Gospel ofTruth —II
Last week we plowed into the first section of the Gospel of Truth, attributed to Valentinus, ending with numerous descriptions of a Heaven on Earth. The last section that we read was this knotty Zen puzzle:
“And as for him, them he found in himself, and him they found in themselves, that illimitable, inconceivable one, that perfect Father who made the all, in whom the All is, and whom the All lacks, since he retained in himself their perfection, which he had not given to the all.”
A wondrous concept is embedded in the descriptor: “in whom the All is, and whom the All lacks”. And it generates much food for thought, much revamping of our WASP visual image of God as a benevolent Grandfather with an unconditional forgiving kiss for all his erring children. This sentence implies that God exists inside and outside of Himself, and was Himself responsible for the flawed universe that Valentinus complained of. Remember, last week we heard Valentinus accuse God of creating evil:
“Forgetfulness did not exist with the Father, although it existed because of him.”
In other words, God created the forgetfulness which drew Sophia away from the Pleroma. With the phrase, “in whom the All is, and whom the All lacks” is summarized the Gnostic attitude toward the Father. To be sure, as a mythologem, mind you, God is still the “illimitable, inconceivable one, that perfect Father who made the all”, but, “he retained in himself their perfection, which he had not given to the all.” God has held something back for Himself, the I AM Presence has declared its sovereignty over All, including anything in the NOT ALL. Here, again, we find the portrait of an infinitely loving God face to face with an evil, self-centered, demonic God.
Let us review Wikipedia’s summary remarks on the Gospel of Truth, which try to reconcile Valentine doctrine with the doctrine of the Catholic Church, by citing parallel meanings found in the accepted gospels; equating, specifically, Valentinus’ “error”, with the canonical gospels’ “Satan”, and Valentinus’ “fullness' for the 'deficient” with the canonical gospels’ “inexpressible joy”:
“In this gospel we see darkness and Satan recast as 'error', which can be taken as another way of describing the same thing. It's a poetic way of presenting the data of life: the world is dark, Jesus is the light. But Jesus is also the path to the father. What the father brings, according to this gospel, is 'fullness' for the 'deficient'. But this is clearly the same thing as the 'inexpressible joy' and the peace that passes all understanding discussed in the canonical gospels. It's the place of rest. It's the Kingdom of Heaven, which followers of Jesus find, and live in, while they are still on earth.”
Thus, we arrive again at this phrase:
“the Kingdom of Heaven, which followers of Jesus find, and live in, while they are still on earth.”
Knowledge of the God of Light and the God of Dark, the God of existence and the God of non-existence, frees the devotee to enter the celestial realms from any dimension, including Earthly existence; knowledge, of the God of the All, allows the devotee to enter the inarticulate Cloud of Unknowing and Know All in union with the Father, while yet retaining a memory, an image, of the lower world. Moreover, knowledge of the God of Light and the the God of Dark, ensures that the devotee may live a righteous, purposeful life with one foot in Heaven and, still, one foot on Earth.
Going on with Valentinus:
“The Father was not jealous. What jealousy, indeed, is there between him and his members? For, even if the Aeon had received their perfection, they would not have been able to approach the perfection of the Father, because he retained their perfection in himself, giving it to them as a way to return to him and as a knowledge unique in perfection. He is the one who set the All in order and in whom the All existed and whom the All lacked.”
Once again, we see a God who is satisfied with His creation including its flaws, or more generally put, its deficiencies, its negative charge. I have heard it said the material world, including all of us, is God’s “play”. This idea certainly smacks of anthropomorphism, and yet the paragraph above makes it seem almost as though God’s creation is a little game He plays with Himself; He takes away knowledge of the Pleroma with a cosmic forgetfulness, and then leads the way back to Himself, somehow made more perfect through the disciplines of mundane existence.
“As one of whom some have no knowledge, he desires that they know him and that they love him. For what is it that the All lacked, if not the knowledge of the Father?”
Note the phrase, “he desires that they know him”; such is God’s game: He creates All, inflicts forgetfulness on It, and then He DESIRES its return unto Himself; thus, in the last analysis, the devotee’s motivation to acquire knowledge, gnosis, is Love of Self; it is Self-Love that generates the DESIRE in God the reclaim His lost Selves. God hides Himself from the insensitive, but for the initiates He manifests His Cosmic Personality through every sign and wonder emanating from the material world. God loves the world as He loves Himself; and, even in disguise, His Presence can be felt. This sentence makes me realize how every minute of my life is filled with Love, the connectedness of Love, the artifacts of Love. I don’t think Love motivated the creation of Man, but Love pervades every molecule of my existence, pulling me back to the Source. Are we really little cosmic yo-yos, endlessly going up and down the heavenly stairs, or is there a point of stillness where all activities cease, and peace reigns over the waters? Who can know?
