Against Gnosticism

I don’t believe in the Gnostic belief system; I USED to but through a lot of study, I’ve been able to satisfactory discount it to myself because it does not make a case for a legitimate claim to Christianity.  The legitimacy lies instead with the apostles and early Church fathers who had the most direct communications with Jesus and to his earthly teachings and they were all in direct opposition to Gnostic teaching.  And Gnosticism is in direct conflict with the Christian belief system.


I don’t know what you know about Christianity so I’ll provide as much background to make my initial points about 1) Christian opposition to Gnosticism and 2) Christian theology.


The Bible is made up of two sections: The Old Testament (OT) (Jews would refer to this as the Hebrew Scriptures) and the New Testament (NT).  Basically, the OT is about God’s creation of the world, his presentation of his law to Moses and the nation that became Israel, and his revelations through prophecy of a King Messiah who would come from the bloodline of King David.


Jews do not believe in the NT as they are still awaiting a Messiah and Christians believe that Jesus is the Messiah.  Messiah literally means God’s anointed one, and specifically it refers to the Savior / Rescuer.


In the New Testament (NT), there are four (4) “Gospels” (definition is directly from the Greek translation of “euangélion” which means “good news”).  Three (3) were written by or on behalf of an apostle (Gospel of Mark was written for Peter), also referred to as the disciples who were closest to Jesus (disciple means student and the apostles were 12 men whom Jesus taught – apostle means: one sent forth as a messenger) and one Gospel was written by Luke who was a 1st century physician who had done research by interviewing eyewitnesses and was very active in the early church.  Each Gospel is about the life and mission of Jesus.  Each was written with a specific audience in mind: whether to the Jews who believed Jesus was the Messiah, or to the Greeks escaping their pagan beliefs, etc. and they vary on small points but all without exception claim that Jesus was not only the Jewish Messiah but he was also the only Son of God, essence of his essence, and therefore divine.  (I’ve included more about Christian theology toward the end of my letter.)  And that as Jesus, in or around 33 A.D., he suffered a physical death by crucifixion but was “resurrected”: raised from the dead in order to reconcile us back to God through faith in him.  The point of each Gospel, the Good News they were imparting, was that Jesus was resurrected and through this, he had conquered death and satan and therefore, could set any person who believes this.  John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”


The Gnostics didn’t believe in any of this.  The more I read of the actual Gnostic Gospels (the earliest was written in the 2nd century), the more I realized just how off base they are.


Years ago, when I read books like Elaine Pagel’s “The Gnostic Gospels”, I was not as educated, so accepted her erroneous statements at face value.  She wrote of how Gnosticism is a departure from Christianity because it believes that mankind needs to directly experience God through secret teachings and that the Gnostic movement was repressed by the church for political reasons.  Basic Christianity believes you need a direct, personal relationship with God as well but it is not presented as a secret because that relationship is available to anyone who decides to accept it.  Regarding Pagel’s assertion that Gnosticism was suppressed for church political reasons, there are no facts or legitimate sourcing to support it.  Any study of that time period shows that church repression for political reasons is a fallacy.  Pagel’s book provides vague snippets but does not delve into the actual belief systems, which made up Gnosticism.


Gnosticism was actually a very complex mythology.  There was an evolution and splits in the belief system in the Christian branch of Gnosticism.  Through the most popular sects, that arose in the 2nd century, we learn that they didn’t believe in one God but rather believed in a Creator God who they believed was evil (and that the God in the OT was actually this God) and that there is a separate “good” God who sent Jesus (as well as other mediators) to impart secret knowledge to only a selected few, and that if they followed examples like Jesus’ example, they could know the “good” God too.  In general, Gnosticism was/is an elitist class-system; as only the “spiritually mature” (to whom secret knowledge or “Esotericism” was imparted to) could hope to know God.  The rest of mankind would remain lost.  Basically, they maintain that God gave a secret message to a few because he could not trust it to the rest; i.e. Jesus taught one message to the masses and another to his apostles.  Gnostics were also very negative toward any kind of physical matter, specifically the human body, and any pleasure in this world.  They tended to practice Asceticism, which is a belief that if you abstinence from the physical world, you attain a higher spiritual state.


