A commentary on the history, contexts, and meanings of the word "genius," in addition to articles on other related subjects and many new era Christian sermons.

Monday, September 29, 2014

17-Introduction to Thomas - Act 1, Act 2

17-Introduction to Thomas - Act 1, Act 2

I was made aware that there would be visitors here this morning, so I felt it necessary to do a little catch-up review. In my recent sermons I have presented certain principles, in long chains of logical sequences, creating a certain point of reference; therefore, an understanding of some of the things I will be saying today, depends on a familiarity with some of these previously presented concepts. To whit:

About two months ago, having gone through some major philosophical digressions about ecstasy and death, I had just decided to get back to the Bible, and embark on a survey of the Acts of the Apostles; however in the very first chapter, I noticed a discrepancy: in Acts, Judas' death is described as taking place in a field, where his guts burst open. Of course, we know that, in the Synoptic Gospels, Judas hangs himself. Whassup wit dat? So, I got curious about Judas. Then I stumbled onto this whole big a library of so-called Gnostic Gospels, not all of which are actually Gnostic, but all of which are texts which were either rejected by the 4th century Nicene Authority, or that were discovered within the last 150 years most of them in the 20th century and some of them as recently as 2007.

As I familiarize myself with the Gnostic Gospels, and the principles of Gnosticism, I have come more and more to realize what we are actually talking about: we are talking about an intersection between the Historical Jesus and the Mythologized Jesus. Although it is well understood that the very moment in which Jesus shed His blood upon the ground for all mankind--that very instant--was a turning point in history; a moment too short to name, but which, nevertheless, changed the flow of events down the river of time forever. The pantheism of primitive man became doomed to extinction, and a God with a Human face was born. The ancient wisdom, which deplored earthly life and looked forward to the life everlasting as the ultimate spiritual goal, was replaced with a new idea--the idea of heaven on Earth. Jesus inaugurated this idea, here nicely expressed by Rudolf Steiner:

"When the apparently worthless in our existence is taken hold of by the spiritual, it is resurrected in a degree more perfect than before and is spiritually embodied. Nothing in existence is really worthless because it rises again if the spirit has entered into it aright."

Indeed, God is in everything, the earth the sky, the stars, but now the God has a personality which He extends to us as a model and a mold. As to the passing by of two historical eras, Steiner says this:

"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."

Thus, the Christ Consciousness, experienced as a MORAL impulse, is the power that can transform Hell into Heaven. Now, even though the essential change was instantaneous, it took several centuries for this change to gather momentum, in the minds of the people, and influence the culture to a degree to which an appreciably different quality could be discerned in the collective unconscious. During this time of growth, those two to three hundred years, many things happened to translate the History of what happened into the Myth of what happened, and, hence, into a Literature of culturally held Philosophic/Religious principles.

As we know, history never happens in stepwise motion, it always evolves in gradual, slowly morphing, circular transitions, from one state to another. So, the charm of the Gnostic gospels, and of Gnosticism in general, especially Christian Gnosticism, is in its paradox: the apparent contradictions between certain dogmatic items in the two philosophies. At first glance, these contradictions threaten to cancel each other out, but, on closer inspection, we find that the disagreements are not fundamental, they are incidental--furthermore they are disagreements in transit. By this I mean: the Christian Gnostics represent an historical blending of two philosophies as the older, primitive, pantheistic philosophy morphs into the newly enlightened Christian age, in which the incarnation of God, as the Christ, becomes available to us, to enrich our lives, and to help us along a path toward ever more defined person-ness, and higher, ever higher, levels of consciousness.

As we study the Gnostic Gospels we witness the primitive, pantheistic, inarticulate Gnostic God, infusing Himself with the newly transformed personality of the Christ. Indeed it is fair to say that during the 200 years after Jesus' death (sic), there was a kind of a passing of the torch from the old to the new. Several general characteristics of the Gnostic Gospels consistently exemplify this idea, for instance: many of the things in the Gnostic Gospels, certainly in the Judas gospel, include Genesis-like descriptions of the beginning of the universe, and so on, which are not precisely in sync with our normal Old Testament readings. Heavenly hierarchies are described in majorly Old Testament language, which clearly look backwards, toward an older, more primitive world view.

Additionally, the Gnostic Gospels tend to portray the character of Jesus in unprecedented ways; the Gnostic portrayals of Jesus are mostly consistent with the synoptic Gospels, but they also contain reports of occasional outlandishly-eccentric behaviors, the like of which do not appear in any of the accepted gospels. Examples of Jesus' outlandish behavior include His laughter,  (nowhere in the accepted Bible does Jesus laugh--He weeps, but He doesn't laugh), His disapparition, (He comes and goes mysteriously, disappearing sometimes in the middle of a conversation), and, (the most outlandish action of all), at one point, He actually sells Thomas into slavery. These, if not shocking, are certainly surprising behaviors, which parallel some of the actions of Krishna, in the Mahabarata.

Thus, as the ancient idea of earthly life as a veil of tears from which we gladly escape, morphs into something new, with Jesus' message of Heaven on Earth, we witness, throughout Gnostic Gospels the growth of an idea, planted and watered by Jesus, (as mentioned in Judas), flowering into an era of hope, discovery, and worldly celebration.

