As I was discussing gnosticism on Boxing Day, I mentioned the usual criticisms coming from conservative Christianity. I will certainly make a distinction between problems caused by theological incompatibilities and objections from a more political point of view.
As I saw an attempted political definition of gnosticism, I came across the name of the philosopher Eric Vögelin. Erich Hermann Wilhelm Vögelin was German and born in the first year of the twentieth century. He spent his childhood in Austria and studied law and political science. He fled Austria shortly after the Anschluß of 1938 and ended up like so many others in the USA. His experience of Nazism would bring him to seek the root causes of the problems in western civilisation. He removed the o mit Umlaut from his name and replaced it with o and e, making Voegelin. Without becoming an expert on this fellow’s philosophy, one might imagine that he found America’s conservative Christianity to be less unpleasant than what he had left in Europe. From 1951, he was writing books on a notion of “classic and Christian tradition” which he opposed to gnosticism.
For Vögelin, according to a brief introductory article by Dr Stephan Hoeller, a Hungarian expatriate living in Los Angeles, gnosticism would have been the background philosophy behind Nazism and other forms of totalitarian tyranny. All the bad guys had to be gnostics as opposed to the good guys who were conservative American Christians. In that way, Marxism would also be roped into the same category as Hitler. In his view, gnostics were involved with making society into a kind of revolutionary “heaven on earth” for the simple reason that the historical gnostics refused the conventional Christian heaven and hell. The problem with this view is that gnostics saw this earthly life as “hopeless and unredeemable”. How could such be made into a utopia? Hitler and Stalin were interested in all kinds of crank philosophies, but neither made any reference to historical Gnosticism.
Other thinkers like the Catholic traditionalist and admirer of Charles Maurras, Thomas Molnar, went along with this view that the modern great conspiracy all boiled down to Gnosticism. The deviations of science, industry and technology would be blamed on Gnosticism, as would the Industrial Revolution that treated human beings as machines. Gnosticism would from now on be represented as Satanism, Freemasonry and the Reds under the bed, in short, a bogeyman for adults.
Frankly, I am not very interested in pursuing this point of view further. I have read points of view in some French sedevacantist sources affirming that the divines of the Oxford Movement like Newman and Pusey were gnostics! Therefore they were part of the great conspiracy of Cardinal Rampolla (allegedly a Freemason who narrowly missed being elected Pope instead of Pius X in 1903) to destroy the Catholic priesthood by making ordinations invalid. Associations are at best fanciful and actually quite entertaining to read if we like that sort of thing.
Likewise, I will not associate Vögelin with the later and more extreme developments of this theory. All I can say at present is that gnosticism is not this kind of thing, but is rather an attitude in the minds of individual persons.
The real problem is our use of words. Words can simply mean what we want them to mean. In my knowledge of church history and personal experience, division and discord are always caused by differences in understanding the meanings of words, labels and categories. This is another difficulty that has to be clarified before we can go any further.