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Science, Politics, and Gnosticism

Eric Voegelin (1959; Eng. 1968)


The more we come to know about the gnosis of antiquity, the more it becomes certain that modern movements of thought, such as progressivism, positivism, Hegelianism, and Marxism, are variants of gnosticism. The continuous interest in this problem goes back to the 1930s, when Hans Jonas published his first volume of Gnosis und Spätantiker Geist on ancient gnosis and Hans Urs von Balthasar his Prometheus on modern gnosticism. Their work was followed by more comprehensive studies of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century movements, such as Henri de Lubac's Drame de l'Humanisme Athée and Albert Camus's L'Homme Révolté. (v)

In America, the gnostic nature of the movements mentioned had been recognized early in the twentieth century by William James. He knew Hegel's speculation to be the culmination of modern gnosticism. The philosopher's critical opposition, however, had little effect; today, various intellectual movements of the gnostic type dominate the public scene in America no less than in Europe. (v)

The attempt to come to grips with the problems of personal and social order when it is disrupted by gnosticisms, however, has not been very successful, because the philosophical knowledge that would be required for the purpose has itself been destroyed by the prevailing intellectual climate. The struggle against the consequences of gnosticism is being conducted in the very language of gnosticism. (v)

The idea that one of the main currents of European, especially of German, thought is essentially gnostic sounds strange today, but this is not a recent discovery. (3)

On this issue as on many others, the learning and self-understanding of Western civilization were not submerged until the liberal era, the latter half of the nineteenth century, during the reign of positivism in the sciences of man and society. The submergence was so profound that when the gnostic movement reached its revolutionary phase its nature could no longer be recognized. (4)

Of the profusion of gnostic experiences and symbolic expressions, one feature may be singled out as the central element in this varied and extensive creation of meaning: the experience of the world as an alien place into which man has strayed and from which he must find his way back home to the other world of his origin. (9)

Within the ontic possibility, however, gnostic man must carry on the work of salvation himself. Now, through his psyche ("soul") he belongs to the order, the nomos, of the world; what impels him toward deliverance is the pneuma ("spirit"). The labor of salvation, therefore, entails the dissolution of the worldly constitution of the psyche and at the same time the gathering and freeing of the powers of the pneuma. However the phases of salvation are represented in the different sects and systems—and they vary from magic practices to mystic ecstasies, from libertinism through indifferentism to the world to the strictest asceticism—the aim always is destruction of the old world and passage to the new. The instrument of salvation is gnosis itself—knowledge. (11)

This will have to suffice by way of clarification, save for one word of caution. Self-salvation through knowledge has its own magic, and this magic is not harmless. The structure of the order of being will not change because one finds it defective and runs away from it. The attempt at world destruction will not destroy the world, but will only increase the disorder in society. (12)

In its essentials the classical foundation of political science is still valid today. We shall outline briefly its subject matter, analytical method, and anthropological presuppositions.
As for the subject matter, it is nothing esoteric; rather, it lies not far from the questions of the day and is concerned with the truth of things that everyone talks about. What is happiness? How should a man live in order to be happy? What is virtue? What, especially, is the virtue of justice? How large a territory and a population are best for a society? What kind of education is best? What professions, and what form of government? All of these questions arise from the conditions of the existence of man in society. And the philosopher is a man like any other: as far as the order of society is concerned, he has no other questions to ask than those of his fellow citizens. (15)

At the opening of the soul—that is the metaphor Bergson uses to describe the event—the order of being becomes visible even to its ground and origin in the beyond, in the Platonic epekeina, in which the soul participates as it suffers and achieves its opening. (18)

[P]olitical science goes beyond the validity of propositions to the truth of existence. The opinions for the clarification of which the analysis is undertaken are not merely false: they are symptoms of spiritual disorder in the men who hold them. (19)

The opposition becomes truly radical and dangerous only when philosophical questioning is itself called into question, when doxa takes on the appearance of philosophy, when it arrogates to itself the name of science and prohibits science as nonscience. (20)

Only in one respect has the situation of political science changed. As indicated, there has emerged a phenomenon unknown to antiquity that permeates our modern societies so completely that its ubiquity scarcely leaves us any room to see it at all: the prohibition of questioning. This is not a matter of resistance to analysis—that existed in antiquity as well. It does not involve those who cling to opinions by reason of tradition or emotion, or those who engage in debate in a naive confidence in the rightness of their opinions and who take the offensive only when analysis unnerves them. Rather, we are confronted here with persons who know that, and why, their opinions cannot stand up under critical analysis and who therefore make the prohibition of the examination of their premises part of their dogma. This position of a conscious, deliberate, and painstakingly elaborated obstruction of ratio constitutes the new phenomenon. (21-2)

