Thursday, November 22, 2012

The blasphemia creatoris
& the question of
how Gnostic
were the Gnostics of the first century /

Η blasphemia creatoris
("περί Δημιουργού βλασφημία")
& το ζήτημα τού
σε ποιο βαθμό ήταν Γνωστικοί
οι Γνωστικοί του πρώτου αιώνα

I have several times spoken about the early heretics as representing Gnostic tendencies. This is rather customary in recent NT research, and the evidence which points in this direction seems so unambiguous that this terminology can hardly be avoided. It is easy to observe how heretical positions reconstructed from polemic in first-century documents can be directly confirmed in Gnostic documents from the second century onwards, and also in the reports on Gnostic doctrines by the anti-Gnostic Church Fathers. This of course makes one inclined to say that the Gnostic systems known from the second century should be thought to have already existed 100 years earlier. Some scholars have drawn that inference, and have regarded for example Paul’s opponents in 1 Corinthians as fully fledged Gnostics. But others have warned against this reading-back of second-century evidence, and rightly so. Robert McLachlan Wilson has found a wide hearing for his suggestion that in the first century we should not speak of Gnosticism, but of Gnosis, meaning by the latter term ways of thinking which point the way to second-century Gnosticism, but which are not yet integrated into a Gnostic system. But even if we accept Wilson’s terminology, we are left with the question once asked by him: ‘How Gnostic were the Corinthians?’ - or: How Gnostic were the Gnostics of the first century?

I submit a simple observation which may have some bearing on the issue. In the anti-Gnostic polemic from Justin onwards, the main point of attack is always the blasphemia creatoris, the claim that the God of the OT, the God of the Jews, who created the material universe, is a quite inferior deity, wicked or stupid or both. There can be no doubt that the horror exhibited by the Church Fathers when confronted with this doctrine was quite sincere, and that their violent protests came from the bottom of their hearts.

In writings prior to Justin I have found no similar direct attack on the blasphemia creatoris. I think that this silence is significant and allows for some conclusions. Had Paul met with opponents who claimed that the God of the OT was a wicked or stupid demiurge, I am sure he would have responded with an anathema sharper than the one in Galatians 1:8f. Nothing of the kind is found in Paul, nor in other writings from the apostolic or post-apostolic period. What we do find is polemic against something I should like to call blasphemia creationis. That there existed a way of thinking which could properly be characterized by this term is confirmed when we turn to the reports of the Church Fathers concerning the earliest forms of Gnostic heresy. In early Simonian Gnosis, it seems as if the God of the OT is still identified with the highest God, the Father. But he is not directly responsible for the creation of the material universe: it is made by lower angels (Iren., Adv. Haer., 1:23:2). The same point of view recurs in Menander, who is also reported to have said that baptism conferred the resurrection and that the baptized should not die - a saying often quoted a propos of 2 Timothy 2:18 (Adv. Haer., 1:23:5). Let me suggest that we may here have one of the criteria by which a more precise distinction between first-century Gnosis and second-century Gnosticism might be drawn.

* Oskar Skarsaune,
Heresy and the Pastoral Epistles
Αίρεση και Ποιμαντικές Επιστολές»],
Themelios 20.1 (October 1994),
p./σ. 12 [9-14].
[English/Αγγλικά, PDF]

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