Friday, August 29, 2008

Gnostic Preoccupations

I'm not sure what it is, but I notice a lot of preoccupation by gnostic ecclesias with their lineage and origin. I was just reading a couple of foreign language gnostics (Sucesion Gnostica Apolostica and Plerormon [caution- Loud Dead Can Dance song when you visit]), and I notice that there are long bits about the lineage and ordination of their bishops and how far back they go and etc. I'm not saying the AJC is immune to it, as we've just received a charter from another bishop and have lots of documentation for our own lineages.

We do this in the face of Evangelicals who speak to angels, Ministry training from your own home, and other flashy or even stoic preachers who have no lineage or legitimacy other than their ability to preach the word, and MAYBE a degree from a bible college. In the process of our incorporation, we've learned that you don't even need to be part of a wider church to be tax exempt. You simply need to have the word Church in your name, and do what a church does (preach, religious education, charity, etc.)

Given this, why are we so preoccupied with lineage?

Are we trying to give ourselves legitimacy? If we do the work, we're legitimate, at least as much as some of the Evangelical groups. By their fruits shall you know them.

Are we trying to tie ourselves back to a tradition? Well, yes, but the Evangelicals manage that simply by relying on the Bible. The bible is their source of tradition, that 'old time religion'.

We often tie ourselves to a past that has a bit of baggage. The Apostolic Church has had a spotty record, blamed for many offenses over the centuries. The independent bishops of that lineage also have their share of charlatans and fakers. Most folks think it's just myth anyway, going all the way back to the apostles.

So, why is it important?

Why do we spend so much time documenting it and posting it for all to see, that we have transmission from another who's walked before us?

As a priest in an Apostolic Lineage, this is obviously of importance to me. I sought out ordination in a specifically Apostolic Tradition, and was suitably impressed with and reassured by the documentation when I was shown it. But I talk to other folks about it, and I either get nods of confusion (as in "Why is this important?") or confusion ("So, like my Roman Catholic Bishop, but not?").

And none of it matters a whit towards the ministry I pursue. Homeless folks generally don't care if you're in the apostolic tradition or not, as long as you're helping them with a place to stay.

Since I'm a mystic and a magician along with being a priest, I have my own opinions on why these lineages are important, and I'll address them later. For now, I'd like to get responses from folks about why they think it's important (or unimportant and the churches spend time on it).


WitchDoctorJoe said...

These preoccupations are not just Gnostic. We have them too. Within the shamanistic community, everyone's grandmother was a Cherokee princess medicine women.

Paganism has it too. The only true Wicca is a linage that leads back to Gardner.

"The Priest kings of Atlantis"

"The Grand Poobah of the sacred Twinkie"

We have the notion ingrained deeply in our bones, that old is valid. And if I attach myself to that old validity, I become valid.

The preoccupation with validity is a cop out, a shortcut, an alternative to doing the work.

Everyone wants to be recognized, but few do anything worth being recognized for.

Jason Miller, said...

Apostolic succession is a lot like Tantric lineage in many respects. One can borrow tech from tantra. One can attain enlightenment outside of its bounds. But unless you have valid abhisheka from a lineage holding Guru you are NOT a Tantrika.

A bit like being an MD. You can learn all there is to know about medicine. You can be the best healer on the planet, but unless you have the blessing of a medical liscence you are NOT an MD.

Anyone can attain enlightenment or achieve gnosis through various antinomian means. However, there have been throughout history certain powerful individuals whose job it has been to leave teachings behind to help give a "boost".

On the outer, these teachings are words. On the inner, there is a power that is transferred person to person from that great individual.

Apostolic succession is a key to the set of sacraments that Christ left to be passed on similar to the way that tantric empowerments are the key to the practices that, say, Padmasambhava or Tilopa left to be passed on.

Its important and not to be dismissed. But its also not to be thrown in the face of others or seen as the only way to do what it is that is being done.

Br. Jay said...

I go back and forth on whether it is important or not. On one hand, like you said, most people are the ones receiving ministry could care less about whether you have apostolic succession or not. I have known many good clergy folk with no succession but who are doing a fantastic job. On the other hand, it gives one a sense of continuity with the apostles and the clergy from ages past to have it.

Anonymous said...

The lineage connects the religious expert (anthropological terms are GO!) with the past of the church or faith practice in which she operates. I would say that this is a somewhat universal trait in most religions, even amongst the evangelicals who will be more than happy to tell you about the first preacher who inspired them to the pulpit. It may not be as organized in some practices as in others but on a fundamental level it is the same thing.

This is found even in traditions where the religious expert is a wounded healer. Yes the religious expert is called to their path not through formal vocational studies - instead being driven to it through the divine afflictions which may only be healed through service - but even after the calling they must be initiated in one form or another, and these initiations provide their own lineage as well. Voudoo for instance has extensive lineages amongst its practitioners, some of which become quite labyrinthine.

In all faith practices we must acknowledge the roots which have been planted in the soil, because it is from those roots that we grow and develop and learn. I would think that in Gnosticism this acknowledgement is of special importance because it displays for all to see the historic backdrop from which our gnosis springs.

Yes, the meaningful nature of religion is personal. But we cannot fail to acknowledge the ways in which the person is influenced by the external. I think that acknowledging lineages helps remind us of this fact.

Back to finishing up my admissions essays! I am so celebrating when I am finally done with them...

Donald Donato said...

Admittedly a novice, or at least a seminarian (since I don't have the sexy habit)I offer my 2 pennies on Apostolic Succession on the side of QC -- not The Queen's Council, but quality control. The unusual gift, imprinted on the soul of the receiver - one that is a little lower than the angels, but perhaps taken at times in preparation for the even greater task of the enlightened magus.

In that way, the Succession highlights the human predicament clearly. High enough even to be remembered in perpetuity as a force for the ultimate resolution and unification of things seen and unseen. Children of the divine thought.

Jesus as the man and Jesus as the Incarnation-self-understood, are curiously distinct beings even in heavily edited orthodox scripture.

The mystery I think lies in the two Saints John. John the Beloved being the son of Zebedee the Levite, the tribe of priests; John (the Baptist)son of Elizabeth, also the daughter of Levi.

Did Jesus have to be baptized by his cousin John to attain the knowledge and being of the Christ? Did Jesus need to percieve of the Holy Spirit in feminine form? Did Jesus as such, exist?

I say yes, yes, and yes. But having the traditions of all 12 interpretations or schools gives us 12 paths to the same questions. Like the parables of Jesus, we have 12 reasons to see that some people for a very long time have valued such a connection.

Irrespective of dogma, doctrine or storyline, I want to taste the wine mixed of all these savor the mélange of their flavors, and to reconcile them with my own being; as ancient or new as it might be.

If past, present and future are just snapshots of the mind of an ineffable continity, I suppose we have to have steps and traditions towards that understanding.

I think I smell my head igniting now... :)