[T]he spiritual disorder of our time, the civilizational crisis of which everyone so readily speaks, does not by any means have to be borne as an inevitable fate; that, on the contrary, everyone possesses the means of overcoming it in his own life. (22)

No one is obliged to take part in the spiritual crisis of a society; on the contrary, everyone is obliged to avoid this folly and live his life in order. (22)

Marx is a speculative gnostic … The purpose of this speculation is to shut off the process of being from transcendent being and have man create himself. (23)

Nature and man are real only as Marx construes them in his speculation. Should his questioner pose the possibility of their non-existence, then Marx could not prove that they exist.
In reality, his construct would collapse with this question. And how does Marx get out of the predicament? He instructs his questioner, "Give up your abstraction and you will give up your question along with it." If the questioner were consistent, says Marx, he would have to think of himself as not existing—even while, in the very act of questioning, he is. Hence, again the instruction: "Do not think, do not question me." The "individual man," however, is not obliged to be taken in by Marx's syllogism and think of himself as not existing because he is aware of the fact that he does not exist of himself. Indeed, Marx concedes this very point—without, however, choosing to go into it. Instead, he breaks off the debate by declaring that "for socialist man"—that is, for the man who has accepted Marx's construct of the process of being and history—such a question "becomes a practical impossibility." The questions of the "individual man" are cut off by the ukase of the speculator who will not permit his construct to be disturbed. When "socialist man" speaks, man has to be silent. (25)

[T]he Marxian prohibition of questions is neither isolated nor harmless. It was not isolated in its own time, for we find the same prohibition in Comte, in the first Lecture of his Cours de Philosophie Positive. Comte also anticipates objections to his construct, and he bluntly dismisses them as idle questions. For the present he is interested only in the laws of social phenomena. Whoever asks questions about the nature, calling, and destiny of man may be temporarily ignored; later, after the system of positivism has prevailed in society, such persons will have to be silenced by appropriate measures. And the prohibition of questions is not harmless, for it has attained great social effectiveness among men who forbid themselves to ask questions in critical situations. One thinks of the observation of Rudolf Höss, the commandant of the extermination camp at Auschwitz. When asked why he did not refuse to obey the order to organize the mass executions, he replied: "At that time I did not indulge in deliberation: I had received the order, and I had to carry it out.... I do not believe that even one of the thousands of SS leaders could have permitted such a thought to occur to him. Something like that was just completely impossible." This is very close to the wording of Marx's declaration that for "socialist man" such a question "becomes a practical impossibility." Thus, we see delineated three major types for whom a human inquiry has become a practical impossibility: socialist man (in the Marxian sense), positivist man (in the Comtean sense), and national-socialist man. (26-7)

[T]he Marxian suppression of questions ... represents, as we shall see, a very complicated psychological phenomenon, and we must isolate each of its components in turn. First, the most "tangible": here is a thinker who knows that his construct will collapse as soon as the basic philosophical question is asked. Does this knowledge induce him to abandon his untenable construct? Not in the least: it merely induces him to prohibit such questions. But his prohibition now induces us to ask, Was Marx an intellectual swindler? Such a question will perhaps give rise to objections. Can one seriously entertain the idea that the lifework of a thinker of considerable rank is based on an intellectual swindle? Could it have attracted a mass following and become a political world power if it rested on a swindle? But we today are inured to such scruples: we have seen too many improbable and incredible things that were nonetheless real. Therefore, we hesitate neither to ask the question that the evidence presses upon us, nor to answer, Yes, Marx was an intellectual swindler. This is certainly not the last word on Marx. We have already referred to the complexity of the psychological phenomenon behind the passages quoted. But it must unrelentingly be the first word if we do not want to obstruct our understanding of the prohibition of questions.
When we establish that Marx was an intellectual swindler, the further question of why immediately arises. What can prompt a man to commit such a swindle? Is there not something pathological about this act? (27-8)

The phenomenon of the prohibition of questions is becoming clearer in its outlines. The gnostic thinker really does commit an intellectual swindle, and he knows it. (32)

