A Homily for Trinity Sunday
by Bishop Steven Marshall
One of the common questions we receive as Gnostics is “Why do you espouse the doctrine of the Christian Trinity?” To answer this question we have only to listen to the voices of the early Gnostics themselves. In the entire canon of Biblical scripture there are only a few vague references to a trinity in the letters of St Paul, yet the Gnostic scriptures of the Nag Hammadi collection are filled with trinitarian expressions of God. In the Gospel of Philip,we see written, “…the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” There is no place in the mainstream canon of the Bible where we can find so clear a reference to the Christian Trinity. In this way, we can state quite emphatically that we, as Gnostics, are trinitarians, yet we encompass far more than any dogma of the Church concerning this Trinity.
Whereas the mainstream Church has spent nearly two thousand years developing a dogma of the Trinity, Gnostics have always approached the Trinity as an archetypal symbol and a mystery. As an archetype, the Trinity arises in every culture, in every place and time. Even in terms of physical processes, most every phenomenon can be described as a trinitarian expression—active, passive, and their connecting interaction; motion, inertia and rhythm; thesis, antithesis and a resolving and connecting principle.
Many religions besides Christianity include a triune deity. The Goddess of modern Wiccans includes Maid, Mother and Crone. The Hindu pantheon includes the Creator (Brahma), the Destroyer (Shiva) and the Preserver (Vishnu). Religions that have a triad of gods often develop family relationships between the members of the triad. This is particularly the case in the Egyptian mysteries with Osiris (Father), Isis (Mother) and Horus (Son), as well as Ra (Father), Pharaoh (Son of Ra) and Ka (the connecting and transmitting Spirit). The Gnostic symbol of the Trinity incorporates these two trinitarian formulae from the Egyptian mysteries—Father, Son and Holy (Mother) Spirit. The Gospel of the Egyptians describes such an emanation of the Trinity: “Three powers came forth from him; they are the Father, the Mother, and the Son.” Here the Mother (Holy Spirit) is the second person of the Trinity, where she might also be identified with the Egyptian Ka. The Gospel of the Egyptians further describes the emanation of a triune series of ogdoads making a total of 24 powers, as described in the Book of Revelation. “And round about the throne were four and twenty seats; and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold.”
In the tradition of the Pharaonic succession in ancient Egypt, the Pharaoh is a divine king, an Anointed One, a Christos, through the connecting power of the Ka (Spirit) that unites the Father and the Son and passes on to the Pharoah the power and consciousness of the Sun God, Ra. The Pharaoh is called the Son of Ra after receiving the Ka (Hereditary Spirit) of the Father. Also, in the Mass, immediately before the minor elevation, this uniting principle of the Holy Spirit, the Ka, is again invoked. “To whom with Thee, O Mighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, be ascribed all honor and glory, throughout the aeons of aeons.”
The mainstream Catholic tradition emphasizes the relationship between the Father and the Son, as an exclusive relationship between God and one man in history, called Jesus. Most of the controversy over the Trinity throughout the centuries has been over the relationship of the Holy Spirit to the other two persons of the Trinity and how that might influence the doctrine of both the humanity and the divinity of Jesus. The traditional Credo provides only one minimal reference to the Holy Spirit, as “the Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father and the Son, Who together with the Father and the Son, is adored and glorified: Who spoke by the prophets.” The Eastern Orthodox differs in that the Father alone brings forth both the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Gospels record that Jesus would send the Holy Spirit to remain on earth to guide and care for us, yet, in Orthodox and Catholic liturgy, the Holy Spirit is never invoked alone and is not fully explained as to its relationship to all of humanity.
A fuller explanation and development of the Holy Spirit in the mystery of the Trinity is threatening to the mainstream position in two principle ways. One is that the Holy Spirit is primarily a feminine Power, as realized by the early Gnostics and later mystics of the Church. One cannot pursue the imagery and mystery of the Holy Spirit without encountering a feminine energy, the Mother of the Holy Trinity. Julian of Norwich recognizes this when she writes, “The Light, breathed forth in the Logos, is at one and the same time the Mother and the Daughter of the Logos.” She again relates this when she writes, “The deep wisdom (the Sophia) of the Trinity is our Mother.”
Secondly, the full development of the mystery of the Holy Spirit intimates that all of humanity participates in the Sonship of God. If the Father appears in the Son and breathes the Holy Spirit together with the Son, who leaves the Holy Spirit with humanity, then the Holy Spirit that breathes in all humanity is the same Holy Spirit that unites the Father and the Son. In this way, all of humanity constitute the children of the Light of the Father, born of the Holy Spirit, our Mother.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus proclaims to the multitudes, “Ye are gods!” In the Acts of John he again exclaims, “Know ye not that ye are all angels, all archangels, gods and lords, all rulers, all great invisibles; that ye are all, of yourselves and in yourselves in turn, from one mass and one mixture and one substance!” If we can accept that we are both divine and human, then it is not such a great stretch to conceive of Jesus as an exemplary of that dual nature. God is manifest in the mystery figure of Jesus, as in ourselves through the Holy (Mother) Spirit; the distinction is quantitative rather than qualitative. Jesus manifested the unity and wholeness of his divine nature, and brought to us the message of our own unity with the Father, while we are yet in the process of remembering and uniting with that divine nature, the Christ within.
We, as Gnostics, do not promulgate a Triune Deity to fragment God or to argue the divinity of one man in history but to affirm the divine nature within all of us. The Gospel of Philip makes the Gnostic approach to the Trinity very clear.
“It is fitting for those who do have it not only to receive the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, but to obtain them for themselves. If anyone does not obtain them for himself, the name also will be taken from him. But one receives them in the chrism of the fullness of the power of the Cross, which the apostles call the right and the left. For this one is no longer a Christian but a Christ.”
The Trinity is not something to be argued about or explained in rational terms but a mystery to be experienced, the mystery of our own unity in God. It is a sanctfying and mysterious presence, like a bright cloud with a voice of fire and the fluttering of wings, an indwelling Spirit, a boundless Light, a presence we manifest in ourselves whenever we invoke the Holy Trinity in the Sign of the Cross: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” In Nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.
Steven Marshall is the Bishop of Queen of Heaven Gnostic Church, a parish of the Ecclesia Gnostica in Portland, Oregon.