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Sunday, September 27, 2015

REFLECT: What Do You Need to Cut Out of Your Life?

Sermon by Rev. John Paul Shea
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sept 27, 2015
Saints Peter and Paul Parish, Tucson, AZ


In today’s Gospel (Mark 9:38-43, 47-48),we have two parts. In the first part, Our Lord reminds His disciples that a true disciple can never contradict His teachings: “There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us.”

In the second part, Our Lord explains that if we want to attain eternal life, than we must take His words to heart: “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut if off. And if your eye causes you to sin,
Gehenna
pluck it out. For it will be better for us to enter heaven with one hand or one foot or one eye than to enter Gehenna with both eyes or with both feet or with both hands."
 
As we reflect on these words, some will say that Jesus is simply exaggerating. These words of our Lord sound harsh! 

Well, of course, Our Lord doesn’t want us to literally cut off our limbs if they cause us to sin. Otherwise, there would be a whole lot of persons maimed. However, He is using these strong words in today’s Gospel for a reason. He is not exaggerating. No! Jesus uses these radical images to show us the seriousness of what He is saying! 

My brothers and sisters, Jesus wants to save us from mortal danger. Sin kills the soul! We must overcome the near occasion of sin. We need to cut out whatever may become an obstacle to our salvation. He wants us to be desperate to rid our lives of the things that put us into spiritual jeopardy. 

What could these things be for us today? Maybe we have to unplug the computer. Maybe we have to break off a relationship. Maybe we have to avoid a certain place. Maybe we have to cut out an addiction. Whatever may lead us into sin, we must cut off and cut it out! 

Sometimes we may hear in the news about someone who is forced to make a drastic decision in order to save their physical life. For example, I remember a few years ago hearing a story of a man who was trapped in his kayak while he was on a trip in a river. His kayak and his leg got stuck under a tree in the rushing rapids and, as desperate as he tried, he couldn’t dislodge either one of them. It quickly became apparent he had a terrible choice to make – either drown in the middle of nowhere as the water got higher and higher or escape the trap any way he could.

He faced a terrible choice. He decided to snap his own leg to allow his friends to drag him to safety.

In today’s Gospel, Our Lord is calling us to recognize the same sort of desperate need to act in our own spiritual life. We too can easily get trapped, not under the weight of water, but under the weight of sin, and we need to make a desperate life or death decision. It was not

an easy decision for that kayaker to break his own leg to save his life. So too, it is not an easy decision to break off sinful ways in order to cut  loose from whatever restrains us from true freedom in God. 

But, this is what we have to do if we want to enter heaven! For it is better to save our souls than to forsake them by choosing the wide and easy road of the world. Those who love their lives in this world will lose them! But those who lose their life now for the sake of truth and holiness will save it! 

In today’s Gospel, Jesus refers to a place called Gehenna. In Jewish Rabbinic scripture, Gehenna is the destination of the wicked. It is a fiery place where the wicked are punished after they die. Originally, Gehenna referred to a garbage dump in a deep narrow valley right outside the walls of Jerusalem where fires were kept burning to keep down the stench. According to the Hebrew Bible, pagans once sacrificed their children to the idol Moloch in the fires in Gehenna.
Child Sacrifice to the god Moloch
My brothers and sisters, in His reference to Gehenna, Our Lord is speaking of hell. There is a hell! It is a real place where the damned souls go. And, with the rapidly increasing temptations in our world, more souls are risking hell today more than ever. This is why the Blessed Mother taught the children to
pray the Fatima prayer after each decade of the Rosary, “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those most in need of Thy mercy.” 

We all received sanctifying grace at our Baptism, yet grave sin will separate us from God's Life. Therefore, to avoid sin, we must cut ourselves off from the near occasion of sin. We must cut out those unhealthy relationships that lead us away from salvation. We must cut out those lifestyles that contradict God’s teachings and ways. 

What is even worse, Our Lord says, is when we cause others to sin, especially children and the innocent. Jesus says,
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” 

Our Lord is saying that it is serious when we influence others into what is not of God. We see this manifested in our society today in many ways. 

How often young women in our day and age lose their virginity because of the pressure and influence of their boyfriends or others in society? 

How easy we can lead others into sin through our words and attitudes. We can be influenced by others to cheat,  steal, lie, or gossip.

My brothers and sisters, our influence on others matter! The choices we make in our lives matter! 

We live in a society that has no fear of God, no fear of eternal damnation, no fear of hell! This is why we need to make desperate decisions in order to save our souls and lead other into all truth. 

Fr John Paul Shea 
Our Lord has given us the means for overcoming sin. He has told us to pray. In fact, there are many prayers given to us through our Church to help us: The Rosary, the Saint Michael prayer, The Chaplet of Divine Mercy. Our Lord has given us the gift of the Sacrament of Confession. Use it often!

As we come to receive Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist, let us remember the seriousness of  today’s Gospel. Is there something God is asking you to cut out of your life? Ask God! Now pray for the conversion of all poor souls who do not know the saving power of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Humble Yourselves! Receive the Mercy of God.

Sermon by Rev. John Paul Shea
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sept 20, 2015
Saints Peter and Paul Parish, Tucson, AZ

Today’s Gospel (Mark 9:30-37) gives us a lesson on humility, which is necessary for
Though He was God, He did not regard
equality with God something to be grasped.
But He humbled Himself taking the form
of a slave. (Philippians 2:6)
every Christian who wants to develop a right relationship with God.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is teaching His disciples that He is going to suffer. This proclamation of Our Lord about His suffering was the second He made to them about His coming passion.

You may recall in last week’s Gospel that Jesus asked his disciples
"Who do people say that I am?" Peter was the only disciple to get the answer right. He said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Then Jesus tells Peter in essence, “Yes, you got it right.” 

He then speaks of the consequences that are to take place because He is the Son of God — that He must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.

Yet, Peter did not understand. He was thinking like man, not like God. In fact, Our Lord was so distressed by Peter’s refusal to recognize the truth of His coming passion that He replied by saying,
“Get you behind me satan!” 

In today’s Gospel, the disciples again do not understand. But we get 
some insight into why. They were too filled with pride. They could not see the bigger picture because they were too filled with their own self-ambition. They argued among themselves about who was greater.

That story gives us a lesson on the importance of humility. If we truly want a relationship with God then we must strive to humble ourselves before the Lord. 

Pride is the root of all evil. Pride was the cause of the fall of mankind from God’s grace.  The devil told Eve that she could become like god if she ate of the fruit of knowledge of good and evil. And she took the bait --  that is the fruit --  which has led the  whole of humanity to turn their backs on God ever since. 

Pride is the temptation to make ourselves god. Instead of allowing God to lead our lives, we decide for ourselves what is best. Like the apostles in today's Gospel, under the influence of pride, we compare ourselves with others. We want to be the greatest. 

Humility, on the other hand -- the recognition of who we truly are in relationship to God -- opens the door to deeper intimacy with God. Humility opens our minds and hearts to the truth -- the truth of our faith, the truths of
The hour had come for Him to leave the world.
He got up and began to wash his disciples' feet.
ourselves, of our lives, of our bodies, our sexuality, of marriage, of salvation. When we humble ourselves, then we see where our behavior needs to change.

In fact, more than ever we need to recognize objective truth because truth is being relativized. Our culture today is living pride on steroids! The manifestation of pride through violence, immorality, arrogance, conflicts, dissension, manipulation… is tearing the fabric of our world apart. 

In fact, as a priest, I have noticed in my recent discussions that there is a sort of edginess in the hearts of many about the times we live in today. People can literally “feel” that the troubles of our world are piling up and that these troubles will inevitably soon reach a breaking point.

Today there is unease among  Catholics about the direction our Church is heading because pride is working hard to influence our faithful away from the teachings of Christ. My brothers and sisters, we are living in critical times both in our Church and in our world.

The most important thing is to humble ourselves before God! As a country, we need to get on our knees and beg God for forgiveness. Receive God’s mercy!

Pope Francis has called for a year of mercy that begins Dec. 8. This proclamation is no accident, because in these critical times in which we live, only God’s mercy can save us. 

