Summarizing the Spiritual Message of the Gospel of Thomas, By James Bean
(Exploring the World Religions Column, Copyright © 2001 — 2013 Inner Tapestry. All Rights Reserved)
“Blessed are those chosen and unified. The Realm of the Kingdom is theirs. For out of her you have come, and back to her you are returning.” (YesHUa, Logion 49, Gospel of Thomas, Wisdom of the Twin, Lynn Bauman translation)
In 1945 this mysterious ancient text known as the Gospel of Thomas was unearthed in Egypt along with forty-nine other fascinating writings from the early days of monastic Christianity in the Egyptian desert. The Book of Thomas was also used as scripture by the Valentinian sect in Egypt and elsewhere around the Roman Empire in the Second and Third Centuries, a Gnostic movement with a version of Christianity that’s seemed much more “Eastern,” in many ways closer to Hinduism and Buddhism.
Meeting An Unembedded Messiah For the First Time
Have always been a fan of this contemplative “wisdom gospel,” with its format of proverbs and parables. It contains absolutely no narrative whatsoever. It’s comprised solely of one hundred and fourteen unvarnished sayings of Jesus, one after the other, and that’s it. There is no commentary, no spin, and no story. No more Roman centurions, scribes, Pharisees, and locusts to block our view. Rather than being presented through the “lens” of others, the reader encounters a more direct, unfiltered historic Jesus. The picture goes from black and white to Hi-Def. The intention by those who compiled and circulated this collection is to encourage readers to deeply ponder each and every saying for themselves, leading them to their own personal insights and revelations, to internalize the words and be transformed by them — lectio divina.
This collection of sayings allegedly recorded by the Apostle Thomas has a definite allegiance to the Inner Circle of Hebrew Disciples or Ebionite Movement that was originally lead by the Apostle James of Jerusalem. “The disciples said to Jesus, ‘we know that you are going to leave us. Who will be our leader?’ Jesus said to them, ‘No matter where you are you are to go to James the Just, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being.’” (Saying Twelve)
The Gospel of Thomas was missing for almost two millennia until three copies of it were almost miraculously discovered several decades ago: two sections of it written in Greek found at Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, and a more complete edition in the Coptic language found near Nag Hammadi buried under the sands of time in a clay storage jar. This lost book has been found, and now has it’s own home page on the worldwide web. The “second coming” of Thomas has occurred — it is a “resurrected” or “reincarnated” book, if you will. Practically predicting it’s own rediscovery the Book of Thomas says: “Know what is before your face, and what is hidden from you will be revealed to you. For there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor anything buried which will not be raised.” (Saying Five)
Though nowadays associated with Egypt, these surviving pages are copies of an even earlier Greek manuscript most likely originating from Syria, which was, and remains, home-base of the “Saint Thomas Branch of Christianity,” the Syriac-Aramaic Church of the East. It is said that Saint Thomas during the First Century AD headed east, eventually ending up in India, where he spent the rest of his life. That’s recorded in another holy book known as the Acts of Thomas, one of several writings in the Thomas tradition: Gospel of Thomas, Thomas the Spiritual Athlete, Psalms of Thomas, Infancy Gospel of Thomas, Acts of Thomas, and The Apocalypse of Thomas. For more on “Sayings Gospels,” type the word “Logia” into the search box at Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logia.
Summarizing the Spiritual Message of the Gospel of Thomas in the Context of Syriac Mysticism
The Living Master said to his initiates: “What your own eyes cannot see, your human ears do not hear, your physical hands cannot touch, and what is inconceivable to the human mind — that I will give to you!” (Saying Seventeen) “Whoever drinks from my mouth will become like me; I myself shall become that person, and the Hidden Things will be revealed.” (Saying One Hundred Eight) The Master taught his disciples that in order to see the spiritual realm, they must “fast from the world” and enter into heavenly repose (Sabbath rest) — rise above body-consciousness, mental impressions, memories, worries, and agitations. They must set aside some time to rest spiritually, to temporarily close their physical eyes (and ears) to the outside world in order to “see the Father”, the Supreme Being, with the eye of the soul. (Saying Twenty-Seven)
Quite frequently mystics describe inner visions as something that spontaneously appears when they reach a certain level of interior awareness called “pure prayer,” a term used for what we might call “meditation.” The Egyptian mystic Evagrius wrote: “The offspring of pure prayer is swallowed up by the Spirit. From this point on, the mind is beyond prayer, and prayer has ceased from it now that it has found something even more excellent. No longer does the mind actually pray, but there is a gaze of wonder at the Inaccessible Things which do not belong to the world of mortal beings.” (The Syriac Fathers on Prayer and the Spiritual Life) “We have come from the Light.” (from Gospel of Thomas, Saying Fifty-One) “For you have come from it, and you will return there again.” (from Saying Forty-Nine)
Becoming a Child of the Light
Many of these spiritual movements of Essenes, Gnostics, Friends of God, Ebionites, Manichaeans, etc… have described themselves as “the Children of the Light.” It was not an old scripture dating back many centuries, but a living teacher by the name of Yeshua who once taught his living students at the time that they would be able to experience “entering the Kingdom,” the other dimensions of Inner Space in the present-tense by seeing Divine Light. Note: the usage of the word “Light” here is not as a metaphor for intellectually understanding teachings, but refers to a real Divine Light that is mystically seen during contemplative meditation with the eye of the soul.
