The Gnostic Sacraments

by Thomas Saunders

According to the Gospel of Philip, five “mysteries” or sacraments were recognized. They are

1.. baptism
2.. anointing
3.. redemption
4.. eucharist
5.. bridal chamber
By themselves the descriptions of the Chrism, Eucharist, and Baptisms, in the Nag Hammadi, are vague as to the purpose and explanation of the Gnostic rights of each. However the ”Gospel of Philip,” serves to explain quite a bit about these sacraments. Indeed the idea of each is quite different from the Orthodox ceremonies, which has only one of each.

The descriptions below from the ”Gospel of Philip,” are out of context, and arranged to accomodate a thematic explanation. I have always felt that the Philip gospel was composed of ancient notes, possibly made by the Apostle and reassembled by later scribes. Rearranging the text, seems to serve to explain the acts better.  The arrangement is my own attempt to clarify the themes of the Chrism, Eucharist, and Baptisms.

First are the descriptions of the Chrism, then the Eucharist, and Baptisms found in the Nag Hammadi Library (NHL):

On the Anointing: Chrism (NHL)

”[….] according to [….] the type of […] see him. It is fitting for you at this time to send thy Son Jesus Christ and anoint us so we might be able to trample upon the snakes and the heads of the scorpions and all the power of the Devil since he is a shepherd of the seed. Through him we have known thee. And we glorify thee : Glory be to thee, the Father in the Son, the Father in the Son, the Father in the Holy Church and in the holy angels! From now he abides forever in the perpetuity of the Aeons, forever until the untraceable Aeons of the Aeons. Amen.”

Eucharist A: (NHL)

We give thanks to you and we celebrate the eucharist, O Father, remembering for the sake of thy Son, Jesus Christ that they come forth […] invisible […] thy [Son….] his [love…] to [knowledge ……] they are doing thy will through the name of Jesus Christ and will do thy will now and always. They are complete in every spiritual gift and every purity. Glory be to thee through thy Son and they offspring Jesus Christ from now and forever. Amen.

Eucharist B: (NHL)

[…] in the […] the word of the [….the] holy one it is […] food and [drink…] Son, since you […] food of the […] to us the […] in the [life ..] he does [not boast…] that is[…] Church […] you are pure […] thou art the Lord. Whenever you die purely, you will be pure so as to have him […] everyone who will guide him to food and drink. Glory be to thee forever. Amen.

Baptism A: (NHL)

This is the fullness of the summary of knowledge which summary was revealed to us by our Lord Jesus Christ, the Monogenes. These are the sure and necessary items so that we may walk in them. But they are those of the first baptism [……The First] baptism is the Forgiveness of sins […] said, […] you to the […] your sins the […] is a pattern of the […] of the Christ which is the equal of the [..within] him […]. For the […] of Jesus […]. Moreover, the first baptism is the forgiveness of sins. We are brought from those of the right, that is, into the imperishability which is the Jordan. But that place is of the world. So we have been sent out of the world into the Aeon. For the interpretation of John is the Aeon, while the interpretation of that which is the upward progression, that is, our Exodus from the world into the Aeon.

Baptism B: (NHL)

[….. from the ] world into the Jordan and from the blindness of the world into the sight of God, from the carnal into the spiritual, from the physical into the angelic, from the created into the Pleroma, from the world into the Aeon, from the servitudes into sonship, from entanglements into one another, from the desert into our village, from the cold into the hot, from […] into a […] and we […] into the [….thus] we were brought from seminal bodies into bodies with a perfect form. Indeed I entered by way of example the remnant for which the Christ rescued us in the fellowship of his Spirit. And he brought us forth who are in him, and from now on the souls will become perfect spirits. Now the things granted us by the first baptism [….invisible …which] is his, since […….speak][about…]….

The Chrism, The Eucharist, The Baptism (”Gospel of Philip.”)

The Lord did everything in a mystery, a baptism and a chrism and a eucharist and a redemption and a bridal chamber. […] he said, “I came to make the things below like the things above, and the things outside like those inside. I came to unite them in the place.” […] here through types […]and images.

