It is a given that Masonic teaching declares “G” is for “God.” It also stands for the science of “Geometry.” I believe this letter “G” can also represent “Gematria” the sacred analysis of the letters of Hebrew and Greek showing numerical relations among words possessing the same
value, which in turn actually demonstrate geometrical shapes of significance, based on scriptural words, phrase, and whole paragraphs; “Greek (the language of the scriptures, the Holy Bible being one of the three great lights of Masonry), and “Gnosis” one of the most significant words in the Bible (even though it’s not mentioned all that much as such), as well as one of the most fascinating movements among Early Christianity. What I wish to do in this paper is analyze the Gnosis, using Greek and historical literature dealing with the subject. It is precisely the acquisition of “Knowledge” (γνῶσις - gnōsis) that Masonry is all about. Not for its own sake, anymore than it
was anciently, but for the sake of generating a better life for all people’s in the world, through mutual brotherhood, love, and defending others’ rights for law, order, justice, and liberty. If Masonry leads to further light and knowledge (and it does), then Gnosis is certainly a part of that heritage, whether G stands for only God or Geometry or not, Gnosis is certainly a part of the package. So just what is gnosis and how do we acquire it as Masons? If I am reading things correctly, gnosis has no dogmatism in it any more than Masonry does, but it certainly is enlightening and interesting to see what gnosis is, and why I believe it is one of the goals of Masons, whether it is ever admitted, or even directly understood, or not.
γνῶσις (gnōsis) is fascinating as described in the Bible, not to mention within the movement and about the movement we now understand as Gnosticism. It is more than knowledge, though that is one of its
descriptions. In one of the Gnostic books discovered at Nag Hammadi, “On the Origin of the World,” it teaches that when the man and woman first recognized their nakedness , “they saw that they were naked of spiritual understanding [gnosis].” It was the luminous epinoia that “awakened their consciousness.” Epinoia has no exact English equivalent term, though the cluster of words surrounding the Greek verb noein can mean “perceive,” “think,” or “be aware.” However, the Gnostics were not mere thinkers as such, but often referred to as “knowers.” For Paul, this knowledge as he noted was γνώσεως Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ τοῦ κυρίου μου – “knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Gnosticism was initially Christian, though the later Church Fathers claimed they were heretics. Though we now understand the historical situation of “the early Christian church in fact did not compromise a single orthodoxy from which emerged a variety of competing heretical minorities. Instead, Early Christianity embodied a number of divergent forms, no one of which represented the clear and powerful majority of believers against all others. In some regions, what was later to be termed “heresy” was in fact the original and only form of Christianity.” There were Essenes, Zadokites, Pharisees, Saduccees, Zealots, Gnostics, Nazoreans, Herodians, Maccabaeans, Ebionites, etc. To Paul, γνῶσις (gnōsis) “is the necessary result of intimate communion with Christ.” Gnosis arrived at from the actual Gnostic materials found at Nag Hammadi itself show that it means “a personal acquaintance with an object, often a person…If one is introduced to god, one has gnosis of god. The ancient gnostics described salvation as a kind of gnosis or acquaintance , and the ultimate object of that acquaintance was nothing less than god.” And “self-knowledge is the key to the Gnostic religious quest, but not self-knowledge as an egotistic, personal, or individual matter. Rather, self-knowledge as the realization of our origin in God and our destiny to return there again.” Gnosis was an individual enterprise where both women and men could come to know God “without any need for the mediation of rabbis, priests, bishops, imams, or other religious officials.”
In spite of this approach to the individual needs, desires, and religious predilections, Gnosticism is understood to be a movement within Christianity, not as a foreign import nor a parasite as has been often indicated. It is interesting that St. Paul has traditionally been seen as an opponent against Gnosticism, yet, as Elaine Pagels has demonstrated, the Gnostics themselves claim that it is precisely Paul’s letters is where they received their gnostic theology! The Naassenes as well as one of the most powerful and influential Gnostics, Valentinus, revered Paul, whom they saw as the foremost Apostle who was a Gnostic initiate himself. The Valentinians “allege that their secret traditions offers direct access to Paul’s own teaching of wisdom and gnosis.”
