In Tradition of the Gnostic Apostle, gnosis was described as experiencing the Divine, awakening to the Christ within. This article is about connecting with the Divine through the higher mind symbolized by the Only-Begotten Son. Gnostic Christian myth and scripture say we know God through the Son. Through the Son, God’s love moves from imminent potentiality to never-ending actuality. Love is God’s Word pouring out Life and Light on all things. (John 1:1-18)
As we transition to solid food, as the apostle Paul might say (1 Corinthians 3:2; Hebrews 5:12), there is something important to keep in mind. The terminology and mythos we have from gnostic traditions are markers and pointers to higher consciousness, but in and of themselves are only human symbols. The danger we have in our introduction to Gnosticism is in latching on to the myths and symbols as gnosis. This is a common mistake. This is literalism in a clever disguise.
Our discussion continues largely within the context of the second-century gnostic tradition of the Alexandrian theologian Valentinus and Paul, of whom it was written was Valentinus’ original source through Paul’s disciple Theudas. If this is so, then it is an intriguing possibility that we are getting a glimpse of Paul’s esoteric teachings he reserved for the spiritually mature. Tradition has it that Paul received his knowledge of the mysteries through mystical encounters with the ascended Christ Jesus. We have additional support for this from scripture.
It is important to understand how gnostic Christians viewed scripture available to them. They accepted scripture as the authoritative Word of God. They interpreted it allegorically and metaphorically and wrote their own literature the same way, which can be seen in their leather-bound writings, found buried near Nag Hammadi Egypt in 1945. Properly understood these writings, canonical and apocryphal, contain wisdom and revelation of the Divine mysteries. Gnostic Christians maintained that the true meaning of scripture cannot be fully understood unless a person knows the esoteric teachings.
Even individual words properly understood have a dramatic effect on the true meaning of scripture. One example that ties in with our topic is Paul’s use of the word metanoia in his letters. In our Bible it is mistranslated from Greek into English as “repentance,” an obvious orthodox attempt to hide Paul’s original intent. Traditionally it is defined as turning away from sin in sorrow. It is often used within the context that if we repent we will avoid eternal punishment. Even the harsh critic of gnostic Christianity Tertullian wrote that this was a gross mistranslation.
Keeping things honest, when we break down the Greek word into its two parts, it takes on a mystical interpretation. The prefix meta means ‘beyond’ or ‘outside’; noia means ‘mind’. Metanoia, then, can be understood as the higher mind of the Spirit transcending the lower mind of the flesh. Flesh cannot inherit the kingdom. (1 Corinthians 15:50) We know Paul had what we call transcendental experiences as he himself reports (2 Corinthians 12:2-4). Six of Paul’s transcendental experiences are reported in Acts, including his vision of Christ Jesus on the road to Damascus. Something profound happens in the mind and forever changes us at the point of conversion. This is what Paul is conveying.
The Ineffable God and Divine Essence
We may experience Christ as Paul did, but can we know God directly through transcendental experience? Valentinian Christians said the answer is ‘no’. They taught that God is beyond description, invisible and silent, so He is called the Ineffable. God is outside all things, yet contains all things. The Ineffable God can only be known and described by His Divine essence and energies. As such, scripture says that God is Love (energy) and God is Spirit (essence).
Unlike the traditional characterization of God, gnostics understand Him as androgynous. I’m using the masculine form herein because this is how we have it in the Bible. His Divine essence has both masculine and feminine aspects. The masculine aspect provides form, while the feminine aspect provides substance. God doesn’t need anything, yet He gave all things form and substance as His own reflection. We cannot see God as He is, but we do see His reflection. “For now we see only as a reflection in a mirror.” (1 Corinthians 13:12, NIV)
God unfolds His essence and energy in a series of emanations and spheres-of-being called ‘Aeons.’ Aeons are male-female pairs. This pairing is referred to as a ‘dyad’. If you’re familiar with Kabbalah, you’ll recognize parallels with Ein Sof and the Sefirot. The first dyad is ‘Depth’ in its masculine aspect and ‘Thought’ in its feminine aspect. They are called ‘Father-Mother’. From the Father’s Depth, life receives form. From the Mother’s Thought, form receives substance.
From Thought, which is the Mother’s womb, the Only-begotten Son emanates. The Son’s masculine aspect is ‘Mind’ and the feminine aspect is ‘Truth.’ This is the second dyad. Only through the Only-Begotten Son (Mind and Truth) may we know the Father, as only he comprehends Him. There are many Aeons beneath the Son in further emanations, but they do not comprehend the Father apart from the Son. Since the Son emanates from the Mother’s Thought he is also Knowledge (Gnosis). Here, we begin to catch a glimpse of the Gospel of John.
Resting in the Only-Begotten Mind
The Gospel of John was highly revered by the Valentinians, so it follows they used it in refining their theology. Valentinus’ followers Heracleon and Ptolemy wrote commentaries on John’s Gospel, which have survived. The Gospel contains a highly developed spiritual theology written to be understood metaphorically, not literally. The author takes poetic license, and when Jesus speaks it is as the Only-Begotten Son speaking the Father’s Word. In this sense he is also the Word, or in the original Greek language, the Logos. Because of its mystical quality, John’s Gospel was controversial and nearly did not make it into the Bible. By Divine providence it is the gnostic Gospel that was not burned or buried in the Egyptian desert.