The first and second of the three stages Nietzsche described can be seen in the texts that we have quoted from Marx. How does Marx stand with respect to the third stage in this movement of the spirit, where rebellion against God is revealed to be the motive for the deception? This is exactly what is revealed in the context of the quoted passages:
A being regards itself as independent only when it stands on its own feet; and it stands on its feet only when it owes its existence to itself alone. A man who lives by the grace of another considers himself a dependent being. But I live by the grace of another completely if I owe him not only the maintenance of my life but also its creation: if he is the source of my life; and my life necessarily has such a cause outside itself if it is not my own creation.
Marx does not deny that "tangible experience" argues for the dependence of man. But reality must be destroyed—this is the great concern of gnosis. In its place steps the gnostic who produces the independence of his existence by speculation. It would indeed be difficult to find another passage in gnostic literature that so clearly exposes this speculation as an attempt to replace the reality of being with a "second reality" (as Robert Musil called this undertaking).
A passage from Marx's doctoral dissertation of 1840-41 takes us still further into the problem of revolt:
Philosophy makes no secret of it. The confession of Prometheus, "In a word, I hate all the gods," is its own confession, its own verdict against all gods heavenly and earthly who do not acknowledge human self-consciousness as the supreme deity. There shall be none beside it.
In this confession, in which the young Marx presents his own attitude under the symbol of Prometheus, the vast history of the revolt against God is illuminated as far back as the Hellenic creation of the symbol. (34-6)

Marx modelled his idea of science and philosophy on Hegel. Let us turn, therefore, to the greatest of speculative gnostics for the answer to these questions.
It is to be found in a fundamental statement in the Preface to the Phänomenologie of 1807:
The true form in which truth exists can only be the scientific system of it. To contribute to bringing philosophy closer to the form of science—the goal of being able to cast off the name love of knowledge (Liebe zum Wissen) and become actual knowledge (wirkliches Wissen)—is the task I have set for myself.
The expressions "love of knowledge" and "actual knowledge" are italicized by Hegel himself. If we translate them back into the Greek, into philosophia and gnosis, we then have before us the program of advancing from philosophy to gnosis. Thus, Hegel's programmatic formula implies the perversion of the symbols science and philosophy. (40-1)

Philosophy springs from the love of being; it is man's loving endeavor to perceive the order of being and attune himself to it. Gnosis desires dominion over being; in order to seize control of being the gnostic constructs his system. The building of systems is a gnostic form of reasoning, not a philosophical one.
But the thinker can seize control of being with his system only if being really lies within his grasp. As long as the origin of being lies beyond the being of this world; as long as eternal being cannot be completely penetrated with the instrument of world-immanent, finite cognition; as long as divine being can be conceived of only in the form of the analogia entis, the construction of a system will be impossible. If this venture is to be seriously launched at all, the thinker must first eliminate these inconveniences: he must so interpret being that on principle it lies within the grasp of his construct. (42-3)

But, we must ask, are substance and subject really identical? Hegel dispenses with this question by declaring that the truth of his "view" is proven if he can justify it "through the presentation of the system." If, therefore, I can build a system, the truth of its premise is thereby established; that I can build a system on a false premise is not even considered. The system is justified by the fact of its construction; the possibility of calling into question the construction of systems, as such, is not acknowledged. That the form of science is the system must be assumed as beyond all question. We are confronted here with the same phenomenon of the suppression of questions that we met in Marx. But we now see more clearly that an essential connection exists between the suppression of questions and the construction of a system. Whoever reduces being to a system cannot permit questions that invalidate systems as a form of reasoning. (43-4)

When the man brings up the problem of the arche, Marx admonishes: "Ask yourself whether that progression exists as such for rational thought."35 Let this person become reasonable; then he will stop his questioning. For Marx, however, reason is not the reason of man but, in the perversion of symbols, the standpoint of his system. His questioner is supposed to cease to be man: he is to become socialist man. Marx thus posits that his construct of the process of being (which comprises the historical process) represents reality. He takes the historical evolution of man into socialist man—which is part of his conceptual construct—and inserts it into his encounters with others; he calls upon the man who questions the assumptions of his system to enter into the system and undergo the evolution it prescribes. In the clash between system and reality, reality must give way. The intellectual swindle is justified by referring to the demands of the historical future, which the gnostic thinker has speculatively projected in his system.
The position of the gnostic thinker derives its authority from the power of being. He is the herald of being, which he interprets as approaching us from the future. (45)

