What are "the Aeons?"
 
Dear Friends,
 
I thought in conjunction with the previous post ("What is
an `Archon?'), it might be useful to briefly address another
important aspect of Gnostic cosmogony and mythology: the Aeons.
This will be a bit more complicated, but I hope you may find it
useful in some way.
 
As with other Greek-derived Gnostic terms, there are a number of
ways to translate the sense of "aeon" into English: we could use the
words eternity, divine realm, celestial realm, celestial being,
totality of being, and many others. Because of this diversity, I
simply return to the word Aeon to connote them all.
 
The fundamental Aeon, which we might call the central Aeon 
(although this is not to be taken literally in terms of physical 
space), is of course the full actualization of divine existence 
in God. This Aeon 
is simultaneously the mode of being and the actual being of God, so
we can think of it as the divine realm and God's own self at one and
the same time. This is another one of the many paradoxes of Gnostic
mythology, which are designed at least in part to challenge our
rational conceptions of physical space, time, and dimensionality.
 
In Gnostic cosmogony, the central aspect of God as the ultimate
realization of being is the property of emanating; that is, the
spirit that exists throughout the cosmos, and that is infused into
the physical realm in human beings and the natural world, finds its
origin in the central Aeon, in God, as through God's very status as
the true Eternal and Being and Unity, God emanates spirit out from
what we might call the essence of Godself. In this way, subsidiary
Aeons extend outward from the center, representing the varied
manifestations of spirit that emerge during the process of spiritual
emanation.
 
Within these Aeons, Gnostic mythology places aeonic supernatural
beings, which are in fact not really distinct from the Aeon itself 
I will call these entities aeons with a small `a' to distinguish the
mode of being from the realm of being itself. Some early Gnostic
groups had very complicated cosmogonies about how these aeons
manifested outward from the God; they discussed such things as their
names, their order, their rank, their power over aspects of the
spiritual world.
 
As you can imagine, this became a point of easy ridicule by
Christians against Gnostics, since it seemed that in this obsession
with what Christians might call "angels," Gnosticism strayed into
fields of mere idle speculation, which they derided as "false
knowledge." What we have to realize, however, is that even early
Gnostics had a far different understanding of mythology than
Christians; where to the mainstream Christian, mythology is to be
taken extraordinarily literally, Gnostics realize that their
mythologies are simply attempts to put into human language the
essentially unutterable and ineffable categories of the divine.
 
What the basic idea of the existence of aeons tells us is this: as
we move through the world, we encounter forces that are greater than
us, both forces that draw us closer to the spirit  i.e. aeons  and
forces that draw us away from the spirit  i.e. archons. For those
who find it more useful to see these aeons as literal beings, that
is perfectly acceptable. And for those like myself who see the
aeons less as actual "creatures" and more as broad cosmic forces
like the ones we call "faith" and "hope" and "love," that is
perfectly fine as well. This is one of those issues on which
Gnosticism can tolerate a tremendous amount of internal diversity
within the broad parameters of the system. Similarly with archons:
some people find it more useful to conceptualize them as satanic (in
the original sense of "adversarial") beings who try to impede our
journey to gnosis, whereas others find it more beneficial to think
of them as forces such as lust, gluttony, sadism, masochism,
cruelty, and other aspects of physical experience that tie us down
and prevent our ascension into the level of the spirit.
 
The last thing I should point out is the cosmic optimism in
Gnosticism, which contrasts against the deep pessimism that our
critics tend to find in our system. That is to say, at the end of
time, there will be a fundamental dissolution of all divisions,
limitations, imperfections, and all being will rejoin the unity of
the central Aeon, what early Gnostics spoke of as the
final "totality." Even the demiurge will resolve back into the
divine essence, because the demiurge is simply imperfect, neither
evil nor unforgiven. We have faith that God is moving through our
world of physical space and time in order to draw all beings back
into the unity of the divine  and for us the most profound proof of
this is the way in which God emptied out the divine essence into the
world both in the person of God's Son, Christ, and of God's divine
wisdom, Sophia.

 
In Christ,
 
+Matthew

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