What is Gnosticism?

UK Apologetics: “Manichaeism has been called the best organized, most consistent, tenacious and dangerous form of Gnosticism. Christianity had to wage a very long and persistent war against this heresy. It was, in a real sense, a rival religion and formed a syncretistic form of ‘Christianity.’ Augustine was much influenced and soon joined this group. Their metaphysical foundation was a radical dualism between good and evil, light and darkness, largely derived from Persian Zoroastrianism. They also upheld a most rigid asceticism which strongly resembled Buddhism. Based on the false presupposition that matter is necessarily and intrinsically evil, the morality of Manes was severely ascetic. The Manichaean’s chief aim was to become entirely unworldly, as in Buddhism. To renounce and destroy all longing for pleasure, especially all pleasures of the flesh, and, eventually, to set a pure inner soul free from all the trappings of matter. It seems without question that these ideals later developed into the monasticism of Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism.” (How Augustine Became the Father of Not Only Roman Catholicism but also......Evangelicalism!, emphasis mine)

Bob Hill: “The Manichaeans stressed rational inquiry over authority. Augustine agreed with this method of ascertaining truth. The Manichaeans disliked the Old Testament because it revealed an angry emotional God. ... The Manichaeans believed God could not be mutable and retain his perfection. Augustine accepted this rationalistic philosophy as true and attempted to prove this doctrine with Scripture.” (Calvinism Unmasked, chapter 2)

Bob Hill: Augustine agreed with the Manichaeans that a mutable God was totally unacceptable. In this conflict between the Platonic doctrine of immutability and the literal interpretation of Scriptures, what had to change? Augustine’s answer was that the literal interpretation of Scripture had to change. For Augustine the plain narratives of Scripture had to be reinterpreted by spiritual or allegorical methods to agree with his philosophical presuppositions. The Manichaeans believed the Old Testament revealed a God who was mutable or could repent. Since the Platonists believed that God was immutable this idea of God repenting was a source of ridicule for the Catholic Church. Augustine was so embarrassed by these arguments that he chose to reinterpret Scripture rather than refute the Platonic philosophy.  (Calvinism Unmasked, chapter 2)

Jacob Arminius: “All the Danish Churches embrace a doctrine quote opposed to this, as is obvious from the writings of Hemmingius in his treatise on Universal Grace, in which he declares that the contest between him and his adversaries consisted in the determination of these two points: ‘Do the Elect believe?’ or ‘Are believers the true elect?’ He considers ‘those persons who maintain the former position, to hold sentiments agreeable to the doctrine of the Manichees and Stoics; and those who maintain the latter point, are in obvious agreement with Moses and the Prophets, with Christ and his Apostles.’ … The preceding views are, in brief, those I hold respecting this novel doctrine of Predestination.”  (Arminius Speaks, p.56, 57, emphasis mine)

Jacob Arminius: “The charge of holding the Stoic and Manichean doctrine, which is made by some against you, is not made by them with the idea that your opinions entirely agree with that doctrine, but that you agree with it in this, that you say that all things are done necessarily.” (Arminius Speaks, p.206, emphasis mine)

Jacob Arminius: “Such indeed is the state of the matter in Pelagianism and Manicheism. If any man can enter on a middle way between these two heresies, he will be a true Catholic, neither inflicting injury on Grace as the Pelagians do, nor on Free Will as do the Manichees. Let the refutations be perused which St. Augustine wrote against both these heresies, and it will appear that he makes this very acknowledgement. For this reason it has happened, that, for the sake of confirming their different opinions, St. Augustine’s words, when writing against the Manichees, have been frequently quoted by the Pelagians; and those which he wrote against the Pelagians, have been quoted by the Manichees. This therefore is what I intended to convey, and that my brethren may understand my meaning, I declare openly, ‘that it will be quite as easy a task for me to convict the sentiments of some among them of Manicheism, and even of Stoicism, as they will be really capable of convicting others of Pelagianism, whom they suspect of holding that error.” (Arminius Speaks, pp.363-364, emphasis mine)

John Mason writes concerning Augustine: “He held to a dualistic view of the world even after his conversion (reflecting a popular religion of his times called Manichaeism) and emphasized an on-going battle between light and dark as well as flesh and spirit. This perspective influenced his attitude toward sexuality in such a way that even after people were married intercourse was viewed as ‘evil’ and something to be avoided.” (Calvinism: A Road to Nowhere, p.35, emphasis mine)

One member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians: “If a man builds his house in a tree, he will defend that tree with his life, even when it is discovered that the tree is diseased, simply because his life’s investment (the house) is in that tree. I am convinced this is what happened to both Augustine and Calvin. Better to build one’s house on solid rock.” (SEA)

By analogy, Augustine’s tree house suffers from the disease of Gnosticism. Ultimately, then, Gnosticism never left the Church. It survived and endured under a different form.

