Irenaeus and the Gnostics

Never have I had a clue about the Gnostics until this class I’m taking.  And reading through the Patristics (early fathers) has solidified my understanding amazingly well compared to where it was before!  I knew this about the Gnostics: they were people who didn’t believe in the deity of Jesus, they hurt themselves physically in some sort of effort to appease God or “the gods” or something…  In the last week I have learned the following:

  • they were slowly pulling Christians away because of warped twisting of what scripture said
  • they truly believed to “harm” the body was holy, and was approved and applauded by the “un-named” One, the Father.  They actually get that justification from the covenant God made with Abraham through circumcision, citing Abraham’s cutting away of his flesh as perfect demonstration of his willingness to sacrifice himself to God.  Interesting twist, huh…
  • the Gnostics truly believed that gnosis (knowledge, in Greek) was the true way to come back to God.  Intellectual understanding and enlightenment of the Aeons (creatures the great “mother” created with her tears, not from water of earth) and understanding of one’s true place with God was what true salvation was all about.
  • Jesus was “a” son of God, and was a representative of the logos (the Word) as the Father’s communication with his people.  He was indeed SAVIOR, but only for those who needed him… in other words, if you had already ascended to your lofty intellectual understanding of God, you did not need this man’s sacrifice for you.
  • Jesus could not have been GOD, because for the Eternal one to inhabit this filthy shell of earth and earth’s humanity would not be possible.  However, they were on the same team, and I’m still trying to understand exactly what the Gnostics believed Jesus’ true role was.
  • Jesus did in fact rise from the dead for the Gnostics, but it was the power of the Holy Spirit and the Word, which is far superior than this physical earthly dust.  That power demonstrated the WORD, and showed glory to God… drawing believers closer to the Eternal Ineffible One.

Crazy!  Irenaeus was one of the first great fathers to view church history as authoritative ONLY insomuch as it was in accordance with Apostolic tradition.  Either handed down verbally or recorded in scripture by Paul, Peter, etc.  He is the first great theologian to represent the Eastern Mediterranean/Asia Minor school of theology.  That school focused on the Father as a God who loved his people, created covenants with them, and in fact was a Shepherd who brought care to his people.  Jesus coming to redeem his people was part of the Father’s master plan to bring us back into communion with him.

I look forward to more study of Irenaeus, and his amazing grasp of scripture, his ability to use logic and rational discussion and dispute and discredit faulty reasoning by the Gnostics and others.  What a great study!


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