Available in bookshops as of 5 July 2018 is the new book by Stefano Fontana “Chiesa gnostica e secolarizzazione” (edizioni Fede & Cultura, Verona) which deals with how Gnosis is working its way into the Catholic Church in a very alarming way, often unnoticed and with the naive consent of Catholics. We asked the author a series of questions about his book, which can also be purchased directly on-line at: https://shop.fedecultura.com/Chiesa-gnostica-e-secolarizzazione-p108675443
Let’s first of all talk about your choice of Gnosis and its relationship with the Church. As you assert, is it truly alarming that a heresy is nowadays understood as a contribution to theological debate or even a sort of dialectic stimulus useful for the ongoing development of the life of the Church?
As things stand at the moment, the Church seems more concerned about praxis than doctrine. Doing, intervening, welcoming, integrating, helping, medicating, and participating, etc. . . . .often have priority over contents: welcome what? Integrate where? Participate for what purpose? What happens from a doctrinal point of view is that the Church comes across as being more “open”: in order to be able to reach out to and encounter all, doctrine is looked upon as a weight. In actual fact, doctrine marks confines that cannot be crossed in any way whatsoever. Now, while doctrine recedes to the background, heresy – its exact contrary – is scaled down. It is no longer considered an error with tragic consequences on the material and spiritual life of the faithful. As you ask in your question, it is reduced to a contribution to dialogue and open discussion serving the purpose of ensuring progress in the conscience of the Church, when it is not also exalted in this vision of the doctrine of the faith as an historical process ever underway. We saw this quite recently in the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. On that occasion no mention was made about the Protestant Reformation being a heresy. The same may be said about Gnosis, an unnoticed but devastating foe.
This new conception of heresy – of Hegelian origin in the sense of stemming from thinking incompatible with the Catholic faith – issues forth from the vision of doctrine itself as part of an historical process under way, doctrine that would change in time and evolve. In this evolution, heresies as well have a positive role to play in terms of critique and acting as a goad. As I just said, however, it is a question of a vision that draws from philosophies incompatible with Catholicism.
In time and in the history of our Christian faith, what was the genesis of this Gnostic vision so profoundly erroneous in its contents?
Gnosis as a heresy has been around ever since far back in the history of the Church. The Fathers of the Church and the early Councils had fought against many of its expressions, particularly against the theories of Marcion. St. Augustine had battled against Manicheism, and St. Irenaeus had written Adversus haereses for that same purpose. Simone de Montfort had fought against Gnostic Manicheism with sword in hand, and the Dominicans with their preaching. In both his theological works and his stewardship as Minister General of the Friars Minor, St. Bonaventure of Bagnoreggio had engaged in combat with the Gnosis of Joachim of Fiore. Many were the Gnostic elements in the philosophy and theology of the Renaissance, beginning with the Oration on the Dignity of Man of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. There are Gnostic features in both Protestantism and Jansenism battled against by both pontiffs and saints, such as St. Ignatius of Loyola. Moreover, modernity abounds with elements related with Gnosticism that I do not have the time to list here. Defined by Pius IX as the “heresy of heresies” and condemned with the Encyclical Pascendi of 1907, Modernism is basically a form of Gnosis.
Gnosis has many features, and I’ll must mention some of the main ones. Two are the divinities: one of good and one of evil. Salvation is not accessible to all, but only to Gnostics who are the beneficiaries of a special revelation. Said salvation is obtained by knowing (or doing) something. Matter is evil, and hence creation is looked upon as negative, as are procreation and matrimony. Sexual sterility is celebrated. The body is nothing more than a tool with no influence on the soul, and hence a Gnostic can live forms of most outlandish pleasure and remain pure in spirit. Manicheans also denied any form of authority.
In my opinion, however, the core point is this: Gnosis cannot give in to accepting reality, order, and norms. . . .but wants to subvert and reshape them. This is why each form of liberty without truth is Gnostic in nature. The first expression of Gnosis may be attributed all the way back to Adam and Eve. In fact, they wanted to save themselves by knowing, and did not accept God’s orders. Hence, any form of revolution is Gnostic in nature.
What are the main dangers implicit in the Gnostic doctrine for a Christian believer? What are the traps and snares to be avoided in order not to fall into error? Have any authorities or outstanding exponents of the Christian faith and culture denounced the pernicious nature of such thinking now making its way into Christian theology?
Speaking about liberty is seductive, but if this is considered as coming before truth, it becomes a prison. Mercy is a very beautiful Christian virtue, but if it disregards justice and is gauged not on God, but on the conscience of pastoral agents, it becomes a deviation. Welcoming and integrating are positive aims, but they call for a concept of common good which already exists on one hand, and is also to be pursued and achieved. Without this linkage, the field of play is ideology. Adapting the contents of faith to the characteristics of one’s times is very attractive, but if this involves an evolution of dogma, things than take a negative turn for the worst. “We must and can collaborate with everyone” people say today, but what about social and political movements or schools of thought that deny the moral and religious order? “It is necessary go forth and reach out to the world”; fine, but do this in order to announce to the world the truth it does not possess and desires, or to align ourselves with the world’s vision of things and take it as a substitute for the Church’s vision? These are but a few points also linked to current affairs and which help to explain both the persuasive and the corrosive character of Gnosis.
