The Beloved of the Logos

A Homily for the Day of Holy Mary of Magdala

by Bishop Steven Marshall

The figure of Mary of Magdala, also known as Mary Magdalen, is both complex and controversial. She has remained a mystery for a very long time and an object of difficulty for the Church from the very beginning of Christianity. One question we receive from those of mainstream backgrounds is why the importance of Mary Magdalen in the Gnostic scriptures and our contemporary practice of Gnosticism.

An attempt to answer this question and sort through the maze of material that has been proposed may come from the Gnostics themselves in the form of their insightful and very helpful threefold division of human understanding: the hyletic (physical), the psychic (mental), and the pneumatic (spiritual). The hyletic point of view, coming mainly from a reductionistic materialism, proposes that Mary’s importance is as the sexual partner, wife, and carrier of the bloodline of Jesus. The evidence for this line of reasoning is so full of surmise, supposition and conjecture that we hardly need consider it, but even if true, many great and benevolent rulers have given rise to progeny who were weak, decadent and cruel. The genes do not necessarily determine the person. So, even if the descendants of Jesus have been maintained in a bloodline throughout history, little of salvific meaning has come from that quarter.

The psychic perspective, assuming Mary Magdalen to be the Mary of Bethany who anoints and washes Jesus’ feet with her hair and the woman at the well who has five husbands, considers her to be the model of the repentant sinner. This again falls short of a really convincing answer. It devolves into an ethical reductionism that proposes that simply changing our behavior on a physical and psychological level will bring about the Gnosis or relationship with the Savior that is truly salvific.

Only the pneumatic perspective, that of the Gnostic seems to penetrate to the core of the issue of what makes the figure of Mary Magdalen so important to Christianity as a whole and to Gnostic Christianity in particular. The Gnostic recognizes Mary Magdalen as the one of the greatest, if not the greatest apostle of Christ.

In the Gnostic literature she is titled, the Apostle who excels the rest, the Disciple of the Lord, the One who knew the All, the One who reveals the Greatness of the Revealer, the Inheritor of the Light, the privileged Interlocutor, the One who is always with the Lord, the One whom they call His Consort, and the Chosen of Women.

To contrast this with the mainstream understanding and attitude, let me share with you a story that my friend Frodo, whom some of you may have met, passed on to me. In one of her theology classes at Mt. Angel Seminary, one of her Benedictine professors was asked about the definition of an apostle. He answered that the apostles were those who saw Jesus and were blessed by him after the resurrection. Frodo piped up, “Then Mary Magdalen must have been the first apostle.” The professor nodded, “Yes, but we don’t talk about that.” Yet even Pope John Paul II has called her “the Apostle of the apostles.” A Manichaean document, The Psalms of Heraclites, calls her the “Net-caster” who gathers together the remaining eleven disciples back to the Savior after the resurrection. This indicates that she was one of the principal apostles of Christ.

And yet we intuitively sense that there was something about Mary; she was not just one of the other disciples. She had a relationship with the Christ that was different than the others. Part of our understanding of the mystery of Mary Magdalen is to understand this relationship with the Logos. Whether it was sexual in the physical way or purely spiritual really makes no difference in the Gnostic perspective, some element of their relationship far transcended the mere physical nature of the flesh.

Even as the Gnostic resurrection takes place while we are in the flesh, so can such a transcendental relationship manifest while in the flesh, even as it manifested between Mary and Jesus. However, theirs was not an ordinary relationship in an erotic or conventional sense. There was something mysterious and transcendent between them that the other disciples could not understand.

“The Lord loved Mary more than all the disciples and kissed her on her mouth often. The others said to him: Why do you love her more than all of us? The Savior answered and said to them: Why do I not love you like her?” (Gospel of Philip)

Jesus is both asking the other disciples about the difference between Mary Magdalen and them, and he is questioning them as to why they are not conscious of the same relationship of love. The kiss, according to the Gnostic Gospel of Philip, is initiatory in character.

