According to Irenaeus, who were the Gnostics?

Covering all topics of history and the interpretation of texts, posts here should conform to the norms of academic discussion: respectful and with a tight focus on the subject matter.

Moderator: andrewcriddle

User avatar
Peter Kirby
Site Admin
Posts: 8483
Joined: Fri Oct 04, 2013 2:13 pm
Location: Santa Clara
Contact:

According to Irenaeus, who were the Gnostics?

Post by Peter Kirby »

It seems like a simple question, but Irenaeus provides vague remarks on the subject. I've written about how, in the account of Irenaeus, Simon (whose immediate successor is Menander) is considered to be the first heretic, and several different heresies sprang from there. I outlined this as follows:
Peter Kirby wrote: Mon Feb 19, 2024 5:37 pm Simon Magus, succeeded by Menander
  • Saturninus
  • Basilides
  • Carpocrates --> Marcellina
  • Cerinthus
  • Nicolas
  • Cerdo, succeeded by Marcion
  • Valentinus --> Secundus, Ptolemy, Colorbasus(?), Marcus
  • Tatian (influenced by Valentinus and Marcion/Saturninus)
Then if we look at the references to the term "Gnostic" in the first book of Against Heresies by Irenaeus:

Valentinus, who adapted the principles of the heresy called "Gnostic" to the peculiar character of his own school, taught as follows ...

He also asserts that, along with the Demiurge, there was produced a left-hand power, in which particular he agrees with those falsely called Gnostics, of whom to we have yet to speak. ...

that they may appear more perfect than the perfect, and more knowing than the very Gnostics ...

Carpocrates, again, and his followers maintain that the world and the things which are therein were created by angels greatly inferior to the unbegotten Father. They also hold that Jesus was the son of Joseph, and was just like other men, with the exception that he differed from them in this respect, that inasmuch as his soul was stedfast and pure ...

Others of them employ outward marks, branding their disciples inside the lobe of the right ear. From among these also arose Marcellina, who came to Rome under [the episcopate of] Anicetus, and, holding these doctrines, she led multitudes astray. They style themselves Gnostics. They also possess images, some of them painted, and others formed from different kinds of material; while they maintain that a likeness of Christ was made by Pilate at that time when Jesus lived among them. They crown these images, and set them up along with the images of the philosophers of the world that is to say, with the images of Pythagoras, and Plato, and Aristotle, and the rest. They have also other modes of honouring these images, after the same manner of the Gentiles.

Besides those, however, among these heretics who are Simonians, and of whom we have already spoken, a multitude of Gnostics have sprung up, and have been manifested like mushrooms growing out of the ground. I now proceed to describe the principal opinions held by them.

Irenaeus also comments on doctrines regarding so-called knowledge:

They tell us, however, that this knowledge has not been openly divulged, because all are not capable of receiving it, but has been mystically revealed by the Saviour through means of parables to those qualified for understanding it. ...

They further hold that the consummation of all things will take place when all that is spiritual has been formed and perfected by Gnosis (knowledge); and by this they mean spiritual men who have attained to the perfect knowledge of God ...

... while from Anthropos and Gnosis that Tree was produced which they also style Gnosis itself. ...

Such, then, is their [Valentinian] system, which neither the prophets announced, nor the Lord taught, nor the apostles delivered, but of which they boast that beyond all others they have a perfect knowledge. ...

[Marcus...] For the Father of all had resolved to put an end to ignorance, and to destroy death. But this abolishing of ignorance was just the knowledge of Him. ...

And thus, by a special dispensation, there was generated by Him, through Mary, that man, whom, as He passed through the womb, the Father of all chose to [obtain] the knowledge of Himself by means of the Word. ...

It happens that their [Marcosian] tradition respecting redemption is invisible and incomprehensible ... this class of men have been instigated by Satan to a denial of that baptism which is regeneration to God ... They maintain that those who have attained to perfect knowledge must of necessity be regenerated into that power which is above all. ...

