Christians have flirted with Gnostic thought since the early centuries of Christianity. After the 4th century, these movements were systematically ruled as heretical by the established Church, which then moved to isolate and wipe them out through a variety of methods.
Each movement had its own specific beliefs, but there were also many qualities held in common by many of them, qualities they also often shared with the Gnostic Jewish Essences who had come before them.
Elects and Listeners:
Gnostic groups commonly had at least two distinct groups of followers. The Elects (or Perfects) were the spiritual leaders. They led highly disciplined and ethical lives according to the tenets of their faith and largely lived apart from the material world.
The Listeners (or Believers) were the day-to-day believers. They lived in the world, worked regular jobs and lived normal lives relatively free of the more stringent requirements applied to the Elect. The following qualities are typical of the Elect rather than the Listeners, unless otherwise stated.
Because the material world is corrupt and sharply at odds with the spiritual one, the Elect withdrew from it as much as possible. They ate and dressed simply, sometimes to the point of self-neglect.
Celibacy and Birth:
Physical pleasure is a temptation posed by the corrupt material world and thus should not be pursued at all by the Elect. Listeners were generally allowed to have sex, although some groups frowned upon pregnancy, since that condemned more divine souls to mortal suffering. Some groups also banned marriage because it involved the swearing of oaths, to which these groups objected.
Vegetarianism and other Dietary Restrictions:
The Elect were commonly banned a variety of food and drink, including meat and other animal products such as milk and eggs.
Gnostic movements commonly frown upon the use of violence, which is one reason for their vegetarianism.
Poverty and Communal Living:
The Elect often lived lives similar to Christian monks, owning no personal property at all. The Listeners were expected to donate funds and supplies toward the upkeep of the Elect.
While eventual reunification with the Godhead is possible for the Elect because they have shed their connections with the material world, most souls reincarnate again and again. Because souls are divine, they cannot be destroyed. But because they have forgotten their true nature, neither can they return to the Godhead.
Rejection of Hell and Purgatory:
Doctrines of reincarnation rendered theories of a punitive afterlife illogical.