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Of the several Greek words for knowledge, γν[symbol omitted]σις is frequently left untranslated, as Gnosis, when referring to early Christian literature, to indicate a particularly significant form of knowledge of God, of Christ, of heavenly "mysteries" and the like. In heterodox circles this was the esoteric, salvific knowledge of gnosticism. Whether in reaction to Gnosticism or independently of it, some New Testament and other early Christian writers also developed a doctrine of Gnosis.

Gnostic Influence on the New Testament. No passage of the New Testament can be said with clear certainty either to be directed expressly against Gnosticism on the one hand or to have derived its vocabulary from Gnostic sources on the other. There are many more or less probable instances of Gnostic background, however. The logion of Mt 11.2527, though difficult to interpret in its Matthean setting, may be traced to a Jewish background without appeal to Gnostic ideas or language [see W. D. Davies, "'Knowledge' in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Matthew 11:2530," Harvard Theological Review 46 (1953) 113139]. The early heresiologists attributed the founding of Gnosticism to the Samaritan simon magus, and yet nothing in Acts 8.924 unmistakably marks him as a Gnostic. St. Paul's Corinthian opponents (1 and 2 Cor), who gloried in their charismatic "Gnosis," may have been affected by an early form of Gnosticism or may simply have been other errant Judeo-Christians; the many allusions are not decisive and are still disputed. The "Colossian heresy" corresponds much more closely to what is known of some types of Jewish Gnosticism (see gnosticism, jewish), and it is not improbable that in both Colossians and Ephesians some of the vocabulary is adapted in conscious opposition to at least an early form of such Gnosticism. In 1 Tm 6.20 there is a specific warning against a "falsely named Gnosis," and many references in the Pastoral Epistles can be understood of some early form of Jewish Gnosticism. In Jude 519; 2 Pt 2.122; Rv 2.2, 6, 1415, 2023, groups that may very probably be identified as antinomian (Jewish) Gnostic ones are vehemently opposed; one group, the nicolaites, are named in Rv 2.6, 15. The extent of Gnostic influence upon the Johannine writings has been a very disputed question. St. John repeatedly uses the verb "to know" but never the noun "Gnosis"; he does not betray familiarity with Gnostic mythology any more than does St. Paul. Increased recognition (partly through the Dead Sea Scrolls) of the Palestinian elements in the Fourth Gospel does not preclude some material influence on his vocabulary from the side of early Gnosticism. But the Johannine Epistles openly combat "false prophets" (1 Jn4.1), who can perhaps best be understood as Gnostics.

Meaning of Gnosis for Paul and John. Whatever their debt to nascent Gnosticism, both Paul and John evolved doctrines of Christian Gnosis that could well have been partly inspired by elements current in the syncretistic world about them but are certainly original because they focus on the person of Christ. The principal sources of New Testament Gnosis are in fact the Old Testament and Jewish concept of knowing God and the revelation of God made by Jesus Christ. Unlike the Gnostics, Paul understands Gnosis as directed toward God, not toward self; it is self-knowledge only insofar as knowing God, and thus being known by Him, place one's awareness of self in a new perspective (1 Cor 8.2; Gal 4.9). In the Old Testament, knowledge was practical, not theoretical; it was personal, not discursive; it was mediated by knowledge of the Law, not mystically infused. So for Paul it involves man's personal religious response, his attitude as well as his conviction (Col 1.910); it is a gift of God communicated through knowledge of the gospel message (1 Cor 1.46). Thus true knowledge of God is first and necessarily knowledge of Christ (2 Cor 4.6; Phil3.810). Gnosis in the New Testament is distinct from Gnosticism also in that it has historical and eschatological dimensions (Ti 1.13; Phil 3.1011; 1 Cor 13.12). Paul further presents Gnosis as pertaining to the mysteries of God, a higher degree of contemplation of the same gospel message that is the object of faith (Rom 16.2526; Eph 3.212; Col 1.2528; 2.23). But precious as it is, the gift of knowledge must yield before the higher gift of love of God (1 Cor 8.23; 13.2, 8).

The Johannine "Gnosis" is fundamentally the same as the Pauline; if anything it assumes an even more prominent role (Jn 17.3) and is more closely allied to love (1 Jn 4.78). Knowing God is eternal life; it is loving God, obeying His commandments (1 Jn 2.34), entering into communion with Him (Jn 14.20). John's juxtaposition of knowledge and vision is a Hellenistic rather than an Old Testament feature (Jn 14.79), but it is unique in its association with faith (Jn 8.2832; 10.38; 17.8) and especially with John's insistence on the mediation of knowledge by the incarnate Son of God (Jn 8.5455; 10.1415; 17.3; 1 Jn 5.20).

