Bread From Heaven: The Inner Transubstantiation

A Homily for the Day of Corpus Christi

by Bishop Steven Marshall

The feast of Corpus Christi, celebrated on the Thursday following Trinity Sunday as a solemn commemoration of the Holy Eucharist, is a fairly recent festival in the development of the liturgy of the Western Church. It was officially adopted by the Roman Catholic Church under Pope Clement V at the General Council of Vienne in 1311. It later became an especially important date in the recognition of various esoteric orders and mystical developments from within Christianity, such as the Freemasons and the Rosicrucians. The date carries a central importance in the Fama Fraternitatis, the seminal document of the Rosicrucian orders throughout the world. During the late Middle Ages the festival was observed with a grand procession of the exposed host in a pageant joined by religious orders, prelates, sovereigns, princes, magistrates and members of various craft guilds. The procession was followed by miracle plays put on by Guild members. Some have hypothesised that such ritual dramas were the beginnings of the degrees in Freemasonry. One of the reasons for its adoption by more Gnostic and mystically oriented movements throughout its history could be similar to the reasons for the veneration of St. Paul the Apostle by the early Gnostics, that being that this feast day was originally inspired by a spiritual experience.

Robert de Torote, Bishop of Liège, ordered its first celebration in his diocese in 1246 AD through the inspired persuasion of the Blessed Juliana, a visionary and the prioress of the convent of Mont Cornillon. A devotee of the Most Blessed Sacrament ever since her youth, her feeling for the Eucharist increased even more after a vision in which she saw the Church under a full moon bearing one dark spot. She interpreted the dark spot as the failure of the Church to adequately revere the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist and the real presence of Christ in its elements of bread and wine.

Why give reverence to a seeming piece of bread? Such would seem to be the height of bondage to materiality to a professor of Gnosticism. Yet a sacramental practice designed around something as common and simple as a wafer of bread can not be accused of materialism. Material things are two-edged swords. They can be the symbols of transubstantiation that provide windows to transcendence, or they can be the closed blinds upon that window that prevents us from seeing anything beyond the material. Gnostics do not deny the reality of matter. Nor is matter inherently evil to the Gnostic. The crux of the problem is that a reductionistic materialism or preoccupation with material things tends to swallow up or deny the experience of spiritual reality. Both the outer material reality and the inner spiritual reality are real to the Gnostic. One is not real to the exclusion of the other. A connection exists between the outer and the inner. When experiences of the outer life symbolise events of the inner spiritual life then these experiences can be called synchronicities in Jungian terms. When external events become metaphors of the experience of an inward and spiritual grace then these events can be called sacraments or mysteries.

St Paul the Apostle in his Epistle to the Corinthians writes down the earliest written account of the institution of one of these mysteries, the sacrament of the Eucharist:

“For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He brake it, and He said: Take, eat; this is my Body, which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of me. After the same manner also, He took the cup, when He had supped, saying: This cup is the new testament in my Blood; this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this Bread, and drink this cup, ye show the Lord’s death till He come.”

“Ye show forth the Lord’s death till He come,” has particular significance from a Gnostic point of view, since the death recalls the release of the Christ from matter and the taking on of his light vesture which is his true and spiritual body. Yet death also bears for the Gnostic an almost reversed meaning as the descent of the Life of Christ into matter in the incarnation and also mystically in the sacrifice of the Mass.

Corpus Christi means “Body of Christ,” which expression has been misinterpreted in two different ways in mainstream Christianity. What most know as the Roman Catholic view that the consecrated host becomes factually human flesh—which view is not actually shared by most educated Catholics—is a misinterpretation of the Aristotelian philosophy regarding the terms substance and transubstantiation. The term substance in Aristotle’s philosophy actually refers to the ontological essence of what a thing is, rather than its outward sensibility. So transubstantiation refers to a change in the ontological essence of what a thing is, rather than how it is interpreted by the senses. A thing’s substance can be changed into something else while its outward sensibility remains the same. In this case the ontological essence of the bread becomes the “Body of Christ” through its consecration in the celebration of the Eucharist, while the host to all outward and ordinary senses remains a wafer of bread.