Can we say Gnosis has also had a negative influence on the political conception of common good?
Certainly, because objective common good has been replaced by general interest as the sum of individual desires.
Gnosis and sexuality. Is there such a relationship in modern society?
As I mentioned above in rather succinct terms, Gnosis understands sexuality in particular way: it has nothing to do with the spirit, and the human body is nothing more than an instrument ascribable to the God of evil, the guilty creator of matter. Disappearing here all together is human sexuality looked upon as the complementary union of a man and a woman with a view to procreation, as a gift received, a vocation, a sign of Christ’s love for the Church. This change of perspective came about with the birth control pill which opened the doors to a instrumental use of the human body and no longer a sapiential use. This opening was then widened with abortion, artificial fecundation, surrogate motherhood, homosexualism, the celebration of sexual sterility, and all the way to the gender theory which considers sexual identity a personal choice. A dramatic crescendo was triggered by the principle of the instrumental nature of the human body, a principle stemming in its turn from the Gnostic negation of an order that precedes us and with which we must abide. Gnosis denies the concept of nature and both the natural and supernatural order upon which the Catholic vision of sexuality is based. Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae vitae (1968) was absolutely anti-Gnostic because it included conjugal love in a plan of God, the creator and Redeemer of all of us. This is why any possible revision of the moral doctrine on conjugal love contained in that encyclical – even if done for pastoral purposes – would open the way for forms of Gnosticism in Catholic morals. The many forms of openness in the Catholic Church today regarding contraception, the exercise of sexuality outside matrimony, and the practice of homosexuality are to be seen with great alarm as Gnostic infiltrations in Catholic morals.
Is Gnosis the generatrix of modern thought? Can we single out any of its “bad teachers”
When we talk about modernity or modern thought we have to proceed in very precise terms. It is necessary to distinguish modernity in chronological terms or that of a certain historical epoch, from modernity in the way of thinking. Many positive things can be seen in the first sense of modernity, while modernity in the second sense has many erroneous features and is incompatible with the Catholic religion. In even clearer terms: the principles on which modernity are founded as a category of thought are mistaken. Which of these principles is the basic one? Well, it is the presumption of beginning not from reality, but from the conscience of man. This applies two Gnostic principles: the refusal of the natural order and the desire to reshape it. Based hereupon as well are liberty without truth, rights without duties, and subject without object, all of which are aspects of modern thinking. In other words, the last of these can be considered an enormous ideological falsehood what has replaced reality with human desires. This is why modern man is also a sick man.
The Church has always condemned these principles of modernity. It has recently seemed to overlook their Gnostic origin, seeking to establish dialogue with modernity itself in order to encounter contemporary man. The intension was positive, but no little confusion has often between created between contemporary man and modernity’s categories of thought, thinking that in order to encounter the former it would first be necessary to embrace the latter. When things are done in this fashion, however, it is inevitable that Gnosis enters the Church.
There have been many bad teachers. Perhaps many of them in good faith, but what count in this realm are not intentions, but the just or erroneous ideas professed. Decartes, Kant, Hegel and Heidegger belong to this group. Regarding Catholic theology, I would venture to mention Karl Rahner.
Gnosis, modern philosophy, and the Protestant Reformation: three sides of the same coin?
Luther’s thinking undoubtedly stands out at the origin of modernity, and it can therefore be said that the Reformation he began played a fundamental role in bestowing a Gnostic character upon modernity. Luther scorned reason which he considered a “prostitute”; he understood faith as an act of unmotivated and irrational entrustment; he didn’t think it possible to find any traces leading to the Creator in the things of this world; he wasn’t interested in knowing Christ, but in knowing if Christ was going to save him; his intention was therefore a practical one; he was not interested in the Christ in Himself, but the Christ for himself; he began modern subjectivism, and placed conscience, not knowledge, at the center of a faith without dogmas. The liberty of a Christian is without truth. Luther wanted to reform the Catholic faith beginning from conscience, as modern thought was later to do with thought large. Just like the Manicheans, Luther considered man to be saint and sinner at the same time.
Then again, it is also possible to reason in these terms: Protestantism has had an enormous influence on modern philosophy since many great thinkers were Protestants; for example, Kant, Hegel or Wittgenstein. The outcome was a separation of reason from faith, with faith becoming irrational and based on will, and hence the possibility to reshape reality and order according to one’s own liking. In its sundry forms, the subjective perspective thereby gained the upper hand, and today we are faced with a transhumanistic plan to reshape human nature and subject it to our instrumental will; to reshape right, making it subject to “rights”; to reshape morality and make it dependent on the subject agent and no longer on absolute criteria. Protestantism has had and continues to have an important role in this process which it is difficult not to qualify as Gnostic.
