The Surge Beyond Faith: the interplay of pistis and gnosis in the early church

You have to let it all go, Neo. Fear, doubt, and disbelief. Free your mind.

Morpheus (Laurence Fishbourne) in The Matrix 

                For much of the twentieth century, the ideas of the church in the second and third centuries; as well as the battles fought over those ideas seem of either a boring time that helps only as far as it illumines one’s bible study, or perhaps, as an embarrassingly passionate period of time to be ignored entirely. True, a study of the historical Jesus was all the rage from the nineteenth century on, but with the exception of a few scholars this period of time was not as meaningful. It has been surprising then that an arcane, and ubiquitous heterodox philosophy from this time period seems to be enjoying a pop-culture revival. Ideas of Gnosis, and the Gnostics can be found everywhere in modern culture from the movies to music to popular magazines. Pop religion enthusiast Richard Smoley records the following excerpt from Time, “Thousands of Americans follow Gnosticism avidly in New Age publications and actually recreate full-dress spiritual practices from the early texts and lore.”[1] He also relates the discussion from literary critic Harold Bloom that Gnosticism “is at its core the American religious experience.”[2] This experiential and esoteric philosophy of thought which proves to be much-maligned, but particularly insidious to the first and second century Christian is showing much the same life in America. Smoley believes that much of the appeal to this movement can be seen in the rampant paranoia and fear in modern society as well as the negative effect of scientism on the modern mind.[3] In a world in which neither the structures of society, nor the perceptions of one’s own mind is to trusted, it is only natural that a religious experience promising to provide the hidden secrets of the world, its creation, and its god(s) would be of tremendous interest.

                Elaine Pagels, an intellectual at the forefront of the move to bring Gnostic thought to the forefront of modern scholarship, argues that the interest in Gnostic thought comes from those that honestly want to study a train of thought that so worried and perplexed the early church leaders. She writes, “deploring the early diversity [of the first century church]…, Bishop Irenaeus and his followers insisted that there could be only one church, and outside the church, he declared, ‘there is no salvation.’[4] Members of this church alone are orthodox (literally, ‘straight-thinking’) Christians. And he claimed this church must be catholic…. Whoever challenged that consensus… was declared to be a heretic, and expelled.”[5] For many like Pagels an interest in Gnosticism flows from a deep-seated distrust not only society or the individual, but within the church proper. They look at the modern church, notice the blind spots and blemishes and wonder what the problem is. When they begin to read about ‘heretical’ groups that may have existed at the same time as the early ‘orthodoxy,’ they see in Gnosticism a chance for the redemption of the church.

                In his article describing Gnostic thought, Arthur Darby Nock posits that the major reasons for the growth of interest in modern gnosis go back to many of the same issues faced by the early church. The problems of Gnosticism touch on three universal issues faced by most people in most places at most times: the problem of evil and hurt in the world, a sense of alienation from the world, and a desire for an intimate and secret knowledge about these and other realities. [6] He quotes both Aristotle, “All men naturally desire knowledge,” and Franklin Edgerton’s discussion of the Hindu worldview, “They seek the truth, not because of its abstract interests, but because in some sense or other they think that a realization of the truth of man’s place in the universe and his destiny will solve all men’s problems.”[7] For all these reasons and more, a careful and precise study of the Gnostic ‘legacy and its interplay within the early church is more important than ever.  This paper will attempt to sketch out some of the major issues and beliefs that Gnosticism raised and study the responses of two orthodox church fathers to these questions. In doing this one may be able to understand and appreciate the complexities of this issue; as well as point to some preliminary areas of dialogue to be had within the modern church.

“Let no one suppose that I am unaware of the fact that some of them [the Christians] will agree that their God is the same as the God of the Jews, while others will say that their God is a different one, to whom the God of the Jews is opposed, that the Son came from their God.”

