Rorate Caeli

60 Years of Vatican II – ‘THE COUNCIL AND THE ECLIPSE OF GOD’ by Don Pietro Leone – CHAPTER 10: ‘The Causes of Council Teaching’ Part 3 – C. Religion

The section on Gnosis is particularly damning - it's a long read but highly recommended.    F.R.                                      

We here (as we have done above) understand ‘religion’ broadly as a system of belief and ethics. The religion (in this sense) which proposes the self-deification of man [1] in its original and paradigmatic form, is Gnosis.


Here we consider:

1. The Origin of Gnosis,

2. The Development of Gnosis;

3. Gnosis in the Council.


1.     The Origin of Gnosis




Once we have recognized that the deification of man lies at the very heart of Modernism, we may see how Modernism is informed by Modern Philosophy; in this present subsection, we shall see how Modern Philosophy is informed in its turn by that religion, or religious system, which bears the name of ‘Gnosis’.


The great Argentinean theologian Father Julio Meinvielle, writes [2]: ‘Throughout human history there have been two fundamental ways of thinking and living: one is Catholic and it is the Tradition received from God, through Adam, Moses and Jesus Christ: the other is Gnostic and Cabalistic which nourishes the error of all peoples in paganism and apostasy, first in Judaism and then in Christianity itself.’ 


We take the system of moral theology to which the theologian refers not so much as a mixture of Gnosis and Cabalism, but rather as Gnosis simpliciter, which in some of its variants admits of cabalistic elements. We characterize Gnosis according to what we take to be its two essential features: its goal which is self-deification, and its means to this goal which is some kind of arcane knowledge (gnosis being the Greek for knowledge). The first feature of this philosophy takes its origin from the revolt of Lucifer at the beginning of time in his attempt to ‘be like God’; the second feature is joined to the first at the moment when Lucifer proposes this enterprise to Eve.



Adam and Eve committing original sin,

detail from 'The Virgin of Victory,'

(1496) by Andrea Mantegna



Analysis of Text


We proceed to examine the text of Genesis [3] which describes Original Sin, in order to identify these two features, together with certain others which will later turn out to be relevant to the book.


‘Now the serpent was more subtle than any of the beasts of the earth which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman: Why hath God commanded you that you should not eat of every tree of paradise? And the woman answered him, saying: Of the fruit of the trees that are in paradise we do eat: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of paradise, God hath commanded us that we should not eat; and that we should not touch it, lest perhaps we die. And the serpent said to the woman: No, you shall not die the death. For God doth know that in what day so ever you shall eat thereof, your eyes shall be opened: and you shall be as Gods, knowing good and evil. And the woman saw that the tree was good to eat, and fair to the eyes, and delightful to behold: and she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave to her husband who did eat. And the eyes of them both were opened: and when they perceived themselves to be naked, they sewed together fig leaves, and made themselves aprons.’  


‘Now the serpent was more subtle than any of the beasts of the earth which the Lord God had made...’ So let us enquire into the subtlety of the temptation with which he attempts to destroy God’s handiwork on earth, just as he attempted by his influence over the other angels (and with partial success) to destroy it in Heaven. To this end we examine the text for what it can reveal of:

a) The Epistemology of Gnosis [4];

b) The Theology of Gnosis;

c) The Morality of Gnosis.


a)    The Epistemology of Gnosis


Here we consider what the serpent proposes by way of:


i)     Skepticism concerning God;

ii)    The Knowledge proposed to Man.



i)    Skepticism concerning God


The serpent starts his dialogue with Eve abruptly with the principle of doubt: ‘Why hath God commanded you...?’ We are reminded of the starting-point of Descartes’ philosophy: here too, in the exposition of the Father of Modern Philosophy, an ‘evil demon’ insinuates doubt into man’s mind, though the former doubt concerns God’s Goodness and the latter doubt concerns Truth, and ultimately God’s Truth.


Lucas Cranach – Adam  (16th century)

'[For them]the temptation is, then,  not just to know good and evil, 

but to determine it themselves...'



The serpent is sceptical about God, and this on four counts:


-           in tempting man to be ‘as god[s]’, he implies that God is not transcendent, but immanent to man: otherwise man could never evolve (within a unique order of being) to become Him;

in         - in implying that God is immanent to man and that man can become Him, he also implies that  God is somehow subject to change;

-              in directly and heretically contradicting the Word of God that man would not die, he implies that God is not truthful;

-         - in suggesting that God does not desire man’s true good and is jealous of man, he implies that God is not good; in tempting man to ‘know’ what he proposes as a ‘good’ which is contrary to God’s commandments he equally suggests that God is not (the true) good.