These [Marcosians] hold that the knowledge of the unspeakable Greatness is itself perfect redemption. For since both defect and passion flowed from ignorance, the whole substance of what was thus formed is destroyed by knowledge; and therefore knowledge is the redemption of the inner man. This, however, is not of a corporeal nature, for the body is corruptible; nor is it animal, since the animal soul is the fruit of a defect, and is, as it were, the abode of the spirit. The redemption must therefore be of a spiritual nature; for they affirm that the inner and spiritual man is redeemed by means of knowledge, and that they, having acquired the knowledge of all things, stand thenceforth in need of nothing else. This, then, is the true redemption. ...

In fine, they have a name derived from Simon, the author of these most impious doctrines, being called Simonians; and from them "knowledge, falsely so called," received its beginning, as one may learn even from their own assertions.

There's an interesting cluster of statements about the Simonians:

It seems to me that "there was produced a left-hand power, in which particular he agrees with those falsely called Gnostics, of whom to we have yet to speak" refers forward to the Simonians because the section on Simon has a reference to "knowledge, falsely so called" and to their supposed saying "This is the power of God, which is called great."

Irenaeus says on the subject of Simon that "he [Simon] conferred salvation upon men, by making himself known to them ... he pledged himself that the world should be dissolved, and that those who are his should be freed from the rule of them who made the world." In this way, Irenaeus describes a gnostic soteriology where Simon is parallel in several ways to the figure of the gnostic redeemer (Jesus) in the heresies that Irenaeus refutes.

This is some of the most hoary legendary material in all of Against Heresies, and it's difficult to take it at face value. Irenaeus goes on to say of his successor Mendander: "He gives, too, as he affirms, by means of that magic which he teaches, knowledge to this effect, that one may overcome those very angels that made the world; for his disciples obtain the resurrection by being baptized into him, and can die no more, but remain in the possession of immortal youth."

In book 2, Irenaeus has a reference re: "these same arguments will apply against the followers of Saturninus, Basilides, Carpocrates, and the rest of the Gnostics." This might seem to imply that Saturninus, Basilides, and Carpocrates were gnostics.

In book 3, there's this reference:

For, prior to Valentinus, those who follow Valentinus had no existence; nor did those from Marcion exist before Marcion; nor, in short, had any of those malignant-minded people, whom I have above enumerated, any being previous to the initiators and inventors of their perversity. For Valentinus came to Rome in the time of Hyginus, flourished under Pius, and remained until Anicetus. Cerdon, too, Marcion's predecessor, himself arrived in the time of Hyginus, who was the ninth bishop. Coming frequently into the Church, and making public confession, he thus remained, one time teaching in secret, and then again making public confession; but at last, having been denounced for corrupt teaching, he was excommunicated from the assembly of the brethren. Marcion, then, succeeding him, flourished under Anicetus, who held the tenth place of the episcopate. But the rest, who are called Gnostics, take rise from Menander, Simon's disciple, as I have shown; and each one of them appeared to be both the father and the high priest of that doctrine into which he has been initiated. But all these (the Marcosians) broke out into their apostasy much later, even during the intermediate period of the Church.

This is ambiguous. The clearest implication here is that there are several others besides Valentinus, Marcion, and Cerdo who were called Gnostics and who take rise from Menander, Simon's disciples. These were already mentioned previously in book 1 when describing Saturninus, Basilides, and Carpocrates, who may be the three that Irenaeus has in mind chiefly here.

There's another ambiguous reference in book 4: "But this [Father] is the Maker of heaven and earth, as is shown from His words; and not he, the false father, who has been invented by Marcion, or by Valentinus, or by Basilides, or by Carpocrates, or by Simon, or by the rest of the 'Gnostics,' falsely so called." Valentinus, Basilides, Carpocrates, and Simon all qualify already as referents for "... the rest of the 'Gnostics,' falsely so called."

In book 5, Marcion is contrasted with Valentinus, and it is Valentinus who is grouped with gnostics: "Let those persons, therefore, who blaspheme the Creator, either by openly expressed words, such as the disciples of Marcion, or by a perversion of the sense [of Scripture], as those of Valentinus and all the Gnostics falsely so called, be recognised as agents of Satan by all those who worship God;..."