“For it is by a kiss that the perfect conceive and give birth. For this reason we also kiss one another. We receive conception from the grace which is in each other.”

One of the more Gnostic lines in one of the songs in Jesus Christ Superstar is where Mary Magdalen sings, “I don’t know how to love him.” Admitting this question, she reveals that Jesus is not like other men, and their relationship must transcend the ordinary sexual relationship between man and woman. In her discovery that she cannot love him in the strictly physical way that she knew before, she apprehends the Mystery of the Christos. In an intuitive way she discovers the Mystery, like Thomas, when Jesus asks the disciples, “Say who I am like,” and Thomas replies, “My tongue can in no way tell whom thou art like.” It is this intuitive and pneumatic perception that makes Mary more beloved than the rest of the disciples.

In this regard, the Pistis Sophia gives one of the most declarative statements of Mary’s importance to the Gnostic tradition.

“It came to pass then, when Mary had heard the Savior say these words, that she gazed fixedly into the air for the space of an hour. She said: “My Lord, give commandment unto me to speak in openness.”

And Jesus, the compassionate, answered and said unto Mary: “Mary, thou blessed one, who I will perfect in all mysteries of those of the height, thou, whose heart is raised to the kingdom of heaven more than all thy brethren…for thou art blessed before all women on the earth, because thou shalt be the fullness of all fullnesses and the perfection of all perfections… thou who shalt be sung of as blessed in all generations…who shall inherit the whole kingdom of the Light.”

That she gazes fixedly into the air for the space of an hour suggests that she experiences a visionary trance or altered state of consciousness. The Gospel of Mary describes one of her visionary experiences in more detail:

Peter said to Mary, “Sister, we know that the Savior loved you more than the rest of women. Tell us the words of the Savior which you remember—which you know, but we do not know nor have we heard them.” Mary answered and said, “What is hidden from you I will proclaim to you.” And she began to speak to them these words: “I,” she said, “I saw the Lord in a vision and I said to him, ‘Lord, I saw you today in a vision.’ He answered and said to me, ‘Blessed are you, that you did not waver at the sight of me. For where the nous is, there is the treasure.’ I said to him, ‘Lord, now does one who sees the vision see through the soul or through the spirit?’ The Savior answered and said, ‘One does not see through the soul nor through the spirit, but through the nous which is between the two—that is what sees the vision…’”

The vision comes by way of a reorientation of the soul, a metanoia, a turning about which gives rise to the nous which is something that comes to birth between the soul and the spirit and which sees the vision. The nous is most often translated as “mind,” yet it means something more spiritual and subtle, more akin to “enlightened mind,” or “divine soul,” or “awakened consciousness.” It is this reorientation of the soul which turns the soul to the spirit and gives birth to the nous. The Exegesis on the Soul describes such a reorientation of the soul from external things to internal and spiritual realities.

“As long as the soul keeps running about everywhere copulating with whomever she meets and defiling herself, she exists in suffering. But when she perceives the straits she is in and weeps before the Father and repents, then the Father will have mercy on her and he will make her womb turn from the external domain and will turn it again inward, so that the soul will regain her proper character…. So when the womb of the soul by the will of the Father, turns itself inward, it is baptized and is immediately cleansed of the external pollution which was pressed upon it, just as garments when dirty, are put into water and turned about until their dirt is removed and they become clean. And so the cleansing of the soul is to regain the newness of her former nature and to turn herself back again.”

This reorientation of the soul towards the spirit, this new relationship between the soul and the spirit from which the nous comes into being, parallels the relationship between Mary Magdalen and the Savior. This perhaps illustrates the meaning of the enigmatic line in the Gospel of Philip, “The Sophia whom they call the barren is the mother of the angels, and the consort of Christ is Mary Magdalen.” Even as the orientation of the soul inward to the spirit gives birth to the nous, so Mary’s orientation toward the Savior gives rise to her vision and understanding. The soul, like Sophia as the mother of the angels, bears spiritual children when she is oriented toward the spirit, as further described in The Exegesis of the Soul:

“Thus when the soul had adorned herself again in her beauty and enjoyed her beloved, and he also loved her. And when she had intercourse with him, she got from him the seed that is the life-giving Spirit, so that by him she bears good children and rears them. For this is the great, perfect marvel of birth.”