Coming to the surface in your book is the disturbing truth that secularism and nihilism are the main deviations of our times. How can we stem their tide?
We have to keep in mind that the process of Gnosis is essentially secularizing, and, in the final analysis, nihilistic. As we have seen, Gnosis is the refusal of Sense and the will to reshape it in our own image. We are made in the image and likeness of God, while Gnosis wants to make us anew in our own image and likeness. It wants to take possession of truth and reshape it according to its own measure. All the modern forms of humanistic atheism, that is to say the replacement of God with man, are forms of Gnosis. The age of Enlightenment, Socialism, Communism, Positivism, and Masonry. . . .all the non confessional messianisms of modernity that promised a paradise on earth reveal Gnostic features.
Now, if Gnosis is the refusal of Sense with the intention of creating another one, and infinite are the senses to be refused and reshaped, it is then a form of secularization which flows into the nothingness of nihilism. In other words, the Gnostic process corroding sense will only come to an end with the end of sense. It will not be satisfied with anything less than that. This is a very important point because Catholics, unfortunately, seem to have accepted secularization by now, that is to say the refusal of God as the origin of Sense. They fail to realize, however, that this is a Gnostic process that never ends. People mislead themselves thinking that the refusal of God has emancipated man, but they realize that man has been taken out of the picture. People mislead themselves thinking that natural morality can hold out once religious morality has been eliminated, but then see that natural morality is taken out of the picture. These are phenomena we have before us today. The Church follows this process of secularization, and in some cases blesses it, thinking it may be positive and may come to an end; but it’s not like that at all. Once the fundamental Sense has been removed in order to reshape it, gradually eliminated are its ensuing surrogates, because it is essential for Gnosis to do so. Let’s not pull any wool over our eyes: if we leave the Gnostic process of secularization to its own devices, just as abortion was followed by euthanasia, all the rest will follow euthanasia, as we already see. The “new man” without God reshaped by Gnosis will be scandalized by nothing at all, and will consider everything as progress. Here is another name of Gnosis: progressivism, the never-ending replacement of what is old with what is new, regardless of the fact that the old is order, and the new leads to disorder. We will also accept wombs for rent and pedophilia, just as some countries have already accepted incest.
Might it be sufficient to reappraise and reformulate the concept of Christian philosophy, also in the light of Revelation, and reiterate its fundamental characteristics in order to curtail the mounting spread of Gnosticism?
The devastation caused by perennial Gnosis has godlike aspects. In its own way it has a “religious” character. It is not a religion, but has the force of a religion. This is why it may be said that at stake today is not only man, as people often sustain when talking about the “anthropological issue”, but God. Man is only challenged when God is challenged. Having said that, we have to realize that much indeed depends on us in keeping a rein on this Gnostic process of impiety.
Since Gnosis is mainly a cultural phenomenon, and since its philosophical aspect is particularly important, I feel that recovering the concept of Christian philosophy in full and developing it may produce positive effects. In fact, this is what I argue also in my book. Then again, Gnostic modernism is mainly a philosophical fact, and the refusal of Christian philosophy is a clear Gnostic position. If there are things, there is an order of things, and if things speak to us and reveal to us a sense and an essential end for each of them, if there is an order also for human togetherness and hence a common good to be pursued, if this order refers to an Orderer because the more does not come from the less, and no one can give what they do not have. . . .well, quite possible is a Christian philosophy, a philosophizing in the faith, where reason and faith encounter one another. The Gnostic vision accepts nothing in the list above, and actually distorts it. If Christian philosophy is a thorn in the side of Gnosis, then it is necessary to start afresh from Christian philosophy.
Your book’s final chapter is entitled. “In order not to forget we have forgotten”. Could this be considered a summons to recover the historical memory of the origins of the Christian message in the reconstruction of its philosophical thought? In this sense could you give our readers some useful advice about good books of Christian philosophy?
The question about the possibility of “forgetting to have forgotten” is quite alarming. Gnosis can corrode the sense of the Catholic faith and reshape it by bringing contrary philosophies into the Church, philosophies which makes us see the truths of always in a new and different way. Were these philosophies to be taught in seminaries and Church universities – as is already happening to a great extent – new theological thought provoked by it would see the light of day, and at that point the truths of the Catholic creed would be seen in way other than the traditional one. The truths of the faith could thereby be forgotten, and we could also forget we had forgotten. The process of the oblivion and transformation of the faith could also take place in an unnoticed way, from the inside and without any opposition. This is what concerns me the most today.
What is the role of philosophy in this alarming process? Theology is done with philosophy, and hence, changing the philosophical instrument also causes a change of the theology, but in a soft and unnoticed manner. As I have already said, my idea is that we have to start afresh from philosophy, from Christian philosophy. I’m not going to suggest a list of books here, but just say that in my own little way I am trying to do something with this aim in mind.
(by Virna Balanzin)