The last few years have brought to the fore a considerable number of organizations bearing the name “Gnostic”. The principal reason for this was the discovery in 1945 and the publication in fully translated form in 1977 of the Nag Hammadi Library of Coptic Gnostic scriptures – the largest collection of Gnostic writings ever discovered. The Nag Hammadi Library has not only brought the name “Gnostic” into prominence but has also convinced many persons in our culture that Gnosticism is more than a peculiar ancient heresy of mainly antiquarian interest. On the contrary, Gnosticism now stands revealed as a fascinating and creative early variant of Christianity that possesses many features of contemporary relevance.
To those of us who are committed to the Gnostic Tradition, these developments have brought both satisfaction and concern. Understandably, we are encouraged by the increase of interest in our tradition. It is also gratifying for us to note that today, unlike some years ago, the use of the name “Gnostic” is considered advantageous by many. At the same time we are compelled to recognize that many avail themselves of the name “Gnostic” without adequate justification. Just as not all is gold that glitters, so not all who call themselves “Gnostic” have a just claim to this name.
In order to promote authenticity and clarity in regard to matters Gnostic, the Ecclesia Gnostica and its affiliated lay organization, The Gnostic Society, have decided to issue this statement.
The Ecclesia Gnostica
The church bearing this name is the oldest public Gnostic sacramental body in the United States. It was organized as the Pre-Nicene Gnostic Catholic Church at first in England and since 1959 in the United States by the late Bishop Richard, Duc de Palatine. After the demise of the Duc de Palatine in the 1970’s, the Church he established in America continued its work under the name Ecclesia Gnostica.
The Regionary Bishop of the church is Dr. Stephan A. Hoeller, who was consecrated to that office by the Duc de Palatine in 1967. Dr. Hoeller is thus the senior holder of what is sometimes called the English Gnostic Transmission in America. (There are no other bishops living in the USA who were consecrated by the Duc de Palatine.)
The Ecclesia Gnostica exists for the purpose of upholding the Gnostic tradition and to administer the holy sacraments to those of God’s people who are attracted to the altars of the Gnosis. An active ministry of parish work is thus an essential feature of this church. The Los Angeles parish of the Ecclesia Gnostica holds eleven regularly scheduled church services and four catechetical lectures each month in order to serve the spiritual needs of its congregation. The Regionary Bishop presides over the majority of these activities.
Ordination to the minor and major orders of the Ecclesia Gnostica is open to both men and women. Candidates for holy orders must possess a sincere commitment to the Gnostic tradition and must be determined to exercise a pastoral ministry. (The Ecclesia does not recognize a non-pastoral clergy. All persons in holy orders are expected to participate in administering the sacraments on a regular basis.)
Training for the various holy orders is both theoretical and practical. The Ecclesia offers no mail-order instruction for holy orders, but requires candidates to receive resident training at one of its established parishes or missions. We ordain clergy for our own jurisdiction and not for “independent” activities on their own. The Ecclesia has no interest in expansion for its own sake, rather it prefers to have a few parishes led by properly trained priests of true Gnostic commitment. At the time that this document is issued, the Ecclesia Gnostica possesses a parishes in Los Angeles, California, in Portland, Oregon, and a in Salt Lake City, Utah. It has a small seminary in Arizona and a missionary extension and parish in the Kingdom of Norway.
The Gnostic Society
The Gnostic Society has existed in Los Angeles since 1928. It was founded by noted author James Morgan Pryse and his brother John Pryse for the purpose of studying Gnosticism and the Western Esoteric Tradition generally.
After the establishment of the Ecclesia Gnostica in the United States, the Gnostic Society has united with the Ecclesia and is now functioning as its affiliated lay organization. Neither the Ecclesia Gnostica nor The Gnostic Society have a formal, dues-paying membership. The activities of both are open to all. Free will offerings are accepted.
Relation to other Churches and Organizations
The Ecclesia Gnostica is in a state of fraternal alliance (concordat) with the Eglise Gnostique Catholique Apostolique of France, through the Diocese of the Midwest, (U.S.A.) of that Church and the Bishop of said Diocese, the Most Rev. Robert Michael Cokinis. The Ecclesia Gnostica and the E.G.C.A. fully recognize each other’s holy orders and respect the territorial jurisdiction exercised by each. This implies that neither of these churches by way of their bishops will ordain or commission clergy to function in territories administered by the other.
The Ecclesia Gnostica Mysteriorum of Palo Alto, California was initially a duly constituted parish of the Ecclesia Gnostica and is now an independent body. Its head, Bishop Rosamonde Miller, was ordained to the priesthood and subsequently consecrated to the episcopate of the Ecclesia Gnostica by Bishop Hoeller.
