Christian Wisdom Tradition vs. Gnosticism

Excerpt from the essay, Lord Jesus Christ, Master of Yoga

2.2 The Christian Wisdom Tradition in relation to Gnosticism

The main textual evidence of Jesus’ time in India from the Christian tradition comes from The Acts of Yesu the Saviour (1st c, Kharoshthi language) and The Acts of Thomas, 1st c. CE. A letter from Eusebius, 2nd c. and the writings of St Jerome, 5th c. CE, show that Lord Jesus travelled to Eastern places in journeys not mentioned in the Bible. These latter texts do not directly state that Lord Jesus went to India but can be seen as secondary supporting evidence.

Many Christians may not want to examine this evidence from texts associated with the Nazorean Essenes and Gnosticism respectively. I am not a present-day Gnostic.  As an exponent of the inner wisdom tradition of Christianity, which includes the non-canonical Gospels of Mary, Thomas, and Philip, as well as the Acts of John, Acts of Thomas and Secret Book of John, Thunder, Perfect Mind and Pistis Sophia, I believe that some of the ancient texts appropriated by Gnosticism are not inherently gnostic, for reasons which I will explain below. These are the texts of the original Christian wisdom tradition, and I believe that they carry within them illuminations of the Lord’s love for sincere Christians today.

The original followers of the Christian wisdom tradition were declared heretical by the heresiological Fathers at the Nicene Council in 325 CE. The designated heretics were represented by the southern Bishops, and tended towards simplicity of lifestyle and the practice of celibacy, as opposed to the opulence and worldliness of the northern bishops of the Roman Church. They were the original exponents of the wisdom teachings, the inner teachings of Lord Jesus to his disciples about miracles and the relationship between the planes. Some of them escaped persecution by the mainstream Roman Church, and became the Desert Fathers who buried the Nag Hammadi Library in Egypt. Centuries later the wisdom teachings re- emerged with the Cathars, who were once again declared heretical and brutally persecuted by the Roman Church in the 13th – 18th centuries. Our Greater Church is still declaring the wisdom teachings heretical and equating them with Gnosticism.

There are probably six main points of divergence between the heresiological fathers and the present-day gnostics: internal/external God, God the mother, different versions of the Genesis story, monotheism vs. polytheism, Jesus as Messiah, celibacy/monogamy vs.polygamy.

The heresiological Fathers of the early Roman Catholic Church, of whom Irenaeus (1)[i] is probably the most well-known, ( b. 2nd century; d. c 200) stood doctrinally diametrically opposed to the Gnostics. The Gnostics tended to the far left, internalizing deity. The heresiologists tended to the far right, externalizing God to the point of removing Him far out of reach of the humble masses, and sowing the seeds of a “worm theology”. This God-external became like another idol in its own right, almost a symbol or word-representation rather than a personal and authentic experience of the Holy Spirit. This idol proved very fit for beating witches and Jews about the head with in the terrible centuries between the 15th and 18th known as the burning times, in which the Spanish Inquisition is estimated to have committed between 60,000 and nine million murders (2) [ii]. “Worm” mentality remains a very real and deep problem in the psyches of many sincere Christians today, compounded by the pervasive elements of heresiological doctrine in many of our liturgies and songs: “I though so unworthy, still am a child in His care”

Sometimes as I watch my fellow Christians repeating in Church, “I am not fit to pick up the crumbs from under your table, but only say the word, and I shall be healed”, I watch a visible pall of fear fall over them as they seem to shrink in the very pews.  My heart yearns to lift the sudden sadness that seems to fill them.  I wonder,  could we say instead, “My light is a candle, Yours is the sun, yet Your wonderful light still shines upon  me”?   When I think of picking up crumbs from under a table, I think of being starving, unloved, a poor and desperate beggar.  I am sure God does not want me to think of myself like that.

