Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Class Schedule

February 28, 2007 Lesson 19
March 7, 2007 No Class
March 14, 2007 No Class
March 21, 2007 No Class
March 28, 2007 Lesson 20
April 4, 2007 Lesson 21
April 11, 2007 Lesson 22
April 18, 2007 Lesson 23
April 25, 2007 Lesson 24
May 2, 2007 Final Exam

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

From Margaret

If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it.
> Happy moments, praise God.
> Difficult moments, seek God.
> Quiet moments, worship God.
> Painful moments, trust God.
> Every moment, thank God.
> The Poem
> I knelt to pray but not for long,
> I had too much to do.
> I had to hurry and get to work
> For bills would soon be due.
> So I knelt and said a hurried prayer,
> And jumped up off my knees.
> My Christian duty was now done
> My soul could rest at ease.....
> All day long I had no time
> To spread a word of cheer
> No time to speak of Christ to friends, They'd laugh at me I'd fear.
> No time, no time, too much to do,
> That was my constant cry,
> No time to give to souls in need
> But at last the time, the time to die.
> I went before the Lord,
> I came, I stood with downcast eyes.
> For in his hands God held a book;
> It was the book of life.
> God looked into his book and said
> "Your name I cannot find
> I once was going to write it down...
> But never found the time"
>> Joy
> I live in my own little world.
> But it's OK... They know me
> Here!
> If you look at what you do not have in life, you don't have anything,
> If you look at what you have in life, you have everything.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ash-Wednesday (1930)
Because I do not hope to turn againBecause I do not hopeBecause I do not hope to turnDesiring this man's gift and that man's scopeI no longer strive to strive towards such things(Why should the agèd eagle stretch its wings?)Why should I mournThe vanished power of the usual reign?
Because I do not hope to know againThe infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I know that time is always timeAnd place is always and only placeAnd what is actual is actual only for one timeAnd only for one placeI rejoice that things are as they are andI renounce the blessèd face
Because I cannot hope to turn againConsequently I rejoice, having to construct somethingUpon which to rejoice
Let these words answerFor what is done, not to be done againMay the judgement not be too heavy upon us
Because these wings are no longer wings to flyBut merely vans to beat the airThe air which is now thoroughly small and drySmaller and dryer than the willTeach us to care and not to careTeach us to sit still.
Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our deathPray for us now and at the hour of our death.
Prophesy to the wind, to the wind only for onlyThe wind will listen.
Lady of silencesCalm and distressedTorn and most wholeRose of memoryRose of forgetfulnessExhausted and life-givingWorried reposefulThe single RoseIs now the GardenWhere all loves endTerminate tormentOf love unsatisfiedThe greater tormentOf love satisfiedEnd of the endlessJourney to no endConclusion of all thatIs inconclusibleSpeech without word andWord of no speechGrace to the MotherFor the GardenWhere all love ends.
This is the land which yeShall divide by lot. And neither division nor unityMatters. This is the land. We have our inheritance.
White light folded, sheathing about her, folded.The new years walk, restoringThrough a bright cloud of tears, the years, restoringWith a new verse the ancient rhyme. RedeemThe time. RedeemThe unread vision in the higher dreamWhile jewelled unicorns draw by the gilded hearse.
If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spentIf the unheard, unspokenWord is unspoken, unheard;Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,The Word without a word, the Word withinThe world and for the world;And the light shone in darkness andAgainst the Word the unstilled world still whirledAbout the centre of the silent Word.
O my people, what have I done unto thee.
Where shall the word be found, where will the wordResound? Not here, there is not enough silence
Wavering between the profit and the lossIn this brief transit where the dreams crossThe dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying
And the lost heart stiffens and rejoicesIn the lost lilac and the lost sea voicesAnd the weak spirit quickens to rebelFor the bent golden-rod and the lost sea smellQuickens to recoverThe cry of quail and the whirling ploverAnd the blind eye createsThe empty forms between the ivory gatesAnd smell renews the salt savour of the sandy earthThis is the time of tension between dying and birthThe place of solitude where three dreams crossBetween blue rocksBut when the voices shaken from the yew-tree drift awayLet the other yew be shaken and reply.
