26. GNOSIS IS NOT GNOSTICISM

 

Over the centuries, a serious misunderstanding that has accumulated around the New Testament terms represented in Greek by the words ˜gnosis' and its derivative, ˜gnostic'. So today, it is necessary to restore to its key place in Christian thought this unique conception of a true spiritual knowledge as the basis of a genuine and practicable inner science. 

The Early Fathers of the European Church drew a sharp distinction between the true knowledge, which in their time they knew as Gnosis, and the heresies now known simplistically as 'the Gnostics'.  The True gnosis is assimilable to St John's living water - a vivifying and energising knowledge. Yet since their time the original term 'gnosis' has been wrongly attached to sects who adopted a word they did not understand. Today, the heresies now collectively known as Gnosticism expressed something very different from the essentially Christian knowledge known as gnosis. This was why the early fathers consistently opposed them.

Saint Irenaeus once wrote: "The true knowledge then consists in the understanding of Christ, which Paul terms: "the wisdom of God hidden in a mystery, which the natural man receiveth not, the Doctrine of the Cross: of which if any man 'taste' he will not accede to the disputations and quibbles of proud and puffed-up men: who go into matters of which they have no perception ...  for it renders us like to Christ." The Antenicene Fathers: P 574 of the American Reprint, October 1970.) Explanation of this text by traditional methods of comment reveals it as clearly pointing to the true Gnosis of St Paul and the early fathers of the Church - making it quite clear that Irenaeus acted against the heretics not to destroy but to preserve the true Gnosis. Yet until recently almost any book written about Gnostics has been a refutation of the whole idea of gnosis: so the true gnosis of the early Church has been thoroughly erased, until the very word connotes in modern literature a bizarre concoction of old and oriental mythologies, a work of stunted wisdom or unbridled imagination mixed with tidbits of true knowledge in a heterogeneous, eclectic bouillabaisse of ideas.

It is obvious that because of the spread of that early refutation, we have wholly forgotten the clear and precise true gnosis described in the New Testament.  It is most important that this mistake should be corrected soon - something now possible with the help of the immense corpus of writings of the early Church made accessible by modern scholarship.

 To rediscover this lost and truly Christian gnosis, Praxis Institute intends to search out, translate, edit or re-edit and then make available the most significant works of the early Fathers of the Greek, Oriental and Slavonic Churches. By significant, we mean those works that contain knowledge vital to Western man.

We will also translate and comment on certain 'new Fathers' who express the same traditional truths in forms closer to the experience of modern readers. These books will always becarefully translated, using terminology accessible to occidental minds but also betraying the original meanings. They will usually include philosophical commentaries deciphering their thought once its archaic terminology is deciphered.  Many of these ˜Fathers of the Church' had a deep insight into human nature that is lacking today, and they can provide us with solutions to the contemporary crisis from which neither philosophy nor science have yet succeeded in disentangling us.  (Extract from Boris Mouravieff.)