Saturday, June 27, 2009

Gnosis & Formation

[Response to an individual considering entering a distance formation program in another church.]

The best advice that I can give you is to at least travel to visit and participate for a few days in parish life (if any) and speak at length with different types of participants in any church you are seriously considering, before entering any formation program. This happens automatically in our tradition, because people either live there or are considering moving there. However, in many of these churches one generally only meets others in person for ordination, and these may be at extraordinary events (visits or conferences) disconnected from life at the parish level. Beyond being due diligence, it will also give a level of insight that will prove invaluable if you enter a distance formation program.

Geography is a serious limitation, however gnosis (first-hand knowledge and experience) is also a limitation in that a distance formation is one without the dimension of gnosis. Recently founded church bodies that have such programs don't see gnosis as part of the formation process, and in my experience that is correlated with demonstrations of an understanding of Gnosticism centered on doctrinal elements. There is a long development of an individual's understanding of gnosis, that is itself a part of the overall developmental process, and an institutional understanding narrowly focused on doctrinal elements is more likely to hinder than to aid in this.

For me, an established community of practice is a large part of what a spiritual institution has to offer. It isn't necessarily correlated to the age of a particular institutional form, but it is a matter of having significant experience and interaction in a community of practice. In all spiritual traditions an individual is first a student and is then graduated by being encouraged or approved to teach by a long established teacher. This basic system doesn't always work as intended, but its fundamental purpose is to both pass on a living tradition tied into a larger community of practice, and to ensure the development of the individual beyond a certain point before they become a teacher in that tradition. The “living” aspect and the “development” aspect are of the nature of gnosis. It is worth considering how far back a living tradition goes within an institution and its leading and teaching members.

It may also be useful to point out that at different points of development there are common “universal solutions” that one realizes are not actually solutions of any kind a bit further along. I am not just speaking of personal observations, but also of quantitative research in developmental psychology. While it is best to avoid any simple easy “universal solution” presented, the example of this that is seen far too frequently is the notion of otherwise empty empowerment. This may manifest as a desire of an individual to receive a title without formation, because the title is all that is perceived as needed. It may also manifest as someone essentially granting titles without a formation process, and thinking that doing so is the same as someone going through a formation process.

I think that to be a Gnostic is to consider gnosis to be of importance, even when it is not redemptive-gnosis (usually referred to as Gnosis). One can learn quite a bit at a distance. There is no limitation on information at a distance, but there are severe limitations on gnosis at a distance. I suggest being aware of the severity of the limitations and considering the implications before entering such a program.

For my part, although I am designing a largely distance learning program in Spiritual Ministry and have no reservations about the granting of academic degrees in such a program, I cannot imagine putting someone forward as a candidate for the priesthood who has not had significant experience of the priesthood liturgically and within the context of parish service. Which would result in becoming a Gnostic Priest without gnosis of what a Gnostic Priest does liturgically and informally. That just strikes me as something of an oxymoron.

I hope all goes well whatever path you take. Development does not end with formation, and in an open and supportive environment, where further development does not inevitably lead to conflict with the institution, much can be accomplished. All institutions have their limitations, their blind spots, their weaknesses along with their strengths. I would simply reiterate the suggestion to visit before entering any formation program—a bit of first-hand knowledge, gnosis, is worth more than thousands of words.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Lacarrière on Knowledge from Suffering

Pseudo-knowledge, believed to be gained through suffering, the fallacious redemption gained through ordeal, is nothing then but a lie, a lie that fails to recognize—or pretends not to recognize—the absurd and alienating nature of evil. Gnostic soteriology is quite explicit on this point: evil is never at any moment the outcome of a divine plan; it is not a natural or inherent necessity but the product of an error or misunderstanding. - Jacques Lacarrière

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Selected Timeline: Modern era to Nag Hammadi publication. Part Two: 20th Century to 1977

