- A doctrine of various sects combining Christian and pagan elements, that came into prominence around the 2nd century. Central importance attaches to ‘gnosis’, revealed but secret knowledge of God and of his nature, enabling those who possess it to achieve salvation. Gnosticism takes from pagan thought the concept of a demiurge or subordinate god, who directly rules the world. The material world is associated, as in Manichaeanism, with evil, but in some men there is a spiritual element that through knowledge and associated ritual may be rescued from it and attain a higher spiritual state. Christ was never truly embodied, nor died, but was associated in a distant way with that which appeared to the disciples. Gnostic elements are present in Middle Platonism, and helped to fuel the view that there was a secret aurea catena or golden chain of hidden Platonic doctrine stretching from the positive cosmology of Plato to initiates of the time. Gnostic texts of the first four centuries have been discovered in Egypt, and in various forms the belief persisted into the middle ages.
Philosophy dictionary. Academic. 2011.