Friday, January 25, 2008

An article by a friend

The following is an article by a good friend of mine, Donald Donato. I found it in the flotsam of the internet, and it is republished here with permission.

Becoming a Johannite
St. John of Patmos by Hieronymus Bosch

There are some friends and readers who want to know what all this business about Johannites and Gnosticism really means to me. The first thing that people ask is the Da Vinci Code question…no, I haven’t read it, but I did see the movie, and it has nothing to do with my spirituality or the decade-plus path that led me to become a Gnostic Christian of the Johannite persuasion. I do not believe in some literal blood-lineage of Jesus Christ, though one may very well exist. Again, it has nothing to do with the life of the spirit.

There are some very misleading things floating around the Internet and in books about Johannites, so grab your glass of sherry, light your torch, and allow me to guide you through the ‘secrets’ of our little band of heretics.

What is a Johannite?
Most Internet definitions of the word "Johannite" will tell you that we revere John the Baptist more than Jesus. This is simply not the case. There are some sects, such as the very ancient Mandaeans of Mesopotamia, which were called "John Christians" by the Catholic missionaries who sought to convert them. Their heritage is truly that of some of the followers of John the Baptist, who barely survive discrimination and persecution in today’s Iraq. The Mandaeans do have scriptures that condemn Jesus of Nazareth as a sorcerer who betrayed his teacher, John. This concept does not appear in our history, liturgy, or in the Institutional Narrative of our church because ours is an esoteric, Gnostic Christian tradition quite separate from the Mandaeans.

From the Templars to the 19th Century Restoration
Where fiction, fantasy and truth converge in our story is indeed in the form of the monastic order incorporated in 1119 as the Pauperes commilitones Christi Templique Solomonici, meaning "Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon." These are the famous Templars whose headquarters were situated on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem after the First Crusade.

The heritage of the French Restoration of Gnostic Catholic Johannites traces its succession from the Apostle John through this monastic order of soldiers and subsequent secret orders. Specifically, we see the spirit of our tradition coming from St. John the Beloved Disciple of Jesus, whom Johannites remember as the ‘Anointed or Consecrated’ Sovereign Pontiff and Patriarch. Hugh de Payens, the founder of the Templars, was ‘invested with the Apostolic Patriarchal Power by the Sovereign Pontiff and Patriarch, Theoclete, sixty-seventh in direct succession from St. John the Apostle.’ After the Templars were disbanded and persecuted in 1307, the tradition went underground, where it stayed until the Restoration in 19th century France.

Many people claimed that the inherently Gnostic and Johannite ideas embraced by the Freemasons and Rosicrucians, and indeed the spiritual legacy of the Templars, was nothing more than a hoax or a heresy. The ‘secret Church’ was taken as the stuff of conspiracy theorists. And then one day in 1945, an Egyptian farmer-boy found the 2nd and 3rd century Gnostic texts known as the Nag Hammadi Library. Essentially, some of these ancient papyri corroborated the ‘secrets’ of the Templars and vindicated the Gnostic Catholic and Johannite tradition.

What do Johannites Believe?
Johannites venerate the two Saints John, and place a strong emphasis on the Divine Feminine both in terms of the Greek word for Wisdom, or Sophia, and of the Pneuma Hagion, or Holy Spirit, as a feminine form of God. We are both catholic and esoteric. Scriptures are interpreted as inspirational to our Gnostic spirituality, not as literal readings of either history or of the future. You can read the Johannite Statement of Principles on the web site of the Apostolic Johannite Church.

So how did you find yourself in the Apostolic Johannite Church?
Fifteen years ago my best friends and I were on a quest to find all things Templar. Some of you will remember those two friends as the "Mr. and Mrs. Friend" of my post on the quest for the Holy Grail in Cathar country. I was living in Portugal then, so one of our first expeditions was to the castle at Tomar, once a Templar stronghold. Thereafter, I read nearly everything that I could get my hands on about the Templars, and then promptly forgot about them in the hectic years that followed.

About six years later, I picked up a copy of The Templar Revelation by Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince. This book, although very insightful and useful, has a skewed reading of what Johannites are. Nevertheless, the authors did understand one very important thing. The Gnostic Restoration in late 19th century France was teeming with Gnostic Johannites, many of whom considered themselves to be good Catholics. This is essentially the rebirth of the Gnostic Christian movement once led by Valentinus (100-160 CE).

Most historians and orthodox polemicists mistake the emphasis put on St. John the Baptist as a kind of power-play between Jesus and his cousin. The Da Vinci Code delves into this a little, but Picknett and Prince go as far as to hypothesize that John’s head was the magical charm that completed Jesus’s initiation in the Egyptian Mysteries and led to him becoming "The Christ." In other words, John was a "Christ" too. The word "Christ" to the early Christians meant "anointed one." So yes, John was a Christ in that sense, but not the Incarnate Word, or Logos, which is the masculine side of the Syzygy.

Their union symbolizes the Divine Syzygy, and their physical manifestation could be interpreted through the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. We really don’t know about that union, we can’t prove it, and it is not necessary to prove it in order to attain gnosis, which is a direct knowledge and insight of the Divine.

John the Baptist is not the only John after whom Johannites take their name. St. John the Beloved, the "Evangelist", the inspiration for the gospel named for him, and his mystical Revelations, is equally important to us. But just like their cryptic scriptures, these personages are not to be taken literally. They could be understood as real people, but the most important aspect of their interaction is archetypal. John the Baptist is an extremely important Initiator archetype, coming from the name "Oannes" also known as Dagon, the Babylonian giver of language and knowledge. Thus, we get the name "Johannes" or "Ioannes" in Latin, which is the name of our Patriarch and the name chosen by many wise men, up to and including Pope John XXIII.

I found the Apostolic Johannite Church after studying by myself and doing my own research. It took more than six years for me to reach the point where I felt intellectually and spiritually situated to pursue any one particular Gnostic path. Truly, it came out of a very beautiful experience, and then a very bad one. From there, I entered into contact with the Rev. Ms. Juliana Carnes, a seminarian from the Johannite Church here in San Francisco. We have since become very good friends and we work together to build a local presence for the church in Northern California.

The importance of the Johannite tradition for me is the living link to a tradition that is not only ancient, but that has been vindicated through archaeological discovery. The spiritual path to gnosis was kept alive without those scriptures. It lived through women and men, and it was celebrated by the Alchemists, the Hermetic orders, and by Catholic saints such as Hildegard of Bingen, Theresa of Avila, Francis of Assisi, and others.

But the tradition needs to be kept in its proper place. Being a Johannite is not a title or a club, it is a very ancient toolbox that assists my road to self-knowledge and gnosis. But this work cannot stop with me. Through the church, I become part of a body that is a servant of all people. Together, through liturgy, learning and a strong social ministry, we work to help ease the burdens of life and to restore the balance necessary for others to find and nurture the Sacred Flame within themselves.

In my case, that is what being a Johannite is all about.


Jordan Stratford+ said...

Well done, Donald.

Donald Donato said...

Thanks so much to both of you!

Reverend Father Scott Rassbach said...

Thank you, for letting me post this.

I also have a link to your blog up now. Sorry I'd missed that. Doing a bit of house cleaning.