Editor's Choice

According to the Gospel of Philip, many people"go down into the water and come up without having received anything, ..."



"How was a believer to tell true Christians from the false ones? Orthodox and gnostic Christians offered different answers, as each group attempted to define the church in ways that excluded the other. Gnostic Christians, claiming to represent only 'the few,' pointed to qualitative criteria. In protest against the majority, they insisted that baptism did not make a Christian: according to the Gospel of Philip, many people 'go down into the water and come up without having received anything,' and still they claimed to be Christians. Nor did the profession of the creed, or even martyrdom, count as evidence: 'nyone can do these things.' Above all, they refused to identify the church with the actual visible community that, they warned, often only imitated it. Instead, quoting a saying of Jesus ('By their fruits you shall know them') they required evidence of spiritual maturity to demonstrate that a person belonged to the true church."

"For nearly 2,000 years, Christian tradition has preserved and revered orthodox writings that denounce the gnostics, while suppressing—and virtually destroying—the gnostic writings themselves. Now, for the first time, certain texts discovered at Nag Hammadi reveal the other side of the coin: how gnostics denounced the orthodox. The Second Treatise of the Great Seth polemicizes against orthodox Christianity, contrasting it with the 'true church' of the gnostics. Speaking for those he calls the sons of light, the author says:

'... we were hated and persecuted, not only by those who were ignorant [pagans], but also by those who think they are advancing the name of Christ, since they were unknowingly empty, not knowing who they are, like dumb animals.'

The Saviour explains that such persons made an imitation of the true church, 'having proclaimed a doctrine of a dead man and lies, so as to resemble the freedom and purity of the perfect church (ekklesia).' Such teachings, he charges, reconciles its adherents to fear and slavery, encouraging them to subject themselves to the earthly representatives of the world creator, who, in his 'empty glory,' declares, 'I am God, and there is no other beside me.' Such persons persecute those who have achieved liberation through gnosis, attempting to lead them astray from 'the truth of their freedom.'

The Apocalypse of Peter describes, as noted before, catholic Christians as those who have fallen 'into an erroneous name and into the hand of an evil, cunning man, with a teaching in a multiplicity of forms,' allowing themselves to be ruled heretically. For, the author adds, they

'blaspheme the truth and proclaim evil teaching. And they will say evil things against each other... many others ... who oppose the truth and are the messengers of error... set up their error ... against the purest thoughts of mine...'

The author takes each of the characteristics of the catholic church as evidence that this is only an imitation church, a counterfeit, a 'sisterhood' that mimics the true Christian brotherhood. Such Christians, in their blind arrogance, claim exclusive legitimacy: 'Some who do not understand mystery speak of things which they do not understand, but they will boast that the mystery of the truth belongs to them alone.' Their obedience to bishops and deacons indicates that they 'bow to the judgment of the leaders.' They oppress their brethren, and slander those who gain gnosis.

The Testimony of Truth attacks ecclesiastical Christians as those who say 'we are Christians,' but 'who [do not know who] Christ is.' ...

The bitterness of these attacks on the 'imitation church' probably indicates a late stage of the controversy. By the year 200, the battle lines had been drawn: both orthodox and gnostic Christians claimed to represent the true church and accused one another of being outsiders, false brethren, and hypocrites.

How was a believer to tell true Christians from the false ones? Orthodox and gnostic Christians offered different answers, as each group attempted to define the church in ways that excluded the other. Gnostic Christians, claiming to represent only 'the few,' pointed to qualitative criteria. In protest against the majority, they insisted that baptism did not make a Christian: according to the Gospel of Philip, many people 'go down into the water and come up without having received anything,' and still they claimed to be Christians. Nor did the profession of the creed, or even martyrdom, count as evidence: 'nyone can do these things.' Above all, they refused to identify the church with the actual visible community that, they warned, often only imitated it. Instead, quoting a saying of Jesus ('By their fruits you shall know them') they required evidence of spiritual maturity to demonstrate that a person belonged to the true church."

Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels, Vintage Books, 1989, p. 102-4


Gnostic Gospels reveal true Christianity

Posted November 8, 2007, 11:53 AM EST:

Elaine Pagels deserves all the kudos she won with her 1979 study of early Christianity. Her research into the many documents comprising the Nag Hammadi Library is marvelously thorough and perceptive. Mentioning her own involvement via personal comments adds another dimension to the enjoyment of the book. What emerges is a revelation of just why the followers of gnosis and self-realization were branded as heretics and why these original texts were excluded from the 'orthodox' Christian canon. Seekers of the true, or 'lost' Christianities, will be rewarded. Pagels wonders in print whether perhaps gnosticism was influenced by Hindu teachings, by the spiritual science of yoga, but never asks where Christ was between the ages of 14 and 30.


enlightening
Posted December 28, 2009, 11:14 AM EST:

This is the third book I've read regarding the Gnostic Gospels and is my favorite thus far. The author is well learned & explores some esoteric Gnostic concepts in easy to grasp terms. However, the book is quite a short read and does not cover Gnostic Philosophy & writings in totality so this is definitely supplemental reading. As an ex-Catholic, Gnostic teachings have renewed my faith but in a different way. As the originals Gnostics taught, I agree that Gnosticism is a mature form of spirtuality (many of the teachings are similar to other philosophical religious thought - Buddhism is one example). Thus, this book would definitely not appeal to literalist Christians who blindy follow archaic scripture Overall, it was a great read!


EliseP | Oct 18, 2008

In December 1945 and Arab peasant made an astonishing discovery in Upper Egypt. In this jar were scrolls that scholars found to be some of the gnostic writings from the early church. The Gnostics were crushed by the Orthodox church. This book explains how orthodoxy won out over gnosticism. First, the gnostics denied the fact of Christ's resurrection. They considered jesus completely spirit, not human (symbol, not historical event). Second, they denied the idea of one God, one bishop, because they didn't like the idea of hierarchy. The gnostics also saw a greater role of women in their beliefs, even calling the Holy Spirit a woman. They allowed women to participate in liturgy. Next they denied the concept of martyrdom as automatically allowing someone into heaven. Orthodox christians"Insisted that humanity needs a way beyond its own power - divine- to approach god."The gostics also felt that they could only depend on inner knowledge, or light, to mean communion with god. They believe men invented God, and thus are greater than God. Interesting note: the New Testament term for sin, hamartia, comes from the sport of archery—means"missing the mark."


madamejeanie | Sep 16, 2008

If I had to sum up this slim volume in one word, that word would be"dry." I think this very possibly was Ms. Pagels dissertation for a degree in religious history. My curiosity was piqued by"Holy Blood, Holy Grail"to want to learn more about these documents discovered at Qumran, and commonly known as the Nag Hammadi library. These texts were determined to be "heresy"by the Catholic Church in the second and third centuries and were ordered destroyed. But a small group of monks who studied these heretic teachings managed to hide them away, hiding them so well, in fact, that they were not"discovered"until the middle of last century. The timing might well be considered divine providence because had they been unearthed in any other time or in any other way, they likely would have been destroyed and lost forever.

This book is an exhaustive study of exactly why they were considered heretical and why they were banned. The documents themselves were written in the same time period and very likely by some of the same people as the texts that were chosen to be part of what we know today as The Holy Bible. Why, then, were these rejected and the others included? Many of them are gospels, telling basically the same story of Christ's life, death, and resurrection as the four gospels we are all familiar with, yet they reveal a side of Christ and His teachings that went against orthodox theology.

The main reason I purchased this book in the first place was that I wanted to read these documents for myself, see what they said, and frankly, see if they"spoke"to me. Alas, the documents themselves are not included in this work, so I was disappointed in that. (I have since discovered that some of them can be found online and hope to spend some time doing some deep reading when I find myself alone at home again shortly.) But I must say that, dry as this tome was, it was enlightening.

I would never recommend this particular book as light reading. It is hardly that. It took me nearly two weeks to finish this slender volume because I found myself reading and rereading passages so that I was positive I understood them. But, if you are interested in the history of religion, this would be a great place to start or to further your understanding of early Christianity when it was finding its legs and learning to stand alone as a viable life philosophy. In this book, I came to understand a little better exactly what Christ was all about and how he inspired people in very different ways. It didn't slake my thirst for such knowledge, but it did serve as a good overview for the actual documents themselves.


WARM | Oct 27, 2007 |

Elaine Pagels is a scholar, and this is a scholarly, yet altogether accessible, presentation. The history of the Gnostic Gospels is given on the back cover: "In 1945 in the Upper Egyptian desert fifty-two papyrus texts, including gospels and other secret writings, were found buried in an earthenware jar. These so-called gnostic writings revealed unprecedented information about the schisms that divided the Early Christian Church, and about the nature of gnosticism—later declared heretical—which offered a powerful alternative to what we know as the Orthodox Christian tradition."