Blessed sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehoodTeach us to care and not to care
Sister, motherAnd spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,Suffer me not to be separatedAnd let my cry come unto Thee.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Sally Bilenki's Church Web Site

This is the web site that Margaret SEnt to me about her daughter Sally's Church:

Friday, February 2, 2007


In Early Christianity Marcionism is the dualist belief system that originates in the teachings of Marcion of Sinope at Rome around the year 144 (115 years and 6 months from the Crucifixion, according to Tertullian's reckoning in Adversus Marcionem, xv).
Marcionism was denounced by its opponents as heresy, and written against, notably by Tertullian, in a five-book treatise Adversus Marcionem, written about 208. However, the strictures against Marcionism predate the authority, claimed by the First Council of Nicaea in 325, to declare what is heretical against the Church. Marcion's writings are lost, though they were widely read and numerous manuscripts must have existed. Even so, many scholars (including Henry Wace) claim it is possible to reconstruct and deduce a large part of ancient Marcionism through what later critics, especially Tertullian, said concerning Marcion.
The movement known as Marcionism began with the teachings and excommunication of Marcion from the Church of Rome around 144. Marcion was reportedly a wealthy shipowner, the son of a bishop of Sinope of Pontus, Asia Minor. He arrived in Rome circa 140, soon after Bar Kokhba's revolt. That revolution, along with other Jewish-Roman wars (the Great Jewish Revolt and the Kitos War), provides some of the historical context of the founding of Marcionism. Marcion was excommunicated from the Roman Church because he was threatening to make schisms in the church (G.R.S. Mead, Fragments of a Faith Forgotten ( London and Benares, 1900; 3rd Edition 1931), pp.241-249).
Marcion used his personal wealth, (particularly a donation returned to him by the Church of Rome after he was excommunicated), to fund an ecclesiastical organization. Marcionism continued in the West for 300 years, although Marcionistic ideas persisted much longer.[1]
The organization continued in the East for some centuries later, particularly outside the Byzantine Empire in areas which later would be dominated by Manichaeism. This is no accident: Mani is believed to have been a Mandaean, and Mandaeanism is related to Marcionism in several ways. For example, both Mandaeanism and Marcionism are characterized by a belief in a Demiurge. The Marcionite organization itself is today extinct, although Mandaeanism is not.[2]
Marcion declared that Christianity was distinct from and in opposition to Judaism. He rejected the entire Hebrew Bible, and declared that the God of the Hebrew Bible was a lesser demiurge, who had created the earth, but was (de facto) the source of evil.
The premise of Marcionism is that many of the teachings of Christ (not Jesus — Marcion treated Jesus as being distinct from Christ)[citation needed] are incompatible with the god of the Jewish religion. Focusing on the Pauline traditions of the Gospel, Marcion felt that all other conceptions of the Gospel, and especially any association with the Old Testament religion, was opposed to, and a backsliding from, the truth. He further regarded the arguments of Paul regarding law and gospel, wrath and grace, works and faith, flesh and spirit, sin and righteousness, death and life, as the essence of religious truth. He ascribed these aspects and characteristics as two principles, the righteous and wrathful god of the Old Testament, who is at the same time identical with the creator of the world, and a second God of the Gospel, quite unknown before Christ, who is only love and mercy.[3] Marcion gathered scriptures from Jewish tradition, and juxtaposed these against the sayings and teachings from Gospel of Luke and the Pauline Epistles (but not the Pastoral Epistles or the Epistle to the Hebrews, and adding the Laodiceans)[4] in a work entitled the Antithesis.[5] Marcion's version of Luke did not resemble the version that is now regarded as canonical.[6] It not only lacked all prophecies of Christ's coming but the differences with the now canonical version had other serious theological implications as well. In bringing together these texts, Marcion redacted what is perhaps the first New Testament canon on record.
Marcionites hold maltheistic views of the god of the Hebrew Bible (mockingly known to them as Yaltabaoth), that he was inconsistent, jealous, wrathful and genocidal, and that the material world he created is defective, a place of suffering; the god who made such a world is a bungling or malicious demiurge. "In the god of the [Old Testament] he saw a being whose character was stern justice, and therefore anger, contentiousness and unmercifulness. The law which rules nature and man appeared to him to accord with the characteristics of this god and the kind of law revealed by him, and therefore it seemed credible to him that this god is the creator and lord of the world (κοσμοκράτωρ). As the law which governs the world is inflexible and yet, on the other hand, full of contradictions, just and again brutal, and as the law of the Old Testament exhibits the same features, so the god of creation was to Marcion a being who united in himself the whole gradations of attributes from justice to malevolence, from obstinacy to inconsistency."[7] In Marcionite belief, Christ is not a Jewish Messiah, but a spiritual entity that was sent by the Monad to reveal the truth about existence, and thus allowing humanity to escape the earthly trap of the demiurge. Marcion called God, the Stranger God, or the Alien God, in some translations, as this deity had not had any previous interactions with the world, and was wholly unknown.
