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Gnosis is the common Greek noun for knowledge (, gn?sis, f.).[1] The term is used in various Hellenistic religions and philosophies.[2][3] It is best known from Gnosticism, where it signifies a spiritual knowledge or insight into humanity's real nature as divine, leading to the deliverance of the divine spark within humanity from the constraints of earthly existence.[2][3][4][5]


Gnosis is a feminine Greek noun which means "knowledge" or "awareness."[6] It is often used for personal knowledge compared with intellectual knowledge ( eídein), as with the French connaître compared with savoir, the Spanish conocer compared with saber, the Italian conoscere compared with sapere, the German kennen rather than wissen, or the Modern Greek ? compared with ?.[7]

A related term is the adjective gnostikos, "cognitive",[8] a reasonably common adjective in Classical Greek.[9] Plato uses the plural adjective "" - gnostikoi and the singular feminine adjective " " - gnostike episteme in his Politikos where Gnostike episteme was also used to indicate one's aptitude.[] The terms do not appear to indicate any mystic, esoteric or hidden meaning in the works of Plato, but instead expressed a sort of higher intelligence and ability analogous to talent.[10]

Plato The Statesman 258e

-- Stranger: In this way, then, divide all science into two arts, calling the one practical (praktikos), and the other purely intellectual (gnostikos). Younger Socrates: Let us assume that all science is one and that these are its two forms.[11]

In the Hellenistic era the term became associated with the mystery cults.

In the Acts of Thomas, translated by G.R.S. Mead, the "motions of gnosis" are also referred to as "kingly motions".[12]

Gnosis is used throughout Greek philosophy as a technical term for experiential knowledge (see gnosiology) in contrast to theoretical knowledge or epistemology.[] The term is also related to the study of knowledge retention or memory (see also cognition), in relation to ontic or ontological, which is how something actually is rather than how something is captured (abstraction) and stored (memory) in the mind.[]

Irenaeus used the phrase "knowledge falsely so-called" (pseudonymos gnosis, from 1 Timothy 6:20)[13] for the title of his book On the Detection and Overthrow of False Knowledge, that contains the adjective gnostikos, which is the source for the 17th-century English term "Gnosticism".[]


Gnosticism originated in the late 1st century CE in nonrabbinical Jewish and early Christian sects.[14] In the formation of Christianity, various sectarian groups, labeled "gnostics" by their opponents, emphasised spiritual knowledge (gnosis) of the divine spark within, over faith (pistis) in the teachings and traditions of the various communities of Christians.[4][5][15] Gnosticism presents a distinction between the highest, unknowable God, and the Demiurge, "creator" of the material universe.[4][5][16] The Gnostics considered the most essential part of the process of salvation to be this personal knowledge, in contrast to faith as an outlook in their worldview along with faith in the ecclesiastical authority.[4][5][16]

In Gnosticism, the biblical serpent in the Garden of Eden was praised and thanked for bringing knowledge (gnosis) to Adam and Eve and thereby freeing them from the malevolent Demiurge's control.[16] Gnostic Christian doctrines rely on a dualistic cosmology that implies the eternal conflict between good and evil, and a conception of the serpent as the liberating savior and bestower of knowledge to humankind opposed to the Demiurge or creator god, identified with the Hebrew God of the Old Testament.[4][16] Gnostic Christians considered the Hebrew God of the Old Testament as the evil, false god and creator of the material universe, and the Unknown God of the Gospel, the father of Jesus Christ and creator of the spiritual world, as the true, good God.[4][16] They were regarded as heretics by the proto-orthodox Early Church Fathers.[4][5][16]

Judeo-Christian usage

Hellenistic Jewish literature

The Greek word gnosis (knowledge) is used as a standard translation of the Hebrew word "knowledge" ( da'ath) in the Septuagint, thus:

The Lord gives wisdom [?okhma] (sophia), from his face come knowledge [da'ath] (gnosis) and understanding [tevuna] (synesis)"

-- Proverbs 2.6

Philo also refers to the "knowledge" (gnosis) and "wisdom" (sophia) of God.[17]

New Testament

Paul distinguishes "knowledge" (gnosis) and "knowledge falsely so-called" (pseudonymos gnosis).

