Mercy is a sweet gracious working in love, mingled with plenteous pity: for mercy worketh in keeping us, and mercy worketh turning to us all things to good. Mercy, by love, suffereth us to fail in measure and in as much as we fail, in so much we fall; and in as much as we fall, in so much we die: for it needs must be that we die in so much as we fail of the sight and feeling of God that is our life. Our failing is dreadful, our falling is shameful, and our dying is sorrowful: but in all this the sweet eye of pity and love is lifted never off us, nor the working of mercy ceaseth. For I beheld the property of mercy, and I beheld the property of grace: which have two manners of working in one love.
–Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love (c. 1393), Ch. 48; courtesy of Wikiquote.
I’ve been thinking about looking at how the Gnostic mythos is expressed in many contemporary movies. Upon reflection, I realized that despite having written an entire series on Gnosticism, I have never written a post specifically outlining the Gnostic mythos. Some have touched on parts of it; but I’ve never discussed it as a whole. Therefore, I decided to remedy this oversight–hence, the current post.
Of course an expression such as “Gnostic mythos” assumes that there is such a thing as a standardized, “official” Gnostic mythos in the first place. In fact, it has been argued that the term “Gnosticism” itself is problematic at best, and useless at worst. I wouldn’t go as far as that. Nevertheless, it is true that there were a lot of very different groups which are often in modern times lumped together as “Gnostic”, with varying degrees of justification. For the purposes of what I’m going to discuss here, I will specifically look at mythos of the best-known and most famous Gnostic group, the Sethians. The side benefit of this is that there is evidence, according to scholar David Brakke (which I discussed here) that the Sethians actually used the term “Gnostic” of themselves. I tend to agree with Brakke on this. Thus, by discussing the Sethian mythos, it’s perfectly accurate to describe what I’m doing as discussing the Gnostic mythos.
See the land, her Easter keeping,
Rises as her Maker rose.
Seeds, so long in darkness sleeping,
Burst at last from winter snows.
Earth with heaven above rejoices.
Field and gardens rejoices the spring;
Shaughs and woodlands ring with voices,
While the wild birds build and sing.
–Charles Kingsley (1882), in Poems: Including The Saint’s Tragedy, Andromeda, Songs, Ballads, Etc, p. 289.; courtesy of Wikiquote.
To be sure, it was not Easter Sunday but Holy Saturday, but, the more I reflect on it, the more this seems to be fitting for the nature of our human life: we are still awaiting Easter; we are not yet standing in the full light but walking toward it full of trust.
― Good Reads.; courtesy of
All the great groups that stood about the Cross represent in one way or another the great historical truth of the time; that the world could not save itself. Man could do no more. Rome and Jerusalem and Athens and everything else were going down like a sea turned into a slow cataract. Externally indeed the ancient world was still at its strongest; it is always at that moment that the inmost weakness begins. But in order to understand that weakness we must repeat what has been said more than once; that it was not the weakness of a thing originally weak. It was emphatically the strength of the world that was turned to weakness and the wisdom of the world that was turned to folly.
In this story of Good Friday it is the best things in the world that are at their worst. That is what really shows us the world at its worst. It was, for instance, the priests of a true monotheism and the soldiers of an international civilisation. Rome, the legend, founded upon fallen Troy and triumphant over fallen Carthage, had stood for a heroism which was the nearest that any pagan ever came to chivalry. Rome had defended the household gods and the human decencies against the ogres of Africa and the hermaphrodite monstrosities of Greece. But in the lightning flash of this incident, we see great Rome, the imperial republic, going downward under her Lucretian doom. Scepticism has eaten away even the confident sanity of the conquerors of the world. He who is enthroned to say what is justice can only ask: ‘What is truth?’ So in that drama which decided the whole fate of antiquity, one of the central figures is fixed in what seems the reverse of his true role. Rome was almost another name for responsibility. Yet he stands for ever as a sort of rocking statue of the irresponsible. Man could do no more. Even the practical had become the impracticable. Standing between the pillars of his own judgement-seat, a Roman had washed his hands of the world.
Since that day it has never been quite enough to say that God is his heaven and all is right with the world; since the rumour that God had left his heavens to set it right.
–G.K. Chesterton The collected works of G.K. Chesterton (1987) pp.188-90; courtesy of Wikiquote.
