Secret Revelation

File:Blake - AlbiĂłn.jpgIs “Gnostic” a useful term?

The problem with the word is that it leads one to think of orthodox Christianity opposed to monolithic Gnosticism. There never was such a thing. It is a term first used in the 17th century, and not used again until the 19th. Instead, there is overlap and diversity, and development of spiritual understanding, among those who would see themselves as followers of Christ.

In the Secret Revelation of John, 22:17, Yahweh and Elohim are demoted to two separate beings, sons of Yaldabaoth. Yahweh is the Unrighteous one. So the Hebrew scriptures, of the worship of Yahweh, are worthless. Christ, of the True God, rescues us from him and them.

This is a rebellion. The writer rejects Scripture. Possibly this was part of a conflict over the Mosaic law, whether Christians need obey it. Now, Christians are happy choosing what parts of the Torah to find binding, and perhaps the Secret Revelation was part of the process leading to that position. I dislike the violent rejection of the Hebrew scriptures, and value the insight that we are not bound by them. That insight first comes in rebellion, and enables us to reach a sober valuing of the old testament. The document has value as part of a process though it is not the end stage.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/c/ca/Illustrations_to_Robert_Blair%27s_The_Grave_%2C_object_11_The_Descent_of_Man_into_the_Vale_of_Death.jpg/593px-Illustrations_to_Robert_Blair%27s_The_Grave_%2C_object_11_The_Descent_of_Man_into_the_Vale_of_Death.jpg“Matter is evil.” I am affected by matter: the wine that makes me slow and erratic, the pheromone that turns my head. I disagree; but what value might it have to split matter from spirit? Emotional resilience rising above physical pain and deprivation is a useful characteristic. The idea that my immortal soul is unaffected by the evil done by my fleshly body might either be licence to indulge, or a way of living with my natural animal self- though I prefer believing that animal self is healthy enough. A straight man told me he had been perplexed and bedevilled by his sexuality ever since his teens, and was still, though he was happy with his wife of forty years- and never told anyone that, before me. Straights have difficulty too.

I like the femaleness of God: The all, beyond everything, is surely beyond gender, and its perception and thought is Mother. From the All, at the request of the Mother-thought-Providence came Foreknowledge, Incorruption, and Eternal Life. These are the highest Æons of the All. Foreknowledge, or Predestination, has been the devilment of the Reformed church, sending ane to Heaven and ten to Hell. Incorruption divorces whatever is meaningfully “I” from matter, and eternal life- either makes me ignore this life for hope of another, or makes me live as if in Heaven now.

The next generations are the Son, Mind or Thought, and Will, then Grace, Understanding, Perception and Prudence. Attributes of God are different from Is-ness, though united with it in the highest realm. This may have value in contemplative prayer. God is both the Deist All, perfect and distant, and the Mother and Son, intimately involved with Creation.

I would like to know how this account fits with other accounts of the first Æons: which story came first, and how do the stories differ?

Gnosis

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/87/Ikona_SofiyaPremBozhiyaGRM.jpgSo strange, to find a Christianity I am not programmed to believe! I am commanded to disbelieve, even execrate it. From the spiritual ferment of the early Church came a victorious tradition, which expelled this secret Knowledge.

I first read of Gnosticism in the commentaries of William Barclay, who comments that several of the New Testament texts are written to combat it. From the understanding of Barclay which I retain I could tell you of Docetism, the idea that Jesus just seemed to be human, but was pure spirit- only the fleshly shell suffered on the Cross, as Christ stood with John, watching and commenting (Acts of John, I think).

I also knew the idea that the true God, pure spirit, could not create matter, which is evil, but put forth emanations  (aeons) and eventually an emanation with no knowledge of the Father created matter. I have a violent emotional reaction against that. I hated my body, as a child. Not so much my penis, as my arm, which was so thin and weak. Then I transitioned, and found my arm and hand slim and beautiful. Flesh is good, and this I know. The early church so condemned that view that we say, “I believe in the resurrection of the body”, and I understand that Protestant and Catholic theologians do not differentiate a soul which comes from the body at the resurrection, but a spiritual body (I Cor 15:42-44- note also v29, which appears to refer to the Mormon practice of baptising the living on behalf of the dead).