The other misinterpretation, widely known as the Protestant view, is that the whole expression, “Body of Christ,” is only a symbolic commemoration of an historical event and nothing else. The Gnostic view is not too dissimilar from the original Aristotelian meaning of ìtransubstantiationî with one difference. The Gnostic would emphasize the spiritual or pneumatic interpretation of the term. Rather than transubstantiation into material flesh, the Gnostic experiences the change as a transubstantiation into the spiritual “Body of Christ,” which is of the substance of a light vesture or body of light. The Gospel According to St. John calls the sacramental host “the living bread that came down from heaven.” So we are addressing a living or spiritual substance from a transcendent source, rather than an inanimate and physical one from the matter of earth.

“Amen, Amen, I say unto you: He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. I am that Bread of Life. This is the Bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

The transubstantiation of a wafer of bread into the Body of Christ is thus spiritual and subtle in nature, rather than wholly physical and sensible by our ordinary senses in our ordinary state of consciousness. What Jesus calls “my flesh” is then also of a spiritual nature and not physically human like ours as indicated in the Gospel of Philip.

“The Lord rose from the dead. He became as he used to be, but now his body was perfect. He did indeed possess flesh, but this flesh is true flesh. Our flesh is not true, but we possess only an image of the true.”

The Gospel of Philip, which can be considered a source document for Gnostic sacramental theology, further describes the coming of Christ as the descent of the “Bread of Heaven” and the sowing of the truth, like the seed of grain, everywhere throughout creation.

“Before Christ came there was no bread in the world, just as paradise, the place where Adam was, had many trees to nourish the animals but no wheat to sustain Man. Man used to feed like the animals but when Christ came, the Perfect One, he brought bread from heaven in order that Man might be nourished with the food of Man. The Archons thought that it was by their own power and will that they were doing what they did, but the Holy Spirit in secret was accomplishing everything through them as she wished. Truth, which existed since the beginning, is sown everywhere. And many see it as it is sown, but few are they who see it as it is reaped.”

In the last two sentences of this passage we receive a clue to the mystery of transubstantiation. The seeing of the truth as it is sown might be equated with the ordinary sensing of the ritual of the Eucharist, while the seeing of the truth as it is reaped might be equated with the non-ordinary sensing of the spiritual change, both inwardly and outwardly, as we partake of the light-power and spiritual sustenance offered to us in the Eucharistic meal. Likewise in the Egyptian Mysteries to which the Alexandrian Gnostics were heir, the risen Osiris is symbolised by a shock of wheat carried on a litter in procession. Thus bread and the wheat from which it is made becomes a symbol of resurrected Life and restoration to the Light. The sentence directly preceding in the latter passage from the Gospel of Philip describes the role of the Holy Spirit in providing these spiritual mysteries through material elements. The Holy Spirit, who is acknowledged by the Gnostics to be the spiritual mother of Christ, makes the change of substance, the transubstantiation, that sanctifies the bread to become the Body of Christ. Even so in the esoteric teachings of the Eleusinian mysteries, Kore, mythologically related to Sophia and Isis, weaves while she is in the Underworld the garment of light for the soul and cooks up the ambrosial food that nourishes it in its “flight into the sun.” The change of substance in the Eucharist, just as the transformation of the soul in the Eleusinian mysteries, is accomplished through a feminine power, the power of the Holy Spirit, our Celestial Mother and Consoler.

What is more important than diddling over sacramental theology is that something in the substance has changed and thus we can experience the same change by our participation in the mystery of this transformation of the oblations of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of the Christos.

One of the difficulties of seeing the miraculous in the plain is the materialism and reductionism of our contemporary culture. By this we do not proscribe having material things or maintaining a practice that includes physical symbols of a transcendent reality. The message intended is that through an overvaluing of the material world, we have forgotten how to use symbols and mysteries as windows to transcendence; we have lost the eyes to see and the ears to hear.