Celsus, as quoted in “Gnosticism by Arthur Nock      


                Before looking into the Gnostics and some of their teaching, one would be good to return to Pagel’s assertions. Pagels and others maintain that Gnosticism represents a truer and better understanding of the early church than can be seen in the traditional historiography of the early church. One way of dealing with this idea can be found in the polemical writings of Harold Brown. He makes the argument that “in order to have heresy, to be a heretic, it is necessary that there be an orthodoxy against which to react.”[8] He argues that the early periods of Christianity contain little writing outside of the soon to be accepted canonical writings. The orthodoxy of the church was implicit amongst the faithful and only needed more explicit discussion once the heretics begin to multiply and produce works of their own.[9]

                Another related way to answer this issue is to state that Gnosticism was never a truly Christian thought, but simply a set of beliefs that attached themselves to a nascent Christianity. The church father Irenaeus claimed that the origin of Gnosticism and many of the Gnostics with whom his church had to deal can be found in a much-overlooked passage from Acts when he writes:

In his [Simon the Samaritan Magician] desire to contend with the apostles, so that he might seem a celebrity, he looked deeply into all magic, in order to drive the many into a stupor. He lived under Claudius Caesar, by whom he is said to have been honored with a statue because of his magic. He was therefore glorified by many as God, and taught that he himself was the one who appeared to the Jews as Son, came down in Samaria as Father, and arrived among other nations as Holy Spirit. He was the Supreme Power, the Father above all; though he was willing to be called by all the names people call him.[10]


This Simon is taken to be the same Simon as mentioned in Acts 7. Curiously the early critic of the church Celsus mentions Simon by name and refers to him amongst of grouping of the many supposed messiahs parading around Palestine during this period. Another mention of this Simon can be found in the apocryphal book Acts of Peter which portray him as a pawn of the devil leading many to their destruction.[11]  David Tripp writes that for this reason, “Simon Magus… has a significance which leaves his historical career far behind: he created a convention… of a cult leader who is cult-object, who invades the growing Christian church for occultist purposes…. The dominant figure who gathers disciples for the sake of gathering and ruling.”[12] For this reason and others, Hans Urs von Balthasar writes that “Gnosticism had its roots in late antiquity, drew on oriental and Jewish sources, and multiplied into innumerable esoteric doctrines and sects… then like a vampire, the parasite took hold of the youthful bloom and vigour of Christianity.”[13]

                The embryonic beliefs of this ‘vampire’ can be seen in the creation myth told by Irenaeus:

When he [Simon] had bought a certain prostitute Helen in Tyre… he took her about with him, saying that she was the first Thought of his mind, the Mother of all, through whom he originally conceived of making the angels and archangels by whom the world was made. This thought leaping forth from him and knowing what her Father wished came down to the lower regions and gave birth to the angels and powers by which this world was made. After she gave birth to them she was made captive because of envy, since they did not want to be considered the offspring of anyone… she was enclosed in a human body and through the ages passed into other female bodies as one vessel from another….

   Therefore he himself came, first to take her up and free here from her bonds and then to provide men with salvation in Gnosis of himself. As the angels were misgoverning the world, he came down to correct the state of affairs, transformed and disguised as various principalities and powers and angels so that among men, though not a man, and he was thought to suffer in Judea, though he did not suffer…. Therefore those who have set their hope on him and Helen should no longer be concerned with them [the angels and powers that made and have been mismanaging the world], but as a free people do whatever they will.”[14]

In this account one can see most of the beliefs that would become more stylized and detailed in the later more developed Gnosticism: the emanations of the aeons; the evil nature of the world and the body; salvation by gnosis; Docetism; and a propensity for either extreme asceticism or an extreme libertinism.

