Skip to comments.Third Gnostic Crisis
Posted on 04/17/2004 10:12:02 PM PDT by sauerkraut
Series schism 2: Third Gnostic Crisis
By Uwe Siemon-Netto UPI Religious Affairs Editor
WASHINGTON, March 30 (UPI) -- Editor's note: This is part two of the UPI series on the new schism running horizontally through most Christian denominations. In this installment, theologians argue that the rift constitutes the Church's Third Gnostic Crisis, which is as menacing as were its predecessors 1,000 and almost 2,000 years ago.
When Don Westblade, a religion professor, tries to explain the Gnostic crisis of the early church to his students at Hillsdale College in Michigan he points to a stunning parallel in modern times.
The moral dilemma plaguing most denominations in modernity and postmodernity, he says, is rooted in the same heresy that almost destroyed the Church in its infancy. Westblade describes it as "a perspective on God that divides deities into two levels."
Gnostics came into prominence within Christianity in the second century. They distinguished between the Demiurge, or creator God, and the supreme remote and unknowable Divine Being.
In the 12th and 13th centuries, a related theology of the Cathars in Germany and France was perceived as a major threat to Catholicism and therefore brutally suppressed.
Some of the early Gnostic sects, such as the Nicolaitans and the Ophites, did not bother much with the Demiurge, whom they thought was in charge of matter. Since matter was sharply opposed to spirit, the property of the higher deity, bodily actions were indifferent. Therefore licentiousness was wholly admissible.
As Westblade sees it, contemporary Gnosticism, including Jungian psychology, feminism and the homosexual lobby within the church, operate along these lines. "They don't like to associate with the Demiurge. They like to be with the God who is overhead."
More concretely, while Scripture says that homosexual practices are an abomination, an "allegedly more enlightened view puts us in touch with the true God and not with the 'patriarchal and bigoted position' of the Demiurge," according to Westblade.
To William H. Lazareth, a former Lutheran bishop of New York and currently professor at Cathage College in Kenosha, Wis., this "Gnostic apparition of hedonism" is of course "an ontological absurdity."
The Rev. Gerald E. Murray, a canon lawyer and parish priest in New York, believes that the moral crisis in the Roman Catholic Church in the United States is very much part of this neo-Gnostic phenomenon.
The discovery that 4,292 deacons and priests were implicated in 10,667 cases of abuse over the last 50 years suggests to him that "people have taken to objectify their bodies, using their bodies as entities separate from themselves. Their rationale is, 'My intentions are not evil, therefore I can do what I want.'"
Christian anthropology holds of course that "body and soul are a composite making up a whole person who will have to act in accord with God's law," says Murray. But this anthropology is as embattled in the Church's current Gnostic Crisis as it was 1,000 and 2,000 years ago. Don Westblade even goes as far as to say, that while Gnosticism appears to be peaking once again, "Gnostics have been with us throughout church history."
Churchgoers, he believes, "often take a more Platonic than Biblical view of things." With Plato, and like the Gnostics, they think that the body doesn't matter much and can be dealt with at will, even though they say every Sunday in church when they speak the Apostles' or Nicene Creeds that it will be resurrected.
In other words, differences over the importance of the body are the wedge that drives most denominations apart -- with the result that traditional Roman Catholics have more in common with Southern Baptists than with their Gnostic brethren and evangelical Anglicans are closer to the Eastern Orthodox than to their "revisionist" coreligionists.
The moral issues of the Gnostic crises today as almost 2,000 years ago contain a fascinating theological twist, however. In the very first chapter of his Epistle to the Romans, the apostle Paul reveals that the abuse of the body is the consequence of God's wrath against idolatrous mankind.
"Therefore God gave them over into the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another," writes Paul (Romans 1:24). The exegetes of the early church commented this in terms sounding strangely familiar to postmodern ears.
"Paul tells us... that a woman should lust after another woman because God was angry at the human race because of its idolatry," wrote the mysterious 4th-century exegete Ambrosiaster, whose real identity remains unknown.
"When God abandons a person to his own devices, then everything is turned upside down," mused St. John Chrysostom (ca. 347-407 A.D.). "Men with frenzied lusts rush against men. Things are done which cannot even give pleasure to those who do them," remarked St. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage (died 258 A.D.).
And Origen (185-254 A.D.), the famed though controversial Alexandrian Bible scholar, preached on the Epistle to the Romans in words that send chills down the spine of those deploring today's gender war:
"The normal desire for sexual intercourse united the sexes to one another. But by taking this away and turning it into something else, the devil divided the sexes from each other and forced what was one to become two, in opposition to the law of God ... The devil was bent on destroying the human race, not only by preventing them from copulating lawfully but by stirring them up to war against each other."
Origen concluded from this: "Paul goes straight to the source of sexual evil: ungodliness which comes from twisted teaching and lawlessness which is its reward."
Twisted teaching, traditionalist theologians such as Thomas C. Oden of the United Methodist say, has contributed greatly to the current crisis in the church. Worse still, it has lethal results.
"You are literally killing us," archbishop Peter Akinola, primate of the 18 million-member Anglican Church of Nigeria chided his North American Episcopalians, who have succumbed to the Gnostic temptation.
What he meant was this: When photographs are flashed around the world of a homosexual bishop's consecration with his male lover holding his miter; when churches, such as the Episcopal diocese of Washington, develop liturgies for same-sex weddings, then Muslim extremists feel confirmed in their view that Christianity is moribund.
Hence their conclusion: Why not give Christianity a coup de grace and slaughter its faithful wherever they are?
Unfortunately this truth has not sunk into the minds of many of the traditionals who would rather defend their doctrine then defend the church.
My American Church History professor shared some scary statistics from the mainline denominations on Thursday. This poll is about 30 yrs old. At a National Council of Churches convention in Miami Beach, 33% of the pastors there did not believe with any certainty in the reality of God; 66% did not believe with any certainty in the deity of Christ. 3% didn't believe in life after death, and 66% of NCC pastors didnt believe in miracles. Mainline Protestant Christianity has become a country-club of Saduceees.
A big Amen to that!
I think we need to remember that our disagreements are intranicene. Our disagreements are within a framework that we can all agree to the basic tenants of Christianity, as expressed in the ancient creeds.
At the same time, it does us no good to deny that there are differnces between us. A covenantal, baptistic Calvinist and a Thomastic Roman Catholic will disagree on several key points. Denial of this fact will lead to a false unity of compromise. Acceptance of this fact can lead to a congenial co-existence where we are free to dialogue about our differences in a non-threatening manner, finding the common ground that is actually there.
One of the few benefits to come from the abomination of Roe v. Wade is it, for the first time, brought together Christians from across the spectrum so that they could see, "hey, this guy might be Catholic, but he's a real Christian."
Intra-Nicene. LOL!! Yes, indeed.
Beautiful pun on "internecine". A real gem, nicely set. My compliments!! :-)
I must confess, I deliberately chose the phrase, not as a pun, but because that's the etymological root of the phrase.
No way. "Internecine" is from the Latin.
"Intranicene" is therefore a Pun, and a real beaut at that.