Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Apostolic Succession

It is common nowadays to dismiss such things as ordination or the Apostolic Succession among those who study Gnosticism. They are seen as antithetical to Gnosticism, as tools used by orthodoxy to enforce hierarchy, this is a view articulated by Elaine Pagels in the Gnostic Gospels. It is important to remember that Prof. Pagels is primarily a social historian, and that this represents a phase in history. Exoteric bishops objected to those annoying Gnostics undermining their authority, and that was an impetus towards the formation of the church hierarchy as it stands today. The Gnostic view then, and it is still a valid one, is that ordination and consecration do not confer any greater access to Gnosis. So that, a bishop arguing against Gnostics solely upon the authority of his office was, and is, absurd. This silly use of the Apostolic Succession as a granter of unassailable authority in doctrinal matters, does not mean that the Apostolic Succession is itself silly. The test for the Gnostic is always experience.

Although I didn't think about such things much in my early years of formation in the Ecclesia Gnostica, my ordinations provided me with Gnosis of the reality of the Apostolic Succession, in particular, my ordination to the priesthood. It is one thing to look on from in front of the altar, and not consider these things, but when it comes time to step behind the altar you are faced with an impossible task. How can I do this? Until you are on that threshold the question hasn't been lived. How can I give the blessing of God? How can I consecrate the host? The answer is, of course, I can't. I am just another human, limited and flawed. It is in the ordination that the means is given, one receives something that cannot be described, a grace one conveys to accomplish these things. It is only by being a conduit of this grace that one can function as a priest.

Proper adherence to the tradition of the Apostolic Succession can convey this ineffable something which we call grace. Think of it as a necessary but not sufficient condition for conveying the mysteries. There are many bishops, and even more priests who hold valid Apostolic lineage, and through whom the world is none the better. Others, use the grace conveyed for the purpose for which it is given, becoming stewards and conveyors of the mysteries.

We must be mindful to be Gnostics in all things, to withhold belief and to seek Gnosis, especially in the ever churning muddy waters of religion.

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