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Gnosticism, Manicheism and Neo-Platonism

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Because Gnosticism, Manicheism and Neo-Platonism, like movements of thought had, trough the end of Antiquity and the development of Church, a important influence, we dedicate here these few lines to those


Gnosticism dates back to the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D. and it developed in the Roman Empire. It brought together a set of various doctrines, pantheistic and idealistic, which undoubtedly existed before the Christian Revelation, and whose common point was a dualism -- the material world ruled by a lower God as a perfect and transcendent God can reveal himself to man through knowledge and magic. These doctrines were the last emanations of religions and civilizations of Western Asia and Egypt. Gnosticism is therefore a dualism and a doctrine of salvation through knowledge -- in a quasi-intuitive form of the latter on the other hand. After having flourished in the various religions it met with, it gradually disappeared into the 4th century. He borrowed a lot from Manicheism but Manicheism was a dualism while Gnosticism a pantheism. The Gnostics were a vast conglomerate of sects with anti-moral practices and they inspired some of the apocryphal Gospels. From the 2nd century onwards, Church Fathers opposed the Gnostics, considered heretical. Their oriental spirit, with the goddess Ishtar of Babylon or Isis of Egypt, the astrological or cosmogonic legends of Asia endeavoured to do for the East what Neo-platonism later strove to do for the West. Gnoscticism, in its various forms, was undoubtedly the main obstable to which the early Christianity confronted


Manicheism is a Persian religion, which was founded in the 3rd century A.D. by Mani. Mani originated from a heretic sect, the Elkasaites, heretics with a Judeo-Christian gnostic and baptist tendency. Mani's doctrine, first authorized by the Sassanid kings for cause of its usefulness in the unification of the realm, was then forbidden and Mani executed. The Manicheism -- as Mani was pretending to be the Paraclet of the Gospels, the spirit to be sent by Christ to his disciples -- intended to surpass, and turn a syncretisme of Christianity, Buddhism and Zoroastrianism. It developed a rigid dualism between good and evil. Manicheism spread in the Roman world -- where it was banned since of Persian origin -- and in the East as China tolerated it for some time as a religion practised by the Sogdian merchants of the Silk Road, while the Uighurs of Mongolia, which intervened in China about 762 A.D., converted to it until the year 1000; located in the port region of Quanzhou, a China's region facing Taiwan, it was eventually to contribute to the fall of the Manchu dynasty. The Manicheism is a gnosticism -- a view that promotes salvation through reasoning and the rigour of oneself -- and a dualism that opposes darkness, ruled by Satan and light, ruled by God. Manicheism denies median positions (hence the common sense of the word nowadays). The manicheist society divided between the 'elected,' the system's preachers and the 'auditors,' who served the previous. The manicheists, in general, were skilful painters and were perhaps at the origin of the Persian miniatures. St Augustine, in the West, was a manicheist -- since with the Edict of Milan of 313 A.D. had allowed Christianity but also other foreign religions into -- before becoming the adversary of the doctrine, demonstrating that Manicheism is a Gnosticism that does not give a correct image of God since He would have to be corruptible for the darkness to have the means of fighting Him. The influence of Manicheism was also to be found with Paulicianism, that puritanical and individualistic heresy developed in Armenia in reference to a certain 'little Paul.' Paulicianism developed into the Byzantine Empire, becoming one of the bases of the Iconoclasm -- and undoubtedly favored by the Arab caliphs -- as Iconoclastic emperors protected Paulicianism's followers. It was Emperor Alexis I Comnenus, about 1100 A.D only, who put a end to that heresy by converting them to Orthodoxy. Paulicianism was then found at the Bogomils, heretics of Bulgaria, who gave birth later in France to the Cathars


Neo-platonism was the last effort of the Greek world, in the 1st century A.D., to maintain itself in terms of thought and a reference system. To do so, as it had been born in Egypt in a Hellenistic milieu, he borrowed from the religious ideas of the East to add them to the idealism of Plato. Until then, the various Greek philosophical schools -- Stoicism, Epicurianism, etc. -- had failed on these tracks. Moreover, it was the doctrine which, in the service of Roman polytheism, was used against Christianity and was appropriated by Roman persecutors, for example under Diocletian. Feeling its end near, and the strength of Christianity, the Roman world had to show that paganism still had a future and that the gods of Rome, well interpreted to be philosophically readmitted -- Stoicism or Aristotle had questioned or denied them -- could be rehabilitated into a state polytheism. Such that renaissance would be sanctioned further by the reference to Plato -- that even the Christians revered. The movement indeed, was a syncretism of Plato and Aristotle, the latter being considered by the Neo-platonists like a introducer to the first. Philo of Alexandria was the forerunner of the movement towards the year 40 A.D. and the movement was extinguished after the closure by Justinian, of the School of Athens, the last pagan institution, in 529. Neo-platonists appeared in Rome around 232 A.D., with Saccas -- the master of Plotinus -- or Porphyry and Iamblique, the disciples of the latter. Neo-platonism is characterized by the importance it gives to the 'First Principle,' or 'the One,' in metaphysics, and by mystical experiences. According to Neo-platonists, the terrestrial government should not refer to a particular group like Christians, who professed a doctrine of authority but be represented by civil, national, institutions whose harmony and relationship to the order of the Universe is based upon free review and philosophy. Christian thinkers, on the other hand, likely because Church had begun to establish itself in Asia Minor, in the Hellenistic world, had incorporated Plato's spirituality into their reasoning as that doctrine allowed them to defend the idea of human soul or the idea that a spiritual world existed, more real than the material world, against pagan Materialism. Neo-Platonism then inspired Gnostics and it was eventually St Augustine who excluded from his interpretation of Platonism the characteristic elements of the Neo-platonic school, as he remained much closer to Plato's 'Dialogues,' for example . Neo-Platonism was later found by the pseudo-Dyonisius, a Christian Platonist from the late 5th and early 5th century A.D.. He was also known like the pseudo-Dyonisius and he owed a form of fame to the fact that he was first confused with Dyonisius the Areopagite, a convert by St Paul and mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles then with St Denis, the first bishop of Paris. The works of the pseudo-Areopagite were, for example, translated by Scot Eriugena and had an influence on the Scholastics. The works of Plato and Aristotle were, after 529 A.D., carried to Persia by the last philosophers whence they passed to the Arabs and returned by Moorish and Jewish Spain, to finally influence, by Aristotle only, the European renaissance of the 13th century Scot Eriugena himself already acknowledged that he had been influenced by Spanish thinker Avicebrol. Neo-Platonic works were taken back by the Renaissance, in the 15th and 16th centuries A.D. and then they carried a movement of magics and anti-materialism

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