Faith and Gnosis

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Giandomenico Mucci, SJ

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When I discussed gnosis many years ago,[1] I expressed my doubts about the value of two prevailing opinions on this topic. Catholics who lament the imperfect reception of Vatican II or its rejection in some areas of the Church interpret current anti-gnostic positions as the screen behind which fundamentalist critics of the Council hide their resistance. Meanwhile, agnostics believe that those positions express awareness of the failure of those Catholics who see the Church’s teaching rejected in the public arena, and for this reason have invented the specter of gnosis. Both are dangerous opinions on cultural and theological levels. I want to stress the dangers that the revival of gnosis poses to the faith.

A reality: the awakening of gnosis

“That we are seeing today a ‘revival of gnosis’ seems a well-established fact, since there are too many voices that seem to attest the presence of this revenant. In fact, it has been seen, pale and disoriented, lurking around rarefied literary circles, evoked as a guardian spirit by all those poets and novelists, romantic and otherwise, who are afflicted by an existential spleen and are ready to escape, at least through their writings, from the steel cage that our world has become. What can we say of those who claim to have noticed it during fierce conversations with philosophers and scientists on the Gnostic nature of the modern Zeitgeist or of the latest scientific thought?”[2]

Once the revival of gnosis is taken for granted, the historiographical problem remains open. Is there a relationship – and which kind of relationship – between contemporary and classical Gnosticism of the second and third centuries after Christ, the main criterion used by Western culture for assessing successive forms of gnosis? Giovanni Filoramo replies negatively to this question.[3] Maybe it is possible to historically prove some continuity between ancient Gnosticism and subsequent gnostic forms up until medieval Catharism, but already with the esoteric traditions in the Renaissance it is hard to admit their genetic continuity with the oldest forms of Gnosticism. Usually, when in different times and places the need is felt to answer a religious question concerning salvation, then the issue of gnosis spontaneously arises. Such is the case with regard to the theosophy of Jakob Böhme in the 17th century.

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