February 3, 2006
Many modern gnostics are having an identity crisis. While they claim to be gnostic they perform slightly altered versions of the Tridentine Mass used by the Roman Catholic Church prior to Vatican II. In fact one gnostic states emphatically on one website that his “Mass and other Sacraments resemble those of the orthodox churches in their style and form…” Furthermore many modern gnostics have merely replaced the conventional religious terminology of God or the Father with the Secret Father and Heaven for Pleroma. The Holy Spirit is something which they don’t usually bother to substitute. Furthermore, they subscribe to Orthodox Christian pantheism meaning that God is “within” all creation with the exchange of Jesus Christ for the Indwelling Christos. This Indwelling Christos is inside us all and that all we need to do is look within us to find “God.” This Parasite Hypothesis as I call it, is the one thing that they do have in common with their Valentinian forbearers. All of the above begs the question. What makes a church gnostic? Maybe one can understand the issue by understanding the neo-gnostic’s definition of gnosis.
Many neo-gnostics claim that gnōsis exclusively means, privileged “knowledge of the heart” or “insight” about the spiritual nature of God. This however is not a complete definition of the word but specifically a 2nd century development by the gnostic Valentinus. Also one may be perplexed by the supposed belief in such a god as prerequisite to have knowledge of said god but that is best left for another time. However, modern, neo-gnostics do not hold strictly to Valentinus’ definition either. When they say they self identify as gnostic, they really mean that they hold to a loose interpretation of this 2nd century development.
According to Bentley Layton’s The Gnostic Scriptures the “meaning of gnōsis is easy to grasp. Unlike its odd derivative gnōstikos, the word gnōsis was an ordinary part of Greek, both in daily life and in religion (including Judaism and Christianity)” (1987: 9) This would seem to make sense since the word prognosis is used in daily life for “predicting the likely outcome of a disease based on the condition of the patient and the action of the disease.” (http://www.uchospitals.edu/online-library/content=P00957) Prognosis as a word has nothing to do with knowing God. Gnōsis therefore does not have to exclusively mean insight into God’s nature for if it was; medical science would be delegated to the realm of tea leaf or palm reading. Layton further explains that the “ancient gnostics described salvation as a kind of gnōsis or acquaintance.” This is why I tend to use the term Neo-gnostic when describing modern gnostics and their churches.
If these neo-gnostic archbishops and bishops would just look into the history and doctrines of both Catholic and Gnostic movements they would come to a logical conclusion, the two ‘schools’ of thought are antithetical to each other. The two basic goals of gnosticism and traditional or Pauline Christianity, are mutually exclusive let alone the problem of conflicting cosmologies and resultant theologies.
The “Church Fathers” such as Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hippolytus, and Justin Martyr railed against their gnostic contemporaries in a plethora of treatises. Of course the gnostics did not sit idly by. They too blasted their orthodox contemporaries and quite effectively. It took Roman imperial legislation to eradicate the large, powerful, and diverse gnostic movement. The focus of Pauline Christianity such as found in the Orthodox, Catholic, and protestant churches, is an acceptance of belief. This belief has been supposedly handed down by an uninterrupted hierarchical organization and is to be accepted without question or the testing of its validity. Pauline Christianity posits that because of its’ hierarchy, which supposedly descends from the “Divine, Jesus Christ, Son of God” himself, that it holds all the knowledge there could ever be. All other knowledge is therefore false even if it is provable. Galileo was imprisoned for the mistake of using science over dogma.
In order to understand the focus of gnosticism we have to seek its earliest descriptions. The earliest Christian texts as recognized by most scholars are those of the school of St. Thomas. In fact it is here that we learn first hand what the Jesus point to this type of gnōsis. The focus of gnosticism according to these texts is the seeking and attainment of self acquaintance. It is direct and experiential knowledge of ourselves which brings us to salvation. We are not alone in our seeking to understand gnōsis. The apostles also wanted to understand this state of gnosis or knowing.
His disciples said, “Show us the place where you are, for we must seek it.” He said to them, “Anyone here with two ears had better listen! There is light within a person of light, and it shines on the whole world. If it does not shine, it is dark.” (GTh:24)
Gnōsis is therefore a process within our own mind, not on some unverifiable spiritual dimension. Who we are and what we experience is done so through our own mind. If one is to know whether or not they have achieved gnosis in any form it is with their own intellect. Naturally we can be misled by this same mind and so what we experience must be testable and replicable to prove whether or not we are simply deluding ourselves. Oftentimes we’ll ask someone “is it hot in here or is it just me” for third party verification. We are testing whether or not we are experiencing is real or not.
The problem arises for the neo-gnostic when they try to limit the definition of gnōsis as “divine knowledge.” This knowledge cannot be tested or verified and is merely subjective emotive stimuli. They also state that they acquire said knowledge through traditional Christian rituals. Interestingly enough, many of them agree that one does not need outside assistance to achieve this kind of gnōsis. The question then arises as to why they need a church or ecclesiastical hierarchy if the path toward gnōsis cannot be imparted. Essentially the Neo-gnostic churches attempt to place one foot in the Pauline world and another in the Gnostic, attempting to mimic (if only in part) their predecessor Valentinus, but they succeed only in confounding themselves and other seekers by attempting to serve two masters.