Of all these doctrines, perhaps the most important is the idea of gnosis. Clement of Alexandria would say that this understanding of gnosis as a secret only understood and incorporated by a few led to a determinism that was not to be found in Christianity. The Gnostics, then, divided the world into three classes of people: the hylics, the psychics, and the pneumatics. In this scheme only the psychics show any free will. The hylics are doomed to their simple lives; while the pneumatics are by nature destined to possess this special secret teaching which was embedded in them. Pagels defends this teaching as a Gnostic understanding of the election passages of scripture. In her terms one could think of the pneumatics as the ‘elect,’ and the hylics as the ‘rejected.’[15] “For the masses a plain conformity to the letter of scripture was enough, a pass standard- but others went for honors.”[16] For Nock this was the primary self-understanding of the Gnostics: they were the straight-A students, the overachievers, the special ones with a little something extra.

                Out of this understanding of nature comes the unusual ability of Gnosticism to contain an impetus to both the ascetic and the libertine life. The Gnostic worldview saw the material world, that which was created by the lower powers, as evil and worthless. In this the body, as well as other materials were seen as evil cages for the ‘good’ spirit. This framework supports one of two views. First the world is evil and all its trappings must be avoided. A second view states that since the soul of the pneumatic is good by nature any degradation forced on the body are of no salvific consequence. The Gnostics, ever the lover of dualism, sometimes even combined the two, and set them against one another. The Gospel of Thomas states, “In this world there is good and evil. Its good is not good, and its evil is not evil.”[17] Likewise The Thunder: Perfect Mind reads, “For I am knowledge and ignorance. I am shame and boldness…. I am sinless and the root of sin…. I am lust in appearance and internal self-control exists in me.”[18] In light of the recent developments in the understanding of Gnostic thought due to the Nag Hammandi documents such as these, many bible scholars now posit that the sexually perverse man referred to in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians was involved in some form of early Gnosticism. George McRae writes, “The incestuous man is best understood as one who flouts the morality that is customary… based on a Gnostic or quasi-Gnostic scorn for material existence. He believes that he is asserting his true spiritual identity… by showing that he transcends such mere material, bodily concerns as sexual maturity.”[19] These ideas of the importance of gnosis coupled with a disdain for the world, and the normal standards of morality are not the only issues which the church would soon have to address, but they provide some interesting debates and discussions between many of the early church fathers. Along these lines Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria in their own ways would rise to the occasion to present defenses of the normal faith (pistis) of the believers, over against the knowledge (gnosis) of the Gnostics.

Corruptio optimi pessimum est (the corruption of the best is the worst)

Old Latin proverb

                Irenaeus’ Adversus Hareses (Against Heresies) is considered one of the great works of Christianity, much less the early church. He was not the first to attack the heresy. Many would argue that Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, John’s epistle, and Luke’s Acts of the Apostles all represent attacks on budding Gnostic tendencies in the church.[20] We know from other church fathers that Justin Martyr wrote a defense of the faith some years before Irenaeus but unfortunately much of that work is either or more fully formed in the works of Irenaeus.[21] Irenaeus was originally born in Asia Minor, and there he sat under the teaching of Polycarp (a disciple of John). He was sent to Rome with papers for Bishop Eletherus detailing some concerns that the Gallic Christians had with the Montanists. Later he was sent to Lyons to serve the Gallic church there, and was soon elected bishop of the city. There Irenaeus had his encounters with Gnosticism. Many Valentians (a newer form of Gnosticism led by Valentine) had chosen the Rhone Valley as their base of operations. Many of Irenaeus’ charges in the church were considered targets for this Valentian evangelization.[22] Through these encounters “Irenaeus saw the danger represented by the activity of the Gnostic teachers in his entourage and stood up as a pastor concerned with true teaching.”[23] He would attack these pernicious doctrines on three lines: some philosophical grounds, the scriptural / theological basis, and varied socio-political concerns.[24]

                First, Irenaeus would attack on philosophical grounds. Vallee summarizes this attack stating, “Plagiarizing the philosophers is not a good recommendation in Christian matters since… philosophy is the source of wrong doctrines.”[25] For Irenaeus the juxtaposition of Gnostic philosophy claiming to be bearers of the Greek tradition; as well as that of it being scriptural was not enticing.

