Gnosticism: The wise sister of Christianity

R. James Ferguson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearch


Christianity was not born in a vacuum. It was fed from the fonts of religious turmoil in the Near East and from the rich philosophical and literary tapestry of Hellenism. To define itself as a unified and institutionalized religion, however, it had to divide and suppress two related tendencies: to purge itself of many gnostic tendencies that claimed a special place for divine knowledge over that of faith, and to relegate classical and
Hellenistic learning to definite but limited roles. Greek philosophy had to be tamed, making it a useful adjunct, rather than a competitive educational system that might tempt the mind to prideful erudition. These processes of co-option, transformation, expulsion and suppression were the midwives of Christianity and Christendom. Gnostic bodies of thought were related trends that emerged as the distained sisters, but not the
twins, of early Christianity. Gnosticism is indeed ‘a modern construction’ rather than unified body of ancient, as noted by Michael Williams. However, the sociological construction of religion is itself a modern phenomenon. In this case, several different types of counter-canon, social protest, and demiurge polemics overlap, though no single group was likely to demonstrate all the features of the modern construct of Gnosticism. It may thus be safer to ‘speak of Gnosticisms rather than Gnosticism’. Nonetheless, certain patterns of thought, focused on discontent with a flawed creation and the desire for a direct knowledge that would lift one beyond rigid dogma, are shared by most groups identified as 'gnostic'.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberNo. 3
Pages (from-to)24-54
Number of pages30
JournalCulture Mandala: The Bulletin of the Centre for East-West Cultural and Economic Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 9 Jan 2015


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