Baptism of Jesus: John said, "I am not worthy to untie his sandal." (John 1:27)
Yet, God’s mercy can only be given if we truly humble ourselves before Him, and seek forgiveness for our sins. 

In fact, just as the disciples did not understand Our Lord’s prediction of His passion -- that in order for Him to be raised up again He must first suffer -- many in our Church today do not understand that our Church too must first undergo its passion to be raised up in glory with Our Lord on the last day. 

Is our Church getting close to this point? We do not know. But, if we look at the state of our society today, we can see that our we are entering some difficult times.

"You see, abortion was rare when the laws governing its absolution were devised. So too were divorces and annulments rare when the Church established her tribunals. So too were rare those who divorced and re-married, or those who were openly gay, or those who were raised in same-sex relationships. All of a sudden, within a few generations, the Church finds herself at an hour when moral norms are no longer the norm; when the majority of those who call themselves Catholics in the Western world no longer go to Mass; and when the light of authentic Christian witness has been mostly dimmed as even “good Catholics” have compromised with the spirit of the world." according to Catholic blogger Mark Mallett.

We do not know the future. But we know that God is in control. He is in control of our world, the Church, our lives and society. No matter the messes we make nor the attacks against our Church, the truth of God will prevail!

Seek humility. Come to God. Admit your faults. Realize that God is all good and we are nothing without Him!

For the world and its pride will be broken, and our Church and its faithful will be purified so that it can be found without spot, stain, or wrinkle as it enters into the fullness of its glory in the kingdom of God. Blessed are those who humble themselves before the Lord so that they can be part of this eternal kingdom that is soon to come! 
Apostles John and Peter recover their humility -- rush to the tomb of
Jesus Christ, who has been reported alive.

Did you enjoy this post? There are more. Perhaps you'd like to read Who is Father John Paul Shea? From Mormon to Catholic Priest







Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Who were the Nicolaitans? A Mystery Decoded

by Lawrence Fox

“Where Your Treasure is, There is Your Mind” (Gnostic Teaching)


Frequently when listening to Christian radio, I hear an exuberant preacher reveal, “The teaching and practices of the Nicolaitans (Nikolaiton) were hated by Jesus Christ. Their beliefs are synonymous with Catholicism.”

It is an audacious claim which is not supported by Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, nor certainly Church History. As such, the intent of this publication is to prudently unveil the spiritual movement behind the teaching and practices of the Nicolaitans - using Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and Church History – in order encourage believers to overcome ignorance.

A person conversant with the Book of Revelation would recognize the term Nicolaitans. The fact that Jesus identifies the Nicolaitans by name in the Book of Revelation continues to stoke the imagination of believers. A healthy response to Jesus’ words would be, “If Jesus is against them, it would be prudent for the Christian to objectively identify their teaching and practices and avoid them.” 


But over-excited co-religionists prefer to play Scrabble in order to excoriate the Roman Catholic Church. They say, “The Greek word Niko means ‘victory’ and the Greek word laon means ‘the people’ and when strung together the word Nikolaiton, means ‘victory over the people.’" They scramble and reassemble the term to mean "victory over the laity" or "hierarchy ruling over the laity." And using their incredible imaginations, they assert it means, "Jesus hates the Catholic system of celibate popes, bishops, priests, deacons, and nuns ruling over the Christian laity."

I am not certain how many Christians bother to investigate the above claim. Maybe it is easier to simply accept as prima fascia that the Bishop of Rome is the Anti-Christ and the Roman Catholic Church is the whore of Babylon riding the beast. Let us begin this journey by re-reading what is written in Sacred Scripture.

Who were the Nicolaitans?

In the 2nd and 3rd chapters of Revelation, Jesus commands the apostle John to write letters to the angels of the seven churches planted in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. Tradition suggests that the apostle John had oversight of these seven Churches within Asia Minor. Jesus commands John to write to the Church in Ephesus, “But you have this in your favor; you hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” (Rev. 2: 6) 

Jesus also commands John to write to the Church in Pergamum, “Nevertheless there are a few things which I hold against you. You have people in your midst who hold to the
teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating foods sacrificed to idols and committing sexual immorality. Likewise you also have those who hold to the teachings of the Nicolaitans. Therefore repent.”

Jesus lumps the teaching and practices of the Nicolaitans with those who entice members of the Body of Christ to “eat foods sacrificed to idols and committing sexual immorality.” It is difficult to imagine how adherence to Church authority compliments the eating of foods sacrificed to idols since it was Church authority which commanded Gentiles to abstain from eating foods sacrificed to idols and from committing sexual immorality.


It's in the Scripture: the apostles and elders of the Church gathered in Jerusalem to discuss the issue of Gentile circumcision. The apostles and presbyters professed that Jews and Gentiles are saved by grace and faith in Jesus Christ and not by the keeping of Mosaic Kosher Laws. Tragically, many Christians misrepresent the Grace of God and suggest the Moral Law of Moses (10 commandments) are ancillary to “justification by faith.” After explaining that the works of the law and kosher laws do not save an individual, the Council advised the members of Christ’s body to, “Abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality.” (Acts 15: 20,  29) 

Jesus is literally quoting the Council in Jerusalem and reminding the Church in Ephesus and Pergamum that the decision of the apostles and presbyters represents the mind of God: “Those who hear you hear me. And those who reject you reject me and not only me but my Father in heaven.”(Lk. 10:16) And again, “What you bind on earth (speaking to Peter and later to all the apostles) shall be bound in heaven and what you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”(Matt. 16: 19-20, 18:17-20) 

It is difficult to imagine how the promotion of celibacy (virginity) requires the same level of repentance as sexual immorality. At this point, an argument dealing with a hierarchy of celibates or non-celibates ruling the laity is extremely tenuous. Let us take a look and see if Sacred Scripture says anything about people following a man named Nicolas.

Nicolas and Nicolaitans

The idiom Nicolaitans -- taken in an unbiased manner -- simply means “followers of Nicolas.” It is similar to the expression Christians which was first coined in the city of Antioch to single out the apostles and their disciples as “followers of Christ.” Luke writes in the Acts of the Apostles, “Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were call Christians first at Antioch.” (Acts 11:25-26) 

Prior to being identified as Christians, the disciples of Jesus were identified as “followers of the Way” (Acts 22:4) since Jesus identified himself as “the way, the truth, and the life.” (Jn. 14:6) Nicolas (Nikolaon) was the name of a specific person in the New Testament. Luke in his Acts of the Apostles, singles out Nicolas as a convert to Judaism and one of seven deacons ordained in the Church. Luke writes that disciples were increasing in number and the apostles recognized they were not able to minister equitably to Jesus’ growing flock. Members of the Church grumbled that their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the 12 apostles gathered the disciples in Jerusalem together and told them that it would be better for the life of the Church and the health of the apostles if men filled with the Holy Spirit were ordained to support their ministry. Luke writes: “This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism."  So there exists in the New Testament a reference to a deacon of the Church named Nicolas.

The New Testament says nothing more about Nicolas but does say a few things about the role of the ordained deacon in the Church. Paul in his letter to Timothy writes: “Deacons are to be like bishops, firm and not double tongued, worthy of respect, not indulging in much wine and not pursuing dishonest gain. They are to hold to the truths of the faith with a clear conscience. They must be first tested and if there is nothing against them they are to become deacons." (1Tim. 3:8-11)

It must be remembered that Nicolas and the other six men were chosen because they were “full of the Holy Spirit.” It is hard to imagine that men full of the Holy Spirit would entertain teaching and practices hated by Jesus. Sacred Scripture states that a deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and household well.
(1 Tim. 3:8-12) 

The Church Father Clement of Alexandria (150-215 AD) writes that Nicolas the deacon had one wife and like Philip the deacon, he had daughters who remained virgins (celibate). At this point it can be said for certain that Luke identifies a deacon named Nicolas and Jesus identifies a movement in Ephesus and Pergamum as the “followers of Nicolas.” Is there a connection between the deacon Nicolas and the teaching and practices of the Nicolaitans? Scripture interpreting Scripture is not able answer this question with certainty. In order to unravel the mystery, it is necessary to tug from the earliest Church Fathers their witness to Church History and the Deposit of Faith. This journey turns out to be quite simple and fruitful.

