[ilds] antinomian vs. ascetic gnostics

Bruce Redwine bredwine1968 at earthlink.net
Mon Aug 2 13:09:09 PDT 2010

Thanks for the references, Charles.  They help to clarify, but it's still hard to imagine how Gnosticism went off in two polar directions.  On the individual level, Blake's notions of "excess" are not reflected his personal life.  If I'm right, his marriage was lasting, loving, and conventional, beyond the story that Mr. and Mrs. Blake liked to read Paradise Lost in their garden, sitting in the nude.  He wasn't a habitué of brothels.  It may be relevant to recall the background of Durrell's letter to Diana Gould.  She was a tall beauty of considerable intelligence, and Durrell was completely taken with her — besotted might be the right word.  She was also a woman of numerous affairs, so old LD may have been trying to impress her with his own worldliness.  It's hard to know to what degree Durrell believed his own odd statements.  The Durrell-Gould correspondence needs to be published.


On Aug 2, 2010, at 12:00 PM, Charles Sligh wrote:

> Bruce Redwine wrote:
>> "Where you wish to conquer indulge and refine, never prohibit" (p. 
>> 308). This reminds me of Blake's /Proverbs of Hell /and his philosophy 
>> of excess: "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom," 
>> "Prisons are built with stone of law, brothels with bricks of 
>> religion," "The cistern contains; the fountain overflows," etc. Is 
>> there a connection outside of Durrell's rampant imagination?
> You are perhaps not alone in wondering, Bruce.
> Most lay people tend to think of gnosticism in terms of 
> asceticism--i.e., the material world is regrettable, so those in quest 
> for gnosis should separate from it. I think that you will know the 
> apocryphal lines from "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius," perhaps the classic 
> statement in literature:
>>        The following day, Bioy called me from Buenos Aries. He told
>>        me he had before him the article on Uqbar, in volume XLVI of
>>        the encyclopedia. The heresiarch's name was not forthcoming,
>>        but there was a note on his doctrine, formulated in words
>>        almost identical to those he had repeated, though perhaps
>>        literally inferior. He had recalled: /Copulation and mirrors
>>        are abominable/. The text of the encyclopedia said: /For one
>>        of those gnostics, the visible universe was an illusion or
>>        (more precisely) a sophism. Mirrors and fatherhood are
>>        abominable because they multiply and disseminate that universe/.
> Durrell, being Durrell (& Blakean???), goes "against that grain" of 
> gnostic puritanism (cf. also Huysmans?), having his characters speak in 
> epigraphs and complete paragraphs about the antinomian side of gnosticism.
> Look first to Forster on this ("Section III: The Spiritual City: 
> Christianity: Gnosticism"), where you will find "Consequently if we wish 
> to be good we must be bad" (76).
> Also, elsewhere:
>>        a) As to cultus, Gnosticism produced two opposite movements
>>        which are comparable with puritanism and ritualism
>>        respectively. The abhorrence of matter led some consistently
>>        to the utmost simplicity of worship. Some rejected all
>>        sacraments and other outward means of grace, and the
>>        Prodicians rejected even prayer (Epiphan. Hoer. xxvi.;. Clem.
>>        Alex. Strom, i. 15 [304], yii. 7 [722]). On the other hand,
>>        many groups, especially the Marcosians, went to the opposite
>>        extreme with a symbolic and mystic pomp in worship. This,
>>        while inconsistent with the Gnostic views of matter, is in
>>        line with the ideas of magico-mystical salvation indicated
>>        above. Sacraments were numerous, rites many and varied. It
>>        seems clear that they led the way in introducing features
>>        which became characteristic of the Catholic Church. They were
>>        distinguished as hymn-writers (Bardesanes, Ophites,
>>        Valentinians). The Basilideans seem to have been the first to
>>        celebrate the festival of Epiphany. The Simonians and
>>        Carpocratians first used images of Christ and others (see
>>        Church Histories of Schaff, Kurtz, etc.).
>>        (b) The ethic also took two directions—one towards an
>>        unbridled antinomianism, the other towards a gloomy
>>        asceticism. Antinonrian Gnostics (e.g. Nicolaitans, Ophites)
>>        held that sensuality is to be overcome by indulging it to
>>        exhaustion, and they practised the foulest debaucheries. The
>>        Ascetics (e.g. Saturninns, Tatian) abhorred matter, and strove
>>        to avoid all contact with flesh as far as possible. This led
>>        them to forbid marriage and indulgence in certain kinds of
>>        food. This ethic in both oranches is the unfailing outcome of
>>        the primary dualism characteristic of Gnosticism. Wherever
>>        dualistic notions are influential, we find this twin
>>        development of antinomianism and asceticism. In the NT we find
>>        both kinds of error referred to (see below). It is to be
>>        remembered that neither by itself is sufficient to indicate
>>        Gnosticism. There are many sources conceivable, for asceticism
>>        especially.
>        http://books.google.com/books?pg=PA455&lpg=PA455&dq=gnostic+sensuality&sig=UnSD0kP-FScG-SMV1toX1F_77UU&ei=YxBXTIDtHYT48AbaraHkBA&ct=result&id=ztYMAAAAIAAJ&ots=b7-NYsz4cF#v=onepage&q=gnostic%20sensuality&f=false
> -- 
> ********************************************
> Charles L. Sligh
> Assistant Professor
> Department of English
> University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
> charles-sligh at utc.edu
> ********************************************

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