18-Gospel of Thomas Act 2-3
Last week we were introduced to Thomas, the apostle Jesus sent on an evangelical mission to India. In the first two acts, we saw miracles of prophecy, and the storing up of treasures in heaven, in this case treasures of heavenly real estate, created in heaven for King Gundaphorus, and his brother Gad. It will be noted, I believe, that the primary interest, of the 1st and 2nd Acts of Thomas, is in the symbolic significance of the narrative activity, whereas the primary interest of this Third Act of Thomas is in the doctrinal principles and the pure sacraments of praise expressed in the long prayers offered by the apostle. This 3rd Act is filled with prayers and poetry, which present principles and images very like the wisdom of the Vedas.
Now, going on from where we left off:
After Thomas gains the sympathy of the King and his brother, who acknowledge that a mansion in heaven is better than a mansion on earth, they go out into the forest, to get away from everybody. The following speech occurs at the end of a very magical scene in which Thomas, Gundaphorus, and Gad all enter a bath in order to be baptized. The scene appears in conjunction with a Eucharistic ceremony; at this ceremony Thomas prays a beautiful prayer over them:
"26 . . . . And the apostle said unto them: I also rejoice and entreat you to receive this seal, and to partake with me in this eucharist and blessing of the Lord, and to be made perfect therein. For this is the Lord and God of all, even Jesus Christ whom I preach, and he is the father of truth, in whom I have taught you to believe. And he commanded them to bring oil, that they might receive the seal by the oil. They brought the oil therefore, and lighted many lamps; for it was night: and the king gave orders that the bath should be closed for seven days, and that no man should bathe in it: and when the seven days were done, on the eighth day they three entered into the bath by night that Judas might baptize them. And many lamps were lighted in the bath.
27 And the apostle arose and sealed them. And the Lord was revealed unto them by a voice, saying: Peace be unto you brethren. And they heard his voice only, but his likeness they saw not, for they had not yet been baptized. And Judas went up and stood upon the edge of the cistern and poured oil upon their heads and said:
"Come, thou holy name of the Christ that is above every name.
Come, thou power of the Most High, and the compassion that is perfect.
Come, gift of the Most High.
Come, compassionate mother.
Come, communion of the male.
Come, she that revealeth the hidden mysteries.
Come, mother of the seven houses, that thy rest may be in the eighth house."
[Sidebar: Note that several passages in this gospel have an Old Testament resonance with pre-Christian Gnosticism, which makes, fairly consistently, reference to a mother God.
Also, the presence of numerology, as witnessed by the catalog of "seven houses", "the eighth house", and "the five members" (below) etc., literally reeks of pre-Christian cosmology. Now, one gateway to appreciating biblical arithmetic, which abounds with mathematical metaphors, must be the theories of Pythagoras--Pythagoras (500 B.C.) who not only divided the universe into coherent proportions, but found precise personal analogs in mathematical relationships, which are, after all, very abstract, highly mental forms of consciousness.
"Come, elder of the five members, mind, thought, reflection, consideration, reason; communicate with these young men.
Come, holy spirit, and cleanse their reins and their heart, and give them the added seal, in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Ghost."
[Sidebar: This speech of Thomas has some interesting sidelights. There's clearly the Gnostic tendency toward God in everything, and there is also this remnant of the Buddha age, which divides the universe into discrete blocks and divisions and levels. Once again the type of enumeration presented above,
("Come, elder of the five members, mind, thought, reflection, consideration, reason;"),
is a very Old Testament Way of talking about truth, and it affirms and reinforces the interpretation Rudolf Steiner has placed on this period of history. I don't mind reiterating a Steiner quote I offered last week:
"In our period of evolution two streams of spiritual life are at work. One of them is the stream of wisdom, or the Buddha stream, containing the most sublime teaching of wisdom, goodness of heart and peace on earth. To enable this teaching of Buddha to permeate the hearts of all men, the Christ impulse is indispensable. The second stream is the Christ stream itself that will lead humanity from intellectuality, by way of aesthetic feeling and insight, to morality."
