Briefly Reviewing Arthur Versluis’ Wisdoms Book:The Sophia Anthology.
being a kind of introduction
The last two decades has seen the emergence of a wide array of literature discussing the ancient veneration for the Divine Feminine.
As a contemporary Gnostic oriented towards the every-day enigma of our modernity, I sure hope it is not just another trend – but that it will remain a literary and philosophical stimulation upon the imagination and consciousness of our age throughout many decades still.I am not prone to make prophecies and even avoid putting my stamp of approval on rather sober prognostifications for the future, but I have a hunch, call it an intuition, perhaps even an educated guess – that the potentional of Sophia is yet to be mined completely in this post-modern age.
At the intersection between our own modernity – with its beginnings, so far as a move from a terra-centric,flat earth,”vertical” hierarchical consciousness through the midwifery of the european renaissance, towards the anthropocentric (sic!),humanistic,”planar” orientation in the “enlightenment” and onwards – and the antiquity, we find evidence, literary at most, sometimes barely accessible – of a continued undercurrent, an awareness among the very few of the workings of an invisible Grace which fills all things with meaning, even the meaningless. She assumed many names and these names fulfilled many roles and had many implications and consequences on that which is outside and inside the minds of us individual human beings. If we for a moment pause from our projections – we find the sapientia with its methods,crafts,approaches and ratios alive and kicking in the cryptical writings of the Alchemists. There is a measure which is difficult to grasp but easy to see applied everywhere, in the Hebrew Kabbalah. There is an appreciation, a sensitivity towards the mechanisms of emotional and intellectual stimulus and the consequence of withdrawal among the Sufis. Added to which is all the influences from the East which has no doubt contributed to the birth of a “New West”. Most important of all these, for reasons I hope has come clear through my series on the Fravartis – for a Gnostic, a reoriented voyager, is Our Lady Sophia.
Wisdom. A synonym has been applied to it:Wit. Pentecost is called Whitsunday, and this refers directly to Wisdom. An image emerges from this conjunction in Christian vocabulary: The Pentecost may be asserted to be the collective reception of the sense, the sensitivity and affiliation with Wisdom just as much as it can be considered the occasion of a descent of the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, the Comforter of post-incarnation Christianity. As Versluis explains in the introduction to his Anthology of Sophianic writings from the 17th to 20th century within the Christian tradition of Theosophia, Sophia or Wisdom, is not exclusive to said tradition but enters center stage for a specific reason. The reason for this, in my view – is that Christian lore suggests the event of a rupture which makes acquiantance of things divine and godly a personal responsibility.
Take for instance the event alluded to by the synoptic evangelists when they state that the Temple veil tore upon the terminal exhalation of Jesus. The exact location interior, of the crucifixion, Golgatha, the crucified one, and the three last words is subject to introvert contemplation in generations of Christian mystics and esoterics and many will come, even though Christianity crystallizes itself in different forms and expressions in this our day and age. A possible “reading” of this act of violence on the part of revealing grace – can be found in the Gospel of Philip, unearthed to the world in the August 1945 find of the Nag Hammadi Library
The mysteries of truth are revealed, though in type and image. The bridal chamber, however, remains hidden. It is the Holy in the Holy. The veil at first concealed how God controlled the creation, but when the veil is rent and the things inside are revealed, this house will be left desolate, or rather will be destroyed. And the whole (inferior) godhead will flee from here, but not into the holies of the holies, for it will not be able to mix with the unmixed light and the flawless fullness, but will be under the wings of the cross and under its arms.”
The connotations to the rending of the veil and the destruction or desoplation of the place has precisely to do with the Temple. In actual historical course, the Temple was left desolate at the onslaught of the Roman occupiers as a means to break the back of the once-proud people they had oppressed throughout many centuries. In theological course, the selfsame has happened repeatedly throughout the stories of the prophets and friends of God. The two stories merge together around the theme of Shekinah, and of Wisdom – in the Western mystical tradition, especially those of a judeo-christian orientation.