A scene illustrating the passing of one era into another, appears in  C.S. Lewis' Till We Have Faces. In this scene a temple is described in which are situated two statues, representations of a lower and a higher goddess. The lower goddess, Ungit, is a great, round stone, of no particular shape; as the blood offerings trickle down its sides, the observer may see a face, or faces, or no face in the uninflected gray. The higher goddess is a white marble Grecian statue, beautiful, articulate, focused. A peasant woman has just come in and said prayers to Ungit, the lower goddess, and, as she is leaving, the the onlooking queen stops her:

    "Has Ungit comforted you, child" I asked.
    "Oh yes, Queen" said the woman, her face almost brightening, "Oh yes. Ungit has given me great comfort. There's no goddess like Ungit."
    "Do you always pray to that Ungit," said I (nodding toward the shapeless stone), "and not to that?" here I nodded towards our new image, standing tall and straight in her robes and (whatever the Fox might say of it) the loveliest thing our land has ever seen.
    "Oh, always this, Queen," said she. "That other, the Greek Ungit, she wouldn't understand my speech. She's only for nobles and learned men. There's no comfort in her."

The representations in this temple are very different faces of a single goddess, different phases (note the word "phases")--I say, the representations in this temple are very different faces of a single goddess, different phases of a single identity. Although the outer forms of these two opposing representations are quite unlike each other, they both tend toward the same spiritual essence, even though it must be emphasized that the ARTICULATED form is the one that is finally accessible to all who embrace the new age. Some people need the old gods for comfort; they don't know what they are missing.

So, with these words, let us now proceed to the Gospel of Thomas.

This is the most popular, and longest of the Gnostic Gospels. It is also more like the Synoptic Gospels than the other Gnostic Gospels, with some significant differences. This is taken from an internet article, Where did the Gospel of Thomas come from?

"The spirituality in the Gospel of Thomas is a form of early Christian mysticism. It was a contemplative type of Christianity that grew in Syria as well as Alexandria. The idea was that each person had the choice to grow into God's Image or to remain stunted due to Adam's decision. If the person chose to grow, then the divinization process was gradual and included not only ritual activities like baptism and eucharist, but also instructional and contemplative activities. Part of the process then was living as Jesus lived - it was imitative. The other part was contemplating who and where Jesus was. This contemplative life led to heavenly (or interiorized) journeys and visions of God. Eventually the faithful would become like Jesus, replacing their fallen image with the image of God. This contemplative Christianity is not heretical, but an early form of eastern orthodoxy! . . .

This gospel understands Jesus to be a charismatic figure.  By this I mean, Jesus continues to live in their community even after he has died.  His spirit continues to speak to this community of faithful, and they continue to record his teachings.  They do not appear to have made any distinction between the "historical" Jesus before death and the "spirit" Jesus after death, at least in terms of authority or historicity of his words.  The Jesus that emerges in the Gospel of Thomas is not entirely foreign to the New Testament portrayals, particularly as we see him emerge in the Gospel of John - but also, as we see him in Mark, teaching publicly to the crowds and privately his mysteries to a few close followers." 

[Sidebar: In the accepted Gospels, Jesus is OCCASIONALLY depicted with a single disciple, off to the side, giving personal, exclusive, advice and insight. In the Gnostic Gospels Jesus is nearly ALWAYS depicted that way. Each Gnostic Gospel's author seems to have been singled out by Jesus for some distinct quality or other, and given an anomalous, personal message. This action may violate our democratic sense of fair play and equality, however, it is not untrue that all men are UNequal. The hierarchical division of the cosmos into levels, in the Gnostic Gospels, is paralleled by the idea that every created soul inhabits an absolutely unique place in the cosmic hierarchy.

Back to Where did the Gospel of Thomas come from?:

"His message is either similar to the New Testament Jesus, or contiguous with him.  He teaches against carnality and succumbing to bodily desire.  He's an advocate for celibacy.  He preaches that the Kingdom of God is here, that people must make a choice whether to enter it or not, that this choice requires an exclusive commitment to him and God, that the going is tough and few will be able to make it.  He demands a lifestyle of righteous living, promises rewards including personal transformation and revelation."

 So, the book is called the Gospel of Thomas, though it is sometimes called the Acts of Thomas, or The Acts of Judas Thomas. The Acts of Judas Thomas, are a group of tales--each act is a discrete story, which may have one or two miracles involved in it. Today we will explore the first two acts.

The first act is a two-part story, so beautifully told, in the book, I really hate to vulgarize it with a prosaic summary; but I just can't read out the whole thing, it would take too long, so, in order to focus on the more spiritually meaningful sections, we must sacrifice some of the elegant, narrative details.

The thing begins with Jesus: the Jesus who hung around after His resurrection to give the Apostles some final instructions before sending them out into the world with the Good News. There are many people who think that Jesus remained physically incarnated and physically active for some time after his resurrection, and continued to teach and direct the disciples into their various missionary objectives. In just such a missionary assignment, Thomas was chosen to go to India. Thomas didn't want to go, he refused to go, so Jesus simply sold Thomas, as a slave, to this merchant who was in the market for a carpenter capable of building a palace for his master, a king of India. So Thomas, kind of like Jonah, found himself on a boat bound for someplace he didn't really want to go.

So, the ship travels around the horn, through the gulf of Aden, into the Arabian Sea, and lands in a coastal city of India. The King of that city has just proclaimed that there will be a great marriage feast, because his daughter is getting married. Everybody in town is expected to attend this big party, and Thomas and his new master, the Merchant, decide to go to the feast, so that the King will not be offended.

At the wedding feast Thomas is just sitting there, stoically, not doing anything, when this busboy comes up and slaps him in the face, because he is not doing anything, eating, or drinking, or celebrating. Thomas takes this the slap in the face, then he says,

"My God will forgive thee in the life to come this iniquity, but in this world thou shalt show forth his wonders and even now shall I behold this hand that hath smitten me dragged by dogs."