So far, I think we can identify relatively clear claims that these people according to Irenaeus were so-called "Gnostics":
Peter Kirby wrote: Mon Feb 19, 2024 5:37 pm Simon Magus, succeeded by Menander
  • Saturninus
  • Basilides
  • Carpocrates --> Marcellina
  • Cerinthus
  • Nicolas
  • Cerdo, succeeded by Marcion
  • Valentinus --> Secundus, Ptolemy, Colorbasus(?), Marcus
  • Tatian (influenced by Valentinus and Marcion/Saturninus)
It's currently less clear to me that Cerinthus, Nicolas, Cerdo, Marcion, or Tatian are numbered among the gnostics by Irenaeus.

The clearest statements on Marcion (which still seem vague) are those times when he is listed alongside other heretics.
User avatar
Peter Kirby
Site Admin
Posts: 8483
Joined: Fri Oct 04, 2013 2:13 pm
Location: Santa Clara
Contact:

Re: According to Irenaeus, who were the Gnostics?

Post by Peter Kirby »

Apart from Tatian, all of these possible non-gnostic heretics appear in this section of Against Heresies, book 1.

CHAP. XXVI.--DOCTRINES OF CERINTHUS, THE EBIONITES, AND NICOLAITANES.

1. Cerinthus, again, a man who was educated(8) in the wisdom of the Egyptians, taught that the world was not made by the primary God, but by a certain Power far separated from him, and at a distance from that Principality who is supreme over the universe, and ignorant of him who is above all. He represented Jesus as having not been born of a virgin, but as being the son of Joseph and Mary according to the ordinary course of human generation, while he nevertheless was more righteous, prudent, and wise than other men. Moreover, after his baptism, Christ descended upon him in the form of a dove from the Supreme Ruler, and that then he proclaimed the unknown Father, and performed miracles. But at last Christ departed from Jesus, and that then Jesus suffered and rose again, while Christ remained impassible, inasmuch as he was a spiritual being.

2. Those who are called Ebionites agree that the world was made by God; but their opinions with respect to the Lord are similar to those of Cerinthus and Carpocrates. They use the Gospel according to Matthew only, and repudiate the Apostle Paul, maintaining that he was an apostate from the law. As to the prophetical writings, they endeavour to expound them in a somewhat singular manner: they practise circumcision, persevere in the observance of those customs which are enjoined by the law, and are so Judaic in their style of life, that they even adore Jerusalem as if it were the house of God.

3. The Nicolaitanes are the followers of that Nicolas who was one of the seven first ordained to the diaconate by the apostles.(1) They lead lives of unrestrained indulgence. The character of these men is very plainly pointed out in the Apocalypse of John, [when they are represented] as teaching that it is a matter of indifference to practise adultery, and to eat things sacrificed to idols. Wherefore the Word has also spoken of them thus: "But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate."(2)

CHAP. XXVII.--DOCTRINES OF CERDO AND MARCION.

1. Cerdo was one who took his system from the followers of Simon, and came to live at Rome in the time of Hyginus, who held the ninth place in the episcopal succession from the apostles downwards. He taught that the God proclaimed by the law and the prophets was not the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the former was known, but the latter unknown; while the one also was righteous, but the other benevolent.

2. Marcion of Pontus succeeded him, and developed his doctrine. In so doing, he advanced the most daring blasphemy against Him who is proclaimed as God by the law and the prophets, declaring Him to be the author of evils, to take delight in war, to be infirm of purpose, and even to be contrary to Himself. But Jesus being derived from that father who is above the God that made the world, and coming into Judaea in the times of Pontius Pilate the governor, who was the procurator of Tiberius Caesar, was manifested in the form of a man to those who were in Judaea, abolishing the prophets and the law, and all the works of that God who made the world, whom also he calls Cosmocrator. Besides this, he mutilates the Gospel which is according to Luke, removing all that is written respecting the generation of the Lord, and setting aside a great deal of the teaching of the Lord, in which the Lord is recorded as most dearly confessing that the Maker of this universe is His Father. He likewise persuaded his disciples that he himself was more worthy of credit than are those apostles who have handed down the Gospel to us, furnishing them not with the Gospel, but merely a fragment of it. In like manner, too, he dismembered the Epistles of Paul, removing all that is said by the apostle respecting that God who made the world, to the effect that He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and also those passages from the prophetical writings which the apostle quotes, in order to teach us that they announced beforehand the coming of the Lord.