It is interesting that the Christ impulse is characterized, by Steiner, as leading to RIGHT ACTION by way of aesthetic feeling and insight. I, myself, would tend to summarize the aesthetic response as:
a response to order and sense--to the divine intelligence manifested in divine forms.
To be sure the word God, (omnipotent, omnipresent, eternal, limitless, unfathomable) is slightly at odds with the idea of "form", a concept which necessarily refers to the limitations, restrictions, and boundaries of an articulate, fathomable, defined, material reality. In the pantheistic world, God is in everything, the earth the sky, the stars; but now, through the incarnated Christ impulse, the omnipresent God has a personality which He extends to us as a model and a mold. Moreover, as the two historical eras pass each other in the night, the ancient karmic law of pantheism is supplanted by a new age of GRACE.
This Note by Professor F. C. Burliitt, D.D. appears as a footnote in the Gospel of Thomas:
"In the Acts of Thomas, 27, the apostle, being about to baptize Gundaphorus the king of India with his brother Gad, invokes the holy name of the Christ, and among other invocations says:'Come, O elder of the five members, mind, idea, thoughtfulness, consideration, reasoning, communicate with these youths.'
What is the essential distinction of these five words for 'mind', and what is meant by the 'elder'? We turn to the Syriac, as the original language in which our tale was composed though our present text, which rests here on two manuscripts, has now and then been bowdlerized in the direction of more conventional phraseology, a process that the Greek has often escaped. Here in the Syriac we find:'Come, Messenger of reconciliation, and communicate with the minds of these youths.'
The word for 'Come' is feminine, while 'Messenger' is masculine. This is because the whole prayer is an invocation of the Holy Spirit, which in old Syriac is invariably treated as feminine. The word for Messenger is that used in the Manichaean cosmogony for a heavenly Spirit sent from the Divine Light: this Spirit appeared as androgynous, so that the use of the word here with the feminine verb is not inappropriate. It further leads us to look out for other indications of Manichaean phraseology in the passage. But first it suggests to us that [presbuteros, elder] in our passage is a corruption of, or is used for, [presbeutes], 'an ambassador'.
As for the five words for 'mind', they are clearly the equivalents of [hauna, mad'a, re'yana, mahshebhatha, tar'itha], named by Theodore bar Khoni as the Five Shekhinas, or Dwellings, or Manifestations, of the Father of Greatness, the title by which the Manichaeans spoke of the ultimate Source of Light."
A brief review of Mancheism seems appropriate at this point, generously supplied by Wikipedia:
"Manichaeism was a major Gnostic religion that was founded by the Iranian prophet Mani (c. 216–276 AD) in the Sasanian Empire.
Manichaeism taught an elaborate dualistic cosmology describing the struggle between a good, spiritual world of light, and an evil, material world of darkness. Through an ongoing process which takes place in human history, light is gradually removed from the world of matter and returned to the world of light whence it came. Its beliefs were based on local Mesopotamian gnostic and religious movements.
Manichaeism was quickly successful and spread far through the Aramaic-Syriac speaking regions. It thrived between the third and seventh centuries, and at its height was one of the most widespread religions in the world. Manichaean churches and scriptures existed as far east as China and as far west as the Roman Empire. It was briefly the main rival to Christianity in the competition to replace classical paganism.
Manichaeism survived longer in the East than in the West, and it appears to have finally faded away after the 14th century in southern China, contemporary to the decline in China of the Church of the East – see Ming Dynasty. While most of Mani's original writings have been lost, numerous translations and fragmentary texts have survived.
An adherent of Manichaeism is called, especially in older sources, a Manichee, or more recently Manichaean. By extension, the term "manichean" is widely applied (often disparagingly) as an adjective to a philosophy or attitude of moral dualism, according to which a moral course of action involves a clear (or simplistic) choice between good and evil, or as a noun to people who hold such a view."