Of course, he was speaking the Hebrew language, and nobody there understood what he was saying, except this flute player. There was this girl flute player, entertaining at the party, going from group to group, playing for them; she happened to be standing next to Thomas when the cup-bearer struck him. Since she was also Jewish, she understood the Hebrew that Thomas spoke, so she understood what happened later. The plot thickens:

Presently, this cup-bearer goes outside to the well, to get more water, and there he encounters a lion; the lion tears him to pieces and leaves him lying on the ground, where the town dogs fight over his flesh. One of the dogs picks up a severed hand in his teeth, and walks into the marriage ceremony, like dogs do, saying, "Look at me! Look at the prize I've got in my mouth! Yummy!"

So when the flute player sees this, she announces to the party at hand that Thomas has performed a miracle of prophecy. Some of them believe that he has, and some don't. But, in any case, word of this reaches the King, and the King sends for this doer of miracles to pronounce a blessing on his daughter on her wedding night. Thomas follows, it says, unwillingly.

I'm interested in the detail that mentions that Thomas goes to see the king unwillingly. One wonders why he was unwilling. Perhaps he just didn't want to be told what to do, and thus be diverted from his mission to go with the merchant to build a palace for this OTHER King; or it may have been something like when Jesus turned water into wine--remember He chastises His mother for making Him do what it wasn't quite time to do, ("Woman My hour is not yet come."); perhaps Thomas was unwilling because he knew that the truth of what he had to say might change the children's lives, and cause the father to take revenge on him, or detain him, which almost happened.

How many of us are unwilling witnesses? How often do we allow ourselves stick out, in a society in which spirituality is not openly spoken of, in which spirituality is not part of normal daily conversation? How many times have we made reference to it, in informal conversation, and watched the conversation freeze in embarrassment, or in a paroxysm of complex of emotional responses. Certainly, in the academic world, mention of anything spiritual, or even nonscientific, is expressly taboo. It is the rare person who is willing to take the risk of speaking out, in a social context in which the word "religion" may ignite a tinder box of preset prejudicial reactions. So, an unwilling witness is really a hero, because nobody wants to stick his neck out, but we know we must be willing to do it anyway. Let us not forget that the unwilling witness is the most effective proselytizer of them all, because he witnesses only when the Spirit is present and decrees, through divine intervention, that an act of primordial significance must be performed.

Going on.

When Thomas meets the bride and groom at their home, he speaks the following prayer; the prayer is a song of praise to God in His manifold manifestations, and it has a structure and poetic feel similar to that of the Rig Vedas:

"'My Lord and MY God, that travellest with thy servants, that guidest and correctest them that believe in thee, the refuge and rest of the oppressed, the hope of the poor and ransomer of captives, the physician of the souls that lie sick and saviour of all creation, that givest life unto the world and strengthenest souls; thou knowest things to come, and by our means accomplishest them: thou Lord art he that revealeth hidden mysteries and maketh manifest words that are secret: thou Lord art the planter of the good tree, and of thine hands are all good works engendered: thou Lord art he that art in all things and passest through all, and art set in all thy works and manifested in the working of them all. Jesus Christ, Son of compassion and perfect saviour, Christ, Son of the living God, the undaunted power that hast overthrown the enemy, and the voice that was heard of the rulers, and made all their powers to quake, the ambassador that wast sent from the height and camest down even unto hell, who didst open the doors and bring up thence them that for many ages were shut up in the treasury of darkness, and showedst them the way that leadeth up unto the height: l beseech thee, Lord Jesu, and offer unto thee supplication for these young persons, that thou wouldest do for them the things that shall help them and be expedient and profitable for them.'

And he laid his hands on them and said: The Lord shall be with you, and left them in that place and departed."

The story goes on:

"And the king desired the groomsmen to depart out of the bride-chamber; and when all were gone out and the doors were shut, the bridegroom lifted up the curtain of the bride-chamber to fetch the bride unto him. And he saw the Lord Jesus bearing the likeness of Judas Thomas and speaking with the bride; even of him that but now had blessed them and gone out from them, the apostle; and he saith unto him: Wentest thou not out in the sight of all? how then art thou found here? But the Lord said to him: I am not Judas which is also called Thomas but I am his brother. And the Lord sat down upon the bed and bade them also sit upon chairs, and began to say unto them:

"Remember, my children, what my brother spake unto you and what he delivered before you: and know this, that if ye abstain from this foul intercourse, ye become holy temples, pure, being quit of impulses and pains, seen and unseen, . . ."

[At this point there is a long diatribe against carnal knowledge, and the many disastrous consequences of having children.

Going on:]

"But if ye be persuaded and keep your souls chaste before God, there will come unto you living children whom these carnal blemishes touch not, and ye shall be without care, leading a tranquil life without grief or anxiety, looking to receive that incorruptible and true marriage, and ye shall be therein groomsmen entering into that bride-chamber which is full of immortality and light."

And when the young people heard these things, they believed the Lord and gave themselves up unto him, and abstained from foul desire and continued so, passing the night in that place. And the Lord departed from before them, saying thus: The grace of the Lord shall be with you."

After this, the bride and the groom are so moved by Thomas' sermon, and the first-hand experience of Jesus the Christ, that they decide not to get married and to remain celibate. They both make speeches to the king:

 "And the bride answered and said: Verily, father, I am in great love, and I pray my Lord that the love which I have perceived this night may abide with me, and I will ask for that husband of whom I have learned to-day: and therefore I will no more veil myself, because the mirror (veil) of shame is removed from me; and therefore am I no more ashamed or abashed, because the deed of shame and confusion is departed far from me; and that I am not confounded, it is because my astonishment hath not continued with me; and that I am in cheerfulness and joy, it is because the day of my joy hath not been troubled; and that I have set at nought this husband and this marriage that passeth away from before mine eyes, it is because I am joined in another marriage; and that I have had no intercourse with a husband that is temporal, whereof the end is with lasciviousness and bitterness of soul, it is because I am yoked unto a true husband."