This birth is by means of that mystic kiss described in the Gospel of Philip by which the perfect conceive and which the Savior shares often with Mary. This is the birth of the nous when the soul gives birth by the life-giving Spirit.

This metaphoric sexual imagery gives rise to another hotly debated question as to whether Mary Magdalen was actually a prostitute before her metanoia. Whether in history she was or not is really not important to the Gnostic perspective. The association of Mary with the story of the repentant prostitute who after a metanoia becomes united to Christ in a spiritual way becomes a story of the condition of the Gnostic soul in the world and the means for its redemption. The relationship between the existential condition of the human soul in the world and the figure of the prostitute is made most clear in a passage again from The Exegesis of the Soul.

“Wise men of old gave the soul a feminine name. Indeed she is female in her nature as well. She even has a womb. As long she was alone, a single one, with the Father, she was virgin and in form androgynous. But when she fell down into a body and came to this life, then she fell into the hands of many robbers. And the wanton creatures passed her from one to another and made use of her. Some made use of her by force, while others did so by seducing her with a gift. In short they defiled her and she lost her virginity.

“And in her body she prostituted herself and gave herself to one and all, considering each one she was about to embrace to be her husband. When she had given herself to wanton, unfaithful adulterers, so that they might make use of her, then she sighed deeply and repented. But even when she turns her face from those adulterers, she runs to others and they compel her to live with them and render service to them upon their bed, as if they were her masters. Out of shame she no longer dares to leave them, whereas they deceive her for a long time, pretending to be true and faithful husbands, as if they greatly respected her. And after all this, they abandon her and go.”

This passage makes it clear that, as the psychic perspective would propose that repentance and change of behavior is all that is needed, the Gnostic knows that repentance alone is not enough for salvation and freedom, the mystical vision and union as well must take place. There must be a change of relationship between the soul and the spirit, between the nous and Christ. We ourselves, even as Mary Magdalen, must become the Beloved of the Logos.

The key to this relationship is told in the story of Jesus’ response to the kind, loving and knowing act of a weeping woman, who anoints the feet of her Lord, and washes them with her tears and her hair. Jesus responds to her when questioned about her status, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much.” We can see in this story the keynote of love and forgiveness. Mary Magdalen has been called in our liturgies, “the pattern of our love.” The feeling tone of such love is pure forgiveness. Someone in an exalted state of consciousness once said, “Such forgiveness, such forgiveness, such forgiveness in the very being of consciousness itself.” The response to such forgiveness is a gratitude that transcends the tongue’s speech. If each of us could know what Mary knew, that those from whom we have been sent love us with a gratitude that we can scarcely imagine; if we knew what Mary knew, we would have no fear of death, no fear of anything of this world, for we would know the Beloved of our Souls.

It is such a love that casts out all fear; it is the truth that sets free. It is a love that transcends all of our anxious attachments whether physical, emotional, intellectual or ideational. It is where the soul merges and rests, moves and merges and rests again with the spirit. It is a movement and a rest, a rhythm and a dance, inwardly at rest and outwardly moving in the world or outwardly at rest and inwardly in motion and dynamic union, like looking at your soul in a mirror in front of a mirror, the reflection being reflected upon and within itself for ever and ever. The Gospel of Thomas describes such an experience where Jesus says, “When they ask you what is the sign of the Father in you, tell them: It is a movement and a rest.”

