The Beloved of the Logos
The figure of Mary of Magdala, also known as Mary Magdalen, is both
complex and controversial. She has remained a mystery for a very long time
and an object of difficulty for the Church from the very beginning of Christianity.
One question we receive from those of mainstream backgrounds is why the
importance of Mary Magdalen in the Gnostic scriptures and our contemporary
practice of Gnosticism.
An attempt to answer this question and sort through the maze of material
that has been proposed may come from the Gnostics themselves in the form
of their insightful and very helpful threefold division of human understanding:
the hyletic (physical), the psychic (mental), and the pneumatic (spiritual).
The hyletic point of view, coming mainly from a reductionistic materialism,
proposes that Marys importance is as the sexual partner, wife, and carrier
of the bloodline of Jesus. The evidence for this line of reasoning is so
full of surmisings, suppostitions and conjectures that we hardly need consider
it, but even if true, many great and benevolent rulers have given rise
to progeny who were weak, decadent and cruel. The genes do not necessarily
determine the person. So, even if the descendants of Jesus have been maintained
in a bloodline throughout history, little of salvific meaning has come
from that quarter.
The psychic perspective, assuming Mary Magdalen to be the Mary of Bethany
who anoints and washes Jesus feet with her hair and the woman at the well
who has five husbands, considers her to be the model of the repentant sinner.
This again falls short of a really convincing answer. It devolves into
an ethical reductionism that proposes that simply changing our behavior
on a physical and psychological level will bring about the Gnosis or relationship
with the Savior that is truly salvific.
Only the pneumatic perspective, that of the Gnostic seems to penetrate
to the core of the issue of what makes the figure of Mary Magdalen so important
to Christianity as a whole and to Gnostic Christianity in particular. The
Gnostic recognizes Mary Magdalen as the one of the greatest, if not the
greatest apostle of Christ.
In the Gnostic literature she is titled, the Apostle who excels the
rest, the Disciple of the Lord, the One who knew the All, the One who reveals
the Greatness of the Revealer, the Inheritor of the Light, the privileged
Interlocutor, the One who is always with the Lord, the One whom they call
His Consort, and the Chosen of Women.
To contrast this with the mainstream understanding and attitude, let
me share with you a story that my friend Frodo, whom some of you may have
met, passed on to me. In one of her theology classes at Mt. Angel Seminary,
one of her Benedictine professors was asked about the definition of an
apostle. He answered that the apostles were those who saw Jesus and were
blessed by him after the resurrection. Frodo piped up, Then Mary Magdalen
must have been the first apostle. The professor nodded, Yes, but we dont
talk about that. Yet even Pope John Paul II has called her the Apostle
of the apostles. A Manichaean document, The Psalms of Heraclites, calls
her the Net-caster who gathers together the remaining eleven disciples
back to the Saviour after the resurrection. This indicates that she was
one of the principal apostles of Christ.
And yet we intuitively sense that there was something about Mary; she
was not just one of the other disciples. She had a relationship with the
Christ that was different than the others. Part of our understanding of
the mystery of Mary Magdalen is to understand this relationship with the
Logos. Whether it was sexual in the physical way or purely spiritual really
makes no difference in the Gnostic perspective, some element of their relationship
far transcended the mere physical nature of the flesh.
Even as the Gnostic resurrection takes place while we are in the flesh,
so can such a transcendental relationship manifest while in the flesh,
even as it manifested between Mary and Jesus. However, theirs was not an
ordinary relationship in an erotic or conventional sense. There was something
mysterious and transcendent between them that the other disciples could
not understand. The Lord loved Mary more than all the disciples and kissed
her on her mouth often. The others said to him: Why do you love her more
than all of us? The Saviour answered and said to them: Why do I not love
you like her? (Gospel of Philip) Jesus is both asking the
other disciples about the difference between Mary Magdalen and them, and
he is questioning them as to why they are not conscious of the same relationship
of love. The kiss, according to the Gnostic Gospel of Philip, is
initiatory in character. For it is by a kiss that the perfect conceive
and give birth. For this reason we also kiss one another.We receive conception
from the grace which is in each other.
One of the more Gnostic lines in one of the songs in Jesus Christ
Superstar is where Mary Magdalen sings, I dont know how to love him.