Going on, we encounter a change in narrative direction; we have turned from a discussion of the Father to what can only be understood as a discussion of the Son; in fact, the paragraph almost seems to refer to the episode in Jesus life when He, a 12-year-old boy, instructed the doctors in the synagogue:
“He became a guide, quiet and in leisure. In the middle of a school he came and spoke the Word, as a teacher. Those who were wise in their own estimation came to put him to the test. But he discredited them as empty-headed people. They hated him because they really were not wise men.”
This doesn’t necessarily have to refer to the 12-year-old episode, because Jesus had this negative reaction to His teaching often enough, during His career spent trying to change the world’s mind. Sometimes, because we esteem Jesus so highly, we kid ourselves into thinking that Jesus was universally hailed as a hero and a saint, that Jesus’ enemies were an exception not the rule; but there was probably more negativity attached to His reputation among His contemporaries than we think. It is interesting that Christianity took hold in the hearts of the common man—the experts rejected Him. It just goes to show that power over others corrupts itself, and moral acts performed on the basis of Law are dangerously infected with Evil Intent. A doctrine based on the Law has no heart. On the other hand, Jesus’ Doctrine contained, among so many other things, the seeds of democracy: the seeds of a universal equality among Men—a new idea that could, only after ages of evolution, flower into a kind of freedom, a freedom inexorably driving toward a Heaven on Earth.
We will recall Jesus’ declaration that Heaven is only available to a child-like heart. Perhaps this is why it was easier for the uneducated (child-minded) peasant folk to resonate with Jesus’ message, than it was for the San Hedron to abandon their Law. Here, Valentinus refers to the child-like knowledge of children—innocent but knowing, intimate with the inarticulate truth:
“After all these came also the little children, those who possess the knowledge of the Father. When they became strong they were taught the aspects of the Father's face. They came to know and they were known. They were glorified and they gave glory. In their heart, the living book of the Living was manifest, the book which was written in the thought and in the mind of the Father and, from before the foundation of the All, is in that incomprehensible part of him.”
This paragraph is so rich in meaning I don’t know where to start. It begins by reminding us that, to acquire knowledge of the Father, Child-like innocence is necessary as a starting point; but it goes on to say that spiritual progress is made through the acquisition of deeper knowledge. “When they became strong they were taught the aspects of the Father's face. They came to know and they were known.” This sentence reiterates the suggestion, I have made several times, that spiritual progress is made in the physical; the energy of motion, of time, has a mysterious effect on the spirit, and growth acquired in the physical translate to growth in the celestial.
I was pondering the question of why innocence is required of the initiates, when it occurred to me that this is not an unheard-of concept in my field, music teaching. For instance, it is customary for new music students to relearn their technique, because teachers prefer to build a student from the ground up—preconceived ideas will often come between the student and the new concepts he has come to the new teacher to learn.
I had a friend who won a prestigious performance competition on the cello; her reward was to get to play the Dvorak Cello Concerto with the New York Philharmonic, and to get free lessons for the summer with a famous French cellist. So she played what is arguably the hardest cello concerto in the literature with one of the world’s great orchestras, and then she went to this teacher who wouldn’t let her play anything but open strings for a month! She had to relearn her bow technique from the ground up; that is to say, she had to UNLEARN a lot of bad habits. We have bad mental habits too, and we must unlearn them in order to experience the virgin birth in the Kingdom of the Father. That does’t mean we have to STAY childlike—we just need to be childlike enough to start over; then the work begins.
Once again we return to the issue of language. Remember that our thoughts are made out of words, and that misdirection of semantic meaning is one of Satan’s favorite tricks. Therefore, the more a verbalized doctrine dominates a person’s thinking, the harder it for him to tear all those verbal structures apart and start over; also, the easier it is for Satan to feed us false thoughts.
Notice that the passage ends with:
“They came to know and they were known. They were glorified and they gave glory. In their heart, the living book of the Living was manifest, the book which was written in the thought and in the mind of the Father and, from before the foundation of the All, is in that incomprehensible part of him.”
