Meaning of Aeon with regard to gnostic writings
Posted 25 January 2012 - 09:19 PM
Hope this is in the right section. I am aware that "eternal life" and other such phrases come from the greek "zoe aeonian," and in my research, I've come upon all sorts of explanations as to its meaning -- some saying, "eternal," or "age-abiding," etc. The latter is in favor amongst universalists. Bear in mind, I am not orthodox, but I am a Christian in search of the True Church and the truth, and I'm trying to understand scripture.
I have run into the term "aeon" in the Nag Hammadi writings quite frequently, and while I can accept that most of these are not canonical -- some outright heresy -- I'm wondering if anyone can shed light on the nature of "aeon" in the gnostic writings, and its relation (historical/etymological or theological) to "aeon" in canonical and patristic usage. Should this non-canonical usage inform our understanding of the canonical usage?
Posted 28 January 2012 - 05:37 PM
Posted 31 January 2012 - 04:08 PM
Posted 31 January 2012 - 05:32 PM
It seems to me that if the Gospels were preached only orally in the very few years of Christianity, then it's far more likely that the Essenes and other gnostic sects which already existed, understood the Gospel from their own frame of reference. Along the lines of how the Gospel has took on a slightly different exposition for the Greeks as supposed to the Jews. In fact, gnosticism is related to Kabbalah strongly and strangely enough, it has remarkable similarities to how the Gospel would be interpreted by say a Hindu...
The issue here again is authority and lineage, and I have never found a good exposition to read on how the Gnostics descend from the Apostles.
Also, what I mean that this area is messy, I mean simply from an academic/historical perspective.
This area is somewhat messy historically I think.
Posted 01 February 2012 - 05:01 PM
I can definitely see the connection between kaballa and gnosticism, particularly with regard to emanations etc. The Essenes may or may not have been involved with kabala -- not sure. Maybe that's the connection?
I'm still unclear as to how "aeon" could be used in such different ways by different authors writing about similar topics (albeit in different "styles"). For instance, if aeon can be understood as emanation of God (which I believe are called sefirot in kabala), then "aionion life" is consistent with our understanding of Christ as the fulness of God (Col 1:19). We participate in this fulness, (which is translated from "pleroma," a word you see in gnostic texts).
I haven't yet closed the book on whether or not kabalic ideas were a more acceptable part of Jewish tradition in St. Paul's time. For example, however, while Christ is often called the "logos," there is a corresponding kabala concept "Adam Kadmon," the primordial man, in whom the sefirot (or "fulness,") emanate. This perhaps could have been St. Paul's understanding?
Also: Col. 1:26, where Paul says Christ is the mystery hidden from "aionon" and "geneon" -- translated "ages" and "generations" in my version. But to understand aeons as principalities/powers would be consistent with Christian understandings as well.
Anyway, I've read enough gnostic writings to know that several are way off the mark. I recently read something called "Treatise on the Resurrection," in the Nag Hammadi writings, which didn't seem too bad. Anyone seen this?
Posted 01 February 2012 - 06:54 PM
In relation to gnostic notions of 'Aeon' it too like in Orthodoxy relates to Time. No one understands Time. The whole creation depends on it but no scientist or mystic can really claim to understand Time fully. In relation to Kabbalah and Gnosticism Time between one level of material creation and another lower or higher one (and there are many) differs from one another as zero does to infinity. So to a gnostic, Christ the logos would mean the One who comes from the Absolute.
As far as I understand in Orthodoxy there is only the Time in which we live here now, and the Eternity in the life to come.
Posted 02 February 2012 - 11:51 PM
My interest in the definition of "aeon" began with my research into the teaching of universal salvation -- many claim that the word "aionion" often translated "eternal" should be translated "age-long," since aion/aeon ought to be translated as "age." But this creates difficulties -- while they may argue that eternal death or destruction is just age-long death/destruction, on the other side of the field, we have the denigration of eternal life to "age-long life."