Marcionism is not identical to, but is related to, the various beliefs together called Gnosticism. In various sources, Marcion is often reckoned among the Gnostics, but as the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd ed.) puts it, "it is clear that he would have had little sympathy with their mythological speculations" (p. 1034). In 1911 Henry Wace stated: "A modern divine would turn away from the dreams of Valentinianism in silent contempt; but he could not refuse to discuss the question raised by Marcion, whether there is such opposition between different parts of what he regards as the word of God, that all cannot come from the same author." A primary difference between Marcionites and Gnostics was that the Gnostics based their theology on secret wisdom (as, for example, Valentinius found in the Letters of Paul) of which they claimed to be in possession, whereas Marcion based his theology on the contents of the Letters of Paul and the recorded sayings of Jesus — in other words, an argument from scripture, with Marcion defining what was and was not scripture. The Christology of the Marcionites was primarily Docetic, denying the human nature of Christ. Scholars of early Christianity disagree on whether to classify Marcion as a Gnostic: Adolf Von Harnack does not classify Marcion as a Gnostic, whereas G. R. S. Mead does.[8] Von Harnack argued that Marcion was not a Gnostic in the strict sense because Marcion rejected elaborate creation myths, and did not claim to have special revelation or secret knowledge. Mead claimed Marcionism makes certain points of contact with Gnosticism in its view that the creator of the material world is not the true deity, rejection of materialism and affirmation of a transcedent, purely good spiritual realm in opposition to the evil physical realm, the belief Jesus was sent by the "True" God to save humanity, the central role of Jesus in revealing the requirements of salvation, the belief Paul had a special place in the transmission of this "wisdom", and its docetism. According to the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article on Marcion: "It was no mere school for the learned, disclosed no mysteries for the privileged, but sought to lay the foundation of the Christian community on the pure gospel, the authentic institutes of Christ. The pure gospel, however, Marcion found to be everywhere more or less corrupted and mutilated in the Christian circles of his time. His undertaking thus resolved itself into a reformation of Christendom. This reformation was to deliver Christendom from false Jewish doctrines by restoring the Pauline conception of the gospel, —Paul being, according to Marcion, the only apostle who had rightly understood the new message of salvation as delivered by Christ. In Marcion's own view, therefore, the founding of his church—to which he was first driven by opposition—amounts to a reformation of Christendom through a return to the gospel of Christ and to Paul; nothing was to be accepted beyond that. This of itself shows that it is a mistake to reckon Marcion among the Gnostics. A dualist he certainly was, but he was not a Gnostic."
Marcionism shows the influence of Hellenistic philosophy on Christianity, and presents a moral critique of the Old Testament from the standpoint of Platonism. According to Harnack, the sect may have led other Christians to introduce a formal statement of beliefs into their liturgy (see Creed) and to formulate a canon of authoritative Scripture of their own, thus eventually producing the current canon of the New Testament. "As for the main question, however, whether he knew of, or assumes the existence of, a written New Testament of the Church in any sense whatever, in this case an affirmatory answer is most improbable, because if this were so he would have been compelled to make a direct attack upon the New Testament of the Church, and if such an attack had been made we should have heard of it from Tertullian. Marcion, on the contrary, treats the Catholic Church as one that 'follows the Testament of the Creator-God,' and directs the full force of his attack against this Testament and against the falsification of the Gospel and of the Pauline Epistles. His polemic would necessarily have been much less simple if he had been opposed to a Church which, by possessing a New Testament side by side with the Old Testament, had ipso facto placed the latter under the shelter of the former. In fact Marcion’s position towards the Catholic Church is intelligible, in the full force of its simplicity, only under the supposition that the Church had not yet in her hand any 'litera scripta Novi Testamenti.'"[9]

For more informationj about Marcionism see:


The Ebionites (from Hebrew; אביונים, Ebyonim, "the Poor Ones") were an early sect of mostly Jewish disciples of John the Baptizer, Jesus the Nazarene and James the Just, who flourished in and around the land of Israel as one of several so-called "Jewish Christian" communities coexisting from the 1st to the 5th century of the Common Era.[2] It is believed that they took their name from several religious texts, including a verse in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount: "Congratulations, you poor! God's domain belongs to you."[3] Accordingly, they are said to have dispossessed themselves of all their goods and lived in religious communistic societies.[4]