                After warming to his task with a discussion of philosophy, Irenaeus moves to his more primary objective: that of dispensing with the idea that Gnosticism represented any type of positive interaction with the scriptural text. These arguments can be summed up as such:

1)The Creator and the Father of Jesus Christ are one and the same

2)“Christ sums up the universe,’ human beings, and all that goes with them. He recapitulates it, and takes up the whole history of disaster and thus makes it invalid. In this way the ultimate union of creation and redemption is secure.”

3)The Church through the Bishops and teachers have established and maintained a “connection with the apostles in a straight line.” [for Irenaeus, one could work it out like this: Jesus to John to Polycarp to Irenaeus; however in his own writings Irenaeus takes care to show the succession in Rome as his example[26]]

4)Outside of scripture, the ‘rule of truth’ established by the Apostles becomes the “norm of exegesis.”[27]

In short, the Gnostics cannot be deemed Christians since they do not correspond to those (and other) important facets of the orthodox faith. The first two points represent fine scriptural distinctive. The second two serve as a background for later developments within both the theology of Irenaeus and the church. Irenaeus, himself, compares the ‘rule of truth’ to a Greek scholar’s understanding of Homer, and that ability to tell true Homeric verse from that made up to impression others of one’s intelligence. He writes, “He who has that rule of truth steadfast in himself, whom he received at his baptism, will recognize the scriptural names and parables, but will not accept their blasphemous system as scriptural. For even though he may not know the stories, he will not take the fox’s portrait for the king’s. But referring to its own context, and its own place in the body of the truth, he will expose and refute their theory.”[28] Harold Brown writes that by “stressing the unity of the church’s testimony, delivered through the bishops, Irenaeus effectively anticipated the maxim of Vincent of Cerins that we hold to that ‘which has been believed always, everywhere, and by all.’”[29] The Gnostics were at fault because they were refusing to stay within the bounds of scripture and the theological traditions received by the apostles first and the bishops second.

                This moves on to what this author sees as Irenaeus’ primary concern: the damage that Gnostics were doing to the believers of his church (and of the church in other places). Adversus Hareses is replete with examples of the insidiousness of Gnosticism. One example will suffice:

The same Mark [a Valentinian magician] uses philtres and charms, if not all women at least some, so as to be dishonor their bodies. Once back in the church they have confessed that they were defiled by him in their bodies and that they have felt a violent passion for him. A deacon of ours in Asia let Mark into his home, but fell into disaster of this kind: was wife was beautiful and, corrupted in spirit and body by that logician, followed him for a long time. When the brethren were finally able to bring her back with great effort, she spent her time in penitence, weeping and bewailing her seduction by the magician

And his disciples, wandering about in the same circumstances and seducing and corrupting women, call themselves ‘perfect,’ as if no one can equal the greatness of their knowledge, not even if you mention Paul or Peter or some of the Apostles.[30]

There are other accounts of the tricks that these ‘perfected’ men use to snare the simple believer. As these accounts are part of a scathing attack on the Gnostics, many have complained that they are overblown. Many scholars though are convinced by the plausibility and deniability of the stories. By using accounts from his own ministry, it is argued that Irenaeus sets himself up so that if one of his opponents calls his exaggeration. Despite these understandable concerns, one must accept that there is truth in these accounts. In response to modern-day pop theologians that claim a high place for women in Gnosticism against a supposed low-place for them in Christianity, Daniel Hoffman writes, “if they was a correlation between the female elements of the Marcosian myth and the status of women in that community, it was one in which negative female images led to the abuse of women.” [31]

                In response to the deception of many believers (including many men as well), Irenaeus is irate. “They deceive the simple believers, but also show that they do not care about the apostolic tradition…. Gnostics freely subtract from and add to the hypothesis of truth. This arbitrariness is not only opposite to Irenaeus’ temperament…. It is blasphemy.”[32] This blasphemy is so incredibly dangerous to Irenaeus because it attacks what he sees as simple faith of the Christian. Such meddling with the stories, and truths of the faith (pistis) handed down from God to man is grounds for severe criticism. Vallee writes that “Irenaeus… contributed to the formation of the battlelines. After him, the Christian community did not step beyond the point he fixed.”[33] By attacking Gnosticism in this way Irenaeus lays the groundwork for all others to attack.[34]

“What liberates us is not only baptism, but also the knowledge of who we were, what we have become, where we were or into what we have been thrown, whither we are being ransomed, what is our birth, what is our rebirth.”

