Gnostics are characterized by their longing for the kingdom of Light. Throughout history there can be found gnostic movements as well as individuals who became messengers of the divine reality through a life of service.
Gnosticism in the 7th to 13th Century
In the 7th Century, the Paulicians lived and worked in the Eastern Roman Empire. They rejected any hierarchical power since this would inhibit the inner experience of truth. By the end of the 11th Century, hundreds of thousands of Paulicians – like the Manicheans – were killed by the Byzantine Orthodox Church.
But the gnosis lived on. Its light and power shone, for example, in the community of the Bogomils who lived around Bulgaria during the 12th and 13th centuries and imparted their gnostic heritage to the Cathars in southern France. These two purely gnostic oriented communities suffered the same fate as their predecessors. Untold thousands of them were persecuted, tortured, and killed in the name of the ‘Orthodox’ Christian authorities.
Templars and Rosicrucians
In the early Middle Ages, the gnosis was alive in the inner circles of the Templar Order. At the beginning of the 17th century, it appeared strongly and clearly in the Rosicrucian movement. Johann Valentin Andreae, the author of the Rosicrucian Manifestos, was one of its most important representatives. From this movement, connecting lines lead to the Freemasons, who reorganized their communities in the early 18th century. Another strong gnostic impulse resulted in the foundation of the Theosophical Society in the 19th century. Helena Petrowna Blavatsky and Annie Besant were two key figures in this community. The movements of Rudolf Steiner and Max Heindel followed. In 1924, the history of the School of the Golden Rosycross had its first beginnings with the spiritual efforts of Jan van Rijckenborgh and his brother Zwier Willem Leene, who later founded the Lectorium Rosicrucianum together with Catharose de Petri. As gnostic Rosicrucians, they had a very special inner connection with the previous Brotherhood of the Cathars. All these movements are evidence of inner Christianity and describe a path to God, which is possible only through the relationship with the Spirit of Christ.
Meister Eckhart, Jacob Boehme and the Mystics
Focusing on the developments within the Church, a common thread of individuals becomes visible. Surrounded by the ever-increasing religious coercion of dogma and hierarchy, they were nevertheless in direct contact with the original Spirit of Christianity and testified this in their lives. In the 13th and 14th century, the mystics Meister Eckhart, John Tauler, Henry Suso and Jan van Ruysbroek, to name just a few, were witnesses of the true inner Christianity in Germany and the Netherlands.
Meister Eckhart said that man must retrieve the ground of his soul, where the spark of Spirit is hidden. This idea of the spirit spark within man echoes the teaching of the ancient Gnostics. To experience the birth of God in the depths of the heart needs no help from outside. It requires the full devotion of the soul to the divine Spirit and the progressive work on one’s own consciousness. Tauler and Suso, both disciples of Meister Eckhart, particularly emphasized the ‘serenity’ which man must realize in himself in order to see God. This devotion to the original ground and the complete abandonment of the ego is what is meant by the Cathars’ “dying according to nature”, an inner process that they termed the “Endura”.
Eckhart, Tauler and Suso dared to publish their knowledge, despite the opposition of the church. The depth and sincerity of their teachings convinced many seekers at that time who, as a result, formed communities apart from the Protestant Church. They called themselves “Friends of God” and saw themselves as silent wayfarers on the inner path to God, the path to which Christ had pointed. In the Netherlands, Jan van Ruysbroek had a similar message to give, as did Jacob Boehme about three hundred years later in Goerlitz. He saw himself as a tool of the living Spirit – but the Protestant Church declared him a heretic. Jacob Boehme said that each man must descend into his own inner depths, get into his own heart, in order to recognize love and anger there, and break through to love through an inner struggle. This he could achieve only in the power of Christ that pervades the entire cosmos. According to Boehme’s understanding, man is a still-nascent entity, who must obtain his consummation by himself.
The Process of Inner Transformation
Why did these people, who were deeply touched by the gnosis, accept defamation, persecution and often death for their beliefs? A Gnostic experiences the divine spirit directly inside his own being. He sees his path clearly in front of him, and he is willing to do all that is necessary for the process of his own internal transformation. He knows that no one else can do his “I die daily”, to which Paul testifies, for him. He must do it himself, he must turn away from this world in love and leave the old life behind.
He who is affected by the gnosis, recognizes that Christ must be born and has to die and arise in every man. This process of ‘Transfiguration’ is the true message of Christianity and the deep inner experience of the Gnostics. It spreads like a fire, getting bigger and brighter, as it is connected with the fire of the Holy Spirit, and it must impart its Light to the whole of humanity.
Therefore, the threefold gnostic signature words:
Man who becomes conscious of himself
knows its divine origin
– Born of God –
The old man dies, the new soul awakens
– Died in Jesus –
The new, conscious mind connects with the Spirit, saying “I and the Father are one”
– Reborn in the Holy Spirit –
This is the key to the salvation of man, which has accompanied him as a vocation throughout the ages, which still accompanies him and will do so forever.
Gnosis in other Religious Traditions
The fundamental elements of gnostic experience, the direct connection with the Spiritual Light and the great transformation of man, Transfiguration, are not only present in the Christian religious tradition. Documents such as the Tao Te King of Lao Tse, a testimony of ancient Chinese Gnosis, and the writings of Hermes Trismegistus show that the divine knowledge has always brought the liberating message for man who longs to return into the immortal world of Spirit.