When Jacob Boehme enters the stage, so to speak, the location of the Temple or Sanctuary of Spiritual Reality has moved into mankind: it is to be found in the interior of living human beings. Not only did the Protestant reformation and its precursors, among which one can assuredly count the Albigensian Church – contribute to shatter, or at the least disturb, the assumed role of a human, mortal organisation with its own legislature and architechture, almost becoming identical to the organization of the Temple at the time of Jesus: it provided with a renewed interest in the Wisdom traditions of ancient Judaism.The first text in Versluis collection is not participant with the “modern” revival of Sophianity or the Ancient Wisdom, but one of its foundation documents: The Book of Wisdom. Wherein the ancient king (Solomon)’s voice is heard to speak about the finding and winning of the heart of Wisdom:
“Wisdom shines brightly and fades not; she is quickly discerned by those who lo ve her, and those who seek her find her. She is quick to make herself known to those desiring knowledge of her; he who rises early in search of her will find her seated at his door.”
Near all the Theosophers (I intend no likeness of Madame Blavatsky’s at all, think 17th century and who ennobled the term so that it became attractive for the Madame and her successors to apply to themselves)
agrees with the truth of this discovery – once resolved to seek a deeper acquiantance with being, one of careful attention and compassionate yet stern love, with the flow of the Holy Spirit, they discovered that it was She who moved them towards such new and troubling values. Valuables so precious they no longer could serve as legal tender in a world grown corrupt from uniformly not paying attention. Arthur Versluis has written an engaging survey of the impact and importance of these anonymous (at times to almost all, not only the world at large – such as Robert Ayshford and Anne Bathurst) where he remarks on the apparent disinterest of the feminists and controversialists who have adopted Sophia as one of the many names for their monolithic Goddess – in the more recent and immediate expressions of the Sophian tradition; the Christian Theosophia of the 16th to early 20th century; spanning from Jacob Boehme to Nicolai Berdyaev, from Protestant mysticism to passionate, yet mystagogic Eastern Orthodox philosophy;,
“..as we look closely at these books, we discover something rather surprising; they have absolutely no references whatever to the actual Sophianic tradition as represented in this book. How could this be? How could numerous books emerge on the figure of Sophia, even on Sophia as the future of spirituality, yet there appears not an inkling of the preexistent theosophic tradition of Boehme, Gichtel, Pordage or Leade?”
Arthur Versluis:Wisdom’s Book:The Sophia Anthology, Paragon Press,Minnesota,2000. pp18, introduction.
One reason is that the Sophia found in the Theosophia is not a personal projection of conventional worship; another may well be that the orientation of the theosophers, male as well as female, went beyond simple gender politics as their tendency might be – Sophia is depicted in prose,poetry and art as equally male, but above all, in either manifestation to the recipients, the visionaries, the voyagers and contemplatives (which all depend on own interior disposition, ability – and discipline)-Virginal. I have actually found reference to the romantic,renaissance and theosophic Sophia in other literary contexts and found there that the reason is even more focused: The Sophia of the Theosophers, while entering man rather than the remains of a geo-political architecture such as the Temple of Jerusalem, a romantic depiction of the original as it was from the very beginning;
populate a Christian cosmology prior either to its destruction or to its reversal; they assert the same about the Sophia of the Gnostics and therefore, if there is any help, their Sophia can only be the anonymous and anemic replica of something far more ancient, from the elder cultures of the West, or wholly from the East. Yet, even Daena signifies something radically different and completely inacessible to the propagandic consciousness of these latter-day radicals.
I feel Arthur Versluis are doing in this anthology the noble favour to the Christian Theosophical tradition and its Sophianity, as did Henry Corbin with his anthology with commentaries Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth for the Ismailian and Mazdaean Gnoses.
I recommend it thoroughly. You will find excerpts from the works of Jacob Boehme, Thomas Bromley, John Pordage,Johann Georg Gichtel,Gottfried Arnold, Friedrich Christoph Oetinger, Franz von Baader and many others who are not as of yet fully represented in English translation.