The Lectionary of the Ecclesia Gnostica

An Introduction

by Stephan A. Hoeller
Regionary Bishop, Ecclesia Gnostica

It is a time honored practice of sacramental Christendom to make available to its communicants selected passages of sacred scripture, marshalled in accordance with the holidays and seasons of the Church Year. The Roman Missal as well as the Roman Breviary (especially in their pre-Vatican II form) are eminent and admirable examples of such selections. While the Protestant emphasis on a non-selective reading of scripture has robbed some of Christendom of the use of Lectionaries (as such selections are often called) such books retain their value to this day. The Gnostic Church possesses a unique lectionary in the English language which is enjoying an increasing popularity. It is known officially mainly by its descriptive title: The Collects, Lessons and Gospels to be used throughout the Church Year and was issued under the authority of the bishop of the Ecclesia Gnostica in America in 1974.

The Gnostic Church [Ecclesia Gnostica] is a Christian church and considers itself as a part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Ecclesia founded by the Logos and His apostles. In view of this, it is evident that the canonical Christian scriptures would be well represented in its Lectionary. The availability of a fairly large number of Gnostic scriptures in our days makes it possible as well as desirable, however, that scriptures of the specifically Gnostic corpus should be included in fair numbers. In addition to the canonical Christian and the Gnostic scriptures, it seemed also desirable to include a certain number of gnostically related writings, such as the Hermetic, the Mandaean and the Cathar scriptures as well as the Chaldean Oracles. The Lectionary is not of a universalistic character and thus it does not include writings from traditions other than the Christian Gnostic, although the closest relatives of this tradition, i.e. the Manichaean, Mandaean and Hermetic documents are represented also. Contemporary scholarship recognizes that Hermeticism with its texts, such as the Corpus Hermeticum, the Poimandres, and others, is but a non-Christian variant of Gnosticism, as is the Mandaean religion. Manichaeanism is in fact more Christian than the former two schools of thought. The Prophet Mani considered himself a spiritual apostle of Jesus Christ, and the Manichaeans used several known Christian scriptures, such as the Gospel According to Thomas. There exists sufficient justification therefore, for the inclusion of all of these variants of the Gnostic tradition.

The various Sundays and Holidays of the Church Year have ascribed to them special intentions. The collects, lessons (sometimes known as epistles in other lectionaries and liturgies) and gospels have been carefully selected so as to express, as far as possible, the intentions of the Sundays and Holidays. Of the collects, 24 are taken from Manichaean sources. (A collect is a prayer manifesting a central keynote or point.) The break-down of the sources of the lessons is as follows: Manichaean: 14; Pistis Sophia: 3; other Pre-Nag Hammadi scriptures: 14; Hermetic Writings: 4; Mandaean Scriptures: 3; Cathar Scriptures: 1; Chaldean Oracles: 3; other miscellaneous Gnostic sources: 4; Canonical Scriptures (both Old and New Testament): 39. The gospels in the Lectionary are taken from the following scriptures: Manichaean: 1; Pistis Sophia: 3; other Pre-Nag Hammadi scriptures: 4; Gospel According to Thomas: 18; Gospel of Truth: 7; Gospel of Phillip: 19; Hermetic Writings: 2; Cathar Scriptures: 2; Canonical Scriptures (both Old and New Testament): 31. The Lectionary comprises 185 pages, including seven pages of occasional collects to be used at the discretion of clergy either within or outside of the context of the Eucharist.

Scriptures for Private Study

Gnostic clergy and communicants ought to be particularly aware of what may be called the primary sources of Gnostic teachings. A primary source is a scripture that comes to us directly from the ancient Gnostics themselves. Among these primary sources we find, first the Nag Hammadi Library, and second, the codices and treatises whose discovery precedes the Nag Hammadi find. The latter are: the Askew, Bruce and Berlin Codices, the Acts of Thomas, Acts of John, and a few others. Less reliable because of their anti-Gnostic bias, and no longer qualifying as primary sources, are the references and quotations of Gnostic content in the writings of certain Church Fathers, Epiphanius, Irenaeus and others, who, for the most part, acted as polemicists against the Gnostic teachers of the early Christian centuries. Although certainly biased and often distorted, the information in these sources is still often quite informative.

