Pagels, Elaine 1979 The Gnostic Gospels, Random House, N.Y.
SELF-KNOWLEDGE AS KNOWLEDGE OF GOD
GOD THE FATHER/GOD THE MOTHER
Unlike many of his contemporaries among the deities of the ancient Near East, the God of Israel shared his power with no female divinity, nor was he the divine Husband or Lover of any.' He can scarcely be characterized in any but masculine epithets: king, lord, master, judge, and father. I Indeed, the absence of feminine symbolism for God marks Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in striking contrast to the world's other religious traditions, whether in Egypt, Babylonia, Greece, and Rome, or in Africa, India, and North Amexica, which abound in feminine symbolism. Jewish, Christian, and Islan-dc theologians today are quick to point out that God is not to be considered in sexual terms at all.' Yet the actual language they use daily in worship and prayer conveys a different message: who, growing up with Jewish or Chrisfian tradition, has escaped the distinct impression that God is masculine? And while Catholics revere Mary as the mother of Jesus, fliey never idenfify her as divine in her own right: if she is 'mother of God', she is not 'God the Mother' on an equal fooling with God the Father! Christianity, of course, added the trinitarian terms to the Jewish description of God. Yet of the three divine 'Persons', two the Father and the Son are described in masculine terms, and the third the Spirit suggests the sexlessness of the Greek neuter term for spirit, pneuma. Whoever investigates the early history of Christianity (the field called 'patristics' that is, study of 'the fathers of the church') will be prepared for the passage that concludes the Gospel of Thomas:
Simon Peter said to them [the disciples]: 'Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of Life.' Jesus said, 'I myself shall lead her, in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit, resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male win enter the Kingdom of Heaven."
Strange as it sounds, this simply states what religious rhetoric assumes: that the men form the legitimate body of the community, while women are allowed to participate only when they assimilate themselves to men. Other texts discovered at Nag Hammadi demonstrate one striking difference between these 'heretical' sources and orthodox ones: gnostic sources continually use sexual symbolism to describe God. One might expect that these texts would show the influence of archaic pagan traditions of the Mother Goddess, but for the most part, their language is specifically Christian, unmistakably related to a Jewish heritage. Yet instead of describing a monistic and masculine God, many of these texts speak of God as a dyad who embraces both masculine and feminine elements.
One group of gnostic sources claims to have received a secret tradition from Jesus through James and through Mary Magdalene. Members of this group prayed to both the divine Father and Mother: 'From Thee, Father, and through Thee, Mother, the two immortal names, Parents of the divine being, and thou, dweller in heaven, humanity, of the mighty name ..." Other texts indicate that their authors had wondered to whom a single, masculine God proposed, 'Let us make man [adam] in our image, after our likeness' (Genesis 1:26). Since the Genesis account goes on to say that humanity was created 'male and female' (1:27), some concluded that the God in whose image we are made must also be both masculine and feminine both Father and Mother. How do these texts characterize the divine Mother? I find no simple answer, since the texts themselves are extremely diverse. Yet we may sketch out three primary characterizations. In the first place, several gnostic groups describe the divine Mother as part of an original couple. Valentinus, the teacher and poet, begins with the premise that God is essentially indescribable. But he suggests that the divine can be imagined as a dyad; consisting, in one part, of the Ineffable, the Depth, the Primal Father; and, in the other, of Grace, Silence, the Womb and Mother of the All'.'Valentinus reasons that Silence is the appropriate complement of the Father, designating the former as feminine and the latter as masculine because of the grammatical gender of the Greek words. He goes on to describe how Silence receives, as in a womb, the seed of the Ineffable Source; from this she brings forth all the emanations of divine being, ranged in harmonious pairs of masculine and feminine energies.
Followers of Valentinus prayed to her for protection as the Mother, and as the mystical, eternal Silence'.'For example, Marcus the magician invokes her as Grace (in Greek, the feminine term charts): 'May She who is before all things, the incomprehensible and indescribable Grace, fill you within, and increase in you her own knowledge." In his secret celebration of the mass, Marcus teaches that the wine symbolizes her blood. As the cup of wine is offered, he prays that 'Grace may flow" into all who drink of it. A prophet and visionary, Marcus calls himself the 'u'omb and recipient of Silence"O (as she is of the Father). The visions he received of the divine being appeared, he reports, in female form.
Another gnostic writing, called the Great Announcement, quoted by Hippolytus in his Refutation of All Heresies, explains the origin of the universe as follows: From the power of Silence appeared 'a great power, the Mnd of the Universe, which manages all things, and is a male ... the other ... a great Intelligence ... is a female which produces all things." Following the gender of the Greek words for mind' (nous masculine) and 'intelligence' (epinoia feminine), this author explains that these powers, joined in union, 'are discovered to be duality ... This is Mind in Intelligence, and these are separable from one another, and yet are one, found in a state of duality.' This means, the gnostic teacher explains, that "there is in everyone [divine power] existing in a latent condition ... This is one power divided above and below; generating itself, making itself grow, seeking itself, finding itself, being mother of itself, father of itself, sister of itself, spouse of itself, daughter of itself, son of itself mother, father, unity, being a source of the entire circle of existence."
How did these gnostics intend their meaning to be understood? Different teachers disagreed. Some insisted that the divine is to be considered masculo-feminine the 'great male-female power'. Others claimed that the terms were meant only as metaphors, since, in reality, the divine is neither male nor female." A third group suggested that one can describe the primal Source in either masculine or feminine terms, depending on which aspect one intends to stress. Proponents of these diverse views agreed that the divine is to be understood in terms of a harmonious, dynan-dc relationship of opposites a concept that may be akin to the Eastern view of yin and yang, but remains alien to orthodox Judaism and Christianity. A second characterization of the divine Mother describes her as Holy Spirit. The Apocryphon of John relates how John went out after the crucifixion with 'great grief' and had a mysfical vision of the Trinity. As John was grieving, he says that
the [heavens were opened and the whole] creation [which is] under heaven shone and [the world] trembled. [And I was afraid, and 1] saw in the light ... a likeness with multiple forms ... and the likeness had three forms.
To John's question the vision answers: 'He said to me, "John, jo[h]n, why do you doubt, and why are you afraid? ... I am the one who [is with you] always. I [am the Father]; I am the Mother; I am the Son." "' This gnostic description of God as Father, Mother and Son may startle us at first, but on reflecfion, we can recognize it as another version of the Trinity. The Greek terminology for the Trinity, which indudes the neuter term for spirit (pneuma) virtually requires that the third 'Person' of the Trinity be asexual. But the author of the Secret Book has in mind the Hebrew term for spirit, ruah, a feminine word; and so concludes that the feminine'Person'conjoined with the Father and Son must be the Mother. The Secret Book goes on to describe the divine Mother:
... (She is) ... the image of the invisible, virginal, perfect spirit ... She became the Mother of everything, for she existed before them all, the mother-father [matropaterl ... 16
The Gospel to the Hebrezos likewise has Jesus speak of 'my Mother, the Spirit'." In the Gospel of 7homas, Jesus contrasts his earthly parents, Mary and Joseph, with his divine Father the Father of Truth and his divine Mother, the Holy Spirit. The author interprets a puzzling saying of Jesus from the New Testament ('Whoever does not hate his father and his mother cannot be my disciple') by adding that 'my (earthly) mother [gave me death], but [my] true [Mother] gave me hfe'.11 So, according to the Gospel of Philip, whoever becomes a Christian gains 'both father and mother"' for the Spirit (ruah) is 'Mother of many' .20
A work attributed to the gnostic teacher Simon Magus suggests a mystical meaning for Paradise, the place where human life began:
Grant Paradise to be the womb; for Scripture teaches us that this is a true assumption when it says, 'I am He that formed thee in thy mother's womb' (Isaiah 44:2) ... MOSES ... using allegory had declared Paradise to be the womb ... and Eden, the placenta ... "I
The river that flows forth from Eden symbolizes the navel, which nourishes the fetus. Simon claims that the Exodus, consequently, signifies the passage out of the womb, and that 'the crossing of the Red Sea refers to the blood'. Sethian gnostics explain that
heaven and earth have a shape sin-dlar to the womb ... and if ... anyone wants to investigate this, let him carefully exan-dne the pregnant womb of any living creature, and he will discover an image of the heavens and the earth."
Evidence for such views, declares Marcus, comes directly from'the cry of the newborn', a spontaneous cry of praise for 'the glory of the primal being, in which the powers above are in harmonious embrace'.