Twentieth Century
  • 1900   Fragments of a Faith Forgotten by G. R. S. Mead.
        -      Doinel readmitted to the Gnostic church as a bishop (Tau Julius).
  • 1903   Additional material from the Gospel of Thomas discovered at Oxyrhynchus. Beginning of the text through logion 7, logion 24 and 36 and fragments of logion 36 through 39.
  • 1904   New Sayings of Jesus and Fragments of a Lost Gospel by Bernard Grenfell and Arthur Hunt. Pre-publication abridgment of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri: Part 4.
  • 1906   Thrice Greatest Hermes a comprehensive three volume treatise by G. R. S. Mead.
  • 1907   Jean Bricaud, a bishop of l'Église Gnostique since 1901 with previous connections to the Eliate Church of Carmel of Eugene Vintras, the remnants of Bernard-Raymond Fabré-Palaprat's l'Église Johannites des Chretiens Primitif (Johannite Church of the Primitive Christians), and the Martinist Order, establishes the Eglise Catholique Gnostique (Gnostic Catholic Church) combining these, becoming patriarch under the name Tau Jean II. Liturgical services are based on Western Rite Christianity rather than the Cathar inspired rituals established by Doniel. Bricaud was encouraged and supported by fellow bishop Gérard "Papus" Encausse, likely to provide sacraments to excommunicated members of the Martinist Order.
  • 1908   Eglise Gnostique Universelle (Universal Gnostic Church) becomes the name of the church lead by Bricaud. The original church body founded by Doinel continues under the name Eglise Gnostique du France (Gnostic Church of France).
  • 1911   The close ties between Eglise Gnostique Universelle and the Martinist Order are formalized.
  • 1917   Septem Sermones ad Mortuos (Seven Sermons To The Dead) by Carl Gustav Jung. Privately published.
  • 1921   Pistis Sophia (Second edition, with commentary) by G. R. S. Mead.
  • 1926   l'Église Gnostique du France (the original church body founded by Doinel) is disbanded in favor of the Eglise Gnostique Universelle.
  • 1928   The Gnostic Society founded in Los Angeles by Theosophists James Morgan Pryse and his brother John Pryse for the study of gnosticism.
  • 1933   First annual meeting of Eranos, an academic group inspired by Jung, focused on the study of religions. Participants include the foremost scholars of religion, subsequently called the "history of religions" school of thought.
  • 1944   Jean Bricaud's successor in the EGU, Constant Martin Chevillon (Tau Harmonious) is executed by Nazi collaborators.
        -      Ronald Powell, an Australian of French decent and priest in the Liberal Catholic Church, leaves Australia for Europe, eventually settling in England. He acquires a grant of nobility in keeping with his understanding of spiritual nobility, and legally changes his name to Richard Jean Chretien Duc de Palatine.
  • 1945   A cache of codices representing a large collection of Gnostic texts in Coptic is found near Nag Hammadi.
  • 1949   A rare copy of Jung's Septem Sermones ad Mortuos is shown to a young student at Innsbruck by the name of Stephan Hoeller, because of his interest in Gnosticism.

