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March 27, 2008
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Traces Magazine
The international magazine of the lay movement Communion and Liberation.

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Christianity and Gnosticism: A Conflict About Method

In the Incarnation, salvation springs from the earth, from human flesh, from the very body despised by the Gnosticism of The Da Vinci Code.

Lorenzo Albacete


In the last verse of the Gnostic text the Gospel of Thomas, Peter asks Jesus to send Mary Magdalene away because "women are not worthy of life." Jesus replies, "I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too might become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven."

This Gnostic text is not mentioned in The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown, the pro-feminist novel that has been among the top best-selling books in the country for months and months now. Mr. Brown has to be selective in the Gnostic literature upon which he basis his fictional story about a plot by the Catholic Church to suppress evidence of a form of early Christianity in which women were more important than the apostles. The problem is that this does not correspond exactly to many Gnostic views about women. It is true that Gnostic doctrine is not easy to summarize neatly because it is an amalgam of pagan, Jewish, Christian, and ancient Oriental religious and spiritual currents. Still, it was not an exalted view of women that characterized Gnosticism; it was androgyny.

Gnostics despised the material universe, seeing it not as the creation of the transcendent God, but of a lower demigod (identified with the God of the Old Testament) that obscured our view of the true God and imprisoned us in the flesh. The Gnostics were those who "knew" this truth and were thus able to be saved from the evil material world. They were the pneumatics or spiritualists. The human body (and therefore gender), therefore, was an obstacle to salvation. According to this view, men were the truly spiritual humans, and women, if not totally identified with the material, represented the "spiritual principle within the material," set free precisely by becoming "like men," that is, spiritually androgynous.

Accoding to The Da Vinci Code's Robert Langdon, 'Every faith is based on fabrication.'
Feminist interest in Gnosticism is not something new. It is present at the beginning of the 19th century, when the text of the document Pistis Sophia (published in English in 1846) showed Mary Magdalene as the prime apostle of Jesus. However, it is not concrete Gnostic doctrines that attract modern feminists. It is the method of approaching Christianity that allows views such as these. This method is perfectly summarized by the main character in Brown's novel, Harvard "symbologist" Robert Langdon: "Every faith is based on fabrication. That is the definition of faith—acceptance of what we imagine to be true, that which we cannot prove. Every religion describes God through metaphor, allegory, and exaggeration, from the early Egyptians through modern Sunday school. Metaphors are a way to help our mind process the unprocessable. The problem arises when we begin to believe literally in our metaphors. Those who truly understand their faiths understand the stories are metaphorical." (Indeed, it is not the texts that compel Langdon to believe in their teachings; it is a "mystical experience" at Mary Magdalene's tomb in which she explains it all to him. So much for the novel's academic pretensions of historical analysis.)

The ultimate conflict between the Church and Gnosticism, both at the beginning of Christianity and now, is not thus a conflict about feminism, or about historical criticism, or about textual interpretations. These are secondary. It is a conflict about method. Put succinctly, Gnosticism-both ancient and contemporary—is unable to escape the poverty of our wounded religious sense, and thus reduces the Christian proposal to a purely religious experience. But religious experience is not the "method" through which we reach our true destiny.

The Christian proposal is not a message to be learned or a metaphor to be deciphered. It is an event to be verified, an encounter with a human presence. The method is the Incarnation, through which the divine becomes our companion as a concrete human presence in human flesh. Salvation springs from the earth, from human flesh, from human matter, from the very body despised by the Gnostics.

Thus the Church prays: You wonderfully manifested Your great glory, not only by rescuing us from our mortality with the power of Your divinity, but by foreseeing the remedy in the very same mortality, making that which had brought about our ruin the beginning of our salvation, through Christ our Lord.

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July 12, 2004

MONSIGNOR LORENZO ALBACETE is National Director of the ecclesial movement Communion & Liberation.

Reprinted with permission from Traces Magazine. All rights reserved.

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READER COMMENTS
09.14.05   edgeman says:
Congratulations are due to Father Lorenzo for a very fine piece on Gnosticism, that very slippery thing that is constantly reinventing itself. Da Vinci author, Dan Brown, wrote so much more than he realized when he said "All religions are fabrications"... Popular novels too, one is tempted to say! With the hundreds of errors and halftruths that have been uncovered in his novel (starting with the title...no real art historian calls the artist "Da Vinci"), it is no wonder he has refused to give interviews! His own fabrications are so frequent on almost every page. The book was no doubt written in haste without learning the issues or verifying any of those pesky details. It does bother me that so many decent people have been slandered by him in this way. I'm a bit surprised there have been no law suits.As for Gnosticism, the basic idea that I see in it is the substitution of "the image of God" (which is in every soul) for God Himself. Father Lorenzo explained how the Gnostic needs to ignore the historic Christianity of the apostles in order to substitute their "inner light", which in my view is the light of image of God within their own soul. As our Lord said, "If the light that is in you be darkness..."How very ironic that feminist boosters of Gnosticism, in their haste to cut up the historic apostolic faith and relegate it to the trash can, have hastily again ignored the very un-feminist sayings in the Gnostic scriptures. I have not seen in print what is to me the very strongest reason why the Gnostic writings were never...ever...in the running to be included in the New Testament canon: everyone knew they were not the teachings of the apostles, but purely literary "fabrications", like a certain novel. The books that came to be in the canon were known to be authentic by those who were the disciples of the disciples of the Apostles. Irenaeus, for instance, learned from Polycarp, who learned from the Apostle John. Everyone knew the difference between the writings of the Apostles and the writings of esoteric others. We will probably never see Dan Brown held to account by real scholars for his own fanciful "facts", but it remains my fantasy he will have to face the tribunal of truth for the harm he has done. Many uncritical people have been bamboozled. We've seen too many people recently, like Brown, who are getting paid handsomely by publishers for crying "Fire!" in a crowded theatre. As another writer just said, bending "Jesus' teaching to accord with personal preference, usually in the name of human need and self-deception." Well said!This is my first post. I am impressed by the level of comments in this forum. I look forward to reading more!

05.25.05   runcible says:
Would you please provide some bibliographical references to this "recent scholarship"? Your postion is well stated and seems well reasoned but it has to be checked to be taken seriously.

03.15.05   grammatophile says:
Valentinus and the Valentinian TraditionUnfortunately, the term "gnosticism" covers too much territory and has become meaningless. It was a term coined by the ultra-orthodox to condemn their opponents. Recent scholarship shows there was no such single group, nor even a codified message that one can point to and that everyone who was later branded as "gnostic" adhered to. Whoever they were, they opposed the melding of church and state and reliance on hierarchical power plays within church life. They urged individual salvation over communal expereince.Modern "gnostics" make the same mistake as orthodox opponents--misunderstanding the message and the messengers and trying to bend Jesus' teaching to accord with personal preference, usually in the name of human need and self-deception.

07.12.04   Godspy says:
In the Incarnation, salvation springs from the earth, from human flesh, from the very body despised by the Gnosticism of The Da Vinci Code.

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