3. Salvation will be the attainment only of those souls which had learned his doctrine; while the body, as having been taken from the earth, is incapable of sharing in salvation. In addition to his blasphemy against God Himself, he advanced this also, truly speaking as with the mouth of the devil, and saying all things in direct opposition to the truth,--that Cain, and those like him, and the Sodomites, and the Egyptians, and others like them, and, in fine, all the nations who walked in all sorts of abomination, were saved by the Lord, on His descending into Hades, and on their running unto Him, and that they welcomed Him into their kingdom. But the serpent(3) which was in Marcion declared that Abel, and Enoch, and Noah, and those other righteous men who sprang(4) from the patriarch Abraham, with all the prophets, and those who were pleasing to God, did not partake in salvation. For since these men, he says, knew that their God was constantly tempting them, so now they suspected that He was tempting them, and did not run to Jesus, or believe His announcement: and for this reason he declared that their souls remained in Hades.

4. But since this man is the only one who has dared openly to mutilate the Scriptures, and unblushingly above all others to inveigh against God, I purpose specially to refute him, convicting him out of his own writings; and, with the help of God, I shall overthrow him out of those(1) discourses of the Lord and the apostles, which are of authority with him, and of which he makes use. At present, however, I have simply been led to mention him, that thou mightest know that all those who in any way corrupt the truth, and injuriously affect the preaching of the Church, are the disciples and successors of Simon Magus of Samaria. Although they do not confess the name of their master, in order all the more to seduce others, yet they do teach his doctrines. They set forth, indeed, the name of Christ Jesus as a sort of lure, but in various ways they introduce the impieties of Simon; and thus they destroy multitudes, wickedly disseminating their own doctrines by the use of a good name, and, through means of its sweetness and beauty, extending to their hearers the bitter and malignant poison of the serpent, the great author of apostasy?

Unlike other heretics mentioned earlier, Cerinthus is not directly said to be from the Simonians (the alleged father of gnosis falsely so-called) at the moment when he is introduced, instead being introduced with reference to an education in the wisdom of the Egyptians. One of the few remarks here on the Marcionites is that they would deny the imputation made regarding their origin.

Irenaeus is writing a five-book work to overthrow gnosis, falsely so-called, whose origin he traces to Simon. His chief and favorite target in Against Heresies are the students of Valentinus, and from the parallelism of some passages, as well as the intention of creating another work on Marcion, the two biggest problems that Irenaeus had were Valentinians and Marcionites.

Marcion is contrasted with Valentinus in that Valentinus relies on particular interepretations of scripture, while Marcion has things in plainly expressed words. Irenaeus allows that Marcion is connected to his work to overthrow gnosis, falsely so-called, somewhat tangentially, insofar as Irenaeus has attempted to draw him into the same scheme as all heretics by descending from Simon:

At present, however, I have simply been led to mention him, that thou mightest know that all those who in any way corrupt the truth, and injuriously affect the preaching of the Church, are the disciples and successors of Simon Magus of Samaria.

Marcion's importance allows him to be referenced by name throughout the five books, at least when enumerating heretics. Notice however how the rest of these exceptions (possible non-gnostic heretics) seem to mostly fall out after the first book (am I missing an example? maybe, I'd have to check), tracing all heresy to Simon. I think there's one more reference to Cerinthus being opposed by John at a bath house. Cerdo's mentioned alongside Marcion at one point. The doctrine introduced by them doesn't seem to come up much later, especially not anything unique to them.