In Christianity, when we celebrate the Eucharist, sharing the bread and the wine as the body of God, we do it in the same spirit of piety, of mindfulness, aware that we are alive, enjoying dwelling in the present moment. The message of Jesus during the Seder that has become known as the Last Supper was clear. His disciples had been following Him. They had had the chance to look in His eyes and see Him in person, but it seems they had not yet come into real contact with the marvelous reality of His being. So when Jesus broke the bread and poured the wine, he said, This is My body. This is My blood. Drink it, eat it, and you will have life eternal. It was a drastic way to awaken His disciples from forgetfulness. When we look around, we see many people in whom the Holy Spirit does not appear to dwell. They look dead, as though they were dragging around a corpse, their own body. The practice of the Eucharist is to help resurrect these people so they can touch the Kingdom of Life. In the church, the Eucharist is received at every mass. Representatives of the church read from the biblical passage about the Last Supper of Jesus with His twelve disciples, and a special kind of bread called the Host is shared. Everyone partakes as a way to receive the life of Christ into his or her own body. When a priest performs the Eucharistic rite, his role is to bring life to the community. The miracle happens not because he says the words correctly, but because we eat and drink in mindfulness. Holy Communion is a strong bell of mindfulness. We drink and eat all the time, but we usually ingest only our ideas, projects, worries, and anxiety. We do not really eat our bread or drink our beverage. If we allow ourselves to touch our bread deeply, we become reborn, because our bread is life itself. Eating it deeply, we touch the sun, the clouds, the earth, and everything in the cosmos. We touch life, and we touch the Kingdom of God. When I asked Cardinal Jean Daniélou if the Eucharist can be described in this way, he said yes.
When we pick up a piece of bread, we can do it with mindfulness, with Spirit. The bread, the Host, becomes the object of our deep love and concentration. If our concentration is not strong enough, we can try saying its name silently, “Bread,” in the way we would call the name of our beloved. When we do this, the bread will reveal itself to us in its totality, and we can put it in our mouth and chew with real awareness, not chewing anything else, such as our thoughts, our fears, or even our aspirations. This is Holy Communion, to live in faith. When we practice this way, every meal is the Last Supper. In fact, we could call it the First Supper, because everything will be fresh and new.
–Thich Nhat Hanh, Living Buddha, Living Christ
Today, Holy Thursday, commemorates the institution of the Eucharist.
We’ve discussed Apostolic Succession in general, and we’ve seen how it came to exit even outside established churches, while still remaining valid. As with most things in life, however, it’s more complicated than it seems at first. That’s what I want to discuss in this post.
For the churches that claim Apostolic Succession, there are two interrelated but distinct issues valid clerical lineage, the internal and external. The internal issue is whether the men (and for some churches, women) whom the church in question chooses to serve as bishops (and secondarily, priests and deacons) are in fact validly ordained in that church’s lineage. In the vast majority of cases, this is a non-issue. All churches claiming Apostolic succession have some form or other of training and “quality control”* system for would-be clerics. There are lengthy periods of training (usually in a seminary), advanced degree requirements, various types of screening and vetting, and so on. Thus, an existing bishop doesn’t ordain just anyone as bishop, priest, or deacon. Furthermore, a minimum of three bishops is required to ordain another bishop (usually, many more than three are involved) as an extra level of caution in making sure the lineage is valid. That is, even if one or two of the bishops are somehow not in a legitimate line of succession, there are enough others involved that there is almost complete certainty of Apostolic Succession being passed on to the new bishop.
The external issue with Apostolic Succession is which purported Apostolic lineages in other churches a given church recognizes. This is where it gets interesting, and sometimes complex.
This post from Reditus perfectly makes the point that I have discussed, but less effectively, in my series on dualism.
A haunting image that has been etched into my mind manifested itself to me in a Russian Orthodox church during the All-Night Vigil for the Feast of the Annunciation. At a certain point during Matins (I won’t bore you with the context too much), the bearded priest stood before the icon of the Annunciation and chanted one of those old leftover ancient Slavonic chants with censer in hand. I am not sure why this made such an impression on me: it was a good hour into the service, and I know little Old Slavonic (I can sort of muddle my way through understanding what is going on.) The priest wore a sky blue phelonion gilded in gold, the robust baritone voice echoed through the church, and the melismatic chant reached back into time and grabbed from it some hidden reality that gleamed like the clouds at dusk…
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