One of the problems the Gnostics ran into was their objections to being told what to think and do in Christian churches. They understood the need for faith, yet “…yearned to become spiritually ‘mature,’ to go beyond such elementary instruction [from the bishops] toward higher levels of understanding. And this higher awareness they called gnosis.” And it was precisely this attitude which caused Irenaeus, the bishop at Lyons, among other Christian leaders, to rail against the Gnostics for all they were worth. The Gnostics taught that the divine spark in all men and women has fallen into a world of shadows, and has lost its way from the realm of light. The way of return is to understand who we really are, we are that divine spark. Gnosis is thus defined as “…true knowledge of what is (ta onta) in contrast to mere perception (aesthesis) or opinion whose truth is not guaranteed (doxa). Unlike episteme (understanding), the term is hardly ever used in an absolute sense, but requires an object in the genitive case: it emphasizes the act of knowing rather than knowledge itself.” Knowing comes from personal truths coming from within, not truths taught from without, whether taught by a church, a school, or group of people. “To know oneself, at the deepest level, is simultaneously to know God: this is the secret of gnosis… Orthodox Jews and Christians insist that a chasm separates humanity from its creator: God is wholly other. But some of the Gnostics who wrote these gospels [such as the famous Gospel of Mary, Thomas, Philip, Truth, etc.] contradicted this: self-knowledge is knowledge of God; the self and the divine are identical.” The Naassene sermon taught clearly “…an elevated spiritual state that is nothing less than the face of the Almighty…” The Gospel of Thomas (saying 77) indicates this powerfully – “Jesus said, I am the light which is over everything. I am the All; (from me) the All has gone forth, and to me the All has returned.” The commentary teaches “Jesus is the inner man; he is also the light of the world (John 8:12). As in the Martyrdom of Peter (chapter 10) and in Gnostic writings, he is “the All,” the totality of authentic being. The fullness of deity dwells in Him (Colossians 2:9); in him everything was created (came into existence), and he is the goal of everything (Colossians 1:16-17). For the Gnostic, this goal is not future but present.” When Jesus also states in saying 77 that he is in the wood that is split, or the stone that is lifted, this reflects that “philosophical position presented by the Greco-Roman author Lucian of Samosata, Hermotimus 81: ‘God is not in heaven, but rather permeates all things, such as pieces of wood and stones and animals, even the most magnificent…”
It is by participation in the mysteries that one gains gnosis, not merely reading about them, or being told about what they are. The Gospel of Philip is very helpful here – “Humans mate with humans, horses with horses, donkeys with donkeys, each species with its own. Likewise our breath seeks another breath, our intelligence seeks intelligence, and every clarity seeks its light. Become more humans and humans will love you; become more spiritual, and the spirit will unite with you. Become more intelligent, and the Logos will unite with you.” Ulrich Wilkins contends that the complete Wisdom Mystery sets the goal of “…none other than God Himself… to reach Him in the gnosis and episteme theou is the goal of the way… the regeneration of the devotee takes place.” One of the early Gnostics, Sylvanus, who elaborated on the Alexandrian Christian tradition, taught that mankind (both male and female) had the capacity to appropriate divine Wisdom. He begged the Gnostics “do not bring grief or trouble to the divine (θεῖον) [which is] within you. But when you will care for it, will request of it that you remain pure, and will become self controlled in your soul and body , you will become a throne of wisdom and one belonging to God’s household.
But before all else, know your birth. Know yourself, that is, from what substance [οὐσία] you are, or from what race, or from what species. Understand that you have come into being from three races [γένος]: from the earth, from the formed [πλάσμα], and from the created… the created, however, is the mind, which has come into being in conformity with the image [εἰκών] of God. The divine mind has substance [οὐσία] from the Divine, but the soul is that which he (God) has formed [πλάσσω] for their own hearts.” The Delphic maxim “know thyself” (γνωθι σαυτον) is similar to Philo’s injunction: “know thyself (γνωθι σαυτον) and the parts of which thou dost consist, what each is, and for what it is made, and how it is meant to work.”