This pattern seems to support the idea that they are mentioned here in a text refuting gnostics, and there is an attempt to draw them into the genealogy of error along with all other heretics, but they are not necessarily understood as being "gnostics" themselves (though they have some shared ideas).

It's possible that they are mentioned together here by Irenaeus as a way of including more of the heretics, even those not considered to be styled gnostics by Irenaeus (or by others). This could have also provided the reason for the order of their appearance; the early 'gnostics' get mentioned earlier because the work as a whole is about 'gnostics.' Certainly this could be true about Cerinthus, who is often accorded a relatively early chronological status, yet whose order of appearance in Irenaeus is relatively late.

References to Ebionites and Nicolaitanes also seems to support the idea that this is a kind of "non-gnostic" section of Against Heresies.
User avatar
Peter Kirby
Site Admin
Posts: 8483
Joined: Fri Oct 04, 2013 2:13 pm
Location: Santa Clara
Contact:

Re: According to Irenaeus, who were the Gnostics?

Post by Peter Kirby »

And what's in a name?

Well, for one thing, considering whether Against Heresies considered the Marcionites to be 'gnostics' could shed light on both.

We already see in the first post some clues from what Irenaeus writes about why some were styled 'gnostics'. Their claim to 'perfect knowledge' (gnosis) was not just bragging, as Irenaeus sometimes suggests, but had an important function in their overall theology. Their idea of redemption was bound up with the idea of receiving knowledge through the revealer of the heavenly Father above all. This soteriology really has nothing to do with the cross. If this is the unifying concept of those called 'gnostics', their belief in the redemptive function of knowledge, that could shed light on how Irenaeus is describing those groups that he calls 'gnostic'.

If some heretics here were not strictly 'gnostic', this would help support such a reading of the term 'gnostic' in Irenaeus. At some level, we need to decide whether 'gnostic' was just an abusive catch-all term with no meaning or if Irenaeus was capable of distinguishing between 'gnostic' heretics and those that aren't styled 'gnostic.' Some details do suggest that Irenaeus was aware of what he was doing when calling some 'gnostic'. For example, when Irenaeus tells the story of how 'gnosis falsely so-called' goes back to Simon, he tells a story about Simon that we have not yet heard before in Acts or in Justin's first Apology. In this story, Simon makes himself out to be a gnostic redeemer, in a way parallel to the gnostic version of Jesus. In telling this story, Irenaeus is undermining 'gnostic' systems generally by showing how they derive from the false claims of a charlatan, Simon.

And if 'gnostic' is a term that has some meaning, beyond just being associated with heretics, then those that are not clearly 'gnostic' in Irenaeus may not fall into the same doctrine for Irenaeus as those that are called 'gnostic.' This then could open the way to allowing us to consider non-'gnostic' doctrine for those heretics not in the 'gnostic' category. For instance, we can take seriously the idea that the Marcionites had a different soteriology, which didn't line up with the 'perfect knowledge' from the gnostic revealer Jesus story of redemption that is find among the 'gnostics.' We can pay special attention to those indications that the Marcionites had a 'ransom theory' of atonement, as an idea that could have been significant in their system. Unlike the 'gnostic' idea of redemption, as outlined by Irenaeus, it is possible to consider that the Marcionites had a special place in their theology for the cross.
User avatar
GakuseiDon
Posts: 2333
Joined: Sat Oct 12, 2013 5:10 pm

Re: According to Irenaeus, who were the Gnostics?

Post by GakuseiDon »

Peter Kirby wrote: Thu Mar 28, 2024 12:13 amAnd if 'gnostic' is a term that has some meaning, beyond just being associated with heretics, then those that are not clearly 'gnostic' in Irenaeus may not fall into the same doctrine for Irenaeus as those that are called 'gnostic.' This then could open the way to allowing us to consider non-'gnostic' doctrine for those heretics not in the 'gnostic' category.
My own speculative origin of Christianity was that it was based around the use of magic. I believe that there was a cottage industry of "freelance religion entrepreneurs' starting from Paul. That idea was inspired by my reading Heidi Wendt's doctoral thesis (Brown University, 2004), called "At the Temple Gates: the religion of freelance experts in early imperial Rome". (She's published a book on the subject which I plan to read one day).