In conclusion to (a), then, the serpent effectively denies that God is transcendent, immutable, truthful, and good, and thereby denies that He is God, for God possesses all these properties by definition. His skepticism concerning God thus amounts to positive atheism.



    ii)  The Knowledge Proposed to the Man


This knowledge proposed to man in the form of the first human pair is:


-       - twofold: namely the knowledge of the eating of the fruit (as the means for attaining the goal) and the knowledge of Good and Evil (which is the goal), rather than the knowledge of the Truth through Faith in this life (as the means to the goal), and through the Beatific Vision in the next (the goal);

-     purely natural, rather than the supernatural knowledge of the Beatific Vision and the Faith;

-        arcane (and deliberately concealed by the one who possesses it) rather than the object of the Revelation which God desires that all men should know;

-       unconnected to true love, in other words to supernatural Charity, to good works in the state of Grace: the very means by which man is to love God and neighbour in this world, in view of Eternity.


Let us now ask ourselves what precisely is that ‘knowledge of good and evil’ which is the object of the serpent’s temptation. The knowledge of good and evil in question cannot be the knowledge of the Infinite Good which is God, and the knowledge that all that is outside God is nothing: for such knowledge does not make man ‘like God(s)’; nor can the knowledge of good and evil be the knowledge given man by his conscience, for this knowledge does not make him ‘like God(s)’ either.


What knowledge of good and evil would make man like God? the knowledge which God Himself has of good and evil, that is to say the knowledge that good and evil are determined by Him as by their ultimate principle. The temptation is, then, not just to know good and evil, but to determine it themselves, to identify their subjective good with the Infinite Good which is God: and so ‘to be like God(s)’, to be God in the place of God.


This, then, is the arcane ‘knowledge’ of Gnosis, of the Freemasons to which knowledge they are pleased to believe that they are attaining by infinite degrees of esoteric initiation: the ‘knowledge’ that my subjective good constitutes the Infinite Good, or in other words that I am God - which is of course nothing other than unadulterated egoism; and moreover is no knowledge at all, because it is false, whereas knowledge by definition is knowledge of the truth.




‘Like the serpent again, the Council proposes as morality

the self-deification of man, which is nothing other than the principle of

antirealist subjectivism transposed to the moral domain.’

 (Artist: John Roddam Spencer Stanhope –‘Eve tempted’ - 19th century)


b)        The Theology of Gnosis


The serpent’s theology is ontologically monist, in other words, as we have seen above [5], it treats God and the creation as belonging to the same order of being. For this reason:

 - it precludes the distinction between the natural and supernatural orders of being;

  - it entails evolution as the means for becoming God;

 - It entails pantheism, that is to say the identity of God with the world, envisaging this identityas the term of an evolutionary process [6];

 - it is self-contradictory, inasmuch as Pantheism identifies perfect and imperfect, finite and infinite. 



c)          The Morality of Gnosis


   The morality proposed by the serpent is Gnostic self-deification which has the following features:


-   it is a process of self-determination by means of man’s natural forces, rather than a determination by God by means of Grace;

-    - it involves natural knowledge, natural knowledge which lends man the capacity of  mastering and dominating its objects, rather than supernatural knowledge which requires a man to subjugate himself, to sacrifice his intellect, to absolute Truth;

-    - it is not participation in the Divine Life through humility, but is self-aggrandizement ‘without God, in place of God and in spite of God’ [7], that is to say it is a usurpation, and, in a certain sense, an attempted annihilation, of God;

-    - it is motivated by pride, the pride of becoming ‘like Gods’;

-    - it is also motivated by sensual pleasure: ‘The tree was good to eat, delightful to the eyes, and knowledge of it desirable;’ furthermore the primordial encounter between the Devil and the Woman has become the traditional symbol of the impurity to which this encounter was to lead. Faith, by contrast, is essentially directed not towards pleasure and the love of the senses, but towards love as a virtue: towards good works;

-   - it is accessible only to an élite, and not to all men, like Faith and salvation.


In synthesis of this subsection (1) we shall present:


i)     A Comparison of Gnosis and the Christian Life;

ii)    The Subjectivism of Gnosis



i)    A Comparison of Gnosis and the Christian Life


Supreme Moral Principle:


        -   Gnosis is characterized by pride and egoism;

        -   The Christian life is characterized by humility and sacrifice.


