Sophia: the Gnostic Heritage

Just read John Nash’s article, “Sophia: the Gnostic Heritage“, published in the Fall 2009 edition of The Esoteric Quarterly. Nice thorough-but-brief coverage of the topic, if you know what I mean.  Here’s an excerpt…

SophiaSummary

This article presents a brief history of

Sophia, best known of the divine feminine

individualities of the West. Under her Hebrew

name, Chokmah, Sophia emerged in late biblical

times. But it was the Gnostics of the early

Christian era who created the Sophia we recognize

today. Sophia played a small but significant

role in western mainstream Christianity

and a much larger role in Eastern Orthodoxy.

Russian Orthodox theologians not only

had personal experiences of Sophia but also

shared important insights into how she related

to the Trinity and to the “invisible Church”

that transcends historical Christianity. The

article concludes with some remarks about the

relevance of Sophia in modern spirituality.

Background

masculine God dominates Judaism,

Christianity and Islam. But female deities

were popular in many ancient cultures, and

they survive in the religions of Asia and the

Pacific, and in the indigenous religions of the

Americas. A popular theory is that the Great

Mother once ruled supreme in much of the

world but was overthrown when Indo-

European tribes invaded the Middle East in the

third millennium BCE. Allegedly the invaders

brought with them a masculine warrior god, or

several warrior gods, who eventually evolved

into the Deity of the Abrahamic religions.1

Whether or not there was once a supreme

feminine deity—and the issue continues to be

debated—there is no doubt that feminine deities

were more common in the West in antiquity

than they became during the 2,000 years

of the Common Era. In recent decades resistance

has increased not only among feminist

theologians but also more generally to the convention

that God is necessarily masculine and

must be referred to in terms such as “He,” “Father,”

“Lord,” and so forth. Resistance has

also increased to the custom of envisioning

God in any kind of anthropomorphic terms.2

Yet anthropomorphism is comforting to many

people, and the concept of a powerful Goddess,

complementing or even replacing the

traditional masculine God, resonates with large

numbers of thinking people.

Of all the anthropomorphized, feminine deities

discussed today, Sophia is the most popular in

the West, to judge by the literature of feminist

theology, women’s studies, and New Age culture.

The purpose of this article, then, is to

present a brief review of the history and contemporary

relevance of Sophia in western

spirituality. Many questions remain concerning

how Sophia can be reconciled with traditional

Christian doctrine. However, opportunities

also exist to integrate Sophia more firmly

into the Trans-Himalayan teachings.

Sophia in Biblical Times

he Greek word for “Wisdom” is Sophia.

But the story of Sophia extends back into

biblical Judaism, where she was known by the

Hebrew name Chokmah. Chokmah had a long

history in the Old Testament, starting out simply

as the quality or virtue of wisdom and

gradually approaching the status of a divine

individuality. She had a close relationship

with the masculine Yahweh, even participating

About the Author

John F. Nash, Ph.D., is a long-time esoteric student,

author and teacher. Two of his books, Quest for the

Soul and The Soul and Its Destiny, were reviewed

in the Winter 2005 issue of the Esoteric Quarterly,

and his latest book, Christianity: the One, the

Many, in the Fall 2008 issue. See the advertisements

on page 14 of this issue and also the website:

www.uriel.com.

Read the rest of “Sophia: the Gnostic Heritage” by John Nash.

Published by

Katia

Katia is a consecrated independent sacramental bishop. She directs the online Esoteric Mystery School and Interfaith Theological Seminary. Check it out at NorthernWay.org.

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