Catholic Dictionary


(Greek: knowledge) In the N.T., gnosis can refer to "knowledge," which is an attribute of God (Rom 11:33) or of humans (1 Cor 8:1, 7, 11), or that which is embodied in the law (Rom 2:20). The term also refers to a class of knowledge about and from God that is specific to Christianity; we might call it "revelation," which we cannot know or come to know by reason alone. This is especially the case in terms of knowledge about the nature and character of God and how such knowledge directly affects and strengthens one's life (e.g., Wis 2:13; 14:22; 2 Cor 6:6, 10:5; 2 Pt 1:5). This kind of knowledge enlightens the intellect and originates from God (not the human: 2 Cor 4:6, 11:6; 1 Cor 1:5). Divine "enlightenment" of the intellect enables it to grasp the profound depths of the Faith, God's wisdom, God's will and intent for the unfolding of His majestic plan of salvation in Christ (Eph 1:9, 18). Hence this type of "gnosis" is "charismatic," in that it is a gift guided by the Holy Spirit and is grounded in love; as such, it illuminates the knower with a light that radically alters the believer's interior life and self-awareness by means of a more intimate knowledge of God. In Christian Tradition after the N.T. period, various sectarian movements (e.g., Valentinians, Manicheans, Mandeans) developed heterodox interpretations of "revelation," "illumination," and "gnosis." Differences among these groups notwithstanding, they shared specific assumptions and orientations that collectively are called Gnosticism. The characteristic features of Gnostic thought are: (1) Cosmological Dualism. Spirit and matter are diametrically opposed to each other; spirit is in essence morally good, while matter (i.e., our bodies, creation, etc.) is in essence morally evil (as distinct from being essentially good but under the domination of sin and death). (2) Secret Gnosis. The written words of Jesus in the N.T. are for the commoners and virtually worthless for "true salvation"; the words and teachings of Jesus were actually transmitted orally, in secret, and only to the Twelve Apostles (Jesus' inner circle of "true disciples"); this "secret teaching" was in turn transmitted orally through a line of the spiritually gifted. (3) Gnostic Liberation. This "gnosis" liberates the soul. Salvation occurs by or through enlightenment, and not by means of God's action.

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