by Rev. David Hogan, Ecclesia Valentinaris Antiqua
Austin, TX Parish
There are seen to be five sacraments in the Gnostic tradition. In the Catholic church, there are seven sacraments because they include marriage and death. That’s not to say that Gnostic priests can’t perform weddings, but they don’t count the physical marriage of two individuals as a sacrament, because they are trying to put all the focus on your aspiration, the marriage of matter and spirit.
Now, the five sacraments are as follows, and they actually work in this order:
1. Baptism by Water
The Baptism by Water opens the process of transformation within the seeker. Basically, the Baptism by Water is an initiation into the Holy Spirit by way of water. It is a new beginning.
It is no accident that the very first day of Epiphany is when all of the baptismal water is consecrated and blessed. I can tell you, baptism makes people start to think a little differently. What do you do when you start to move toward living the life that could be considered your perfected life?
2. Baptism by Fire
The second sacrament, the Baptism by Fire, is commonly known as the confirmation. It represents the Chrism, which is the actual anointing that makes a person Christ-like. Christos in Greek literally means “to anoint”, or “anointed”.
We started with Baptism by Water, and now here, we’re talking about the fire of the Holy Spirit. But we’re not yet to the place of actualization. The place where the fire of the Holy Spirit is actualized comes a little later in the lectionary, in the Pentecost ceremony: The fire of the Holy Spirit descends upon the apostles, and there is a flame seen on their foreheads in the shape of the letter Shin. We know that Shin is the letter that you add to YHVH to change it to YHShVH.
This brings up something interesting. What is the difference between the actualization of just Baptism by Water, and the fire of the Holy Spirit that descends upon the apostles? There is a difference between these things. One, in my opinion, is just an introduction into a new style of life, and a new type of awareness about your life. That is very much what baptism is, among other things. (I don’t want to go too much into the details of the ritual because our baptism ceremony is a bit more akin to an initiatory rite.)
Suffice it to say that if the Baptism by Water is an initiation into the Holy Spirit, the Baptism of Fire is the actualization of this Sophia-like wisdom within you. Right action is easy for the wise, but you don’t find many Wise that have no wisdom. It turns out that this wisdom is alive, and it speaks to the hearts and minds of humanity. So the question becomes, what does it teach? How does one listen? What is its name, etc.?
The third sacrament is commonly called Redemption, though sometimes it is called Renunciation of the Devil. I’m not too big on that second description, because it seems like something that it isn’t. I’ll give you an example. There was a man that came to me and said, “Can I have absolution?” Sure, I said. I drew a cross over him and said, “There you go. You’ll never have to be absolved again.”
He said, “What do you mean?”
I said, “It’s on you now. You asked for absolution. Now you have it. What will you do with it?”
In Gnosticism, a lot of the work falls upon the practitioner’s shoulders.
What do you do after you’ve gone to the parts of your inner being and awakened them to a new life? You live. It’s different working on yourself versus realizing that all of your interactions are also the process of your being redeemed. This sacrament quite literally is the activation of the Holy Spirit, or Sophia, within the mind and heart of an individual. One begins to identify with Her. The Cross represents the life of the individual that is brought to its own corruption to see that all parts are holy. One is always and only communing with God. This realization gives rise to what may be commonly called purpose.
4. The Eucharist
The fourth sacrament is the Eucharist, which we perform every Sunday as the Mass. The interesting thing about the Eucharist is that it actually contains all of the other sacraments within it. Baptism in the Asperging, Baptism by Fire with the Censing, Redemption with the partaking of the Holy Host. The Eucharist is also the one thing in all of Christian history that we know was performed from 1 AD on. It’s fascinating to think about how this rite has evolved. It was practiced 200 years before any canonical scripture was written. The Eucharist became the vehicle through which Christianity attained wisdom. Realized in the context of a collective group, this truly is an amazing rite: Spirit becomes matter, and that matter is consumed; as such, so is the individual. All that exists is the Mass, and here we find the proper place to learn to pray. This is not a place for Christians, but Christs.