Going on with Thomas:
"And when they were sealed, there appeared unto them a youth holding a lighted torch, so that their lamps became dim at the approach of the light thereof. And he went forth and was no more seen of them. And the apostle said unto the Lord:
"Thy light, O Lord, is not to be contained by us, and we are not able to bear it, for it is too great for our sight."
And when the dawn came and it was morning, he brake bread and made them partakers of the eucharist of the Christ. And they were glad and rejoiced.
And many others also, believing, were added to them, and came into the refuge of the Saviour. . . .
"Take no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Remember also that word of him of whom I spake: Look at the ravens and see the fowls of the heaven, that they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and God dispenseth unto them; how much more unto you, O ye of little faith?"
[Sidebar: notice that the image here, of the ravens, is almost identical to parallel speeches appearing in Matthew and Luke, to whit:
Matthew 6: 25-30
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?"
"27 “Consider how the wildflowers grow: They don’t labor or spin thread. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was adorned like one of these! 28 If that’s how God clothes the grass, which is in the field today and is thrown into the furnace tomorrow, how much more will He do for you—you of little faith?"
This is not the only story in Thomas or, indeed, some of the other Gnostic Gospels, which is precisely analogous to passages in the accepted Gospels.
"But look ye for his coming and have your hope in him and believe on his name. For he is the judge of quick and dead, and he giveth to every one according to their deeds, and at his coming and his latter appearing no man hath any word of excuse when he is to be judged by him, as though he had not heard. For his heralds do proclaim in the four quarters of the world."
[Sidebar: We, at the Basin Bible Church, have proclaimed this principle more than once--that IGNORANCE IS NOT AN EXCUSE! Jesus often said, "ye with ears to hear", as an invitation to look around and get a load of what's going on! This warning: "at his coming and his latter appearing no man hath any word of excuse when he is to be judged by him" is worth heeding in any philosophy. And if the trumpets play as loud in heaven as they do on earth it is going to be hard to miss that message.
"Repent ye, therefore, and believe the promise and receive the yoke of meekness and the light burden, that ye may live and not die. These things get, these keep. Come forth of the darkness that the light may receive you! Come unto him that is indeed good, that ye may receive grace of him and implant his sign in your souls."
I believe that too much emphasis is placed on the authenticity of these ancient texts, on EXACTLY WHO wrote WHAT. It is easy to imagine that a speech as memorable and pithy as the "lilies of the field speech" might be sustained in pristine form, for some length of time, by oral tradition--certainly long enough to be written down by some Gnostic author, 200 years after the fact. Therefore, if analogous passages to the accepted Gospels appear in the Gnostic gospels, why should we doubt the legitimacy of other more obscure and difficult passages, if they ring true? For me, the question was never "were these words written and spoken by the people we are told wrote and spoke them, but : "do the words ring true?"
I have a truth meter inside me which I turn on when I'm assessing the quality of a piece of music. The meter turns itself on automatically, and I keep the instrument focused down to a very fine sensitivity resolution. I can tell the truth of a piece of music pretty reliably. So too, can we all learn to turn our own philosophical truth meters on, to assess the truth of the words we read in whatever language, from whatever culture. The super intelligence of Jesus is an umbrella over-arching all these cultural and linguistic differences, merging them all into a single essence of truth, a truth whose light radiates outward from whatever source it comes from; moreover, since it comes from all sources, we can experience the truth radiating abundantly all around us and through us, if we only pay attention.
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The 3rd Act of Thomas is the story of The Young Man and the Demon. The story begins with Thomas sleeping among his followers, at the camp that was chosen for the King's baptism. In a dream, Thomas is directed to go to a certain other spot, some distance away. He does this, and discovers the body of a young man lying dead in the road. Immediately he prays this prayer:
"O Lord, the judge of quick and dead, of the quick that stand by and the dead that lie here, and master and father of all things; and father not only of the souls that are in bodies but of them that have gone forth of them, for of the souls also that are in bodies thou art lord and judge; come thou at this hour wherein I call upon thee and show forth thy glory upon him that lieth here. And he turned himself unto them that followed him and said: This thing is not come to pass without cause, but the enemy hath effected it and brought it about that he may assault us thereby; and see ye that he hath not made use of another sort, nor wrought through any other creature save that which is his subject."