In the Middle Ages this movement could still be kept below the threshold of revolution. Today it has become, not, to be sure, the power of being, but world power. To break the spell of this world and its power—each of us in himself—is the great task at which we all must work. (49)

Our analysis of parousiastic doxa began with the Marxian texts that have to do with the prohibition of questions. The examination was based on these passages because in them the motives, symbols, and patterns of thought of the gnostic mass movements of our time can be seen in rare concentration. It would be difficult to find another document of modern gnosticism that in power and clarity of expression, in intellectual vigor and ingenious determination, would compare with the manuscript of the young Marx. (53)

The aim of parousiastic gnosticism is to destroy the order of being, which is experienced as defective and unjust, and through man's creative power to replace it with a perfect and just order. Now, however the order of being may be understood—as a world dominated by cosmic-divine powers in the civilizations of the Near and Far East, or as the creation of a world-transcendent God in Judaeo-Christian symbolism, or as an essential order of being in philosophical contemplation—it remains something that is given, that is not under man's control. In order, therefore, that the attempt to create a new world may seem to make sense, the givenness of the order of being must be obliterated; the order of being must be interpreted, rather, as essentially under man's control. And taking control of being further requires that the transcendent origin of being be obliterated: it requires the decapitation of being—the murder of God. (53-4)

In order to appear the unlimited master of being, man must so delimit being that limitations are no longer evident. And why must this magic act be performed? The answer is: "If there were gods, how could I endure not being a god! Therefore, there are no gods."
It does not suffice, therefore, to replace the old world of God with a new world of man: the world of God itself must have been a world of man, and God a work of man which can therefore be destroyed if it prevents man from reigning over the order of being. The murder of God must be made retroactive speculatively. This is the reason man's "being-of-himself " (Durchsichselbstsein) is the principal point in Marx's gnosis. And he gets his speculative support from the explanation of nature and history as a process in which man creates himself to his full stature. The murder of God, then, is of the very essence of the gnostic re-creation of the order of being. (55)

The adepts made the man "by means of the book Yezirah"—that is, by means of a magic operation with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. This is essentially the same kind of operation as Marx's creation of "socialist man" by means of gnostic speculation. The golem legend now sheds additional light on its nature. In view of the reality of the order of being in which we live, Marx's prohibition of questions had to be characterized as an attempt to protect the "intellectual swindle" of his speculation from exposure by reason; but from the standpoint of the adept Marx the swindle was the "truth" that he had created through his speculation, and the prohibition of questions was designed to defend the truth of the system against the unreason of men. The curious tension between first and second reality, first and second truth, on the pneumopathological nature of which we have remarked, is now revealed to be the tension between the order of God and magic. But this tension, which results from magic's will to power, can be eliminated. For what does the golem do, bearing, like Adam, the man whom God created, the seal of truth on its forehead? It erases the letter aleph in order to warn the adepts that the truth is God's; the second truth is death: the golem dies. (56)

Important aspects of magic creation that were only implied in the first legend are now clarified. The second golem carries on its forehead the seal "God is truth." With the effacing of the letter aleph it becomes the proclamation "God is dead." After this deed, however, the second golem does not die as did its predecessor. It remains standing there, the knife it used for the murder in its hand. It goes on living and bears the new seal on its brow. (58)

Jeremiah asks the relevant question; and when he gets an answer that should induce him to destroy his work, he does not suppress the question, but goes ahead and destroys his work. (59)

[I]t is all too often forgotten that the interpreter of a magic opus need not, to put it bluntly, be taken in by the magic. It is not enough to examine the symbol of the superman on the basis of the texts and determine the meaning Nietzsche intended; for the symbol occurs in a context of magic. What really takes place in the order of being when this magic is practiced must also be determined. The nature of a thing cannot be changed; whoever tries to "alter" its nature destroys the thing. Man cannot transform himself into a superman; the attempt to create a superman is an attempt to murder man. Historically, the murder of God is not followed by the superman, but by the murder of man: the deicide of the gnostic theoreticians is followed by the homicide of the revolutionary practitioners. (63-4)

The transformed critique is no longer theory, but practice:
Its subject is its enemy, which it seeks not to refute, but to annihilate …. It no longer acts as an end in itself, but only as a means. Its essential emotion is indignation; its essential task is denunciation.
Here speaks the will to murder of the gnostic magician. The bonds of reality have been broken. One's fellowman is no longer a partner in being; critique is no longer rational debate. Sentence has been passed; the execution follows. (67)