If some gnostic sources suggest that the Spirit constitutes the matemal element of the Trinity, the Gospel of Philip makes an equally radical suggestion about the doctrine that later developed as the virgin birth. Here again, the Spirit is both Mother and Virgin, the counterpart and consort of the Heavenly Father: 'Is it pem-dtted to utter a mystery? The Father of everything united with the virgin who came down" that is, with the Holy Spirit descending into the world. But because this process is to be understood symbolically, not literally, the Spirit remains a virgin. The author goes on to explain that as'Adam came into being from two virgins, from the Spirit and from the virgin earth' so 'Christ, therefore, was born from a virgin" (that is, from the Spirit). But the author ridicules those literal-minded Christians who mistakenly refer the virgin birth to Mary, Jesus' mother, as though she conceived apart from Joseph: 'They do not know what they are saying. When did a woman ever conceive by a woman?" Instead, he argues, virgin birth refers to that mysterious union of the two divine powers, the Father of All and the Holy Spirit.
In addition to the eternal, mystical Silence and the Holy Spirit, certain gnostics suggest a third characterization of the divine Mother: as Wisdom. Here the Greek feminine term for 'wisdom', sophia, translates a Hebrew feminine term, hokhmah. Early interpreters had pondered the meaning of certain Biblical passages for example, the saying in Proverbs that 'God made the world in Wisdom. Could Wisdom be the feminine power in which God's creation was'conceived'? According to one teacher, the double meaning of the term conception physical and intellectual suggests this possibility: 'The image of thought [ennoia] is feminine, since ... [it] is a power of conception." The Apocalypse of Adam, discovered at Nag Hammadi, tells of a feminine power who wanted to conceive by herself:
... from the nine Muses, one separated away. She came to a high mountain and spent time seated there, so that she desired herself alone in order to become androgynous. She fulfilled her desire, and became pregnant from her desire . . . '
The poet Valentinus uses this theme to tell a famous myth about Wisdom: Desiring to conceive by herself, apart from her masculine counterpart, she succeeded, and became the 'great creative power from whom all things originate', often called Eve, 'Mother of all living'. But since her desire violated the harmonious union of opposites intrinsic in the nature of created being, what she produced was aborted and defective;l from this, says Valentinus, originated the terror and grief that mar human existence. 'To shape and manage her creation, Wisdom brought forth the demiurge, the creator-God of Israel, as her agent.1'
Wisdom, then, bears several connotations in gnostic sources. Besides being the 'first universal creator'," who brings forth all creatures, she also enlightens human beings and makes them wise. Followers of Valentinus and Marcus therefore prayed to the Mother as the 'mystical, etemal Silence' and to 'Grace, She who is before all things', and as 'incorruptible Wisdom" for insight (gnosis). Other gnostics attributed to her the benefits that Adam and Eve received in Paradise. First, she taught them self-awareness; second, she guided them to find food; third, she assisted in the conception of their third and fourth children, who were, according to this account, their third son, Seth, and their first daughter, Norea.' Even more: when the creator became angry with the human race
because they did not worship or honor him as Father and God, he sent forth a flood upon them, that he might destroy them all. But Wisdom opposed him... and Noah and his fan-dly were saved in the ark by means of the sprinkling of the light that proceeded from her, and through it the world was again filled with humankind."
Another newly discovered text from Nag Hammadi, Trimorphic Protennoia (literally, the 'Triple-formed Primal Thought'), celebrates the feminine powers of Thought, Intelligence, and Foresight. The text opens as a divine figure speaks:
[I] am [Protennoia the] Thought that [dwells] in [the Light]. ... [she who exists] before the All ... I move in every creature.... I am the Invisible One within the All."
She continues: 'I am perception and knowledge, uttering a Voice by means of Thought. [I am the real Voice. I cry out in everyone, and they know that a seed dwells within."'The second section, spokenby a second divine figure, opens with the words
I am the Voice ... [It is] I [who] speak within every creature ... Now I have come a second time in the likeness of a female, and have spoken with them ... I have revealed myself in the Thought of the likeness of my masculinity.'
Later the voice explains:
I am androgynous. [I am both Mother and] Father, since [I copulate] with myself ... [and with those who love] me ... I am the Womb [that gives shape] to the All ... I am Me [iroth]ea, the glory of the Mother."
Even more remarkable is the gnostic poem caned the 'Thunder, Perfect Mind'. This text contains a revelafion spoken by a feminine power:
I am the first and the last. I am the honored one and the scorned one. I am the whore, and the holy one. I am the wife and the virgin. I am (the mother) and the daughter.... I am she whose wedding is great, and I have not taken a husband.... I am knowledge, and ignorance.... I am shameless; I am ashamed. I am strength, and I am fear.... I am foolish, and I am wise. . .. I am godless, and I am one whose God is great.
What does the use of such symbolism imply for the understanding of human nature? One text, having previously described the divine Source as a 'bisexual Power', goes on to say that 'what came into being from that Power that is, humanity, being one is discovered to be two: a mate-female being that bears the female within it'." This refers to the story of Eve's 'birth' out of Adam's side (so that Adam, being one, is 'discovered to be two', an androgyne who 'bears the female within him'). Yet this reference to the creation story of Genesis 2 (an account which inverts the biological birth process, and so attributes to the male the creative function of the female) is unusual in gnostic sources. More often, gnostic writers refer to the first creation account in Genesis 1:26-7 ('Then God said, Let us make man [adam] in our image, after our likeness ... in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them'). Rabbis in Talmudic rimes knew a Greek version of the passage that suggested to Rabbi Samuel bar Nachman, influenced by Plato's myth of androgyny, that
when the Holy one ... first created mankind, he created him with two faces, two sets of genitals, four arms and legs, back to back. Then he split Adam in two, and made two backs, one on each side."
Some gnostics adopted this idea, teaching that Genesis 1:26-7 narrates an androgynous creation. Marcus (whose prayer to the Mother is given above) not only condudes from this acct)unt that God is dyadic ('Let us make humanity') but also that 'humanity, which was formed according to the image and likeness of God (Father and Mother), was masculo-feminine'. "His contemporary, the gnostic Theodotus (c. i6o), explains that the saying'according to the image of God he made them, male and female he made them', means that 'the male and female elements together constitute the finest production of the Mother, Wisdom." Gnosfic sources which describe God as a dyad whose nature includes both masculine and feminine elements often give a similar description of human nature. Yet all the sources cited so far secret gospels, revelations, mystical teachings are among those not included in the select list that constitutes the New Testament collection. Every one of the secret texts which gnostic groups revered was omitted from the canonical collection, and branded as heretical by those who called themselves orthodox Christians. By the time the process of sorting the various writings ended probably as late as the year 200 virtually all the feminine imagery for God had disappeared from orthodox Christian tradition.
What is the reason for this total rejection? The gnostics themselves asked this question of their orthodox opponents and pondered it among themselves. Some concluded that the God of Israel himself initiated the polemics which his followers carried out in his name. For, they argued, this creator was a derivative, merely instrumental power whom the Mother had created to administer the universe, but his own self-conception was far more grandiose. They say that he believed that he had made everything by himself, but that, in reality, he had created the world because Wisdom, his Mother, 'infused him with energy' and implanted into him her own ideas. But he was foolish, and acted unconsciously, unaware that the ideas he used camefromher;'he was even ignorant of his own Mother'."Followers of Valentinus suggested that the Mother Herself had encouraged the God of Israel to think that he was acting autonomously, but, as they explain, 'It was because he was foolish and ignorant of his Mother that he said, " I am God; there is none beside me." I According to another account, the creator caused his Mother to grieve by creating inferior beings, so she left him alone and withdrew into the upper regions of the heavens. 'Since she had departed, he imagined that he was the only being in existence; and therefore he declared, "I am a jealous God, and besides me there is no one." "I Others agree in attributing to him this more sinister motive jealousy. According to the Secret Book of John:
... he said...,'l am a jealous God, and there is no other God beside me.'But by announcing this he indicated to the angels ... that another God does exist;
for if there were no other one, of whom would he be jealous? ... Then the mother began to be distressed.
Others declared that his Mother refused to tolerate such presumption:
[The creator], becoming arrogant in spirit, boasted himself over an those things that were below him, and exclaimed, 'I am father, and God, and above me there is no one.' But his mother, hearing him speak thus, cried out against him, 'Do not lie, Ialdabaoth
Often, in these gnostic texts, the creator is castigated for his arrogance nearly always by a superior feminine power. According to the Hypostasis of the Archons, discovered at Nag Hammadi, both the mother and her daughter objected when
he became arrogant, saying, 'It is I who am God, and there is no other apart from me.'.. . And a voice came forth from above the realm of absolute power, saying, 'You are wrong, Samael' [which means, 'god of the blind']. And he said, 'If any other thing exists before me, let it appear to me!' And immediately, Sophia ('Wisdom') stretched forth her finger, and introduced light into matter, and she followed it down into the region of Chaos.... And he again said to his offspring, 'It is I who am the God of AR.' And Life, the daughter of Wisdom, cried out; she said to him, 'You are wrong, Saklas!"