So, the innocent mind state, you might say the “tabula rasa”, offers a perch for the new knowledge of the Father to take hold and grow into an expanded awareness of the Father. But the devotee does not acquire this knowledge by sustaining the ignorance of childhood—he comes to know, he becomes KNOWN, he gets himself NAMED, and, once his name is inscribed in the Book, he joins the Father in the incomprehensible realm of the Cloud of Unknowing.
Then there is the “Praise” factor:
“They were glorified and they gave glory. In their heart, the living book of the Living was manifest, the book which was written in the thought and in the mind of the Father,”
It seems the drive to “manifest” is essential to our spiritual structure; the desire to bring spiritual knowledge into physical reality motivates our every mundane act. In fact, the manifestation of spiritual reality may be properly thought of as “Praise”. Therefore, every note of music we hear, every word we read, every image we project onto the screen of visual sensation, is Praise. And Praise is a direct manifestation of the Face of the Father. Thus, every physicalization of an inner reality, any idea, any image, any project, MUST be thought of as Praise, and therefore, sacred.
Now what about this section?
“In their heart, the living book of the Living was manifest, the book which was written in the thought and in the mind of the Father and, from before the foundation of the All, is in that incomprehensible part of him.”
For me, the key to this passage is the idea that the “book”—by this we can safely assume is meant the “akashic record”— the “book” “is in that incomprehensible part of him.” The book cannot be written and cannot be understood, and yet it is written on the heart; it LIVES in the heart. This sounds like the Cloud of Unknowing to me.
I will now quote a lengthy section without interruption. It is all about Jesus’ teaching, the mystery of His purpose on Earth, and His ultimate demise on the cross. It opens with the statement that the truth of the “Book” was reserved for the Christ (the anointed one) alone, perhaps because He is the only One Who could understand it:
“This is the book which no one found possible to take, since it was reserved for him who will take it and be slain. No one was able to be manifest from those who believed in salvation as long as that book had not appeared. For this reason, the compassionate, faithful Jesus was patient in his sufferings until he took that book, since he knew that his death meant life for many. Just as in the case of a will which has not yet been opened, for the fortune of the deceased master of the house is hidden, so also in the case of the All which had been hidden as long as the Father of the All was invisible and unique in himself, in whom every space has its source.
For this reason Jesus appeared. He took that book as his own. He was nailed to a cross. He affixed the edict of the Father to the cross. Oh, such great teaching! He abases himself even unto death, though he is clothed in eternal life. Having divested himself of these perishable rags, he clothed himself in incorruptibility, which no one could possibly take from him. Having entered into the empty territory of fears, he passed before those who were stripped by forgetfulness, being both knowledge and perfection, proclaiming the things that are in the heart of the Father, so that he became the wisdom of those who have received instruction.”
It is the intercourse of temporal and eternal values in this paragraph that make it so mind-bending; man’s mind, however fervently it seeks clear-cut answers to cosmic questions, seems doomed forever to receive paradox instead of verbal reassurance. Indeed it is the ability to see two things at once that enables higher spiritual sensitivities to emerge.
There are so many beautiful, heroic expressions in this paragraph:
“Oh, such great teaching! He abases himself even unto death, though he is clothed in eternal life.”
This paragraph identifies the sacrifice of Jesus as a LESSON; by example, Jesus shows us the impotence of death, as well as the possibility of an Earthly life suffused with heavenly light. The drama of it excels all possible fiction, the flamboyance of it takes my breath away. Jesus knows no shame, for His knowledge of the Father repels all attacks on his ego; Jesus has no false ego structures, like the ones we languish under, because He is all-knowing and never falls for Satan’s sleight-of-hand. The armor of God has nary a chink, nary a scratch; it keeps out Evil and holds in the Good. Likewise must we be shameless, even in the shadow of Original Sin, because the gnostic experience cancels all Karmic debts, and frees us to explore ever-higher spiritual frontiers.
I want to emphasize this last point:
“he passed before those who were stripped by forgetfulness, being both knowledge and perfection, proclaiming the things that are in the heart of the Father, so that he became the wisdom of those who have received instruction.”
The heart of the Father became wisdom. The HEART of the Father. How are we to be instructed by the Father. I’m glad you asked:
“But those who are to be taught, the living who are inscribed in the book of the living, learn for themselves, receiving instructions from the Father, turning to him again.”