To address ourselves first to the most important primary source, we must turn now to the Nag Hammadi Library of Gnostic writings. There are six separate major categories of writings, when they are analyzed according to subject matter. They are as follows:

  1. Writings of creative and redemptive mythology, including Gnostic alternative versions of creation and salvation. These are: The Apocryphon of John (two versions); The Hypostasis of the Archons; On the Origin of the World; The Apocalypse of Adam; The Paraphrase of Shem.
  2. Observations and commentaries on diverse Gnostic themes, such as the nature of reality, the nature of the soul, the relationship of the soul to the world: The Gospel of Truth; The Treatise on the Resurrection; The Tripartite Tractate; The Tractate of Eugnostos the Blessed (two versions); The Second Treatise of the Great Seth; The Teachings of Sylvanus; The Testimony of Truth.
  3. Liturgical and initiatory texts. (These may be of special interest to persons of sacramental and initiatic interests): The Treatise on the Eighth and Ninth; The Prayer of Thanksgiving; The Valentinian Exposition; The Three Steles of Seth; The Prayer of the Apostle Paul. (The Gospel of Phillip, listed under category 6, does in part have great relevance to this category also, for it is in effect a treatise on Gnostic sacramental theology).
  4. Writings dealing primarily with the feminine deific and spiritual principle, particularly with the Divine Sophia: The Thunder: Perfect Mind; The Thought of Norea; The Sophia of Jesus Christ; The Exegesis of the Soul.
  5. Writings pertaining to the lives and experiences of some of the apostles: The Apocalypse of Peter; The Letter of Peter to Phillip; The Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles; The First and Second Apocalypses of James; The Apocalypse of Paul.
  6. Last but certainly not least, the scriptures which contain sayings of Jesus as well as descriptions of incidents in His life: The Dialogue of the Saviour; The Book of Thomas the Contender; The Apocalypse of James; The Gospel of Phillip; The Gospel According to Thomas.

This leaves a small number of scriptures of the Nag Hammadi Library which may be called “unclassifiable.” It also must be kept in mind that the passage of time and translation into languages very different from the original have rendered many of these scriptures abstruse in style. Some of them are difficult reading, especially to those not familiar with Gnostic imagery, nomenclature and the like. Lacunae are also present in some of these scriptures. The most readily comprehensible of the Nag Hammadi scriptures is undoubtedly The Gospel According to Thomas, with The Gospel of Phillip and the Gospel of Truth as close seconds in order of easy comprehension. There are various translations of most of these scriptures available; the most complete being the one volume collection The Nag Hammadi Library in English, (edited by J. Robinson) which is readily available.

The Gnostic writings, whose discovery precedes that of the Nag Hammadi Library have been in large part accurately and sympathetically translated by the late scholarly Theosophist, G.R.S. Mead, in such works as Pistis Sophia, Fragments of a Faith Forgotten, and his series of smaller books, entitled Echoes from the Gnosis. Mead’s works have been reprinted in recent, albeit probably small, editions. There is also an excellent selection of Gnostic writings of the pre Nag Hammadi variety, entitled The Gospel of the Gnostics, edited by another outstanding scholar and Theosophist, Duncan Greenlees. The same scholar has also edited and published a very fine selection of Manichaean writings under the title, The Gospel of the Prophet Mani. Both of these fine books are out of print, but may be obtained in Libraries of the Theosophical Society for study.

Nearly twenty years have elapsed since the complete translations of the Nag Hammadi Library was completed and published. The exegetical literature based on these writings is slowly growing. Curiously enough, one of the most useful books of this sort is still one which was published very soon after the Nag Hammadi Library: The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels. Some other useful authors in this field are: Bentley Layton, Giovanni Filoramo, Simone Petrement, Dan Merkur, Marvin Meyer and Ioan Couliano. An increasing number of books employing the name “Gnostic” in their titles are being sold. The usefulness and authenticity of such literature need to be evaluated and judged by individual students on a case by case basis.

Conclusion

It is important to remember that later varieties and recensions of Gnostic teachings are present in virtually all transmissions of the Occult tradition in the West. Some of these later variations resemble the original model more closely than others. Clergy, members and other persons interested in the Gnostic Church often possess Martinist, Masonic, Rosicrucian, Theosophical and similar affiliations and dedications. All of these schools of thought, whether they acknowledge it or not, are related not only to each other, but by way of historical and mystical descent also to the matrix of ancient Gnosticism. (Certainly some of the leading figures of these movements have acknowledged their relationship to Gnosticism, as H.P. Blavatsky’s numerous writings on the Gnostics exemplify.)