In the writings of the Greek Fathers

The fathers of early Christianity used the word gnosis (knowledge) to mean spiritual knowledge or specific knowledge of the divine. This positive usage was to contrast it with how gnostic sectarians used the word. This positive use carried over from Hellenic philosophy into Greek Orthodoxy as a critical characteristic of ascetic practices, through St. Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus, Hippolytus of Rome, Hegesippus, and Origen.[]

Cardiognosis ("knowledge of the heart") from Eastern Christianity related to the tradition of the starets and in Roman Catholic theology is the view that only God knows the condition of one's relationship with God.[18][19]

In Eastern Orthodox thought

Gnosis in Orthodox Christian (primarily Eastern Orthodox) thought is the spiritual knowledge of a saint (one who has obtained theosis)[20] or mystically enlightened human being. Within the cultures of the term's provenance (Byzantine and Hellenic) Gnosis was a knowledge or insight into the infinite, divine and uncreated in all and above all,[21] rather than knowledge strictly into the finite, natural or material world.[22] Gnosis is transcendental as well as mature understanding. It indicates direct spiritual, experiential knowledge[23] and intuitive knowledge, mystic rather than that from rational or reasoned thinking. Gnosis itself is gained through understanding at which one can arrive via inner experience or contemplation such as an internal epiphany of intuition and external epiphany such as the Theophany.

In the Philokalia, it is emphasized that such knowledge is not secret knowledge but rather a maturing, transcendent form of knowledge derived from contemplation (theoria resulting from practice of hesychasm), since knowledge cannot truly be derived from knowledge, but rather, knowledge can only be derived from theoria (to witness, see (vision) or experience).[24] Knowledge, thus plays an important role in relation to theosis (deification/personal relationship with God) and theoria (revelation of the divine, vision of God).[25] Gnosis, as the proper use of the spiritual or noetic faculty plays an important role in Orthodox Christian theology. Its importance in the economy of salvation is discussed periodically in the Philokalia where as direct, personal knowledge of God (noesis; see also Noema) it is distinguished from ordinary epistemological knowledge (episteme--i.e., speculative philosophy).



Knowledge (or gnosis) in Sufism refers to knowledge of self and god. The gnostic is called al-arif bi'lah or "one who knows by God". The goal of the Sufi practitioner is to remove inner obstacles to the knowledge of god. Sufism, understood as the quest for Truth, is to seek for the separate existence of the Self to be consumed by Truth, as stated by the Sufi poet Mansur al-Hallaj, who was executed for saying "I am the Truth" (ana'l haqq).[26]


Ginan, which literally translates to gnosis, refers to a collection of literature that is respected by the Ismailis. The Ismaili P?r ?asan Kab?r al-D?n writes that the gnostic can be compared to the lotus flower (kamal), a delicate flower with white petals that blooms in dirty swamps, and is commonly associated with beauty and purity. The flower is above the polluted swamps, rather than feeding from it, it waits for the clean, pure rain. Similarly, the gnostic lives in the physical world, but is not of this world. He is not interested in the material pleasures of the world, and is unaffected by its glamour. The gnostic awaits the gin?n from the heavens, the life-giving water that the True Guide brings. Just like how the lotus flower would prefer death over drinking from the dirty swamp, the pure soul is unable to survive without the gin?n from the True Guide. The gnostic too, would prefer death if it cannot obtain this precious nourishment.[27]