Ebionites were in theological conflict with other streams of early Christianity. As a result, our knowledge of them is fragmentary, originating primarily from the polemics of the early Church Fathers. These accounts at times seem to be contradictory arising from the double application of the term "Ebionite", some referring to Jewish Christianity as a whole, others only to a sect within it. According to the select few modern scholars who have studied the historicity of Ebionites, they may have existed as a community distinct from "Pauline Christians" and "Gnostic Christians" before and after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Some commentators even contend that Ebionites were more faithful than Paul to the authentic teachings of Jesus
Since there is, as of yet, no authenticated archaeological evidence for the existence and history of Ebionites, much of what we know about them comes from brief references by early and influential theologians and writers in the Christian Church, who considered them to be "heretics" and "Judaizers". In 140 CE, Justin Martyr, in the earliest text known to us, describes an unnamed sect estranged from the Church who observe the Law of Moses, and who hold it of universal obligation.[10] In 180 CE, Irenaeus was the first to use the term "Ebionites" to describe a heretical judaizing sect, which he regarded as stubbornly clinging to the Law.[11] Origen remarks that the name derives from the Hebrew word "evyon", meaning "poor". [12] The most complete yet dubious account comes from Epiphanius of Salamis, who wrote a heresiology in the 4th century, denouncing 80 heretical sects, among them Ebionites as having poor opinions.[13] These are mostly general descriptions of their religious ideology, though sometimes there are quotations from their gospels, which are otherwise lost to us.
The Fathers of the Church sometimes distinguished Ebionites from Nazarenes, another early sect of Jewish disciples of Jesus also believed to be a current within, or an offshoot of, the first "Christian church of Jerusalem" (which thrived from c. 30 to 135 CE) or the first "Judeo-Christian synagogue" (built on Mount Zion between 70 and 132 CE),[14] one polemicist often depending upon another for his assessment. However, Jerome clearly thinks that Ebionites and Nazoraeans were a single community.[15] Without surviving texts, it is difficult to establish exactly the basis for their distinction.
The legacy of Ebionites is debated. Once the Roman army decimated the Jerusalemite leadership of the mother church of all Christendom during Bar Kokhba's revolt in 135 CE, Jewish Christians gradually lost the struggle for the claim to orthodoxy owing to marginalization and persecution.[16] Scholar Jans-Hoachim Schoeps, however, argues that the primary influence of Ebionites was on the nontrinitarian origins of Islam.[17]
Ebionites might be represented in history as the sect encountered by the Muslim historian Abd al-Jabbar c. 1000 CE, almost 500 years later than most Christian historians allow for their survival.[18] An additional possible mention of surviving Ebionite communities existing in the lands of north-western Arabia, specifically the cities of Tayma and Tilmas, around the 11th century, is said to be in Sefer Ha'masaoth, the "Book of the Travels" of Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela, a sephardic rabbi of Spain.[19] 12th century historian Mohammad al-Shahrastani, in his book Religious and Philosophical Sects, mentions Jews living in nearby Medina and Hejaz who accepted Jesus as a prophetic figure and followed traditional Judaism, rejecting mainstream Christian views.[20]
In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, several small yet competing new religious movements, such as the Ebionite Jewish Community, have emerged claiming to be revivalists of the views and practices of early Ebionites,[21] although their idiosyncratic claims to authenticity cannot be verified. The counter-missionary group Jews for Judaism favorably mentions the historical Ebionites in their literature in order to argue that "Messianic Judaism", as promoted by missionary groups such as Jews for Jesus, is Pauline Christianity misrepresenting itself as Judaism.[22]
Views and practices
Most patristic sources portray Ebionites as traditional yet ascetic Jews, possibly permanent Nazirites, who, for example, restricted table fellowship only to gentiles who converted to Judaism,[23] practiced religious vegetarianism,[24] engaged in ritual bathing,[25] and revered Jerusalem as the holiest city.[26] Some Ebionites, however, may have accepted unconverted gentiles into their fellowship on the basis of a version of the Noahide Laws decreed by the Council of Jerusalem in c. 50 CE.[27][28][29]
Qumranism and Essenism
Some scholars such as Robert Eisenman, James Tabor and Martin A. Larson have speculated that Ebionites may have been Qumran and/or Essene revivalists.[30][31][32][33]
Epiphanius of Salamis is the only Church Father who describes some Ebionites as departing from traditional Jewish principles of faith; specifically by denying parts or most of the Law,[34] opposing animal sacrifice,[35] and possessing an angelology which claimed that the Christ is a great archangel who was incarnated in Jesus when he was adopted as the son of God.[36] The reliability of Epiphanius' claims, however, is questioned by some scholars.[37][38] Shlomo Pines, for example, argues that all these heterodox doctrines, whether or not they originated from Gnostic Christianity or Jewish mysticism, are characteristics of the Elcesaite sect, which Epiphanius has mistakenly attributed to Ebionites.[39]