Everything else that worldly life promises us is but a paltry substitute, a sham, a seducing lie distracting us from the real union. The true beauty, the true joy for which the soul, the bride of the spirit, longs is the true Bridegroom. This Beloved never uses or abuses us, never abandons us, as do the false and temporal promises of this world. When we have this Gnosis, we know the Beloved in eternity, we know who we are, from whence we have come, and whither we are going. This is the ecstasy of the union with the Beloved, out of time, out of the limitations of flesh. Sometimes this union is found in another in this world. Most often it is a relationship with something transcendent, which can nonetheless deepen, transform, and give greater meaning to our terrestrial relationships. If we have this love, it does not matter with whom, with what gender, or how this love manifests in our lives. However the silly dramas and romances of our lives play out, however we may have won or lost in love, what is important is that timeless and limitless love of the Savior, and that we recognize ourselves, like Mary, as the Beloved of the Logos. May we find that Bridechamber of the Light, as we take Mary Magdalen as “the pattern of our love.” Just as Jesus said to Mary, so let it be said of us that we “loved much.”


Steven Marshall is the Bishop of Queen of Heaven Gnostic Church, a parish of the Ecclesia Gnostica in Portland, Oregon.

Bread From Heaven: The Inner Transubstantiation

A Homily for the Day of Corpus Christi

by Bishop Steven Marshall

The feast of Corpus Christi, celebrated on the Thursday following Trinity Sunday as a solemn commemoration of the Holy Eucharist, is a fairly recent festival in the development of the liturgy of the Western Church. It was officially adopted by the Roman Catholic Church under Pope Clement V at the General Council of Vienne in 1311. It later became an especially important date in the recognition of various esoteric orders and mystical developments from within Christianity, such as the Freemasons and the Rosicrucians. The date carries a central importance in the Fama Fraternitatis, the seminal document of the Rosicrucian orders throughout the world. During the late Middle Ages the festival was observed with a grand procession of the exposed host in a pageant joined by religious orders, prelates, sovereigns, princes, magistrates and members of various craft guilds. The procession was followed by miracle plays put on by Guild members. Some have hypothesised that such ritual dramas were the beginnings of the degrees in Freemasonry. One of the reasons for its adoption by more Gnostic and mystically oriented movements throughout its history could be similar to the reasons for the veneration of St. Paul the Apostle by the early Gnostics, that being that this feast day was originally inspired by a spiritual experience.

Robert de Torote, Bishop of Liège, ordered its first celebration in his diocese in 1246 AD through the inspired persuasion of the Blessed Juliana, a visionary and the prioress of the convent of Mont Cornillon. A devotee of the Most Blessed Sacrament ever since her youth, her feeling for the Eucharist increased even more after a vision in which she saw the Church under a full moon bearing one dark spot. She interpreted the dark spot as the failure of the Church to adequately revere the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist and the real presence of Christ in its elements of bread and wine.

Why give reverence to a seeming piece of bread? Such would seem to be the height of bondage to materiality to a professor of Gnosticism. Yet a sacramental practice designed around something as common and simple as a wafer of bread can not be accused of materialism. Material things are two-edged swords. They can be the symbols of transubstantiation that provide windows to transcendence, or they can be the closed blinds upon that window that prevents us from seeing anything beyond the material. Gnostics do not deny the reality of matter. Nor is matter inherently evil to the Gnostic. The crux of the problem is that a reductionistic materialism or preoccupation with material things tends to swallow up or deny the experience of spiritual reality. Both the outer material reality and the inner spiritual reality are real to the Gnostic. One is not real to the exclusion of the other. A connection exists between the outer and the inner. When experiences of the outer life symbolise events of the inner spiritual life then these experiences can be called synchronicities in Jungian terms. When external events become metaphors of the experience of an inward and spiritual grace then these events can be called sacraments or mysteries.

St Paul the Apostle in his Epistle to the Corinthians writes down the earliest written account of the institution of one of these mysteries, the sacrament of the Eucharist:

“For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He brake it, and He said: Take, eat; this is my Body, which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of me. After the same manner also, He took the cup, when He had supped, saying: This cup is the new testament in my Blood; this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this Bread, and drink this cup, ye show the Lord’s death till He come.”