Gnostics also did not believe in the resurrection, which is central to Christianity.  (There is an article about Gnosticism and the Resurrection: “The Nature of Resurrection” By Gary F. Zeolla, on web page  HYPERLINK “http://www.dtl.org/jesus/article/resurrection.htm” http://www.dtl.org/jesus/article/resurrection.htm which is on the “Darkness to Light” website).  Gnostics believed that Jesus was not the divine Christ but that in Jesus’ actual person there was some sort of disembodied being who used his body as an instrument which is separate & does not identify with Jesus or his body; essentially, someone’s body is used as a “piece of clothing” under someone else’s influence.  They believe that Jesus the man was possessed by this “higher conscience”.


In the 1st and 2nd centuries, the Gnostic belief systems were teaching a doctrine that was adversarial & invasive within what became known as the Christian church, differing from the belief system of established Christianity and hence, it forced orthodox (defined here as established or traditional) Christians to address it. Gnosticism had married myths and philosophy which were both very developed in the Greco-Roman culture and by the 2nd century, Christianity created “apologetics” (Apologetics is defined as: the branch of theology concerned with the defense or proof of Christianity) in order to explain the authentic Christian belief system to believers (many believers after the 1st century were converted non-Jews or pagans) and to nonbelievers (they had more affinity with Gnostic beliefs since their culture was the creator of Gnosticism).  The apologists rebutted the Gnostics, addressing where their belief system was in error to what they knew Jesus had actually taught.


The NT is full of direction to the new believer so some of the rebuttals started in the Bible itself.  The NT is a compilation of books and letters written & gathered in the 1st century and it is full of references by the Apostles to False teaching and teachers.  In the following centuries, other works outside of the NT were written by the early Church Fathers, the representatives of the tradition of the church.  Legitimacy in the early church was established through writings by the original apostles and their verbal instructions, which are referred to as “Tradition”.  What is important to remember is that the 1st century Christian church was first an extension of Judaism.  The first believers were Jews and they referred to their belief as “The Way”.  They suffered persecution from two sources: 1) the Jewish culture who eventually pushed them out from under their “umbrella” of sects so that they became a separate religion and 2) the Roman culture/government who considered them as rebellious to Caesar because they would not recognize Caesar as King.  Christians, although they were not rebellious, would only recognized Jesus and God as their King, and this was considered sedition.  Both “cultures”: Jewish and Roman were very literate-oriented so that although people may have not been able to read, the written word and verbal memorization of that word were very respected and very developed.  Sourcing even as far back as the first century is very strong.


So from these sources, and aside from whether a person believes the Gnostic presentation of Christianity is true or not, what is very evident is that those close to Jesus did not believe Gnosticism was true.


Words from the apostles themselves:
You may be familiar with a passage in the bible sometimes referred to as the Love chapter because that is its essential point.  It is found in 1 Corinthians 13 (chapter) in the NT.


1 Corinthians is a letter written by apostle Paul, who was not one of the original disciples.  At first, he was actually a persecutor of the early Christians who, as mentioned, at that time were still a sect of the Jewish religion and Paul worked on behalf of the Pharisees, the prevalent Jewish sect of the times, and the sect who brought the charges to the Roman empire of sedition by Jesus (which is why he was crucified by the Roman government).  These Jews did not like the fact that Jesus claimed he was God.


Paul, when he was anti-Christian, was named Saul, which is the Jewish equivalent of Paul, but on the way to a city named Damascus, he had an encounter with Jesus who by this time had ascended to God (so after his resurrection).  This is recorded in the Book of Acts, which is in the NT.  Acts covers approximately 35 years of early church history; it is written by Luke who, as mentioned, also wrote the Gospel of Luke.  In the NT, the Book of Acts is right after the four (4) Gospels, because it is all about the apostles and other early believers and what they did to spread Christianity, which was Jesus’ last directive to them before his ascension.