Clement of Alexandria, as quoted in “Gnosticism by Arthur Nock

                One writer who was writing to some degree concurrently time with Irenaeus, but who consistently pressed against the boundaries set up for this debate was Clement of Alexandria. Alexandria was an interesting and completely difference place from Irenaeus’ home in Lyons. Harold Brown writes that “to be Christian in second century Alexandria was to be confronted with high intellectual attainment among both the pagans and the Jews.”[35] Alexandria was to some degrees an intellectual capitol. Alexandria also had its share of Gnostics: both Valentinus and Philo had called the city home. Later on the city would emerge as one of the few places that could match the rhetorical splendor and power of Rome. Church Fathers such as Origen and Athanasius would call Alexandria there home in years to come. In his discussion of the East- West split, church historian Mark Noll makes the following points about Alexandria and Clement, one of its famous sons, in comparison to Tertullian, a western theologian and contemporary of Irenaeus, “Tertullian’s first language was Latin, Clement’s was Greek. Tertullian boldly challenged the pagan culture… Clement sympathetically sought aid for Christianity from the best paganism had to offer. Tertullian coined new words (like Trinity) and was eager to construct new formulas (regula fiedei), which he expected to end the debate. Clement mediated at great length on the truths of the faith, and used formulas to stimulate discussion… Tertullian was a lawyer. Clement a philosopher. Tertullian reasoned toward action. Clement reasoned towards truth.”[36]          Like Irenaeus, Clement was concerned about the Gnostic discussion of pistis, gnosis, and the dichotomy that their discussions established as the norm. Yet due to personality and place, the discussion that Clement had with Gnosticism was bound to be different.  First Clement made a practice of distinguishing the “simple pistis of the ordinary Christian from the gnosis of the well-instructed, mature believer.”[37] Like Irenaeus, Clement was concerned with the teachings handed down from Jesus to the Apostles. He argued that Jesus had, in fact, handed down an “oral ‘gnostic’ tradition” and it was with this tradition that the simple believer could learn the cosmological history of the universe, as well as, how to “investigate his faith critically and learn to give an account of it.” [38] Further complicating the issue, Clement referred to believers who had done these things by an interesting term: Gnostic.[39] So how it is that Clement avoided inclusion in future studies of heretics? The answer lies in how Clement goes about defining and using his terms.

                First one must understand the Christology of Clement. Unlike Irenaeus that emphasized the humanity of Christ and his sufferings against the docetism of the Gnostics, Clement emphasized Christ’s role as the divine Logos, and discussed the place of Logos as the revealer of the work of God. For Clement any knowledge (gnosis) could only be built on what was already known.  Questions can only be answered on the basis of the pre-existing structures. Clement writes that, “the primary lesson for life must be implanted on the soul…. That lesson is to know the eternal God…. He is the first and the highest. He is one and He is ultimate good.”[40] Further, Clement stated that “there must be first principles we accept without further inquiry which are self-evident and undemonstrable.”[41] Demonstrations of principles, likewise, must start from first, self-evident principles. This first principle could only be the person of God (apodeiktike), himself, that “being who cannot be apprehended by demonstration.”[42]