See also


  1. ^ Porter, Stanley E. (2016). "What Do We Mean by Speaking of Paul and Gnosis/Knowledge? A Semantic and Frequency Investigation". In Porter, Stanley E.; Yoon, David (eds.). Paul and Gnosis. Pauline Studies. 9. Leiden and Boston: Brill Publishers. pp. 7-22. doi:10.1163/9789004316690_003. ISBN 978-90-04-31668-3. LCCN 2016009435. S2CID 147727033.
  2. ^ a b Kurt Rudolph (2001). Gnosis: The Nature and History of Gnosticism. A&C Black. p. 2. ISBN 978-0-567-08640-2.
  3. ^ a b Williams, Michael (20 July 1998). "Gnosticism". Encyclopædia Britannica. Edinburgh: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Archived from the original on 4 January 2021. Retrieved 2021.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Ehrman, Bart D. (2005) [2003]. "Christians "In The Know": The Worlds of Early Christian Gnosticism". Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 113-134. ISBN 978-0-19-518249-1. LCCN 2003053097. S2CID 152458823.
  5. ^ a b c d e Brakke, David (2010). The Gnostics: Myth, Ritual, and Diversity in Early Christianity. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. pp. 18-51. ISBN 9780674066038. JSTOR j.ctvjnrvhh.6. S2CID 169308502.
  6. ^ Liddell Scott entry , , ?, A. seeking to know, inquiry, investigation, esp. judicial, " ?." D.18.224; " ? ?deetr." Id.21.92, cf. 7.9, Lycurg.141; "?. ? " PHib.1.92.13 (iii B. C.). 2. result of investigation, decision, PPetr.3p.118 (iii B. C.). II. knowing, knowledge, Heraclit.56; opp. ?, Hp. Vict.1.23 (dub.); opp. , Pl.R.478c; "? ?. " Arist.GA731a33: pl., "? ? " LXX 1 Ki.2.3. b. higher, esoteric knowledge, 1 Ep.Cor.8.7,10, Ep.Eph.3.19, etc.; " ? ?, , " PMag.Par.2.290. 2. acquaintance with a person, "? ?" Test. ap.Aeschin.1.50; " " IPE1.47.6 (Olbia). 3. recognizing, Th.7.44. 4. means of knowing, " ] ? ? ?." Arist.Metaph.981b11. III. being known, " ? ", = "? ?", Pl.Tht.206b. 2. fame, credit, Hdn.7.5.5, Luc.Herod.3. IV. means of knowing: hence, statement in writing, PLond.5.1708, etc. (vi A. D.). V. = , Hsch. s. h. v.
  7. ^ Pagels, Elaine (1995). The Origin of Satan. Allen Lane, The Penguin Press. p. 167.
  8. ^ LSJ entry -?, ?, , A. of or for knowing, cognitive - (sc. ), theoretical science (opp. ), Pl.Plt.258b.c., etc.; ?. ib.261b; " ?." Arist.AP0.100a11 (Comp.); "?. ?" CA25p.475M.: c. gen., able to discern, Ocell. 2.7. Adv. "-" Procl.Inst.39, Dam.Pr.79, Ph.241.22.
  9. ^ In Perseus databank 10x Plato, Cratylus, Theaetetus, Sophist, Statesman 2x Plutarch, Compendium libri de animae procreatione + De animae procreatione in Timaeo, 2x Pseudo-Plutarch, De musica
  10. ^ Cooper and Hutchinson. "Introduction to Politikos." Cooper, John M. & Hutchinson, D. S. (Eds.) (1997). Plato: Complete Works, Hackett Publishing Co., Inc. ISBN 0-87220-349-2.
  11. ^ Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 12 translated by Harold N. Fowler. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1921.
  12. ^ George Robert Stow Mead, and Stephen Ronan. The Complete Echoes from the Gnosis. London, Chthonios Books, 1987, p. 113.
  13. ^ feminine nominative adjective
  14. ^ Magris 2005, pp. 3515-3516.
  15. ^ Layton, Bentley (1999). "Prolegomena to the Study of Ancient Gnosticism". In Ferguson, Everett (ed.). Doctrinal Diversity: Varieties of Early Christianity. Recent Studies in Early Christianity: A Collection of Scholarly Essays. New York and London: Garland Publishing, Inc. pp. 106-123. ISBN 0-8153-3071-5.
  16. ^ a b c d e f Kvam, Kristen E.; Schearing, Linda S.; Ziegler, Valarie H., eds. (1999). "Early Christian Interpretations (50-450 CE)". Eve and Adam: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Readings on Genesis and Gender. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. pp. 108-155. ISBN 9780253212719. JSTOR j.ctt2050vqm.8.
  17. ^ New Testament studies: Society for New Testament Studies - 1981 "see also the more extensive analysis of gnosis in Philo by Hans Jonas, Gnosis und spatantiker Geist 11/1"