“Gnosis is presented as “knowledge obtained by discourse and dialectic, beginning with visual, direct observation. Of course, in the case of invisible realities, knowledge will come through the eyes of the mind, which are able to grasp the realities of the ideal world (as e.g. Plato’s reflections on mathematics suggest). To achieve this knowledge one does not require a particular organ or special method, but simply the coherent, systematic application of the natural ability to see, to verify and to check the data received along the way.” Gnosis taught a doctrine which was understood in the earlier Jewish Enoch texts, discovered in the 1800’s by Bruce the explorer. “Every human being has a mortal lower self called the eidolon (εἴδωλον) and an immortal Higher Self called the Daemon (δαιμων). The eidolon is the embodied self, the physical body, and personality. The Daemon is the Spirit, the true self, which is each person’s spiritual connection to God. The mysteries were designed to help initiates realize that the eidolon is a false self and that their true identity is the immortal Daemon.” Theocritus taught the Daemon was a god, goddess, of individual gods or goddesses, while Empedocles taught it was “the unspecified agency affecting human fortunes.” The Daemons were δαίμονες, οἱ, souls of men of the golden age, acting as tutelary deities, according to Hesiod. The goal of gnosis was the meeting and combining with our own higher selves, knowing of our divinity. This is something no church, group, or leader of any sort can teach us, it is experienced. What churches, groups, and leaders can do however is instruct us and help us through initiations meant to get us in tune with the higher realms. Hence the mystery plays and their importance. There are rituals which help guide us into the path of discovery that no teaching can do. Worldwide brotherhood is not something you read about in books, but something you participate in and with others. Brotherhood, not only among our lower realms here in this world (where it really does properly begin), but brotherhood among all the worlds, a prominent Kabbalistic teaching as well.
Enoch discovered when he was taken to heaven (the Bible tells just one verse about Enoch, while the Enoch literature has grown enormously since Bruce’s discovery, giving us Ethiopic, Old Slavonic [Russian], Greek, and Hebrew books of Enoch) that the one like a Son of Man sitting on the throne was his higher self! And he was transformed into the Angel Metatron, a celestialized being form his former lowly mortal self. He became the scribe of heaven, and the great teacher for humanity. In some traditions he was called “The Little YHWH” clearly showing his transformation into a god. This type of transformation in the Gnostic literature and philosophy “is now also used in an absolute way to indicate a form of meta-rational knowledge, which is the gift of the divinity and has in it the power to save the one who achieves it.” What is startling to come to understand is the ancient rituals of the Holy of Holies of Solomon’s Temple which was known for centuries concerned a human being who “...could become divine when he stood in the presence of God. He was reborn, presumably as Son of God, as Psalm 2 and 89 testify.”
Masonic tradition is right on par with emblazoning, emphasizing, and conforming its rituals after the pattern of Solomon’s Temple! The Jewish sacrifices in ancient times, we read, were for the direct transformation of the animal in we humans into the divine “through the redemptive sacrifice of that which is animal.” Amazingly enough, the term “son” used in the Old Testament when Israel was addressed at Exodus 4:22-23 “is applied to the collective nation of Israel.” The whole point of the mysteries of the sacrifice was “the ritual drawing down of divine holiness into the sacrifice and its communication to the celebrants through ingestion which signified [of the sacrificial animal – ridding man of his animal nature] and could be experienced as the God within.” The entire point of the ancient Jewish spirituality and achievement through the Hebraic Priesthood in the ancient Temple of Solomon, giving them the meaning of life was the “unification of the infinite and finite that fulfils and models the purpose of Creation. This purpose is the generation both of the supernal son and those higher human souls who can recognize their identity with the supernal son and so achieve the unification of these two levels of divine sonship.” Leet hints and informs us (I can’t go into details in this paper, but I am going to in another one later) that the Old Testament rituals in the ancient Holy of Holies in Solomon’s Temple can be glimpsed by David’s last words when he describes him “as a man who was raised on high, a word [raised] that can also mean resurrected and anointed... the king became the ‘firstborn’ and he called the LORD his Father. These are the exact themes of Psalm 110, and must have been the king-making rites in the holy of holies. Resurrection, Sonship, and Messiahship (i.e. anointing) were all elements of the same process.”
