What are the Gnostic Gospels?

What are the Gnostic Gospels?
Questions of Faith

 

Most people have heard of or watched pseudo-Christian movies like The Da Vinci Code or Stigmata which make claims that Jesus had a secret marriage with Mary Magdalene or that the Kingdom of God is in all of us. The role of these movies is to sensationalise commonly accepted teachings about Christianity by subverting them and offering a different perspective to undercut the commonly believed message.

Believe it or not, the plots of these movies are based on real ancient documents, referred to by academics as the Gnostic gospels. Gnosticism, which derives from the Greek word ‘knowledge’, is the modern name for a variety of sects and religious beliefs that became prominent around the 2nd Century following the flowering of Christianity.

At the heart of Gnosticism is the belief that the material world is bad and the spiritual realm is good. In contradiction with the Genesis account of creation where God describes the material world as “very good”, Gnostics viewed the material world as irredeemable, and sought to focus solely on things of the spirit.

This hatred of the material world didn’t just apply to objects but also our own bodies. They held that our souls are trapped inside our bodies, much like gold in mud.

Goal

The goal for the Gnostics then was to escape our inferior body and reach new spiritual heights, which was only possible through a special secret knowledge given to a few select people. This knowledge, Gnostics believed, was given by Jesus and through learning and living it, you would receive salvation.

Often in the 2nd and 3rd Centuries, Gnostics would try to promote their ideas as true forms of Christianity by writing false gospels and attributing them to the disciples of Jesus. The 2nd-Century Gospel of Judas for example, recounts how Judas Iscariot was really Jesus’ true disciple, and he had taught him the real secrets of his divine message.

The Church, however, has routinely condemned Gnosticism for a number of reasons, mainly because it suggests the salvation is based on how much you know, and secondly, because it spouts the belief that our bodies are separate from our souls.

Composites

Catholics believe that we are ‘body-soul composites’, which is to say, there is intimate unity between our bodies and souls. The body, rather than a mere appendage, is conjoined to the soul, and it is this relationship which constitutes the human person.

This theological belief is primarily rooted in the Incarnation, where Jesus truly became flesh and the Resurrection where Jesus’ spirit didn’t just rise again, but also his body. Often, we have the misbelief that in heaven, we will be disembodied spirits, but Catholics hold that in heaven we also have bodies.

We’re not entirely sure what they will look like but following the example of Jesus who had a transformed body after he rose from the dead, we can gain an insight as to what it might be like. As a reminder of the heresy of Gnosticism and the true character of Catholicism, simply remember the words we pray during the Nicene Creed: “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come”.