Remembering the Gnostics: The mnemohistorical incorporation of Ancient Gnosticism within Neo-Gnostic Churches

Alberto Alfredo Winterberg

Abstract


Ultimately resulting from the French Revolution’s anti-clerical eruptions,
the formation of several Catholic churches independent from the Roman
Papacy changed the religious landscape of 18th and 19th century France. With the simultaneous unfolding of an esoteric subculture, the development of an approximation between non-papal Catholicism and French esotericism took place. In turn its protagonists sought to establish their own legitimacy by a claimed succession and identification with “the Gnostics” of Late Antiquity. While current scholarship mostly rejects the idea of the historical existence of a single religious movement called “Gnosticism” and prefers to treat the term as a typological model for various Early Christian movements later disregarded by the then young Christian orthodoxy, this paper’s aim is to portray the dynamics of the mnemohistorical process of the Neo-Gnostic reimagination of Early Christianity. The latter took place as a kind of protest exegesis of he Church Fathers’ anti-heretical writings, leading to a de facto intentional deviance from Christian orthodoxy by the means of synthesizing various elements perceived as heretical by the former. While the image of ‘Gnosticism’ shaped by the Church Fathers surely is one of the fundamental tenets of the earliest Neo-Gnostic ‘revival’ attempts, another fundamental aspect consists of the scientific treatment of the category of Gnosticism. As the scientific discourse about ancient Gnosticism evolved, the Neo-Gnostic churches’ discourse changed as well. Indeed, today they refer directly to scientific typologies and involve the consultation of scientists for their religious practice. In this sense it shall be demonstrated that the category of Gnosticism is in no way a static entity for Neo-Gnostics, but clearly underlies the mnemohistorical process of remembering and forgetting.


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