The question is drawn from the Greenhaven Tradition; the YaaD course is not published on the Greenhaven Tradition website, but is made available on a person-to-person basis. Material that is not so closely held is available at http://greenhaventradition.weebly.com/
Class 1, Paper 2 (after discussion): Choose a specific religion or path that appeals to you, study it, and write a one-page summary of its characteristics.
Assignment submitted July 25, 2011.
Gnostic Christianity reaction / response paper
Although I have never been Christian, I have always been fascinated by Christian monastics and ascetics, and nuns in particular. I've read autobiographies of women who have left monastic orders and I periodically trawl the Internet for the websites of convents to read about their everyday lives. I think part of the attraction may be the apparent simplicity of cloistered life: the way every action is set by Rule, every thought directed to a single purpose, every possession pared down to a bare minimum.
I'd probably hate actually living that way, but when I'm feeling stressed, it can seem like a very restful alternative.
So, when I selected Gnostic Christianity for my writing assignment, it was because I had one vaguely correct impression about the path and one incorrect impression. The almost correct idea is that Gnostic Christianity is focused on a personal, individual relationship with the Christian God in the person of Jesus. The incorrect idea is that Gnostic Christianity is an ascetic path.
The primary tenet of Gnostic Christianity is that Jesus revealed not A (or The) Truth, but a process for discerning truth. The ultimate aim of Gnostic Christians seems to be to personally understand the Word, the Logos, in such a way as to align and integrate spirituality and rationality, and in this way to become godlike. If it weren't for the whole "Jesus as Messiah" aspect (I don't at this point seem to be able to get past my Jewish upbringing to accept that), I could take that process as a very valid path for myself. It's not entirely unlike my understanding of Eclectic NeoPaganism, in which an individual is expected to do his or her own study and practice in order to find a personal set of working truths.
From what I could determine, not much is actually known about ancient Gnostic practice; because most of what was written down was produced by the Orthodox church in order to discredit the Gnostic communities. Modern Gnostic practice appears to be structurally similar to Roman Catholicism, with three very important differences:
- First and foremost, to my way of thinking, is that Gnostic Christians have inclusive policies about clergy. Members of the clergy can be of any sex, sexual orientation, and marital status.
- Second, the liturgy includes an additional devotion to the Holy Sophia, the principle of wisdom. I believe from my reading that this may be analogous to the Holy Ghost / Holy Spirit.
- Finally, the sacraments are slightly different, with Penance removed and replaced by Redemption, and Matrimony replaced by Bridal-Chamber (which may originally have been symbolic or allegorical, or may in fact refer specifically to sexual intercourse). If the latter, it parallels the Charge of the Goddess, which includes the statement, "All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals."
My impression that Gnostic Christianity is or was an ascetic path appears to have been a conflation with the Essene Jews of approximately the same time period. This is, however, not *entirely* incorrect, in that at least some Gnostic sects claim direct descent from the Essenes via Jesus of Nazareth. The Essene way was ascetic; initiates were distinguished by white robes and a daily devotion to bringing light into the world while maintaining both physical and spiritual purity, including frequent washing and bathing as well as washing each other's feet as a symbol of caring for one another as God cared for all. They were not permitted either to own slaves or to be wage-slaves, and maintained a vegetarian diet as a sign that they were not slaves to their appetites.
The Essenes, like the Gnostics who followed them, appear to have been very inclusive: communities included both men and women, both married and not, with no specific role distinctions based on sex or gender.
I do not see either Essene Judaism or Gnostic Christianity as a truly plausible path for me, but I respect and hope that I emulate certain of their points of faith: that we are all equals before the Divine and that every person should have the opportunity to find his or her own understanding of and path to the Divine, whether that be through an established religion or individual practice.