Christian Gnosis of Early Church Fathers. In the early patristic period, the apostolic fathers and the Greek apologists for the most part continued the understanding of Christian Gnosis found in the New Testament. The most distinctive development comes with the Alexandrians clement and origen who, though bitterly opposed to Gnosticism, nevertheless profess doctrines of "orthodox" Gnosis that have their roots in a blending of Biblical tradition, Jewish apocalyptic, and Hellenistic philosophy (Middle Platonism). For Clement, Gnosis is related to faith, but is a higher knowledge of God and all revelation leading to perfection in love and unitive vision. It is based on an understanding of Scripture and an esoteric secret tradition supposedly handed down from Christ. Knowledge of the angels and of the ascent of the soul is derived from a Hellenization of Jewish apocalyptic themes. Origen professes a similar higher degree of knowledge reserved for the "perfect," but he derives it exclusively from an esoteric exegesis of the mysteries concealed in Scripture.

Bibliography: r. bultmann, "Gnosis," tr. j. r. coates, in Bible Key Words, ed. g. kittel, v.15 (New York 1951). l. cerfaux, Dictionnaire de la Bible, suppl. ed. l. pirot et al. (Paris 1928) 3:659701. r. schnackenburg, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 195765) 3:9961000. f. nÖtscher, "Gnosis," Zur theologischen Terminologie der QumranTexte (Bonn 1956) 1579. r. p. casey, "Gnosis, Gnosticism and the New Testament," The Background of the New Testament and Its Eschatology, ed. w.d. davies and d. daube (Cambridge, Eng. 1956) 5280. j. dupont, Gnosis: La Connaissance religieuse dans les épîtres de saint Paul (Louvain 1949). c. h. dodd, "Knowledge of God," The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge, Eng. 1953; repr. 1960). l. bouyer, "Gnosis: Le Sens orthodoxe de l'expression jusqu'aux Pères alexandrins," Journal of Theological Studies NS 4 (1953) 188203. j. daniÉlou, Message évangélique et culture hellénistique aux II e et III e siècles (Tournai 1961) 405460. t. camelot, Foi et Gnose: Introduction à l'étude de la connaissance mystique chez Clément d'Alexandrie (Paris 1945). w. vÖlker, Der wahre Gnostiker nach Clemens Alexandrinus (Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur 57; 1952). h. crouzel, Origène et la "connaissance mystique" (Bruges 1961).

[g. w. macrae]

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Gnosis , a journal of the Western Inner Tradition, was first issued in 1985 and quickly emerged as one of the highest quality newsstand periodicals serving the groups and individuals whose spiritual vision has emerged out of the Western alternative spiritual tradition that has collectively been known as Gnosticism. Associated with Gnosis as its sponsor was the Lumen Foundation, a nonprofit organization existing primarily to raise the income to keep Gnosis financially solvent.

Gnosticism enjoyed a widespread popularity in the early centuries of the Common Era, but lost out to Orthodox Christianity. Since that time it has periodically reappeared in the West as a series of movements that challenge some of the basic concepts of Christian Orthodoxy. The Divine is generally thought of as transcendent, impersonal, and ultimately unknowable rather than as personal and involved in human history. God did not create the world by a sovereign act; rather, the visible universe is the end result of God's emanations of His own spiritual essence. The universe is structured in layers with the visible universe at the lowest level. Salvation consists in gaining the wisdom (gnosis) that provides the information for escaping the world of matter, in which human entities are trapped on a wheel of reincarnation. Commonly, Gnostics believe that humans have forgotten their divine origin as an emanation of the deity and thus need to reawaken their memory by various spiritual disciplines.

The Gnostic vision experienced a notable revival in the seventeenth century in such movements as Rosicrucianism and speculative Freemasonry. Modern representatives include Theosophy, ceremonial magic, and the New Age movement of the 1980s. Spiritualism , Christian Science, and New Thought have all grown from Gnosticism, and the movement has its Eastern correlates in the various mystical movements such as Sufism and Sant Mat. In the twentieth century, several groups emerged trying to self-consciously revive the traditions and teachings of second-century Gnostic Christianity. Gnosis at-tempted to speak to the modern heirs of the Gnostic spiritual impulse. It claimed among its writers some of the finest scholars and spiritual leaders representing the Gnostic impulse.

Each issue of Gnosis was built around a set of articles, the lead articles usually being grouped around a single theme. Especially prominent were the book reviews, which were of the kind one expected of a literary journal rather than a newsstand magazine. In the end, it failed to find a popular audience that would allow it to survive. After struggling to exist for 15 years, its last issue was released in 1999.

Gnosis was issued quarterly from publishing headquarters in the San Francisco Bay area under the direction of Jay Kenny, editor-in-chief, and Richard Smoley, editor.


Gnosis. San Francisco, California, n.d.

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gnosis knowledge of spiritual mysteries. XVIII. — Gr. gnôsis investigation, knowledge, f. IE. *gnō- KNOW.
So gnostic adj. cognitive, intellectual XVII; sb. one of a sect of early Christians claiming gnosis XVI. — ecclL. gnōsticus — Gr. gnōstikós, f. gnōstós; see -IC.

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gnosis knowledge of spiritual mysteries. Recorded from the late 16th century, the word comes from Greek gnōsis ‘knowledge’, related to gignōskein ‘know’.