Truth did not come into the world naked, but it came in types and images. The world will not receive truth in any other way. There is a rebirth and an image of rebirth. It is certainly necessary to be born again through the image. Which one? Resurrection. The image must rise again through the image. The bridal chamber and the image must enter through the image into the truth: this is the restoration. Not only must those who produce the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, do so, but have produced them for you. If one does not acquire them, the name (“Christian”) will also be taken from him. But one receives the unction of the […] of the power of the cross. This power the apostles called “the right and the left.” For this person is no longer a Christian but a Christ.

Through the Holy Spirit we are indeed begotten again, but we are begotten through Christ in the two. We are anointed through the Spirit. When we were begotten, we were united. None can see himself either in water or in a mirror without light. Nor again can you see in light without mirror or water. For this reason, it is fitting to baptize in the two, in the light and the water. Now the light is the chrism.

It is from water and fire that the soul and the spirit came into being. It is from water and fire and light that the son of the bridal chamber (came into being). The fire is the chrism, the light is the fire. I am not referring to that fire which has no form, but to the other fire whose form is white, which is bright and beautiful, and which gives beauty.

It is through water and fire that the whole place is purified – the visible by the visible, the hidden by the hidden. There are some things hidden through those visible. There is water in water, there is fire in chrism.

Philip the apostle said, “Joseph the carpenter planted a garden because he needed wood for his trade. It was he who made the cross from the trees which he planted. His own offspring hung on that which he planted. His offspring was Jesus, and the planting was the cross.” But the Tree of Life is in the middle of the Garden. However, it is from the olive tree that we got the chrism, and from the chrism, the resurrection.

The chrism is superior to baptism, for it is from the word “Chrism” that we have been called “Christians,” certainly not because of the word “baptism”. And it is because of the chrism that “the Christ” has his name. For the Father anointed the Son, and the Son anointed the apostles, and the apostles anointed us. He who has been anointed possesses everything. He possesses the resurrection, the light, the cross, the Holy Spirit. The Father gave him this in the bridal chamber; he merely accepted (the gift). The Father was in the Son and the Son in the Father. This is the Kingdom of Heaven.

As long as it is hidden, wickedness is indeed ineffectual, but it has not been removed from the midst of the seed of the Holy Spirit. They are slaves of evil. But when it is revealed, then the perfect light will flow out on every one. And all those who are in it will receive the chrism. Then the slaves will be free and the captives ransomed. “Every plant which my father who is in heaven has not planted will be plucked out.” (Mt 15:13) Those who are separated will unite […] and will be filled. Every one who will enter the bridal chamber will kindle the light, for […] just as in the marriages which are […] happen at night. That fire […] only at night, and is put out. But the mysteries of that marriage are perfected rather in the day and the light. Neither that day nor its light ever sets. If anyone becomes a son of the bridal chamber, he will receive the light. If anyone does not receive it while he is here, he will not be able to receive it in the other place. He who will receive that light will not be seen, nor can he be detained. And none shall be able to torment a person like this, even while he dwells in the world. And again when he leaves the world, he has already received the truth in the images. The world has become the Aeon (eternal realm), for the Aeon is fullness for him. This is the way it is: it is revealed to him alone, not hidden in the darkness and the night, but hidden in a perfect day and a holy light.
And so he dwells either in this world or in the resurrection or in the middle place. God forbid that I be found in there! In this world, there is good and evil. Its good things are not good, and its evil things not evil. But there is evil after this world which is truly evil – what is called “the middle”. It is death. While we are in this world, it is fitting for us to acquire the resurrection, so that when we strip off the flesh, we may be found in rest and not walk in the middle. For many go astray on the way. For it is good to come forth from the world before one has sinned.

The eucharist is Jesus. For he is called in Syriac “Pharisatha,” which is “the one who is spread out,” for Jesus came to crucify the world. {This is a reference to Jesus and the marriage of the cross}

Those […] go down into the water. […] out (of the water), will consecrate it, […] they who have […] in his name. For he said, “Thus we should fulfill all righteousness.” (Mt 3:15)

The cup of prayer contains wine and water, since it is appointed as the type of the blood for which thanks is given. And it is full of the Holy Spirit, and it belongs to the wholly perfect man. When we drink this, we shall receive for ourselves the perfect man. The living water is a body. It is necessary that we put on the living man. Therefore, when he is about to go down into the water, he unclothes himself, in order that he may put on the living man.