Contents:
1 The Controversy Over Christ's Resurrection: Historical Event or Symbol?
2 'One God, One Bishop': The Politics of Monotheism
3 God the Father / God The Mother
4 The Passion of Christ and the Persecution of Christians
5 Whose Church Is the 'True Church'?
6 Self Knowledge as Knowledge of God


jburlinson | Jul 27, 2008 |

Tragic irony of cosmic proportions is the theme of this book. Lovingly preserved texts written two millennia ago were found in 1945 by an Arab peasant near the town of Nag Hammadi. The documents were written in an attempt to communicate the incommunicable: the nature of the kingdom of heaven and the wisdom of the Christ. The person who found them was soon to murder a man as part of a vendetta. After killing his victim, he and his brothers" "hacked off his limbs ... ripped out his heart, and devoured it among them, as the ultimate act of blood revenge."Shortly afterwards, the killers' mother would burn most of the texts in the family's oven; perhaps to sauté the leftovers? The fate of these documents at the dawn of the Common Era wasn't much better; for they served as the occasion for furious controversy between, on the one hand, the community that came to be called"The orthodox"And, on the other, every other follower of Jesus who considered a different spiritual path. Pagel's pioneering book chronicles the sociopolitical (which went under the name of"Theological") struggles that characterized the first centuries of Christian history. The tale ends with the triumph of the Roman Church and the burial of the sacred texts of the losers, in the vain hope that these precious documents would resurface in a more enlightened era.




"Whether they are church people, or temple people, or all these scientists, when they talk about God they are at a level from where they cannot talk."


The Great Adi Shakti Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi
Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi
"I was amazed myself when I was born to see such ignorant people quarreling over something which they do not know at all—nothing of that kind. They are so ignorant. They do not know there is Power of God working. They cannot feel it and what are they doing? Whether they are church people, or temple people, or all these scientists, when they talk about God they are at a level from where they cannot talk. But they are not even conscious that they are that level.

This is why we have to know that despite all efforts to destroy our scriptures this Knowledge that you have to become something else— that you are to be reborn—this Knowledge they could not destroy. They have tried to maneuver it for their own advantage. They have tried to use it for their own building up because they had to have big, big buildings, they must have big, big money projects, and sometimes they also must have some business. How can you do all these things in the name of God? Just think of it. And they are doing all these mad things and they call it God? And the seeker gets absolutely shocked and surprised that he also gets into the whole whirlpool. He just cannot get out of it because he is a seeker. He says," Let me go and see for myself what it is. Let me burn my finger here and there and find out for myself."

Now I say again, like all these people have said—You have to be born again! They have said it to prepare you all for this Time. It's My fortune that I have to do it. It has to happen. If they had said all these things either they were all false and wrong. So I am here to prove it—not that they were wrong in any way but they were the only people who were enlightened. They had an eyesight to see much deeper than what you can see.

So within us lies that Power and that Power is anxious to give you your second birth. That Power lies as shown, lies in the triangular bone of sacrum and you can see with your naked eyes the rising of this Power. It has nothing to do with what nationality you have come from, what sort of clothes you are wearing, what sort of hair dress you have—it has nothing to do with this but it has to do something with your inner being. And while in your inner being there are certain problems which you have created out of your ignorance, and this Power being your Mother—your sweet loving Mother who has been born again and again with you—knows your problems and She knows how to correct it."

Sri Mataji Nirmala Devi
London, U.K. — May 12, 1980


"One may not believe, or may believe, but the fact is that, in human awareness, we have reached a stage where we do not know about the Absolute Truth. This is the reason why there are so many types of philosophies and ideologies and people want to have different types of religions which are exclusive and they fight with each other and finish the fundamentals of religion.

Now whatever I have to say need not at all be accepted blindfolded. We have had enough troubles with blind faiths. But if one has an open mind like a scientist, one should look at it like a hypothesis. But once it is proved, one has to accept that there is a subtle system in our body for our last breakthrough in our evolution."

The Messiah-Paraclete-Ruh-Devi


"Freedom is when you get your own Powers which are within you. You have got your own Powers. You have to be your own Guru. You must reach that point from where you guide yourself in such a way that the guiding lines become part and parcel of you. That means in your central nervous system, in your conscious mind, you must be the existence of the Spirit. This is what is the evolutionary process. This is what you have to achieve and all other talks are absolutely of no value.

Let's face it, there is no flowery talk needed for it. It's a doing. All these talks and all these organizations, and everything, has no meaning of any kind. It does not empower you to be the Spirit."

Sri Mataji Nirmala Devi


"If you had faith you would have never organized religion because you would know that it is God's Hand, God's Grace, which has to bestow us and not these theological college people. And these self-appointed people, they cannot give us the Grace of God."

The Messiah-Paraclete-Ruh-Devi
London, U.K. — May 12, 1980




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