I'm interested if the gnostic usage of "aeon" is the same "aeon" because the meaning of the word in gnostic writings is so clearly with reference to "divine emanation" or some aspect of "divine being". A frustratingly uncited source on Wikipedia also states that its original meaning was "life" or "being," which also has a complementary connection with "emanation".
Why would the orthodox/canonical usage be different? Does anyone know of anyone who has written on the hypothesis that the meaning of "aeon" is uniform between these two bodies of work? Again, I think Paul addresses these gnostic heresies in scripture, and uses its language -- aeon, pleroma, kephale -- but curbs it into sound Christological, salvific doctrine. I in no way accept that the gnostic teachings themselves are true.
Posted 03 February 2012 - 07:07 AM
Posted 07 February 2012 - 09:45 AM
I wasn't implying that you accepted these teachings, just merely saying that if you read about it, it's easy to see how emanations of the 'Absolute' from their point of reference really refers to each level of 'life' or 'being', for which Time is relative, ie the life cycle of a Sun versus a planet versus a Tree a cell, atom etc etc. Some say Time in essence would not really exist if it were not for the created world, and this would then mean that Time is only relational between various phemonena etc etc. Again, I am not sure of the meaning of aeon in Gnosticism nor in Orthodoxy. Just pointing out it's easy to see how Time differs for an atom vs say a solar system, if you take these created things as 'emanations' of God. It seems to me that Orthodoxy does not view the created world as emanations of God, but rather sees Him outside of creation... Anyway Im sorry I realise Im not really answering your question, just think that the concept of Time is really relative...
Thanks Jan, I appreciate the thoughtful response. I found a helpful quote about the meaning of aion which I will share:
(it is from a google book, to be found here: http://books.google....to aeon&f=false"
Ephraem on God's proper name
There is a fascinating twist in St. Ephraem's explanation of the crime of the heretic Bardesanes. It was that he gave God's proper name, Aeon, to several aeons. Ephraem's argument runs thus. God allowed his other names to be given to others: thus he showed his kindness. But he reserved to himself his proper name, Aeon: thus he shower the majesty of his eternal nature. Moreover, Moses made clear God's name when [he reported that God gave "who am" as his name. This name flows from his essence, and since it is his certain and proper name, he never allowed it to become common. He alone is "who is." The Devil, envying the name which God had reserved for the unique honor of his essence, stirred up the betrayers of pure religion, and led them to pretend that their aeons were of the same eternal nature.
What is the twist in the argument? It is explained in the shift from "Aeon" to "who am" or "who is." What seems to an attentive reader of the text to be an incoherence is rather the symptom of the underlying thought of the platonizing tradition. When the Jewish translators of the Septuagint rendered "I am who am" as "I am the Being [masculine participle]" they were shifting from "whom am" to "the Being [participle]." "The Being" is true being: as it was understood in the syncretic platonizing philosophical culture of the time: eternal being, ever being, never becoming.
But whence comes Ephraem's "Aeon"? Most probably it shows the influence of a primitive etymology: "Aion" comes from "aei on [always being]." This is not a matter of conjecture. Ephraem is taking here an ancient etymology. Proclus witnesses to it, for he considers that the very word aionion indicates that it means to aei on.
Posted 08 February 2012 - 02:58 PM
As to the etymological question of how the term aeon comes to be used in this way, it likely has something to do with the desire by such groups to describe the attributes of divinity in personified form, without ascribing materiality, temporality, etc. -- hence the taking up of a term meant to indicate the timeless, indefinable notion of 'eras', 'ages', 'epochs', etc.
Someone has already mentioned St Irenaeus of Lyons, who talks about various cosmological theories popular in the groups of his day -- including the Valentinian schema of a pleroma of aeons.
INXC, Fr Irenei
Posted 21 February 2012 - 04:59 AM
In any case, the problem we confront today is the reverse of ancient gnosticism, which claims to overcome alienation in the world by insisting that the physical world is a total illusion, or worse. The problem today is that heavenly, transcendent realities, God, man, nature and history, have all been immanentized. That's the basis of all modern politics.
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