“Ye show forth the Lord’s death till He come,” has particular significance from a Gnostic point of view, since the death recalls the release of the Christ from matter and the taking on of his light vesture which is his true and spiritual body. Yet death also bears for the Gnostic an almost reversed meaning as the descent of the Life of Christ into matter in the incarnation and also mystically in the sacrifice of the Mass.

Corpus Christi means “Body of Christ,” which expression has been misinterpreted in two different ways in mainstream Christianity. What most know as the Roman Catholic view that the consecrated host becomes factually human flesh—which view is not actually shared by most educated Catholics—is a misinterpretation of the Aristotelian philosophy regarding the terms substance and transubstantiation. The term substance in Aristotle’s philosophy actually refers to the ontological essence of what a thing is, rather than its outward sensibility. So transubstantiation refers to a change in the ontological essence of what a thing is, rather than how it is interpreted by the senses. A thing’s substance can be changed into something else while its outward sensibility remains the same. In this case the ontological essence of the bread becomes the “Body of Christ” through its consecration in the celebration of the Eucharist, while the host to all outward and ordinary senses remains a wafer of bread.

The other misinterpretation, widely known as the Protestant view, is that the whole expression, “Body of Christ,” is only a symbolic commemoration of an historical event and nothing else. The Gnostic view is not too dissimilar from the original Aristotelian meaning of ìtransubstantiationî with one difference. The Gnostic would emphasize the spiritual or pneumatic interpretation of the term. Rather than transubstantiation into material flesh, the Gnostic experiences the change as a transubstantiation into the spiritual “Body of Christ,” which is of the substance of a light vesture or body of light. The Gospel According to St. John calls the sacramental host “the living bread that came down from heaven.” So we are addressing a living or spiritual substance from a transcendent source, rather than an inanimate and physical one from the matter of earth.

“Amen, Amen, I say unto you: He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. I am that Bread of Life. This is the Bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

The transubstantiation of a wafer of bread into the Body of Christ is thus spiritual and subtle in nature, rather than wholly physical and sensible by our ordinary senses in our ordinary state of consciousness. What Jesus calls “my flesh” is then also of a spiritual nature and not physically human like ours as indicated in the Gospel of Philip.

“The Lord rose from the dead. He became as he used to be, but now his body was perfect. He did indeed possess flesh, but this flesh is true flesh. Our flesh is not true, but we possess only an image of the true.”

The Gospel of Philip, which can be considered a source document for Gnostic sacramental theology, further describes the coming of Christ as the descent of the “Bread of Heaven” and the sowing of the truth, like the seed of grain, everywhere throughout creation.

“Before Christ came there was no bread in the world, just as paradise, the place where Adam was, had many trees to nourish the animals but no wheat to sustain Man. Man used to feed like the animals but when Christ came, the Perfect One, he brought bread from heaven in order that Man might be nourished with the food of Man. The Archons thought that it was by their own power and will that they were doing what they did, but the Holy Spirit in secret was accomplishing everything through them as she wished. Truth, which existed since the beginning, is sown everywhere. And many see it as it is sown, but few are they who see it as it is reaped.”

In the last two sentences of this passage we receive a clue to the mystery of transubstantiation. The seeing of the truth as it is sown might be equated with the ordinary sensing of the ritual of the Eucharist, while the seeing of the truth as it is reaped might be equated with the non-ordinary sensing of the spiritual change, both inwardly and outwardly, as we partake of the light-power and spiritual sustenance offered to us in the Eucharistic meal. Likewise in the Egyptian Mysteries to which the Alexandrian Gnostics were heir, the risen Osiris is symbolised by a shock of wheat carried on a litter in procession. Thus bread and the wheat from which it is made becomes a symbol of resurrected Life and restoration to the Light. The sentence directly preceding in the latter passage from the Gospel of Philip describes the role of the Holy Spirit in providing these spiritual mysteries through material elements. The Holy Spirit, who is acknowledged by the Gnostics to be the spiritual mother of Christ, makes the change of substance, the transubstantiation, that sanctifies the bread to become the Body of Christ. Even so in the esoteric teachings of the Eleusinian mysteries, Kore, mythologically related to Sophia and Isis, weaves while she is in the Underworld the garment of light for the soul and cooks up the ambrosial food that nourishes it in its “flight into the sun.” The change of substance in the Eucharist, just as the transformation of the soul in the Eleusinian mysteries, is accomplished through a feminine power, the power of the Holy Spirit, our Celestial Mother and Consoler.

