I love books that explore alternative viewpoints to the traditional and orthodox concept of Christianity and the history of Christian beliefs. I love it even more when those books are thoroughly sourced and well-documented. Mark H. Gaffney’s Gnostic Secrets of the Naassenes is just such a book, filled with new insights and information into the history of Christianity as seen through the eyes of the Gnostics, who claim their knowledge to be the real deal.
The book focuses on a composition by third-century C.E. bishop Hippolytus entitled “A Refutation of All Heresies,” which targets a heretic group of Gnostics called the Naassenes (among others). The Naassenes claimed that their wisdom came from Jesus’ actual spiritual teachings, imparted at the Last Supper, teachings that defied orthodoxy and brought the bloody wrath of the Church of Rome upon them.
The Naassene Sermon that the author dissects is considered Book Five of Hippolytus’s vast textual condemnation of heretics, and this entire sermon is included in the appendix, but before you get to it, Gaffney takes us on a thrilling ride through the dawn of Christianity itself and shows us, citing plenty of evidence along the way, the creation of a deep rift between the communities of Gnostics and the developing Roman Church. The Naassenes particularly claimed that they knew the honest-to-God teachings of Jesus, direct from the horse’s mouth, and this did not sit well with the Church. Using the symbolic Naassene Sermon, Gaffney helps us decipher the secret teachings of the Gnostic inner circle that the Church would go to such great lengths to silence and be rid of, which included the central truth of immanence and the concept of the indwelling God in man.
Much of Gaffney’s research and theories are solid and well thought out, so much so that finally getting to the appendix, and the actual Sermon itself, becomes a bit anti-climactic. You already feel you know these Gnostics and their mystical beliefs so well that the actual word-for-word text from Hippolytus is an afterthought, a chance to see the actual mechanics of his refutation, and all that it embodied and conveyed. But by then, chances are you’ve already taken sides.
The secret teachings Hippolytus sought to silence, and that the Naassenes had hoped to spread, include the direct knowing of God and the restoration of the soul’s deep connection to the divine, ideas frowned upon by a Church that based its survival on having a lofty human go-between in the form of a pope or bishop. To the Naassenes, Jesus taught that ordinary men and women could transcend their bodies and reach immanence with God, no middle-man required, and it is because of this blatant heresy the Naassenes were condemned.
For those whom calls themselves Christians, and for those deeply interested in religious history and the power of Western tradition and belief, this book will intrigue and entertain. Since none of us were alive at the time Christ walked the earth, it is exciting and enlightening to learn as much as we can about both the traditional elements that rose from the teachings of Paul and Peter, and the more personal and often suppressed elements being taught by mystics, Gnostics and those who actually walked beside Christ. This book helps to fill a void that may never be fully filled, but at least can be better understood.