I’ve pasted in Acts 9:1-9 (Book of Acts, Chapter 9, verses 1 through 9), which is about Paul’s encounter:

“But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way (note from Elaine: this is what the first believers who were not yet called Christians referred to as Christianity), men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”  The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.”


After this, Saul whose name shortly afterward changes to Paul, which is the Greek equivalent of Paul, working closely with the other apostles of Jesus, becomes instrumental in spreading Christianity specifically to the Gentiles (non-Jews), specifically those in the Greco-Roman culture.


1 Corinthians was written around 53 A.D. Paul writes against the false teachings which were arising in a “house” church which he had founded in the city of Corinth (there were no legal churches until the 4th century so people met in houses).  Corinth was a city captivated by the allure of gaining “Wisdom” and power and the pagans there looked down upon “The Way” as very unsophisticated.  Wisdom in the ancient world was the buzz-word for the study of philosophy.  The Corinth church was made up of primarily former-pagans who would have been steeped in philosophies.  Paul is admonishing them because they had a segment among them that were asserting that they all had received “gnosis” (Greek for “knowledge”).  Paul makes the point that gnosis, as opposed to love, puffs people up and makes them prideful (1 Cor. 8:1-3) “we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.”


Paul is saying that pride has the power to corrupt the bearer of knowledge. This statement is part of the prologue to 1 Cor 13, which, as mentioned, is the love chapter. Even as a gift from God, knowledge can corrupt a person.  Unless, that is, it is accompanied by love.  Paul also rebuts them in 1 Cor. 15:29-31 declaring that through Jesus Christ’s resurrection, we are also raised from the “dead” or our previous spiritually dead state.  Paul’s point is that this is the ultimate gift: God’s love for us through his act in the resurrection, which supersedes our gnosis.


After writing the above, I just found this from a bible study on web page:  HYPERLINK “http://www.bible.org/page.php?page_id=1200” http://www.bible.org/page.php?page_id=1200 and it more fully articulates the situation which the Corinth church found itself in:


“The Corinthians had a wrong perception of the Christian message (1:18–3:4) in terms of “wisdom.” Their pagan background had negatively shaped their understanding of wisdom (due, no doubt, to the influence of Greek philosophy [cf. 1:20]). The message of salvation from sins which involved a dead Jew on a Roman cross was foolishness to the pagans (1:18-31), though it was central to Paul’s proclamation (2:1-5). But true wisdom—the wisdom which comes from God—can be known only by believers (2:6-10), and fully grasped only by mature believers (2:11-16). The unbeliever, because of his volition, is not at all able to grasp the wisdom of God (2:14). The fact of divisions among the Corinthians proves that they are still fleshly, however, and not mature enough to grasp all that could be theirs in Christ (3:1-4). Thus with few words the apostle Paul has been able to turn the tables on what constitutes true wisdom by showing that true wisdom comes by way of revelation, not reason.”



All that to say, pagan gnosis was not the way (and is not the way) to understand the Christian message.


In another NT letter: Timothy (written around 65 A.D.), while Paul was awaiting execution by the Roman government, he writes (in 2 Timothy 4:3,4) to his Pastor friend, Timothy, who he also mentored:
“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”


On a personal note, it was these verses from 2 Timothy that I prayed over myself as I studied about God and sought to know him better; I asked that he protect me against “myths” and show me his Truth, no matter where it might take me in my belief system.


So the preceding snippets from Paul’s letters are just a few of his rebuttals.


The other apostles also spoke and wrote against belief systems, which were departing from basic Christianity.  The apostle Peter writes in his epistle (letter): 2 Peter 2:1-3:
“But false prophets also arose among the people (note: Peter is making a comparison to OT times), just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality (note: this is a reference to their pride), and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.”



Peter does not mince words because he not only believes the false teachings are inherently wrong, they are also dangerous to believers.