A profound difference exists between the symbols and ritual of a mystery and the signs and doctrines of mainstream religion. Most mainstream religion has forsaken the symbols and the mystery and have clung to signs and dogmatic beliefs in their place. Then all that remains of the rituals are but replicas without life, without the Spirit, without the capacity to induce Gnosis, the intimate acquaintance and intuitive knowing of an interior and spiritual reality.

The effort of our Gnostic sacramental work is to reclaim and restore the symbols and the myth, the mystery and the magic of our spiritual and religious heritage. Transubstantiation is not a doctrinal belief or a dogma of faith to the Gnostic but an experience, leaving an indelible stamp upon our consciousness. Instead of dogmatic theology we receive a mystical strand of interior images, sounds and sensations, which become the poetic and archetypal “grist for the mill” that grinds out a meaning for our experience. The host enthroned in the monstrance or elevated in the Mass is to the physical eyes of one in the ordinary state of consciousness nothing but a wafer of wheaten bread. Yet a change has occurred in our participation in the mystery of the Eucharist. It is no longer the same as before our experience of the mystery. Something has changed both in the substance and in ourselves. The “eternal life” that we receive is the recognition of the immortal spark of light within us, and by its increase we bring more light into the world. As the Christos hath said, “the bread that I give is my flesh, which I give for the life of the whole world.” Our light and our consciousness is increased by our partaking of the divine light embodied in its changed substance. The transubstantiation is not so much out there but in us; in the deepest and truest core of our being the ontological substance of who we are is changed. By our consciously, and I emphasise “consciously”, connecting the recognition of our interior spark of the divine light with the real spiritual presence, the transcendental reality embodied in the sacramental Host, it truly becomes for us that Most Precious Gift, a gift from the Treasury of the Light, The Heavenly Bread, the Life of the whole world.

When we participate in such a mystery our spiritual eyes are opened; we see and feel the light in the Host, because we find the same light in ourselves. We see the “truth as it is reaped.” When we give reverence to the consecrated Host as the embodiment of the real presence of Christ, we reverence the spark of light that dwells in all of us. When we experience the divine mystery we become conscious of our true and royal Self; we apprehend that Self, which as in a mirror, is the image of the Christ within.

The Host becomes a body for the Divine Light that “lighteth every one that cometh into the world,” so that, as we partake of that light and participate in its increase of our own light and consciousness, it becomes the way-bread of the weary pilgrim on the spiritual journey back to the Light, the Light from which we and the Mystery have both originated. It becomes the Heavenly Bread, the Bread of the Angels, the partaking of which can not replace the journey but which is the necessary sustenance on that journey, without which we would not have the nourishment, the strength, the life or the consciousness to endure. It becomes both mystically and cosmically, for us and for all the worlds, the Bread of Life, the Living Bread that came down from heaven, the Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ within.

Steven Marshall is the Bishop of Queen of Heaven Gnostic Church, a parish of the Ecclesia Gnostica in Portland, Oregon.

The Wealth of Spirit

A Homily for the First Sunday after Easter (Low Sunday)

by Bishop Steven Marshall

The first Sunday after Easter has been called “Low Sunday”, so as to distinguish it from Easter Sunday, which has been called “High Sunday”. Ecclesiastics facetiously explain the title supposedly because attendance is typically so low on this Sunday in comparison to Easter Sunday. This phenomenon, not always born out in my experience, is in a certain way symbolic of the dichotomy of how the success of a religion, church or person is measured when contrasting a worldly versus a spiritual view of the matter.

The Gnostic point of view expresses this dichotomy most often in the contrasting of material wealth and an exterior, visible growth in the world with spiritual wealth and an interior, invisible growth in the Spirit. One can appreciate this dichotomy in the contrasting of the two parables of the rich man in the Gospel of Thomas:

“Jesus said: There was a rich man who had much money. He said, ‘I shall put my money to use so that I may sow, reap, plant and fill my storehouse with produce so that I lack nothing.’ Such were his intentions, but that same night he died.”