Church Fathers Identify the Nicolaitans

The Church Father, Apologist, and Teacher Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons in Gaul (130-202 AD) identifies the Nicolaitans as one of many emerging Gnostic movements that attempted to establish themselves as an alternative authority within the Catholic Church. Irenaeus wrote a treatise comprised of five books titled, “Against Heresies.”

Irenaeus wrote his treatise for the purpose of first exposing the various Gnostic movements which were drawing disciples away from the Church. Secondly, he wished to  identify their teaching, and thirdly to refute them, using Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. 

In his treatise he writes, “John, the disciple of the Lord, proclaimed this faith and desired by the proclamation of the Gospel to destroy the error which had been planted among men by Cerinthus and much earlier by those who are called Nicolaitans, who are an offshoot of the knowledge which is falsely so called. (Richardson page 324) A characteristic of Gnosticism is its offer of secret knowledge or gnōsis, a knowledge superior to and independent of faith.

This expression “knowledge which is falsely so called,” is taken from Paul's letter to his disciple Timothy. Paul encourages Timothy to guard what has been entrusted to his care and turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge. (1 Tim 6:20) So Irenaeus is equating the movement located in Ephesus and Pergamum with a movement which Paul is concerned with -- a movement which teaches false knowledge. While Paul was in prison, he writes to Timothy urging him to stay in Ephesus and to command certain men not to teach false doctrines anymore nor to devote themselves to “myths and endless genealogies.” (Eph. 1:3-4) So there exists a movement clothed in false knowledge, myths, and endless genealogies and attempting to pervert the Gospel of Jesus Christ as preached by the apostles. Irenaeus following in the footsteps of the apostles John and Paul seeks to take the offensive against false knowledge or Gnosticism.

Witness of Irenaeus

Before explaining the term Gnostic or Gnosticism, I would like to provide a little background about Irenaeus and why his identification of the movement is reasonable and reliable. Irenaeus has been identified as the most important Christian theologian in the second century due to the breadth of his writings. (Quasten page 287) Irenaeus was born in Asia Minor and relocated to Gaul (modern day France). He was contemporary with the apologist Justin the Martyr (100-165 AD) and knew Polycarp, the famous Bishop of Smyrna (69-155 AD). Polycarp was ordained Bishop of Smyrna by John the apostle; which means that Polycarp was a witness to the oral sayings of John. Polycarp, while Bishop of Smyrna, wrote one letter to the Church in Philadelphia. Both Smyrna and Philadelphia are mentioned in the Book of Revelation. Polycarp’s proximity to John would have been greatly treasured within the Church which prior to 110 AD was identified as Catholic (Katolikos) to distinguish the visible Church established by Jesus Christ upon Peter the Rock (Matt. 16:6) from the various sects pretending to be Christian; such as the Nicolaitans.

According to Irenaeus, the Nicolaitans were a Gnostic sect promoting “a false knowledge,” which Paul the apostle warned his disciple Timothy to preach against; as stated before. The Gnostics were guilty of promoting what Paul identifies as “myths and endless genealogies," “godless chatter” and the obscure notion that “the resurrection of the dead already took place.” (1Tim. 1:4, 18-20, 1Tim. 3:1, 1Tim. 4: 3, 1Tim. 6:20-21, and 2Tim. 2:16:20)

By the middle of the 2nd Century AD there were several Gnostic Gospels being disseminated which Irenaeus read first hand including: the Gospel of Valentinus, the Gospel of Basilides, the Gospel of Cerinthus, and a version of the Gospel of Luke mutilated by the Gnostic Marcion. All of these Gnostic Gospels were piecemeal adaptations of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) promoting their own mythological and hidden doctrines. Cerinthus – who Irenaeus identifies as coming after the Nicolaitans - was a Gnostic and Ebionite (Jewish-Christian) who taught that there was an earthly Jesus and a divine Jesus (or Christ). Cerinthus denied the Virgin Birth of Jesus and taught that “Christ” descended upon “Jesus” during his baptism in the River Jordan and left him again at his crucifixion. These various Gnostic notions will be revisited later in this discussion. Irenaeus mentions that John the apostle formed his writings in order to combat the teaching and practices of Cerinthus and the Nicolaitans.

Church History and Sacred Scripture

Irenaeus stated that John the apostle -- through his writings -- set out to destroy the error planted among men by Cerinthus and the Nicolaitans. By knowing what Cerinthus and the Nicolaitans taught, a reasonable person should be able to apply a historical meaning to Jesus' reference to the Nicolaitans in the Book of Revelation, to what John is addressing in the Gospel and Epistles, and especially the content of Paul’s warning to his disciple Timothy. 

For example if Gnosticism maintained that created matter, the drinking of wine, marriage, and the begetting of children is evil, then a person reading John’s story of the Wedding Feast at Cana, in which Jesus attended with His disciples
Wedding Feast of Cana
and  performed his first public miracle (changing water into wine in response to Mary's intercession),  the reader should conclude that Jesus Christ and His disciples were not Gnostics. If Jesus was not a Gnostic then Jesus was affirming marriage, the drinking of wine, and respect for women (especially His mother) as good. I leave it to the reader to muse upon what has just been demonstrated. Irenaeus states the Nicolaitans were planting errors among men earlier than Cerinthus.

Was Nicolas an Apostate Deacon leading a Band of Merry Gnostic Men?

In my opinion, it is unlikely the Nicolaitans were literally the followers of the deacon Nicolas identified in the Acts of the Apostles. The 3rd century Christian theologian, Titus Flavius Clemens of Alexandria (150 – 215 AD) in his Miscellanies notes that some people speculated Nicolas to be the founder of a Gnostic sect which held flesh in contempt and practiced utter promiscuity similar to what is identified in the Book of Revelation. Clement of Alexandria on the other hand maintained – based upon information he received -- that Nicolas lived a very chaste life with his wife and children, that his daughters remained virgins - just like the deacon Philip’s four daughters who were virgins and prophetesses - and that Nicolaus son’s chastity was never in doubt. (Eusebius Church History page 139) 

Gnostics had the very bad habit of justifying their various movements by borrowing the names of well-known Christians. By the end of the first century, Gnostic proselytizing against the Catholic Church was quite prolific as evidenced by the following Gnostic-Christian texts: Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Phillip, Gospel of Mary, the Apochryphon of James, Apochryphon of John, Act of Peter, the Apocalypse of Paul, the Book of Thomas the Contender, the Wisdom of Jesus Christ, Letter from Peter to Philip, and more. This collage of Gnostic-Christian works were written between the end of the first century and the fifth century AD. When Gnostics began to appropriate Christian themes and names into their system of myth and hidden knowledge, the movement was later identified by Church scholars as Gnostic-Christianity (always Gnostic and never Christian). It is my contention that in the very early and formative years of the Church, the name Nicolas was obscure enough such that Gnostics thought they could self-identify with him and receive little pushback. Once a person understands Gnostic teaching and their practices it is not hard to recognize nestled within the writings of Paul, John, and Jude their warnings against the teaching and practices of “so called” Gnostic-Christians.

So what is Gnosticism?

Gnosticism is the name given to a pre-Christian dualistic system of myth and hidden knowledge which enables the spiritual man (the elect) to escape the bondage of material existence. It is speculated that Gnosticism was systematically developed when the mystery religions of the Orient (Persia) mingled with Hellenism as a result of Alexander the Great conquering Persia. 

Myth can be many things: allegory, parable, fiction, illusion, or a figment of one’s imagination. Aristotle identified myth as the beginning of wonder. In other words, myth is an attempt to explain reality. But the reality that Gnostic myth attempted to portray was diametrically opposed to Divine Revelation as narrated in the Old Testament and taught by the Apostles within the Church established by Jesus Christ upon Peter the Rock. (Matt. 16:12) It probably needs to be re-iterated that Christian Divine Revelation is not myth and that myth is not Divine Inspiration.

Hellenism impressed upon the Oriental believers in myth the notion that knowledge (gnosis) was superior to faith. As a result, myth and knowledge commingled creating a false knowledge, as Paul tells Timothy. The reason Gnostic myth is false knowledge is because it is dualistic. It split creation:   identified the spirit as good and matter as evil. It said that the  souls of men existed prior to taking flesh. And contrary to what God said in the Book of Genesis, Gnostics taught that creation was the result of tragedy and not something good. 