In its language the is philosophical; in its substance and intention it is radically anti-philosophical. It must be recognized as a work of magic—indeed, it is one of the great magic performances. (69)

Ersatz Religion
The Gnostic Mass Movements of Our Time (82)

By gnostic movements we mean such movements as progressivism, positivism, Marxism, psychoanalysis, communism, fascism, and national socialism. We are not dealing, therefore, in all of these cases with political mass movements. Some of them would more accurately be characterized as intellectual movements—for example, positivism, neo-positivism, and the variants of psychoanalysis. This draws attention to the fact that mass movements do not represent an autonomous phenomenon and that the difference between masses and intellectual elites is perhaps not so great as is conventionally assumed, if indeed it exists at all. At any rate, in social reality the two types merge. None of the movements cited began as a mass movement; all derived from intellectuals and small groups. Some of them, according to the intentions of their founders, should have grown into political mass movements, but did not. Others, such as neo-positivism or psychoanalysis, were meant to be intellectual movements; but they have had, if not the form, at least the success of political mass movements, in that their theories and jargons have shaped the thinking of millions of people in the Western world, very often without their being aware of it. (83-4)

5) With this fifth point we come to the gnostic trait in the narrower sense—the belief that a change in the order of being lies in the realm of human action, that this salvational act is possible through man's own effort.
6) If it is possible, however, so to work a structural change in the given order of being that we can be satisfied with it as a perfect one, then it becomes the task of the gnostic to seek out the prescription for such a change. Knowledge—gnosis—of the method of altering being is the central concern of the gnostic. As the sixth feature of the gnostic attitude, therefore, we recognize the construction of a formula for self and world salvation, as well as the gnostic's readiness to come forward as a prophet who will proclaim his knowledge about the salvation of mankind. (87)

To the first type of derivation, the teleological, belongs progressivism in all variants. When the teleological component is immanentized, the chief emphasis of the gnostic-political idea lies on the forward movement, on the movement toward a goal of perfection in this world. The goal itself need not be understood very precisely; it may consist of no more than the idealization of this or that aspect of the situation, considered valuable by the thinker in question. Eighteenth-century ideas of progress—for example, Kant's or Condorcet's—belong to this teleological variant of gnosis. … Condorcet was somewhat less patient than Kant. He chose not to leave the perfection of man to the unending progress of history, but to accelerate it through a directorate of intellectuals. (89-90)

All gnostic movements are involved in the project of abolishing the constitution of being, with its origin in divine, transcendent being, and replacing it with a world-immanent order of being, the perfection of which lies in the realm of human action. This is a matter of so altering the structure of the world, which is perceived as inadequate, that a new, satisfying world arises. The variants of immanentization, therefore, are the controlling symbols, to which the other complexes are subordinated as secondary ways of expressing the will to immanentization.
No matter to which of the three variants of immanentization the movements belong, the attempt to create a new world is common to all. This endeavor can be meaningfully undertaken only if the constitution of being can in fact be altered by man. The world, however, remains as it is given to us, and it is not within man's power to change its structure. In order—not, to be sure, to make the undertaking possible—but to make it appear possible, every gnostic intellectual who drafts a program to change the world must first construct a world picture from which those essential features of the constitution of being that would make the program appear hopeless and foolish have been eliminated. (99-100)

And this opens up the problem of the strange, abnormal spiritual condition of gnostic thinkers, for which we have not as yet developed an adequate terminology in our time. In order, therefore, to be able to speak of this phenomenon, it will be advisable to use the term "pneumopathology," which Schelling coined for this purpose. (101)

As More leaves superbia out of his image of man in order to create a utopian order from this new man freed by the intellectual from original sin, so Hobbes leaves out another essential factor in order to be able to construct his Leviathan. The factor Hobbes omits is the summum bonum, the highest good. (102)

Through the construction of the system the thinker becomes the only free person—a god, who will deliver man from the evils of the "state of nature." This function of the system is clearer in Hobbes than it was in More because Hobbes recommends his work to a "sovereign" who may read it, ponder it, and act accordingly. More did indeed construct his Utopia; but this humanist's game, dangerous as it was, was still only a game, for More remained aware that the perfect society was, and would always be, "nowhere." But Hobbes takes his construct in dead earnest. He recommends it to a person in power who is to suppress the apparent freedom of the spirit and its order, because in Hobbes's opinion man does not have the real thing. (104-05)

The factor Hegel excludes is the mystery of a history that wends its way into the future without our knowing its end. History as a whole is essentially not an object of cognition; the meaning of the whole is not discernible. (105)

