28 July, 2005

Tangoing with the Roman Pontiff

"Obedience characterizes Christianity. Obedience is what distinguishes Christianity, for example, from Gnosticism, a religious and philosophical doctrine stating that it is possible to obtain salvation through the sole avenue of knowledge. Today we have many Christianities that become a kind of Gnosticism, because they are satisfied with academic knowledge, and want nothing to do with obedience," the Cardinal pointed out.
-- Benedict XVI in a Zenit interview.

Your Greek is certainly better than mine, Your Holiness, and you surely must be aware that gnosis is used not to identify the factual, academic knowledge (of which you and I both appear to be quite enamored) which is the realm of textbooks and treatises, but rather an experiential kind of knowing arising from spiritual experience.

While Gnostics may want nothing to do with the obedience you praise as one of Christianity's vital characteristics, it has nothing to do with being satisfied by mere knowledge. It's the quest to know and understand that Gnostics embark upon, and slavish obedience to authoritarian rules and dogma is but a pothole in the road. It is better to walk around that pothole, or take another road entirely, than to fall in it.

In my experience as an orthodox priest, most people aren't satisfied by knowledge or obedience... they want to experience.

20 July, 2005

Soul and Spirit, a false dichotomy?

I've been thinking, lately, about the distinction many Gnostic texts draw between the soul and the spirit and between "psychic" and "pneumatic" persons. Some of our classical Gnostic sources appear to make a distinction between soul and spirit as if they were, in effect, entirely different organs (for lack of a better term).

I'm not sure I buy that, given my own experiences. I tend to look at the soul from something of an alchemical perspective; like the quest to transform lead into gold, the Gnostic seeks to transform the soul into spirit. It's rather like mining ore. You can sell the impure ore that you've mined, or you can expose that impure ore to heat and force it to shed the dross parts so that it becomes something both more malleable and more valuable than it was in its original form.

The soul is the ore and Gnosticism is the fire, if you will. Pick an allegory, see what works, eh?