A sadistic worldview emerges when there is adherence to myth, dualism, and false knowledge. Gnosticism’s pursuit of hidden knowledge is counter to the Christian theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity as nurtured within the life of Church. Sacred Scripture states, “That without faith, it is impossible to please God.” (Heb. 11:6) It also states, “But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.” (Rom. 14:23) In other words, without the grace of faith, a person cannot grow in the virtues of hope and charity. A spiritual life rooted solely in knowledge may have an appearance of godliness but at the same time does not possess holiness. (2Tim. 3:5)

Many of the themes Paul is writing about to Timothy are directed against Gnostic teaching and practices. With the emergence of the Catholic Canon of Sacred Scripture, Gnosticism generated a plethora of pseudo-canonical texts as a means of perpetuating the myth that Jesus and His Apostles were Gnostics and that the members of the “Authentic Church” were robbed of “hidden knowledge” by that horrible system of Catholic bishops, presbyters, deacons, and nuns. Tragically, the gist of this Gnostic argument is no different from the squabble proposed by exuberant preachers mentioned at the beginning of this post. 

Origins of Gnosticism

Gnosticism comes out of the mystery religions of the ancient Orient; more specifically Persia. During the age of the apostles, the system of gnosis was fundamentally a synthesis of Oriental myth, dualism, Hellenistic Idealism, and elements of Jewish oral traditions. When Judaism encountered Hellenism; such literature as the Wisdom Books were written. Jewish authors wrote that Wisdom with was God in the beginning as He created all things. The book of Wisdom – found in the Septuagint Greek Translation of the Old Testament – personified Wisdom, “With you (God) is wisdom who knows you works and was present when you made the world, and who understands what is pleasing in your sight. Send her forth from the holy heavens and from the throne of your glory send her.” (Wis. 9:1-6, 9-11) When Gnosticism got a hold of Jewish writings in Greek, it made Wisdom (Sophia) into one of many demigods (demiurges) within its system of myth and dualism.

Gnostic Dualism

Gnostic dualism imbibes the notion that spirit is good and flesh and material creation are evil. Things associated with creation such as the human body as well as faith, sacraments, relics, sacramental(s), liturgy, marriage, begetting of children, drinking of wine, and especially the doctrine of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ are all evil and misguided. Paul writes to Timothy about certain spiritual (Gnostic) movements that “Forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth.” (1Tim. 4:3) Paul also -- as had been shown -- is discusses the Church’s encounter with Gnosticism. 

Centuries later the Church encountered the same anti-life notions promoted by the prophets Mani and Faustus who taught that there was a good spirit and an equally evil spirit governing all of creation. It should be noted that men and women choosing a life of celibacy in response to Jesus' invitation to become “Eunuchs for the Kingdom of God” (Mt. 19:12) is not what Paul is writing about. Gnosticism forbids marriage since they considered marriage and the begetting of children as participating in evil. 

The 2nd Century Gnostic movement identified as the Encratites (the abstainers), forbad the drinking of wine, the eating of meat, and marriage. A well-known convert from Christianity to Encratite teaching was a man named Tatian (120-180 AD). He was the author of the Diatessaron (harmonizing of the four gospels written side by side). Tatian’s original Diatessaron excluded Jesus’ human genealogies as recorded in Matthew and Luke. These genealogies were included in later editions by the Syrian Church. Their exclusion was deliberate and therefore demonstrated that Tatian adopted the Gnostic view that matter and marriage were evil. Irenaeus recognized that the  Encratites began with the preaching of the Gnostics Saturninus (the founder of Syrian Gnosis) and Marcion of Sinope (85 – 166 AD), who established his own Church. As a means of understanding “what Jesus hated about teaching of the Nicolaitans,” I want to repeat several of the themes mentioned above.

Gnostic Potpourri: Why did Jesus Hate their Beliefs?

When Oriental myth merged with Hellenistic idealism, “knowledge” was emphasized over “faith.” The Greek word for knowledge is gnosis. The Greeks also used the word epistēmē to mean "knowledge or understanding.” Faith was relegated to inferior souls (psyche) while knowledge was possessed by the superior spiritual (pneumatic) souls. Within the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, Jesus tells his disciples, “Where your treasure is there is your mind.” The same expression is found in the Gnostic Gospel of Mary. Jesus says to Mary Magdalene, “Blessed are you that you did not waver (unlike the apostles who doubted) at the sight of me. For where the mind is there is your treasure.” (Robinson page 472) Both expressions twists the words of Jesus as captured in the Gospel of Matthew, “For where your treasure is there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6:21) It is important to note the Gnostic emphasis of mind over heart. Christianity teaches that man’s treasure is found within the heart of Jesus who is the way to the Father. Jesus also identifies this treasure as the Kingdom of God; where the will of God is lived and loved on “earth as it is in heaven.” Within Gnosticism, Jesus is not the center of devotion and God is not the final cause of man’s being.

The Gnostic reason for stressing the mind is because the heart is the residence of passion and the place where faith, hope, and charity unite. Throughout Sacred Scripture the heart is predominately identified as the source of prayer and the place where God dwells and the place of decision. The other reason for stressing the mind is because to the Gnostic, the mind represents the spirit and the heart represents the body. Again within a dualistic and Hellenistic framework, faith is inferior to knowledge; they are always searching and never reaching the truth. (2Tim. 3:7) Actually, it was not the finding of truth that is important but the pursuit which is important. As long as the person is a seeker of knowledge then the journey both begins and ends together. Paul on the other hand teaches that what is most important is faith working through love. Paul writes, “Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge (gnosis), it will pass away… And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1Cor. 13:8-13)

Both modernism, (a rejection of universal truths)  and post-modernism (a rejection of all truth) embrace Gnostic ideals. In Gnosticism, the pneumatics were the highest order of beings on earth. The two lower orders of being were the psychics (people of faith) and hylics or sometime called somatics (people with no knowledge and no faith). Modernists often categorize people this way. They will say a person of faith is primitive, or they are not spiritual, i.e. predestined for heaven. 

I have a Hindu friend who is still impressed when someone says, “I am a Brahmin.” A Brahmin is the highest caste in the Hindu religions short of a cow. They are presumed to have
The next step up for the Brahmin in the Indian caste system
special privilege in the universe. The alleged Gnostic possession of hidden knowledge -- evidence of being a superior spirit --  was gravely tempting to many Christians, who lost their faith. Paul writes to Timothy warning him to avoid “godless chatter” because those who are engaged in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene.
“Among them are Hymenaus and Philetus who have wandered away from the truth. They say the resurrection has already taken place and they destroyed the faith of some.” (2 Tim. 2:16-19).

Gnosticism Meets Judaism

When Jews were forcibly taken from Judea into Babylon (Orient), Gnostics encountered Jewish oral traditions and mixed them within their system of teaching. As such by the time the apostles began to bring Good News to various nations, she encountered various forms of Gnosticism. The apostles' encounter with Simon Magnus is the first recorded  between the apostles and Gnostic teachers in the New Testament. Irenaeus writes: “Cerdon, who took his start from the followers of Simon Magnus later settled in Rome…he taught that the God preached by the Law and the Prophets was not the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Justin the Martyr wrote that Simon Magnus was a Samaritan from the village of Gitta and through the arts of the demons worked magic. It is interesting that Jesus when speaking to the Church in Thyatira encourages those who do not hold to the teaching of Jezebel (advancing sexual immorality and the eating of foods sacrificed to idols) and have not learned Satan’s deep secrets. (Rev. 2: 24) It seems that Simon Magnus’ influence reached beyond Samaria. The next encounter with Gnosticism was in the form of Gnostic-Judaism. One of the warnings given by Paul to the Church in Colossae (Col. 2:16-18) was to avoid Jewish Myths (i.e. Gnostic-Judaism). A poignant example of Gnosticism abusing Judaism can be observed in the following long quoted Gnostic text, On the Origin of the World:

“After the day of rest, Sophia (taken from Jewish Wisdom Literature) sent Zoe her daughter which is called Eve (taken from Genesis) as an instructor (imparter of knowledge) to raise up Adam (taken from Genesis) in whom there was no soul. So that those whom he would beget might become vessels of the light. When Eve saw her co-likeness cast down she pitied him and she said, ‘Adam live’ and rise up on the earth.’ Immediately her word became a deed. For when Adam rose up, immediately he opened his eyes. When he saw her, he said, ‘You will be called the mother of the living because you are the one who gave me life.’ Then the ten Authorities (reference Ephesians 6:12) were informed that their molded body (Adam formed by the clay of the earth) was alive and risen. As such, they sent seven archangels to see what had happened. They came to Adam. When they saw Eve speaking with him they said to one another, ‘What is this (female) light being? For truly she was like the likeness which appeared to us in the light. Now come let us seize her and let us cast our seed on her, so that when she is polluted she will not be able to ascend to her light but those whom she will beget will serve us. But let us not tell Adam that she is not derived from us but let us bring a stupor upon him and let us teach him in his sleep that she came into being from his rib that the woman will serve us and he will rule over her.’ Then Eve since she existed as a power laughed at their false intention. She darkened their eyes and left her likeness there stealthily beside Adam. She entered into the Tree of Knowledge and remained there. Afterward when they (the seven archangels) saw the likeness of the woman with Adam there were troubled thinking that this was the true Eve. And they acted recklessly and came to her and seized her and cast their seed upon her…. She conceived Abel the first from the prime ruler, and then she bore the rest of her sons from the seven authorities and their angels…The first Adam of the light is spiritual. The second Adam is soul endowed. He appeared on the sixth day as a hermaphrodite. The third Adam is earthly “man of law” who appeared on the eight day.” (Robinson page 172-173)

I am certain the reader recognizes that Gnostic myth turns God’s creation of man - male and female and in His own image and likeness - upside down. Other Gnostic bastardizations of the Creation Narration in the Book of Genesis include:

· Nowhere is “good” associated with creation, male and female, marriage, family, and human sexuality (everything is confusion, deception, power, and lust).

· God is not the source of human life; a female spirit deceptively speaks life into Adam.

· Adam does not know his origins and Eve is only the appearance of a pre-existing Eve.

· Eve - the substitute mother of all living things - is molested by angelic beings raising the specter that the elect and non-elect are the result of divine and non-divine conceptions (in other words Gnosticism provides a theological foundation for Eugenics).

· The spirit of the pre-existing Eve resides within the “Tree of Knowledge” and therefore the serpent in the garden was correct; the Old Testament god knew that once Adam and Eve put their hand to the “Tree of the Knowledge” they would become like gods “knowing good and evil.”

· God’s promise that the seed (Jesus) of the woman (Mary) would crush the head of the serpent is detached from Revelation by the actions of the seven archangels. As such there is no Messianic fulfillment resulting from the generation of the “son of man” by the “woman in the fullness of time.” (Gal 4:4)

It is my hope by this time that the reader recognizes that Gnosticism is the antithesis to Divine Revelation. And the Church established by Jesus Christ is the One Paul called the pillar and foundation of truth. “In case I am delayed, so that you may know how to behave in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth." (1Tim, 3:15)

Seven Archangels and Gnostic-Judaism

The identification of seven archangels abusing creation is a theme shared between Gnosticism and Gnostic-Jewish movements. The Ebionites were Gnostic-Jews who converted to Christianity and maintained absolute adherence to Mosaic Kosher Laws (Sabbath, Circumcision, Eating of kosher foods). They taught that God created seven archangels prior to creating all other things. They identified Michael as the Word of God and Gabriel as the Holy Spirit. The other archangels included Raphael (as identified in Book of Tobit), Renel, Uriel, Ichtys, and Azeal. Paul writing to the Church in Colossae warns the disciples to avoid the practice of false humility and the worship of angels. (Col. 2:16-18)

Paul’s warning does not make sense unless the reader understands that some Christians were becoming impressed by Gnostic-Jewish (Ebionite) practices which Paul said was possessed by a false spirit of humility. Humility is rooted in the truth of one’s own being before God. Paul writes in the Letter to the Church that in Jesus “All things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.” (Co. 1:16) Movements which identified Jesus as a created being or lesser demiurge are  not rooted in reality and are not the source of humility. If a person identifies God as an evil demiurge who creates evil matter and pre-existing human souls – some superior to the creator of matter -- then humility would be an impossibility. Gnosticism is not only a system of false knowledge it is a tool of the anti-Christ. And we wonder why Jesus said, “the teaching of the Nicolaitans I also hate.”

Myths and Endless Genealogies

Paul warns Timothy about this movement of “knowledge so falsely called” based upon “myth and endless genealogies.” (1Tim. 1:3) Paul’s identification of “endless genealogies” to Timothy is not a contradiction to the genealogies of Jesus, the son of Mary as recorded in Matthew and Luke. Paul makes it clear that Jesus is the descendant of David according to the flesh. (Romans 1:3) This knowledge of Jesus’ human ancestry is based upon narrated Jewish history; beginning with Adam and Eve and completing in the fullness of time with the power of the Holy Spirit overshadowing the Virgin Mary of Nazareth. The endless genealogies Paul is warning about is rooted in the Gnostic myth which teaches that the “Unknowable Father” is separated from material creation by infinite levels of emanations of powers, authorities, angels, and co-horts (syzygies) and finally a maleficent demiurge who brings material creation into existence. Irenaeus gives an example of Gnostic myths and endless genealogies by presenting the teaching of the Gnostic Valentinus: “He (Valentinus) adapted the principles of the so-called Gnostic heresy to the individual character of his school, thus expounded it, defining that there is an unnamable Dyad, of which one is called Ineffable and the other Silence. Then from this Dyad a second Dyad was produced, of which he calls one part Father and the other Truth. From the Tetrad were produced Logos and Zoë, Anthropos and Ecclesia, and this is the first Ogdoad. From Logos and Zoë he says that ten Powers were produced, as I said before, but from Anthropos and Ecclesia twelve, one of which, falling away and suffering a lack, brought about the rest of the business.” (Richardson, page 311)

Gnostics Myth, Hidden Knowledge, and Divine Revelation

When Gnosticism encountered Divine Revelation as something publicly profess by word of mouth and letter and preserved by the succession of bishops, presbyters, and deacons, it began to produce “Hidden Revelations” as a means of leading disciples astray. Paul writes, “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2Tim. 4:3) Paul was prescient since the missionary work of so many Gnostic teachers was prodigious. Gnostic Gospels – which are no gospels at all –  soon were everywhere professing hidden (apochryphon) revelations.

The word apochryphon – which means hidden or secret - is frequently used as “code” within Gnostic writing. The Gnostic Gospel of Thomas begins with the expression, “These are the secret sayings which the living Jesus spoke and which Didymos, Judas Thomas wrote down.” (Robinson page 118) The Gnostic text, Book of Thomas the Contender begins with the words: “The secret words that the Savior spoke to Judas Thomas, which I Matthias wrote down …” (Robinson page 188 ) The Gnostic text Gospel of Mary includes the reference to hidden message: “Mary answered and said to them, ‘What is hidden from you I will proclaim to you.’” (Robinson page 472) The Gnostic Apocrypha of James includes the language: “Since you asked, that I send you’re a secret book which was revealed to me and Peter by the Lord…I also sent you ten months ago another secret book…” (Robinson page 30) The opposite to hidden is the term apocalypse (apocalypsis) which means “the unveiling” or “to remove what is hidden.” The word apocalypse is translated into English as “revelation.” It makes sense that John would by inspired to counter the hidden messages of Gnosticism by writing, “The apocalypse of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants what must soon take place.” (Rev 1:1). If I am not mistaken, the Nicolaitans are the only movement literally identified by name within the Book of Revelation. In my opinion, this gives credence to Irenaeus’ argument that John set forth in his writings (Gospel, Letters, and Apocalypse) to defend the Deposit of Faith against Gnostics such as Cerinthus, Cerdon, and the so-called followers of Nicolas. Unlike the Church which is the fulfillment of Judaism, Gnosticism eschewed the God of the Old Testament.

