Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church (The Complete Eight Volumes in One). Amazon Kindle Edition, 2014.
Volume 2, Ante-Nicene Christianity A.D. 100-325, “Chapter 11. The Heresies of the Ante-Nicene Age” Sections 112-136, Loc. 17655-18757.
§ 117. The System of Gnosticism. Its Theology.
Schaff, in describing Gnosticism, notes that although it is dismissed by the ancient literature as foolish and disordered, it would not have continued to arise if it didn’t make a serious philosophical attempt to answer important questions (Schaff 2014, Loc. 17984). “It endeavors to harmonize the creation of the material world and the existence of evil with the idea of an absolute God, who is immaterial and perfectly good” (Schaff 2014, Loc. 17992). The problem can be solved by a theology involving redemption, but in a dualistic framework such as Gnosticsm no such redemption is possible. Schaff finds Gnostic methods of inquiry to be poetic and reflective rather than using the relatively straightfoward, rigorous logical methods developed by the Greeks. There is, therefore, a mixture of supernatural and irrational elements within the Gnostic Gospels and Acts (Schaff 2014, Loc. 17999). In the end, true knowledge comes from a secret tradition which will guide the enlightened. This tradition may include some use of biblical texts but Schaff finds no broad agreement on interpretation or tenets (Schaff 2014, Loc. 18007). Allegory and numerology have always been important to Gnostics, whose eclectic allegorization can even make the Greek poets and the New Testament agree witho ne another (Schaff 2014, Loc. 18014).
Gnosticism starts with an absolute being, sometimes called god, the abyss, or some other oritinal idea (Schaff 2014, Loc. 18022). This original force unfolds various attributes which may correspond to some degree with Plato’s original forms. They reproduce, possibly sexually (Schaff 2014, Loc. 18030), populating all. Christ is considered as one of the attributes, or aeons. There is also a material world, which is where evil dwells, in opposition to the postulated God, who does not participate with the evil of matter (Schaff 2014, Loc. 18037). The material world is formed by a fallen creature, who most Gnostics will identify as Jehovah, the God of Judaism (Schaff 2014, Loc. 18052). Redemption, therefore, requires Christ to rescue the world from material and the bondage of the evil god (Schaff 2014, Loc. 18060).This is accomplished by giving a select group of followers the consciousness of Gnosis, true knowledge (Schaff 2014, Loc. 18068). Humans, in this view, consist of three elements - spirit, body, and soul. Some people are primarily spiritual, with a spark of the divine. Some are more physical, bound to the evil matter. Some are “soulish” or “psychical,” with a combination of spirit and body (Schaff 2014, Loc. 18075). The philosophy quickly divides people according to their innate merit as shown by characteristics which nonetheless defy accurate description.