Gnostic Doctrine

Thursday, 16 July 2020

Liberating Gnosis

Liberating Gnosis 
or
Liberating Knowledge










In this study we will look at Liberating Gnosis, as we have already noted (in other posts), that gnosis refers to a knowledge which transcending intellectual knowledge. It is experiential knowing a knowledge gleaned from first-hand (personal) experience. This gnosis consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. Gnosis has the effect of liberating the mind 

The Gospel of Truth puts it: 

He who is to have knowledge in this manner knows where he comes from and where he is going. He knows as one who, having become drunk, has turned away from his drunkenness, (and) having returned to himself, has set right what are his own. (Gospel of Truth)

Whence did he come? Whither does he go? The answer to both is God. Here again, genuine self-knowledge is actually knowledge of God, and vice versa. 
Hippolytus in his "Elucidations" went so far as to proclaim that the maxim "Know thyself" means to "discover God *within* thyself, for he has formed thee after his own image." (ANF., vol. 5, p. 153).

Another Valentinian text the Extracts from the Works of Theodotus states:

78 Until baptism, they say, Fate is real, but after it the astrologists are no longer right. But it is not only the washing that is liberating, but the knowledge of who we were, and what we have become, where we were or where we were placed, whither we hasten, from what we are redeemed, what birth is and what rebirth.
  (the Extracts from the Works of Theodotus 78)

From this saying we can conclude that liberating knowledge involves insight of our original nature at creation next our sinful condition after Adam’s fall. What happens after death, how we will be restored what it means to be born again and the resurrection.

A similar saying to the one above from Theodotus is found in the text called the Teachings of Silvanus from the Nag Hammadi Library:

But before everything (else), know your birth. Know yourself, that is, from what substance you are, or from what race, or from what species. Understand that you have come into being from three races: from the earth, from the formed, and from the created. The body has come into being from the earth with an earthly substance, but the formed, for the sake of the soul, has come into being from the thought of the Divine. The created, however, is the mind, which has come into being in conformity with the image of God. The divine mind has substance from the Divine, but the soul is that which he (God) formed for their own hearts. For I think that it (the soul) exists as wife of that which has come into being in conformity with the image, but matter is the substance of the body, which has come into being from the earth. (The Teachings of Silvanus)

"Know yourself, that is, from what substance you are, or from what race, or from what species. Understand that you have come into being from three races: from the earth, from the formed, and from the created."

This part of the saying from Silvanus seems similar to a few says from Philo of Alexandria:

Come, and at once abandoning all other things, learn to know yourselves, and tell us plainly what ye yourselves are in respect of your bodies, in respect of your souls, in respect of your external senses, and in respect of your reason. (Philo: On the Migration of Abraham)

The body, the soul, reason and external senses in Philo could be connected or related in some respect to the earth, the formed, and the created in The Teachings of Silvanus which stand for the body, the soul, and the mind.

bodies, souls, external senses, and reason is synonymous with the whole person

bodies, souls, external senses, and reason are synonymous with the whole person since the preceding words, learn to know yourselves, and tell us plainly what ye yourselves imply a parallelism between the two expressions.

Philo invites people to explore the realm of sense perception, the reader is invited to know himself and every part of himself and how everything is governed by the invisible mind within the person or by the mind of God within the universe:

"Dwell, therefore," says she, "O my child, with him," not all thy life, but "certain days;" that is to say, learn to be acquainted with the country of the external senses; know thyself and thy own parts, and what each is, and for what end it was made, and how it is by nature calculated to energise, and who it is who moves those marvellous things, and pulls the strings, being himself invisible, in an invisible manner, whether it is the mind that is in thee, or the mind of the universe.(Philo: On Flight and Finding)

from these quotations we can see that to "know thyself" is not just a conscious awareness of one's thoughts and emotions but also a insight of our makeup

Know thyself
"Know thyself" was the wisest maxim of the wisest philosophers of the wisest pagan nation of antiquity. "Know thyself" is inculcated by all the prophets and Apostles of all the ages of Revelation. And while the wisest man of the wisest nation in theology taught as his first maxim that "the fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom"and while the Saviour of the world taught that "it is eternal life to know the only true God and his son Jesus Christ whom he commissioned" both concur in inculcating the excellence and in teaching the utility and importance of self-knowledge (The Christian Baptist, Volumes 5-6 1827-1828 Edited by Alexander Campbell)

but the knowledge of who we were, and what we have become, where we were or where we were placed, whither we hasten, from what we are redeemed, what birth is and what rebirth.  (the Extracts from the Works of Theodotus 78)

According to John Calvin "Knowledge of ourselves lies, first, in considering what we were given at creation," and, second, in calling to mind "our miserable condition after Adam’s fall." Both of these are undiscoverable outside God’s written Word. (Institutes I.1.1)

Such lack of self-examination leads to a lack of self-knowledge, and therefore people drift along through life, making their decisions according to the dictates of their own natural desires. There is a refusal - albeit heavily masked - to take on board the fact that life is so short that all too soon the finality of death will be upon us. “For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appears for a little time, and then vanishes away”. “We will surely die and become like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again”. “Like grass which grows up; in the morning it flourishes and grows up; in the evening it is cut down and withers” (James 4:14; 2 Sam. 14:14; Ps. 90:5,6). Moses, a truly thoughtful man, recognised this, and pleaded to God: “So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Ps. 90:12) Therefore, in view of life’s brevity, we should make our acquisition of true wisdom a number one priority. (Duncan Heaster)

Knowing God

After all these came also the little children, those who possess the knowledge of the father. When they became strong they were taught the aspects of the father’s face. They came to know and they were known. They were glorified and they gave glory. (Gospel of truth)

Now, it is not difficult to know the Creator of all creatures, but it is impossible to comprehend the likeness of this One. For it is difficult not only for men to comprehend God, but it is (also) difficult for every divine being, (both) the angels and the archangels. It is necessary to know God as he is. You cannot know God through anyone except Christ, who has the image of the Father, for this image reveals the true likeness in correspondence to that which is revealed. A king is not usually known apart from an image. (The Teachings of Silvanus)

It is impossible to know God according to his divine nature but we can know God according to his personality and character.

The knowledge of ourselves is impossible apart from the knowledge of God.  

self knowledge can only be understood with the knowledge of God and our sinful nature which comes from the scriptures 



But there we learn self-knowledge in a wholly practical way: from our original state we gratefully learn that “we are ever dependent” on God our Maker for everything; while reflection on our present sinful and wretched state “should truly humble us and overwhelm us with shame.” (Institutes II.1.1)


Liberating Gnosis 

That is the gospel of him whom they seek, which he has revealed to the perfect through the mercies of the father as the hidden mystery, Jesus the anointed.  Through him he enlightened those who were in darkness because of forgetfulness. He enlightened them and gave them a path. And that path is the truth that he taught them.  For this reason error was angry with him, so she persecuted him. She was distressed by him, and she was made powerless. He was nailed to a tree.  He became a fruit of the knowledge of the father. He did not, however, destroy them because they ate of it. He rather caused those who ate of it to be joyful because of this discovery. (Gospel of Truth)

Here Jesus and the gospel are one: it is nailed to the tree in his person. Thought only nailed to a tree, the gospel became a fruit of knowledge, thereby making its tree into a tree of knowledge — but not knowledge of good and evil ( Gen. 2:9) — knowledge of the Father


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