[Sidebar: Reflection on celibacy:

Celibacy affirms a basic principle of Gnosticism, in its favoring of the spiritual body over the physical body. In the speech to the bride and bridegroom Jesus makes reference to "foul desires". Foul desires can only mean what Freud called primitive consciousness, and what the Hindus would called lower chakra consciousness. So celibacy is one more article in the Gnostic doctrine which denies the reality of a Heaven on Earth; it says Heaven is not possible if earthly desire is part of the package, even though earthly desires occupy most of us most of the time.

Many religious disciplines promote celibacy, for instance the Catholic Church; notice that the comments of the bride sound a lot like the type of vows that a nun might make on entering a convent. Catholic priests, nuns, and monks are supposed to be celibate, (although of course many of them aren't); the purpose of celibacy is to enable the devotee to give him-her-self totally, mind and body, to God.

In kundalini yoga, celibacy is demanded, because the life force of kundalini is intimately related to sexual impulses, or, that is to say, primal energy. It is thought that wasting this precious life force on sex, when you could be directing it toward achieving enlightenment, is a sin against your own spiritual progress. Remember that boxers don't have sex before a fight, because sex drains them of the power to go the distance. The total celibacy so uncompromisingly  spoken of here, is not a new recommendation; indeed, it must be remembered that this recommendation is for the special Elect of God, and not necessarily for the layman, whose responsibility it is to replenish the earth.

In the preceding paragraph I made reference to the "Elect of God". Is there such a thing, or is this a choice we all make--whether to be included in the Elect of God or not, to go the distance or not? Can it really be said that any one of us is not the Elect of God, or would choose NOT to become the Elect of God. Can there actually be levels of religious devotion acceptable in the sight of God? As we have seen, in ALL the gospels, Jesus' ministry to His disciples was very personalized--each disciple received his own special insights, and his own special blessings. Can it possibly be that Jesus accepts each one of us, each of us having ever, ever, ever so slightly different graduated niches in the hierarchy of the cosmos? We must admit that upward and downward mobility in this hierarchy is a feature of its construction, but the idea, that each one of us might be on a different plane, is somewhat mind-boggling, but also somewhat clarifying.

Jesus' commentary on celibacy sounds a lot like Shakespeare. As such, it is not only suggesting a strongly Gnostic perspective, it is also very rhetorical. This rhetorical aspect is one of the things that weakens the impact of the message here, in terms of making us believe that Jesus would actually say this. To me, this section does not sound as much like Jesus, as lots of the other places in the Gnostic Gospels. That may be because I'm not especially in favor of celibacy, but it also might be because this section, more than other sections in the Gospels, seems to be preaching a dogmatic principle, an action which is at odds with the typically free-and-unfettered-through-grace philosophy of Jesus. If He were a teacher of Kundalini yoga, as many people think He was, then he might be preaching absolute celibacy for all worthy travelers on the spiritual path. Nevertheless, as I was saying, the rhetorical aspect makes Him seem more like a character in a play, especially if we think of the character participating in the "Play of the Prince and the Princess". Also, once again perhaps this whole speech should be thought of as a personal message to those two kids, a message which may not be intended to be universally applicable. At least that's what I would like to think.

This speech of the bride to her father is of interest, not only because it expounds the many virtues of celibacy and the deplores evils of carnal reproduction, (to say the least), but because it also includes a rhapsodic love song to God. Perhaps this humble bride is a good example for all of us; perhaps there is a lesson here about where we all should be placing our most high affections.

The bridegroom has this to say:]

"And while the bride was saying yet more than this, the bridegroom answered and said: I give thee thanks, O Lord, that hast been proclaimed by the stranger, and found in us; who hast removed me far from corruption and sown life in me; who hast rid me of this disease that is hard to be healed and cured and abideth for ever, and hast implanted sober health in me; who hast shown me thyself and revealed unto me all my state wherein I am; who hast redeemed me from falling and led me to that which is better, and set me free from temporal things and made me worthy of those that are immortal and everlasting; that hast made thyself lowly even down to me and my littleness, that thou mayest present me unto thy greatness and unite me unto thyself; who hast not withheld thine own bowels from me that was ready to perish, but hast shown me how to seek myself and know who I was, and who and in what manner I now am, that I may again become that which I was: whom I knew not, but thyself didst seek me out: of whom I was not aware, but thyself hast taken me to thee: whom I have perceived, and now am not able to be unmindful of him: whose love burneth within me, and I cannot speak it as is fit, but that which I am able to say of it is little and scanty, and not fitly proportioned unto his glory: yet he blameth me not that presume to say unto him even that which I know not: for it is because of his love that I say even this much."

These speeches of the bride and the bridegroom are a manifesto of dissatisfaction with earthly relationships, and set up a very high spiritual goal for the soul. Now, it must be admitted that there is, lurking in the background of this speech, a very Gnostic idea: the bride and the bridegroom both appear to be affirming the superiority of spiritual existence, and degrading earthly experience. This would be a typical Gnostic interpretation of life, and, although we, as Christians, want to place our highest value on eternal things, we still, I reiterate one more time-- we still strive to experience and realize the eternal within the confines of the earthly realm.

When all this comes down, the King sends out a group of soldiers to bring Thomas back to the city, to receive the thanks of the King; but Thomas has already set sail for India.

The concluding scene in the first in the first act is very touching, because we find the flute girl (the girl who introduced Thomas to the men at the party, and through them the King), we find the flute girl lamenting. She is very sad because Thomas did not take her with him to India, but she goes to see the bride and the bridegroom, and they speak together of the message of Thomas, and through Thomas, Jesus, and they sort of begin the first Christian community in India. They successively bring in the father King, and then the rest of the town.