The apostle Matthew in Matthew 7:15-23 and 24:11-28 noted Jesus speaking specifically about false teachers.   Other references by the apostles regarding false prophets and teachers are found in Acts 20:28-35; 2 Corinthians 11:3–12:13; Galatians 1:6-9; Philippians 3:1-2; Colossians 2:8-15; 1 Thessalonians 1:3-12; 1 Timothy 1:3-7; 6:3-5; 2 Timothy 2:14-26; 3:2-8, 13; 4:14-18; Titus 1:10-16; 3:9-11; 1 John 2:18-29; 3:2-12; 4:1-6; 2 John 7-11; 3 John 9-10; Jude (the half brother of Jesus).(source: http://bible.org/seriespage/false-teachers-2-peter-21-3)


As noted, the apostles were already rebutting Gnostic claims in the 1st century Christian church but it was in the 2nd century, where we see the most organized Gnostic movements and hence the most organized rebuttals.  As previously stated, Gnosticism is basically a syncretism (defined as an attempt to blend and reconcile various philosophies) of pagan philosophy belief systems in the Greco-Roman world.  The most prevalent were: 1) Simon the Magician (who is mentioned in the Book of Acts so 1st century), and 2) from the 2nd century: Valentinus, Marcion, and 3) in the 3rd century, Mani (Manichaeism).


The earliest church rebuttal writings outside of the NT are by respected believers who are called Church Fathers (as mentioned: the representatives of the tradition of the church).


Ignatius of Antioch (born in 50 AD) and Polycarp of Smyrna, are both reputed to be students of the apostle John (who was the only apostle to live to old age and who wrote a good portion of the NT: Gospel of John, Letters 1, 2 & 3 John and Revelations) and John was a close student of Jesus.  As mentioned, this was how the early church established trusted sourcing; they tracked everything back to as close to Jesus as possible.  These two wrote specifically against the Gnostic mode of belief, as it did not sync with what they had verbally been taught and what had already been written about Jesus’ teachings.


One of the first apologists for the Christian faith was Justin Martyr and as you can guess by his name, he did die (in 165 A.D.) for his belief system. Although Justin was not the first “martyr” for the Christian faith, his name became synonymous with Christians who did.


I’m detouring for a moment here because I want to make the point that a lot of the early key people died for their Christian belief. In fact, every one of the apostles excluding John (who died of old age around 100 A.D.) but including Paul died for their faith.  I’ve listed the modes of death of Jesus’ apostles because it shows just how seriously they adhered to their faith.  All that was required for them to not be executed and live was to renounce Christianity:  Andrew: Martyrdom by crucifixion (bound, not nailed, to a cross). Bartholomew (Often identified with Nathaniel in the New Testament): Martyrdom by being either 1. Beheaded, or 2. Flayed alive and crucified, head downward, James the Greater: Martyrdom by being beheaded or stabbed with a sword, James the Lesser: Martyrdom by being thrown from a pinnacle of the Temple at Jerusalem, then stoned and beaten with clubs, Jude (Often identified with Thaddeus in the New Testament): Martyrdom by being beaten to death with a club, Matthew: Martyrdom by being burned, stoned, or beheaded, Peter: Martyrdom by crucifixion at Rome with his head downwards (he first was forced to watch his wife crucified), Philip: Martyrdom but mode not known,  Simon: Martyrdom by crucifixion or being sawn in half, Thomas: Martyrdom by being stabbed with a spear. (source: http://www.apostles.com/apostlesdied.html)


Justin Martyr, wrote a text called, “Refutation of All Heresies” (Heresy is defined here as: any belief or theory that is strongly at variance with Christianity’s beliefs, customs, etc.).  Through Justin’s works, we have our earliest, clearest knowledge of specific Gnostic teachers and teachings.


Also note worthy is Irenaeus who wrote, “Against Heresies” which, again, gives us information about Christian Gnosticism.  He was born around 140 AD and was a student of Polycarp, who you recall was a student of John, who was a student of Jesus.


These are just a few references to the early churches defense against the heresy it considered Gnosticism.


Mankind has always been attracted to the idea of secret or “mystery” impartings about God; it supports our idea of self-importance because we believe it is only by our own efforts that we could arise to a state to know God.  The Greco-Roman world was alive with secret sects and Mystery religions and Gnosticism tried to marry these ideas into Christianity.


