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  gnostic Sophia
gary e. davis
April 7 / Sepember 29,

In classical Athenian thought, “Sophia” (σοφια), wisdom, is a virtue rather than
a goddess. But idealized conceptions echoed legacies of divined personification, as Athenian virtues express human potential for perfectibility which was first actualized as gods, before becoming conceptions belonging to gods.

That differentiation—singularly-being vs. belonging-to—is exemplary of conceptual evolution (and paradigmatic for classical thought): being differentially transformed from being a god to being a conception enowned perfectly. If the conception can
be separated from the god, then it may be enowned separately from being a god. Knowing the components of the god clarifies perfectibility; and mastering the com-ponents increases likelihood of becoming perfect—which never happens, of course, but one may highly individuate by striving for the highest excellence.

But there may also be cultural regression (just as persons regress under stress):
A conception can be “forgotten” as having been differentiated into presence.

Hundreds of years after Athenian highs, the Greek term ‘Sophia’ is used (3rd-2nd century BCE) to translate the Hebrew correlate for widsom, Hokmot, which was normally personified: “her,” “she.” The Judaic goddess was labeled an Hellenic virtue. Hybrid Hellenic Judaism made the Greek virtue of Sophia be merely the Greek name for a goddess.

The differentiated potential (virtue distinct from the goddess) withdraws into primal personification, as if there had been no difference. An attainable potential becomes a distant god/goddess again (especially: available only to the gatekeepers of access to the distance, the heights—the priests or favorites of the royal court—who depend on illiteracy about the difference in the sacred text about the gods and goddesses).

Centuries afterward, the Jesus movement wasn’t about Hellenic Judaism. The move-ment was original (humanistic, I’d argue)—and manifoldly plural in a sense of living fullness of being. A feminist scholar of gnosticism (source available; I’ll use ‘F’) recently notes that some “early Christians seeking to understand Jesus as savior within the context of their Jewish origins...[found that] Jesus actually seemed to have much more in common with Sophia who was part divine and part human”—thus androgynous—rather than “the traditional Jewish conception of the messiah,” which was paternal.

This perception—or divination of Jesus as Sophia incarnate—became amplified as gnosticism, which constellated all manner of fully humanistic traits into its focus
on Sophia (through marginal gospels that later Christology—a Roman political doctrine—destroyed).

Second century gnostic regard of wisdom as an embodied goddess-man was far beyond Judaism itself. The otherworldely Hebrew folk goddess Sophia became embodied androgyny. Then the gnostics amplified their conception of Jesus-as-Sophia with all manner of Hellenic virtues. Sophia was an original windowmirror of human potential in the world. (By the way, pre-gnostic Greek Saul’s conversion Vision on the road to Damascus—“Paul’s” Vision—happens after the singular-source testimony of Mary Magdalene at the grave. Mary Magdalene originates the idea that divine grace can be reborn. But the originary Marian Vision is concealed by later Christologic theft, like Apollo stealing the oracle. The Gospel of Mary would not be discovered until mid-20th century.)

Yet, later gnostic Sophia herself is a wholly different register beyond Marian Vision.
F writes: “She is at once creator and created; teacher and that which is to be taught; divine presence and elusive knowledge; tempting harlot and faithful wife; sister, lover, and mother; both human and divine.” Sophia is a goddess-man like no other:
the idealized independence of full humaness alive. She is profoundly audacious, yet virtuous; transgressive, yet wise; self-determined, yet enabling. She is the prospect of wholly flourishive humanity channeled by the goddess-man.

One auratic aspect of Her is that a wholly Greek intuition of protean being is striving to emerge beyond all known notions of gods and goddesses in a primordially original conception, as if being strives to disclose itself in the world for the first time as having always been (as goddess)—yet, being born again as embodied goddess-man: teacher of her/himself; elusive, erotic psyche.

Another scholar of gnosticism (M, I’ll call him) writes that she reflects “the theme
of reawakened awareness of divine origins [and...] a special class or race of humans [not gods!] that is descended from the transcendent realm.” Sophia is personification of all human potential, feminine and masculine, in singular, protean humanity of nature, wholly of Earth.

But she also evolved in an Age of political oppression, so her identity was bound up with exclusion and marginality, endemic to women’s lives, yet also endemic to inquirers (marginalization of those who question too deeply), to explorers (who extend horizons too far), to artists (who shock)—and to elders?: the useless old, yet those who may best live with the critical question of Our being? (I see scholarship on gnosticism showing implicit ideals of humanistic development that would hallmark the much-later, early-modern Renaissances.)

Sophia’s not primarily about normative wisdom. She’s about the excluded complement that allows for the True wealth of humanity—our potentials for wholly flourishive life—that was normally marginalized.

Before and after the Jesus movement, the pantheistic, hybrid, earthy, worldly Hellenism of the “gentiles” was excluded from Judaism. (Judaists called the gentiles “people of the sea,” rootless nomads.) Then Christology later excluded the gnostics. But the exclusion was forgotten in terms of politically-normalized, centrifugal domination (Catholicism) that normalized the marginality of centripetal gnosticism. Quasi-Hellenic Palestinians (Judeo-Christians) become born into normal repression, and marginality was demonized. (“Healthy” anger toward marginalization would become the witch, then the madwoman in the attic.)

Accordingly, writes M about gnosticism, normal “incarnation at birth entails a for-getting of divine origin. The realization of one’s spiritual ancestry must be reawak-ened by revelation.” Yet, such revelation potentially belongs to everyone (post-theocentrically). Potential develops, through education and individuation. A hallmark of modernity is that our “divine” potential is brought into its own, enabled, and evinced through higher education.

Gnostics seek salvation not from sin but from “the ignorance of which sin is a con-sequence” (F). So, for the Sophians—for the devotees of Sophiality—there’s “a divine family of entities, each of which is a mythic personification of a divine faculty or attribute: Thought,... Foreknowledge, Incorruptibility, Eternal Life, and so forth....” (M). In other words, Hellenic virtues are reborn, for gnosticism, through Sophial humanity.

Yet, the times were very much the world of “God,” so “a divine attribute [is] a distinct hypostasis of God, [whereby Sophia is] a goddess-like co-partner with God, and some-times even as synonymous with God” (F)—which sounds very Greek (now decorated theistically) and is essentially androgynous—or gynandrous, I prefer (next section). Such being-with tropes the condition of gnosticism’s survival: partnership, centripet-al marginality appropriating itself with centrifugal centrality. A “plurality of divine attributes originated from unity and...true humanity is also divine” (M), but post-theologically, in terms of Hellenic virtues.

This is an intuition of our evolutionary nature—but in Originist terms which validate lineage as belonging to an Original Being. Modernly, we know that It’s really Our shared evolutionarity, troped there in terms that are comprehensible to an epoch of repressive domination, facing the abyss of lost remembrance as a “saving” “God” that allows evil because, well, who else could allow plagues, etc., if God controls (through The Church). Gnosticism survives to lead to monasteries and a history of concealing Hellenic audacity in the guise of a prudent, wise, appropriative partnership with centrifugal domination.

For gnostic thinking, “the last divine entity to emerge is Wisdom. But unlike the other entities, Wisdom is said to be without a consort” (M). Sophia, in the Hellenic sense—a facet of gnostic Sophia—wants a partner suited to her nature (if only he can find her), i.e., a True cohering of Her nature, Our audacious capacity for origination.



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