There is suffering in the world. Either God will not stop it, and is not all-powerful, or cannot stop it, and is not all good. This is the problem of evil, and Theodicy is the branch of theology answering it. Docetism produces a radically different theodicy. I would say that God is in the File:Wiccan Syzygy.pngwhirlwind, suffering with God’s creation, and Christ is on the Cross, transfiguring our suffering into our growth, maturity and glory- do ask, if you would like me to unpack those statements- but Docetism would say that only matter, which is evil, suffers, and the Wisdom of God rescues spirit from matter.

Mmm. That works, actually. It is not even “pie in the sky when you die”- through wisdom and understanding and maturity one comes to realise that physical suffering does not matter. My facebook feed regularly quotes Teilhard de Chardin, We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience, out of context.

Now I come across A New New Testament, where I read the Secret Revelation. I have not read the commentary, but this moves on from Barclay’s Gnosticism bad, Orthodoxy mostly good (he did not believe in the virgin birth) to-

here are contradictory texts valued by early followers of Jesus. What value can we find in them?

The Secret Revelation is another Dogma. I do not just accept it- I am attached to my physical body, and don’t call it evil- but, can we find in it anything good?

Yaldabaoth

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7c/SophiaMystical.jpgGod can only be described with negatives. Even, perhaps, the Father should not be thought of as God, for it surpasses divinity. It is perfect, and so needs nothing. It is neither corporeal, nor incorporeal. All it asks for is itself alone, within the perfect light.

It perceived its own image, and its thinking became a thing. The Mother appeared. She is the Power which is before the All. She became the primal Human, androgynous and everlasting.

They put forth emanations: Foreknowledge, Thought, Incorruption and Eternal Life, the five generations of the Father. Then the Mother, turning herself toward the Father, gave birth to a spark of blessed light- though not equal to her in greatness. It was the Son. The Father anointed the Son, who became perfect. At the Son’s request, the Father put forth Mind. The Father gave the Son all authority, so that the Son is the True God. The Father willed, and his Will appeared, and through it the Son created everything. But Adam was beside Christ, with unconquerable intellectual power.

Sophia-Wisdom thought a thought from within herself, without the Father or her partner the male virginal Spirit, and forth came an imperfect spirit, with the face of a serpent or lion. She cast him out, placing him within a cloud so none might see him, and named him Yaldabaoth, the Chief Ruler.

Yaldabaoth copulated with his own Madness, and begat angels, including Hermas, the eye of the Fire, and Sabaoth, and Cain. He produced seven kings over the Heavens, giving them his own power, but not any of the light he had drawn from the Mother. He made them call him God, saying, “I am a jealous God“. The Mother repented.

The powers of Yaldabaoth created a body, bone sinew and http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b9/Valentinianpleroma-Matter.pngflesh, but it lay inactive, because they could not awaken it. The Father, seeking to extract the power of the Great Mother from Yaldabaoth the Chief Ruler, sent powers to advise him to blow into that body from the spirit within him. Yaldabaoth’s powers became jealous, and brought Adam down into the shadow of Death. They made a Tomb for him, the fetter of the Flesh.

Yaldabaoth placed Adam in Eden, intending to deceive him. The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is Sophia, and the command not to eat of it is to keep him in darkness. But Christ told Adam to eat. Eve, the reflection of the Light, hid herself inside Adam, and Yaldabaoth pursued her, unable to grasp her, but created the flesh form of woman for her. He cursed her, that Adam should rule over her. Yaldabaoth raped her and begat Yawe and Eloeim, Cain and Abel.

Perhaps there were two births of Adam, that on Earth echoing that in the eternal generations.

The Mother sent her Spirit to awaken Spirit in men, and those on whom Spirit descends will be saved, and become perfect. But some are entered by a counterfeit spirit, which draws them astray. Yaldabaoth’s powers cast them again into fetters (reincarnation) until they receive Gnosis- and in this way they become perfect and are saved. But some never repent, and are tortured eternally with the angels of poverty.

Then Christ came, to save the spirit of those who heard from the chains of the flesh.