It's a lovely story in the about the power of the mission, and it shows that you that an idea is like a virus--that the truth can be catching, and can spread through the minds of men like a wave. the message for us is one of witnessing. We should learn that, by standing our ground in social situations, where it might be embarrassing to proclaim our Christianity, we should, instead, stick to our convictions, and hold forth on some point or other which might bring the mediator ship of Jesus to the forefront. This might turn out to be an aggressive action pregnant with possible good ramifications.

The second act of Thomas is a very charming story indeed.

Thomas and the merchant arrive at the city of the employer of the merchant, The King who needs a palace built. Thomas goes to the King, and the King interviews him for the job--asks him about his qualifications. Thomas says, "Out of wood I can make pulleys, and plows, and yokes, etc., and I can make columns and palaces out of stone."  The king hires Thomas for the job.

So they go out in the country to this beautiful place where the palace should be built, and the King leaves Thomas there, and goes back to the city to wait for Thomas to build the palace.

While Thomas is at it, he prays this elegant prayer:

"I thank thee O Lord in all things, that thou didst die for a little space that I might live for ever in thee, and that thou hast sold me that by me thou mightest set free many. And he ceased not to teach and to refresh the afflicted, saying: This hath the Lord dispensed unto you, and he giveth unto every man his food: for he is the nourisher of orphans and steward of the widows, and unto all that are afflicted he is relief and rest."

So the King gives him a huge pile of cash for building the palace, for workers and materials, and such, and Thomas goes out into the countryside, performing miracles and distributing the money among the poor. The King sends again, "How's it going on the palace?" and Thomas says, "Almost done, just have to put on the roof." So the King sends more money, and it is once again distributed among the poor. When the King finally comes to the place, to see the palace there is nothing there. The King questions Thomas thus:

"Hast thou built me the palace?
And he said: Yea.
And the king said: When, then, shall we go and see it? but he answered him and said: Thou canst not see it now, but when thou departest this life, then thou shalt see it. And the king was exceeding wroth, and commanded both the merchant and Judas which is called Thomas to be put in bonds and cast into prison until he should inquire and learn unto whom the king's money had been given, and so destroy both him and the merchant."

So the king is getting ready to flay Thomas and the Merchant alive when this subplot sneaks in:
At the same time all this palace-building is happening, the King's brother falls ill, and on the very same night that Thomas and the Merchant are locked up, the sick brother dies. He goes to heaven and the angels show him around looking for a place to live. During this tour of heaven, the brother comes upon the magnificent house that Thomas has built for the King and, immediately, he desires it. The angels say he can't have it, because it belongs to the King. Thomas has built the palace the King asked for, but he has built it in Heaven not on Earth.

The brother instantly becomes enchanted with his house and wants it for himself, so, instead of dying  he goes back, his body wakes up,  says to his brother, "I want to buy this house that Thomas has built for you." When the King gets the idea, he refuses the brother's request:

"Then the king considering the matter, understood it of those eternal benefits which should come to him and which concerned him, and said: That palace I cannot sell thee, but I pray to enter into it and dwell therein and to be accounted worthy of the inhabiters of it, but if thou indeed desirest to buy such a palace, lo, the man liveth and shall build thee one better than it."

At the end of the episode, Thomas prays this prayer:

"And the apostle, filled with joy, said: I praise thee, O Lord Jesu, that thou hast revealed thy truth in these men; for thou only art the God of truth, and none other, and thou art he that knoweth all things that are unknown to the most; thou, Lord, art he that in all things showest compassion and sparest men. For men by reason of the error that is in them have overlooked thee but thou hast not overlooked them. And now at mv supplication and request do thou receive the king and his brother and join them unto thy fold, cleansing them with thy washing and anointing them with thine oil from the error that encompasseth them: and keep them also from the wolves, bearing them into thy meadows. And give them drink out of thine immortal fountain which is neither fouled nor drieth up; for they entreat and supplicate thee and desire to become thy servants and ministers, and for this they are content even to be persecuted of thine enemies, and for thy sake to be hated of them and to be mocked and to die, like as thou for our sake didst suffer all these things, that thou mightest preserve us, thou that art Lord and verily the good shepherd. And do thou grant them to have confidence in thee alone, and the succour that cometh of thee and the hope of their salvation which they look for from thee alone; and that they may be grounded in thy mysteries and receive the perfect good of thy graces and gifts, and flourish in thy ministry and come to perfection in thy Father."

In conclusion, these two acts of Thomas convey truths which are important for us to remember today, and which are consistent with any traditional interpretation of Christian doctrine. The idea of the unwilling witness is important; the responsibility of the initiated to witness, constitutes the brunt of the weight of the cross each one of us must bear. But, by far the most important point to remember is made in both of these first two Acts of Thomas: the story of the celibate devotee, saving his/her sexual energy for transport to God, and story of the palace built in Heaven for the life to come, are both glorifications of the spiritual, and remind us of the sentiments exposed this morning's call to worship:

Matthew 6:19-21
"19 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

So once again, as we speak of the Gnostic Gospels bridging the gap between the historical Jesus and the mythologized Jesus, we are reminded of an eternal principle which surely has dominated man's spiritual strivings since time immemorial, then and now, principles which are very consistent with every principle taught by the accepted Gospels: we must put God first. Now, there's a thought.

Let us pray. Jesus thank you for this testament to universal values. Thank you for appearing to us and yet more magnificent character portrayals, and thanks especially for passing on your knowledge and your power into the hearts and bodies of those who put their faith in you and rely on you for guidance and strength. Amen.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

16 Intro to the Gospel of Judas - 3

 16 Intro to the Gospel of Judas - 3

As I familiarize myself with the Gnostic Gospels, and the principles of Gnosticism, I have come more and more to realize what we are actually talking about: we are talking about an intersection between the Historical Jesus and the Mythologized Jesus. Although it is well understood by all Christians, and especially by me, (via the Theosophy of Rudolf Steiner), that the very moment in which Jesus shed His blood upon the ground for all mankind--that very instant was a turning point in history; a moment too short to name, but which, nevertheless, changed the flow of events down the river of time forever. The essential change was instantaneous, and yet it took several centuries for this change to gather momentum, in the minds of the people, and influence the culture, to the degree to which an appreciably different quality could be discerned in the collective unconscious. During this time of growth, those two hundred years, many things happened to translate the History of what happened into a Literature of culturally held Philosophic/Religious principles.