The gnostic teacher justinus describes the Lord's shock, terror, and anxiety'when he discovered that he was not the God of the universe'.
Gradually his shock gave way to wonder, and finally he came to welcome what Wisdom had taught him. The teacher concludes:'This is the meaning of the saying, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom."
Yet all of these are mythical explanations. Can we find any actual, historical reasons why these gnostic writings were suppressed? This raises a much larger question: By what means, and for what reasons, did certain ideas come to be classified as herefical, and others as orthodox, by the beginning of the third century? We may find one clue to the answer if we ask whether gnostic Christians derive any practical, social consequences from their conception of God and of. humanity in terms that included the feminine element. Here, clearly, the answer is yes.
Bishop Irenaeus notes with dismay that women espedally are attracted to heretical groups. 'Even in our own district of the Rh6ne valley,' he adriits the gnostic teacher Marcus had attracted 'many foolish women' from his own congregation, including the wife of one of Irenaeus' own deacons.' Professing himself to be at a loss to account for the attraction that Marcus' group held, he offers only one explanation: that Marcus himself was a diabolically clever seducer, a magidan who compounded special aphrodisiacs to 'deceive, victimize, and defile' his prey. Whether his accusations have any factual basis no one knows. But when he describes Marcus' techmques of seduction, Irenaeus indicates that he is speaking metaphorically. For, he says, Marcus 'addresses them in such seductive words' as his prayers to Grace, 'She who is before all things'," and to Wisdom and Silence, the feminine element of the divine being. Second, he says, Marcus seduced women 'by telling them to prophesy'51which they were strictly forbidden to do in the orthodox church. When he initiated a woman, Marcus concluded the initiation prayer with the words'Behold, Grace has come upon you; open your mouth, and prophesy.5' Then, as the bishop indignantly describes it, Marcus' 'deluded victim ... impudently utters some nonsense', and 'henceforth considers herself to be a prophet!' Worst of all, from Irenaeus' viewpoint, Marcus invited women to act as priests in celebrating the eucharist with him: he 'hands the cups to women' to offer up the eucharistic prayer, and to pronounce the words of consecration.
Tertullian expresses similar outrage at such acts of gnosfic Christians:
These heretical women how audacious they are! They have no modesty; they are bold enough to teach, to engage in argument, to enact exorcisms, to undertake cures, and, it may be, even to baptize!"
Tertullian directed another attack against 'that viper" a woman teacher who led a congregation in North Africa. He himself agreed with what he called the 'precepts of ecclesiastical discipline conceming women', which specified:
It is not pemiitted for a woman to speak in the church, nor is it permitted for her to teach, nor to baptize, norito offer [the eucharist], nor to claim for herself a share in any masculine function not to mention any priestly office."
One of Tertullian's prime targets, the heretic Marcion, had, in fact, scandalized his orthodox contemporaries by appointing women on an equal basis with men as priests and bishops. The gnostic teacher Marcellina traveled to Rome to represent the Carpocratian group,' which claimed to have received secret teaching from Mary, Salome, and Martha. The Montanists, a radical prophetic circle, honored two women, Prisca and Maximilla, as founders of the movement.
Our evidence, then, clearly indicates a correlation between religious theory and social practice." Among such gnostic groups as the Valentinians, women were considered equal to men; some were revered as prophets; others acted as teachers, traveling evangelists, healers, priests, perhaps even bishops. This general observation is not, however, universally applicable. At least three heretical circles that retained a masculine image of God included women who took positions of leadership the Marcionites, the Montanists, and the Carpocratians. But from the year 2oo, we have no evidence for women taking prophetic, priestly, and episcopal roles among orthodox churches.
This is an extraordinary development, considering that in its earliest years the Christian movement showed a remarkable openness toward women. Jesus himself violated Jewish convention by talking openly with women, and he included them among his companions. Even the gospel of Luke in the New Testament tells his reply when Martha, his hostess, complains to him that she is doing housework alone while her sister Mary sits listening to him: 'Do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her, then, to help me.' But instead of supporting her, Jesus d-ddes Martha for taldng upon herself so many anxieties, declaring that 'one thing is needful: Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her."' Some ten to twenty years after Jesus' death, certain women held positions of leadership in local Christian groups; women acted as prophets, teachers, and evangelists. Professor Wayne Meeks suggests that, at Christian initiafion, the person presiding ritually announced that 'in Christ ... there is neither male nor female'.' Paul quotes this saying, and endorses the work of women he recognizes as deacons and fellow workers; he even greets one, apparently, as an outstanding apostle, senior to himself in the movement.
Yet Paul also expresses ambivalence concen-ting the pracfical imphcations of human equality. Discussing the public activity of women in the churches, he argues from his own traditionally Jewish conception of a monistic, masculine God for a divinely ordained hierarchy of social subordination: as God has authority over Chxist, he declares, dting Genesis 2-3, so man has authority over woman:
... a man ... is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. (For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.)'
While Paul acknowledged women as his equals 'in Christ', and allowed for them a wider range of activity than did traditional Jewish congregations, he could not bring himself to advocate their equality in social and political terms. Such ambivalence opened the way for the statements found in I Corinthians 14,34 f., whether written by Paul or inserted by someone else:'... the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but they should be subordinate ... it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.'
Such contradictory attitudes toward women reflect a time of social transition, as weff as the diversity of cultural influences on churches scattered throughout the known world." In-Greece and Asia Minor, women participated with men in religious cults, especially the cults of the Great Mother and of the Egypfian goddess Isis.1 While the leading roles were reserved for men, women took part in the services and professions. Some women took up education, the arts, and professions such as medicine. In Egypt, women had attained, by the first century A.D., a relatively advanced state of emancipation, socially, politically, and legally. In Rome, forms of education had changed, around 200 B.C., to offer to some children from the aristocracy the same curriculum for girls as for boys. Two hundred years later, at the beginning of the Christian era, the archaic, patriarchal forms of Roman marriage were increasingly giving way to a new legal form in which the man and woman bound themselves to each other with voluntary and mutual vows. The French scholar Jerome Carcopino, in a discussion entitled 'Feminism and Demoralization', explains that by the second century A.D., upper-class women often insisted upon 'living their own life'.' Male satirists complained of their aggressiveness in discussions of literature, mathematics, and philosophy, and ridiculed their enthusiasm for writing poems, plays, and music." Under the Empire, 'women were everywhere involved in business, social life, such as theaters, sports events, concerts, parties, traveling with or without their husbands. They took part in a whole range of athletics, even bore arms and went to battle. .."land made major inroads into professional life. Women of the Jewish communities, on the other hand, were excluded from actively participating in public worship, in education, and in social and political life outside the family."
Yet despite all of this, and despite the previous public activity of Christian women, the majority of Christian churdies in the second century went with the majority of the middle class in opposing the move toward equality, which found its support primarily in rich or what we would call bohen-dan circles. By the year 2oo, the majority of Christian communities endorsed as canonical the pseudo-Pauhne letter of Timothy, which stresses (and exaggerates) the antifeminist element in Paul's views: 'Let a woman leam in silence with all subn-tissiveness. I pemiit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent."' Orthodox Christians also accepted as Pauline the letters to the Colossians and to the Ephesians, whidi order that women 'be subject in everything to their husbands'."
Clement, Bishop of Rome, writes in his letter to the unruly church in Corinth that women are to 'remain in the rule of subjection'll to their husbands. While in earlier times Christian men and women sat together for worship, in the middle of the second century precisely at the time of struggle with gnostic Christians orthodox communities began to adopt the synagogue custom, segregating women from men." By the end of the second century, women's participation in worship was explicitly condemned: groups in which women continued on to leadership were branded as heretical. What was the reason for these changes? The scholar johannes Leipoldt suggests that the influx of many Hellenized Jews into the movement may have influenced the church in the direction of Jewish traditions, but, as he admits, 'this is only an attempt to explain the situation: the reality itself is the only certain thing'." Professor Morton Smith suggests that the change may have resulted from Christianity's move up in social scale from lower to middle class. He observes that in the lower class, where all labor was needed, women had been allowed to perform any services they could (so today, in the Near East, only middle-class women are veiled). Both orthodox and gnostic texts suggest that this question proved to be explosively controversial. Antagonists on both sides resorted to the polen-dcal technique of writing literature that allegedly derived from apostolic times, professing to give the original apostles' views on the subject. As noted before, the Gospel of Philip tells of rivalry between the male disciples and Mary Magdalene, here described as Jesus' most intimate companion, the symbol of divine Wisdom:
... the companion of the [Savior is] Mary Magdalene. [But Christ loved] her more than [all) the disciples and used to kiss her [often] on her [mouth]. The rest of [the disciples were offended by it ... 1. They said to him, 'Why do you love her more than all of us?'The Savior answered and said to them, 'Why do I not love you as [I love] her?"'
