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Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > D > Demiurge

Demiurge

The word means literally a public worker, demioergós, demiourgós, and was originally used to designate any craftsman plying his craft or trade for the use of the public. Soon, however, technítes and other words began to be used to designate the common artisan while demiurge was set aside for the Great Artificer or Fabricator, the Architect of the universe. At first the words toû kósmou were added to distinguish the great Workman from others, but gradually demiourgós became the technical term for the Maker of heaven and earth. In this sense it is used frequently by Plato in his "Timæus". Although often loosely employed by the Fathers and others to indicate the Creator, the word never strictly meant "one who produces out of nothing" (for this the Greeks used ktístes), but only "one who fashions, shapes, and models". A creator in the sense of Christian theology has no place in heathen philosophy, which always presupposes the existence of matter. Moreover, according to Greek philosophy the world-maker is not necessarily identical with God, as first and supreme source of all things; he may be distinct from and inferior to the supreme spirit, though he may also be the practical expression of the reason of God, the Logos as operative in the harmony of the universe. In this sense, i.e. that of a world-maker distinct from the Supreme God, Demiurge became a common term in Gnosticism. The Gnostics, however, were not satisfied merely to emphasize the distinction between the Supreme God, or God the Father, and the Demiurge, but in many of their systems they conceived the relation of the Demiurge to the Supreme God as one of actual antagonism, and the Demiurge became the personification of the power of evil, the Satan of Gnosticism, with whom the faithful had to wage war to the end that they might be pleasing to the Good God. The Gnostic Demiurge then assumes a surprising likeness to Ahriman, the evil counter-creator of Ormuzd in Mazdean philosophy. The character of the Gnostic Demiurge became still more complicated when in some systems he was identified with Jehovah, the God of the Jews or of the Old Testament, and was brought in opposition to Christ of the New Testament, the Only-Begotten Son of the Supreme and Good God. The purpose of Christ's coming as Saviour and Redeemer was to rescue us from the power of the Demiurge, the lord of the world of this darkness, and bring us to the light of the Good God, His Father in heaven. The last development in the character of the Demiurge was due to Jehovah being primarily considered as he who gave the Law on Sinai, and hence as the originator of all restraint on the human will. As the Demiurge was essentially evil, all his work was such; in consequence all law was intrinsically evil and the duty of the children of the Good God was to transgress this law and to trample upon its precepts. This led to the wildest orgies of Antinomian Gnosticism.

According to Valentinus the Demiurge was the offspring of a union of Achamoth (he káta sophía or lower wisdom) with matter. And as Achamoth herself was only the daughter of Sophía the last of the thirty Æons, the Demiurge was distant by many emanations from the Propatôr, or Supreme God. The Demiurge in creating this world out of Chaos was unconsciously influenced for good by Jesus Soter; and the universe, to the surprise even of its Maker, became almost perfect. The Demiurge regretted even its slight imperfection, and as he thought himself the Supreme God, he attempted to remedy this by sending a Messias. To this Messias, however, was actually united Jesus the Saviour, Who redeemed men. These are either hulikoí, or pneumatikoí. The first, or carnal men, will return to the grossness of matter and finally be consumed by fire; the second, or psychic men, together with the Demiurge as their master, will enter a middle state, neither heaven (pleroma) nor hell (hyle); the purely spiritual men will be completely freed from the influence of the Demiurge and together with the Saviour and Achamoth, his spouse, will enter the pleroma divested of body (húle) and soul (psuché). In this most common form of Gnosticism the Demiurge had an inferior though not intrinsically evil function in the universe as the head of the psychic world. According to Marcion, the Demiurge was to be sharply distinguished from the Good God; the former was díkaios, severely just, the latter agathós, or loving-kind; the former was the God of the Jews, the latter the true God of the Christians. Christ, though in reality the Son of the Good God, pretended to be the Messias of the Demiurge, the better to spread the truth concerning His heavenly Father. The true believer in Christ entered into God's kingdom, the unbeliever remained forever the slave of the Demiurge. To this form of Gnosticism, the Demiurge has assumed already a more evil aspect. According to the Naassenes the God of the Jews is not merely díkaios, but he is the great tyrant Jaldabaoth, or Son of Chaos. He is Demiurge and maker of man, but as a ray of light from above enters the body of man and gives him a soul; Jaldabaoth is filled with envy; he tries to limit man's knowledge by forbidding him the fruit of knowledge in paradise. The Demiurge, fearing lest Jesus, whom he had intended as his Messias, should spread the knowledge of the Supreme God, had him crucified by the Jews. At the consummation of all things all light will return to the pleroma; but Jaldabaoth, the Demiurge, with the material world, will be cast into the lower depths. Some of the Ophites or Naassenes venerated all persons reprobated in the Old Testament, such as Cain, or the people of Sodom, as valiant resisters of the Demiurge. In these weird systems the idea of the world-maker was degraded to the uttermost. Amongst the Gnostics, however, who as a rule set some difference between the Demiurge and the Supreme God, there was one exception; for according to the Ebionites, whose opinions have come down to us in the Pseudo-Clementine literature, there is no difference between the Highest God and the Demiurge. They are identical, and the God Who made heaven and earth is worthy of the adoration of men. On the other hand the Gnostic system is tainted with pantheism, and its Demiurge is not a creator but only a world-builder. (See GNOSTICISM; VALENTINUS; MARCION.)

About this page

APA citation. Arendzen, J. (1908). Demiurge. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04707b.htm

MLA citation. Arendzen, John. "Demiurge." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04707b.htm>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Rick McCarty.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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