The Logos gives us truth about God and gives us moral laws which we have to fulfill, by freedom. So a kind of intellectualization and educational elements come into the doctrine of the Christ. This was a possible consequence of the Logos doctrine, and this is the reason why there were always reactions against the Logos doctrine. But I don’t want to go beyond this now because we come back to it again and again, and must now deal with another movement of great importance. The Apologists defend Christianity against the philosophers and the emperors. The dangers for Christianity were not only those from the outside – these were lesser dangers, even though persecution often resulted – but there was a much more essential danger, a danger from inside. nd this was the danger of gnosticism. Now what is this? It is derived from the Greek word gnosis meaning “knowledge.” It does not mean scientific knowledge. Gnosis is used in three ways: 1) as knowledge in more general terms; 2) as mystical communion; 3) as sexual intercourse.
You can find all three meanings in the New Testament. This means it is knowledge by participation. It is a knowledge which is as intimate as the relation between husband and wife. It is not a knowledge of analytic and synthetic research; it is not scientific knowledge. But it is knowledge of union and knowledge of salvation: it’s existential knowledge. Therefore the Gnostics were the Greek intellectuals, but were people who wanted to live in the realm of participation with the Divine, and who understood the cognitive function of man as a functioning of participation.
The Gnostics were not a sect – if at all, they were many sects – but they were much more than this. They were a universal religious movement in the late ancient world.
We call this movement “syncretism,” usually. It was a mixture of all the religious traditions of that time. This general movement of religious mixture was spreading all over the world, and it was strong enough to penetrate into Greek philosophy, so that we call that period of Greek philosophy the religious period of Greek philosophy. It was strong enough to penetrate into the Jewish religion: Philo of Alexandria is a typical predecessor of Gnosticism. It was strong enough to penetrate into the Roman law and into Christian theology.