Here Thomas refers to "the enemy", whom we immediately identify as Satan; but he also sort of implies some ground rules for the following encounter--by saying the enemy has not done this "through any other creature save that which is his subject," he is saying that Satan has dominion over a certain kind of entity. The implication, realized momentarily, is that Thomas also comes armed with the weapons of HIS master, Jesus Christ.
As Thomas considers the various options available to him, out of the bushes comes an ugly stinky Dragon. Thomas questions the dragon, and, at first the dragon attempts to justify his murderous deed with karmic logic:
"I will tell before thee the cause wherefore I slew this man, since thou art come hither for that end, to reprove my works. And the apostle said: Yea, say on. And the serpent: There is a certain beautiful woman in this village over against us; and as she passed by me (or my place) I saw her and was enamoured of her, and I followed her and kept watch upon her; and I found this youth kissing her, and he did other shameful acts with her: and for me it was easy to declare them before thee, for I know that thou art the twin brother of the Christ and always abolishest our nature (Syr. easy for me to say, but to thee I do not dare to utter them because I know that the ocean-flood of the Messiah will destroy our nature): but because I would not affright her, I slew him not at that time, but waited for him till he passed by in the evening and smote and slew him, and especially because he adventured to do this upon the Lord's day."
[Sidebar: It's interesting that the demon, even with the fruits of his labor lying dead in the road, attempts to justify his murderous act with Old Testament logic. Remember that the most brilliant of all intelligences is that of Satan--he maintains,
"it is only fair that wrong is answered with wrong, that an eye is given for an eye, and the death is the just consequence of an insult."
These are all trains of logic which Satan is very familiar with, and with which he will attempt to ensnare us every time.
The next section of the dragon's speech is highly dramatic and highly rhetorical, and looks forward to the famous speech of Satan, in Paradise Lost by John Milton. Notice, at the beginning of this long, involved, violent Satanic monologue, the spirit first speaks of himself as the son of Satan, (he never uses the name Satan but we infer it from the narrative bits that follow); but about halfway down, we begin to hear Satan himself speaking through the demon, now a mouthpiece for the greatest deceiver. It is not precisely accurate to say that the voice of the demon is replaced by the voice of Satan, because it clearly says that it was sent by his father--however, it does say he speaks with his father's voice. This is clearly an example of how demons may actually possess each other. We saw an example of this in C.S. Lewis' Perelandra, where the body of the evil scientist carries the intelligence of Satan, incarnate, to a distant planet.
"And the apostle inquired of him, saying: Tell me of what seed and of what race thou art."
32 And he said unto him:
I am a reptile of the reptile nature and noxious son of the noxious father: of him that hurt and smote the four brethren which stood upright, the fours elements. I am son to him that sitteth on a throne over all the earth that receiveth back his own from them that borrow: I am son to him that girdeth about the sphere: and I am kin to him that is outside the ocean, whose tail is set in his own mouth:"
[Sidebar: This is where the transition from minion to Satan himself is effected:]
"I am he that entered through the barrier (fence) into paradise and spake with Eve the things which my father bade me speak unto her:
I am he that kindled and inflamed Cain to kill his own brother, and on mine account did thorns and thistles grow up in the earth:
I am he that cast down the angels from above and bound them in lusts after women, that children born of earth might come of them and I might work my will in them:"
[Sidebar: I'm sure that Al Rothfuss will appreciate the foregoing comment about women, because it clearly suggests a picture of fallen angels mating with earthly females and producing infernal offspring.
"I am he that hardened Pharaoh's heart that he should slay the children of Israel and enslave them with the yoke of cruelty:
I am he that caused the multitude to err in the wilderness when they made the calf:
I am he that inflamed Herod and enkindled Caiaphas unto false accusation of a lie before Pilate; for this was fitting to me:
I am he that stirred up Judas and bribed him to deliver up the Christ:"
[Sidebar: Notice that this detail, contrary to the Gospel of Judas, upholds the conventional wisdom that Judas was a traitor. So many versions of the story--which to choose? which to choose?