John the Baptizer
In the Gospel of the Ebionites, John the Baptizer is portrayed as a vegetarian Nazirite master and a forerunner to Jesus. Jewish Christians viewed John as the lawful high priest of Israel, by virtue of being descended from Aaron, in opposition to the high priest recognized by the Roman Empire. Some scholars argue that Jewish Christians may have also viewed John as the priestly Messiah of Jewish eschatology.[40][41][42]
Jesus the Nazarene
The majority of Church Fathers are in agreement in claiming that Ebionites rejected many of the central Christian views of Jesus such as the trinity of God, the pre-existence and divinity of Jesus, the virgin birth, and the death of Jesus as an atonement for sin.[43] Ebionites are described as emphasizing the oneness of God and the humanity of Yeshua (the Aramaic name for Jesus) as the biological son of both Mary (a daughter of Aaron) and Joseph (a son of David), who by virue of his righteousness, was chosen by God to perform two functions as the Jewish Messiah during in his ministry - those of prophet[44] and king[45] - after he was anointed with the holy spirit at his baptism.[46][47]
Of the books of the New Testament Ebionites are said to have only accepted an Aramaic version of the Gospel of Matthew, referred to as the Gospel of the Hebrews, as additional scripture to the Hebrew Bible. This version of Matthew, Irenaeus reports, omitted the first two chapters (on the nativity of Jesus), and started with the baptism of Jesus by John.[48]
Modern scholars argue that Ebionites understood Jesus as inviting believers to live according to an ethic of social justice that will be standard in the future kingdom of Heaven. Since Ebionites believed that this will be the ethic of the Messianic Age, they went ahead and adjusted their lives to this ethic in this age.[49] They therefore believed that all Jews and gentiles must observe the commandments of God,[50][51] in order to become holy and seek communion with God;[52] but that these commandments must be understood in light of Jesus' expounding of the Law,[53] which he taught during his Sermon on the Mount.[54] Ebionites may have held a form of "inaugurated eschatology" positing that the ministry of Jesus has ushered in the Messianic Age so that the kingdom of God may be understood to be present in an incipient fashion, while at the same time awaiting consummation in the future age.[55][56]
James the Just
Although he is not mentioned in patristic sources for Ebionites, James the Just, the brother of Jesus, was the hereditary leader of the Jerusalem church; followed by other members of the Desposyni (the blood relatives of Jesus) who Jewish Christians regarded as the legitimate apostolic successors to James as patriarchs of the Jerusalem church, rather than Peter. Jewish Christians also viewed James as the lawful high priest and king of Israel, by virtue of being descended both from Aaron and David, in opposition to the high priest and the king recognized by the Roman Empire. Some scholars argue that Jewish Christians may have viewed James as the priestly Messiah of Jewish eschatology upon the death of John the Baptist.[57][58][59]
Paul of Tarsus
Patristic sources report Ebionites as denouncing Paul of Tarsus as an apostate from the Law and a false apostle, for his slander of the pillars of the church and condemnation of their "judaizing teachings" as a threat to the spread of his new religion.[60] Epiphanius claims that some Ebionites fought back by gossiping that Paul was a Greek who converted to Judaism in order to marry the daughter of (Annas?) a high priest of Israel, apostasized when she rejected him;[61] and later, according to scholar Hyam Maccoby, developed the early Christian church as a Gnostic Jewish mystery religion.[62]

For more information about Ebionism see:

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Gnosticism Ancient and Modern

Gnosticism is a philosophical and religious movement which started in pre-Christian times. The name is derived from the Greek word "gnosis" which literally means "knowledge." However, the English words "Insight" and "enlightenment" capture more of the meaning of "gnosis." It is pronounced with a silent "G" (NO-sis). Gnosticism is not factual, intellectual, rational knowledge, such as is involved in mathematics and physics; that would have been more accurately represented by the Greek world "episteme." Rather, Gnosticism involves the relational or experiential knowledge of God and of the divine or spiritual nature within us. A visitor to this web site wrote: "...we believe that gnosis-knowledge requires ultimate transcendence of the merely intellectual to be actualized." 1
Gnostics believe that they have secret knowledge about God, humanity and the rest of the universe of which the general population was unaware. It became one of the three main belief systems within 1st century Christianity, and was noted for four factors by which differed from the two other branches of Christianity:
Novel beliefs about Gods, the Bible and the world which differed from those of other Christian groups.