In true humility is a certain sweetness.   In contrast, pride needs to be the best one and it wounds others with its one-upmanship. It can  also drive  us to exhaustion or even into self-mortification, as we  try to become the best disciple. Humility, however,  lets us off the hook.  We experience that unconditional love loves us just as we are, mistakes, limits, burdens and all, and it is a very sweet moment. “Blessed are the humble, for they shall inherit the whole earth”. (Matt 5:5)

I wonder if some of our liturgy reflects pride-driven self-mortification, rather than true, sweet, simple, silent humility and self-acceptance before a loving God, our Friend.  Sometimes what poses as humility might in fact be  ego,  trying ceaselessly to win brownie points before a punitive God. Pride is still guilty, but humility arises in a forgiven heart.

In contrast to “worm theology” , the internalized deity of the Gnostics carried a danger of arrogance and trivialisation.  If God lives within me, there is a danger He becomes somewhat reducible to my own human plane.  A sense of awe is lacking.  The universe can become human-centred, as though the human plane is the most advanced in existence.

In the wisdom text The Gospel of Thomas, Lord Jesus solves this problem of internal and external deity, for us. He says, God is within you, and God is also beyond you. 

3 Jesus said, “If your leaders say to you, ‘Look, the (Father’s) kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is within you and it is outside you.

When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and you are the poverty.” (3) [iii]

The problem of identification with the Lord is a subtle one. Human beings are not greater than God, yet we are children of God, in whom he has placed a seed of Himself which gives life to our bodies and a divine yearning to find Him again to our souls. Lord Jesus said, The disciple is not greater than his master, but everyone whose learning is complete will be like his master. (Luke 6:40). And again, “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you” (Luke 17:21).

God said, “I AM that I AM. .. Tell them, I AM has sent me to you”. (Exodus 3:14) Jesus uses the same Hebrew word in Mark 14:62, “Jesus said, “I AM. And ‘you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power’ and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.'”

This “I AM-ness” is present in seed-form in the human being, who knows, I am. In the Lotus Sutra Chapter 9 http://lotus.nichirenshu.org/lotus/lectures/lotus_09.htm

Lord Jesus (Rahula) is pressured to say, “I am God” in order to demonstrate his enlightenment to the lamas (Buddhist monks). However, he will only repeat, “I am the Son of God”. The head lama recognizes Lord Jesus’ greatness because of the humility he demonstrates. It is ironic that the Pharisees considered him arrogant and crucified him for repeating, I am the Son of God.

In Lord Jesus’ words lie the resolution of the conflict between the internalised god of the Gnostics and the externalised God of the heresiological fathers. God placed a spark of himself in every human being when He created him or her. Therefore, we are to honour ourselves and every human being as the sublime creation of God. However, it is good also to remember in humility that God’s light and love and power are more sublime, blissful and munificent than we can ever possibly imagine. Just when we think we have received as much grace as we can possibly hold, there’s probably more. Amen.

The second issue which divided the Gnostics and the heresiological fathers was God the Mother. The Gnostics allowed worship of God the Mother to bring them dangerously close to a multiplicity of god-forms, and to a belief that tantra or sexual practice is necessary for gnosis to occur. Conversely, the heresiological fathers seem to have systematically worked through the canon and ripped out every reference to God the Mother from Genesis to Revelation, apart from surviving glances at Shekinah in the Septuagint.

Once again, Lord Jesus solves the problem for us, again in the Gospel of Thomas. He says, “Where there are three, then they are gods. Where there are one or two, there I am with them”. ‘One’ is God the Father. ‘Two’ is God the Mother. If they are ‘three’, that is, if they copulate and give birth, for example Apollo and Aphrodite produce Persephone, then they are no longer actual, present, omniscient God and Goddess, they have become symbolic, mentally-created god-forms. Jesus is saying that God the Father and God the Mother do not copulate to produce a third. They are Father and Mother in the sense that they precede the human race. They are already in union, as actual and co-existent consciousness and energy, rather than as symbolic god-forms for whom copulation is necessary at some point in the future in order to experience or attain union.