The aforementioned ecclesiastical bodies are the only ones with which the Ecclesia Gnostica has or has had any association. Concerning all other organizations styling themselves “Gnostic” we advise all inquirers to subject them to thorough scrutiny before accepting their claims to being Gnostic.
Scriptures and Literature
In upholding the Gnostic tradition, the Ecclesia Gnostica avails itself chiefly of the primary sources of Gnostic teachings. Among these are, first the Nag Hammadi Library, and second, the codices and treatises whose discovery precedes the Nag Hammadi find (such as the Askew, Bruce and Berlin Codices, the Acts of Thomas, Acts of John, and others). Somewhat less reliable, but still quite informative are the references and quotations of Gnostic content in the writings of the heresiologist Church Fathers.
Of the later Gnostic sources, we are particularly devoted to the writings of the Prophet Mani and to the teachings of such Medieval Gnostic movements as the Cathars and the Bogomils. Another valuable primary source is the literature of the Mandaeans, a still practicing Gnostic religion in Iraq. Primary sources such as the ones noted above are of the greatest value to contemporary Gnostics.
Items of Gnostic interest may be found in much other literature. The Hermetic writings, the writings of the Christian mystics, the Jewish Gnosticism of the Kabbalah are some of these. Some of the great poets of the culture, such as Dante, Blake and Goethe incorporated valuable Gnostic themes in their works, which are of interest. In modern times, the Nineteenth Century Occult Revival, pioneered by H. P. Blavatsky, bore a decidedly Gnostic character and thus produced some writings that are useful to present Gnostic concerns. The late Nineteenth Century also gave rise to the re-constituted Gnostic Church of France, whose leaders wrote some books worthy of serious consideration.
The Twentieth Century has been blessed with the figure of C. G. Jung, who contributed most significantly to the revival of interest in matters Gnostic. Jung and some of his scholarly associates (Quispel, Pulver, Joseph Campbell) have built powerful bridges between ancient Gnosticism and such modern disciplines as psychology, mythology and the arts. Their writings are most useful to modern Gnostics.
Teachings and Doctrinal Orientation
While the ancient Gnostic teachers were very pluralistic and creative regarding the details of their teachings and practices, at the same time they embraced a set of common assumptions which form the core of the Gnostic tradition. The model of reality shown forth in the Gnostic scriptures and in the Gnostic tradition may be very briefly (and therefore somewhat inadequately) outlined by way of the following points:
There is an original and transcendental spiritual unity which came to emanate a vast manifestation of pluralities.
The manifest universe of matter and mind (psyche) was not created by the original spiritual unity but by spiritual beings possessing inferior powers.
These creators possessing inferior powers have as one of their objectives the perpetual separation of humans from the unity (God).
The human being is a composite, the outer aspect being the handiwork of the inferior creators, while the “inner man” has the character of a fallen spark of the ultimate divine unity.
The fallen sparks of transcendental holiness slumber in their material and mental prison, their self-awareness stupefied by forces of materiality and mind.
The slumbering sparks have not been abandoned by the ultimate unity, rather there is a constant effort forthcoming from this unity that is directed toward their awakening and liberation.
The awakening of the inmost divine essence in humans is effected by salvific knowledge, called Gnosis.
Salvific knowledge, or Gnosis, is not brought about by belief, or the performance of virtuous deeds, or by obedience to commandments, for these can at best but serve as preparatory circumstances leading toward liberating knowledge.
Among the helpers of the slumbering sparks a particular position of honor and importance belongs to a feminine emanation of the unity. The name of this emanation is Sophia (Wisdom). She was involved in the creation of the world and ever since remained the guide of her orphaned human children.
From the earliest times of history, messengers of light have been sent forth from the ultimate unity. The task of these messengers has ever been the advancement of Gnosis in the souls of humans.
The greatest of these messengers in our historical and geographical matrix was the descended Logos of God, manifesting in Jesus Christ.
Jesus exercised a twofold ministry: He was a teacher, imparting instruction concerning the way of Gnosis, and he was a hierophant, imparting mysteries.
The mysteries imparted y Jesus (which are also known as sacraments) are mighty aids toward Gnosis and have been entrusted by him to his apostles and to their successors.
By way of the spiritual practice of the mysteries (sacraments) and by a relentless and uncompromising striving for Gnosis, humans can steadily advance toward liberation from all confinement, material and otherwise. The ultimate objective of this process of liberation is the achievement of salvific knowledge and with it freedom from embodied existence and return to the ultimate unity.
The interpretation of teachings such as are contained in the above fourteen points appertains to the individual. Some of these teachings may lend themselves to a primarily metaphorical and mythic understanding, while others may be understood metaphysically. The Ecclesia Gnostica does not require its communicants to accept these teachings as a matter of belief. At the same time, it is obvious that these teachings represent the distinctive contribution of the Gnostic tradition to religious thought and persons functioning within the tradition would find themselves in general agreement with them.
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