Saturday, June 22, 2013

How Gnosticism Helped the Church

A few thoughts on the "profit derived from Gnosticism" by the early church from Louis Berkof's The History of Christian Doctrines (Baker, 1937):
The Church also derived actual profit from the appearance of Gnosticism, but only in an indirect way.  It learned to mark off clearly the limits of divine revelation, and to determine the relation of the Old Testament to the New.  Moreover, it became keenly alive to the necessity of drawing up short statements of the truth, based on current baptismal formulas, which could serve as standards of interpretation (Rules of Faith).  There was also a very evident doctrinal gain.  Christianity was not first conceived as a 'doctrine' and as a 'mystery'.  The intellectual element in the Christian religion was emphasized, and this marked the real starting-point for doctrinal development.  The Christian idea of God was rescued from the mythological speculations of the Gnostics.  The Church came into conscious possession of the truth that God is the Supreme Being, the Creator and Upholder of the Universe, the same in the Old and in the New Testament.  The doctrine of the Demiurge and his creative activity was set aside, and the dualism of the Gnostics, making matter essentially evil, was overcome.  Over against the Gnostic tendency to regard Jesus Christ merely as one of the aeons, His unique character as the Son of God was emphasized, and at the same time His true humanity was defended against all kinds of docetic denials.  The great facts of His life, His virgin birth, miracles, suffering, death, and resurrection were all maintained and set in clearer light.  Moreover, the doctrine of redemption through the atoning work of Christ was put forward in opposition to the speculative vagaries of the Gnostics; and the universal receptivity of men for the Gospel of Jesus Christ was stressed in answer to Gnostic exclusiveness and pride.  (pp. 49-50)