       Likeness to God:


-         Gnosis enables man to be like God in one sense, that is by the exercise of his free will to do whatever he desires, but regardless of God and at the cost of his eternal beatitude;

-       The Christian life, on the other hand, enables man to become like God through the exercise of his free will to lead a good life. The good life consists in living in conformity to the supernatural order established by God: to the order of the objective True and Good and to the knowledge and love of God available here on earth. This life consists in a participation in God's Divine Life; its fruit will be the knowledge and love of God in Paradise.



ii)    The Subjectivism of Gnosis


In all the aspects of Gnostic morality that we have enumerated above, we see the priority lent to the order of Good over the Order of True: What else, indeed, can motivate a rational being to depart from the order of the True, from Reality, from Being itself, if not something subjective, some subjective desire of his own? What else is there that a deceitful enemy can tempt him with? Is this not why we read that: ‘The tree was good to eat, delightful to the eyes, and knowledge of it desirable’? Is this not too why the serpent proposes to them as their final goal the knowledge of ‘good and evil’, and not the knowledge of the Truth? - the knowledge of good and evil, which they are to dispose of in complete freedom as they will, as we have suggested above, detached from objective Truth, and in pursuit of their own good pleasure alone?


 ‘The Flight of the Prisoners’ by 19th century artist, James Tissot.  

The Egyptian and Babylonian Captivities saw the perversion

of the Jewish mystical tradition in the original Cabala.



2.         The Development of Gnosis


Before showing more precisely the Gnostic stamp of Council teaching, we shall say a word about how Gnosis was to develop in the course of human history. It was to exercise an influence on all nations and all religions in the ancient world: one may find a Persian variant, an Egyptian variant, a Hindu, Buddhist, and Jewish variant and so forth; it was equally to exercise an influence in the Christian era on theology, philosophy, psychology and even atheism [8]: we think of the Abbot Joachim da Fiore and Pico della Mirandola; of Leibniz, Spinoza, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel; we think of Freud, Jung and the Satanist, Rudolf Steiner, founder of the international Waldorf Schools. The most direct descendants of Gnosis in the modern age are the esoteric cults such as Theosophy, Anthroposophy, New Age, and, the most powerful and influential of them all, Freemasonry.


 Rudolf Steiner the founder of  the international 

Waldorf schools, invented Anthroposophy

– a modern descendant of Gnosticism


The most important development in Gnosis on a wide scale came, according to Father Meinvielle, with the perversion of the Cabala, whereby the original and pure Cabala, consisting of the Jewish mystic tradition, was to be perverted by local Gnostic doctrines and magic at the times of the Jewish exiles in Egypt and Babylonia. We may understand this perversion of the Jewish Religion to be the devil’s attack on what was at the time the divinely Revealed Religion and sole ark of Salvation; we may consider it as a forerunner to his attack on the Christian Religion, when the former Religion gave way to the latter. For this reason we may think of the perversion of the Cabala as a form of ‘Pre-Gnosticism.’ [9]


The development of Gnosis that followed the perversion of the Cabala was to proceed along two lines:


First, the implicit ontological monism that we have identified as the essential feature of its theology would develop into a triple monism:


a)   an explicit ontological monism conceived as pantheism;

b) a logical monism purporting to amalgamate truth and falsehood into a higher logical system.

c)  a moral monism purporting to amalgamate good and evil into a higher moral system [10];



Second, one of the principles entailed by the ontological monism, namely the principle of evolution, would develop into a triple evolution:


                   a)   the evolution of God, world, and man from nothing;

   b)   the evolution of the individual soul by a process of reincarnation;

   c)  the evolution of God and man towards their ultimate fulfilment and realization [11].



3.     Gnosis in the Council


The first attack of Gnosis against the Church took place in the first centuries of Her existence: the attack came in the form of a contamination of the Faith with Gnostic doctrines. The type of monstrous amalgamations which resulted acquired the name of ‘Gnosticism’, which was to be rebutted and largely overcome by St. Irenaeus. We shall now see in detail how in its second attack on the Church two millennia later, Gnosis so affected the Council and so mixed itself with the Faith as to merit for the resultant syncretistic teaching the name of ‘Neo-Gnosticism.’ The principal difference between Gnosticism and Neo-Gnosticism is that the former is an amalgam of the Faith with the doctrines of false Religions, whereas the latter is an amalgam of the Faith with the doctrines of false philosophy [12]. 


