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First published in the UK by
Weidenfeld & Nicolson/Channel 4 Books, 1987
From 1998: Barnes & Noble USA 1998
The Greek word GNOSIS means knowledge;
the Gnostics themselves used it to refer to the spiritual knowledge
they believed would redeem them from what they regarded as the inherent
evil of the material universe. As a mystical alternative tradition within
Christianity, Gnosticism suffered the hostility of the official church
and, as a result, remains largely unknown or misunderstood to this day.
Writing for the interested layperson,
Tobias Churton hopes to return Gnosticism to the centre of its own story,
rather than relegating it to the heretical chapters of orthodox history.
Beginning with the “Gnostic Gospels”, buried near Nag Hammadi,
Egypt in the fourth century and unearthed in 1945, Churton takes the
reader on a spiritual journey through two millennia and across Europe.
He pays particular attention
to southern France in the 12th and 13th centuries, for it was there
that Gnosticism, driven to the verge of extinction, burst into new life
as Catharism, a heresy so appalling to the church that it founded the
Inquisition specifically to crush it.
But fire and sword could not
kill Gnostic ideas. They are a persistent and persuasive part of both
our high art and our popular culture – as The Gnostics proves
by pointing out their influence on such figures as the humanist philosopher
Pico della Mirandola, the Rosicrucians, Freemasonry, the poet William
Blake and many others from the past to the present. Interest in Gnostic
ideas is today flourishing in works such as the bestselling novel The
Da Vinci Code, suggesting that whatever religious life will be enjoyed
by humankind in the future, the Gnostic stream will be a powerful component
A Mystery tour of the Higher
Reason, January 25, 2004
For a book that was written to
accompany a television series (The Gnostics on Channel 4 TV in Britain)
this introduction to Gnostic thought is really quite well done. I've
read it through twice now and my opinion of it has not changed.
While the account starts with the finds at Nag Hamadi, Egypt and traditional
Gnosticism this book goes for beyond. The author states that he sees
the golden thread that connects all great intuitive esoteric conditions.
Indeed, he goes on to trace the thread to the Hermetic tradition, the
Cathars, the Renaissance Magi, William Blake, the Rosicrucians, Freemasons,
Theosophists, The Golden Dawn, and Jung. Some scholars seem to be overwhelmed
by this vast chain of interconnection, but personally, I believe that
a good case is made. The same perennial philosophy connects all. Indeed,
it far predates the period of the traditional Gnostics that the church
fought so hard to exterminate.
Oh yes, what is "gnosticism?" It is intuitive spiritual knowledge
emanating from a higher source. It is the knowledge of higher underlying
reality coming from higher worlds. It is direct intuitive knowledge,
or recollection, of the Divine. Coming directly from Above, by way of
Within, it does not readily lend itself to control and censorship by
church bureaucracy and its worldly masters.
This edition has eight pages of relevant illustrations in the center
section. It also has two excellent appendices showing 1) a historical
timeline from 427 B.C. to 1987, and 2) thumbnail descriptions of the
contents of all codex's found at Nag Hamadi. There is also an informative
bibliography for further study, as well as a full index in back.
The golden thread connecting Gnostic traditions, October 7, 2006
By TheoGnostus "Encycoptic"
"Gnosis is one of the great
alternatives in looking at the whole scheme of things and our place
in it ... The very fact that the Gnostics probably were the first who
saw the theme of the stranger in the world. That makes them, the Gnostics,
a world historical event. That theme never disappeared again. It can
then re-emerge again and again ..." Hans Jonas
Coptic Gnostic Codices:
Tobias Churton started his story in Tabinnisi at a Pachomian monastic
community, with Abbot Theodore reading Athanasius Festal letter of 367,
when the cannon of the New Testament was sealed for the first time.
Extra curricular, speculative apocrypha books were banned, and should
have been probably disposed of in nearby cemetery, to be found 16 centuries
While Tobias gave a vivid account of the discovery, smuggling, and recovery
of those amazing codices, he did not fail to point at the heroic effort
of the two Coptic Curators, Togo Mina and Pahor Labib with Egyptian
Coptologists Victor Girgis, and Yassa Abdel-Masih. He gives them credit
to restore their own national cultural treasures seeking help from their
fellow French, Dutch, and German colleagues.
Gnostic Founding Fathers:
The Gnostic higher reason starts with Valentinus, who claimed to have
been instructed by a direct disciple of one of Jesus' apostles, and
Plotinus, the Egyptian founder of Neoplatonism, born in 204 C.E. in
upper Egypt. Plotinus developed a complex spiritual cosmology involving
three hypostases: the One, the Intelligence, and the Soul. It is from
the productive unity of these three Beings that all existence emanates.
Plotinus is not a strict pantheist, yet his system cosmology, developed
a unique theory of sense-perception and knowledge.