My speculation is that the 'wisdom' of the Gnostics related to the use of magic, which they taught to help adherents navigate a corrupted world and to achieve a place in the heavens. The dividing line between Gnostic Christians and non-Gnostic (like proto-orthodox, Ebionites) was that the Gnostics believed that the Creator god was not the true God, and so they needed to invoke the Higher God in order to do good magic; whereas for the non-Gnostics, God was the Creator, so good magic came from that source. Good magic was considered purely spiritual, whereas bad magic came from demons.

Irenaeus notes that the earliest Gnostics were associated with sorcery. The latter Gnostics were generally students of those earlier ones.
http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/t ... book1.html

Simon the Samaritan was that magician...

Thus, then, the mystic priests belonging to this sect both lead profligate lives and practise magical arts, each one to the extent of his ability. They use exorcisms and incantations. Love-potions, too, and charms, as well as those beings who are called "Paredri" (familiars) and "Oniropompi" (dream-senders), and whatever other curious arts can be had recourse to, are eagerly pressed into their service. They also have an image of Simon fashioned after the likeness of Jupiter, and another of Helena in the shape of Minerva; and these they worship. In fine, they have a name derived from Simon, the author of these most impious doctrines, being called Simonians; and from them "knowledge, falsely so called," received its beginning, as one may learn even from their own assertions.

5. The successor of this man was Menander, also a Samaritan by birth, and he, too, was a perfect adept in the practice of magic...

Arising among these men, Saturninus (who was of that Antioch which is near Daphne) and Basilides laid hold of some favourable opportunities...

Salvation belongs to the soul alone, for the body is by nature subject to corruption. He declares, too, that the prophecies were derived from those powers who were the makers of the world, but the law was specially given by their chief, who led the people out of the land of Egypt... These men, moreover, practise magic; and use images, incantations, invocations, and every other kind of curious art.

Carpocrates, again, and his followers maintain that the world and the things which are therein were created by angels greatly inferior to the unbegotten Father... They practise also magical arts and incantations; philters, also, and love-potions; and have recourse to familiar spirits, dream-sending demons, and other abominations, declaring that they possess power to rule over, even now, the princes and formers of this world; and not only them, but also all things that are in it...

Cerinthus, again, a man who was educated in the wisdom of the Egyptians...

Nearly all early Christian groups were accused of practicing sorcery and worshiping demons, so it's no surprise that they accused each other of the same. Proto-orthodox groups worshiped the God of the OT, and you can imagine what groups with beliefs like Marcion made of that. But when it comes to groups claiming secret wisdom, I can imagine that it must have included secret rites and magical invocations. So I speculate that "Gnostic" was code-word for "sorceror".
davidmartin
Posts: 1610
Joined: Fri Jul 12, 2019 2:51 pm

Re: According to Irenaeus, who were the Gnostics?

Post by davidmartin »

one problem is the gnostic texts in the NHL library fail to hat-tip Simon at all as their founder, and on the contrary some are seen to oppose him outright

so far i've not seen anything that supports interpreting Simon as the founder of Gnosticism and that is not necessarily contra Irenaeus or the other fathers since they are vague and sometimes say others founded Gnosticism (like Basilides) and 'greatly developed' (ie invented) it.

I think the NHL supports this other suggestion of some of the other figures named invented Gnosticism proper leaving Simon as an unknown quantity apparently opposed by the orthodox and gnostics alike. the earlier 'Simonians' could have been a normal part of the movement at one time prior to later developments like the Gnostics, the Marcionites and the proto-orthodox themselves. I certainly don't believe the caricature of Simon or the Simonians it all looks totally garbled
rgprice
Posts: 2101
Joined: Sun Sep 16, 2018 11:57 pm

Re: According to Irenaeus, who were the Gnostics?

