Who We Are

Vestiges of Christianity is a news blog maintained under the direction of Bishop Bryan D. Ouellette, Ph.D., SOSM. Our goal is to reconcile ancient Christian theology with contemporary orthodox Christian practices and understandings. Our praxis carries with it a strong eastern liturgical focus while maintaining a freedom of spirituality that is true to ancient Christian ideology. We welcome anyone who desires to discover gnosis through the expression of early Christianity. We use the word "gnosis" with the intention to reflect its original meaning of soteriological knowledge, mystical wisdom and spiritual realization. While we encourage a working philosophical comprehension of Classical Gnosticism from antiquity, we are not a Gnostic or reconstructionist church. Our theology is orthodox, our approach, furthermore, is mystically liberating.

Monday, February 22, 2010

What to do about the Nicene Creed?

The Holy Monastic Order En Deus will follow the Russian Orthodox Tradition to the fullest extent possible, but retain its essential connection to the Sethian theological perspective. Of course, this can present some surface problems that often need clarification at best or reinterpretation at worst. One such area of contention is the use of the Nicene Creed in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. Because the Monastery has chosen this Liturgy as its primary liturgical form, the need for clarification becomes paramount.

I hate Creeds because I hate dogmatic statements. I'm not too found of beliefs either as they tend to only get us into further trouble. Therefore, it seems only logical that the Monastery should eliminate the Creed as part of the Liturgy to simplify the problem. But I, as Abbot, have chosen not to do so because I wish to remain as true as possible to the Russian Orthodox model. The following is what I have come up with as an appropriate resolution.

First, let me begin by stating that any use of a model like that of Russian Orthodoxy by a Gnostic presupposes that the participants are already well aware of the intrinsic limitations earthly models provide. With that being said, it shouldn't be too far of a stretch for a Gnostic to consider that any use of the Bible automatically predisposes the Gnostic to such inevitable problematic complexities. Because the Nicene Creed is the absolute literalism of certain essential conventional Scriptural doctrines and because it was used to fight against the so-called “heresies” of the time, the Gnostic must use care when applying it to any ritual practice. Some might argue that this is impossible, but again, if the Gnostic can use the Bible, the Gnostic by default, can use the Nicene Creed without betraying one's own internal wisdom.

This is accomplished by understanding and accepting the mythos of the Creed itself.

Let us now break down each section with a brief commentary to illustrate the methodology described above.

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty

The average Gnostic should have no serious issue with this statement. The oneness of God and the existence of the Ineffable Father are all very common themes found throughout Gnostic thought.

Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

On the surface this may appear to cause a problem with the classical Gnostic myth surrounding the Demiurge and the archonic forces. But again, when one considers that the Demiurge creates nothing, but rather "crafts" what already is in existence, the Gnostic can safely say that the Ineffable Father is still the core source and maker of all things.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father

For the Christian Gnostic, these statements attached to the Christ reflect well the transcendent emanations often recorded in the Gnostic texts. The Gnostic can use the above as just one more complicated cosmology that reflects an essential cosmic truth in words and symbols.

by whom all things were made.

Again, like before, we have already established that the Father is the actual source of all created substance even if archonic forces arrange and form this substance in imperfect ways.

Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary, and was made man;

Christian Gnosticism has no problem seeing Christ as the primary savior figure emanating from the Barbelo which is often understood to be a Mother principle. Combine the idea that the Holy Spirit is the heavenly aspect of the Theotokos (which can also be seen as the Earthly aspect of the Holy Spirit), both of which are products of the divine feminine (Sophia), and this part of the Creed becomes rather beautiful and inspirational. Some Gnostics might object to the idea of God becoming man, but I believe doing so actually diminishes our own innate divinity.

and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father;

If one contemplates fundamental Christian mythology, the Gnostic can affirm this statement without effort. The first part deals with a very simple historical possibility, while the latter exemplifies characteristics expected of a self-generating Aeon. While again, some Gnostics might object to the notion that Christ had to die on the cross for our salvation, but I think that any Gnostic engaging a liturgical priesthood should consider the immense value to be found in the sacrifice on the cross, particularly if one’s tradition emphasizes the Eucharist, as the Monastery will. Priests offer divine sacrifices. What then offers a better mythos for a priest than a God that loves humanity so much, he dies for its members?

and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the living and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

Now we come to one of two rather complicated affirmations for a common Gnostic. The Parousia presents an intellectual problem for the Gnostic because the statement above was written to assume that mankind is bound by the stain of Original Sin and will not only require redemption from this sin, but be judged accordingly (a notion Gnosticism by far rejects). Yet, if the Gnostic considers carefully the nature of sin as ignorance, it becomes much easier to produce a psychological explanation for the above statement. Christ's Second Coming can be found within us at certain pivotal peak experiences that one will inevitably encounter if on the path through and to Gnostic Enlightenment. And by our own standards of receiving this "Christ Consciousness", we shall discern or judge our very own aptitude, whether we are wide awake (living) or largely unconscious (dead). This process is truly without end as it is the process of a developing awareness at work in this cosmos from the beginning of time.

And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

This can be dismissed easily as another expression of continued emanation mythology. One alphabet is usually as good as another as long as one understands the words those letters create. Worship comes from the word "worth". By honoring this process, by placing value upon it, we express the finest example of worship available to the Divine.

And I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

The Universal Church of Autogenes is an Apostolic Church with valid Apostolic Succession. Because of this, there is no difficulty recognizing that we are a part of the whole original Church.

I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins;

While some Gnostics recognize secret sacraments and baptisms, none need worry about affirming one baptism for the remission of sins. If the Gnostic appropriately understands sin to be the result and product of ignorance, then one should find comfort in the idea that the conventional sacramental use of baptism can and will indeed place ignorance in remission. Other secret baptisms work on a totally different level.

and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

And here presents the second general problem. Do we as Gnostics seek a physical resurrection or even a spiritual one? Should we look forward to an afterlife condition? I have contemplated this statement of the Nicene Creed more than any before it and I have finally concluded that if we choose to use a Christian model, as the Monastery clearly has, it is impossible to avoid the notion that there is a condition beyond our current modality. The Christian Gnostic should then accept that within the context of the Christian mythos, certain language will be used that highlights or expresses this higher reality as a general immortality. I am comfortable with it, in whatever form it chooses to present itself.

I hope this helps those who may struggle with the Nicene Creed and I hope it allows you to recite this Creed with confidence if you ever find yourself at a Divine Liturgy that uses it.