Gnosticism: Beliefs & Symbols

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  • 0:04 Who Were the Gnostics?
  • 0:53 Gnostics on Creation
  • 2:43 Gnostics on Nature & Salvation
  • 4:16 Gnostic Symbols
  • 5:32 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sunday Moulton

Sunday recently earned a PhD in Anthropology and has taught college courses in Anthropology, English, and high school ACT/SAT Prep.

In this lesson, learn about the Gnostics, a mysterious sect in early Christianity. We'll discuss their beliefs, including their version of creation and salvation, as well as symbols they used.

Who Were the Gnostics?

If you are familiar with the early years of Christianity, you probably know the biblical accounts of the apostles allegedly journeying to various cities to share their faith with others. What isn't mentioned directly in those accounts is a group of religious believers called the Gnostics. Their Christian philosophies and beliefs were so radical that the Catholic Church tried to eradicate any trace of them.

However, archaeologists and historians have uncovered several documents regarding the formation and eradication of the Gnostics, as well as some of their holy text and even Gospels from other apostles that were rejected from the Bible during the Nicene Council, a meeting to solidify the Church's doctrine. Let's learn about one of the greatest mysteries of the ancient church and a group who fell victim to a real conspiracy against them.

Gnostics on Creation

Gnostics believed that the story of creation found in the Bible was a lie and that God wasn't actually the one responsible for the creation of our world, at least not directly. They claim the evidence of this comes from the imperfection, tragedy, and evil in our world. A good God could never have created it. Thus, someone or something else must have created our world. This is essentially tackling the age-old question about God's morality for allowing bad things to happen to good people. So the question becomes, who is this other creator? Is it an evil being, a clumsy creature, a rival god? This is where we get the Gnostics' creation myth.

Gnostics believed that God didn't set out to create the world. Instead, his divine essence went out from him to fill existence. Some of that essence traveled so far that it was unrecognizable as being part of God. In many ways, it mutated into something else, something imperfect but still possessing a fragment of divinity within.

God's emanation created the first beings, called Aeons, who were less than God but still powerful and possessed a great deal of the divine spark. They lived with God in Pleroma, the realm of divine fullness. Among them was one Aeon named Sophia, a term meaning wisdom, who traveled existence seeking knowledge and wisdom. During her travels, she attempted to emanate her own creation, forming a flawed being called Demiurge who, believing he was a supreme god, created a physical universe infected with his own flaws of evil and suffering.

Thus, the world around us was actually created by a distorted being claiming to be God, and we, as his creation, are also flawed. This solves the dilemma of explaining why there is suffering and evil in the world when God is a being of pure goodness.

Gnostics on Nature & Salvation

While they were created by a flawed and evil being, humans still possess enough of the divine spark to recognize the flaws in the world around them. They know the difference between good and evil, and struggle with both forces within them. This dualism reflects the nature of existence itself.

While the divine spark helps them sense reality, most are unaware of the spark inside them, a condition encouraged by the evil Demiurge and his wicked servants, the Archons. They know that if humans recognize the divine spark within themselves, they may be able to free themselves from the flawed existence in Demiurge's universe.

Some humans are so removed from the real God that they lack the divine spark or have extinguished it through evil. Given this premise, those lacking the spark are some of the most evil people throughout history, such as Adolf Hitler or Josef Stalin.

Gnostics believe the greatest course of a person's life is to seek liberation from this world of darkness. Death, however, is not salvation from this world. Unless the spirit is made ready, it will just return to Earth and be subjected to another life of suffering at the hands of the evil creator.

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