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Title: Was George Fox a gnostic?
Author: Reynolds, Glen David.
ISNI:       0000 0000 3608 5158
Awarding Body: University of Sunderland
Current Institution: University of Sunderland
Date of Award: 2004
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The critique of Quakerism made by John Owen (Puritan Vice-chancellor of Oxford University) in tracts published in 1655 and 1679 was that Quaker theology renewed aspects of Gnosticism, a theology interpreted by patristic commentators as a Christian heresy. Owen's comparison was confined to the Quaker concepts of Light and spiritual perfection (which Owen viewed as being similar to the nature and function of Gnostic revelatory knowledge). This thesis argues that Fox's theological message (and in particular his interpretation of the concept of revelatory Light) incorporated a remarkably similar soteriology and realised eschatology to that found in Valentinian Christian Gnosticism. Gnosis is defined (Chapter 1) as an individual's realisation, arising from revelatory knowledge and spiritual baptism (received in a Christian context from the redeemer figure of Christ) that a divine ontological component exists within the human body which needs to reunite with a consubstantial eternal heavenly Light/Christ. The soteriological and eschatological implications arising from Valentinian Gnostic revelation are therefore: supernatural reunion of the divine element in the individual with Christ (chapter 2) awakening the individual to their divinity, resulting in spiritual perfection and freedom from the power and temptation of sin on earth (chapter 3); 2. the consequential devaluation of calendrical time/events (as significant aspects of theological exegesis) in pursuance of an anti-cosmic/historical emphasis upon inward revelation, thus limiting the authority of a) Scripture and b) communion and baptism to the extent that they are historically particular outward rituals (chapter 4). Fox claimed to restore primitive Christianity, yet unconsciously renewed aspects of Valentinian Christian Gnosticism. His quest for divine union, perfection and a realised eschatology is readily transferable to the early Church context of Valentinian Gnosticism in which (in opposition to the authority of the developing orthodoxy) reunion with God is a realisable eschatological aim on earth. The concept of union with God is a "keystone" of Foxian theology and incorporates the use of "Light" in an eschatologically motivated metaphysical dynamic. Previous scholarship has generally emphasised "Light" and "union" in Fox's theology as merely ethically motivated concepts. The conclusions of this thesis place Fox's quest for divine union and perfection in a Valentinian context, as opposed to the purely apocalyptic framework identified in current research. The thesis detects similarities between the demise of Valentinian Gnosticism and the abandonment of a distinctive Valentinian theology in Fox's message. There is no evidence that Fox used or was influenced by Gnostic mythological texts, save for an isolated reference Fox makes to concepts found in Gnostic-Hermeticism. This fact, together with a difference in scriptural/sacramental exegesis between Fox and Valentinian Gnosticism and the Valentinian reservation of a postmortem element to eschatological completion, results in the thesis concluding that Foxian theology is not Gnostic per se but is nevertheless remarkably similar to Valentinian Gnosticism.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available