and lesser divinities and demons all presided over by Fate and Fortuna (Latin for 'Luck' or ‘Chance’). The course of the second century saw a proliferation of Gnostic sects which all sought to paganise the faith of the Church. Gnosticism in doctrine is easily detected. Gnostics always reject the three fundamental doctrines of Christian revelation: God the Creator, the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation. For the origins of things, the Gnostics rejected the doctrine of Creation. Like all pagans they believed that the universe is eternal, moving in endless cycles from chaos to cosmos and from cosmos to chaos. They speculated endlessly about how things might have come into being by processes of ‘emanation’ from creative sources called ‘aeons’. 5
Gnostics always deny the goodness of the Creator and instead preach dualism: that the universe is itself uncreated and eternal and is the product of an eternal struggle between two principles or gods: one good and spiritual, the other evil and material. They also always deny the reality of the Incarnation; they deny that God could Himself become truly a man, and claim that Jesus only seemed (Greek: dokeo ‘seem’ hence ‘docetism’) to be human, and only seemed to suffer and die on the cross. 6
Thus during the second century a large number of rival Gospels, today called apocryphal Gospels, came to be written. All these Gospels invariably claimed to have been secretly revealed in an apparition by ‘the Risen Lord’ to one of the Apostles. This Apostle was then commissioned to transmit his ‘secret Gospel’ secretly to his own élite of secret disciples who alone were privileged to have the one full and true Gospel. This is elitism, another Gnostic characteristic. ‘Apocryphal’ means ‘hidden away’ or ‘secret.’ In modern times it has been customary to create the impression that these apocryphal Gospels were at some time considered for admission to the Canon of the New Testament. In fact the attitude of the Church has always been one of firm rejection. The attitude of the Church was always that expressed by St. Jerome (Epistulae 96: 20): “We repudiate those scriptures termed ‘apocryphal’, that is ‘hidden,’ for ‘In secret I have spoken nothing’ says the Lord.” 7
In 1945 a caché of twelve Coptic codices and fragments was discovered in a cave in the desert near the village of Nag Hammadi on the Nile in Egypt. Deposited in the late fourth century this collection of about 50 Gnostic works has enabled scholars to confirm the justice of the early Church’s condemnation of the Gnostics’ works as ‘entirely absurd and impious.’ Indeed the contrast between the apocryphal and the canonical Gospels is lurid. To try to read these blasphemous Gnostic fantasies is only to become even more trusting of the canonical Gospels and more thankful to the Church authority which had always carefully excluded these deranged imaginings. 8
A few of the more well known and leading Gnostics should be noted: About 120 in Alexandria one Carpocrates was teaching (like Cerinthus, St. John’s rival) that the world had been created by angels, that Jesus was St. Joseph’s son and that a Power had come down upon him only
Published on Nov 29, 2011
Published on Nov 29, 2011
This survey of how the New Testament came to be written is also a chronicle of the first 40 years of the history of the Christian Church. It...