In accepting the Two, Lord Jesus is saying that God the Mother exists. She exists in actuality, greater than a mentally-created symbolic goddess-form. A goddess-form exists on the mental plane, but God the Mother exists prior to and independently of the human experience of her.

The Gospel of Philip tells us that the Holy Spirit is female,

“Some said, “Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit.” They are in error. They do not know what they are saying. When did a woman ever conceive by a woman? Mary is the virgin whom no power defiled. She is a great anathema to the Hebrews, who are the apostles and the apostolic men.”(4)[iv]

The Spirit of God appears in the Old and New Testaments as the Hebrew feminine noun, Shekinah. Shekinah is related to the Sanskrit word for the Goddess, Shakti, and from which comes the Indo-European root for our English word, “she”.

she   pron.   Used to refer to the woman or girl previously mentioned or implied. See Usage Note at I1.

[Middle English, probably alteration of Old English sēo, feminine demonstrative pron.; see so- in Indo-European roots.] (5)[v]

Shekinah is the cloud which surrounded God’s glory in Exodus 13:21, the pillar of cloud and fire in Exodus 14:19, which covered Mt Sinai in Exodus 24:16, filled the tabernacle in Exodus 40:34-5 and filled Solomon’s temple in 1 Kings 8:11. Shekinah reappeared with Christ in Matt. 17:5 and Luke 2:9. Christ ascended in the glory of Shekinah in Acts 1:4 and will return in Her glory Mark 14:62, Rev. 14:14.

Lord Jesus says, “ I can guarantee this truth: people will be forgiven for any sin or curse, but those who blaspheme against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, either in this world or the next” ( Mark 3:28).

God is I AM, consciousness, awareness, being-ness. (Exodus 3:14) Goddess, or the Holy Spirit, manifests in human beings as the breath of life. The story of this is told in the Secret Book of John. Goddess is known as Sophia and Barbelo in the texts of the Christian wisdom tradition.

The third area of dissension between the heresiological fathers and Gnosticism is that the Christian wisdom tradition presents an alternative version of the Genesis story to our Old Testament version. The Old Testament was proclaimed divine by the Septuagint of 60 BCE, which was then proclaimed divine by the Nicene Council of 325 CE. I accept the alternative version of Genesis offered by the wisdom tradition, in texts such as the Secret Book of John. Here is presented a much more merciful God, who neither chased Adamand Eve out of the garden of Eden nor condemned them to eternal hard labour and agonizing pain in childbirth respectively.

Perhaps we as Christians need to acknowledge that in the development of our (beloved) Western Bible, which books were included or not included as canonical texts was at times rather a matter of the human, and of which bishop was in power with what personal agenda, than of the divine.

Geoff Forster (6) [vi] says, “The Bible contains the divine message”.

Regarding ‘The Political History Of Lord Jesus’ [Glenn Kimball} says,

” .. I call the selection process of who had the most complete version of Christianity following the death of Lord Jesus “the war of the libraries”.

  Every faction of Christianity had its own hand-written library of documents. The largest of the libraries remained in Egypt and passed through the hands of Origen, Clement and ultimately Arius. However, the most powerful of the surviving bishops were the ones who were closest to the powers of Rome. By the time of the Nicene Counsel [held in Nicaea in Bithynia (present-day Iznik in Turkey), convoked by the Roman Emperor Constantine I in 325] when Constantine had formally decided to consolidate Christianity into one group, most of the beliefs and manuscripts supporting various beliefs had been fictionalized too. Therefore, one of the major reasons for the Nicene Counsel was not to collect all the known manuscripts together, but rather to condemn all the manuscripts that survived with Arius in Egypt. Therefore, the northern bishops had won and the southern bishops had been condemned.

