Montségur in South France, last sanctuary of the Cathars
The history of Gnosticism from the 7th Century until today leads to movements like the Bogomiles, the Manichaeans and the Cathars, and to unique individuals like Meister Eckhart and Jakob Boehme. The Rosicrucians in the LRC also stand in the Gnostic tradition.
Gnostics are characterized by their longing for the kingdom of Light. They can be found in the gnostic movements of all ages and also in individual persons who became messengers of the divine reality through their serving life.
Gnosticism in the 7th to 13th Century
In the 7th Century, the Paulicians lived and worked in the Eastern Roman Empire. They rejected any hierarchy being in power since this would inhibit the inner experience of truth.
By the end of the 11th Century, hundreds of thousands of Paulicians – as with the Manichean – were killed by the Byzantine Orthodox Church.
But the gnosis lived on. Its light and power shone, for example, in the community of the Bogomiles who primarily lived in Bulgaria during the 12th and 13 Century and imparted their gnostic heritage to the Cathars in southern France. These two purely gnostic oriented communities suffered the same fate as their predecessors. Untold thousands of them were persecuted, tortured, and killed by the so-called “orthodox”.
Templars and Rosicrucians
In the early Middle Ages, the gnosis was alive in the inner circles of the Templar Order. At the beginning of the 17th Century, it appeared strong and clear in the Rosicrucian movement. Johann Valentin Andreae, the author of the Rosicrucian Manifestos, was one of its most important representatives. From this movement, connecting lines lead to the Freemasons, who reorganized their communities in the early 18th Century. Another strong gnostic impulse resulted in the foundation of the Theosophical Society in the 19th Century. Helena Petrowna Blavatsky and Annie Besant were important key figures of this community. The movements of Rudolf Steiner and Max Heindel followed. In 1924, the history of the School of the Golden Rosycross had its first beginnings with the spiritual efforts of Jan van Rijckenborgh and his brother Zwier Willem Leene, who later founded the Lectorium Rosicrucianum together with Catharose de Petri. As gnostic Rosicrucians, they had a very special inner connection with the previous Brotherhood of the Cathars. All these movements are evidence of inner Christianity and describe a path to God, which is possible only by the relationship with the Spirit of Christ.
Meister Eckhart, Jacob Boehme and the Mystics
Focusing on the developments within the Church, a common thread of individuals becomes visible. In the middle of the ever-increasing religious coercion by dogma and hierarchy, they were in direct contact with the original Spirit of Christianity and testified this in their lives. In the 13th and 14th Century, this includes the Mystics Meister Eckhart, John Tauler, Henry Suso, Jan van Ruysbroek, to name just a few. They witnessed from the true inner Christianity in Germany and the Netherlands.
Meister Eckhart said that man must retrieve the ground of his soul, where the spark of Spirit is hidden. This idea of the spirit-spark within man revives from the teaching of the ancient Gnostics. Thus, to experience the birth of God in the depths of the heart it needs no help from outside. It only fulfills through the full devotion of the soul to the divine Spirit and the progressive work on its own consciousness.
Tauler and Suso, both disciples of Meister Eckhart, especially emphasized the “serenity” which man must realize in himself in order to see God. This devotion to the original ground and the complete abandonment of the ego is meant by “dying according to nature”, as in the words of the gnostic language. The Cathars called this inner process the “Endura”.
Eckhart, Tauler and Suso dared to publish their knowledge, despite the opposition of the church. The depth and sincerity of their teachings convinced many seekers at that time, who as a result, formed laymen communities apart from the Church. They called themselves “Friends of God” and saw themselves as silent wayfarers on the inner path to God, the path to which Christ had pointed.
In the Netherlands, the same teachings were announced by Jan van Ruysbroek, and about three hundred years later in Goerlitz by Jacob Boehme, who saw himself as a tool of the living Spirit – but the Protestant Church declared him a heretic. Jacob Boehme said, each man must descend into its own depth, get into his own heart, in order to recognize love and anger there, and break through to love by overcoming an inner struggle. This he could achieve only in the power of Christ that pervades the entire cosmos. According to Boehme’s understanding, man is a still-nascent entity, who must obtain his consummation by himself.
The process of inner transformation
Why did these people, who were deeply touched by the gnosis, accept to bear defamation, persecution and often death for their beliefs?
A Gnostic experiences the divine spirit directly inside his own being. He sees his path clearly in front of him, and he is willing to do all the necessary for the process of its own internal transformation. Because he knows that no one else could do this “I die daily”, which Paul testifies, for him. He must do it himself, he must turn away from this world in love and leave the old life behind.
He, who is affected by the gnosis, recognizes that Christ must be born and has to die and arise in every man. This process of “Transfiguration” is the true message of Christianity and the deep inner experience of the Gnostics. It spreads out as a flame which is getting bigger and brighter, as it is connected with the fire of the Holy Spirit. And it must impart its Light to the whole of humanity.
Therefore, the threefold gnostic signature words:
Man who becomes conscious of himself
knows its divine origin
– Born of God –
The old man dies, the new soul awakens
– Died in Jesus –
The new, conscious mind connects with the Spirit, saying:
I and the Father are one
– Reborn in the Holy Spirit –
This is the key to the salvation of man, which has accompanied him as a vocation through all ages, which still accompanies him and will do so forever.
Gnosis in other religious traditions
The fundamental elements of gnostic experience, the direct connection with the Spiritual Light and the great transformation of man, Transfiguration, are not only present in the Christian religious tradition. For example, the writings of Lao Tse in the Tao te King are testimonies of the ancient Chinese Gnosis, and the books about the Egyptian Arch Gnosis by Hermes Trismegistos prove that the divine knowledge has always brought the liberating message for man who longs to return into the immortal world of Spirit.