October 24, 2005
The Thomasine definition of gnosis is quite different from that of ancient Valentinian or other later developments of gnostic philosophy. Since the Gospel of Thomas predates the gnostic as well as canonical gospels of the early 2nd to late 3rd Centuries, it provides a window into what Christianity looked like at its foundation. This primitive Gospel displays gnostic overtones but without the emanation myths and cosmologies found in gnostic texts of the next century. Instead, it directed the reader to look within and if they do so they would be able to attain the Kingdom.
One can sum up the Thomasine definition of gnosis as a waking up to and an accepting Reality. It is training where one learns to focus the mind to a higher awareness of reality, beyond the illusory veil which the fictitious mind has drawn over it. This wakened state is characterized by the extinction of negative emotional responses, the quenching of desire, and thus the end suffering. It is the total purification of obscurations and ignorance and the full expansion of wisdom to all levels of being. When one becomes Illuminated or Enlightened they have a complete and perfect understanding of the character of everything.
Reality as posed in the Gospel of Thomas, is allegorically labeled as the Kingdom. This kingdom is right here, right now, yet we are ignorant of its existence. The Living Jesus tells us that “the Father’s kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people don’t see it.”( Logion 113) He also states that “If your leaders say to you, ‘Look, the (Father’s) kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is within you and it is outside you.” (Logion 3) The Gospel of Thomas clearly demonstrates that Jesus taught things which broke with Jewish traditions.(Logions 6, 14, 53, 77, 88)
Jesus also taught a way of being able to experience the Kingdom through a specific set of teachings. However, these teachings might have been blasphemous to the Jewish ear. Jesus questions his disciples as to who or what they think he is and all come back with dissatisfactory answers, save that of Thomas who claims complete ignorance. Jesus then pulls Thomas aside to tell him 3 secret sayings. When they asked what he had told him, Thomas said to them, “if I tell you one of the sayings he spoke to me, you will pick up rocks and stone me, and fire will come from the rocks and devour you.” (Logion 13) Evidently not everyone could receive these teaching because we are told that Jesus said, “I disclose my mysteries to those [who are worthy] of [my] mysteries.” (Logion 62) These teachings are also not obvious and that unless they are told to you directly you would never have stumbled upon them. We read that Jesus said “I will give you what no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, what no hand has touched, what has not arisen in the human heart.” (Logion 62)
Once one starts down this path in understanding the world, nature, and self it is impossible to erase that experience. Once someone Knows they always will, no matter how much they wish to forget. In fact once someone has attained such direct knowledge they will be equal with Jesus as he explains that, “Whoever drinks from my mouth will become like me; I myself shall become that person, and the hidden things will be revealed to him.” (Logion 62)
So what is gnosis, enlightenment, or illumination? Maybe we should first understand what gnosis isn’t. Gnosis is not something other-than. It is not something special to be coveted, prayed, or wished for. Gnosis is not something that happens or doesn’t happen. Gnosis is not something which resides within us or outside of us. Gnosis is not granted nor taken. Jesus said, “Know what is in front of your face, and what is hidden from you will be disclosed to you. For there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed. (Logion 62)
October 24, 2005
However, we can not talk about Illuminism or the Thomasine Way without understanding what its doctrines are based upon. The doctrine of the Thomasine Church is found in the Gospel of Thomas and the Hymn of the Pearl. These texts are its canon and no other Christian denomination has recognized these works, even those claiming to descend from St. Thomas the Apostle.
Although they are laced with metaphors the Gospel of Thomas and the Hymn of the Pearl are not really gnostic. They are devoid of gnostic cosmology and the usual gnostic verbiage. The thomasine text are not very Christian in the sense that we know that word today. There is no mention of such classic Christian doctrines as Satan, the second coming, sin, signs or Jesus’ supposed resurrection which is the central doctrine of faith among Christians.
The Thomasine Way or the way of Illuminism goes beyond mere religion and blind faith. It is more of a study, a philosophy, or a way of life. Illuminism is more a philosophy because philosophy means “a love of wisdom” and the Illuminist path can be summed up as a way:
• to develop understanding, knowledge, and wisdom,
• to be mindful of thoughts, words and deeds,
• and to lead a moral life.
Within the Gospel of Thomas and the Hymn of the Pearl there is verbiage which can be confused as being similar to that of prevailing religious ideations. This is simply not true. They really describe how the universe is constructed in a strikingly similar fashion to what is posited in “M Theory/String Theory.” We teach that the Kingdom of Light is an allegory for the quintessence of everything, the entire universe, seen and unseen. The “Living Father, the Ruler of Rulers” is an allegory for the Power (force) found on the sub-atomic level, whereas the “Mother, the source of light” would be exemplified as the Light (energy/matter) which is its partner. They are functions of the Kingdom of Light (the quintessence of the universe) and are not beings existing in a geographical locale with consciousness.
What one can clearly see is that Illuminist teachings with its goal of enlightenment, gnosis, or illumination are not deity dependant.