Post by rgprice »

the two biggest problems that Irenaeus had were Valentinians and Marcionites.
Perhaps, but I always considered the Marcosians to be one of Irenaeus' biggest targets.

As for "gnosticism", I do think that this whole thing can be traced back to some sort of Hellenistic or Roman mystery religion. I mean really all of the evidence points to this. When the Pauline letters say that Paul was zealous for the ways of his ancestors, and that as a result, he "opposed the assembly of God and tried to destroy it", this seems to me to indicate that Paul was originally a "zealot" nationalist who was opposed to some "foreign" religious movement. It would seem likely that this was some sort of religious cult that was incorporating Hellenistic or Roman ideas with Judaism. Paul, and other such zealous Jews, would have seen this as something like if there was a Chinese Christian denomination that was becoming popular in America, where the preachers were preaching loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party, or something like that. And so, as a "zealous Jew" Paul opposed this movement, just as "American Patriots" would be opposed to some sort of Chinese led church movement.

It seems to me that some of the split could have happened even at this early stage. The "target audience" here would have been Jews, and Jews were being inducted into this cult that worshiped a "God" and his "Son". Perhaps it was intentionally vague what was going on. Was the God being worshiped the "God of Moses" or a God sent to overthrow the "God of Moses"? There was an enemy of God. Who was it? Was it the "God of Moses vs Satan" or was the God of Moses the bad guy who was being opposed by a god superior to him? Again, it all comes down to who was seen as the "Lord of this world". What's clear is that God the Father had sent his Son to was overthrow the "Lord of this world". And this may have been the clearest teaching of the cult. But who the "Lord of this world" was, was likely a mystery, interpreted differently by different participants.

So anyway, Paul eventually comes around and "sees the light". Paul too joins the cult. Now I think that the Pauline writings are intentionally vague because Paul is writing under the precepts of the mystery cult, in which who exactly these figures were was intentionally held as a mystery. And perhaps this was purposeful in order to appeal to the broadest possible audience. The cult was essentially promoting a Hellenistic version of Judaism. In order to appeal to Jews it may have been kept vague in order to allow Jews to participate in a way that suited their sensibilities, while also attempting to appeal to non-Jews in a way that suited their sensibilities.

And it was all shrouded in mysteries, rituals, and nebulous incantations that were never intended to really clarify anything to begin with.

Into this fog of mysteries, a Gospel story was introduced after the First Jewish-Roman War that then took a bunch of these vague concepts and produced something relatively concrete. But this first Gospel was itself filled with allegory, symbolism, and hidden codes. The first Gospel is itself open to multiple interpretations, and those who don't understand all of the hidden symbolism are likely to develop very different interpretations from those who do, and some will understand some of the hidden codes but not others, etc. And those who resolved some of its puzzles believed that they had some sort of inside knowledge and secret understanding and thus "knew the real truth", leading them to produce new versions that offered interpretations of the original Gospel.

So what we had prior to the writing of the first Gospel was a very small and nebulous mystery cult that offered some sort of Romanized interpretation of Judaism. This cult was small and relatively inconsequential. But the introduction of the first Gospel caused a sensation and this first Gospel story at first spread within the cult, but then got published outside the cult and was interpreted by people who had never been a part of the cult to begin with. And then the story took on a life of its own.

Anyway, that's my take on how this got started and how this wide range of different interpretations came to be. I think that the mystery cult was intentionally vague and open to multiple interpretations to begin with. The Pauline letters were originally written in a way that was intended to be vague and open to multiple interpretations. The first Gospel offered one interpretation of Pauline writings and theology of the cult, but it was really just one of multiple possible interpretations held by cultists. This story then became popularized outside the cult, where interpretations of it became even more diverse.

Little is known about the origins of this material because it all developed within a secretive mystery religion to begin with and the original cultists did not engage with the communities that adopted the materials once they became known outside the cult, leaving non-initiates to develop their own interpretations at will.
User avatar
Peter Kirby
Site Admin
Posts: 8483
Joined: Fri Oct 04, 2013 2:13 pm
Location: Santa Clara
Contact:

Re: According to Irenaeus, who were the Gnostics?