As we know, history never happens in stepwise motion, it always evolves in gradual, slowly morphing, circular transitions, from one state to another. So, the charm of the Gnostic gospels, and of Gnosticism in general, especially Christian Gnosticism, is in its paradox: the apparent contradictions between certain dogmatic items in the two philosophies. At first glance, these contradictions threaten to cancel out one another, but, on closer inspection, we find that the disagreements are not fundamental, they are incidental--furthermore they are disagreements in transit. By this I mean: the Christian Gnostics represent an historical blending of two philosophies as the older, primitive, pantheistic philosophy morphs into the newly enlightened Christian age, in which the incarnation of God, as the Christ, becomes available to us, to enrich our lives, and to help us along a path toward ever more defined person-ness, and higher, ever higher, levels of consciousness. Levels of consciousness, indeed, will turn out to  be the ultimate theme of this sermon, although we will touch on many other side-issues along the way.

Now, the fact that the crucifixion of Jesus articulated an  historical turning point, does not necessarily mean that, before the crucifixion, God was unavailable to, or invisible to, primitive man; (I say it does not NECESSARILY mean that); but it does appear to affirm a certain scenario, which I have encountered in a lot of new age philosophy--it has to do with the idea of spiritual identity:

Consider the question of whether or not dogs have souls--Aristotle says, no--so does C.S.Lewis. Some say animals are reincarnated, and are graduated up the spiritual path, just like humans. But, some say that, although the spirit of a dog has no specific individual personal stamp, it does have an essential identity, i.e. "dog": hence, when the dog dies, the spirit of the dog goes back to this kind of pool of dog consciousness, all mixed up into one, big, undifferentiated vat of DOG.

We human beings deplore the idea that we have no personal consciousness; indeed, it is a frightening, but not-impossible- to-believe thought, that I, myself, might some day disappear into an inarticulate vat of MAN GOO. Jesus has assured us that this will NOT happen, if we believe on Him. How so? Perhaps it is this: that Jesus' ceremonial sacrifice created the possibility that human beings might become individuated-- that Jesus' sponsorship of the world, made it so that all the followers who shared in His Christ-Consciousness, could, vicariously, (and eventually), come to share in His God-Consciousness: thus, making it possible for them to live out their future spiritual lives, on Earth and in Heaven, with the same static identity, the same personal quality, the same memories, the same distinctly articulated essence. This MIGHT be the precise meaning of the word "salvation": that, through Grace, we are allowed to continue to exist as a discrete focus of God-Consciousness, instead of returning to the fiery pit of chaos. To imagine that, before Jesus, all human souls disappeared, at their end, into an indiscriminate void, is the most frightening image of death I can think of; the thought of losing my individuality sends waves of panic down through my entire frame. And yet, with this terror looming before them, we suspect that nonbelievers, the people who choose not  to call on Jesus, are condemning themselves to an eternal anonymity. Perhaps His sponsorship is the only passport to Eternity? Something of this is touched on in the passage taken from the Gospel of Judas, below:

"The next morning, after this happened, Jesus appeared to his disciples again. They said to him,

“Master, where did you go and what did you do when you left us?”

Jesus said to them,

“I went to another great and holy generation.”

His disciples said to him,

“Lord, what is the great generation that is superior to us and holier than us, that is not now in these realms?”

When Jesus heard this, he laughed and said to them,

“Why are you thinking in your hearts about the strong and holy generation? Truly I say to you, no one born of this aeon will see that generation, and no host of angels of the stars will rule over that generation, and no person of mortal birth can associate with it.”

When his disciples heard this, they each were troubled in spirit. They could not say a word.

Another day Jesus came up to them. They said to him,

“Master, we have seen you in a vision, for we have had great dreams in the night. We have seen a great house with a large altar in it, and twelve men—they are the priests, we would say—and a name; and a crowd of people is waiting at that altar, until the priests receive the offerings. But we kept waiting.”

[Sidebar: The dream goes on to describe a group of men committing obscene and immoral acts, killing their own children and wives and whatnot. Jesus tells the disciples that this group of men in the dream represent the lower minds in themselves; this upsets the disciples, but then He refers to the appearance of the generation of stars, finally saying:

“Stop struggling with me. Each of you has his own star."

We are heading toward a most important point: as mentioned above:

"To imagine that, before Jesus, all human souls disappeared, at their end, into an indiscriminate void, is the most frightening image of death I can think of; the thought of losing my individuality sends waves of panic down through my entire frame. And yet, with this terror looming before them, it may be that the nonbelievers, the ones who do not call on the aid of Jesus, are condemning themselves to an eternal anonymity."

We must accept the possibility that, as unfair as it sounds, before the coming of Jesus, generations of men walked the earth and then simply ceased to exist when their bodies died. Even Moses. Is there any other interpretation? Is there a Pre-Jesus/Post-Jesus quality of soul? Perhaps our definition of "existence" is too narrow? As we will read below, an important component of Jesus' Cosmography is "hierarchy". Jesus flatly states that some of these disciples will not be permitted to enter the House of God which they have seen in their vision,  (apparently, Judas will), but that doesn't mean they will not be accepted SOMEWHERE ELSE. The final sentences of Jesus' interpretation of the dream are a very strong indicator of the idea that there is a celestial hierarchy. It also begins with an affirmation of Grace over GoodWorks:]

“Stop sacrificing over the altar, since they are over, your stars and your angels, and have already come to their conclusion there."