Following our analytical scheme above, let us see how the features of Gnosis revealed by the serpent re-occur in the Council in:


      a)     The Epistemology of the Council;

      b)     The Theology of the Council;

      c)     The Morality of the Council.



   a)     The Epistemology of the Council


Here we consider:


i)   The Knowledge of God;

ii)  The Knowledge presented to man



i)   The Knowledge of God


Like the serpent, the Council also adopts a position of skepticism towards God, namely to:


-              - God as ontological and logical Truth;

-             - Our Lord Jesus Christ, on 11 counts;

-             - The Word of God, on 40 counts [13];



      ii)   The Knowledge Presented to Man


Like the serpent, the Council also presents to man, mirabile dictu, as his definitive knowledge:


-                    - the purported knowledge of man’s divinity;

-                    - a purely natural knowledge;

-                 - a knowledge arcane, in that this knowledge of man’s deification is hidden in the Council; 

-                  - a knowledge not essentially connected with the exercise of good works.


'Like the serpent, the Council also adopts 
a position of skepticism towards God [...]'

Adam and Eve – by Albrecht Durer - 15th, 16th century



b)   The Theology of the Council


Like the serpent, the Council espouses a theology:


-         - precluding the distinction between the natural and supernatural orders of being;

-         - entailing evolution, above all of dogma;

-        -  entailing pantheism, identifying both the individual man and the state with God;

-      - involving contradiction, entailing a logical monism between true and false, and a moral monism between good and evil [14].



c)   The Morality of the Council


Like the serpent again, the Council proposes as morality the self-deification of man, which is nothing other than the principle of antirealist subjectivism transposed to the moral domain. As we have seen above in chapter 8 on 10 counts, this self-deification has the same general features as the system proposed by the serpent, in that:


-              - it is a process of the operation of man’s natural forces, rather than an operation of Grace;

-               - it involves natural knowledge, not Faith;

-            - it is not a participation in the Divine Life through humility, but a form of usurpation, and, in a certain sense, of attempted annihilation, of God;

-              - it is motivated by pride, the pride of becoming ‘like God(s)’;

-         - it is motivated also by the senses: by sensual love and by sensual hope. We have seen the glorification of sense-love particularly in the area of ecumenism, and more particularly in that of marriage with its strong accent on eroticism;

-             -  it is accessible only to an élite: only to those who understand the arcane and deeper meaning of the Council, that is to say once again, and with all possible clarity, that man is God.


Masaccio 'The  Expulsion of Adam and Eve 

from the Garden of Eden' (1425)



Conclusion to Section C


We have seen in this last section C how the Council proposes to the Church a system tantamount to Gnosis. We cannot but conclude that this was occasioned by the serpent proposing the same system of Gnosis to the Council. Just as he proposed Gnosis to the whole of humanity in the form of Adam and Eve, then, so he proposed it again to the whole of humanity in the form of the representatives of the very heart of humanity which is the Church: and in both cases the proposal was accepted.




[1] here too we limit ourselves to natural theology, since we are concerned with an era prior to the Birth of Christ

[2] De la Cabale au Progréssisme

[3] Genesis 3, 1-7

[4] i.e. the type of knowledge that it envisages

[5] (a) i (b)

[6] This type of pantheism  is known as ‘evolutionary pantheism’ where the world becomes God. It is distinguished from ‘emanatory pantheism’ where God becomes the world, and from  Pantheism simpliciter which is the identity of God with the world in an absolute sense.

[7] St. Maximus the Confessor

[8] atheism entails i) that man evolves out of nothing; and ii) that man is God, since, as said above, the denial of God makes man the highest being that exists

[9] this gives us the series: Pre-Gnosticism; Gnosticism (in the first years of the Church); Neo-Gnosticism (in the present day)

[10] espoused by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in his account of ‘the spirit of evil and good’ which he describes as taking possession of a man (presumably himself)

[11] a further thesis espoused by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

[12] In this connection we can think of the Jewish form of Gnosis as a form of ‘Pre-Gnosticism’, as we suggested above, consisting as  it does, in an amalgam of Gnosis with the primordial Revelation

[13] see our metaphysical and theological analyses in chapter 9 above

[14] in accord with the development of Gnosis, just described. For the contradiction between true and false, good and evil see the section on the principle of non-contradiction in the metaphysical analysis of the Council in chapter 9, A. 3 (h)

END OF PART 3  of Chapter 10