The Logos (that which was with God and was God, and by whom all things were made) becomes both the source of all knowledge, but also the transmitter or teacher of all knowledge.[43] Interestingly enough Clement spends a good deal of time working from the idea that this divine Logos has been apprehended in some degree by the Greek philosophers down through the years. In this way Greek philosophy becomes a type of preparatio evangelio in much the same way that the Hebrew Law acted as such for the Jews.[44] This thought was prominent enough in the second century that Celsus mentions in his critique of the church that the same identity of the pneuma that “inspired the prophets” and the pneuma that “filled the old men.”[45] Clement then “gnosis consists mainly in the separation from material things and in close communion with Christ, or in other words contemplation of the intelligible ideas which form all together the divine Logos.”[46]

                Second one must understand what Clement means by faith (pistis). Clement writes that “it is by faith alone that the first cause can be apprehended.”[47] Lilla states that Clement holds a three-fold definition of pistis:

1)The belief in the first principle of demonstration, and other immediate knowledge given in this regard.

2)The “firm conviction which the human mind possesses after reaching the Knowledge… by means of scientific demonstration.”

3)The normal process by which believers accept the scriptures as true without trying to fully and deeply mine them for all truth.[48]

Clement compares this faith to that of the senses. Clark writes that “aesthesis [the senses] is the first principle (arche) of pistis because from sensation basic principles extend.”[49] Where this faith is based on the scriptures it becomes sufficient for salvation, yet the new believer is to be encouraged to not give up at this stage, but to continue on in contemplation and the love of God.

        Third, one must understand the place of gnosis in this line-up. Faith is proleptic in that it anticipates the coming of the knowledge that will complete the faith of the believer.[50] Faith leads to knowledge which leads to maturity which in time leads to a ‘perfection of the faith which is higher than the faith of ordinary believers.”[51] Clement writes that “He [God] calls us to knowledge by saying through Jeramias: ‘If thou hast walked in the way of God, thou hast surely dwelt in peace for ever.’ He encourages the prudent to embrace knowledge by indicating the reward for it, and by offering pardon to those who have erred.”[52]

        In his attempts to define the life of faith leading to the earthy ‘perfection’ of knowledge, Lilla states that Clement was writing to three target groups. First, Clement was writing to his fellow philosophers. To them he was attempting to present the faith as a serious knowledge that was desirable for attainment. Second, he was writing to the Gnostics.[53] To these men and women he was trying to fight against the false dichotomy that differentiates between a few election pneumatikoi from the rest of the earth. Last, Clement was writing to his fellow Christians. To the Christian, Clement hoped to encourage them to press into the faith, and find buried within this treasure chest of the scriptures that knowledge which fills and completes life.[54]

“It was the emergence of Jesus and the belief that he was a supernatural being who had appeared on earth which precipated elements previously suspended in solution. In Corinth and elsewhere we have to reckon also with misunderstandings of Paul’s teachings, for which there would have been no excuse.”

Arthur Darby Nock “Gnosticism”

        As Peter faced down that magician in Samaria, it is hard to believe he had any imagination of what was actually occurring- that this would be the first recorded confrontation between two completing philosophies of ‘christianity’ that would meet time and time again. Yet this magician’s philosophy and many variations similar to it became “a medium through which non-christian notions, values, and practices entered into the growing Christian movement and adapted it.”[55] For many reasons the denizens of Christianity were not happy with this intrusion, and reacted in force. George McRae states that the early Christians rejected those ‘heretics’ for their non-conformist ethical behavior, their view of the god of this world as evil, and their denial that Jesus Christ came in the flesh and died for humanity.[56] Irenaeus writes that

they err from the truth because their view is opposed to Him who is truly God, not knowing that His Only-begotten Word, who is present with the human race, united and blended with his own creatures… and being made flesh, that he is Jesus Christ our Lord, who both suffered for us and rose on our behalf, and will come again in the glory of the Father to raise all flesh, and to manifest salvation, and to show the rule of judgment to all under him.[57]


Similarly Clement of Alexandria writes that:

It is possible, too, for us to make a completely adequate answer to the carping critics. We are children and little ones, but certainly not because the learning we acquire is puerile or rudimentary, as those puffed up in their own knowledge falsely charge. On the contrary, when we were reborn, we straightaway received the perfection for which we strive. For we were enlightened, that is, we came to the knowledge of God. Certainly, he who possesses knowledge of the Perfect Being is not imperfect.