Gnosticism Hates the God of the Old Testament

Gnosticism -- unable to shed it mythical and dualistic origins from the mystery religions of the Orient -- developed a bitter hatred for the Old Testament. It portrays the god of Israel as an impious being full of madness, who does not know His place. “For he said, ‘I am God and there is no other God beside me,’ for he is ignorant of this strength and the place from which he has come.” (Apocryphon of John, Robinson page 105) The Gnostic Hypostasis of the Archons also identifies the Lord God of Israel as blind and ignorant, “Their ruler (God of Israel) is blind because of his power and his ignorance and in his arrogance said with his power, ‘it is I who am God; there is none apart from me.’” (Robinson page 153) The Origin of the World writes: “The heaven has been consolidated along with the earth by means of Sophia (Wisdom) of Yaldabaoth (the god of Israel) the one which is beneath them all.” Yaldabaoth is the Gnostic title given to the god of Israel, also called the "First Father" -- the demiurge responsible for the fashioning and maintenance of the physical universe, but he lost his way. The author continues, “But after the heavens and their Power and all their Authority set themselves aright, the First Father exalted himself and was glorified as the whole army of angels gave him praise and glory. And he rejoiced in his heart and he boasted continually saying to them, ‘I do not need anything.’ He said, ‘I am god and no other one exists except me.’ But when he said these things he sinned against all of the immortal imperishable ones and they protect him.” (Robinson page 165) Each of the above Gnostic texts are meant to repudiate the words spoken by the Lord God of Israel through the Prophet Isaiah: “I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God.” (Isaiah 45:5) Gnosticism is diametrically opposed to the Old Testament and its teachings influenced Christians who strayed from the faith. One of these was a man named Marcion.

Marcion - Gnostic Founder of Another Church

Marcion (85-160AD) of Sinope near Pontus -- excommunicated from the Church by his own father due to his adherence to Gnostic dualism -- established his own church with its own canon of Scripture, rituals, and teachings. Marcion taught that the god of the Old Testament was an evil demiurge and not the father of Jesus Christ. Jesus represented the “unknowable Father” and appeared amongst men. Since matter was evil, Jesus was not conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit nor born of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Marcion further taught that the purity of the Gospels were lost by the Catholic Church’s mingling of Judaism with Christianity. Irenaeus writes that Marcion “mutilated the Gospel according to Luke, removing everything about the birth of the Lord, and much of the teaching of the words of the Lord, in which the Lord is recorded as clearly confessing the creator of this universe as his Father. He persuaded his disciples that he was more veracious than the apostles who handed down the gospel, giving them not a gospel but a mere fragment of a gospel. He also similarly cut up the Epistles of Paul, removing whatever the apostle said clearly about the God who made the world, that he is the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and whatever the apostle teaches by referring to the prophetic writings that predict the coming of the Lord.” (Richardson pages 315-316)

John the Apostle Identifies Gnostic Jesus
as the Anti-Christ

Irenaeus writes that while Bishop Polycarp of Smyrna was in Rome, he was instrumental in converting many disciples of Marcion and the Gnostic Valentinus to orthodoxy, by his personal testimony to the apostolic faith that he had received from disciples of the Lord. It was during this Roman visit that Polycarp had his famous encounter with Marcion and called him "the first-born of Satan." (Richardson page 109) Gnosticism’s teaching that Jesus did not come in the flesh and that Jesus was not the Son of the God moved the apostle John to writes in his 1st Epistle, “This is how you can recognize that the Spirit of God. Every Spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every Spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the anti-Christ which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.” (1 Jn. 4: 2-4)

John identified the spirit of Gnosticism as the spirit of the Anti-Christ. Again if the Nicolaitans are one of many Gnostic movements in the early Church, then Jesus’ hatred for the teaching and practices of the Nicolaitans has nothing to do with Catholicism. John also writes, “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in Him and He in God.” (1 Jn. 4:13) When John writes that the anti-Christ is the one who says “Jesus is not the Son of God,” he is placing two movements under one umbrella, the Sanhedrin who condemned Jesus to death and Gnostics who deny that Jesus is the Son of the One True God of Israel. Since Gnosticism taught that Jesus did not take flesh from the Virgin Mary, what kind of Jesus walked on planet earth?

Gnostic Jesus of History
and Jesus of Faith

In the Gnostic text Testimony of Truth, the author writes, “But the son of man came from imperishability and an alien to defilement. He came to the world by the river Jordan and immediately the Jordan turned back. And John bore witness to the descent of Jesus. For he is the one who saw the power which came down at the Jordan River.” (Robinson page 407) Gnostic dualism taught that there was a heavenly and substitute (fleshly) Jesus and the heavenly Jesus only appeared to have taken flesh. Since the heavenly Jesus did not really take flesh, he never really died nor rose from the dead. Basilides (120 – 145 AD) a prominent Gnostic taught that Jesus was not crucified. Instead he was made to look like Simon of Cyrene – who was forced to carry the cross of Jesus. And Simon took Jesus' place on the cross: “Wherefore he himself did not himself suffer death, but
Gnostics think Jesus and Simon of
Cyrene traded places 
Simon, a certain man from Cyrene, being compelled, bore the cross in his stead; so that this latter being transfigured by him (Jesus) that he might be thought to be Jesus, was crucified through ignorance and error while Jesus himself received the form of Simon and standing by laughed at them.”


Another version of the same idea is found in the Gnostic text identified as the Apocalypse of Peter: “The Savior said to me, ‘He who you saw on the tree glad and laughing, this is the living Jesus. But the one into whose hands and feet they drive the nails is his fleshly part which is the substitute being put to shame. The one who came into being in his likeness. But look at him and me.” (Robinson page 344) In other words, the heavenly Jesus’ substitute died on the cross. Since Jesus did not actually offer his whole life and death to the Father on behalf of humanity, there is no salvation in the person of Jesus. In fact according to Gnosticism, Jesus is one thing and Christ is another thing; a notion shared by modernism. 

The modernist viewpoint is that the “Jesus of History” is Jesus of Nazareth, a simple human carpenter, and not divine. But the “Jesus of Faith” -- the Messiah -- is Christian mythology. These ideas derive from  Gnosticism. This splitting and separation of Jesus from Divine Revelation compelled John the apostle to write: “Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist – he denies the Father and the Son.”(1Jn. 2:22) John writes in his 1st Letter that they the apostles looked upon Jesus, heard him speak, touched him with their own hands, ate with Him, watched him die, and rise again. John is clearly arguing the apostles knowledge of Jesus Christ is rooted in lived experience as well as faith and reason. Peter writes, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” (2Pt. 1: 16) I am speculating that one of the reasons, Jesus is so often identified as Jesus Christ is to combat Gnostic dualistic teaching about Jesus by men like Cerinthus who maintained there was a heavenly Jesus and a substitute (fleshly) Jesus.

Gnostic Practices – No Flesh therefore No Eucharist 

The Gnostic belief that Jesus just suddenly appeared at the River Jordan (not born of a Woman, not Son of God)  shaped their religious practices. Bishop Ignatius (? - 110 AD )of Antioch -- while being paraded to Rome for martyrdom -- wrote seven letters to Churches along the journey including one to Polycarp. Within his seven letters he warned the various Churches to fight against the teachings and practices of the Gnostics. In his letter to the Church at Smyrna he writes: “Regarding our Lord, you are absolutely convinced that on the human side he was actually sprung from David's line, Son of God according to God's will and power, actually born of a virgin, baptized by John, that ‘all righteousness might be fulfilled by him,’ and actually crucified for us in the flesh, under Pontius Pilate and Herod the Tetrarch…Pay close attention to those who have wrong notions about the grace of Jesus Christ…They hold aloof from the Eucharist (Lord’s Supper) and from services of prayer, because they refuse to admit that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, who suffered for our sins and which, in his goodness, the Father raised from the dead.”