Now, contrast the previous saying with the following parable of the wise merchant:

“Jesus said: The Kingdom of the Father is like a merchant who had a consignment of merchandise and who discovered a pearl. He sold the merchandise and bought the pearl alone for himself. You, too, seek this enduring and unfailing treasure where no moth comes near to devour and no worm destroys.”

The pearl here is symbolic of the priceless treasure of the spirit, the seed of the Light within us, our authentic and immortal Self. Acknowledgment of the value of the pearl by the wise merchant, as opposed to the rich man who thought only of the temporal wealth of the world, signifies a recognition of the true value of knowing our authentic Self, often obscured by the material and psychological obfuscation of the world, but which is a recognition of our authentic Selves as sons and daughters of the Light. The rich man who put his value in the things of this world is contrasted with the wise merchant who gives up all to obtain the single pearl. As stated in the Gospel according to St. Luke, “Likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be My disciple.”

There is a great treasure of the Light within us of whose nature most of are only temporarily or vaguely conscious, yet it is of a reality that is truly enduring, that is incorruptible and immortal. Such a treasure of the Light is so powerfully obscured by the overvaluing of material things and psychological and social preoccupations that very little of it shines into everyday consciousness and out into the world. The hidden nature of our authentic Self, most tragically occulted even from our own awareness is further amplified by the following passage from the Gospel of Philip:

“No one will hide a large valuable object into something small, but many a time one has tossed countless thousands into a thing worth a penny. Compare the soul. It is a precious thing and it came to be in a worthless body.”

This passage exhorts us to avoid identification with anything that falls short of our authentic spiritual Self, the true treasure of the Light. Do not put our value, our authenticity, into anything less than our true pneumatic Self; do not compromise our spiritual integrity. If we identify ourselves, our value, our wealth, with any of the myriad, worthless things of the world, we become eaten up by that. As stated in the Gospel according to Thomas, “Blessed is the man who eats the lion and the lion shall become man, but cursed is the man whom the lion (world) eats and he will become a lion.” If we identify our value with material things and the body, we are eaten up by that and fall into the snare of the Hyletic. If asked who they are, they answer, ” I am the possessor of such and such in material wealth or status,” or , “I am the possessor of such and such physical attributes of my body.” If we identify with what we think or feel, we are eaten up by that and fall into the prison of the Psychic. If asked who they are, they answer, “I am a believer or unbeliever in such and such,” or, “I am a lover or hater of such and such.” We get stuck in these false identities and become blind to anything greater. In the logion from the Gospel of Thomas recited for this Sunday, Jesus further explains this blindness:

“And my soul was afflicted for the sons of men, because they are blind in their hearts and do not see that empty they have come into the world and that empty they seek to go out of the world again.”

Many coming from a secular, socio-economic paradigm of salvation continually complain about the problems of material poverty. Indeed, there is much suffering due to conditions of poverty in the world, and we should help to alleviate it to the extent that opportunities avail themselves to us on a personal level. But material poverty pales in comparison to the spiritual poverty, the spiritual emptiness that afflicts the vast majority of people, both the rich and the poor. As the Gospel of Thomas explains, They do not see that empty they have come into the world and empty they seek to go out of the world again.”

For such dispirited people the phrase, “wealth of the Spirit,” is an oxymoron. They can not acknowledge even the existence of the things of the spirit, let alone assign any value to them. In the portion of the Gospel of Thomas read today, Jesus points out what is truly important to consider in this regard:

Jesus said: If the ?esh has come into existence because of the spirit, it is a marvel; but if the spirit has come into existence because of the body, it is a marvel of marvels. But I marvel at how this great wealth has made its home in this poverty.
People have not truly come into the world empty, but being unconscious and ignorant of the treasure within them, they are effectively empty. The recognition of that treasure can not come about through an abstract or theoretical speculation on the origin of material or immaterial things but through experience, both a consciousness of the poverty of ignorance as the existential condition of the human being in the world , and the recognition of the true treasure of the Spirit, that fragment of the Divine Light that enlightens the soul and aids her in transcending the material and psychological obscurations of the world.