"I am he that inhabiteth and holdeth the deep of hell,
but the Son of God hath wronged me, against my will, and taken them that were his own from me: I am kin to him that is to come from the east, unto whom also power is given to do what he will upon the earth."
After listening to this speech Thomas pulls out the Jesus card, and commands the Dragon to put its teeth back in the poor boy and withdraw the poison that he injected into the boy to kill him. At first the demon refuses, but somehow Thomas gets him to do it, and, when he does, the boy comes back to life and the demon explodes like a burst bladder.
"33 And when that serpent had spoken these things in the hearing of all the people, the apostle lifted up his voice on high and said: Cease thou henceforth, O most shameless one, and be put to confusion and die wholly, for the end of thy destruction is come, and dare not to tell of what thou hast done by them that have become subject unto thee. And I charge thee in the name of that Jesus who until now contendeth with you for the men that are his own, that thou suck out thy venom which thou hast put into this man, and draw it forth and take it from him.
But the serpent said: Not yet is the end of our time come as thou hast said. Wherefore compellest thou me to take back that which I have put into this man, and to die before my time? for mine own father, when he shall draw forth and suck out that which he hath cast into the creation, then shall his end come.
And the apostle said unto him:
"Show, then, now the nature of thy father."
And the serpent came near and set his mouth upon the wound of the young man and sucked forth the gall out of it. And by little and little the colour of the young man which was as purple, became white, but the serpent swelled up.
And when the serpent had drawn up all the gall into himself, the young man leapt up and stood, and ran and fell at the apostle's feet: but the serpent being swelled up, burst and died, and his venom and gall were shed forth; and in the place where his venom was shed there came a great gulf, and that serpent was swallowed up therein.
And the apostle said unto the king and his brother:
"Take workmen and fill up that place, and lay foundations and build houses upon them, that it may be a dwelling-place for strangers."
I love this picture of Thomas ordering the demon to suck out the poison from his victim, which then causes the demon to explode. It goes back to the principle of the Armor of God. The Armor of God has not only the power to protect us from demonic influence, but it can become a sword of God, to attack and defeat the minions of Satan who always crowd around us whenever we do anything good. Remember also that Thomas is not Jesus--Thomas is not the Messiah, but he does share in the Christ consciousness and therefore is able to share in the Christ power to defeat evil. The demon's weapons are infernal, and wield the power of the fallen angel, but Thomas' power comes from God, clearly the stronger power. It just goes to show that, in the battle of good against evil, it does not pay to join up with the weaker side.
In conclusion, it can readily be seen that this act of Thomas is laced with nuggets of insight and comfort. We have the beautiful prayer of baptism, elevating the ceremonial resonance of that event to a very high level by invoking the Divine Presence:
"Come, thou holy name of the Christ that is above every name.
Come, thou power of the Most High, and the compassion that is perfect.
Come, gift of the Most High."
(In this prayer we encounter a worthy model for all prayer, equivalent to the Lord's Prayer); we have the reiteration of the "lilies of the field speech", which, historically, has demonstrated such magnificent staying power over the minds of Christian initiates; and we have insight by way of a comparison between Infernal Power and the Armor of God, or, in the case of the apostle's power over the demon, the SWORD of God.
I find these insights, and these fresh stories of Apostolic Miracles, to be energizing. I love what I perceive to be a kind of internal innocence in these texts. The joy of discovery seems to radiate great beams of wonder onto my mind; and my heart is warmed and reassured as I receive this spiritual food, and, in Holy Communion, join in this sacrament of praise.
Let us pray: Jesus, we are blessed by these stories of the Christ impulse surging through the world of then and the world of now. We thank you for the blessings which come from You, only You, and kiss the Face, the articulated Face of God. Amen.