Gnostic Doctrine

Wednesday, 4 November 2020

The Hierarchy of the Pleroma

The Hierarchy of the Pleroma







There are many parallels between Gnosticism and Christianity, including a belief in angels. One key difference between these two religious belief systems is that Gnostics recognize a divine hierarchy above the angels. This hierarchy, known as the Pleroma, is populated by beings called aions. Angels are messengers between humankind and the aions of the Pleroma, and ultimately between humankind and the true God. As messengers, angels are not directly worshipped, but they are called upon to take prayers to the true God on behalf of humankind -- a practice similar to Catholics praying for the intercession of saints.

While the transcendent god or invisible spirit is inconceivable and ineffable, the pleroma (Greek: “full perfection”) of the divine is a hierarchical family of personified aeons, who emerge as the fruit of the spirit’s self-contemplation or self-expression. 

In Sethian Gnosticism, there is a hierarchy of feminine principles most likely rooted in Jewish Wisdom Literature: the ultimate saviour and exalted divine mother Barbelo and a lower figure, Sophia, who gave rise to Yaldabaoth, the creator of the material world. The creator wanted to confine Adam, so he created a physical body to contain him and placed parts of his mother’s essence in humanity. Finally, Epinoia, spiritual Eve, appears to enlighten Adam (mankind) with the knowledge of his association with Barbelo, the divine Protennoia (first thought).

Some Gnostics taught of the Beyond the Deep, a hierarchy of Deeps; and curiously enough in The Untitled Text from the Bruce Codex we meet with such hierarchies, and also find them assumed in the Pistis Sophia treatise. What absurdity, then, to seek a "beginning" in infinitude! Such a conception as a beginning was low down in the scale of being; we can speak of the "beginning" of some special phenomenal universe, but there is an infinitude of such universes, and infinitude has no beginning. 

This is he who is sought in every place. And this is the Father from whom, like a light-spark, the monad came forth, beside which all the worlds are as nothing. . . . It is this which moved all things with its shining. And they received gnosis and life and hope and rest and love and resurrection and faith and rebirth and the seal. This is the ennead which came from the Father of those without beginning,  who alone is Father and Mother unto himself, whose pleroma surrounds the twelve deeps -

1. The first deep is the all-wise from which all sources have come.

2. The second deep is the all-wise from which all the wise have come.

3. The third deep is the all-mystery from which, or out of which, all mysteries have come.

4. The fourth deep moreover is the all-gnosis out of which all gnoses have come.

5. The fifth deep is the all-chaste from which everything chaste has come.

6. The sixth deep is silence. In this is every silence.

7. The seventh deep is the insubstantial door from which all substances has come forth.

8. The eight deep is the forefather from whom, or out of whom, have come into existence all forefathers.

9. The ninth deep moreover is an all-father and a self-farther, that is, every fatherhood is in him and he alone is father to them.

10. The tenth deep is the all-powerful from which has come every power.

11. The eleventh deep moreover is that in which is the first invisible one, from which all invisible ones have come.

12. The Twelfth deep moreover is the truth from which has come all truth. (The Untitled Text from the Bruce Codex)


The Pleroma is a hierarchy where each aeon occupies a station according to a certain level of gnosis

The primal Tetrad is both an individual entity and a quartet of unities—a complex unity. The unities relate to each other in a hierarchy and sequence modeled upon their character. 

Names are important in this Ogdoad, just as they are in Epiphanes’ Tetrad. They are patterned to reinforce the numerical structure of the aeonic realm. They indicate hierarchy and function.

So the hierarchy proceeds from the Pleroma downward, to the spiritual realm of Wisdom’s Resolution, to the Demiurge, and finally to the material world. 

Because the Demiurge creates the seven heavens, he is called the Hebdomad; and Akhamoth (i.e. Wisdom) is called the Ogdoad, thus “preserving the number of the original, first Ogdoad of the Pleroma” (Against Heresies 1.5.2–4)


Sophia (Wisdom) or simply the Logos. This being is described as the final emanation of a divine hierarchy, called the Plêrôma or "Fullness," at the head of which resides the supreme God, the One beyond Being.

Basilides does not call upon his hearers to abandon the material realm only to dissolve into negativity; instead, he offers them a new life, by appealing to the grand hierarchy of rulers persisting above the material realm (cf. Fragment D). When one turns to the greater hierarchy of Being, there results a "creation of good things" (Fragment C, translation modified). Love and personal creation—the begetting of the Good—are the final result of Basilides' vaguely dialectical system, and for this reason it is one of the most important early expressions of a truly Christian, if not "orthodox," philosophy.


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