The Dialogue of the Savior not only includes Mary Magdalene as one of three disciples chosen to receive special teaching but also praises her above the other two, Thomas and Matthew: '... she spoke as a woman who knew the All'. 79
Other secret texts use the figure of Mary Magdalene to suggest that women's activity challenged the leaders of the orthodox con-ununity, who regarded Peter as their spokesman. The Gospel of Mary relates that when the disciples, disheartened and terrified after the crucifixion, asked Mary to encourage them by telling them what the Lord had told her secretly, she agrees, and teaches them until Peter, furious, asks,'Did he really speak privately with a woman, (and) not openly to us? Are we to turn about and all listen to her? Did he prefer her to us?' Distressed at his rage, Mary replies, 'My brother Peter, what do you think? Do you think that I thought this up myself in my heart, or that I am lying about the Savior?' Levi breaks in at this point to mediate the dispute: 'Peter, you have always been hot-tempered. Now I see you contending against the woman like the adversaries. But ff the Savior made her worthy, who are you, indeed, to reject her? Surely the Lord knew her very well. That is why he loved her more than us."' Then the others agree to accept Mary's teaching, and, encouraged by her words, go out to preach. Another argument between Peter and Mary occurs in Pistis Sophia ('Faith Wisdom'). Peter complains that Mary is dominating the conversation with Jesus and displacing the rightful priority of Peter and his brother apostles. He urges Jesus to silence her and is quickly rebuked. Later, however, Mary admits to Jesus that she hardly dares speak to him freely because, in her words, 'Peter makes me hesitate; I am afraid of him, because he hates the female race.' Jesus replies that whoever the Spirit inspires is divinely ordained to speak, whether man or woman.
Orthodox Christians retaliated with alleged 'apostolic' letters and dialogues that make the opposite point. The most famous examples are, of course, the pseudo-Pauline letters cited above. In I and II Timothy, Colossians, and Ephesians, 'Paul' insists that women be subordinate to men. The letter of Titus, in Paul's name, directs the selection of bishops in terms that entirely exclude women from consideration. Literally and figuratively, the bishop is to be a father figure to the congregation. He must be a man whose wife and children are Isubniissive [to him] in every way'; this proves his ability to keep 'God's church"' in order, and its members properly subordinated. Before the end of the second century, the Apostolic Church Order appeared in orthodox communities. Here the apostles are depicted discussing controversial questions. With Mary and Martha present, John says,
When the Master blessed the bread and the cup and signed them with the words, 'TWs is my body and blood,' he did not offer it to the women who are with us. Martha said, 'He did not offer it to Mary, because he saw her laugh.' Mary said, 'I no longer laugh; he said to us before, as he taught, "Your weakness is redeemed through strength""'
But her argument faits; the male disciples agree that, for this reason, no woman shall be allowed to become a priest. We can see, then, two very different patterns of sexual attitudes emerging in orthodox and gnostic circles. In simplest form, many gnostic Christians correlate their description of God in both masculine and feminine toyrms with a complementary descripfion of human nature. Most often they refer to the creafion account of Genesis 1, which suggests an equal or androgynous human creation. Gnostic Christians often take the principle of equality between men and women into the social and political structures of their communities. The orthodox pattem is strikingly different: it describes God in exclusively masculine terms, and typically refers to Genesis 2 to describe how Eve was created from Adam, and for his fulfillment. Like the gnostic view, this translates into social practice: by the late second century, the orthodox community came to accept the domination of men over women as the divinely ordained order, not only for social and family life, but also for the Christian churches.
Yet exceptions to these patterns do occur. Gnostics were not unanimous in affirming women nor were the orthodox unanimous in denigrating them. Certain gnostic texts undeniably speak of the feminine in terms of contempt. The Book of Thomas the Contender addresses men with the warning'Woe to you who love intimacy with womankind, and polluted intercourse with it!"' The Paraphrase of Shein, also from Nag Hammadi, describes the horror of Nature, who 'turned her dark vagina and cast from her the power of fire, which was in her from the beginning, through the practice of darkness'." According to the Dialogue of the Savior, Jesus wams his disciples to 'pray in the place where there is no woman', and to 'destroy the works of femaleness . . .'85 Yet in each of these cases the target is not woman, but the power of sexuality. In the Dialogue of the Savior, for example, Mary Magdalene, praised as 'the woman who knew the All', stands among the three disciples who receive Jesus' commands: she, along with Judas and Matthew, rejects the 'works of femaleness' that is, apparently, the activities of intercourse and procreation." These sources show that some extremists in the gnostic movement agreed with certain radical feminists who today insist that only those who renounce sexual activity can achieve human equality and spiritual greatness.
Other gnostic sources reflect the assumption that the status of a man is superior to that of a woman. Nor need this surprise us; as language comes from social experience, any of these writers, whether man or woman, Roman, Greek, Egyptian, or Jewish, would have teamed this elementary lesson from his or her social experience. Some gnostics, reasoning that as man surpasses woman in ordinary existence, so the divine surpasses the human, transform the terms into metaphor. The puzzling saying attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas that Mary must become male in order to become a 'living spirit, resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the Kingdom of Heaven'll may be taken symbolically: what is merely human (therefore female) must be transformed into what is divine (the 'living spirit', the male). So, according to other passages in the Gospel of Thomas, Salome and Mary become Jesus' disciples when they transcend their human nature, and so 'become male'." In the Gospel of Mary, Mary herself urges the other disciples to praise his greatness, for he has prepared us, and made us into men'. "
Conversely, we find a striking exception to the orthodox pattern in the writings of one revered father of the church, Clement of Alexandria. Clement, writing in Egypt c. 180, identifies himseff as orthodox, although he knows members of gnostic groups and their writings well: some even suggest that he was himself a gnostic initiate. Yet his own works demonstrate how all three elements of what we have called the gnostic pattern could be worked into fully orthodox teaching. First, Clement characterizes God in feminine as well as masculine terms:
The Word is everything to the child, both father and mother, teacher and nurse ... The nutriment is the milk of the Father ... and the Word alone supplies us children with the milk of love, and only those who suck at this breast are truly happy. For this reason, seeking is called sucking; to those infants who seek the Word, the Father's loving breasts supply milk.'
Second, in describing human nature, he insists that
men and women share equally in perfection, and are to receive the same instruction and the same discipline. For the name 'humanity' is common to both men and women; and for us in Christ there is neither male nor female'."
As he urges women to participate with men in the community, Clement offers a list unique in orthodox tradition of women whose achievements he admires. They range from ancient examples, like Judith, the assassin who destroyed Israel's enemy, to Queen Esther, who rescued her people from genocide, as well as others who took radical political stands. He mentions Arignote the writer, Themisto the Epicurean philosopher, and many other women philosophers, including two who studied with Plato, and one trained by Socrates. Indeed, he cannot contain his praise:
What shall I say? Did not Theano the Pythagorean make such progress in philosophy that when a man, staring at her, said, 'Your arm is beautiful,' she replied, 'Yes, but it is not on public display."'
Clement concludes his list with famous women poets and painters. But Clement's demonstration that even orthodox Christians could affirm the feminine element and the active participation of women found little following. His perspective, formed in the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Alexandria and articulated among wealthy and educated members of Egyptian society, may have proved too alien for the majority of Westem Christian communities which were scattered from Asia Minor to Greece, Rome, and provincial Africa and Gaul. The majority adopted instead the position of Clement's severe and provincial contemporary, Tertullian:
It is not permitted for a woman to speak in the church, nor is it permitted for her to teach, nor to baptize, nor to offer [the eucharist], nor to claim for herself a share in any masculine function least of all, in priestly office."'
Their consensus, which ruled out Clement's position, has continued to dominate the majority of Christian churches: nearly 2,000 years later, in 1977, Pope Paul VI, Bishop of Rome, declared that a woman cannot be a priest'because our Lord was a man'! The Nag Hammadi sources, discovered at a time of contemporary social crises concerning sexual roles, challenge us to reinterpret history and to re-evaluate the present situation.