Since Jesus did not take flesh, Gnostics would not openly share in a Eucharist celebration that was unambiguously administered and professed by the Catholic Church to be a literal participation in the body and blood of Jesus Christ. In the Gnostic Gospel of Philip the author clearly symbolizes the Eucharist by identifying the flesh of Jesus as His word and his blood as the Holy Spirit. It all sounds so pious (flesh = word and blood = spirit) but the piety is rooted in dualism -- a spirituality scandalized by the Incarnation of Jesus Christ -- and not something rooted in the Deposit of Faith. (Robinson page 134) The Gnostic knowledge of the Eucharist is
Medicine of Immortality
opposed to the Faith of the Catholic Church rooted in Divine Revelation. Paul teaches the Church in Corinth:
“The cup of thanksgiving (Eucharist) that we bless, is it not the partaking (communion) of the blood of the Messiah? And is not our breaking of bread the participation (communion) in body of the Messiah?” (1Cor. 10:16, 17)

While Gnostics taught that knowledge brought immortality, Ignatius in his letter to the Church in Ephesus writes that the “Eucharist is the Medicine of Immortality and the antidote which wards off death but yields continuous life in union with Jesus Christ.” (Richardson Page 82) As a means of preserving unity and purity of faith, Ignatius writes in his letter to the Church in Smyrna, “Make certain therefore that you all observe one common Eucharist, for there is one Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, and but one cup of union with His Blood, and one single altar of sacrifice – even also is there one Bishop with his clergy (presbyters), and my own fellow servers the deacons. This will ensure that all your actions are in full accord with God.” (Richardson Page 100)

Gnostic Myth and Symbolism

The Gnostics -- rooted in myth and symbolism -- considered the Eucharist  (the actual Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, which is celebrated by Catholics and Orthodox) to be  simply too much to take, “This language is too hard to bear who can take this.” (Jn. 6:16). It seems that when the Lord’s Supper was mingled with the primitive expression known as the “love feast” or “agape meals,” Gnostic-Christians attended them while at the same time rejecting Church teaching. The apostle Paul observed this confusion while writing to the Church in Corinth reiterating the living tradition he received from the Lord and then passed onto them, “The Lord Jesus on the night he was betrayed took bread and when he had given thanks broke it and said, ‘This is my body which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after supper he took the cup saying, ‘this cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this whenever your drink in remembrance of me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Cor. 11: 23-27)

Paul reminds the Church in Corinth that a number of them were sick and weak because they approached the Lord’s Table in an unworthy manner; not discerning the body and blood of Christ. (1 Cor. 11:27-31) Paul is not the only one who gives warning. Jude the apostle writes: “These men are blemishes at your “love feasts” without the slightest qualm – shepherds who only feed only themselves…rushing into Balaam’s error.” (Jude 1:12) It is interesting that Jude identifies certain men participating in the “love feasts” as also “rushing into Balaam’s error.” This is the same warning that Jesus gave to the Churches in Ephesus and Pergamum.  As the practice of the “love feasts” faded and the Church celebrated the “Eucharist” as the source and summit of collective Christian prayer to God the Father,according to Ignatius' letter,  the Gnostics openly separated themselves from the Catholics. They consoled themselves by celebrating the Lord’s Supper as a symbol.

Gnostic Syncretism

Gnosticism was successful in drawing un-Catechized disciples away from the Church since it was syncretistic and filled with “godless chatter.” Paul warns Timothy against  
“godless chatter” because those who are engaged in it will become more and more ungodly. “Among them are Hymenaus and Philetus who have wandered away from the truth. They say the resurrection has already taken place and they destroyed the faith of some.” (2 Tim. 2:16-19). What does it mean to believe, “The resurrection has already taken place?”

In the Gnostic Gospel of Philip, the author professes that Jesus did not die on the cross. “Those who say that the Lord died first and then rose up are in error for he rose up first (resurrection) and then died. If one does not first attain resurrection will he not die? As God lives he would be already dead.” (Robinson page 134) In the Gnostic Treatise on Resurrection, the author seemingly gives defense of the doctrine of the resurrection quoting Ephesians 2:6 “We suffered with him and we rose with him and we went to heaven with him.” This sounds Christian except Gnosticism – remaining dualistic to its core -- taught there was a spirit Jesus and a flesh Jesus (two separate realities). In the Gnostic text Testimony of Truth, the author writes, “But the son of man came from imperishability and an alien to defilement. He came to the world by the river Jordan and immediately the Jordan turned back. And John bore witness to the descent of Jesus. For he is the one who saw the power which came down at the Jordan River.” (Robinson page 407)

Gnostic Syncretism: An Excuse for Immorality

Paul’s letter to Timothy describing the teaching of Hymenaus and Philetus makes little sense without knowing the language and spirit of Gnosticism. The notion of being resurrected prior to physical death gives credence to Gnosticism’s dualistic nature. According the Christian Gnosticism, the “spirit filled elect” were already resurrected with the “spirit Jesus” while the body was already a dead thing along with the fleshly Jesus. If the spirit is already resurrected then what animates the body? And if the spirit is not one with the body, does it matter what takes place in the body? These two questions get to the heart of the matter Jesus was warning against in the Book of Revelation: “Nevertheless there are a few things which I hold against you. You have people in your midst who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating foods sacrificed idols and committing sexual immorality." What Jesus is therefore identifying in the Book of Revelation is the logical consequence of Gnostic dualism being promoted in the Church by men like Hymenaus and Philetus – who evidently were caught up in the system of “false knowledge.”

If the divine spirit of man is already a resurrected thing and man is that divine spirit, then what is done in the body does not matter since it is already dead in sin. As such to ease the conscience of Christians struggling with the temptation of pagan practices, Gnosticism comes as a false comforter stating, “To the pure all things are pure and what goes into the body has no effect on the spiritual man.” In other words, “the elect Christian” is able to eat foods sacrificed to idols and able to commit sexual immorality regardless of what the Council of Jerusalem pontificates since “the person possessing knowledge is already resurrected.” Paul said such teaching was gangrene and Christians infected with such “godless chatter” were not able to resist the result of such infection. Hymenaus and Alexander (possibly the same person as Philetus) were participating in Gnostic syncretism and broke communion with the mystical Body of Christ and risked condemnation by participating in the sacraments of the Church and inviting others to share in their sin of rebellion. That is why Paul writes, “I have handed them over to Satan.”(1 Tim. 1:20) In other words, Paul excommunicated them both.

Gnostic Congregationalism

Gnosticism was not a hierarchical movement. No one person or group of persons adjudicated Gnostic orthodoxy. Gnosticism was the original expression of Congregationalism. Each proponent of Gnosticism developed his own school of teaching and practices and each school was its own authority. The various Gnostic schools recorded in Church History include those established by Simon Magnus, Cerdon, Valentinus, Basilides, Marcion, Flores, Isidore, Ptolemy, Hearacleon, Florinus, Bardesanas, Harmonius, Theodotus, Marcus, Carpocrates, Epiphanes, Apelles, Tatian, and Julius Cassianis. (Quasten Pages 255-274) What bonded these Gnostic schools was their adherence to myth, dualism, Hellenistic idealism, hidden knowledge, and a tremendous opposition to the Catholic Church which was hierarchical, liturgical, sacramental, and creedal. Without being pejorative, the cacophony of Gnostic movements in the first four centuries of the church resemble the condition of Christianity in the Modern World, a divided church with no visible central authority. Jesus prayed, "that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me." (John 17:21)

Paul warned the presbyters in Ephesus, “Keep watch over
yourselves and the flock of which the Holy Spirit made you bishops and shepherds of the Church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” (Acts 20:28) While the apostles were alive and shepherding the Mystical Body of Christ, the various localities were governed by ordained presbyters who collectively functioned as bishops. Near the end of Paul’s earthly life (around 65 AD), he commands Titus and Timothy to ordain adult males to function as presbyters, bishops, and deacons in the various localities. (Titus 1:4-9, 1Tim. 3:1—12, 1Tim. 5:17) Under the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit – as evidenced even within Scripture Alone -- the collective ministry of apostles, prophets, evangelists, teachers, and shepherds (as identified in 1 Cor. 12:28, Eph. 4: 11) coalesced into a formed succession of bishops, presbyters, and deacons working with and supported by consecrated widows, virgins (male and female), deaconesses (wives of deacons), and a robust lay apostolate. The Gnostic form of congregationalism is contrary to Divine Revelation.

