A Homily for The Assumption of Sophia
by Bishop Steven Marshall
August 15th is the traditional date for the feast of the Assumption of Blessed Virgin Mary in the Roman Catholic Church and the Dormition of Mary in the Orthodox Church. The feast commemorates the assumption of Mary into Heaven at the end of her earthly life. It was not until the year 1950 that the doctrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was made a dogma in the Roman Catholic Church, yet her feast goes back to the middle ages. According to C.G. Jung the proclamation by the Pope was accompanied by visionary revelations of the Blessed Virgin to himself and others. This suggests that the image of the Assumption of Mary relates to a phenomenon of the archetypal feminine in successive experiences of a revelatory nature. The story of the Ascension of Sophia, originating in the fourth century, predates the Feast of the Assumption by many centuries, and yet its imagery seems to be the archetype upon which later revelations about Mary are patterned. For this reason, it seems apt as Gnostics, to celebrate the Ascension of Sophia, on the Sunday nearest the feast day of the Assumption. The story of Sophia in many ways prefigures the Marian myth that has grown throughout the history of Western civilization. Her image is the archetypal mystery that is closest to us in our terrestrial existence.
The story of Sophia is the story of our own soul. Her ascent follows her descent, but like our own journey, it is not an easy climb. The descent is like a lightning flash, but the ascent is a slow and winding path, like that of the Serpent of Wisdom on the Tree of Life. The Logos does not reach down and immediately pull Sophia out of the chaos of the lower worlds. Her assumption back into the Pleroma is a gradual and incremental process. The Redeemer raises her just a little at the first. She is aware that things are better, that her tormenters, the archons are farther from her, but she does not know who her helper is, nor can she see him. Eventually, after several incremental steps out of the chaos of matter, the Helper is revealed to her. She sees the Logos revealed in all his dazzling glory. At first she feels ashamed and covers herself with a veil, but when she sees the virile emanations of his light-power, she can hold back no longer and rushes to his embrace. In their ecstatic reunion, a fountain of light-sparks pours forth between them, which showers the world with its redemptive seed to empower all of the exiled light of Sophia to return to the Height. With their reunion so consummated in the bridechamber of light he brings her finally into the Height and back to her aeon in the Pleroma.
Sophia is named Pistis Sophia or Faithful Sophia. She was never defiled by the archons, she remained a virgin-power, because she kept faith in the Light; she remained faithful. Though she was betrayed by the false Light of the Chief Archon, the Arrogant One, she never lost her longing for the Light of the Father, the Alone-Begotten, the First Mystery.
So there exists within us a divine spark, a beautiful pearl, unsullied, undefiled by the world and the chaos of matter. This is the priceless pearl, the light of the Gnosis for which we strive, and which in itself is the source of our own longing for the Light of the Pleroma. Though we can effectively approach these mysteries psychologically, Sophia is not just a “head trip.” Neither is our own divine Self a psychological head trip. The things of archetypal, spiritual reality are as real if not more real and more lasting than our physical sensate reality. The Gnosis is a knowing of the heart, not a knowing of the senses. Though sensate experience can be a valuable avenue to Gnosis, the aim and direction of the experience must be on something transcendent and outside of this world. Gnosis requires an experience of the archetypal bedrock of reality, which can not simply be taught in a workshop, lecture hall or classroom. It is a long and winding road to Gnosis.
Many maps of the journey have been left by those who have been “there and back again,” as the original title of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit describes. The story of Sophia is one of those maps. It shows how we got here and how we can return to the Fullness of the Pleroma. Certainly, we can make up our own maps, very beautiful, politically correct, wonderfully creative, but if those making the map do not clearly remember the way, these made up maps are not going to get us back to the Light. Other naive approaches include simply picking the parts of the map we like, or picking a piece from this map of one terrain and another from that of another terrain, either of which appreoaches must ultimately fail to get us to the sought for destination. This is not to say that we must restrict ourselves to following only one spiritual path and symbol system; the more maps we can use, the more terrain we can know and experience in finding our way out of the chaos. But, if a map is to be useful on the journey of the soul, it must be from one who truly knows the way, and it must be maintained in the integrity of the one who made it.
The map must describe the journey from where we are; it must include both our starting point, the goal and the way between them. Like a treasure map that says take so many paces this direction and so many paces another direction, it only works if we start from the right place. But we need more than a map. If that was all that was needed we could more easily blaze our own trails back to the Light. We require also a spiritual energy, a light-power, to be able to see the path ahead and follow the markers along the way. The world in which we live is a dark place, unless we have a spiritual light to illumine it for us. If we can not even see the spiritual reality of ourselves or those closest to us, how can we possibly see our way back to the Light. We can but stumble about in the darkness following the voices of attachment and despair.
We lack sufficient light-power to see who we are and a mirror by which we can see our Self reflected. This is why the Logos says in the Acts of John, “I am a lamp to thee who seest me. I am a mirror to thee who understandest me.” As put forth in the writings of Mani, the Savior comes not only at the right time but at the right place as well. The Messenger of Light, the Savior, comes to us at the place where our journey back to the Light begins. Our ascent begins where our descent ends, at the very bottom, in the furthest depths of the chaos.
The Logos does not bring Sophia out of the chaos by immediately grasping her back into the Pleroma but by restoring her light-power little by little, by revealing to her who she is. So it is in our own souls; the Messenger of Light comes to give us the light to see who we are as spiritual beings, and being akin to that Light, we mystically and simultaneously know both the beginning and end of our spiritual journey within our very Self.
