Gnosticism, n. A major Early Christian era heresy. At its root,
Gnosticism contained the idea that the spiritual is good, but the
physical is evil.
Perhaps the most deadly aspect of Gnostic error was the denial of
Christ's manhood. Knowing that Christ was fully divine, and believing
that the physical was evil, Gnostics deduced that Christ could not
possibly have been a carnal creature like you and me with real,
tangible flesh. They even went so far as to declare Christ's body to
be an illusion.
Only slightly less problematic was the denial of the fact that God
himself created the material word as good. The Psalms thank him for
his gifts of bread, oil, and wine; the depths of the sea and the stars
of the sky declare the glory of their Creator; Paul quoted the Psalms
as saying, "The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it,"
encouraging believers to eat whatever was sold in the meat market
without raising any question on ground of conscience. So far from
believing that the material world was created by God as good, some
Gnostics went so far as to state that Satan created it when God wasn't
looking; they embraced a patently false dichotomy between the physical
and the spiritual. The word 'scathing' is perhaps an understatement in
describing some of Paul's reactions:
Now, the Spirit expressly says that in later times, some will
renounce the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and the
teachings of demons, through the hypocrisy of liars whose
consciences are seared with a hot iron. They forbid marriage and
demand abstinence from foods, which God created to be received by
those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God
is good, and nothing is to be rejected, for it is sanctified by
God's word and by prayer.
I Tim 4:1-5, NRSV
Gnostic heresy has, fortunately, been eradicated, and the church's
abstimeniousness ever since serves as an inspiration to us all.
- -- Hayward's Unabridged Dictionary