This is a summary of the Secret Revelation of John. I will say what I think of it tomorrow.

Gospels

Jesus said, “Blessed is the lion which becomes man when consumed by man; and cursed is the man whom the lion consumes, and the lion becomes man.”

-Gospel of Thomas, saying 7.

Robert Funk dates the Gospel of Thomas to the middle of the first century, around the time of St Paul’s first letters; others date it to the second century. Perhaps opinions on this depend on the value assigned to the document: the earlier it is, the more likely it is to be close to the words of Jesus.

Some would call it Gnostic. Again, I have no opinion. I find some Gnostic ideas repellent, for example the idea that spirit, directly created by God, is good, and matter, created by a tainted emanation of God, is evil; but that does not mean that nothing Gnostic has value.

What matters is whether the sayings are true. In this case, I do not know. Is it just a periphrastic way of saying control your anger, do not let it control you? If so, does calling anger a “lion”, with its qualities of power, danger and beauty, add anything? A lion can outrun and outfight a man, though people together can defeat a lion, and a man can make a spear or a cage to kill or subdue a lion.

Or does the saying mean something else entirely? Whatever, I think it is worth meditation.

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The Gospel writers changed their material for their own ends. So, in Mark 6:3, the people of Nazareth refer to Jesus as “Mary’s son”, ie, the bastard, the fatherless one, but Matthew 13:55 has them call him “the carpenter’s son”. It takes away the stigma. They cannot be trusted. Matthew was written long after Jesus’ death, after the temple was destroyed in AD70, and the Jews expelled from Jerusalem, and yet it still has value: it contains the phrase “turn the other cheek”, which I have seen interpreted as meaning extreme pacifism or non-violent resistance, which has been debated for two thousand years and still haunts all Christians, and the wider society.

Some looking at the biblical passages on homosexuality are defending gay people from Christians. For British “Liberal liberal Quakers” I find myself defending the Bible: if they think it condemns gay people, they are likely to condemn it.

For me one lesson of the story of Sodom comes from Abraham pleading with God not to destroy it. God promises not to destroy it if there are ten good men there. So, if there are ten good verses worth chewing over in the Bible, do not throw it out.

The gospel writers make the words of Jesus accessible to people of a wide variety of religious experience and understanding: those who accept the stories naively are exposed to the words. A blessing of the Church being divided, Orthodox, Catholic (and Coptic and others) then all the little protestant sects: there is no one Approved meaning of the words. The words are greater than any one institution’s understanding of them.

Antinomianism

Antinomianism has had a bad image in Christianity. This picture is from the cover of my copy of “The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner”, by James Hogg, a Scots classic and satire on extreme Calvinism.

If God is eternal and all-knowing, God must know everything that happens within time. Therefore God knows already who is damned and who is saved. Therefore, we are predestined, either to Heaven or to Hell. This is a perfect illustration of how linear thought and the refusal to accept paradox makes an idiot of the religious person, for what room is there for a God of Love who predestines men to Hell before they are born? It makes no sense. In the mild form, the believer has to behave well, because that makes it more likely that he is one of the chosen.

In its virulent form, this Calvinism leads to antinomianism: if we are saved by the sacrifice of Christ, nothing that we do can take that from us. This gives permission to undertake any immoral act. This is what Hogg satirises.

Taking my Christianity very seriously, and having a deep desire to be Good and do Right, I decided that I am antinomian: my yardstick for morality came from within me, rather than from any outside authority. I wanted to transition, and so I would, despite what the Catholic Church or the Evangelical Alliance or any other Christian authority might say.

I may learn what is good or right by studying texts as well as by thinking, but the decision remains always mine. Knowing that allows me to respond in the moment to a situation as it is, rather than try to apply moral laws which I imperfectly understand. It also allows me to respond in Love rather than judgment.File:Bloch-SermonOnTheMount.jpg

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I am surrounded by birds, tweeting, chirruping, crying, singing. Several pairs of geese fly low overhead, honking, as if for the Joy of it (I anthropomorphise). A duck repeatedly takes off from the river, flies a few yards, and lands in the water again. A drake follows her: each time he lands near her, she takes off.