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Γνοστικοί). A religious sect which flourished in the first century of the Christian era. In the New Testament, γνῶσις denotes the profound appreciation of Christian truth; with the Gnostics it means a sort of transcendental and mystic understanding, which saw and knew the allegories and subtleties which they professed to find in the sacred writings. They claimed a kinship between all the religions of the world, and asserted their possession of special traditions from certain of Christ's disciples, and the gift of prophecy. The sources of Gnosticism were three —Greek idealism, Oriental pantheism, and Christian revelation, and it was always a heresy of the learned rather than of the masses whom its subtleties repelled. The four points upon which nearly all the Gnostics agreed were as follows:


God is incomprehensible;


Matter is eternal and antagonistic to God in that it conditions and limits the divine efficiency;


Creation is the work of a Demiurgus, either subordinate to God or perhaps actually opposed to him;


The human nature of Christ was only a deception. See Aeon.

Gnosticism reached its highest point A.D. 150, after which it rapidly declined. Its importance is to be found in the fact that its arbitrary treatment of the Scriptures forced the Church to a more thorough study of the historical tradition, and to establish the principle that nothing is to be regarded as true Christianity which is not shown to be derived from Christ and his apostles. See Matter, Histoire Critique du Gnosticisme (2d ed. 1883); King, The Gnostics and their Remains (1873); and Mansel, The Gnostic Heresies, edited by Lightfoot (1875).

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