The meaning of gnosticism

Most of the ancient gnostics held that the visible, communal world is evil, or at least entirely profane.  They held the Church’s sacraments, rituals, and holy places as worthless, because, being material and public, these things could only be profane.  The modern gnostic is more likely to insist that every place and thing is sacred, and God is equally manifest in everything.  He therefore concludes that the Church’s sacraments, rituals, and holy places are worthless.  In theory, the ancient and modern gnostic are more opposed to each other than either is to the orthodox.  One holds everything sacred, the other everything profane.  Practically speaking, though, the two positions are identical, and gnostics of every era have no trouble recognizing their brethren.  Both flatten the world into one thing.  Both deny a central tenet of all healthy, public religions–namely, that this world is a place with both sacred and profane realms.  God is both present and absent, both in the world and outside of it.  Though omnipresent, God is in some sense more present to us in Church than at the movie theatre, more manifest in the relation between father and child than in the relationship between seller and buyer.  Some things can be moved from the profane to the sacred realm by consecration, although not just anything can.  Things can be torn from the sacred to the profane realm; this is desecration, a grave sin.  Simony and prostitution drag a sacred thing into the profane realm of money.  Contraception drags a sacred thing into the realm of selfish pleasure.

The gnostic can’t stand this tension between sacred and profane.  His intellect rebels from the paradox of a present-and-absent God, and his will rebels against the strictures separating the two realms.  His elitism is offended that the sacred should be so public an affair, that an uneducated plebian can approach the sacred as easily as one of the elect (for so the gnostic imagines himself to be) just by walking over to the temple or bowing before the Blessed Sacrament.

3 Responses

  1. […] Buddhism to the skies.  Buddhism is indeed the most historically significant manifestation of what I’ve identified as the gnostic attitude–the refusal to see God’s presence as mediated by physical signs or communal […]

  2. “Simony and prostitution drag a sacred thing into the profane realm of money. Contraception drags a sacred thing into the realm of selfish pleasure.”

    I think that the Church Fathers would reverse your second analogy: marriage and procreation raise a dirty thing into the realm of a sacred imitation of the Divine creation. To say that sex is an end in itself is already to have capitulated to modernity.

  3. Hello Carl,

    Thanks for commenting. That’s an interesting point. I didn’t mean to say, by the way, that sex itself is inherently sacred. It is marriage that is fundamentally sacred, and the conjugal act participates in this sacrality.

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