I appreciate the insight of church father, Basil the Great (330-379) in his response to the possibility of Christian secret teachings, “God has clearly told us, what we need to know for spiritual growth, edification and sound theological knowledge.  The desire to move beyond God’s revealed clarity to a hidden meaning is a sign of spiritual malaise.” (From Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers by Christopher A. Hall, page 87).


So, if Gnosticism isn’t Christianity, what is?


As you now realize, the first “Christians” were Jews but there were many Jews who, like the Gnostics, did not accept Jesus because he claimed to be God.  Basic Christianity teaches that Jesus, the very essence of God, in a redemption plan known and progressively revealed in the Bible, in paradoxically poor & lowly circumstances, was born of a virgin.  He revealed himself as first the expected Messiah and then as God incarnate.  This is called “progressive revelation”.  Many times, in the New Testament, the religious of his own religion (Jews), stooped to pick up rocks in order to stone him.  It wasn’t because he claimed to be the Messiah.  There were many claimers in the first and even second centuries and many Jews died backing their favorites; they WANTED a Messiah.  They wanted to stone Jesus because what he was saying was outrageous and blasphemous: He was claiming to be the Messiah AND God. And he was claiming that no one could come to God except through him: John 14:6:
“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”


Jesus was on an earthly reconciliation mission which was God’s (his Father’s) will, performing it as his own because the son’s divine will is one & the same as the Father’s.  This is what the verse in John 5:19 means:
“So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.”


It is in the NT, that the concept of the Trinity of the Godhead is formally introduced: The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (or Ghost), although there are references to it in the OT.  Basil states that God uses a second person plural when he used the word “our” in Genesis 1:26, which is the first book found in the OT and an account of how God created the earth and mankind: “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”…”.  It is plural because it includes the Son, the second person of the Trinity.


Even one of God’s names: Elohim is a plural. The Hebrew root means “strength” or “power”, and in Genesis 1:1, we read, “In the beginning Elohim created the heaven and the earth.”  Most of God’s other names are attributes or characteristics of God.


I encourage you to read the Gospel of John (I use the ESV Study Bible which has fantastic notes).  In Chapter 6, Jesus’ claims are exemplified and many among the Jews are disgruntled, even to the point where most of his followers, state:
“This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” “And many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.”


It is a hard message and it is only through faith that one is able to accept it.


I know that it is difficult for people to comprehend how Jesus is the only son of God, the Father and that both are part of the Trinity.  Esoteric (secret teaching) Christianity/Gnosticism instead believes that Jesus is an archetype and an example of how we can evolve ourselves to perfection.


In a way, he is our example but that comes once a person becomes “justified” which is through their faith in Jesus, who he is and what he has done, because then begins the sanctification process which trains us to be more like him.  I can tell you it is a painful, humbling experience but one I would not trade for the world because it is through it that you truly feel his fellowship and presence.


The third person in the Trinity is the Holy Spirit, and Gregory of Nazianzus (ca. 329-390) observed (my notes are in parenthesis): “He gradually came to dwell in the disciples, measuring himself out to them according to their capacity to receive him, at the beginning of the gospel, after the Passion (the process of Jesus’ crucifixion), after the ascension (which is after the resurrection and when Jesus ascends to the Father), making perfect their powers, being breathed upon them, and appearing in fiery tongues (this was the Holy Spirit’s appearance).  And indeed it is by little and little that he is declared by Jesus, as you will learn for yourself if you will read more carefully (referring to the scriptures: OT & NT).” (Pg 75 Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers, taken from Gregory of Nazianzus, “The Fifth Theological Oration-ON the Spirit,” in Christology of the Later Fathers, ed. Hardy, p.173.)


I like the way C.S. Lewis, a noted 20th century apologetic (best known for his children’s books: the Narnia series), talks about the Trinity in his work: Mere Christianity (these were first delivered as radio addresses) so, I’ve included a few pages, because he articulates the Trinity so well, in his Chapter: Beyond Personality: or First Steps in the Doctrine of the Trinity, 4. Good Infection.