The Gospel reading for today further explains the process by which these conscious recognitions occur:

“Jesus said: I took my stand in the midst of the world and in flesh I appeared to them; I found them all drunk, I found none among them athirst… But now they are drunk. When they have shaken off their wine, then will they repent.”

This passage indicates two steps in the process. First we must shake off our drunkenness by the things of the world. Then only can we repent and turn the awareness of our soul from external and material things to inner and spiritual things.

The captive and unrepentant soul is drunk on the drink of the world, a world that is made of substitutes for the spirit, that hold the soul captive, a worldly drink that befuddles our awareness, that puts us into a stupor of unconsciousness, and prevents us from becoming conscious of the spiritual treasure within us and of anything beyond the world’s counterfeits of the real. This drink comes in a myriad of masquerading and superficially attractive forms, but they are all unfulfilling and counterfeit creations, they are only replicas of the real, they are the promises and threats of false gods and archons. We become attached to and captured by the ideas of the mind, the emotional affections of the passions, the dressed-up desires of our instinctual drives. But they are false gods; they give false promises of fulfillment, comfort and peace, but they do not deliver it in any enduring fashion. Ultimately, they are empty and they leave us empty.

What we are really seeking behind all of these counterfeits are the enduring things of the Spirit, the wealth of the Spirit, the treasure of the Light within. Being drunk on the drink of the world is an attempt to find wealth, happiness and fulfillment on the horizontal and external dimension of being. Wealth is related to the word “weal,” meaning wellbeing and happiness, but material and psychological things can not really offer this in any lasting way. How often have people found that the achievement of their worldly desires did not bring them the happiness that they sought. How often we say to ourselves, “If only so and so believed in my ideas then I would be well and happy. If only I had such and such a possession or physical characteristic then I would be well and happy. If only I had this like satisfied or that dislike removed then I would be well and happy. But when we have obtained these objects of our desires, we find that we are still not well nor happy and another thing takes its place.

Eventually, we must throw off our wine of worldly attachments; we must come to a point of dissatisfaction and sometimes, even despair with these counterfeits of the real before we can ask for and receive the spiritual drink of another and higher reality, before we can drink of the Living Water of the Spirit, which alone provides a weal that is fulfilling and enduring. We must lose the life oriented to the poverty of ignorance to obtain the life of liberating Gnosis. In some instances, before we can be disappointed with the false wine of the world, we must experience that which truly offers a wellbeing and that endures; we must experience something better and greater, then we can repent.

Repent means to turn back, to reverse our direction. Instead of giving our worship to the shibboleths and false gods of the ego and of the human nature directed toward the external world on the horizontal dimension of being, we must turn back to our authentic Selves and to our beginning, our source in the Fullness. We must turn the womb of the soul inward so that she bears us spiritual children as insights of Gnosis. When the soul becomes directed to the Light within, she bears forth the wealth of the Spirit. The Qabbalists teach that the highest is the innermost. In the Pistis Sophia, the Most High is called the Inmost of the Inmosts. That interior star of our being is the door, the way, the opening to transcendence and freedom. Yet that pearl, that treasure of the Light, is hidden beneath layers and layers of dust and darkness. It is imprisoned and entombed by the rulers of matter and psyche, so thickly obscured that we can barely know where to seek for it. What the Gnostics knew is that we cannot find it outside of ourselves.

The title for this Sunday from early times is Dominica in Albis, meaning “Sunday in White,” as it signifies the day when at the end of the service, the neophytes, those baptized on Easter Eve, stripped off their baptismal garments of white and put on their civilian dress. The white vesture of the Light becomes interiorized and hidden beneath the outward and worldly appearance. As St. Paul the Apostle wrote, “We have this treasure in earthly vessels.”

We must find a way to penetrate these layers of obscuration. We must cleave the wood of outward semblance. We must lift the stone. We must roll the stone away from the tomb of matter, lift it away from the tombs in which our spirits are buried while we live in this flesh.

