Voegelin’s “The New Science of Politics”: Chapter Four: Gnosticism—The Nature of Modernity

Christianity de-divinized temporal power by establishing a split between the spiritual power of the church and represented in the pope and the temporal power of society/the state represented in the emperor/ruler.

Modern efforts to re-divinize temporal power are rooted in Christian heresies dating back to the late 12th century. Before this time, the West and Church universal held to Augustine’s teaching that there is not going to be an actual millennial reign of Christ commenced by his physical return, but rather the establishment of the Church with its role as the body of Christ and its pope is the beginning of the millennial reign and constitutes an age of Christ’s reign symbolized by the 1,000 years of peace.

In the late 12th century, Joachim of Flora mapped history onto the personhood of the trinity, teaching that there are three ages: the age of the Father, the age of the Son, and the age of the Spirit. Each age brings increasing spiritual development:

  • The age of the Father is the unfolding of the life of the layman
  • The age of the Son brought the active contemplative life of the priest
  • The age of the Spirit brings the perfect life of the monk

Joachim’s eschatology created a group of symbols that are used to this day in a variety of political and historical thinking. For example: history as a sequence of three ages, the leader, the prophet of the new age, and the brotherhood of autonomous persons. What happens is these symbols come to inform the political structures of modernism and create a sort of secularized millennial vision which gives meaning (the idea or truth) by which representation legitimizes and attempts to re-divinize itself.

This leads to a secular, progressive effort to immanentize the eschaton, a materialist and secularist bringing forth of utopia. Hence the positivists, the Marxists, the Socialist, the Capitalists.

And this brings us to Gnosticism.

If the secular world cannot abide a transcendence of faith, meaning God as other and greater, then it must fall back on transcendence revealed through Gnosis, or knowledge. Rather than reaching out to God, Gnosis is the drawing God into ourselves through revelatory knowledge. A transcendent God is no longer needed in a society where the institution transcends into a god-like state. This state is founded on the idea/truth of “utopia”, a secular heaven on earth, and its power is based on delivering that utopia.

It is for this reason that secular, Gnostic societies committed to re-divinization can only become totalitarian.