Another member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians: “Augustine brought the Trojan horse into the church. Prior to him, everyone in the early church affirmed free will, denied fatalism, viewed all versions of fatalism as non-Christian and pagan thought.” (SEA)

John Calvin confirms that Augustine was accused of having a theology aligned with Stoicism:

John Calvin: “Those who want to discredit this doctrine disparage it by comparing it with the Stoic dogma of Fate. The same charge was brought against Augustine. We dont want to argue about words, but we do not allow the term ‘Fate’, both because it is among those that Paul teaches us to avoid as heathen innovations and also because the obnoxious terms in an attempt to attach stigma to God’s truth. (The Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 1, Part 4: God’s Providence, Chapter 16, Section 8, emphasis mine)

John Calvin: “But because the necessity of Stoicism seems to be established by what is said, the dogma is hateful to many who, and Augustine complains that he was frequently charged with it falsely. But it ought now to be regarded as obsolete. It is certainly unworthy of honest and wise men, if only they be properly instructed. The nature of the Stoics supposition is known. They weave their fate out of a Gordian complex of causes. In this they involve God Himself, making golden chains, as in the fable, with which to bind Him, so that He becomes subject to inferior causes. The astrologers of today imitate the Stoics, for they hold that an absolute necessity for all things originates from the position of the stars. Let the Stoics have their fate; for us, the free will of God disposes all things. Yet it seems absurd to remove contingency from the world. I omit to mention the distinctions employed in the schools. What I hold is, in my judgment, simple, and needs no force to accommodate it usefully to life. What necessarily happens is what God decrees, and is therefore not exactly or of itself necessary by nature.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, pp.169-170, emphasis mine) 

In other words, it is not nature or the stars that determines the fate of all, but instead, the free will of God, in which Gods decrees are what necessarily causes all things to happen as they do. Thus, the difference between Stoicism and Calvinism is Naturalistic Fatalism vs. Theistic Fatalism. Yet, it is still a form of Determinism.

William Barclay: Gnosticism was obviously highly speculative, and it was therefore intensely intellectual snobbish. It believed that all this intellectual speculation was quite beyond the mental grasp of ordinary people and was for a chosen few, the elite of the Church. So Timothy is warned against ‘godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge.’ (1 Timothy 6:20) He is warned against a religion of speculative questions instead of humble faith. (1 Timothy 1:4) He is warned against the man who is proud of his intellect but really knows nothing and dotes about questions and strifes of words. (1 Timothy 6:4) He is told to shun godless chatter, ‘for they can produce only ungodliness.’ (2 Timothy 2:16) He is told to avoid ‘stupid, senseless controversies’ which in the end can only engender strife. (2 Timothy 2: 23) Further, the Pastoral Epistles go out of their way to stress the fact that this idea of an intellectual aristocracy is quite wrong, for God’s love is universal. God wants all men to be saved and all men to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:4) God is the Saviour of all men, especially those who believe. (1 Timothy 4:10) The Christian Church would have nothing to do with any kind of faith which was founded on intellectual speculation and set up an arrogant intellectual aristocracy.

It would almost seem as though Barclay was referring to Calvinism, as the aformentioned seems to fit Calvinism perfectly!

Here is a link to a Blog post on this subject.

Question:  What is Gnosticism?

Answer:  A cult from the early Church period, with certain derivations. One branch of particular interest is Manichaeism, because Augustine was originally a Manichean Gnostic for nearly a decade before converting to Roman Catholicism. Gnostics denied Free Will, and affirmed Total Depravity, Original Sin and Determinism. They also used the word “elect” to denote the teachers, in contrast to the hearers. Later, after conversion, the former Gnostic, Augustine, coincidentally “discovered a hearty Determinism in Scripture. Augustine was very careful not to quote or cite any particular Gnostic, and no quote from any early Church father was ever used in support of his newly discovered Determinism. Gnostic writings are no longer extant, and much of what is known of the battle over Free Will, comes primarily from the early Church fathers, Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, who in opposition to the Gnostics, staunchly defended Free Will, even citing such passages as Matthew 23:37 in support. Ultimately, the early Church was a very strong advocate of Free Will, that is, until the 300s, when the former Gnostic convert, Augustine, arrived on the scene. Naturally, Calvinism is frequently accused of being the enduring remnant and legacy of Gnosticism, and just as Gnosticism was identified by knowledge (Greek: gnosis), Calvinists of today are identified as Reformed.