This work of finding and rescuing the Light within ourselves and in the universe is simple but not easy. The alchemists have said of old, “Nature unaided always fails.” And so it is with our own human natures. We might also say, “Human nature unaided always fails.” The work of freeing the wealth of the Spirit cannot be accomplished by the mental-emotional-instinctual complex of the ego, or by a social organization simply devised and orchestrated by such egos. We require a light from outside of the archonic system of the world and yet lies within us, such a light as that represented by the flame of the Paschal candle, to find our way back to the Light, to give us the spiritual strength and sustenance to lift the stone away from the tombs of our spirits.

So from whence does this aid for us come. As sung by the Psalmist, “From whence shall my salvation come?” It comes in diverse ways through the Messengers of the Light, and for us through the Gnostic sacraments or mysteries, particularly the central one of the Eucharist. The Eucharist does not do the work for us, but it provides the necessary aid; it provides the spiritual nourishment and sustenance that gives us the strength to make the great journey in this life, to search out the hidden tomb of our authentic being and to lift the stone away. The inner light that makes the way clear in the darkness of this world is increased by our participation in the Eucharist. Eucharist comes from the Greek word meaning “thanksgiving.” It is a thanksgiving for the wealth of the spirit given to us in the Eucharist, in the sacrament of what has been rightly called “the most precious gift.” It is a thanksgiving to the one who came down through all the Aeons of the Light and all the Archons of the Spheres to bring that gift to us. And so we are also thankful for the true and pure bishops, such as our Right Reverend Father Tau Stephanus, who represent the apostles of that Light. For as written by the holy prophet Mani, “For all the earlier religions were true so long as pure leaders were in them,” so has our bishop maintained the purity of our tradition by his leadership and remained true to his calling and his promise to the Light.

He has remained true to the Light from whence he and indeed all of us have come; and there shall he stand in Gnosis and in Truth, so that he and his successors might ever offer the Living Water, the true wine of Gnosis, and the Bread of Life, the Sustenance of the Angels, to the generations now and in the future, to provide the drink and the waybread of heaven to the weary pilgrims in this world who long for return to the Light and who long for the wealth of the spirit in Gnosis.

Delivered on Low Sunday, 2002, in Hollywood.

Steven Marshall is the Bishop of Queen of Heaven Gnostic Church, a parish of the Ecclesia Gnostica in Portland, Oregon.

Holy Sophia Liturgy – November


Blessed Lady of the aeons who hast told us of old: “Hear me in gentleness, and learn of me in roughness, I am she who cries out, and I am cast forth upon the face of the earth,” give us grace to find thy presence in this world of opposites of peace and war of beauty and terror. For we live in a place of contrasts and confusion where understanding abideth not. For without thee, O blessed Wisdom, we shall never attain to clarity of vision and to an understanding of purpose. For thou bestowest thy mercy upon all of thine offspring without judgment and thy love leadeth us to the source of our being, even to the abode of the Father of the All. Amen.


The Lesson is taken from the Book of Proverbs:
Sophia (that is Wisdom) hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars: she hath emptied her breasts: she hath mingled her wine; she hath also furnished her table. She hath sent forth her maidens: she crieth upon the highest places of the city. Whoso made himself simple, let him turn in hither: as for him that wanteth understanding, she saith unto him, “Come eat of my bread, and drink of my wine which I have mingled, forsake the foolish, and live: and go in the way of understanding. He that reproveth a scorner getteth to himself shame; and he that rebuketh a wicked man getteth himself a blot. Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee: rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man and he will increase in Gnosis. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the Gnosis of the holy is understanding.”


The Gospel is taken from the Apocryphon of John:
The beneficent and merciful one, the Mother-Father, had mercy on the power of the mother, which this chief archon had brought forth by his breath, lest the archons gain dominion over the natural body. Through his great mercy the Spirit sent a helper to Adam, the luminous Epinoia, who is the insight of Sophia. She, who is also called Life, assists the whole creature by toiling with him and restoring him to his Pleroma and by teaching him about the descent of his seed and also by teaching him about the way of ascent. The luminous Epinoia was hidden in Adam in order that the archons might not know her, but that the Epinoia might correct the deficiency.