It is a question of some interest about the course of Christian doctrine
might have been, had Valentinus been elected to the office of bishop
of Rome. During the dark and hopeless years of World War II, the inspiration,
and comfort derived from Valentinus writings were instrumental in turning
Quispel, into a sympathetic and devoted scholar of Gnosticism.
Salvation by Gnosis:
From earliest times Messengers of the Light have come forth from the
True God in order to assist humans in their quest for Gnosis. Only a
few of these salvific figures are mentioned in Gnostic scripture; some
of the most important are Seth (the third Son of Adam), Jesus, and the
Prophet Mani. The Gnostic concept of salvation, may easily be mistaken
for an unmediated individual experience. On the one hand, Gnostic salvation
is a sort of personal spiritual experience, Like most of other concepts,
is a subtle one. Gnostics hold that the potential for Gnosis, and thus,
of salvation is present in every man and woman, and that salvation is
not vicarious but individual. At the same time, they also acknowledge
that Gnosis and salvation can be stimulated and facilitated in order
to effectively arise within consciousness. The majority of Gnostics
looked to Jesus as the Cosmic savior (Pan Soter).
Gnosis and Theognosis:
Gnostics do not look to salvation from sin, but rather from the ignorance
of which sin is a consequence. Ignorance; whereby is meant ignorance
of spiritual realities, is expelled only by Gnosis, and the decisive
revelation of Gnosis is brought by the Messengers of Light, especially
by Christ, the Logos of the True God. It is not by His suffering and
death but by His life of teaching and His establishing of mysteries
that Christ has performed His work of salvation, strikingly, the established
way of salvation of the Orthodox Church of Alexandria. Clement and Origen,
who lead the most strong attack on Gnostic thought, defined and taught
Salvation as knowing God, Theognosis, rather than Gnosis.
The Connecting Thread:
In Part II the author lays out the thin thread which connects the resurrected
Gnosis with its metamorphic esoteric philosophies and traditions starting
with twelve century Cathars, taking the reader in a mystery tour in
south France where the crusades and inquisition started.
Part III connecting the thread of the imaginative and real, starts with
Hermes coming to Florence, explaining the enthusiasm for the 'return
to the One' as the corollary to rebirth. Followed by Pico della Mirandola,
one of the pioneer Renaissance humanists. Through him together with
Giordano Bruno he continues the development of the neo-Gnosis.
Count of Mirandola, 1463-94:
In the era of the Renaissance, Italian philosopher and humanist Govanni
Pico was the ideal example, whose physical appearance was reflection
of his inner harmony. In 1484 he went to Florence where he soon became
one of the most active members of the 'Medici's Florentine Platonic
Academy and Neoplatonism chief exponent in Italy. His studies led to
the composition of his celebrated reconciliation of Christianity with
Platonic philosophy, in 900 theses. In 1487 he was forced to recant,
and his clash with Pope Innocent VIII led to his arrest (1488) at Lyons.
Although attacked by the church, Pico's theses were an important symbol
of the Renaissance blending of Christian and Greek ideas. Lorenzo de
Medici, challenged the Pope inviting Pico back to Florence, where he
remained until his death, becoming a supporter of Savonarola. In his
Oration on the Dignity of Man, he proclaimed that individuals face no
limits, other than own self-imposed, to their development. His other
works include Heptaplus, a mystical account of the creation; and an
unfinished attack on astrology.
Filippo Bruno was born near Naples, and acquired the name Giordano upon
entering the Dominican order, in a monastery in Naples. Bruno was instructed
in Aristotelian philosophy, under the influence of G. Della Porta. Bruno
was attracted to new streams of thought, among which were the works
of Plato and Hermes Trismegistus, both resurrected in Florence by M.
Ficino in the late fifteenth century. Because of his heterodox tendencies,
Bruno came to the attention of the Inquisition and in 1576 he deserted
Naples to escape prosecution. He lived in France for 7 years, lecturing
on various issues that attracted the attention of influential patrons.
He published his books; The Ash Wednesday Supper,& On the Infinite
Universe and Worlds, in 1583 to 85. He was arrested by the Inquisition
in Venice and tried. Bruno was sent to Rome, he was kept imprisoned
and interrogated periodically for eight years. When he refused to recant,
he was declared a heretic and burned at the stake.
Giordano Bruno's Universe:
Concluding in his last two beautiful chapters, Churton takes you from
the muddy waters to the river of life in a tour of G. Bruno's divine
Universe of outer gnostic perception that will develop into William
Blake's inner world. At last 'Thou also dwellest in eternity,' preaching
to the reader the wonder and clarity of Rosicrucian apologetic thought,
transcending time leaving us here in the 21st century. Marvelous!
Your Esoteric Tour Guide:
Tobias Churton, the modern scholar par excellence of Gnosticism, is
a filmmaker and the founding editor of the magazine Freemasonry Today.
He studied theology at Oxford University and created British TV award-winning
documentary series and its accompanying book The Gnostics. He wrote
many books on Gnosticism, Free Masonry, as well as several other films
on Christianity, mysticism, and magical folklore. He lives in England.
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