WHEN OUR LORD prayed "that they all may be one," He must have foreseen that in the years to come there would be many "break-away" movements from the Church He founded. Human nature is not perfect; it is weak, subject to the temptations of the Devil, the World, and the Flesh. Members of Christ's Church are not exempt from these temptations. Sometimes they fall. Often they recover with the help of God's grace, but sometimes the fall has terrible effects.
A heretic in Canon Law is a baptized person who doubts or denies a doctrine of the Catholic Church as handed on to us by the teaching authority of the Church. Divine revelation of the truths of our faith ended with the death of the last Apostle. Since then, the development of doctrine has consisted in the drawing out of the fullness of this revelation and giving it a precise formulation (often in response to the attacks of heretics).
Often heresies are introduced by only one person who is almost individually responsible for all that happens afterwards. These men are often rightly called "Arch-heretics" and have much in common although the heresies they spread may vary widely. They all start by turning against the Church's teaching authority (the Magisterium) in favor of their own man-made views. They start with man as base instead of God. Very often they attempt to reinterpret some element of revelation in terms of the current philosophy of their time. Then there is the question of the great sin of Pride. All the Arch-heretics from Gnostics, such as Marcion, down through Arius, Nestorius, Luther, Calvin; Modernists like Loisy, and neo-Modemists like Hans Küng, all display intellectual pride. They always know better than the institutional Church. The Magisterium is out of step with them, not they with the Church. Where there is some element of mystery about our Faith—the great mysteries of the Trinity, the Real Presence, the Sacrifice of the Mass, the working of Grace—they must find an easy, "more rational" explanation to suit "modern man."
Although most readers will probably think of the major heresies as something new in each generation, recent evidence goes to confirm the theory already widely held, that the elements of every known heresy had already appeared by the middle of the 2nd century AD.
Even during the lives of the Apostles, there were disputes, arguments, and break-away movements. Two main features stand out in the Apostolic age: first, the Jewish convert who envisaged Christianity only in terms of Judaism and tried to insist that all pagan converts should become Jews first and obey Jewish Law. In the Acts of the Apostles this matter was settled by the Council of Jerusalem, but there is evidence that the troubles continued for quite a time afterwards. After the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, the Judaic heretics were unable to accept that Rome, the abomination of desolation, could ever be the center of true religion. Gradually they drifted back to ordinary Judaism.
A more serious threat to the new Church was posed by contact with the pagan world. There were not lacking those converts who wanted to incorporate elements of paganism directly into Christianity. The early Gentile heretics were probably those who had favored mystery cults of Egyptian or Persian origin. These cults offered something deeper than the official state religion. They promised deliverance from sin and death through a revelation of their own. The most important mystery cult was Mithraism. It is impossible to understand Gnosticism properly without first considering this cult. Mithraism originated in Persia many centuries before Christ and spread to Rome in the course of time through trade. In this system there is a principle of good—god of light, and a principle of evil—Ahriman. To combat the evil principle, intermediate beings are created. Mithra is one such being who becomes the greatest of heroes, protector of mankind and equal to the God of light himself. Mithra has a conflict with a creature of the evil principle, the Bull. He ascends to heaven but will come again, slay the bull, and destroy the principle of evil and all other devils. After this the faithful will have immortality. The followers of Mithra had a strict moral code and their own peculiar rites—usually performed in a cave. Mithra's birthday was kept at the Winter Solstice—December 25th!
The word is derived from the Greek word "Gnosis" meaning knowledge. As a heresy, it took many forms but they all have certain points in common. They all put their particular brand of "knowledge" above the revealed religion. Recent evidence which I shall consider later in more detail confirms the view that between them the Gnostics introduced the main elements of every known heresy. The new evidence is contained in recently discovered manuscripts from Nag Hammada in Egypt. The documents include false Gospels like the "Gospel of Saint Thomas" and "the Secret Book of James." These books enlarge our knowledge of the Gnostics and in particular the way they lived. We can see just how great a threat they posed to the newly emerging Church.
There are several strands to Gnosticism but I will take the main three, the Valentians, the Marcionites, and the Montanists. Some authors separate them but they all arose at the same time, the middle of the 2nd century.
Valentinus lived in Rome and hoped to succeed Pope St. Hyginus after the latter's death in AD 140. When he failed to win election he broke with the Church. His followers were very numerous. In his system there is a dual principle at the origin of all things and matter is to be hated as a necessary evil. Between the unique "God" the Father and the world is a whole universe of "demi-gods." Quite low down in the order is the Creator, known as "demi-urge." He believes incorrectly that he is the superior being; he is the creator of material men—and a bad god—to be resisted. He is, in fact, the god of the Old Testament and the Jews. (A common feature of Gnosticism is the supposed opposition between the Old and New Testaments.) In the Valentinian system there are three types of men, material men who cannot be saved, the spiritual men (Gnostics) who do not need salvation, and "animate" men who may be saved. A more refined version of this view of men may be found in Calvin later on. The redeemer is Christ Who is spiritual, with only the appearance of the material. The Passion is only an act and "redemption" is due to the knowledge of secret traditions and mysteries which will then lead to an understanding of the Gospel. (Justification by faith alone and private interpretation of the Scriptures—later to emerge in Protestantism.)