I hope it makes sense:


“I begin this chapter by asking you to get a certain picture clear in
your minds. Imagine two books lying on a table one on top of the other.
Obviously the bottom book is keeping the other one up-supporting it. It is
because of the underneath book that the top one is resting, say, two inches
from the surface of the table instead of touching the table. Let us call the
underneath book A and the top one B. The position of A is causing the
position of B. That is clear? Now let us imagine-it could not really happen,
of course, but it will do for an illustration-let us imagine that both books
have been in that position for ever and ever. In that case B’s position
would always have been resulting from A’s position. But all the same, A’s
position would not have existed before B’s position. In other words the
result does not come after the cause. Of course, results usually do: you eat
the cucumber first and have the indigestion afterwards. But it is not so
with all causes, and results. You will see in a moment why I think this
important.

I said a few pages back that God is a Being which contains three
Persons while remaining one Being, just as a cube contains six squares while
remaining one body. But as soon as I begin trying to explain how these
Persons are connected I have to use words which make it sound as if one of
them was there before the others. The First Person is called the Father and
the Second the Son. We say that the First begets or produces the second; we
call it begetting, not making, because what He produces is of the same kind
as Himself. In that way the word Father is the only word to use. But
unfortunately it suggests that He is there first-just as a human father
exists before his son. But that is not so. There is no before and after
about it. And that is why I have spent some time trying to make clear how
one thing can be the source, or cause, or origin, of another without being
there before it. The Son exists because the Father exists: but there never
was a tune before the Father produced the Son.

Perhaps the best way to think of it is this. I asked you just now to
imagine those two books, and probably most of you did. That is, you made an
act of imagination and as a result you had a mental picture. Quite obviously
your act of imagining was the cause and the mental picture the result. But
that does not mean that you first did the imagining and then got the
picture. The moment you did it, the picture was there. Your will was keeping
the picture before you all the time. Yet that act of will and the picture
began at exactly the same moment and ended at the same moment. If there were a Being who had always existed and had always been imagining one thing, his act would always have been producing a mental picture; but the picture would be just as eternal as the act.

In the same way we must think of the Son always, so to speak, streaming
forth from the Father, like light from a lamp, or heat from a fire, or
thoughts from a mind. He is the self-expression of the Father-what the
Father has to say. And there never was a time when He was not saying it. But
have you noticed what is happening? All these pictures of light or heat are
making it sound as if the Father and Son were two things instead of two
Persons. So that after all, the New Testament picture of a Father and a Son
turns out to be much more accurate than anything we try to substitute for it
That is what always happens when you go away from the words of the Bible. It is quite right to go away from them for a moment in order to make some
special point clear. But you must always go back. Naturally God knows how to describe Himself much better than we know how to describe Him. He knows that Father and Son is more like the relation between the First and Second Persons than anything else we can think of. Much the most important thing to know is that it is a relation of love. The Father delights in His Son; the
Son looks up to His Father.

Before going on, notice the practical importance of this. All sorts of
people are fond of repeating the Christian statement that “God is love,” But
they seem not to notice that the words “God is love” have no real meaning
unless God contains at least two Persons. Love is something that one person
has for another person. If God was a single person, then before the world
was made, He was not love. Of course, what these people mean when they say that God is love is often something quite different: they really mean “Love
is God.” They really mean that our feelings of love, however and wherever
they arise, and whatever results they produce, are to be treated with great
respect. Perhaps they are: but that is something quite different from what
Christians mean by the statement “God is love.” They believe that the
living, dynamic activity of love has been going on in God for ever and has
created everything else.

And that, by the way, is perhaps the most important difference between
Christianity and all other religions: that in Christianity God is not a
static thing-not even a person-but a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life,
almost a kind of drama. Almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind
of dance. The union between the Father and Son is such a live concrete thing
that this union itself is also a Person. I know this is almost
inconceivable, but look at it thus. You know that among human beings, when
they get together in a family, or a club, or a trade union, people talk
about the “spirit” of that family, or club, or trade union. They talk about
its “spirit” because the individual members, when they are together, do
really develop particular ways of talking and behaving which they would not
have if they were apart. (*) [Footnote*] This corporate behavior may, of course, be either better or worse than their individual behavior.