The Old Testament had been consolidated under the title of the Septuagint and selected by a delegation of seven high priests from every tribe in Israel in 68 BCE.”(7)[vii]

“The New Testament was organized and selected based on the most popular texts of the libraries of the Northern Bishops, even though many of those manuscripts were not written until almost a hundred years after the death of Lord Jesus. The original manuscripts used by the infant Christian churches, like the collection called “The Only Rule of Our Faith” which contained the whole story of the family of Lord Jesus, were hidden under the cloak called “Something too secret and sacred to be in the hands of the common people” (Apocrypha). In addition the book called “The Teachings of the Apostles” had long been destroyed, though excellent copies were preserved in monasteries on the banks of the Dead Sea and taken ultimately to Persia and China.” (8)[viii]

When Paul writes to the Ephesians ( Eph 6:5) that slaves should obey their masters, I believe that this is the human Paul writing, (though he be a far greater soul than I), and that without question slavery should be abolished . The hackneyed rationalisation I have heard from too many pulpits is that in those days this was the best option for the slaves, and it does not satisfy. Paul himself admits, in 1 Cor 7:12, that he himself is writing, not the Lord.

12But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.

If he could admit his humanness, we can also, in no diminished respect for him.

In the Secret Book of John, John says, it is not completely as Moses wrote. (9)[ix] This is unthinkable heresy for most Christians, who are obliged to accept the full inerrancy of the Pentateuch and of the Bible as the divine word of God.

Not accepting the inerrancy of the Bible does not mean becoming morally slack or worldly. In Matthew 5:17 Jesus says, “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose”. The Sermon on the Mount is very clear and strict.

What is the revised version of Genesis that Lord Jesus told to John in the Secret Book of John, and to James in the First Apocalypse of James/Secret Book of James.

It is a version that presents a much more merciful God, much to my relief. I had always felt anxiety upon reading about how God cast Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden, and wondered why He did not want them to know the difference between good and evil.

It is written in these texts, that in the beginning there was God, the One “illimitable.. unfathomable.. immeasurable.. invisible.. eternal.. unutterable.. unnameable.. grace that gives grace” (10)[x] Goddess appeared as the visible image of the invisible God. God looked into Goddess’s eyes and the unconceived Child appeared. His light was beautiful but less than God’s light so God anointed Him until he was perfect. Messiah means, the anointed one. From the Child and the incorruptibility of the Goddess, came 4 angels. In the domain of the first angel was Adam Kadmon, or Geradamas the perfect man, of the second angel, Seth, of the third angel, Seth’s descendants, of the fourth angel, the late repenters. From this fourth domain came Sophia, the wisdom of hindsight or mystery of grace. From Sophia came Samael, Satan. Sin came so that Sophia, grace, the wisdom of hindsight, could be known in all its blessedness. Sophia had to remain in a dark place for allowing Satan to come into being, and giving him her breath. Satan’s problem was jealousy. He could not stand not to be as high as God. There is a deep lesson for us in this. How often do we allow a sense of inferiority or unworthiness to motivate us into covetous, prohibitive, jealous actions?

Satan created 12 angels (demons) for himself, These were called the authorities or archons. From them, another 365 were created. Hence the finite realm of time came into being, of 12 months and 365 days.

Satan looked up and saw Adam Kadmon, , the archetypal man. In jealousy for the creation of God, he decided he would create his own version and made Adam out of matter, using the power of his demons. But Adam did not have the spirit of life and could not move. Goddess looked down and saw and took pity on Adamand sent messengers to Satan to tell him to give Adamthe breath of life that Sophia had given him. Satan blew on Adam, and the breath of wisdom left Satan and entered Adam. Sophia was allowed to go back to heaven because her breath was no longer trapped in Satan.

So Adam gained life from Sophia’s breath through Satan, but Satan was even more wildly jealous of him now, and determined to steal back from him the breath of life. Satan decided he would create his own Sophia, and from the living Adam he created Eve in the image of Sophia, the mystery of grace.

God saw the plight of Adamand Eve. Lord Jesus assumed the form of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God and Lord Jesus wanted Adamand Eve to eat of the Tree so that they would gain a conscience and be able to evolve back to God. This is the part of the story that I find relieves me of anxiety. I have always had difficulty trying to understand, why God would not want humans to know the difference between good and evil. Isn’t that his entire purpose for us, that we would know the difference between good and evil and therefore become good?