If one goes down into the water and comes up without having received anything, and says “I am a Christian,” he has borrowed the name at interest. But if he receives the Holy Spirit, he has the name as a gift. He who has received a gift does not have to give it back, but of him who has borrowed it at interest, payment is demanded. This is the way it happens to one when he experiences a mystery.

By perfecting the water of baptism, Jesus emptied it of death. Thus we do go down into the water, but we do not go down into death, in order that we may not be poured out into the spirit of the world. When that spirit blows, it brings the winter. When the Holy Spirit breathes, the summer comes.

Those who say they will die first and then rise are in error. If they do not first receive the resurrection while they live, when they die they will receive nothing. So also when speaking about baptism they say, “Baptism is a great thing,” because if people receive it they will live.

He who has knowledge of the truth is a free man, but the free man does not sin, for “He who sins is the slave of sin” (Jn 8:34). Truth is the mother, knowledge the father. Those who think that sinning does not apply to them are called “free” by the world. Knowledge of the truth merely makes such people arrogant, which is what the words, “it makes them free” mean. It even gives them a sense of superiority over the whole world. But “Love builds up” (1 Co 8:1). In fact, he who is really free, through knowledge, is a slave, because of love for those who have not yet been able to attain to the freedom of knowledge. Knowledge makes them capable of becoming free. Love never calls something its own, […] it […] possess […]. It never says,”This is yours” or “This is mine,” but “All these are yours”. Spiritual love is wine and fragrance. All those who anoint themselves with it take pleasure in it. While those who are anointed are present, those nearby also profit (from the fragrance). If those anointed with ointment withdraw from them and leave, then those not anointed, who merely stand nearby, still remain in their bad odor. The Samaritan gave nothing but wine and oil to the wounded man. It is nothing other than the ointment. It healed the wounds, for “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 P 4:8).

The Bridal Chamber

One of the most mysterious sacraments is that of the bridal chamber. In effect the act may be the essence of Gnosis, the joining of the soul of man with the Soul of God. The act of entering the bridal chamber is a sacrament followed by the Eucahrist.

In the Gospel of Thomas (75) Jesus said, “Many are standing at the door, but it is the solitary who will enter the bridal chamber.”

Gospel of Thomas (104) They said to Jesus, “Come, let us pray today and let us fast.”
Jesus said, “What is the sin that I have committed, or wherein have I been defeated? But when the bridegroom leaves the bridal chamber, then let them fast and pray.”

According to Valentinians theologians, the divine Fullness (pleroma) corresponds to the Holy of Holies in the Temple (Herakleon Fragment 13). Like the Holy of Holies, the Pleroma is separated from the “outer tent” (i.e. the cosmos) by a boundary or Limit which is often described as a curtain or “veil”. The Gospel of Philip compares the hidden nature of the Pleroma to that of the Holy of Holies: “At the present time we have access to the visible aspects of creation. We say that they are mighty and glorious, but the hidden things are powerless and contemptible. Are the hidden aspects of Truth like this? Are they powerless? Are they contemptible? No, rather it is these hidden aspects that are mighty and glorious. The mysteries of Truth are manifestly representations and images. Thus the bridal chamber (i.e. Pleroma) remains hidden. It stands for the Holy in the Holy.” (Gospel of Philip 105)

Such ideas are linked to speculation about Christ as the High Priest. According to Hebrews, “We have a High Priest who has gone into the very presence of God — Jesus, the Son of God” (Hebrews 4:14). He entered for “once and for all into the Most Holy Place” (Hebrews 9:12). Similarly, Valentinian theologians claimed that Jesus, “the joint fruit of the Fullness” is the “great High Priest” (Hippolyus 6:27). He is “the confirmation and the hypostatis of the All, the silent veil, the true High Priest, the one who has the authority to enter the Holies of Holies, revealing the glory of the Aeons and bringing forth the abundance to fragrance….He is the one who revealed himself as the primal sanctuary and the treasury of the All” (Valentinian Exposition 25-26).

