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The Gnostic Savior

Struggle for the Divine Spark The Consummation

Unlike Hermeticism and Neoplatonism, which as spiritual philosophies do not depend on a particular "external" religious figure for salvation, Gnosticism, like Christianity, is very much a Divine Savior-orientated belief-system.  The difference is that according Christian doctrine the supernatural Savior confers Love but at the same time denies Knowledge and self-effort ("not through works but through faith", etc); while in Gnosticism - whether Christian, Sethian, or some other form - the Savior confers spiritual Knowledge (Gnosis) yet at the same time dose not negate spiritual self-effort.  In Gnosticism then, Christ is not a blood-sacrifice figure who has to be tortured and executed to atone for man's guilt and sin, but rather a messenger of saving Knowledge, very much like the Buddha who taught the way to Enlightenment and Nirvana.

And while the Christian religion, being profoundly anti-metaphysical, simply equates Christ with God-Almighty (while further befuddling things with the three-in-one Trinity; Constantines' politically expedient creation at the Council of Nicea), the Gnostic cosmology sees the Savior as simply one emanated Divine Principle among many.  As the anonymous author of the external link The Gospel of the Egyptians explains:

"The incorruptible man Adamas asked for them a son..., in order that he (the son) may become the father of the immovable, incorruptible race, so that through it...the dead aeon (Matter) may raise itself, so it that it may dissolve.  And thus there came forth, from above, the power of the great light, the Manifestation.  She gave birth to the four great lights..., and the great incorruptible Seth, the son of the incorruptible man Adamas."
[The Gospel of the Egyptians, in Nag Hammadi, p.199]

Even for the Christian Gnostic - e.g. the Valentinian - Christ and Jesus are not only unrelated to the conventional (Pauline) Christian deity, but are actually two separate beings.  In the Valentinian cosmogony the Christos never leaves the Pleroma at all, except to shape the formless entity" into the Lower Sophia, while the suffering and Passion of the human Jesus - into whom the Jesus-Aeon descended at his baptism and departed before the crucifixion - was merely a stratagem to fool Death.  The human Jesus was the messenger for the Gnosis which makes possible the "information" of incarnate Souls; he had nothing to do with the Pauline idea of original sin, etc.

In other Gnostic teachings, especially those referred to as "Sethian" - such as the external link The Gospel of the Egyptians, quoted above, it is Seth rather than Christ who is the central Savior figure.  The human Seth, who unlike his brothers Cain and Abel possessed the "spirit" or "seed" from above [Birger A. Pearson, "The Figure of Seth in Gnostic Literature", pp.478-483 (in B. Layton, ed., external link The Rediscovery of Gnosticism, vol. 2. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1981, 472-504), was the progenitor of the Gnostic race.  The Jewish-Gnostic Apocalypse of Adam, and the more sophisticated external link The Gospel of the Egyptians, a "salvation history" of the earthly race of Seth, its origin, its survival of flood and fire, and its salvation through an "Illuminator" or Savior, Seth himself [Ibid, p.489].  Such "salvation history" is derived from Jewish apocryphal sources [p.503].

Seth himself then takes on the form of a Divine, celestial, pre-Creation being, as we have seen.  The human Seth is thus an Incarnation, an Avatar to use the very appropriate Indian term, of the "great Seth", the heavenly son of the incorruptible Man, Adamas [p.477]

In external link The Gospel of the Egyptians, the great Seth passes through three "parousias" (flood, fire, and judgment by the inferior gods of this world) in order to salve his race, "through a Logos-begotten body" which he prepared for himself, finally "putting on" Jesus for that purpose [Nag Hammadi, p.203] [pp.490].  While in another Sethian tractate, it is the eschatological high priest and messianic warrior Melchizedek who takes on the role of Jesus Christ. [Nag Hammadi, p.399; [p.498]

So the basic feature of Sethian Gnosticism is the theology "of Seth as a heavenly redeemer, who can manifest himself in a variety of earthly incarnations, such as Zostrianos, Zoroaster, Melchizedek, Jesus Christ, etc" [Birger A. Pearson, "The Figure of Seth in Gnostic Literature", (in B. Layton, ed., external link The Rediscovery of Gnosticism, vol. 2. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1981, 472-504), p.498]

Ultimately, Seth's purpose and mission is not only the salvation of the gnostic sparks trapped in matter, but also the spiritual dissolution of the fallen Cosmos.  As we have seen ;The Gospel of the Egyptians refers to Seth as "the father of the immovable, incorruptible race", through which "the dead aeon", that is, matter, or darkness, "may raise itself, so it that it may dissolve." [Nag Hammadi, p.199].

The Sethian Gnostics | The Valentinian Cosmology | Cyclic, Historical, and Dramaturgic Time | The Pleroma | The Gnostic Dramaturgy - Creation and Redemption |

Struggle for the Divine Spark The Consummation

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page uploaded 28 June 1998, last modified 6 June 2004