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The Gnostic Gospels and Church Authority - Book Report/Review Example

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The Gnostic Gospels and Church Authority

This unification of belief stands in sharp contrast to the early struggles to define that consistency and as well to contemporary arguments and debates taking place since the discovery of texts that have raised serious questions about the authority of the New Testament. Pagels refuses to advocate either Gnostic or traditional Christian viewpoints; instead her thesis stems from the concept that history can never be unraveled to fulfill a pure truth, because it is always written by the winners. In the case of Christianity, Pagels suggests that it may never have developed into the unified, universal religion it became had the struggle among its multiple sects not eventually been won; had the Gnostics been capable of organizing as well as the Catholic sect, Christianity could well have become just another ancient religious cult falling by the wayside.
Pagels' methodology in writing this book is to establish connections between what is contained within the Gnostic gospels and what is contained with the Biblical canon in order to more fully realize and understand the authority of the traditional Church. For Pagels, Christianity is not merely a system of spiritual or religious beliefs. She urges the reader to become more fully aware of the hierarchical structure of the Church in order that the unitiated can become more cognizant of just how political and bureaucratic an entity is. This is important for her overall point because authority can only be established coincident with order. Pagels is quite clear in her belief that the early Catholic church was able to win the struggle for the role of Christianity's mouthpiece because of its ability to impose order and structure. She writes in the introduction that "Christianity had become an institution headed by a three-rank hierarchy of bishops, priests and deacons, who understood themselves to be the guardians of the only 'true faith'" (xxiii). Since Pagels' argument is that Christianity may not have survived to become a major religion had a single vision not emerged, the importance of this order cannot be underestimated. Any organization wishing to build membership must imbue itself with authority, with orthodoxy, and further it must be able to convince potential members of its authority. Early on the Church saw the advantages of ritual and organization as a methodology of convincing. The Gnostics attempted an elitist and complex qualitative method for inclusion, whereas the Catholic Church "created a clear and simple framework, consisting of doctrine, ritual and political structure, that has proven to be an amazingly effective system of organization" (104-105). She asks why Gnostic authors described the church in "fantastic and imaginative terms" (107). Pagels point is that the doctrine and ritual inherent in the Catholic Church served the purpose of turning the idea and structure of the religion into something more concrete. Indeed, in her book and in this essay when I have been referring to Christianity as we know, I have been calling it "the Church." The Gnostics saw a "heavenly church" (106) whereas the ...Show more


In many way Elaine Pagels' book Gnostic Gospels was one of the opening salvos in the reopening of conflicts that, far from being new, are in fact thousands of years old. In a way, the discovery of the Nag Hammadi scrolls has sent the calendar rolling back to the earliest struggles of Christianity, the struggles between the various sects to unify into one vision and one voice…
Author : warren49
The Gnostic Gospels and Church Authority essay example
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