Post by Peter Kirby »

GakuseiDon wrote: Thu Mar 28, 2024 1:52 am The dividing line between Gnostic Christians and non-Gnostic (like proto-orthodox, Ebionites) was that the Gnostics believed that the Creator god was not the true God
I don't think there's just one "The dividing line" between Gnostic Christians and non-Gnostic. For example, I think Clement of Alexandria uses the term differently from Irenaeus. So it would not be appropriate to approach every text with the same definition.

The matter-of-fact way you offer this definition is a feels-bad because it would contradict the OP without discussing the OP.

Your post seems to read like its own OP, which would explain that, but I would like to find some kind of discussion of the ideas I presented in the thread that I started.
User avatar
Peter Kirby
Site Admin
Posts: 8483
Joined: Fri Oct 04, 2013 2:13 pm
Location: Santa Clara
Contact:

Re: According to Irenaeus, who were the Gnostics?

Post by Peter Kirby »

rgprice wrote: Thu Mar 28, 2024 3:58 am
the two biggest problems that Irenaeus had were Valentinians and Marcionites.
Perhaps, but I always considered the Marcosians to be one of Irenaeus' biggest targets.
I read Irenaeus as saying that Marcus sprang from Valentinus, and to the extent that Marcus was an opponent, it enhances the profile of Valentinians as a target, since Marcus was one.

Marcus was closer in time and space to Irenaeus, making him something like the local Valentinian teacher.
User avatar
Peter Kirby
Site Admin
Posts: 8483
Joined: Fri Oct 04, 2013 2:13 pm
Location: Santa Clara
Contact:

Re: According to Irenaeus, who were the Gnostics?

Post by Peter Kirby »

davidmartin wrote: Thu Mar 28, 2024 2:07 am one problem is the gnostic texts in the NHL library fail to hat-tip Simon at all as their founder, and on the contrary some are seen to oppose him outright

so far i've not seen anything that supports interpreting Simon as the founder of Gnosticism and that is not necessarily contra Irenaeus or the other fathers since they are vague and sometimes say others founded Gnosticism (like Basilides) and 'greatly developed' (ie invented) it.

I think the NHL supports this other suggestion of some of the other figures named invented Gnosticism proper leaving Simon as an unknown quantity apparently opposed by the orthodox and gnostics alike. the earlier 'Simonians' could have been a normal part of the movement at one time prior to later developments like the Gnostics, the Marcionites and the proto-orthodox themselves. I certainly don't believe the caricature of Simon or the Simonians it all looks totally garbled
Yeah, don't worry, I also am not impressed with the legend regarding Simon. It's not the point of the OP.
User avatar
Peter Kirby
Site Admin
Posts: 8483
Joined: Fri Oct 04, 2013 2:13 pm
Location: Santa Clara
Contact:

Re: According to Irenaeus, who were the Gnostics?

Post by Peter Kirby »

rgprice wrote: Thu Mar 28, 2024 3:58 am As for "gnosticism", I do think that this whole thing can be traced back to some sort of Hellenistic or Roman mystery religion.
The OP isn't about Christian origins, and it isn't even about "Gnosticism" as an analytic category that we might use to define some aspect of ancient religion. The OP for example is compatible even with ideas of discarding the use of the category.

That's because the OP is about how Irenaeus is using the term. He doesn't define it directly. At first blush it might even seem possible that Irenaeus uses it as a broad term of abuse, but in the OP, I try to go beyond that for clues about what was meant by the word in Irenaeus.

What I would like to hear was that I made some good observations on how Irenaeus was using the term (like anyone), but short of that I also wouldn't mind if someone read the OP and at least argued that I'm horribly wrong and off track instead.

IMO, so far I got two 'new OPs' in response and another post that would seem to assume the OP was about Simon, which it wasn't.
Post Reply