GNOSIS: SELF-KNOWLEDGE AS KNOWLEDGE OF GOD
... Thomas said to him, 'Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?'Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me."
The Gospel of John, which contains this saying, is a remarkable book that many gnostic Christians claimed for themselves and used as a primary source for gnostic teaching.'Yet the emerging church, despite some orthodox opposition, included John within the New Testament. What makes John acceptably 'orthodox'? Why did the church accept John while rejecting such writings as the Gospel of Thomas or the Dialogue of the Savior? In considering this question, remember that anyone who drives through the United States is likely to see billboards proclaiming this saying from John billboards signed by any of the local churches. Their purpose is clear: by indicating that one finds God only through Jesus, the saying, in its contemporary context, implies that one finds Jesus only through the church. Similarly, in the first centuries of this era, Christians concerned to strengthen the institutional church could find support in John.
Gnostic sources offer a different religious perspective. According to the Dialogue of the Savior, for example, when the disciples asked Jesus the same question ('What is the place to which we shall go?') he answered, 'the place which you can reach, stand there!" The Gospel of Thomas relates that when the disciples asked Jesus where they should go, he said only, 'There is light within a man of light, and it lights up the whole world. If he does not shine, he is darkness." Far from legitin-dzing any institution, both sayings direct one instead to oneself to one's inner capacity to find one's own direction, to the 'light within'.
The contrast sketched above is, of course, somewhat simplistic. Followers of Valentinus themselves demonstrated convincingly that many sayings and stories in John could tend themselves to such interpretation. But Christians like Irenaeus apparently decided that, on balance, the gospel of John (especially, perhaps, when placed in sequence after Matthew, Mark, and Luke) could serve the needs of the emerging institution.
As the church organized politically, it could sustain within itself many contradictory ideas and practices as long as the disputed elements supported its basic institutional structure. In the third and fourth centuries, for example, hundreds of catholic Christians adopted ascetic forms of self-discipline, seeking religious insight through solitude, visions, and ecstatic experience. (The terms 'monk' and 'monastic' come from the Greek word monachos, meaning 'solitary', or 'single one', which the Gospel of Thomas frequently uses to describe the gnostic.) Rather than exclude the monastic movement, the church moved, in the fourth century, to bring the monks into line with episcopal authority. The scholar Frederik Wisse has suggested that the monks who lived at the monastery of St Pachomius, within sight of the cliff where the texts were found, may have included the Nag Hanunadi texts within their devotional library.'But in 367, when Athanasius, the powerful Archbishop of Alexandria, sent an order to purge all 'apocryphal books' with 'heretical' tendencies, one (or several) of the monks may have hidden the precious manuscripts in the jar and buried it on the chff of the jabal al-Tarif, where Muhammad 'Ali found it 1,600 years later.
Furthermore, as the church, disparate as it was intemally, increasingly became a political unity between: 150 and 400, its leaders tended to treat their opponents an even more diverse range of groups as ff they, too, constituted an opposite political unity. When Irenaeus denounced the heretics as 'gnostics', I he referred less to any specific doctrinal agreement among them (indeed, he often castigated them for the variety of their beliefs) than to the fact that they au resisted accepting the authority of the clergy, the creed, and the New Testament canon.
What if anything did the various groups that Irenaeus called Ignostic' have in common? Or, to put the question another way, what do the diverse texts discovered at Nag Hammadi have in common? No simple answer could cover all the dffferent groups that the orthodox attack, or all the different texts in the Nag Hammadi cohection. But I suggest that the trouble with gnosticism, from the orthodox viewpoint, was not only that gnostics often disagreed with the majority on such specific issues as those we have explored so far the organization of authority, the participation of women, martyrdom: the orthodox recognized theft those they called 'gnostics' shared a fundamental religious perspective that remained antithetical to the claims of the institutional church.
For orthodox Christians insisted that humanity needs a way beyond its own power a divinely given way to approach God. And this, they declared, the catholic church offered to those who would be lost without it: 'Outside the church there is no salvation.' Their conviction was based on the premise that God created humanity. As Irenaeus says, 'In this respect God differs from humanity; God makes, but humanity is made." One is the originating agent, the other the passive recipient; one is 'truly perfect in all things',' omnipotent, infinite, the other an imperfect and finite creature. The philosopher Justin Martyr says that when he recognized the great difference between the human mind and God, he abandoned Plato and became a Christian philosopher. He relates that before his conversion an old man challenged his basic assumption, asking, 'What affinity, then, is there between us and God? Is the soul also divine and immortal, and a part of that very regal mind?' Speaking as a disciple of Plato, Justin answered without hesitation, 'Certainly." But when the old man's further questions led him to doubt that certainty, he says he realized that the human mind could not find God within itself and needed instead to be enlightened by divine revelation by means of the Scriptures and the faith proclaimed in the church.
But some gnostic Christians went so far as to claim that humanity created God and so, from its own inner potential, discovered for itself the revelation of truth. This conviction may underlie the ironic comment in the Gospel of Philip:
... God created humanity; [but now human beings] create God. That is the way it is in the world human beings make gods, and worship their creation. It would be appropriate for the gods to worship human beings!l
The gnostic Valentinus taught that humanity itself manifests the divine Iffe and divine revelation. The church, he says, consists of that portion of humanity that recognizes and celebrates its divine origin. But Valentinus did not use the term in its contemporary sense, to refer to the human race taken collectively. Instead, he and his followers thought of Anthropos (here translated 'humanity') as the underlying nature of that collective entity, the archetype, or spiritual essence, of human being. In this sense, some of Valentinus' followers, 'those ... considered more skilful"' than the rest, agreed with the teacher Colorbasus, who said that when God revealed himself, He revealed himself in the form of Anthropos. Still others, Irenaeus reports, maintained that
the primal father of the whole, the primal beginning, and the primal incomprehensible, is caged Anthropos ... and that this is the great and abstruse mystery, namely, that the power which is above all others, and contains all others in its embrace, is called Anthropos.
For this reason, these gnostics explained, the Savior called himself 'Son of Man' (that is, Son of Anthropos). ' The Sethian gnostics, who called the creator Ialdabaoth (a name apparently derived from mystical Judaism but which here indicates his inferior status), said that for this reason, when the creator,
Ialdabaoth, becoming arrogant in spirit, boasted himseff over all those who were below him, and explained, 'I am father, and God, and above me there is no one,'his mother, hearing him speak thus, cried out against him: 'Do not lie, laldabaoth; for the father of all, the primal Anthropos, is above you; and so is Anthrops, the son of Anthropos"I
In the words of another Valentinian, since human beings created the whole language of religious expression, so, in effect, humanity created the divine world:'. . . and this [Anthropos] is really he who is God over all'. Many gnostics, then, would have agreed in principle with Ludwig Feuerbach, the nineteenth-century psychologist, that 'theology is really anthropology' (the term derives, of course, from anthropos, and means 'study of humanity'). For gnostics, exploring the psyche became explicitly what it is for many people today implicitly a religious quest. Some who seek their own interior direction, like the radical gnostics, reject religious institutions as a hindrance to their progress. Others, like the Valentinians, willingly participate in them, although they regard the church more as an instrument of their own self-discovery than as the necessary 'ark of salvation'.
Besides defining God in opposite ways, gnostic and orthodox Christians diagnosed the human condition very dffferently. The orthodox followed traditional Jewish teaching that what separates humanity from God, besides the essential dissimilarity, is human sin. The New Testament term for sin, hamartia, comes from the sport of archery; literally, it means 'missing the mark'. New Testament sources teach that we suffer distress, mental and physical, because we fail to achieve the moral goal toward which we aim: 'all have sinned, and fag short of the glory of God'."' So, according to the gospel of Mark, when Jesus came to reconcile God and humanity, he announced: 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel. '117 Mark announces that Jesus alone could offer healing and forgiveness of sins; only those who receive his message in faith experience deliverance. The gospel of John expresses the desperate situation of humanity apart from the Savior:
For God sent the Son into the world ... that the world might be saved through him. He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.'
Many gnostics, on the contrary, insisted that ignorance, not sin, is what involves a person in suffering. The gnostic movement shared certain affinities with contemporary methods of exploring the self through psychotherapeutic techniques. Both gnosticism and psychotherapy value, above an, knowledge the self-knowledge whidi is insight. They agree that, lacking this, a person experiences the sense of being driven by impulses he does not understand. Valentinus expressed this in a myth. He tells how the world originated when Wisdom, the Mother of afl beings, brought it forth out of her own suffering. The four elements that Greek philosophers said constituted the world earth, air, fire, and water are concrete forms of her experiences:
Thus the earth arose from her confusion, water from her terror; air from the consolidation of her grief; while fire ... was inherent in all these elements ... as ignorance lay concealed in these three sufferings.'