[Sidebar: that sounds like pre-destination to me.]

"So let them be ensnared before you, and let them go. A baker cannot feed all creation under heaven."

Jesus said to them,

“Stop struggling with me. Each of you has his own star, and everybody who has sprung from the tree of this aeon. The Son of Man is here for a short time: He has come to water God’s paradise, and the generation that will last."

[Sidebar: Let me read that again, it is such a happy thought that Jesus has come to tend the Garden, and plant the seeds of OUR immortality:]

"The Son of Man is here for a short time: He has come to water God’s paradise, and the generation that will last, because He will not defile the walk of life of that generation, but will live for all eternity.”

[Sidebar: I have spoken many times about the many different levels of consciousness in which God and Man may manifest; in this regard, Jesus' interpretation of the disciples' dream, about seeing but not being allowed to enter the ultimate house of God, means that, because of their various sins, they fall short of attaining entry, but they might possibly attain this consciousness level later down the road of spiritual evolution. Thus, rather than the idea that Judas is, exclusively, made privy to an ultimate state of consciousness while the other disciples are not, I rather think it is more likely that the text means this: certain spiritual levels attract certain spiritual identities and not others, such that, far from being the single saved disciple of the twelve, Judas simply happens to be the first to ascend to a higher level in the hierarchy, (of which there are many more levels), while the other eleven disciples temporarily remain below, harboring the hope that they may someday rise to some of those higher levels--that is to say the generation of stars.

Now on to another passage, from the Gospel of Judas, which clearly represents a blending of the pantheism of Gnosticism with true Christianity:


"Jesus said, “Come, that I may teach you about secrets no person has ever seen. For there exists a great and boundless realm, whose extent no generation of angels has seen, in which there is a great invisible Spirit, which no eye of an angel has ever seen, no thought of the heart has ever comprehended, and it was never called by any name.

“And a luminous cloud appeared there. He said, ‘Let an angel come into being as my attendant.’

“A great angel, the enlightened divine Self-Generated, emerged from the cloud. Because of him, four other angels came into being from another cloud, and they became attendants for the angelic Self-Generated. The Self-Generated said, ‘Let him come into being,’ and he came into being."

[Sidebar: I find the numerous ramifications of the term "self-generated" to be quite tantalizing. Clearly, in a pantheistic world, God-in-everything would certainly manifest in a self-generated entity. However, there are two parts to this expression: the "generated" part, and the "self" part. SELF-GENERATED. Again, for the past few weeks, I have been making a distinction between purely Jesus-based Christianity, and the Gnostic Christianity: this distinction concerns the issue of the Person of God. The pantheistic aspect of Gnostic philosophy attributes a God-Consciousness to all things--but Christianity brings to humanity the Personality of God, through Jesus the Christ. To be sure, only a bogus quality of God-consciousness can possibly manifest in the physical, because this focus of consciousness MUST be compromised by physical limitations; and yet, the miracle of the Christ consciousness, the Word Incarnate, is that, so limited by carnal illusion, it is still imbued with an infinite range of dynamic and spiritually transforming possibilities. The Person of the Christ is the dimension of God-Consciousness which is able to become human, address the human, and transform the human. Again, Jesus has always been seen as a mediator: a mediator between the unfathomable Person of God and the fathomable Person of God.

Back to Judas:]

"And he created the first luminary to reign over him. He said, ‘Let angels come into being to serve him,’ and myriads without number came into being. He said, ‘Let an enlightened aeon come into being,’ and he came into being. He created the second luminary to reign over him, together with myriads of angels without number, to offer service."

[Sidebar: It is of some interest that: several times in this section the expression "without number" is used. This expression calls to mind the distinction we have previously made between the terms "everlasting" and "eternal". Remember that "everlasting" refers to a sequence of time moments which are numberless, and which must therefore be considered to be infinite, whereas, the "eternal" moment is an infinity outside time.  It is interesting to me how many subtle shades, gradations, and modes of time there are.

Indeed, of central importance, when comparing the Gnostic gospels with the Synoptic Gospels, is the cosmic view of the Primitive Universe compared to the somehow CIVILIZED view of the Christian Universe. As we know, the Nicene priests exerted their own prejudices in choosing the gospels that they chose to accept, and rejecting the gospels they chose to reject. But the fact that the early church fathers had a problem with magic, doesn't mean there is no longer any magic in the world. The Gnostic Gospels remind us that there is a mystery out there beyond all mysteries, and this mystery has many faces.

Back to Judas:]

“Adamas was in the first luminous cloud that no angel has ever seen among all those called ‘God.’ He created the image of Man after the likeness of this angel. He made the incorruptible generation of Seth appear."

[Sidebar: I have always been curious about this mention of Seth. I looked it up in Wikipedia, and found a connection between Seth and the Gnostics:

"The Sethians were a Christian Gnostic sect who may date their existence to before Christianity. Their influence spread throughout the Mediterranean into the later systems of the Basilideans and the Valentinians. Their thinking, though it is predominantly Judaic in foundation, is arguably strongly influenced by Platonism. Sethians are so called for their veneration of the biblical Seth, who is depicted in their myths of creation as a divine incarnation; consequently, the offspring or 'posterity' of Seth are held to comprise a superior elect within human society."

I mention this because, in the Gospel of Judas, Jesus clearly indicates that certain races of human beings are superior to other races; the Sethians considered themselves to be direct descendants of the third, most righteous Son of Adam, and therefore the most viable candidates for celestial ascendancy.