“If your eye be Single, your whole body will be full of Light.” (Saying preserved in Matthew 6:22) “For this reason I say, if one is whole, one will be filled with Light, but if one is divided, one will be filled with darkness.” (YesHUa, from Saying Sixty-One, Gospel of Thomas) Becoming “a Single One,” a spiritually whole person united with God, was the goal of the Thomas tradition of Syrian mysticism. “When you make the two into one… then you will enter the Kingdom.” (Saying Twenty-Two) The spirit, mind and body of the mystic all become united in God; its new way of being is “Singleness.” The word for “Single One” or “Singleness” in the Syriac-Aramaic language is “Ihidaya,” and is used to describe souls that enter into mystical oneness. (“Ihidayutha, A Study of the Life of Singleness in the Syrian Orient,” ARAM Society for Syro-Mesopotamian Studies) According to this book by Sebastian Brock of Oxford, the hermits of the Syrian tradition eventually were called “the Ihidaya.” However, “Ihidaya” isn’t merely a title, office, or a robe that one puts on, but is a matter of spiritual realization, an interior state of being, an individual experience, a mystical level of awareness that is reached by a contemplative soul.
“There is Light within a Person of Light, and it illuminates the entire cosmos.” (Saying Twenty-Four, Gospel of Thomas) Kabir said, “The Light of one soul is equal to that of sixteen suns.” “When the Father, who alone is good, visits the heart, he makes it holy and fills it with Light. And so a person who has such a heart is called blessed, for that person will see God.” (Valentinus of Alexandria) “Faith in Christ is living, noetic Light. The Light of Jesus is noetic [spiritual] Light, and blessed is the soul which is accounted worthy to see it!” (Saint Isaac the Syrian) “The sun of consciousness within my heart keeps on shining and shining, all the time. Neither does it set nor does it rise.” (Maitrey-Upanishad) “Man’s soul shall become, when it leaveth the body, a great flood of Light, so as to traverse all the regions until it cometh into the Kingdom of Mystery… Seek, all of you, after the Light, so that the power of your soul that is in you may find Life. Do not cease seeking day or night until you find the Mysteries of the Kingdom of Light, which will purify you, transform you into pure Light, and guide you into the Kingdom of the Light.” (Gospel of Faith-Wisdom — Pistis Sophia)
“Thus as a result of recollecting all these things the impulses of the mind are extended from the sphere of material things towards those impulses which are without limit, that is to say, wonder at the New World, and the faculty of vision which belongs to contemplation [of God]. For when the vision of the mind is mingled with the Light…., all its impulses become infinite. For none of the Visionaries or ‘Gnostics’ is able to distinguish the identity of the mind as a result of the vision of that glorious Light that is seen ….. for all the innermost chambers of the heart are filled by that blessed Light….”. (Joseph the Visionary, Syriac Mystic quoted in, The Syriac Fathers on Prayer and the Spiritual Life, translated from the Aramaic by Sebastian Brock)
“Blessed are those who have approached the divine Light, who have entered it and been absorbed by it, mingled in its brightness.” (Saint Symeon)
“Whoever discovers the interpretation of these sayings will not taste death.” (Saying One, Gospel of Thomas)
Gnostic Gospels, Contemplative or Mystical Christianity, the Lost Books and Spirituality of the West: https://medium.com/sant-mat-radhasoami-books/28ed95fc3401
“The Gospel of Thomas” — Scholar’s Version Online: http://users.misericordia.edu/davies/thomas/Trans.htm
“The Gospel of Thomas — Wisdom of the Twin”, Lynn Bauman, White Cloud Press;
“The Gospel of Thomas — The Gnostic Wisdom of Jesus”, Jean-Yves Leloup, Inner Traditions;
“The Gospel of Thomas: Annotated and Explained”, Stevan L. Davies, Skylight Illuminations;
“The Gospel of Jesus — In Search of His Original Teachings”, John Davidson, Science of the Soul Research Centre (See Science of the Soul Website): http://books.google.com/books?id=GoWhptP_up0C&printsec=frontcover&dq=john+davidson&hl=en&ei=mfjJTJ35DIaglAf14u3dAQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=9&ved=0CEoQ6AEwCA#v=onepage&q&f=false
“The Stranger of Galilee — The Sermon on the Mount and the Universal Spiritual Tradition”, Russell Perkins, Sant Bani Ashram: http://www.santji.allegre.ca/books/galilee.html
(James Bean reviews books and music for the Wisdom Radio Network and other stations via a syndicated radio program called Spiritual Awakening.)