Well, so much for that question—we learn for ourselves, receiving instruction from the Father. This instruction must be of a type that cannot be written. One time at an interview for a church choir job, an earnest young assistant pastor asked me, in close, inquisitorial tones, “Who do you think Christ is?” Well the question pissed me off right away, because the term Christ is a TITLE not a name—if he had asked me who I thought the Christ was, or who I thought Jesus Christ was, I would have liked it better. Still, unperturbed, I gave the answer that I couldn’t say, that was a very personal thing, my relationship with Jesus is very private, and also inexpressible. Anybody who can describe a spiritual experience has not had one. My answer was not in this guy’s playbook. I did not get the job.
Going on, the soul’s aspiration to ASCEND to the Father is supported by the magnetism of the Father drawing the soul back to Himself:
“Since the perfection of the All is in the Father, it is necessary for the All to ascend to him. Therefore, if one has knowledge, he gets what belongs to him and draws it to himself. For he who is ignorant, is deficient, and it is a great deficiency, since he lacks that which will make him perfect. Since the perfection of the All is in the Father, it is necessary for the All to ascend to him and for each one to get the things which are his.”
The sentence, “it is necessary for the All to ascend to him and for each one to get the things which are his”, refers to things which are already his. What are these things? Clearly they are the self in God which has been forgotten. The devotee’s ascent to God is an ascent unto himself—the self he has always known but has temporarily forgotten.
Here, I will read another long quote without interruption. This is a very powerful section and speaks for itself with the tongues of angels.
“He registered them first, having prepared them to be given to those who came from him. Those whose name he knew first were called last, so that the one who has knowledge is he whose name the Father has pronounced. For he whose name has not been spoken is ignorant. Indeed, how shall one hear if his name has not been uttered? For he who remains ignorant until the end is a creature of forgetfulness and will perish with it.
If this is not so, why have these wretches no name, why do they have no sound? Hence, if one has knowledge, he is from above. If he is called, he hears, he replies, and he turns toward him who called him and he ascends to him and he knows what he is called. Since he has knowledge, he does the will of him who called him. He desires to please him and he finds rest. He receives a certain name. He who thus is going to have knowledge knows whence he came and whither he is going. He knows it as a person who, having become intoxicated, has turned from his drunkenness and having come to himself, has restored what is his own.”
It’s no wonder that this material was rejected by the Nicean Council—it is jammed full of mysticism: calls from invisible voices, astral communication with spirits (probably angels), merging of wills, turning from drunkenness into what is his own. Claiming a cosmic birthright doesn’t quite jive with the Catholic emphasis on guilt and spiritual sobriety.
I want to emphasize the sentence:
“If he is called, he hears, he replies, and he turns toward him who called him and he ascends to him and he knows what he is called.”
These words so are full of comfort and hope. I particularly like the phrase “and he ascends to him”. There is such an interplay pf magnetism and intention here. There is actually a little story here, told in steps, one stage to the next:
“God calls the forgetful devotee, whose face is turned away, the devotee turns toward God, and God’s magnetism (His Love) pulls the devotee ever closer the Source.”
It is the ASCENT that brings Heaven to earth—in other words, Heaven does not come down, we go up to meet it. Remember the passage from last week’s sermon:
“The apostle Paul has many comfortable words on the subject:
- Colossians 3:1-7:
- “1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
- 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
- I really hate to admit it, but sometimes Paul hits the nail on the head! The secret to creating a heaven on Earth is to simply will it, and there it will be: “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things”. This advice is based on the proposition that where your mind goes, your body follow. Heaven on Earth is a tangible reality for me—I reach with my imaginative self into a place beyond where I can see, and there is Heaven vibrating with colors and sounds unheard in the physical dimension. It falls over me like a blanket, and my cosmic memory suggests traces of ancient doings, times out of memory.”
In conclusion, let me reprise some of today’s discussion: today we have contemplated unusual perspectives on the Father, and considered the purposefulness of physical incarnation. For me, the operative word in this section is, above all, “ASCENT”. Religious texts are usually scantily supplied with actual play-by-play descriptions of the interplay between spirit and flesh, but this section describes the process of communication with heavenly intelligence. They are simple, vague instructions, to be sure, but there is still a very recognizable series of steps, that the initiate will already understand and the novice may soon discover by opening his attention to an abstract realm above and beyond his limited mundane ego structure. Here they are again:
1. If he is called, he hears, he replies, and he turns toward him who called him and,
2. he ascends to him and he knows what he is called.
3. Since he has knowledge, he does the will of him who called him. He desires to please him and he finds rest.
4. He receives a certain name.
Oh to hear one’s name in the BOOK. What glory!. What a relief!
Let us pray:
Jesus, the majesty of your overwhelming personality leaves us speechless; and perhaps that is a good thing. Amen.