The Christ is the alchemical stone and the Self, the true, constellating center of the psyche, a real, unique and yet universal being, which both surrounds and penetrates us from the very core of our own being. Like Sophia we are mostly and usually unaware of our divine helper. As we become aware of this presence, this mysterious other, we must acknowledge that it is not simply a state of consciousness that the ego may eventually evolve to; we recognize that the ego personality can serve to mediate our true center in the outer world, but it cannot accomplish the redemptive soul-making work of the Self, the Christ within. The ego cannot by itself lift us out of the chaos; it cannot save itself from its own condition—something outside of the ego is required.
The error of the ego is ignorance of any power above it. This also is the error of the Demiurge in the story of Sophia. The demiurge forgets his Mother Sophia who engendered him, when he arrogantly proclaims, “There are no gods before me.” The supernal Sophia then calls from the height to remind him, “You lie, Samael (blind god), there is the Man and there is the Son of Man.” In the same fashion, the demiurgic arrogance of the ego considers itself to be the sole power in the psyche, unneeding of redemption or sufficient to the task itself, whether alone or in a group of other egos all attempting to lift themselves by their own bootstraps and remaining in the chaos together. Christ consciousness is the conscious expression of a real being, the true royal Selfhood, which includes and transcends the ego personality. It does not displace or take over the ego personality but has access to the totality of the psyche, with knowledge, experience, understanding and compassion that is far beyond what the ego alone can possibly know.
By her descent Sophia gives birth to the Demiurge, who like the ego personality, can take command of life in the material world but is incomplete and deficient. The entire story of the descent and ascent of Sophia represents the great scheme for correcting this deficiency both in ourselves and in the world.
In the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament, Sophia is called “the Mother of fair love, and of patience and perseverance, and of holy hope.” We must persevere in the work of redemption, the particular task to which we are called, not in response to our ego needs for recognition and greatness but in response to the call of the Holy Spirit who has remained here on earth to give us guidance and spiritual nurturance. We must have the patience to wait for our time to act. We must have holy hope to remember the treasures of the spirit, the Treasury of the Light to which we aspire.
As in the story of Sophia, the Helper comes at the place in our descent where we can acknowledge our powerlessness and regain our remembrance of our Mother Sophia and our faithfulness to the Light. We can not acknowledge our need for redemption until we remember the Light, until we remember who we are and indeed why we descended, the answer to which can only be found in its origin in the Light. And so the Sophia, as our own soul in the chaos of matter, cries, “O Light have mercy upon me, for there is no virtue in the cup of forgetfulness.” In the heart of the Gnostic, this cry brings forth tears of both sorrow and joy, for they are tears of love and tears of beauty—Sorrow for our condition of alienation in the chaos of the world and joy in our discovery of our long forgotten and true spiritual friend whose beaming radiance reminds us of the Place of Light in which we may be united once again.
One of the values of the story of the Ascent of Sophia, is the portrayal of the Logos as a Hero figure, as Liberator and Lover. The Savior comes to Sophia as the Hero to rescue the damsel in distress, yet he does not pick her up and carry her up; he gives her light-power to rise above the chaos, to become more conscious of who she is in her own power. Her response is gratefulness, greater faith in the Light, and love. Like Sophia, all of our souls are damsels in distress, suffering the distress of the soul not knowing who she is and like Sophia beseiged by material powers. Until our response to receiving that light is an increase in gratefulness, faithfulness, and love, the Liberator and Lover is not revealed to us.
In the Biblical stories and the Gnostic Gospel of Philip, the Christ rescues Mary Magdalen in much the same fashion as in the Ascent of Sophia. Jesus rescues her from ignorance by showing her who she is. By her redemption the Magdalen, like Sophia, becomes the one who redeems. She recognizes in herself the feminine image of hero and savior as she treads down the dragon-faced power and awakens to the love of the Logos. “The Lord loved her more than all the other disciples and kissed her on her mouth often.” (Gospel of Philip) The image of Jesus kissing Mary Magdalen is an image of the spiritual reality of the redemptive process. Mary Magdalen, Sophia and the Divine Soul within us all recognize that the bridechamber is not complete without herself.
Sophia is the feminine image of the Redeemer because she is the completion of her Redeemer, the Christ. We require a saving power, a Hero-Liberator-Lover and a Sophia, both of which have been denied us in mainstream Christianity. The Christ of mainstream Christianity is often either a suffering victim, a wrathful judge or a namby-pamby Jesus who could not possibly be a hero figure to anyone. The image of the Hero-Christ requires a Sophia.
The story of Sophia is not just a philosophical conundrum or a moral tale. Sophia is the bringing back of the feminine image of the redeemed redeemer, which restores the hero in all of us. We all have within us, regardless of our gender, the potential to be noble knights in service to Our Lady Sophia; we are all, male or female, prepared as a bride to receive the Bridegroom, our true royal Selfhood, the Christ within.
As described so beautifully in a prayer attributed to Valentinus:
“Prepare yourself as a bride receiving her bridegroom, that you may be what I am, and I what you are. Consecrate in your bridechamber the seed of light. Take from me the bridegroom, and receive him and be received by him. Behold Grace has come upon you.”
So may the grace of the one who is full of grace dwell with us and lead us into the Light, that we may find the redeeming power of Sophia within us, where we might put her on as a “robe of honor” and put her about us as a “crown of joy.”
Steven Marshall is the Bishop of Queen of Heaven Gnostic Church, a parish of the Ecclesia Gnostica in Portland, Oregon.