Thus the world was bom out of suffering. (The Greek word pathos, here translated 'suffering', also connotes being the passive recipient, not the initiator, of one's experience.) Valentinus or one of his followers tells a different version of the myth in the Gospel of Truth:
... Ignorance ... brought about anguish and terror. And the anguish grew solid like a fog, so that no one was able to see. For this reason error is powerful
Most people live, then, in oblivion or, in contemporary terms, in unconsciousness. Remaining unaware of their own selves, they have ,no root'. "I The Gospel of Truth describes such existence as a nightmare. Those who live in it experience 'terror and confusion and instability and doubt and division', being caught in 'many illusions'." So, according to the passage scholars call the 'nightmare parable', they lived
as if they were sunk in sleep and found themselves in disturbing dreams. Either (there is) a place to which they are fleeing, or, without strength, they come (from) having chased after others, or they are involved in striking blows, or they are receiving blows themselves, or they have fallen from high places, or they take off into the air though they do not even have wings. Again, sometimes (it is as) if people were murdering them, though there is no one even pursuing them, or they themselves are killing their neighbors, for they have been stained with their blood. When those who are going through all these things wake up, they see nothing, they who were in the n-ddst of these disturbances, for they are nothing. Such is the way of those who have cast ignorance aside as sleep, leaving [its works] behind fike a dream in the night.... This is the way everyone has acted, as though asleep at the time when he was ignorant. And this is the way he has come to knowledge, as if he had awakened.'
Whoever remains ignorant, a 'creature of oblivion'," cannot experience ftdfibment. Gnostics said that such a person 'dwells in deficiency' (the opposite of fulfillment). For deficiency consists of ignorance:
... As with someone's ignorance, when he comes to have knowledge, his ignorance vanishes by itself; as the darkness vanishes when light appears, so also the deficiency vanishes in the fulfillment.'
Self-ignorance is also a form of self-destruction. According to the Dialogue of the Savior, whoever does not understand the elements of the universe, and of himself, is bound for annihilation:
... If one does not [understand] how the fire came to be, he will bum in it, because he does not know his root. If one does not first understand the water, he does not know anything.... If one does not understand how the wind that blows came to be, he wig run with it. If one does not understand how the body that he wears came to be, he wiu perish with it ... Whoever does not understand how he came will not understand how he will go ...'
How or where is one to seek self-knowledge? Many gnostics share with psychotherapy a second major premise: both agree against orthodox Christianity that the psyche bears within itself the potential for liberation or destruction. Few psychiatrists would disagree with the saying attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas:
'If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you. "I
Such insight comes gradually, through effort: 'Recognize what is before your eyes, and what is hidden will be revealed to you." Such gnostics acknowledged that pursuing gnosis engages each person in a solitary, difficult process, as one struggles against intemal resistance. They characterized this resistance to gnosis as the desire to sleep or to be drunk that is, to remain unconscious. So Jesus (who elsewhere says 'I am the knowledge of the truth')' declares that when he came into the world
I found them all drunk; I found none of them thirsty. And my soul became afflicted for the sons of men, because they are blind in their hearts and do not have sight; for empty they came into this world, and empty they seek to leave this world. But for the moment they are drunk.'
The teadier Silvanus, whose Teachings" were discovered at Nag Hammadi, encourages his followers to resist unconsciousness:
... end the sleep which weighs heavy upon you. Depart from the oblivion which fills you with darkness ... Why do you pursue the darkness, though the light is available for you? ... Wisdom calls you, yet you desire foolishness.... a foolish man ... goes the ways of the desire of every passion. He swims in the desires of life and has foundered.... he is like a ship which the wind tosses to and fro, and like a loose horse which has no rider. For this (one) needed the rider, which is reason . . . before everything else . . . know yourself . . . '
The Gospel of Thomas also warns that self-discovery involves inner turmoil:
Jesus said, 'Let him who seeks continue seeking until he finds. When he finds, he will become troubled. When he becomes troubled, he will be astonished, and he will rule over all things."
What is the source of the 'light' discovered within? Like Freud, who professed to follow the 'light of reason', most gnostic sources agreed that'the lamp of the body is the mind'" (a saying which the Dialogue of the Savior attributes to Jesus). Silvanus, the teacher, says:
... Bring in your guide and your teacher. The mind is the guide, but reason is the teacher... Live according to your mind. .. Acquire strength, for the mind is strong... Enlighten your niind ... Light the lamp within you.
To do this, Silvanus continues,
Knock on yourself as upon a door and walk upon yourself as on a straight road. For if you walk on the road, it is impossible for you to go astray ... Open the door for yourself that you may know what is ... Whatever you will open for yourself, you win open."
The Gospel of Truth expresses the same thought:
. . . If one has knowledge, he receives what is his own, and draws it to himself ... Whoever is to have knowledge in this way knows where he comes from, and where he is going.",
The Gospel of Truth also expresses this in metaphor: each person must receive 'his own name' not, of course, one's ordinary name, but one's true identity. Those who are 'the sons of interior knowledge'38 gain the power to speak their own names. The gnostic teacher addresses them:
... Say, then, from the heart that you are the perfect day, and in you dwells the light that does not fail ... For you are the understanding that is drawn forth ... Be concerned with yourselves; do not be concemed with other things which you have rejected from yourselves."
So, according to the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus ridiculed those who thought of the 'Kingdom of God' in literal terms, as if it were a specific place: 'If those who lead you say to you, "Look, the Kingdom is in the sky," then the birds will arrive there before you. ff they say to you, "it is in the sea,"' then, he says, the fish will arrive before you. Instead, it is a state of self-discovery:
'. . . Rather, the Kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you wifl be known, and you will realize that you are the sons of the living Father. But if you will not know yourselves, then you dwell in poverty, and it is you who are that poverty."
But the disciples, mistaking that 'Kingdom' for a future event, persisted in their questioning:
His disciples s6d to him, 'When will ... the new world come?' He said to them, 'What you look forward to has already come, but you do not it.'.. . His disciples said to him, 'When will the Kingdom come? Jesus" 'It wiu not come by waiting for it. It will not be a matter of saying "Here it is" or "There it is". Rather, the Kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it.'
That 'Kingdom', then, symbolizes a state of transformed consciousness:
Jesus saw infants being suckled. He said to his disciples, 'These infants being suckled are like those who enter the Kingdom.' They said to Wm, 'Shall we, then, as children, enter the Kingdom?' Jesus said to them, 'When you make the two one, and when you niake the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside, and the above like the below, and when you make the male and the female one and the same ... then you will enter [the Kingdoml."'
Yet what the 'living Jesus' of Thomas rejects as nave the idea that the Kingdom of God is an actual event expected in history is the notion of the Kingdom that the synoptic gospels of the New Testament most often attribute to Jesus as his teaching. According to Matthew, Luke, and Mark, Jesus proclaimed the coming Kingdom of God, when captives shall gain their freedom, when the diseased shall recover, the oppressed shall be released, and harmony shall prevail over the whole world. Mark says that the disciples expected the Kingdom to come as a cataclysmic event in their own lifetime, since Jesus had said that some of them would live to see 'the kingdom of God come with power' Before his arrest, Mark says, Jesus wamed that although'the end is not yet',' they must expect it at any time. All three gospels insist that the Kingdom will come in the near future (though they also contain many passages indicating that it is here already). Luke makes Jesus say explicitly 'the kingdom of God is within you. Some gnostic Christians, extending that type of interpretation, expected human liberation to occur not through actual events in history, but through internal transformation. For similar reasons, gnostic Christians criticized orthodox views of Jesus that identified him as one external to the disciples, and superior to them. For, according to Mark, when the disciples came to recognize who Jesus was, they thought of him as their appointed King:
And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippa; and on the way he asked his disciples, 'Who do men say that I am?' And they told him, 'John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others one of the prophets.' And he asked them, 'But who do you say that I am?'Peter answered him, 'You are the Christ.'"
Matthew adds to this that Jesus blessed Peter for the accuracy of his recognition, and declared immediately that the churdi shall be founded upon Peter, and upon his recognition of Jesus as the Messiah .41 One of the earliest of aR Christian confessions states simply, lesus is Lordl' But tells the story dffferently:
Jesus said to his disciples, 'Compare me to someone and tell me whom I am like.'Simon Peter said to him, 'You are like a righteous angel.'Matthew said to him, 'You are like a wise philosopher., Thomas said to him, 'Master, my mouth is wholly incapable of saying whom you are like.'Jesus said, 'I am not your master. Because you have drunk, you have become drunk from the bubbling stream which I have measured out."