  • 1951   Gnosis als Weltreligion (Gnosis as World Religion) by Gilles Quispel.
  • 1953   The first codex of the Nag Hammadi Library to be acquired, dubbed the Jung Codex, is formally presented to C. G. Jung.
        -      The Pre-Nicene Gnostic Catholic Church (now called Ecclesia Gnostica) instituted by the Most Rev. Richard Duc de Palatine, consecrated a bishop previously that year.
  • 1954   The first translation of the Berlin Codex is published.
  • 1955   The Jung Codex by H. Puech, Gilles Quispel, and W. Van Unnik. First publication of translations of Nag Hammadi texts.
  • 1958   Morton Smith reports finding an ancient copy of a letter by Clement of Alexandria quoting a secret Gospel of Mark.
        -      The Gnostic Religion: The message of the alien God and the beginnings of Christianity by Hans Jonas, a student of Bultmann and Heidegger. Second edition 1963.
        -      Eglise Gnostique Apostolique instituted by Robert Amberlain.
  • 1959   The Ante-Nicene Gnostic Catholic Church becomes active in the US through the ministry of Stephan Hoeller.
        -      English translation of the Gospel of Thomas.
  • 1960  Eglise Gnostique Universelle discontinued in favor of Eglise Gnostique Apostolique by Robert Amberlain (Tau Jean III).
  • 1967   The Institute for Antiquity and Christianity is founded. The Coptic Gnostic Library Project directed by James Robinson, is one of its six initial projects.
        -      Consecration of Stephan Hoeller (Tau Stephanus) as regionary bishop of the Americas for the Ante-Nicene Gnostic Catholic Church (Ecclesia Gnostica).
  • 1973   The Gnostics By Jacques Lacarrière. English translation published in 1977.
  • 1977   Die Gnosis: Wesen und Geschichte einer spatiken Religion (Gnosis: The Nature And History of Gnosticism) by Kurt Rudolph. Revised and expanded 1980. English translation 1983.
  • 1977   The Nag Hammadi Library in English edited by Marvin Meyer and James Robinson.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Selected Timeline: Modern era to Nag Hammadi publication. Part One: 18th-19th Centuries

Eighteenth Century
  • 1735   Isaac de Beausobre publishes the first modern monograph on Manicheism (Rudolph, 1983, p. 30).
  • 1738   Papal Bull In eminenti apostolatus specula issued by Pope Clement XII, banning Roman Catholics from becoming Freemasons.
  • 1769   The Bruce Codex was brought to England from Upper Egypt by the famous Scottish traveller Bruce, and subsequently bequeathed to the care of the Bodleian Library, Oxford (Mead, 1900, p. 426).
  • <1785   The Askew Codex was bought by the British Museum from the heirs of Dr. Askew (Mead, 1900, p. 426).
Nineteenth Century
  • 1835   Die Christliche Gnosis (The Christian Gnosis) by Ferdinand Christian Baur. According to Kurt Rudolph (1983, p. 31), Baur is "the real founder of research into gnosis."
  • 1851   Pistis Sophia text and Latin translation of the Askew Codex by M. G. Schwartze.
  • 1864   The Gnostics and Their Remains by Charles William King, an expert on, and the largest collector of, ancient gems. In it King puts forward the theory of the Eastern origins of Gnosticism, common to the period.
  • 1875   The Theosophical Society founded by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and Col. Henry Steel Olcott.
  • 1877   Isis Unveiled by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. Gnostics are one of the spiritual traditions mentioned favorably. King's the Gnostics and Their Remains repeatedly cited as a source and quoted.
  • 1884   Encyclical Humanum Genus of Pope Leo XIII against Freemasonry. This inspires the writer known as Léo Taxil to engage in an elaborate hoax claiming that Freemasonry was satanic.
  • 1887   The Gnostics and Their Remains (Second edition) by Charles William King. Expanded, including account of the Pistis Sophia.
  • 1886   Lerhrbuch der Dogmengeschichte (The History of Dogma) by Adolph von Harnack. According to Rudolph, Harnack "laid the basis for an assessment of Gnosis from the point of view of church history" (1983, p. 31).
  • 1890   l'Église Gnostique (the Gnostic Church) established after discovery of Cathar documents and a series of spiritual experiences by archivist Jules-Benoît Stanislas Doinel du Val-Michel (aka Jules Doinel), becoming patriarch under the name Tau Valentin II. Teachings are based on extant Cathar documents and the Gospel of John with a strong influence of Simonian and Valentinian cosmology. The church having both male and female Clergy, such as, male bishops and female "sophias." Liturgical services are based on Cathar rituals.
        -   through 1891   Mead publishes a serial article on Pistis Sophia in the Theosophical magazine Lucifer, the first English translation of the Askew Codex.
  • 1891   The Bruce Codex text and French translation with a brief introduction by E. Amélineau. Text was based on a century old copy, without knowing that it consisted of two manuscripts whose leaves were intermixed.
        -      The Martinist Order founded by Gérard Encausse, primarily known by his nome du plume "Papus."
  • 1892   The Bruce Codex critical text and German translation by Carl Schmidt. First critical edition.
  • 1895   Pistis Sophia French translation of Schwartze's text by E. Amélineau.
        -      Jules Doinel resigns and converts to Roman Catholicism (apparently one of many duped by Léo Taxil's anti-masonic hoax) writing Lucifer Unmasked against freemasonry.
  • 1896   Pistis Sophia by G. R. S. Mead. Translation of the Askew Codex.
        -      The Coptic Berlin Codex (aka. the Akhmim Codex), unearthed in Akhmim, Egypt, wrapped in feathers, in a niche in a wall at a Christian burial site.
        -   through 1898   Mead publishes another serial article, "Among the Gnostics of the First Two Centuries," that laid the foundation for his monumental compendium Fragments of a Faith Forgotten.
  • 1897   "The Acts of John" by M. R. James in Apocrypha Anecdota II. A long fragment of the Acts of John, much of which was previously unpublished.
        -      Two Lectures on the 'Sayings of Jesus' Recently Discovered at Oxyrhynchus by Walter Lock and William Sandy. Text, translation and lecture commentaries on first fragments of the Gospel of Thomas discovered earlier that year (fragments of logion 26 through 33).
  • 1898   The Oxyrhynchus Papyri: Part 1 by Bernard Grenfell and Arthur Hunt. Begins with unidentified fragment of the Gospel of Thomas.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Questions: Gnostic Theodicy – Take Two