Gnostic Anti-Catholicism

The Gnostic Apocalypse of Peter was written to demonstrate that Gnosticism is the pure interpreter of the sayings of Jesus. It showed that Gnostics are persecuted by blind and ignorant Catholic Christians -- just as Jesus was persecuted by blind and ignorant Jews, “There shall be others of those who are outside our numbers who name themselves bishop and deacons as if they received their authority from God. They (the laity) bend themselves under the judgement of their leaders. Those people are dry canals. The Savior said, ‘For a time determined for them in proportion to their error they will rule over their little ones.’” (Robinson page 343)

In a strange and yet predictable manner, the argument that the “Nicolaitans” is synonymous with the Catholic system of popes, bishops, priests, deacons, and nuns ruling over the Christian laity is identical with the tenor of the Gnostic Apocalypse of Peter. Since Gnosticism was radically
opposed to a Catholic Christian hierarchy of apostles, bishops, presbyters (priests) and deacons, it is no wonder the earliest of Church Fathers emphasized in their letters the importance of apostolic succession, the episcopacy, the clergy, and the deacons. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch and Martyr (A.D. 110) writes in his letter to the Church in Tralles that without these three orders, a church does not have a right to that name: “Let everyone revere the deacons as Jesus Christ, the bishop as the image of the Father, and the presbyters as the senate of God and the assembly of the apostles. For without them one cannot speak of the Church.”

Many Christians profess that authority (if any) in the Church arises from the individual or from the congregation apart from the ministry within the apostolic Churches as established by the apostles. I am still pouring through the New Testament searching for an example of an individual ordaining himself or herself and establishing his or her own “Church” -- apart from the Apostles and the institutions which they established. Marcion the Gnostic is the nearest example of such an individual in the New Testament. The pattern of individuals establishing his or her own “Church” is splendid with Gnostic movements but does not exist within the Churches established by the Apostles.

Bishop Clement of Rome (from 92 Ad to 99 AD)  writes to the Church in Corinth: “Now our apostles, thanks to our Lord Jesus Christ, knew that there was going to be strife over the title of bishop. It was for this reason and because they had been given an accurate knowledge of the future, that they appointed the officers we have mentioned. Furthermore, they later added instructions to the effect that, should these die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry.” This letter is complimented by Irenaeus seminal treatise, “Against Heresies” noting that the names of bishops and presbyters succeeding the ministries established by the apostles in all the apostolic Church are well known and documented: “We can enumerate those who were established by the apostles as bishops in the churches, and their successors down to our time, none of whom taught or thought of anything like their mad ideas (Gnostics)… But since it would be very long in such a volume as this to enumerate the successions of all the churches, I can by pointing out the tradition which that very great, oldest, and well-known Church, founded and established at Rome by those two most glorious apostles Peter and Paul, received from the apostles, and its faith known among men, which comes down to us through the successions of bishops...”

Gnostic Anti-Deposit of Faith (Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition)

Gnosticism was radically opposed to a Christian canon of scripture and tradition as being authoritative and binding throughout the universal Church. This is evident by the plethora of pseudo Gospels and Letters listed above attempting to “confirm or correct” the contents of the New Testament. Irenaeus in his defense of the Church writes: “But when they (Gnostics) are refuted from the Scripture they turn around and attack the Scripture themselves, saying that they are not correct, or authoritative, and that the truth cannot be found from them by those who are not acquainted with the tradition. For this [they say] was not handed down in writing, but orally (Gnostic teachings), which is why Paul said, ‘We speak wisdom among the perfect, but not the wisdom of this world.’ Each of them utters a wisdom which he has made up, or rather a fiction, so that according to them the truth was once to be found in Valentinus, then at another time in Marcion, at another time in Cerinthus, then later in Basilides, or was also in that opponent, who has no saving message to utter. Each one of them is wholly perverse, and is not ashamed to preach himself, corrupting the rule of faith. But when we appeal again to that tradition which has come down from the apostles and is guarded by the successions of presbyters in the churches, they oppose the tradition, saying that they are wiser not only than the presbyters, but even than the apostles, and have found the genuine truth. For the apostles [they say] mixed matters of the Law (Old Testament) with the words of the Savior, and not only the apostles, but even the Lord himself, spoke sometimes from the Demiurge (God of the Old Testament), sometimes from the middle power, sometimes from the highest, while they know the hidden mystery without doubt or corruption, and in its purity. This is in nothing less than shameless blasphemy against their Maker. What it comes to is that they will not agree with either Scripture or tradition. It is such people, my dear friend, that we have to fight with, who like slippery snakes are always trying to escape us.” (Robertson pages 317- 318) There is one more thing to be identified as flowing from Gnosticism before wrapping up this topic and it has to do with the good news of human life.

Gnosticism versus the Gospel of Life

Part and parcel with Gnosticism’s dualism and rejection of the God of the Old Testament was the rejection of the sacrament of marriage, femininity, and procreation of children as something good. At the very end of the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas the following discourse takes place between Jesus and Peter: “Simon Peter said to them, ‘Let Mary (Magdalene) leave us for women are not worthy of life.’ Jesus said, ‘I myself shall lead her in order to make her masculine (male) so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every women who will make herself male will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.’” (Robinson page 130) 

In the Pre-Christian Gnostic text, a man names Zostrianos – the supposed founder of Zoroastrianism - learns how matter came into being by deception and tragedy among the lower divine beings. He learns how the female was taken from the androgynous male. Zostrianos is taken on a journey through the various spiritual heavens - much like Mohammed’s Night Journey. While ascending, Zostrianos gains a knowledge from each level so that he can instruct the spiritual man (elect) below on how to escape matter and re-ascend to his rightful place among the divine. Zostrianos on returning from his heavenly journey writes down his series of revelations on three tablets and presents their message of salvation of light and knowledge, and the salvation of masculinity to those who will listen. (Robinson page 368) 

Gnosticism is fundamentally misogynistic. Modern society which has become intoxicated with the spirit of Gnosticism has on many levels convinced women that power requires
Not What Gnostics Believed:
Pregnancy is a beautiful form of femininity
becoming male including becoming chemically sterile in order to avoid and abandon motherhood. Modernist feminism is shaped in no small part by this spirit of sterility and the adornment of masculinity. Gnosticism actually provides a spiritual argument for contraception, abortion, homosexuality, lesbianism, and trans-gendering. Tragically, many Christians participate in such Gnostic ideology (the antithesis to the Catholic Gospel of Life) and consider it as being compatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Summary

I opened this topic mentioning that exuberant preachers reveal as matter of fact, “The teaching and practices of the Nicolaitans (Nikolaiton) - hated by Jesus Christ - are synonymous with Catholicism.” I mentioned that was an audacious claim not supported by Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, nor certainly Church History which identifies the Nicolaitans as a Gnostic movement. I showed that Gnosticism is the antithesis to Catholicism on so many levels: anti-incarnation, anti-monotheism, anti-redemption, anti-hierarchical, anti-sacramental, anti-tradition, anti-scripture, anti-woman, anti-marriage, anti-children, and as such theologically the promoter of a culture of death. It is very tragic that so many believers choose to omit the reading of Church History or Sacred Tradition as part of their study of Sacred Scripture. It is my hope that this document enables to believers to overcome grave ignorance on this matter.

Bishops, priests, deacons and popes keep watch over the flock




BIBLIOGRAPHY


Harris, M.H. Hebraic Literature, Translations from the Talmud, Midrashim, and Kabbala, Translated by M.H. Harris. New York: Tudor Publishing Co. 1943

Robinson, James M. The Nag Hammadi Library in English. Translated by Members of the Coptic Gnostic Library Project of the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity. San Francisco. Harper & Row Publishers 1981.

Quasten, Johannes. Patrology, The Beginning of Patristic Literature. Vol. 1 of 4. Westminster MD: Christian Classics, Inc. 1990.

Richardson, Cyril C., Early Christian Fathers, Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1909-1976.

Eusebius, The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine, Translated by Williamson G. A., New York: Dorset Press., 1965.

If you enjoyed this piece, you might like to read the humorous version of it: Just Discovered! The Gospel of Symbols