  18. ^ Donald K. McKim, Westminster dictionary of theological terms, 1996, p. 39
  19. ^ A concise dictionary of theology by Gerald O'Collins, Edward G. Farrugia p. 130 Publisher: T. & T. Clark Publishers (2004) ISBN 978-0-567-08354-8 [1]
  20. ^ "Spiritual knowledge is the state of spiritual theoria, when one sees invisibly and hears inaudibly and comprehends incomprehensibly the glory of God. Precisely then comprehension ceases and, what is more, he understands that he does not understand. Within the vision of the uncreated Light man also sees angels and Saints and, in general, he experiences communion with the angels and the Saints. He is then certain that resurrection exists. This is the spiritual knowledge which all the holy Prophets, the Apostles, Martyrs, ascetics and all the Saints of the Church had. The teachings of the Saints are an offspring of this spiritual knowledge. And, naturally, as we said earlier, spiritual knowledge is a fruit of the vision of God. "THE ILLNESS AND CURE OF THE SOUL" Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos [2]
  21. ^ St. Symeon the New Theologian in Practical & Theological Discourses, 1.1 The Philokalia Volume Four: When men search for God with their bodily eyes they find Him nowhere, for He is invisible. But for those who ponder in the Spirit He is present everywhere. He is in all, yet beyond all
  22. ^ Faith And Science In Orthodox Gnosiology And Methodology by George Metallinos "The scientist and professor of the knowledge of the Uncreated, in the Orthodox Tradition, is the Geron/Starets (the Elder or Spiritual Father), the guide or "teacher of the desert." The recording of both types of knowledge presupposes empirical knowledge of the phenomenon. The same holds true in the field of science, where only the specialist understands the research of other scientists of the same field. The adoption of conclusions or findings of a scientific branch by non-specialists (i.e. those who are unable to experimentally examine the research of the specialists) is based on the trust of the specialists credibility. Otherwise, there would be no scientific progress. The same holds true for the science of faith. The empirical knowledge of the Saints, Prophets, Apostles, Fathers and Mothers of all ages is adopted and founded upon the same trust. The patristic tradition and the Church's Councils function on this provable experience. There is no Ecumenical Council without the presence of the glorified/deified (theoumenoi), those who see the divine (this is the problem of the councils of today!) Orthodox doctrine results from this relationship." University of Athens - Department of Theology
  23. ^ The Philokalia Volume Four Palmer, G.E.H; Sherrard, Philip; Ware, Kallistos (Timothy). ISBN 0-571-19382-X, glossary, p. 434, Spiritual Knowledge (): the knowledge of the intellect (q.v.). As such, it is knowledge inspired by God, as insight (noesis) or revelational, intuitive knowledge (see gnosiology) and so linked with contemplation and immediate spiritual perception.
  24. ^ Glossary of terms from the Philokalia p. 434 the knowledge of the intellect as distinct from that of the reason(q.v.). Knowledge inspired by God, and so linked with contemplation (q.v.) and immediate spiritual perception.
  25. ^ The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, SVS Press, 1997. (ISBN 0-913836-31-1) James Clarke & Co Ltd, 2002. (ISBN 0-227-67919-9) p. 218
  26. ^ Nasr, Seyyed Hossain (2007). The Garden of Truth: The Vision and Promise of Sufism, Islam's Mystical Tradition. Harper Collins. p. 30.
  27. ^ Virani, Shafique. "Symphony of Gnosis: A Self-Definition of the Ismaili Ginan Literature". Reason and Inspiration in Islam: Theology, Philosophy and Mysticism in Muslim Thought.


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