The theological problem known as 'the problem of evil,' or as 'theodicy' (the justness of God), is the result of a theological definition of God comprising of three elements: all-powerful, meaning that there are no external limits on the power of God; all-knowing, meaning that there are no external limits on the knowledge of God; and all-good, meaning that there are no external limits on the goodness of God. What flows from this definition is the difficulty of avoiding assigning some responsibility for evil to such a being who knows about the evil in advance, has the power to prevent the evil, and, being good without limit, would have to act to prevent the evil.

The problem goes like this: since there is no external limit, there is nothing other than God that can be responsible for evil, but God is all-good and so cannot allow evil that God could prevent. However, there is no limit on the knowledge and power of God so there is nothing other than God that can be responsible for evil, but God is all-good and so cannot allow evil that God could prevent... Rinse. Repeat.

If we modify the definition, the problem goes away. If God is not all-good, then God can allow evil to occur, or even cause it. (A common pragmatic belief, even if denied in theory.) If God is not all-knowing, then God cannot be expected to know each instance of evil that will occur in order to prevent it. If God is not all-powerful, then God may not be able to prevent every instance of evil. The other way out of the problem is to deny the existence of evil in various ways, and that is the usual strategy employed by theologians. (There are also self-limited and all-good arguments.)

From the Gnostic texts we see statements comparable to the all-good part of this theological definition. The other two definitional elements, all-powerful and all-knowing, are certainly not present as understood and formulated in contemporary theology. For example, in Gnostic stories the ultimate divinity emanates aspects of the divine nature rather than acting as a creator wielding power upon a separate creation. There is also the question of whether it is valid and to what extent it makes sense to re-frame ancient Gnostic stories into modern theological arguments.

One of the things that annoys some academic scholars of Gnosticism is the mythic rather than theological nature of Gnostic texts. Our culture is so used to theological ways of thinking that the mythic form seems unwieldy. Yet there is a fundamental difference between the mythic and theological in the nature of meaning.

The analogy that comes to mind is the characters of a story, be it a book or a film, being translated into a game, such as a video game or trading card game. The character is removed from the story, the context of meaning, and is then defined by attributes relative to other things in the game. It may be fun to play the game, to move outside of the story, but it is a fundamentally different enterprise from that of telling the original story. Likewise, translating the ultimate divinity from Gnostic stories into a game piece with theological attributes and moving outside of the story is a very different thing from the telling of the original stories.