5. The Bridal Chamber
The fifth sacrament is called the Bridal Chamber. This is a holy marriage between the parts of your personality with your Holy Guardian Angel, if you want to call it that. That is what Valentinus would have called it, since the concept seems to have originated with him. (In fact, the Holy Trinity also comes from Valentinus. The Roman Catholic Church labeled it heresy in the 1st century and readopted it in 373 when the Council of Nicaea convened.)
Now, what is the common thread between all of the sacraments, the wisdom that moves the seeker to quest?
When you first approach the mystery of Sophia, for example, you can look at her and eventually see that she is a part of everything. You begin to see her in all of the aspects of yourself. What else could Wisdom be? It literally is the embodiment of your perception. It is the embodiment of your thoughts. It is the structure of life that is woven together to create this thing that we live in.
Sure, in our myth, the Demiurgos may have created the physical world, but he came from Sophia. Throughout the course of myth, Sophia is trying to right the situation at every turn. Even when you’re down into the depths of mankind being created, and then the Demiurgos realizing he gave all his power away to his creation, and then throwing them down into the darkest parts of matter, you still have Sophia on a quest to make it right. (By the way, the physical embodiment of Sophia within all women, in my opinion, is the reason so many traditions have oaths to respect women.)
The actualization of this Sophia type of awareness, which is of a web of life, is something special, because with it you start to see patterns within your life. You can begin to see that they all are her in some way, and this allows you treat them differently. It changes you.
This realization isn’t quite the initiation into the Baptism of Fire that leads into Redemption, but it is an acknowledgement that the shift within is important and that it needs to happen for the process of Christification to take place. Kristos, the Greek for Christ, means to anoint. Christification is not a concept in which we believe that there should be one Christ, by the way. Our expectation is that all of us become Christ. That is to say that each of us is to become the perfect human.
Perfection sounds like a lot of pressure. But if you look at the model of the story of Jesus, you’ll see that it’s not quite what you think, because the perfected man in this story is not what most people would call “perfect”. He breaks almost every Rabbinical law at the time. His behavior provokes the Jews so much that they convince the Romans to crucify him. Now, to the story as allegory, or as the beginning of a new way of being: There are things that serve you in your life, and there are things that do not serve you. There are things that you are aware of, and things you are unaware of. How do you, as an individual, learn to be a different way than you’ve ever been?
These ideas, this myth, this relationship between Sophia and the Demiurgos and the interplay between ignorance and awareness — what these pieces of the myth are designed to do is wake you up to your true self. You have a quality that is absolutely perfect and holy. But guess what? It doesn’t have all the same preferences and aversions that you do.
We talk about this regularly in doing the work, because certain parts of the process can begin to make you feel like you’re being hollowed out, and that can seem unfulfilling or concerning sometimes. “Why do I not have the same reaction to these situations? Why do I not care in the same way? Why is this not making me freak out like it used to?” Sometimes you don’t even quite know. You just do your work. We see this type of thinking in St. John’s accounting of the Dark Night of the Soul.
They say you do your work alone and in silence, because you are the caretaker.
In this environment, we can say that idealistically, a priest is supposed to be somewhat responsible for the people that doing the work. But any priest is really just a guide. Ultimately, it’s you. You are the Demiurgos. You are Sophia. You are the Christ. You are Barbelo, and all of the aions and archons. All of these things are qualities and parts of you.
So this work of gnosis is extremely personal, and most importantly the realizations that you have are yours. Where this process goes can only really be completely understood, in my opinion, by the actual practice of the five Sacraments. If you want to read more about them, the Gospel of Philip is an excellent text and a good place to begin. You also can just come to Mass, ask for them and work them.
© Ecclesia Valentinaris Antiqua (EVA). Edited by Stacy Hale.
Robinson, James (1988). The Nag Hammadi Library in English.
The Nag Hammadi Library — Complete texts at The Gnostic Society Library
Dix, D. G. (2015). The shape of the liturgy. Bloomsbury Publishing.
Leadbeater, C. W. (2007). The Science of the Sacraments. Cosimo, Inc.
Saint John of the Cross. (2007). Dark Night of the Soul: And Other Great Works. Bridge Logos Foundation.
Isenberg, W. W. (1977). The Gospel of Philip. The Nag Hammadi Library in English, 144.