According to the Epistle to the Hebrews, Jesus enables those who are joined to him to enter the Holy of Holies. “We have then, my brothers, complete freedom to go into the Most Holy Place (Holy of Holies) by means of the death of Jesus. He opened for us a new way, through the curtain – that is through his own body”. (Hebrews 10:19-20). Christ provides an opening through the curtain into the heavenly “Holy of Holies”.

This theme was further developed by Valentinian theologians. According to Herakleon, the Fullness is “the Holy of Holies, into which only the High-Priest enters, into which the spiritual go” (Herakleon Fragment 13). The Gospel of Philip links the opening provided by Christ with the tearing of the veil at the time of Jesus’ death (Matthew 27:51). According to Philip,

There were three buildings specifically for sacrifice in Jerusalem. The one facing the west was called “The Holy”. Another, facing south, was called “The Holy of the Holy”. The third, facing east, was called “The Holy of the Holies”, the place where only the high priest enters. Baptism is “the Holy” building. Redemption is the “Holy of the Holy”. “The Holy of the Holies” is the bridal chamber. Baptism includes the resurrection and the redemption; the redemption (takes place) in the bridal chamber. But the bridal chamber is in that which is superior to […] you will not find […] are those who pray […] Jerusalem who […] Jerusalem, […] those called the “Holy of the Holies” […] the veil was rent, […] bridal chamber except the image […] above. Because of this, its veil was rent from top to bottom. For it was fitting for some from below to go upward. (”Gospel of Philip.”)

At the present time, we have the manifest things of creation. We say, “The strong who are held in high regard are great people. And the weak who are despised are the obscure.” Contrast the manifest things of truth: they are weak and despised, while the hidden things are strong and held in high regard. The mysteries of truth are revealed, though in type and image. The bridal chamber, however, remains hidden. It is the Holy in the Holy. The veil at first concealed how God controlled the creation, but when the veil is rent and the things inside are revealed, this house will be left desolate, or rather will be destroyed. And the whole (inferior) godhead will flee from here, but not into the holies of the holies, for it will not be able to mix with the unmixed light and the flawless fullness, but will be under the wings of the cross and under its arms. This ark will be their salvation when the flood of water surges over them. If some belong to the order of the priesthood, they will be able to go within the veil with the high priest. For this reason, the veil was not rent at the top only, since it would have been open only to those above; nor was it rent at the bottom only, since it would have been revealed only to those below. But it was rent from the top to bottom. Those above opened to us the things below, in order that we may go in to the secret of the truth. This truly is what is held in high regard, (and) what is strong! But we shall go in there by means of lowly types and forms of weakness. They are lowly indeed when compared with the perfect glory. There is glory which surpasses glory. There is power which surpasses power. Therefore, the perfect things have opened to us, together with the hidden things of truth. The holies of the holies were revealed, and the bridal chamber invited us in. (”Gospel of Philip.”)

”It is thus only fitting that we, as Gnostics, should pick our own Valentinus as the saint for whom this feast day is dedicated. In studying the Valentinian tradition of Gnosticism, particularly in that of his disciples in Ptolemaeus’ Letter to Flora and the Gospel of Philip, we find that this is more than a mere coincidence of the name, but that the Valentinian literature is filled with the imagery and metaphor of spiritual love and the Gnostic sacrament of the Bridal Chamber and marriage. (Valentinian Tradition)

The Valentinians did not deny the physical dimension of love in the world but sought something greater, something that could truly bring wholeness, that could fulfill the desiring of the longing heart for that which truly fills the emptiness of the soul and heals the fragmention and separation of the human condition. They symbolized this consummation of wholeness, of the union of the human and the divine, in the image of marriage and the rite of the Bridal Chamber. “Those who are separated will be united and will be filled. Every one who will enter the bridal chamber will kindle the light, for it burns just as the marriages which are observed at night. That fire burns only at night and is put out. But the mysteries of this marriage are perfected rather in the day and the light.” (The Gospel of Philip)