   But do not find fault with me for claiming that I have such knowledge of God. This claim was rightfully made by the Word, and He is outspoken.[58]


Where Irenaeus writes as a pastor concerned for his sheep to follow in the faith that he has spent his life instructing them in, Clement of Alexandria writes as a wise philosopher engaged in a witty classroom debate. In their own ways each was crucial in defining and containing the threat that stood at the doorstep of the second century Church. In introducing the works of Irenaeus, Hans Urs von Balthasar writes that “myth is unmasked by the Word of God. It is the outcome of man’s desperate arrogance, his refusal to submit to God, his determination to make his own way to heaven….. the gnostic’s self-devised ascent is bound to end, like the flight of Icarus in a crash both tragic and grotesque. The surge beyond faith into the abyss of God ends in a blinded fall into inhumanity.”[59]

                It is true that men and women have questions to which they would like answers, but the writings reviewed in this paper should act as a warning that truth must always be grounded in the firm faith which springs from that which is primary to everything: the three persons of the Trinity, and the revelations that they have given to their people in the scriptures, and the traditions passed down from the Apostles. Without this rule, there can be no true pistis, nor any true gnosis.

[1] Smoley, Richard. Forbidden Faith: The Gnostic Legacy from the Gospels to the DaVinci  Code. (San Francisco: Harper; 2006), 1.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Smoley, Forbidden Faith, 5-7.

[4] I believe that this is an example of the lack of historical accuracy that occurs in much of this type of modern scholarship. Irenaeus most likely would not have formulated this type of thought. He most likely would have formulated a thought along the lines of Ignatius of Antioch who advised his followers to “follow the bishop as Jesus Christ followed the Father.” There is still a touch of patriarchy and patronage in that advise that a modern ‘Christian’ like Pagels may find hard to swallow, but would be a more historically accurate critique.

[5] Pagels, Elaine. The Gnostic Gospels. (New York, Random House, 1979), xxiii.

[6] Nock, Arthur Darby. “Gnosticism.” Gnosticism in the Early Church. Studies in the Early Church Volume 5. Ed David M Scholer. (Garland Publishing: New York, 1993), 2.

[7] Ibid, 3.

[8] Brown, Harold O.J. Heresies: The Image of Christ in the Mirror of Heresy and Orthodoxy from the Apostles to the Present. (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1984), 2.

[9] Ibid, 4-5.

[10] Irenaeus. “Against Heresies.” Irenaeus of Lyons. Ed. Robert Grant. (New York: Routledge, 1987), 88.

[11] Wilson, R. McL. “Simon and the Gnostic Origins.”  Gnosticism in the Early Church. Studies in the Early Church Volume 5. Ed David Scholer. (New York: Garland Publishing,1993), 114-115.

[12]  Tripp, David. “ ‘Gnostic Worship’: The State of the Question.” Gnosticism in the Early Church. Studies in the Early Church Volume 5. Ed David Scholer. (New York: Garland Publishing, 1993), 325.

[13] Von Balthasar, Hans Urs, intro to The Scandal of the Incarnation: Irenaeus Against the Heresies. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1981), 1.

[14] Irenaeus. Against Heresies., 88-89.

[15] Clark, Elizabeth. Clement’s Use of Aristotle: The Aristotellian Contribution to Clement of Alexandria’s Refutation of Gnosticism. (New York: Edwin Mellon Press, 1977), 45-46.

[16] Nock, Arthur Darby. Gnosticism, 8.

[17] McRae, George. “Why the Church Rejected Gnosticism.” Gnosticism in the Early Church. Studies in the Early Church Volume 5. (New York: Garland Publishing, 1993), 383.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid, 382.