They ate of the Tree. They gained knowledge. Satan, wild with fury, threw them out of the Garden and into the lowest frequency of matter, cursing Eve with pain in childbirth and Adamwith hard labour. It is a great relief to me to think that God is that which wants a woman’s pain in childbirth to be healed, not the monster who created it. Yes.

Satan is still jealous of Adam and Eve to whom God gave knowledge, and to this very day we are struggling to free our hearts of Satan’s mistrust of God. We are learning not to be jealous of those in a higher place, because God is that which loves, forgives and accepts us, just as we are. Amen.

The fourth area of dissension between the heresiologists and the Gnostics is on the issue of celibacy/monogamy vs. polygamy. The fifth issue is that the present-day Gnostics are equivocal about Jesus as Messiah. The sixth is that polytheistic god-forms are acceptable in present-day Gnosticism.

In contrast, Lord Jesus taught (11) [xi] that the symbolic god-forms are not necessary. Aham brahmasmi. You are worthy to go directly to God, to the non-symbolic, actual, present, omniscient, omnipotent, God of truth, awareness and bliss (sat-cit-ananda), whose form is of light, who exists independently of your own mind, and independently of your belief in Him and yet is within you at the same time. (12)[xii]

16 Issa Denied The Trimurti And The Incarnation Of Para-Brahma In Vishnu, Shiva, And Other Deities, Saying:

17 The Eternal Aumen, The Eternal Spirit, Composeth The One And Indivisible Soul Of The Universe, Which Alone Createth, Containeth, And Animateth The Whole.

18 They Alone Have Willed And Created; They Alone Have Existed From Eternity And Will Exist Forever, And They Have No Equal Either In Heaven Nor On This Earth.

19 Holy Aumen Share Their Power With No One, Still Less With Inanimate Objects As You Have Been Taught, For They Alone Possess Supreme Power.

20 They Willed It, And Through Aumen The World Appeared; By One Divine Thought, They United The Waters And Separated Them From The Dry Portion Of The Globe.

21 They Are The Cause Of The Mysterious Life Of Humans, In Whom They Have Breathed A Part Of Their Being.

22 They Have Subordinated Unto Humankind, The Land, The Waters, And The Animals, And All That They Have Created, And Which They Maintain In Immutable Order By Fixing The Limits Of Each.

23 The Karmic Justice Of Aumen Shall Soon Be Allowed To Follow Its Natural Course On Humankind, For They Have Forgotten Their Creator And Filled Their Temples With Abominations; And They Adore A Host Of Creatures Which Aumen Hath Subordinated Unto Them.

24 For, To Be Pleasing To Stones And Metals, They Sacrifice Human Beings In Whom Dwelleth A Part Of The Spirit Of The Most High.

Tibetan Gospel 5:16-24

It is problematic that the Christian wisdom tradition has become confused with Gnosticism by the heresiological Church. Gnosticism may be polytheistic, polygamous, and is equivocal about Lord Jesus as Saviour. The wisdom texts, such as the Gospels of Philip, Thomas and Mary, and the Secret Books of John and James, are quite dissonant with pluralism, polytheism, and polygamy. They are messianic, monotheistic, and advocate celibacy or monogamy. Nowhere do they state that Lord Jesus and Mary Magdalene were lovers.

How did this confusion arise? For 2,000 years the Christian wisdom texts have been abused for the practice of demonic magic, from Simon the Magus (13) [xiii] in Lord Jesus’ time, (Acts 8:9-24), right down to Aleister Crowley’s work in the 1930’s, and no doubt up to the present day. The present-day Gnostic Society includes study of the occult gnosis of the 19th and 20th centuries, including John Dee’s “angel magic” and Crowley’s “Ecclesia Gnostica”. Crowley was a polytheist, pluralist and practitioner of polygamy for enlightenment, one of whose magical names was “The Beast”. The wisdom tradition texts, such as the Secret Book of John, are very open to abuse by such ceremonial magicians and practitioners of demonic magic, because they contain lists of names of angels and fallen angels, or demons, of which the magickian hastens to make use, tampering with the universe at his or her own and others’ peril. It is strange that the magicians could extract the demon information out of the texts without practising any of the deeper teachings – monotheism, monogamy, Jesus as Saviour – therein.