It is as if a sort of communal personality came into existence. Of
course, it is not a real person: it is only rather like a person. But that
is just one of the differences between God and us. What grows out of the
joint life of the Father and Son is a real Person, is in fact the Third of
the three Persons who are God.

This third Person is called, in technical language, the Holy Ghost or
the “spirit” of God. Do not be worried or surprised if you find it (or Him)
rather vaguer or more shadowy in your mind than the other two. I think there
is a reason why that must be so. In the Christian life you are not usually
looking at Him: He is always acting through you. If you think of the Father
as something “out there,” in front of you, and of the Son as someone
standing at your side, helping you to pray, trying to turn you into another
son, then you have to think of the third Person as something inside you, or
behind you. Perhaps some people might find it easier to begin with the third
Person and work backwards. God is love, and that love works through
men-especially through the whole community of Christians. But this spirit of
love is, from all eternity, a love going on between the Father and Son.

And now, what does it all matter? It matters more than anything else in
the world. The whole dance, or drama, or pattern of this three-Personal life
is to be played out in each one of us: or (putting it the other way round)
each one of us has got to enter that pattern, take his place in that dance.
There is no other way to the happiness for which we were made. Good things
as well as bad, you know, are caught by a kind of infection. If you want to
get warm you must stand near the fire: if you want to be wet you must get
into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get
close to, or even into, the thing that has them. They are not a sort of
prizes which God could, if He chose, just hand out to anyone. They are a
great fountain of energy and beauty spurting up at the very centre of
reality. If you are dose to it, the spray will wet you: if you are not, you
will remain dry. Once a man is united to God, how could he not live forever?
Once a man is separated from God, what can he do but wither and die?

But how is he to be united to God? How is it possible for us to be
taken into the three-Personal life?

You remember what I said in Chapter II about begetting and making. We
are not begotten by God, we are only made by Him: in our natural state we
are not sons of God, only (so to speak) statues. We have not got Zoe or
spiritual life: only Bios or biological life which is presently going to run
down and die. Now the whole offer which Christianity makes is this: that we
can, if we let God have His way, come to share in the life of Christ. If we
do, we shall then be sharing a life which was begotten, not made, which
always has existed and always will exist. Christ is the Son of God. If we
share in this kind of life we also shall be sons of God. We shall love the
Father as He does and the Holy Ghost will arise in us. He came to this world
and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has-by
what I call “good infection.” Every Christian is to become a little Christ.
The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.”



I know that I have expounded a lot here and I don’t know if you’ve had the patience or the inclination to go through all or any of this.


In closing, I’ll end (finally!) with the following snippet which is Augustine’s conversation with God about his personal struggle & really all of mankind’s.  It is from church father Augustine of Hippo (354-430), who many consider the greatest of the church fathers.  He lived a hedonistic life-style, even becoming a Manichean for a while, before converting to Christianity in 386 A.D.


(The quote is from Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers by Christopher A. Hall, page 123 Augustine Confessions 7.18, cited in Groeschel, Augustine: Major Writings, p.27 (modified by Christopher A. Hall).

To me, Augustine’s words here are, in a very small nutshell, Christianity:

“So I set about finding a way to gain the strength that was necessary for enjoying You.  And I could not find it until I embraced the mediator between God and humanity, the man Christ Jesus, who is over all things, God blessed forever, who was calling to me and saying: I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life…For I was not yet lowly enough to hold the lowly Jesus as my God, nor did I know what lesson his embracing of our weakness was to teach.  For Your Word, the eternal Truth, towering above the highest parts of your creation, lifts up to Himself those that were cast down.  He built for himself here below a lowly house of our clay, that by it He might bring down from themselves and bring up to Himself those who were to be made subject, healing the swollenness of their pride and fostering their love: so that their self-confidence might grow no further but rather diminish, seeing the deity at their feet, humbled by the assumption of their human nature: to the end that weary at last they might cast themselves down upon his humanity and rise again in its rising.”

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