Back to Judas on the subject of hierarchy:]

"He made seventy-two luminaries appear in the incorruptible generation, in accordance with the will of the Spirit. The seventy-two luminaries themselves made three hundred sixty luminaries appear in the incorruptible generation, in accordance with the will of the Spirit, that their number should be five for each.

“The twelve aeons of the twelve luminaries constitute their father, with six heavens for each aeon, so that there are seventy-two heavens for the seventy-two luminaries, and for each of them five firmaments, for a total of three hundred sixty firmaments. They were given authority and a great host of angels without number, for glory and adoration, and after that also virgin spirits, for glory and adoration of all the aeons and the heavens and their firmaments."

This section is very biblical, in its use of all sorts of numbers in groups of hierarchical orders, and its use of numerical proportions; it's like the "begats", or the dimensions, in cubits, of an Arc, for instance. It sounds like a rewrite of an earlier Old Testament text. Again, with the Gnostic Gospels, we encounter of phase of history where an old tradition is meeting a new tradition, and, there, morphing into a new consciousness. Knowing, as we do, that the Gospel of Judas is written by a Gnostic author, (certainly not by Judas himself), it is very reasonable to suggest that this Gnostic writer might be quoting some earlier theology from an earlier book; in fact, he might possibly be quoting an Old Testament writer whose work would have been retained only by oral tradition--written down for the first time in the Gospel of Judas. It's just a thought.

My Favorite part is Judas' vision of his own martyrdom:

3: Judas recounts a vision and Jesus responds:

"Judas said,

“Master, as you have listened to all of them, now also listen to me. For I have seen a great vision.”

When Jesus heard this, he laughed and said to him,

“You thirteenth spirit, why do you
try so hard? But speak up, and I shall bear with you.”

Judas said to him,

“In the vision I saw myself as the twelve disciples were stoning me and persecuting me severely. And I also came to the place where following after you. I saw a house, and my eyes could not comprehend its size. Great people were surrounding it, and that house had a roof of greenery, and in the middle of the house was a crowd of men, and I turned to you saying,

‘Master, take me in along with these

Jesus answered and said,

“Judas, your star has led you astray.”

He continued,

“No person of mortal birth is worthy to enter the house you have seen, for that place is reserved for the holy. Neither the sun nor the moon will rule there, nor the day, but the holy will abide there always, in the eternal realm with the holy angels. Look, I have explained to you the mysteries of the kingdom and I have taught you about the error of the stars; and of the twelve aeons.”

[Sidebar: It is charming how we get the feeling that Judas has merely followed along behind his master into Heaven, and then Jesus turns around and sees him standing there. Nevertheless, Jesus must reiterate to Judas what He had previously told the other eleven: that entry into that great heavenly house is forbidden (even though, later, it turns out that Judas actually does end up entering  that great house). Also of interest is Jesus' curious remark about "the error of the stars". It is tempting to get involved in the various possible interpretations of this, but I think I will go with the idea that spiritual evolution is outside time, and is therefore unaffected by the "sun nor the moon". This, then, leaves the door wide open to all sorts of developments in spiritual time which have no precedent in physical time. Thus, the possibility of upward or downward mobility on the spiritual ladder is introduced, in mythological time, well ahead of Jacob and his vision at Bethel.

I'm not sure what interests me more, the idea of Judas being stoned by the Eleven, or his vision of the heavenly house. Many of the abstrusely sinister remarks Jesus makes in all the Gospels, (about how it would be better if Judas had never been born, for instance), are made bright as day when the ultimate fate of Judas is factored into the narrative. On the other hand, the description of the heavenly house, so similar to the house in the dream of the Eleven, (possibly on the same night?), has much to say about the role of Jesus as savior, meanwhile offering a possible description of the spiritual structure of the Universe. The next section brings these two issues together when Judas asks about his own future:

"Judas said,
“Master, could it be that my seed is under the control of the rulers?”

[Sidebar: The "rulers" mentioned earlier in the text, to whit:

“The twelve rulers spoke with the twelve angels: ‘Let each of you bring forth a new generation of angels’:
The first is Seth, who is called Christ.
The second is Harmathoth.
The third is Galila.
The fourth is Yobel.
The fifth is Adonaios.
These are the five who ruled over the underworld, and first of all over chaos."

So, by inquiring about the "rulers" Judas is, in a way, asking about his fate, and ultimately about his subjection to the rule, not only of a choir of angels, but of the stars:

Back to Judas:

"Jesus answered and said to him,

“You will grieve much when you see the kingdom and all its generation.”

When he heard this, Judas said to him,

“What good is it that I have received it? For
you have set me apart for that generation.”

Jesus answered and said,

“You will become the thirteenth, and you will be cursed by the other generations—and you will come to rule over them. In the last days they will curse your ascent to the holy generation.”

In this last sentence, Jesus is clearly prophesying the ascent of Judas into the ranks of the "holy generation". It is worth noting that, in spite of the simple message of "love thy neighbor", there is a mind-boggling complexity of cosmic structure described by Jesus in this gospel. There is nothing democratic about this heavenly hierarchy. Grace and Karma battle for supremacy as the prime mover of all things, and the Jesus of the Gospel of Judas does not give us any simple answers. Nevertheless, there is one absolute truth we MUST glean from this book: that spiritual progress is a process that takes place on many levels of consciousness, and in many modes of time. With this in mind, I will close with this insight that came to me while I was studying this gospel:

I have always defined love as "the connection between people". I have recently come to the realization that Love is not the connection between people, it is the process of discovering the connection between people. And without Jesus in our corner, we could never participate in that process.

Let us pray: Jesus thank you for the knowledge that passionate people have passed down to us. Thank you for the knowledge that has been gathered from the truth of history, and thank you for the truth of the heart, which transforms the greatest history into myth. Amen.