Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Epiphany and Gnosis

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, the Great Theophany, the self revelation of God made Man to Creation. Again, I find myself walking along a parallel track to Fr Anthony who is spending time studying the Gnostics. I haven’t had the opportunity to make such a detailed review of the subject, but while Gnosticism is a recognised heresy tackled by the Oecumenical Councils, the ideas of Gnosis and Epistemology are worth studying. Fr Anthony points me to the fact that Epistemology is the study of intellectual knowledge, and Gnosis that of experiential knowledge.

Gnosis is therefore very much part of the Epiphany. We know God as being interactive. In the person of Christ we can handle with our hands and see with our eyes. Mankind has Gnosis of God and we can recognise Him for Who He is.

The knowledge of salvation is precisely what Zacharias sings of in the canticle that Anglicans know as the Benedictus. St John the Baptist is prophesied to give us knowledge of salvation by the remission of our sins.  The word used in St Luke i. 77 where this occurs is "gnosin" and shows that we are to experience our salvation in the person of Christ the Word Made Flesh. This is not some theoretical knowledge or forensic understanding, but a knowledge that comes through experience of Love.

The Mass itself is a means to that knowledge in which we enter into the mystery of being itself. God is unique in that He isn't a being among many beings, He is Being itself. This is why I always feel it appropriate to capitalise the Holy Pronoun. The knowledge that we receive of Christ in the Mass is even deeper than sexual. The Bride knows the Bridegroom intimately and Our Lord uses that image of His relationship with the Church. The Mass has been given to us to be as experiential as possible with sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches that aren't just symbolic,  but expressions of an Eternal God transcending even His own Eternity to reveal Himself to mortal man in the fleeting fragility of a partial participation in His Being.

This is saving knowledge in contrast to any act of the intellect and is open to even those whose thinking is impaired in some way.

I, as many of you may have guessed, am a bit of a scholastic and liable to work in terms that cannot be dogmatic for any serious Anglican Catholic. However, we can look at the writer Pseudo-Dionysius who reminds us that when it comes to true knowledge of God, we have to abandon intellect and seek only those revelations that He would choose to help us know Him.

To do just that, we seek first the kingdom of God. We seek how His rule encompasses our lives and the world around us. Intellectual knowledge will tell us only so much, and only allow us a limited understanding of Him. In the Mass, we can allow ourselves the luxury of letting go of the science of wafer and wine and find Christ revealing Himself in one Eternal Epiphany breaking through into Time.

We need to make a much bigger deal of this feast, because it truly gives us knowledge of Salvation.

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