We have here a construct closely related to that of Joachim of Flora. Joachim, too, was dissatisfied with the Augustinian waiting for the end; he, too, wanted to have an intelligible meaning in history here and now; and in order to make the meaning intelligible, he had to set himself up as the prophet to whom this meaning was clear. (106)

In the three cases of More, Hobbes, and Hegel, we can establish that the thinker suppresses an essential element of reality in order to be able to construct an image of man, or society, or history to suit his desires. If we now consider the question of why the thinker would thus contradict reality, we shall not find the answer on the level of theoretic argument; for we have obviously gone beyond reason, if the relation to reality is so greatly disturbed that essential elements are on principle excluded from consideration. We must move our inquiry to the psychological level, and a first answer has already yielded itself in the course of our presentation: the will to power of the gnostic who wants to rule the world has triumphed over the humility of subordination to the constitution of being. This answer cannot completely satisfy us, however, for while the will to power has indeed conquered humility, the result of victory is not really the acquisition of power. The constitution of being remains what it is—beyond the reach of the thinker's lust for power. It is not changed by the fact that a thinker drafts a program to change it and fancies that he can implement that program. The result, therefore, is not dominion over being, but a fantasy satisfaction.
Therefore, we must go further and inquire into the psychic gain the thinker receives from the construction of his image and the psychic needs the masses of his followers satisfy through it. From the materials we have presented, it would appear that this gain consists in a stronger certainty about the meaning of human existence, in a new knowledge of the future that lies before us, and in the creation of a more secure basis for action in the future. Assurances of this sort, however, are sought only if man feels uncertain on these points. If we then inquire further about the reasons for the uncertainty, we come upon aspects of the order of being and man's place in it that do indeed give cause for uncertainty—an uncertainty perhaps so hard to bear that it may be acknowledged sufficient motive for the creation of fantasy assurances. (106-08)

A complex of derivatives of the Christian idea of perfection proved to be the controlling symbolism in gnostic speculation. Clearly, an element of insecurity must be involved in this idea, which moves men to search for a firmer foundation for their existence in this world. It will therefore be necessary first to discuss faith in the Christian sense as the source of this insecurity.
In the Epistle to the Hebrews, faith is defined as the substance of things hoped for and the proof of things unseen. This is the definition that forms the basis for Thomas Aquinas' theological exposition of faith. The definition consists of two parts—an ontological and an epistemological proposition. The ontological proposition asserts that faith is the substance of things hoped for. The substance of these things subsists in nothing but this very faith, and not perhaps in its theological symbolism. The second proposition asserts that faith is the proof of things unseen. Again, proof lies in nothing but faith itself. This thread of faith, on which hangs all certainty regarding divine, transcendent being, is indeed very thin. Man is given nothing tangible. The substance and proof of the unseen are ascertained through nothing but faith, which man must obtain by the strength of his soul—in this psychological study we disregard the problem of grace. Not all men are capable of such spiritual stamina; most need institutional help, and even this is not always sufficient. We are confronted with the singular situation that Christian faith is so much the more threatened, the further it expands socially, the more it brings men under institutional control, and the more clearly its essence is articulated. This threat had reached the critical point in the high Middle Ages because of widespread social success. Christianity had in fact institutionally encompassed the men of Western society; and in the new urban culture, under the influence of the great religious orders, its essence had attained a high degree of clarity. Coincidentally with its greatness, its weakness became apparent: great masses of Christianized men who were not strong enough for the heroic adventure of faith became susceptible to ideas that could give them a greater degree of certainty about the meaning of their existence than faith. The reality of being as it is known in its truth by Christianity is difficult to bear, and the flight from clearly seen reality to gnostic constructs will probably always be a phenomenon of wide extent in civilizations that Christianity has permeated.
The temptation to fall from uncertain truth into certain untruth is stronger in the clarity of Christian faith than in other spiritual structures. But the absence of a secure hold on reality and the demanding spiritual strain are generally characteristic of border experiences in which man's knowledge of transcendent being, and thereby of the origin and meaning of mundane being, is constituted. (108-10)

The gnostic mass movements of our time betray in their symbolism a certain derivation from Christianity and its experience of faith. The temptation to fall from a spiritual height that brings the element of uncertainty into final clarity down into the more solid certainty of world-immanent, sensible fulfillment, nevertheless, seems to be a general human problem. (114)

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