Marcion came to Rome in the year AD 135 as a Catholic and taught there for twenty years, developing his own heresy. He was excommunicated in AD 144. His starting point is the radical opposition between the Old and New Testaments. The New Testament was to reverse the Old—but the Apostles, through prejudice or lack of courage, failed in their task of purging revealed religion from Old Testament blemishes. (Compare the so-called Scripture scholars of today who allege that we must return to primitive Christianity unfettered by the Judaising tendencies that come to the fore after Apostolic times.) St. Paul was an exception to all this but his works contained "interpolations" by his opponents. Marcion edited a "revised" edition of the Pauline epistles and introduced a new morality based on rigorous asceticism including perpetual celibacy. He set up a complete rival church with its own hierarchy and sacramental ritual. Marcionism continued to flourish in certain parts right up until the fifth century.
This movement was based in Asia Minor and is the originator of all those movements which attempted to foretell the second coming of Christ, like the Jehovah's Witnesses of today. Montanus was a convert to Christianity but had formerly been a priest of the goddess Cybele. He stressed the importance of private revelation over the official teaching hierarchy. He claimed that the Holy Ghost was speaking through him. (Compare, say, the modern charismatic movement whose members claim exactly the same thing, the proponents of innumerable private revelations, and those also who claim that the Holy Ghost is now leading the Church along completely new paths.)
Montanus claimed the end of the world was at hand and that Christ would come down at Pepusa (near modern Ankara). A complete city grew up there awaiting the Messiah. Even though the end did not come as expected, the sect grew and Montanism lasted into the fourth century. Tertullian, a great Catholic theologian of the time, unfortunately became a Montanist at the end of his life. They followed a strict moral code. Bishop after bishop spoke out against them precisely because they claimed the authority of the Holy Ghost to supplement the Deposit of Faith.
It is interesting to note that most of these sects who really believed in some form or other of predestination adopted a strict moral code. If you are absolutely predestined, then presumably it does not matter how you behave. There were indeed a few minor Gnostic sects who did take this more logical approach. Later on we find the Calvinists insisting on a strict moral code while the Molinists in Spain lived extremely immoral lives. The neo-Modernists of today have of course opted for the latter line. They have opted to explain sin away altogether, particularly mortal sin—saying that serious sin is impossible unless you have a total aversion from God.
The Nag Hammada Discoveries
Certain interesting points have come to light in the Nag Hammada documents. First, there is a hint of femininity about the ultimate God. One prayer speaks of "Thee Father and Thee Mother, the two immortal names." The idea of a feminine God is quite popular with the women's libbers of today and can be found also in the American Protestant theologian, Paul Tillich, who pointed out that the Divine Attribute "Wisdom" was a feminine pronoun!
From the Gnostic view that Christ was only "spiritual," it follows that there is no Blessed Trinity, and there is a complete denial of the Virgin birth and, as far as that goes, any real "birth" of Christ at all. The "Gospel of Philip" (which accepts that the ultimate God is female) says of the traditional view, "they do not know what they are saying—when did a woman ever conceive by a woman." We can compare this with the modern theologians who deny any historical value to the childhood narratives in the Gospels.
The physical resurrection of Christ was denied by all Gnostics. They considered that the Risen Christ was an experience in his followers' minds. In the "Gospel of Mary," Mary Magdalene sees Jesus after His resurrection and asks Him how exactly she is seeing Him. Jesus replies, "through the mind." We can compare this with today's liberal thinkers who also deny the reality of the Resurrection and say it is only the "faith of the Apostles projected as teaching."
The Gnostics as we have seen accepted many tenets from pagan beliefs and incorporated them into their own faith. Today we find even Catholics saying that the Christian vision of Truth will actually profit by being "corrected" by elements drawn from Hinduism and Buddhism. Dialogue with these faiths is to be encouraged! I have already shown that the Gnostics claim that their own inner light of experience is of greater value than the authority of the Church. Today many Catholics freely say that they "cannot in conscience" accept certain doctrines of the Church.
Together with a cavalier attitude to the organized Church and Holy Scripture came a nonchalant attitude to the Priesthood. If anyone at all could attain "gnosis" then anyone could be a priest. Many Gnostic sects had women priestesses. Mary Magdalene was given a special place in the Gnostic writings. She ranked higher than the Apostles. Christ was said to be physically in love with her. Compare this blasphemy with a notorious song from the show "Jesus Christ Superstar." Note also that the neo-Modemists like the arch-heretic Küng especially attack the sacred Priesthood.
Many modern scholars are now using the Nag Hammada documents to try and prove their view that the Catholic Church "got it all wrong" after Apostolic times. They ask us to accept this "new" material as "closer to primitive truth." But in reality it proves just the opposite. Just when these horrible heresies were at their height, a great Catholic theologian, St. Irenaeus, arose to confound and confront these sick minds and to put forth clearly and succinctly the truths of the Catholic Faith. The Church was being torn apart at the seams but it survived as it will always survive the onslaughts of heretics. But in each succeeding generation there will be more trials to bear as the history of subsequent heresies will show. In our time the Church is once again being torn by neo-Modemists dragging up hoary heresies, and claiming they are new and in tune with the needs of modern man. But they are not new—in fact, they are merely a rehash of the Gnosticism of the 2nd century, given a fresh coat of paint ready to deceive, if possible, even the elect.
[Emphasis - The Catacombs]