What is more important than diddling over sacramental theology is that something in the substance has changed and thus we can experience the same change by our participation in the mystery of this transformation of the oblations of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of the Christos.

One of the difficulties of seeing the miraculous in the plain is the materialism and reductionism of our contemporary culture. By this we do not proscribe having material things or maintaining a practice that includes physical symbols of a transcendent reality. The message intended is that through an overvaluing of the material world, we have forgotten how to use symbols and mysteries as windows to transcendence; we have lost the eyes to see and the ears to hear.

A profound difference exists between the symbols and ritual of a mystery and the signs and doctrines of mainstream religion. Most mainstream religion has forsaken the symbols and the mystery and have clung to signs and dogmatic beliefs in their place. Then all that remains of the rituals are but replicas without life, without the Spirit, without the capacity to induce Gnosis, the intimate acquaintance and intuitive knowing of an interior and spiritual reality.

The effort of our Gnostic sacramental work is to reclaim and restore the symbols and the myth, the mystery and the magic of our spiritual and religious heritage. Transubstantiation is not a doctrinal belief or a dogma of faith to the Gnostic but an experience, leaving an indelible stamp upon our consciousness. Instead of dogmatic theology we receive a mystical strand of interior images, sounds and sensations, which become the poetic and archetypal “grist for the mill” that grinds out a meaning for our experience. The host enthroned in the monstrance or elevated in the Mass is to the physical eyes of one in the ordinary state of consciousness nothing but a wafer of wheaten bread. Yet a change has occurred in our participation in the mystery of the Eucharist. It is no longer the same as before our experience of the mystery. Something has changed both in the substance and in ourselves. The “eternal life” that we receive is the recognition of the immortal spark of light within us, and by its increase we bring more light into the world. As the Christos hath said, “the bread that I give is my flesh, which I give for the life of the whole world.” Our light and our consciousness is increased by our partaking of the divine light embodied in its changed substance. The transubstantiation is not so much out there but in us; in the deepest and truest core of our being the ontological substance of who we are is changed. By our consciously, and I emphasise “consciously”, connecting the recognition of our interior spark of the divine light with the real spiritual presence, the transcendental reality embodied in the sacramental Host, it truly becomes for us that Most Precious Gift, a gift from the Treasury of the Light, The Heavenly Bread, the Life of the whole world.

When we participate in such a mystery our spiritual eyes are opened; we see and feel the light in the Host, because we find the same light in ourselves. We see the “truth as it is reaped.” When we give reverence to the consecrated Host as the embodiment of the real presence of Christ, we reverence the spark of light that dwells in all of us. When we experience the divine mystery we become conscious of our true and royal Self; we apprehend that Self, which as in a mirror, is the image of the Christ within.

The Host becomes a body for the Divine Light that “lighteth every one that cometh into the world,” so that, as we partake of that light and participate in its increase of our own light and consciousness, it becomes the way-bread of the weary pilgrim on the spiritual journey back to the Light, the Light from which we and the Mystery have both originated. It becomes the Heavenly Bread, the Bread of the Angels, the partaking of which can not replace the journey but which is the necessary sustenance on that journey, without which we would not have the nourishment, the strength, the life or the consciousness to endure. It becomes both mystically and cosmically, for us and for all the worlds, the Bread of Life, the Living Bread that came down from heaven, the Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ within.


Steven Marshall is the Bishop of Queen of Heaven Gnostic Church, a parish of the Ecclesia Gnostica in Portland, Oregon.

Devotion to the Triune Deity

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.