[20] For an excellent article building this case see George McRae’s article “Why the Church Rejected Gnosticism” which builds its case primarily on analysis of various New Testament passages.

[21] Vallee, Gerard. A Study in Anti-Gnostic Polemics: Irenaeus, Hippolytus, and Epiphanius. Studies in Christianity and Judaism Volume 1. (Ontario, Canada: Canadian Corporation for Studiens in Religion, 1981), 5.

[22]  Hoffman, Daniel. The Status of Women and Gnosticism in Irenaeus and Tertullian. (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellon Press, 1995), 93.

[23] Vallee, Gerard. “Theological and Non-Theological Motives for Irenaeus’ Refutation of the Gnostics.” Gnosticism in the Early Church. Studies in the Early Church Volume 5. (New York: Garland Publishing, 1993), 388.

[24] Ibid, 389.

[25] Ibid, 391.

[26] Noll, Mark. Turning Points: Decisive Moments in  Church History. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 1997), 39.

[27]  Ludemann, Gerd. Heretics: The Other Side of Early Christianity. (Louisville, Kent.: Westminster, 1995), 21.

[28] Irenaeus. Against Heresies. Readings in Christian Thought. Hugh Kerr, editor. (Nashville, Tenn.; Abingdon Press, 1990), 30.

[29] Brown, Harold O.J. Heresies 81.

[30] Irenaeus. Against Heresies., 76-77.

[31] Hoffman, Daniel. The Status of Women and Gnosticism in Irenaeus and Tertullian, 112.

[32] Vallee, Gerard. “Theological and Non-Theological Motives for Irenaeus’ Refutation of the Gnostics.,” 392.

[33]  Vallee, Gerard. A Study in Anti-Gnostic Polemics: Irenaeus, Hippolytus, and Epiphanius, 32.

[34]  Gerard Valle provides the following chart showing the contribution of Irenaeus:










[35] Brown, Harold O.J. Heresies, 86.

[36] Noll, Mark. Turning Points, 135.

[37] Brown, Harold O.J. Heresies 87.

[38] Roukema, Riemer. Gnosis and Faith in the Early Church. (Harrisburg, Pa.: Trinity Press Int., 1999), 153.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Clement of Alexandria. The One Who Knows God. William Wilson, translator. (US: Scroll Publishing, 1990), 16.

[41] Clark, Elizabeth. Clement’s Use of Aristotle , 18.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Lilla, Salvatore. Clement of Alexandria: A Study in Christian Platonism and Gnosticism. (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1971), 157.

[44] An excellent discussion of this argument can be found in the opening chapters of Lilla’s book.

[45]  Lilla, Salvatore. Clement of Alexandria, 27.

[46] Ibid, 229.

[47] Clark, Elizabeth. Clement’s Use of Aristotle, 20.

[48] Lilla, Clement of Alexandria, 119-121.

[49] Clark, Elizabeth. Clement’s Use of Aristotle, 20.

[50] Clark, Elizabeth. Clement’s Use of Aristotle, 21.

[51]  Ibid, 24.

[52] Clement of Alexandria. “Christ the Educator.” The Fathers of the Church. Trans. Simon P Wood. (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc, 1954), 82.

[53] Clark points out that repeatedly Clement refers to the Gnostics as “false gnostics” as opposed to the true Gnostics of the Christian faith. She argues on Clement’s behalf that in his confluence, faith is primary and supreme in that it is faith that leads to gnosis.

[54] Lilla, Salvatore. Clement of Alexandria, 119.

[55] Tripp, David. Gnostic Worship,  320.

[56] McRae, George. Why the Church Rejected Gnosticism, 382-388.

[57] Irenaeus Against Heresies. Readings in Christian Thought. 36.

[58] Clement of Alexandria. Christ the Educator, 24-25.

[59] Von Balthasar, Hans Urs.  Intro, 6.


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