Gnostic Doctrine

Sunday, 14 June 2020

Sethian Gnosticism

CLOSELY connected with the Gnostics above described are the Sethians, to whom Hippolytus next devotes Seth. his attention. He speaks of their "innumerable commentaries," and refers his readers especially to a certain treatise, called The Paraphrase of Seth, for a digest of their doctrines. But whether or not Hippolytus quotes from this document himself, or from some other treatise or treatises, is not apparent. The title, Paraphrase of Seth, is exceedingly puzzling; it is difficult to say what is the exact meaning of the term "paraphrasis," and the doctrines set forth by Hippolytus have no connection with the Seth-legend.

The term Sethians, as used by Hippolytus, is not only puzzling on this account, but also because his summary differs entirely from the scraps of information on the system of the Sethites supposed to have been mentioned in his lost Syntagma, and allied to the doctrine of the Nicolaïtans by the epitomizers. In the latter fragments the hero Seth was chosen as the type of the good man, the perfect, the prototype of Christ.

The Sethian cosmogony as most famously contained in the Apocryphon ("Secret book") of John describes an unknown God, very similar to the orthodox apophatic theology, although very different from the orthodox credal teachings that there is one such god who is identified also as creator of heaven and earth. In describing the nature of a creator god associated with Biblical texts, orthodox theologians often attempt to define God through a series of explicit positive statements, themselves universal but in the divine taken to their superlative degrees: he is omniscient, omnipotent and truly benevolent. The Sethian conception of the most hidden transcendent God is, by contrast, defined through negative theology: he is immovable, invisible, intangible, ineffable; commonly, "he" is seen as being hermaphroditic, a potent symbol for being, as it were, "all-containing". In the Apocryphon of John, this god is good in that it bestows goodness. After the apophatic statements, the process of the Divine in action are used to describe the effect of such a god.

Sethian works typically include:

• The Apocryphon of John
• The Apocalypse of Adam
• The Reality of the Rulers, Also known as The Hypostasis of the Archons
• The Thunder, Perfect Mind
• The Three-fold First Thought (Trimorphic Protennoia)
• The Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit (also known as the (Coptic) Gospel of the Egyptians)
• Zostrianos
• Allogenes
• The Three Steles of Seth
• The Gospel of Judas
• Marsanes
• The Coptic Apocalypse of Paul
• The Thought of Norea
• The Second Treatise of the Great Seth

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