Here Jesus does not deny his role as Messiah or as teacher, at least in relation to Peter and Matthew. But here they and their answers represent an inferior level of understanding. Thomas, who recognizes that he cannot assign any specific role to Jesus, transcends, at this moment of recognition, the relation of student to master. He becomes himself like the 'living Jesus', who declares, 'Who-ever will drink from my mouth will become as I am, and I myself will become that person, and the things that are hidden will be revealed to him.
Gnostic sources often do depict Jesus answering questions, taking the role of teacher, revealer, and spiritual master. But here, too, the gnostic model stands dose to the psychotherapeutic one. Both acknowledge the need for guidance, but only as a provisional measure. The purpose of accepting authority is to leam to outgrow it. When one becomes mature, one no longer needs any extemal authority. The one who formerly took the place of a disciple comes to recognize himself as Jesus' 'twin brother'. Who, then, is Jesus the teacher? Thomas the Contender identifies him simply as'the knowledge of the truth'.' According to the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus refused to validate the experience that the disciples must discover for themselves:
They said to him, 'Tell us who you are so that we may believe in you.' He said to them, 'You read the face of the sky and of the earth, but you have not recognized the one who is before you, and you do not know how to read this moment."'
And when, in frustration, they asked him, 'Who are you, that you should say these things to us?' Jesus, instead of answering, criticized their question: 'You do not realize who I am from what I say to you."' We noted already that, according to Thomas, when the disciples asked Jesus to show them where he was so that they might reach that place as well, he refused, directing them instead to themselves, to discover the resources hidden within. The same theme occurs in the Dialogue of the Savior. As Jesus talks with his three chosen disciples, Matthew asks him to show him the 'place of life', which is, he says, the 'pure light'. Jesus answers, 'Every one [of you] who has known himself has seen it."I Here again, he deflects the question, pointing the disciple instead toward his own self-discovery. When the disdples, expecting him to reveal secrets to them, ask Jesus, 'Who is the one who seeks, [and who is the one who] reveals?" he answers that the one who seeks the truth the disciple is also the one who reveals it. Since Matthew persists in asking him questions, Jesus says that he does not know the answer himself, 'nor have I heard about it, except from you'.
The disciple who comes to know himself can discover, then, what even Jesus cannot teach. The Testimony of Truth says that the gnostic becomes a 'disdple of his [own] mind',' discovering that his own n-dnd'is the father of the truth'.'He leams what he needs to know by himself in meditative silence. Consequently, he considers himseff equal to everyone, maintaining his own independence of anyone else's authority: 'And he is patient with everyone; he makes himseff equal to everyone, and he also separates himself from them." Silvanus, too, regards 'your mind' as 'a guiding principle'. Whoever follows the direction of his own mind need not accept anyone else's advice: Have a great number of friends, but not counselors .... But if you do acquire [a friend], do not entrust yourself to him. Entrust yourself to God alone as father and as friend.' Finally, those gnostics who conceived of gnosis as a subjective, immediate experience, concemed themselves above all with the intemal significance of events. Here again they diverged from orthodox tradition, which maintained that human destiny depends upon the events of 'salvation history' the history of Israel, especially the prophets' predictions of Christ and then his actual coming, his life, and his death and resurrection. All of the New Testament gospels, whatever their differences, concem themselves with Jesus as a historical person. And all of them rely on the prophets' predictions to prove the validity of the Christian message. Matthew, for example, continually repeats the refrain, 'This was done to fulfin what was spoken by the prophets." Justin, too, attempting to persuade the emperor of the truth of Christianity, points as proof toward the fulfillment of prophecy: 'And this indeed you can see for yourselves, and be convinced of by fact."' But according to the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus dismisses as irrelevant the prophets' predictions:
His disciples said to him, 'Twenty-four prophets spoke in Israel, and all of them spoke in you.'He said to them, 'You have ignored the one living in your presence, and have spoken (only) of the dead.
Such gnostic Christians saw actual events as secondary to their perceived meaning. For this reason, this type of gnosticism shares with psychotherapy a fascination with the non-literal significance of language, as both attempt to understand the intemal quality of experience. The psychoanalyst C. G. Jung has interpreted Valentinus' creation myth as a description of the psychological processes. Valentinus tells how all things originate from 'the depth', the 'abyss' in psychoanalytic terms, from the unconscious. From that 'depth' emerge Mind and Truth, and from them, in tum, the Word (Logos) and Life. And it was the Word that brought humanity into being. Jung read this as a mythical account of the origin of human consciousness.
A psychoanalyst might find significance as well in the continuation of this myth, as Valentinus tells how Wisdom, youngest daughter of the primal Couple, was seized by a passion to know the Father which she interpreted as love. Her attempts to know him would have led her to self-destruction had she not encountered a power called The Limit, a power which supports all things and preserves them', which freed her of emotional turmoil and restored her to her original place. A follower of Valentinus, the author of the Gospel of Philip, explores the relationship of experiential truth to verbal description. He says that 'truth brought names into existence in the world because it is not possible to teach it without names'.' But truth must be clothed in symbols: 'Truth did not come into the world naked, but it came in types and irnages. One will not receive truth in any other way. "I This gnostic teacher criticizes those who mistake religious language for a literal language, professing faith in God, in Christ, in the resurrection or the church, as ff these were all 'things' extemal to themselves. For, he explains, in ordinary speech, each word refers to a specific, external phenomenon; a person'sees the sun without being a sun, and he sees the sky and the earth and everything else, but he is not these things'.11 Religious language, on the other hand, is a language of intemal transformation; whoever perceives divine reality 'becomes what he sees':
... You saw the spirit, you became spirit. You saw Christ, you became Christ. You saw [the Father, you] shall become Father.... you see yourself, and what you see you shall [becomel. '
Whoever achieves gnosis becomes 'no longer a Christian, but a Christl. We can see, then, that such gnosticism was more than a protest movement against orthodox Christianity. Gnosticism also included a religious perspective that implicitly opposed the development of the kind of institution that became the early catholic church. Those who expected to 'become Christ' themselves were not likely to recognize the institutional structures of the church its bishop, priest, creed, canon, or ritual as bearing ultimate authority.
This religious perspective differentiates gnosticism not only from orthodoxy, but also, for all the similarities, from psychotherapy, for most members of the psychotherapeutic profession follow Freud in refusing to attribute real e)dstence to the figments of imagination. They do not regard their attempt to discover what is within the psyche as equivalent to discovering the secrets of the universe. But many gnostics, like many artists, search for interior self-knowledge as the key to understanding universal truths -'who we are, where we came from, where we go'. According to the Book of Thomas the Contender, whoever has not known himself has known nothing, but he who has known himself has at the same time already achieved knowledge about the depths of all things'.
This conviction that whoever explores human experience simultaneously discovers divine reality is one of the elements that marks gnosticism as a distinctly religious movement. Simon Magus, Hippolytus reports, claimed that each human being is a dwelling place, 'and that in him dwells an infinite power ... the root of the universe'." But since that infinite power exists in two modes, one actual, the other potential, so this infinite power 'exists in a latent condition in everyone', but 'potentially, not actually'. How is one to realize that potential? Many of the gnostic sources cited so far contain only aphorisms directing the disciple to search for knowledge, but refraining from telling anyone how to search. Discovering that for oneself is, apparently, the first step toward selfknowledge. Thus, in the Gospel of Thomas, the disciples ask Jesus to tell them what to do:
His disciples questioned him and said to him, 'Do you want us to fast? How shall we pray? Shall we give alms? What diet shag we observe?'Jesus said, 'Do not tell hes, and do not do what you hate . .
His ironic answer turns them back to themselves: who but oneself can judge when one is lying or what one hates? Such cryptic answers eamed sharp criticism from Plotinus, the neo-Platonic philosopher who attacked the gnostics when their teacl-dng was attracting some of his own students away from philosophy. Plotinus complained that the gnostics had no program for teaching: 'They say only, "Look to God!" but they do not ten anyone where or how to look."