Tolerance of different religious beliefs within and outside of Gnosticism.
Lack of discrimination against women. Although Jesus treated women as equals, and Paul mostly did the same, the other Christian belief systems started to oppress women in later generations.
A belief that salvation is achieved through relational and experiential knowledge. In the words of The contemporary Gnostic Apostolic Church, humanity needs to be awakened and brought "to a realisation of his true nature. Mankind is moving towards the Omega Point, the Great day when all must graduate or fall. This day is also the Day of Judgment in that only those who have entered the Path of Transfiguration and are being reborn can return to the Treasury of Light." 2
The movement and its literature were essentially wiped out before the end of the 5th century CE by Catholic heresy hunters and the Roman Army. Its beliefs are currently experiencing a rebirth throughout the world, triggered in part by the discovery of an ancient Gnostic library at Nag Hammadi, Egypt in the 1940s, and the finding of the Gospel of Judas at El Minya, Egypt, in the 1970s.
Gnosticism consisted of many syncretistic belief systems which combined elements taken from Asian, Babylonian, Egyptian, Greek and Syrian pagan religions, from astrology, and from Judaism and Christianity. They constituted one of the three main branches of early Christianity: the other two being:
The remnants of the Jewish Christian sect which was founded by Jesus' disciples after his execution and centered in Jerusalem, and
The churches started by Paul, that were eventually to grow and develop into "mainline" Christianity by the end of the third century.
By the second century CE, many very different Christian-Gnostic sects had formed within the Roman Empire at the eastern end of the Mediterranean. Some Gnostics worked within Jewish Christian and mainline Christian groups, and greatly influenced their beliefs from within. Others formed separate communities. Still others were solitary practitioners.
There does not seem to have been much formal organization among the Gnostics during the early centuries of the Christian movement. As mainline Christianity grew in strength and organization, Gnostic sects came under increasing pressure, oppression and persecution. They almost disappeared by the 6th century. The only group to have survived continuously from the 1st century CE into modern times is the Mandaean sect of Iraq and Iran. This group has about 15,000 members (one source says 1,500), and can trace their history continuously back to the original Gnostic movement.
Many new emerging religions in the West have adopted some ancient Gnostic beliefs and practices. By far, the most successful of these is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- the LDS or Mormon church, centered in Salt Lake City, UT.
The Gnostic faith is undergoing a resurgence in the 21st century, primarily in Western countries. The counter-cult movement and some other Christian ministries disseminate a great deal of misinformation about the movement.
Sources of ancient Gnostic information:
Until recently, only a few pieces of Gnostic literature were known to exist. These included Shepherd of Men, Asclepius, Codex Askewianus, Codex Brucianus, Gospel of Mary, Secret Gospel of John, Odes of Solomon and the Hymn of the Pearl. Knowledge about this movement had been inferred mainly from extensive attacks that were made on Gnosticism by Christian heresiologists (writers against heresy) of the second and early third century. These included Irenaeus (130? - 200? CE), Clement of Alexandria (145? - 213?), Tertullian (160? - 225?) and Hippolytus (170? - 236). Unfortunately, the heresy hunters appear to have been not particularly accurate or objective in their analysis of Gnosticism.