Interestingly enough, up into Gnostic times, the Son of Man was identified with man, and man is called the seed of the Son of Man, and Jesus called the High Father, “The Man.” Man, Son of Man and God are all tied together as the same in Gnostic philosophy. The formula, according to Borsch, goes like this: “man = high god or his emanation; Son of Man = the emanation or image of the man (sometimes regarded as the savior) and son of the Son of Man = the first true Gnostic (regarded as either the true believer or himself as the saviour).” Philo of Alexandria, one of the earliest eye witnesses to early Christianity, along with Josephus, came to the conclusion, after an enormous amount of philosophical and theological investigation, that “Only part of man is related to God, that is his rational soul or mind, and it is that part of man that Philo calls ‘divine’... man’s nous is divine because it is in a model-copy relation or a part-whole relation to the divine Logos.” For Philo the idea of a full knowledge we know was the equivalent to the apocalyptists concept of the divine wisdom (personified in the Book of Proverbs as the Divine Female). This vision of God is what transforms the human mystic to the angelic state. “All who lived in the knowledge of the One are rightly called sons of God... it was the Logos who brought the seeker into the presence of God.” But notice here, it is a seeker who is looking and deliberately wishing to improve his and her life who is brought into the stronger light, and deeper wisdom of the universe.
Gnosis was not tied to a singular movement such as Christianity, and in fact, is older than Christianity, being had in the ancient Jewish, and the Ancient Far East as well in the Hindu/Buddhist traditions. It is the acquiring of light and knowledge of ourselves and others. The startling thing about it is the realization that not just one or two people, groups, or even nations are divine, but rather the real power of the Gnosis is understanding that all are divine! And isn’t this a perfect place to begin the wonderful Masonic concept of a universal brotherhood among all mankind? Just how would you treat a divine being? Take it literally and seriously and ask, just how WOULD you treat others if you realized with certainty that they really are a divine being?! It sort of changes absolutely everything we think about others as well as ourselves doesn’t it. The Masonic ideology of a universal brotherhood is a perfect place to begin acquiring the Gnosis, which comes from God and through our studies of Geometry, which ties all disciplines and themes together in a most literal way. Through an inter-disciplinary approach to acquiring truth and understanding (emphasized by study of the seven liberal arts from antiquity and still entirely relevant for us today), Masonry automatically develops a genuine brotherhood (not one based on the desire to cheat, lie, and steal from others), which has no strings attached, except those which elevates our fellow men (and women), and causes, as we are told, good men to become better. So “G” is certainly pointing our minds and eyes towards “G”od, very appropriately enough. It also puts us into a frame of mind to learn and emulate the Divine Mind of God, especially through the discipline of “G”eometry, which discipline leads directly to “G”nosis about God, from God, and with God, together with mankind, and our place in this magnificent universe we inhabit.
1.1 1. Elaine Pagels, Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas, Random House, 2003: 164-165.
2. 2. Violet MacDermot, The Fall of Sophia, Lindisfarne Books, 2001: 8.
3. 3. For an excellent treatment of this see Simone Petrement, le Dieu separe: les origins du gnosticisme, translated by Carol Harrison as A Separate God: The Christian Origins of Gnosticism, HarperSanFransisco, 1990.
4. 4. Bart D. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament, Oxford University Press, 1993:7.
5. 5. The fascinating discussions of Robert Eisenman in this regard are his four books, The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered, Element Books, 1992; The Dead Sea Scrolls and the First Christians, Element Books, 1996; James the Brother of Jesus, Viking Books, 1996; The New Testament Code, Watkins Publishing, 2006.
6. 6. W. Robert Nicoll, The Expositor’s Greek Testament, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 5 vols, reprint Sept 1976, quote in Vol. 3:455.
7. 7. Bentley Layton, The Gnostic Scriptures, Doubleday and Co., 1987: 9.
8. 8. Stevan Davies, The Secret Book of John, the Gnostic Gospel, Skylight Paths Publications, 2005: xvi-xvii.
9. 9. Marvin Meyer, “Gnosticism, Gnostics, and the Gnostic Bible,” in The Gnostic Bible, Edited by Willis Barnstone, Marvin Meyer, New Seeds Publishing, 2006: 1.
