Sunday 30 December 2018

De Profundis (from the depths... of illness); and a simple-coherent definition of gnosticism

I have been obliterated for the past couple of days by an URTI (upper respiratory tract infection) which is doing the rounds in my family, gathering strength as it goes; its main characteristics being a very painful throat and profound generalised malaise...

I couldn't be bothered to read, watch TV, or even listen to audible books - never mind write blog posts.

Sleep was the main activity; although on awakening I would invariably discover that a monkey had apparently been sandpapering the inside of my mouth and tongue, prior to using it as a latrine.

On top of it, a migraine began yesterday (mine usually last a few days), I awoke three times last night feeling wretched and needing medication; but there is a sense this morning that a corner may have been turned... at any rate, here I am writing again.

I shall pass on one gem that I encountered in a brief respite yesterday, while in the bath reading Geoffrey Ashe's King Arthur's Avalon. In discussing 'gnosticism', Ashe provides what I would regard as the only genuinely useful definition of gnosticism that I have met: that (to paraphrase) gnosticism was and is a Christian heresy that (implicitly) replaces Love with Knowledge.

This is simple, substantive and comprehensible enough to be useful; and fits very well with the conclusions I derived from my study and reflections on the Fourth Gospel.

However, while gnosticism was a heresy defined-by, and excluded-from, the historical mainstream Christian Church; Ashe's definition reveals a great deal/ the-majority-of historical mainstream Christianity itself to be gnosticism.

(This would explain why I have never been able to make any sense of the usual mainstream definitions and discussions of gnosticism; they were trying to make a distinction and draw a line; where there was in fact continuity.)

In other words, the labelling of heretics as gnostics would (mostly) seem to be an example of projection; of accusing others of one's own faults.   

In reality, gnosticism is a fault to which nearly all Christians have been prone, for the entire history of the faith; when confronted by the extreme simplicity of Jesus's teachings.

The distinction between love and knowledge is the distinction between the personal and the abstract (and reveals that these are indeed opposites). A focus on love implies a focus on relationships; a focus on relationship implies that Jesus and the Father need to be known as persons, not abstractions. And the whole meaning of creation needs to be seen this way.

In sum, our understanding of Jesus and his work, of the Father and his creation, needs to grow from a very 'anthropomorphic' way of understanding the world (because only persons can love); and that this has primacy over all abstractions.

(Of course writing 'about' this as a theme, as above, is itself an abstraction; but perhaps you can infer what I am implying...?)


John Fitzgerald said...

Sounds grisly! I hope you continue on the mend and enjoy an illness-free New Year!

Bruce Charlton said...


'Illness-free' would be too much to ask; because I have been ill from something or another (mostly migraines) on most days for a couple of years; but generally able to blog-around this. But this recent bout was a wash-out. Retribution, perhaps, for some comments/ boasts I was making last week about not having had flu for a few years (which I attributed to taking extra Vitamin D during the winter) - this wasn't flu (no pyrexia) but felt as bad.

Chip said...

Uh oh! I hope I didn't contribute to jinxing you. My last comment was to a posting where you invited readers to ask questions, and I asked for your thoughts on the flu vaccine. You replied then just as above, which has been my experience too, though I gave in and got the shot this year. Get well, Bruce, and happy new year to you, your family, and your followers.

William Wildblood said...

Sorry to hear you've not been well Bruce. I've been away from computers for a few days too which is a healthy thing to do now and then I think.