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Christian Gnosticism is a set of beliefs, related to Christian doctrine, espoused by certain groups during the early days of the Church. Gnostics were outside of the religious mainstream and were condemned as promoting false knowledge and later as heretics. The main feature of the belief system is the interpretation of the Christian canon on the assumption that it contains secret knowledge hidden within. This knowledge is not accessible to everyone, but those who truly understand the writings become aware of a starkly different reality beyond the apparent surface meaning. For the Gnostics, this secret knowledge offers the key to true salvation. Famous Gnostics include:
- Iamblichus of Chalcis
- Justin Martyr
Characteristic of the Christian Gnostics
Characteristic of the Christian Gnostics is an emphasis on the existence of both God and Satan, or some similar dualistic theological reality. One of the hidden messages encoded in the gospels, Gnostics believed, is that a malignant deity – the demiurge, according to some thought taken to be Satan – is the actual creator of the world rather than the supreme, benevolent God. The God referred to in the Old Testament, in fact, is taken to be this demiurge rather than the true God with whom Jesus Christ is connected. Jesus, according to the Christian Gnostic thought, was sent to reveal this mystery to a select few groups in order that they might free themselves by comprehending the falsity of the world created not by God but by the devil. Later scholars became interested in the writings and beliefs of people leading these early Gnostic groups, but there was no establishment of the belief system that survived much beyond the early days of Christianity. As a religion or religious sect in its own right, Christian Gnosticism did not last beyond the second century.