According to John’s Gospel, Jesus showed us the Way to the Father. Jesus said “I am the Way the Truth and the Life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Again as the Son, Jesus said “If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him!” (John 14:7) Jesus as the Only-Begotten Son, then, is understood esoterically as the Mind, Truth and Word of God. We may know God, or rather, partake of His Divine essence, through the Son Jesus Christ.
Unlike John’s spiritual Gospel, the three synoptic Gospels repeat Jesus’ sayings literally as closely as they can from handed-down oral traditions. In them, Jesus plainly refers to esoteric knowledge, as is recorded in the Gospel attributed to Matthew. Jesus said, “Father you have hidden these things from the wise and revealed them to little children…All things have been handed over to me by my Father…and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him. Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:25-29, ESV)
In this passage of scripture, as God’s Son, Jesus is astonishingly offering ‘rest’ just as the Israelites were offered God’s rest upon their exodus from Egypt, just as God rested on the seventh day, just as the Sabbath is a day of rest. The ‘wise’ are the religious who follow the letter of the Law, foolishly observing the literal Sabbath as a way to earn God’s favor. Paradoxically, there is no rest for them. The ‘little children’ are those who are spiritual by nature. These are called the ‘elect’ in Paul’s letters. For them, there is rest. Longing to know God is our ‘labor’, and the ‘heavy burden’ is our difficulty integrating our spiritual life with everyday life. God’s rest as transcending worldly confinement is connecting with the Mind of God in the Only-Begotten Son.
Modern Light on This Psychic Connection
Gnostics in ancient times intuitively understood the ontological connection between myth, the mind and the Divine. Two great minds in modern times demonstrated this idea on more rationalistic and scientific terms. They show how myth and symbols connect the unconscious mind with higher consciousness, which is Christ consciousness. Myth speaks to us more profoundly than mere words.
As a reflection of our mind’s internal architecture, we may even say as a reflection of God, the mythology and symbols humans create originate in the psyche as ‘archetypes’. Examples of psychic archetypes manifesting in myth and storytelling include: our insecurity and the need for rescue in the form of hero figures like Moses; the desire for sustenance and nurturing in the form of a mother goddess like Isis; the fear of annihilation in the form of a natural disaster like Noah’s flood; the trickster who tries to confound and undermine us like the ubiquitous figure Satan, just to name a few. We see these archetypes repeated in characters and played out in plot lines in classical literature, art, movies and children’s stories. We seem to express and relate to the same things without giving it any thought. It just happens.
The concept of psychic archetypes as in the above examples was described famously by the father of depth psychology Carl Jung (1875-1961). Jung thought of the soul as the primordial mind from which archetypes surface in the psyche. Jung first became aware of psychic archetypes in his patients as their issues seemed to stem from similar causes. He concluded that we are all alike psychically, in that all humans manifest the same archetypical psychological tendencies.
Interestingly, Jung’s private journal contained accounts of his own transcendental experiences. He had many works in his library by the gnostic theosophist G.R.S. Mead (1863-1933), who apparently had an influence on him. Jung’s heirs did not allow the journal to be published until 2009, perhaps for obvious reasons, when it was released under the title The Red Book. In a videotaped interview late in his life, Jung was asked if he believed there was a God. He replied that he did not believe. He knew.
Complementing Jung from a sociological perspective was the monumental work of Joseph Campbell. Campbell became widely known and his work popularized by the PBS series, The Power of Myth, hosted by Bill Moyers in 1988. Campbell showed that myth in all cultures addressed the same existential questions in different ways people of a particular culture could relate.
All myths have a common thread. He also observed that myth has the transformative power to transcend the mundane, to elevate the mind to higher consciousness. He illustrated through the example of the Shaman how mystical experience can be achieved when myth is internalized and acted out transcendentally through ritual. If the mind is a portal, myth is our guide.
One Mind by Intelligent Design
Integrating the intuition of the ancients with Jung’s depth psychology and Campbell’s mythological sociology tells us something profound. There can be only one conclusion. We are united by an undeniably universal psychic connection. Our separation is a tragic illusion. We are all souls from the same primordial Mind with the same concerns, the same longings, and the same aspirations. We were designed this way. It is in our DNA. We are pre-programmed to connect psychically with the Divine and with each other, if we will only allow it. God created us in a way so that together we may create something new through the Only-Begotten Mind. It is an ongoing and simultaneous process of mutual love.
If these articles have stirred your interest in learning more about Christianity’s esoteric origins and gnosticism in general, here are some resources to help you study.
The Gnostic Society Library’s free materials, lectures and excellent section on Valentinus: www.gnosis.org
A free online library of orthodox, apocryphal and gnostic primary sources: www.earlychristianwritings.com
A readable translation with excellent commentary before each Gnostic Gospel: The Nag Hammadi Scriptures, by Marvin Meyer and James Robinson.
The Joseph Campbell Foundation: www.jfc.org
Elaine Pagels: The Gnostic Paul; The Gnostic Gospels; Beyond Belief and other related works.
Bart D. Ehrman: Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew, and other related works.
Carl G. Jung: Memories, Dreams, Reflections; The Undiscovered Self and other related works.
Welcome and enjoy the journey of a lifetime!