In 1945, Mohammed Ali es_Samman, a Muslim camel driver from El Qasr in Egypt, went with his brother to a cliff near Nag Hummadi, a village in Northern Egypt. They were digging for nitrate-rich earth that they could use for fertilizer. They came across a large clay jar buried in the ground. They were undecided whether to open it. They feared that it might contain an evil spirit; but they also suspected that it might contain gold or other material of great value. It turns out that their second guess was closer to the truth: the jar contained a library of Gnostic material of immeasurable value. 13 volumes survive, comprising 51 different works on 1153 pages. 6 were copies of works that were already known; 6 others were duplicated within the library, and 41 were new, previously unknown works. Included were The Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Truth, Treatise on the Resurrection, Gospel of Philip, Wisdom of Jesus Christ, Revelation of James, Letter of Peter to Philip, On the Origin of the World and other writings. Of these, the Gospel of Thomas is considered the most important. It was a collection of the sayings of Jesus which were recorded very early in the Christian era. A later Gnostic author edited the Gospel. Some liberal theologians rank it equal in importance to the four Gospels of the Christian Scriptures.
The works had originally been written in Greek during the second and third centuries CE. The Nag Hummadi copies had been translated into the Coptic language during the early 4th century CE, and apparently buried circa 365 CE. Some Gnostic texts were non-Christian; others were originally non-Christian but had Christian elements added; others were entirely Christian documents. Some recycled paper was used to reinforce the leather bindings of the books. They were found to contain dated letters and business documents from the middle of the 4th century. The books appear to have been hidden for safe-keeping during a religious purge by the mainline Christian church.
The texts passed through the hands of a number of mysterious middlemen, and finally were consolidated and stored in the Coptic Museum of Cairo. Publication was delayed by the Suez Crisis, the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, and petty debates among scholars. The most important book, the Gospel of Thomas, was finally translated into English during the late 1960's; the remaining books were translated during the following ten years. In many ways, this find reveals much more about the early history of Christianity than do the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Gnostic beliefs:
The Nag Hummadi find revealed that there was a broad range of beliefs among the various independent Gnostic systems or schools. However, the following points are believed to be generally accurate throughout the movement:
Their Role: They believed that they alone truly understood Christ's message, and that other streams of thought within Christianity had misinterpreted Jesus' mission and sayings.
Gnosis: Knowledge to them was not an intellectual exercise; it was not a passive understanding of some aspect of spirituality. Rather, knowledge had a redeeming and liberating function that helped the individual break free of bondage to the world.
Deity: The Supreme Father God or Supreme God of Truth is remote from human affairs; he is unknowable and undetectable by human senses. She/he created a series of supernatural but finite beings called Aeons. One of these was Sophia, a virgin, who in turn gave birth to an defective, inferior Creator-God, also known as the Demiurge. (Demiurge means "public craftsman" in Greek.) This lower God is sometimes called Yaldabaoth or Ialdabaoth Jaldabaoth -- from Aramaic words meaning "begetter of the Heavens." This is Jehovah, the God of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). He is portrayed as the creator of the earth and its life forms. He is viewed by Gnostics as fundamentally evil, jealous, rigid, lacking in compassion, and prone to genocide. The Demiurge "thinks that he is supreme. His pride and incompetence have resulted in the sorry state of the world as we know it, and in the blind and ignorant condition of most of mankind."
Duality of spirit and body: Spirit is of divine origin and good; the body is inherently earthly and evil. Gnostics were hostile to the physical world, to matter and the human body. But they believed that trapped within some people's bodies were the sparks of divinity or seeds of light that were supplied to humanity by Sophia.
Salvation: A person attains salvation by learning secret knowledge of their spiritual essence: a divine spark of light or spirit. They then have the opportunity to escape from the prison of their bodies at death. Their soul can ascend to be reunited with the Supreme God at the time of their death. Gnostics divided humanity into three groups:
The spiritual, who would be saved irrespective of their behavior while on earth.
The Soulish, who could be saved if they followed the Gnostic path.
The carnal who are hopelessly lost.
Evil: They did not look upon the world as having been created perfectly and then having degenerated as a result of the sin of Adam and Eve. Rather the world was seen as being evil at the time of its origin, because it had been created by an inferior God.
Snake Symbol: Some Gnostic sects honored the snake. They did not view the snake as a seducer who led the first couple into sinful behavior. Rather, they saw him/it as a liberator who brought knowledge to Adam and Eve by convincing them to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and thus to become fully human.
Christ: The role of the redeemer in Gnostic belief is heavily debated at this time. Gnostics seem to have looked upon Christ as a revealer or liberator, rather than a savior or judge. His purpose was to spread knowledge which would free individuals from the Demiurge's control and allow them to return to their spiritual home with the Supreme God at death. Some Gnostic groups promoted Docetism, the belief that Christ was pure spirit and only had a phantom body; Jesus just appeared to be human to his followers. They reasoned that a true emissary from the Supreme God could not have been overcome by the evil of the world, and to have suffered and died. These beliefs were considered heresy by many non-Gnostic Christians. Some Gnostics believed that Christ's resurrection occurred at or before Jesus' death on the cross. They defined his resurrection as occurring when his spirit was liberated from his body. Many Gnostics believed that Jesus had both male and female disciples.