It is unfortunate, because it means that the texts themselves have become equated with dark practices that internally they are not aligned with.

In conclusion, I propose that the heresiologists, the fathers of our own western Church, in their attempts to stamp out demon-worshipping magicians, went too far in condemning the southern bishops as Gnostics, in the Nicene Council. The southern bishops were influenced by the Church of the East and the Chitsonim, or Essene Christians. They buried the Nag Hammadi Library, discovered in 1947. The monotheistic, messianic Christian wisdom texts of the Nag Hammadi Library, such as the Gospels of Thomas and Philip, do illuminate our understanding of God the Mother, and of the Genesis story, and are internally dissonant with the polytheism and polygamy of Gnosticism.


1. [i] Saint Irenaeus (Greek: Ειρηναίος), (b. 2nd century; d. c 200) was bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul, now Lyons, France. He was an early church father and apologist. He was a disciple of Polycarp of Smyrna, who was said to be a disciple of John the Evangelist.Irenaeus’s best-known book, Against Heresies, (c 180) is a detailed attack on Gnosticism, which was then a serious threat to the Church, and especially on the system of Valentinus.[1] As the first great Catholic theologian, he emphasized the traditional elements in the Church, especially the episcopate, Scripture, and tradition.[1] Irenaeus wrote that the only way for Christians to retain unity was to humbly accept one doctrinal authority–episcopal councils.[2] Against the Gnostics, who said that they possessed a secret oral tradition from Jesus himself, Irenaeus maintained that the bishops in different cities are known as far back as the Apostles — and none of them was a Gnostic. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irenaeus

2. [ii] See Arthur Hinds, http://www.twpt.com/burning.htm

3. [iii] http://users.misericordia.edu//davies/thomas/Trans.htm

4. [iv] http://www.webcom.com/gnosis/naghamm/gop.html

5. [v] http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/she

6. [vi] U3A lecturer, Melbourne. In a letter to me May 2006

7. [vii] http://www.ancientmanuscripts.com/books/septuagint_with_apocrypha.htm

8. [viii] http://www.ancientmanuscripts.com/books/tibet_new_testament.htm

9. [ix] Secret Book of John, in The Gnostic Bible, ed Willis Barnstone and Marvin Meyer, p.159

10. [x] Barnstone, Meyer, op. cit, p. 141 from The Secret Book of John.

11. [xi] See Tibetan Gospel http://www.essene.com/Issa.htm

12. [xii] Gospel of Thomas, Sutra 30 http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/gosthom.html

13. Simon Magus (Greek Σίμων ό μάγος), also known as Simon the Sorcerer and Simon of Gitta, is the name used by early Christian writers to refer to a person identified as a Samaritan proto-Gnostic. The figure appeared prominently in several apocryphal accounts by early Christian authors, who regarded him as the first heretic. He appears in the canonical Acts of the Apostles, verses 8:9-24, where he tries to offer money to the Apostles in exchange for miraculous abilities, specifically the power of laying on of hands. The sin of simony, or paying for position and influence in the church, is named for Simon. Verse 6.19 of the Apostolic Constitutions accuse him of antinomianism… Almost all of the surviving sources for the life and thought of Simon Magus are contained in works from ancient Christian writers: in the Acts of the Apostles, in patristic works (Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Hippolytus of Rome), and in the apocryphal Acts of Peter, early Clementine literature, and the Epistle of the Apostles…There are small fragments of a work written by him (or by one of his later followers using his name), the Apophasis Megale, or Great Pronouncement. He is also supposed to have written several treatises, two of which allegedly bear the titles The Four Quarters of the World and The Sermons of the Refuter, but are lost to us. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon_Magus

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