Yet several of the sources discovered at Nag Hanunadi do desaibe techniques of spiritual discipline. Zostrianos, the longest text in the Nag Hammadi library, tells how one spiritual master attained enlightenment, implicitly setting out a program for others to follow. Zostrianos relates that, first, he had to remove from himself physical desires, probably by ascetic practices. Second, he had to reduce 'chaos in niind'," stilling his mind with meditation. Then, he says, 'after I set myself straight, I saw the perfect child"' a vision of the divine presence. Later, he says, 'I was pondering these matters 'm order to understand them.... I did not cease seeking a place of rest worthy of my spirit But then, becoming 'deeply troubled' ' discouraged with his progress, he went out into the desert, half anticipating being killed by wild animals. There, Zostrianos relates, he first received a vision of 'the messenger of the knowledge of the etemal Light', and went on to experience many other visions, which he relates in order to encourage others: 'Why are you hesitating? Seek when you are sought; when you are invited, listen.... Look at the Light. Flee the darkness. Do not be led astray to your destruction." Other gnostic sources offer more specific directions. The Discourse on the Eighth and the Ninth discloses an'order of tradition'that guides the ascent to higher knowledge. Written in dialogue form, the Discourse opens as the student reminds his spiritual master of a promise:
'[0 my father], yesterday you promised me [that you would bring] my mind into [the] eighth and afterwards you would bring me into the ninth. You said that this is the order of the tradition.'"
His teacher assents: 'O my son, indeed this is the order. But the promise was according to human nature."' He explains that the disciple himself must bring forth the understanding he seeks: 'I set forth the action for you. But the understanding dwells in you. In me, (it is) as if the power were pregnant."' The disciple is astonished; is the power, then, actually within him? The master suggests that they both must pray that the disciple may come to the higher levels, the 'eighth and the ninth'. Already he has progressed through the first seven levels of understanding, impelled by moral effort and dedication. But the disciple admits that, so far, he has no firsthand experience of divine knowledge: 'O my father, I understand nothing but the beauty which came to me in books."' Now that he is ready to go beyond vicarious knowledge, the two join in prayer'to the perfect, invisible God to whom one speaks in silence'. " The prayer moves into a chant of sacred words and vowels: 'Zoxathazo a 66 @ 666 @C 6666 @ 666666666666 666666 uuuuuu 666666666666 666 Zozazoth."' After intoning the chant, the teacher prays, 'Lord ... acknowledge the spirit that is in us. "I Then he enters into an ecstatic state:
,... I see! I see indescribable depths. How shall I tell you, 0 my son? ... How [shall I describe] the universe? I [am mind and] I see another niind, the one that [moves] the soul! I see the one that moves me from pure forgetfulness. You give me power! I see myself! I want to speak! Fear restrains me. I have found the beginning of the power that is above all powers, the one that has no beginning.... I have said, 0 my son, that I am Nfind. I have seen! Language is not able to reveal this. For the entire eighth, 0 my son, and the souls that are in it, and the angels, sing a hymn in silence. And I, Mind, understand. "'
Watching, the disciple himself is filled with ecstasy: 'I rejoice, 0 my father, because I see you smiling. And the universe rejoices.' Seeing his teacher as himself embodying the divine, the disciple pleads with him, 'Let not my soul be deprived of the great divine vision. For everything is possible for you as master of the universe.' The master tells him to sing in silence, and to 'ask what you want in silence':
When he had finished praising he shouted, 'Father Trismegistus! What shall I say? We have received this light. And I myself see the same vision in you. I see the eighth and the souls that are in it and the angels singing a hymn to the ninth and its powers.... I pray to the end of the universe and the beginning of the beginning, to the object of man's quest, the immortal discovery ... I am the instrument of thy spirit. Mind is thy plectrum. And thy counsel plucks me. I see myself! I have received power from thee. For thy love has reached us. "I
The Discourse closes as the master instructs the student to write his experiences in a book (presumably the Discourse itself) to guide others who wfll'advance by stages, and enter into the way of immortality ... into the understanding of the eighth that reveals the ninth'.10 Another extraordinary text, called Allogenes, which means 'the stranger' (literally, 'one from another race'), referring to the spiritually mature person who becomes a 'stranger' to the world, also describes the stages of attaining gnosis. Here Messos, the initiate, at the first stage, leams of 'the power that is within you'. Allogenes explains to him his own process of spiritual development:
... [I was] very disturbed, and [I] turned to myself.... [Having] seen the light that [surrounded] me and the good that was within me, I became divine.'
Then, Allogenes continues, he received a vision of a feminine power, Youel, 'she who belongs to all the glories'," who told him:
. . . 'Since your instruction has become complete, and you have known the good that is within you, hear concerning the Triple Power those things that you will guard in great silence and great mystery ..."
That power, paradoxically, is silent, although it utters sound: zza zza zza. This, like the chant in the Discourse, suggests a meditafive technique that includes intoning sound. Having first discovered 'the good ... within me', Allogenes advanced to the second stage to know oneself.
[And then I prayed that [the revelation] might occur to me.... I did not despair ... I prepared myself therein, and I took counsel with myself for a hundred years. And I rejoiced exceedingly, since I was in a great light and a blessed path ... I
Following this, Allogenes says, he had an experience out of the body, and saw 'holy powers' that offered him specific instruction:
. . . 'O Allo[g]enes, behold your blessedness ... in silence, wherein you know yourself as you are, and, seeking yourself, ascend to the Vitality that you will see moving. And if it is impossible for you to stand, fear nothing; but if you wish to stand, ascend to the Existence, and you will find it standing and sfiuing itself ... And when you receive a revelation ... and you become afraid in that place, withdraw back because of the energies. And when you have become perfect in that place, still yourself."
Is this speech of the 'holy powers' to be recited in some dramatic performance enacted by members of the gnosfic sect for the initiate in the course of ritual instruction? The text does not say, although the candidate goes on to describe his response:
Now I was listening to these things as those present spoke them. There was a stillness of silence within me, and I heard the blessedness whereby I knew myself as (i am).-
Following the instruction, the initiate says he was filled with'revelation ... I received power ... I knew the One who exists in me, and the Triple Power, and the revelation of his uncontainableness'." Ecstatic with this discovery, Allogenes desires to go further: 'I was seeking the ineffable and Unknown God." But at this point the 'powers' tefl Allogenes to cease in his futile attempt. Contrary to many other gnostic sources, Allogenes teaches that, first, one can come to know 'the good that is within', and second, to know oneself and 'the one who exists within', but one cannot attain knowledge of the Unknown God. Any attempt to do so, to grasp the incomprehensible, hinders 'the effortlessness which is within you'. Instead, the initiate must content himself to hear about God 'in accordance with the capacity provided by a primary revelation'.' One's own experience and knowledge, then, essential for spiritual development, provides the basis for receiving understanding about God in negative form. Gnosis involves recognizing, finally, the limits of human knowledge:
'... (Whoever) sees (God) as he is in every respect, or would say that he is something like gnosis, has sinned against him ... because he did not know God.
The powers instructed him'not [to] seek anything more, but go ... It is not fitting to spend more time seeking. "l' Allogenes says he wrote this down for 'the sake of those who will be worthy'."' The detailed exposition of the initiate's experience, including sections of prayers, chants, instruction, punctuated by his retreat into meditation, suggest that the text records actual techniques of inifiation for attaining that self-knowledge which is knowledge of divine power within.
But much of gnostic teaching on spiritual discipline remained, on principle, unwritten. For anyone can read what is written down even those who are not 'mature'. Gnostic teadiers usually reserved their secret instruction, sharing it only verbally, to ensure each candidate's suitability to receive it. Such instruction required each teacher to take responsibility for highly select, individualized attention to each candidate. And it required the candidate, in tum, to devote energy and time often years to the process. Tertulban sarcastically compares Valentinian inifiation to that of the Eleusinian mysteries, which
first beset all access to their group with tormenting conditions; and they require a long initiation before they enroll their members, even instruction for five years for their adept students, so that they may educate their opinions by this suspension of full knowledge, and, apparently, raise the value of their mysteries in proportion to the longing for them which they have created. Then follows the duty of silence . .
Obviously, such a program of discipline, like the higher levels of Buddhist teaching, would appeal only to a few. Although major themes of gnostic teaching, such as the discovery of the divine within, appealed to so many that they consfituted a major threat to catholic doctrine, the religious perspecfives and methods of gnosticism did not lend themselves to mass religion. In this respect, it was no match for the highly effective system of organization of the catholic church, which expressed a unified religious perspective based on the New Testament canon, offered a creed requiring the inifiate to confess only the simplest essenfials of faith, and celebrated rituals as simple and profound as baptism and the eucharist. The same basic framework of doctrine, ritual, and organization sustains nearly all Christian churches today, whether Roman Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant. Without these elements, one can scarcely imagine how the Christian faith could have survived and attracted so many minions of adherents all over the world, throughout twenty centuries. For ideas alone do not make a religion powerful, although it cannot succeed without them; equally important are social and political structures that identify and unite people into a common affiliation.