The Universe: This is divided into three kingdoms:
The "Earthly Cosmos": The earth is the center of the universe, and is composed of the world that we know of and an underworld. It is surrounded by air and by 7 concentric heavenly spheres: one for each of the Moon, Venus, Mercury, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. (Although the planet Uranus is visible to the naked eye, it was not recognized as a planet in ancient times.) Beyond Saturn resides Leviathan, a snake coiled in a single circle, devouring its own tail. Within these spheres live demonic, tyrannical entities called Archons. Beyond them lies Paradise which contains the "Tree of Life", the "Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil", and the flaming, turning sword of Genesis 3:24. Beyond Paradise was the sphere of the fixed stars, divided into the 12 signs of the zodiac.
The "Intermediate Kingdom is composed of an inner blue circle of darkness and an outer yellow ring of light. Within these rings is a sphere which is the realm of Sophia.
The "Kingdom of God" consists of two spheres: an outer one of the unknowable Supreme God, and inner ring of the Son.
The Gnostic Church and its Branches
The two principal branches of the Gnostic Church are the French and the English. Of these, the French is the older and more widely disseminated. Long before there was a country named France, Gnostics were already present in that land. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyon (c.a. 180 A.D.) was so troubled by the presence of Gnostics in his diocese that he devoted volumes of diatribes to combat them. Gnostic groups of various kinds flourished in France throughout history, the best known and most numerous being the Cathar Church in the Middle Ages. French crusaders also came into contact with Gnostic groups in the Middle East and brought their teachings back to the French homeland, where these teachings were cultivated by generations of French devotees of the Gnosis in secret. This seems to have been the case with the Knights Templar, who, not unlike the Cathar Gnostics, were cruelly exterminated by the unholy alliance of the French crown and papacy.
French history from the Middle Ages to the present is characterized by an oscillation between Roman Catholic and anti Roman Catholic tendencies in cultural life and in the body politic. The cruel massacre of the Cathars and of the Templars created a wide spread and long lasting resentment against the Roman Catholic Church, which resentment was extended to the Bourbon monarchy as well. Every time the hold of the Roman Catholic Church weakened on the government of France, Gnostic and gnosticizing religious bodies emerged from hiding, only to be suppressed eventually by another clerical government. One of these incidents of emergence occurred in the late Nineteenth Century, when Jules-Benoit Doinel du Val Michel (Tau Valentin II), inspired by spiritual influences that appeared to have been of Cathar origin founded the French Gnostic Church, which by way of its various branches and under several names has functioned ever since. Primarily by way of its Haitian extension, this church came to establish itself in the United States as well, particularly within the last few decades.
Gnostic interest in the English speaking countries was initially restricted to secular avenues. The rise of the Theosophical Society in the last quarter of the Nineteenth Century brought some considerable attention to focus on the Gnostics. Madame Blavatsky in her writings extolled the Gnostics as her kindred spirits and her pupil, G.R.S. Mead became the best known and most accurate as well as most sympathetic translator of Gnostic scriptures of his time. While there was certainly some contact between the French Gnostics and the gnostically inclined British and American Theosophists, (Jules Doinel received his revelation concerning the founding of the Gnostic Church at the residence of the prominent British Theosophist, Lady Caithness), another half a century elapsed before the English Gnostic ecclesiastical transmission was to have its beginning. At the halfway point of the Twentieth Century, the Australian born British Gnostic, Richard, Duc de Palatine felt inspired to become a pioneer of sacramental Gnosticism for Britain and the United States. (De Palatine was born with the name Powell, but legally changed his name). Having been consecrated as a bishop by the well known British independent Catholic prelate, Hugh George de Wilmott Newman, de Palatine proceeded to establish a sacramental Gnostic church both in England and in the United States. Bishop Palatine was acquainted with several French Gnostic bishops, and received encouragement and inspiration from them. The present writer, after serving for about a decade as a priest under Bishop Palatine, was consecrated in 1967 as regionary bishop for America by him, and has represented the Gnostic tradition ever since as senior holder of the English Gnostic transmission.
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