10. 10. L. Michael White, From Jesus to Christianity, HarperSanFransisco, 2004: 398. James M. Robinson, one of the main editor of the Nag Hammadi Coptic texts, held the view that Gnosticism was a syncretistic religion, gathering in all elements from the various religions of its time (Judaism, Hermeticism, Christianity) and coming up with its own eclectic religious themes. See Robinson, The Nag Hammadi Library In English, 3rd revised edition, 1988, E.J. Brill, 9-11. Birger A. Pearson, Gnosticism and Christianity in Roman and Coptic Egypt, Studies in Christian Antiquity, T &T Clark International, 2004:18-19 proposed Gnosticism was an offshoot of Judaism.
11. 11. Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Paul: Gnostic Exegesis of the Pauline Letters, Trinity Press International, 1975: 1. Cf. Everett Ferguson’s discussion of Basilides, the Gnostic, being the earliest witness to the New Testament as scripture, and how the Gnostic Valentinus’ system of scripture was adapted by Irenaeus, only with a different content of books as scripture. The very first commentary on the scripture was by the Gnostic Heracleon, a commentary on the Gospel of John, in Lee Martin McDonald, James A. Sanders, editors, The Canon Debate, Hendrickson Publishers, 2002: 313.
12. 12. Elaine Pagels, Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, Vintage Books, 1988: 59-60.
13. 13. Giovanni Filoramo, L’attesa della fine, Storia della gnosi, translated by Anthony Alcock, as A History of Gnosticism, Blackwell Publishers, Oxford, reprinted 1992: 38-39.
14. 14. Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels, Vintage Books, 1981: xix.
15. 15. Mark H. Gaffney, Gnostic Secrets of the Naassenes: The Initiatory Teachings of the Last Supper, Inner Traditions, 2004: 203.
16. 16. Robert M. Grant, David Noel Freedman, The Secret Sayings of Jesus, Barnes & Noble edition, 1993: 177-178.
17. 17. Marvin Meyer, The Gospel of Thomas, the Hidden Sayings of Jesus, HarperSanFransisco, 1992: 98.
18. 18. Eugene Seaich, A Great Mystery: The Secret of the Jerusalem Temple, Gorgias Press, 2008: 38-39.
19. 19. Jean-Yves LeLoup, The Gospel of Philip: Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and the Gnosis of Sacred Union, Inner Traditions, 2003: 143.
20. 20. In Seaich, Ibid., p. 39.
21. 21. Pearson, Ibid., p. 96-97.
22. 22. Pearson, Ibid., p. 97.
23. 23. Filoramo, Ibid., p. 39.
24. 24. Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, The Jesus Mysteries, Harmony Books, 1999: 101.
25. 25. Liddell, H. G., Scott, R., Jones, H. S., & McKenzie, R. (1996). A Greek-English lexicon. "With a revised supplement, 1996." (Rev. and augm. throughout) Oxford; New York: Clarendon Press; Oxford University Press. P. 366.
26. 26. See the excellent treatment of the Enoch literatures, as well as Enoch’s transformation in Andrei Orlov’s ingenious scholarly analysis, The Enoch-Metatron Tradition, Mohr-Siebeck, 2003.
27. 27. Filoramo, Ibid., p. 39.
28. 28. Margaret Barker, The Great High Priest: The Temple Roots of Christian Liturgy, T & T Clark, 2003: 219.
29. 29. Leonora Leet, The Secret Doctrine of the Kabbalah: Recovering the Key to Hebraic Sacred Science, Inner Traditions, 1999: 32.
30. 30. Leonora Leet, Renewing the Covenant: A Kabblastic Guide to Jewish Spirituality, InnerTraditions, 1999: 45.
31. 31. Leonora Leet, The Universal Kabbalah: Deciphering the Cosmic Code in the Sacred Geometry of the Sabbath Star Diagram, InnerTraditions, 2004: 8.
32. 32. Margaret Barker, The Great High Priest, p. 219.
33. 33. Frederick H. Borsch, The Christian and Gnostic Son of Man, Studies in Biblical Theology, 2nd series, SCM Press LTD, 1970: 80-81.
34. 34. D. T. Runia, “God and Man in Philo of Alexandria,” in Journal of Theological Studies, 39/1 (1988): 73.
35. 35. Margaret Barker, “Temple Imagery in Philo: An Indication of the Origin of the Logos?,” in Templum Amicitiae: Essays on the Second Temple Presented to Ernst Bammel, JSOT Press, Sheffield, 1991: 90.