Christian Anti-Gnosticism

Christian Anti-Gnosticism May 2, 2018

What opposing Gnosticism means is the cultivation of humility. As we become closer to God, as we better “understand” His mysteries, indeed, we recognize our smallness, our created-ness, instead of indulging any sense of pride or self-satisfaction. The truth of Christ is that God in His mercy and justice became man, and that in becoming man He redeemed a world fallen into sin—broken and lacking. This knowledge cannot mean pride, because God became a poor human being, subject to the violence of existence. Further, the very example of the life of Christ pushes back against any idea that our task is to achieve secret knowledge. The only knowledge we gain is that we are lacking and that God wills our redemption—this is an understanding available to all, learned and unlearned. In fact, implicit in it that the learned, the pedants and academics like myself—not unlike the rich and materially-possessed—may have a longer road to travel than the simple folk and the poor.

We may pursue all manner of learning about the world, but the core of what it means to be Christian is not, in any sense, about some privileged, even scholarly, knowledge.

Christian mysticism can, at times (and likely due to Neo-Platonic influences) sound somewhat Gnostic, but it is not, and turning to some mystical texts can help us see just how the humility described above might be enacted:

What we know is as nothing, if we do not love God properly in all things. (Mechthild of Magdeburg)

Though Christ a thousand times
in Bethlehem be born
And not within thyself,
Thy soul will be forlorn.
(Angelus Silesius)

The Cross on Golgotha
Thou lookest to in vain,
Unless within thine heart
It be set up again.
(Angelus Silesius)

Christ was born a man for me,
for me he died –
Unless I become God
through Him,
His birth is mocked
His death denied.
(Angelus Silesius)

Note that the knowledge presented here is necessarily one that reduces us, that teaches us to love others and humble ourselves before them. One might even call it a knowledge that is a non-knowledge, a negation of the ways of the world not rooted in secret knowing, but in an outpouring of love. The “mystery” of Christian life is here recognizing the obedience of Christ to the Father and living it out ourselves; it is to accept, in a manner of speaking, crucifying ourselves in the name of the living God and to the benefit of our brothers and sisters and of the world in general. Mechthild makes this, perhaps, clearest: any knowledge, secret or otherwise, means very little if we do not learn to love in humility, if we do not see our lives as opportunities to reduce ourselves and our desires, to do the will of God (which is justice, mercy, etc.).

Love (and thus humility) is the core of Christian living. It is not some secret, nor is it unavailable to some as a result of a lack of teaching or intelligence. It is offered to us by a good god, the Lord, the God of Hosts. We would do well to remember this, to keep in mind that what it means to be anti-Gnostic is not simply to identify other movements as such (though this can be helpful), but to cling fast to love and repentance.

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