Whatever the other interests and dedications of all of us may be, we are Gnostics. We are Gnostics moreover, not only in the sense of pursuing, or possessing a quality of consciousness that might be called Gnosis, but we are members of a specific tradition. This tradition, the Gnostic tradition, is the one represented by the Gnostic Church. It may be true that the non Gnostic branches of Christendom have or claim a certain kind of Gnosis, which they may call at times “Apostolic” or by any other name. Aspects of the Gnosis have passed into many hands over the centuries. Yet, we must not be satisfied with that which is in part, for we are heirs of the fullness, the Pleroma itself. And this is the principal reason for our interest in and dedication to the Gnostic Scriptures. These scriptures are one of our chief links with our origins. (The other links are the seven mysteries, or Sacraments and the arcane, oral tradition). It is by way of these scriptures that we may in large measure join ourselves consciously with the Fathers of the Gnosis, great sages like Valentinus, Basilides and their company. It is also thus, that through them, we are joined to the Holy Apostles and through them to their and our Master, Jesus Christ, the most precious flower of the Pleroma, the Logos, the Pansother, the fountainhead of all true Gnosis.

The Feast of Holy Mary of Magdala

July 22

Color: White

The COLLECT

O helper of God and mystic silence before the Aeon, the father of the universe sees thy Angel throughout before his face. We invoke thee, O holy feminine power, by the angels who rest on the four pillars, whose feet are firmly fixed on the foundations of the divine abyss! We adore thee, great and glorious woman in whose bosom the father of the Aeons was concealed from the beginning! Hail to thee, who art declared in the disk of the night-shining moon; who art present in the abysses of the mighty waters and whose celestial radiance is concealed in the womb of the earth! Despised art thou by the fools of the world, but ever revered by the knowers of the truth! Maiden of the mysteries, consort of the Christos, beloved of the Logos; praise, glory, and reverence shall be thine now and for evermore. Amen.

The LESSON

The Lesson is taken from the Book of the Perfect Mind:
I was sent by the Power and came to those who thought of me. I was found by those who sought me. Behold me, ye who thought of me. And ye who wanted to hear me, listen to me. And ye who expected me, accept me. And do not drive me away from before your eyes. And let not your voice or your ear hate me. Do not ignore me anywhere or at any time. Be careful, do not ignore me, for I am the first and the last. I am the honored one and the despised one. I am the harlot and I am the saint. I am the woman and I am the virgin. I am the mother and I am the daughter. I am barren and I have many children. I have many husbands and I am unmarried. I am the physician who heals and I am the one who wounds. I am the bride and I am the bridegroom. I am the mother of my husband and my husband is my father. I am the daughter of my husband, and my husband is my son. I am the sister of my husband and my husband is my brother. I am the slave of my father and I am the mistress of my son.

The GOSPEL

The gospel is taken from the Gospel of St. Luke and the Gospel according to St. Philip:
And behold a woman in the city, which was a harlot, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisees house brought an alabaster box of ointment. And she stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. When the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself: This man if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him; for she is a harlot. And Jesus turned to the woman, and said unto Simon the Pharisee: Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet; but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss; but this woman hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint; but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee: Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much.

The Sophia whom they call barren is the mother of the angels. And the consort of Christ is Mary Magdalen. 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 Saviour answered and said to them: ‘Why do I not love you like her?’ There were three who walked with the Lord at all times, Mary his mother, and her sister and Magdalene, whom they called his consort. For Mary was his sister and his mother and his consort.

Video Homily for the Day of Holy Mary of Magdala by Bishop Stephan Hoeller

A Homily for the Day of Holy Mary of Magdala by Bishop Steven Marshall

Day of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul

June 29

Color: Red

The COLLECT

We give Thee most high praise and hearty thanks for thy glorious apostles Peter and Paul who have been chosen vessels of Thy grace, and lights of the world unto several generations; and we pray that, rejoicing in their fellowship, and participating in the works bestowed on us by their powers handed on in holy succession, we may partake with them of the heavenly kingdom. Amen.

The LESSON

The Lesson is taken from the first Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians:
Though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. Unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak; I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you. Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I not as one that beateth the air. But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection; lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.

The GOSPEL

The Gospel is taken from the Gospel according to St. Matthew:
When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying: Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am? And they said: Some say that Thou art John the Baptist, some Elias, and others Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them: But who say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said: Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him: Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father who is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.