Admitting this question, she reveals that Jesus is not like other men,
and their relationship must transcend the ordinary sexual relationship
between man and woman. In her discovery that she cannot love him in the
strictly physical way that she knew before, she apprehends the Mystery
of the Christos. In an intuitive way she discovers the Mystery, like Thomas,
when Jesus asks the disciples, Say who I am like, and Thomas replies,
My tongue can in no way tell whom thou art like. It is this intuitive
and pneumatic perception that makes Mary more beloved than the rest of
In this regard, the Pistis Sophia gives one of the most declarative
statements of Marys importance to the Gnostic tradition.
It came to pass then, when Mary had heard the Savior say these words,
that she gazed fixedly into the air for the space of an hour. She said:
My Lord, give commandment unto me to speak in openness.
And Jesus, the compassionate, answered and said unto Mary: Mary, thou
blessed one, who I will perfect in all mysteries of those of the height,
thou, whose heart is raised to the kingdom of heaven more than all thy
brethren...for thou art blessed before all women on the earth, because
thou shalt be the fulness of all fulnesses and the perfection of all perfections...thou
who shalt be sung of as blessed in all generations...who shall inherit
the whole kingdom of the Light.
That she gazes fixedly into the air for the space of an hour suggests that
she experiences a visionary trance or altered state of consciousness. The
Gospel of Mary describes one of her visionary experiences in more
Peter said to Mary, Sister, we know that the Savior loved you more
than the rest of women. Tell us the words of the Savior which you rememberwhich
you know, but we do not know nor have we heard them. Mary answered and
said, What is hidden from you I will proclaim to you. And she began to
speak to them these words: I, she said, I saw the Lord in a vision and
I said to him, Lord, I saw you today in a vision. He answered and said
to me, Blessed are you, that you did not waver at the sight of me. For
where the nous is, there is the treasure. I said to him, Lord, now does
one who sees the vision see through the soul or through the spirit? The
Savior answered and said, One does not see through the soul nor through
the spirit, but through the nous which is between the twothat is what
sees the vision...
The vision comes by way of a reorientation of the soul, a metanoia, a turning
about which gives rise to the nous which is something that comes to birth
between the soul and the spirit and which sees the vision. The nous is
most often translated as mind, yet it means something more spiritual
and subtle, more akin to enlightened mind, or divine soul, or awakened
consciousness. It is this reorientation of the soul which turns the soul
to the spirit and gives birth to the nous. The Exegesis on the Soul
describes such a reorientation of the soul from external things to internal
and spiritual realities.
As long as the soul keeps running about everywhere copulating with
whomever she meets and defiling herself, she exists in suffering. But when
she perceives the straits she is in and weeps before the Father and repents,
then the Father will have mercy on her and he will make her womb turn from
the external domain and will turn it again inward, so that the soul will
regain her proper character....So when the womb of the soul by the will
of the Father, turns itself inward, it is baptised and is immediately cleansed
of the external pollution which was pressed upon it, just as garments when
dirty, are put into water and turned about until their dirt is removed
and they become clean. And so the cleansing of the soul is to regain the
newness of her former nature and to turn herself back again.
This reorientation of the soul towards the spirit, this new relationship
between the soul and the spirit from which the nous comes into being, parallels
the relationship between Mary Magdalen and the Savior. This perhaps illustrates
the meaning of the enigmatic line in the Gospel of Philip, The
Sophia whom they call the barren is the mother of the angels, and the consort
of Christ is Mary Magdalen. Even as the orientation of the soul inward
to the spirit gives birth to the nous, so Marys orientation toward the
Savior gives rise to her vision and understanding. The soul, like Sophia
as the mother of the angels, bears spiritual children when she is oriented
toward the spirit, as further described in The Exegesis of the Soul:
Thus when the soul had adorned herself again in her beauty and enjoyed
her beloved, and he also loved her. And when she had intercourse with him,
she got from him the seed that is the life-giving Spirit, so that by him
she bears good children and rears them. For this is the great, perfect
marvel of birth.
This birth is by means of that mystic kiss described in the Gospel of
Philipby which the perfect conceive and which the Savior shares often
with Mary. This is the birth of the nous when the soul gives birth by the
This metaphoric sexual imagery gives rise to another hotly debated question
as to whether Mary Magdalen was actually a prostitute before her metanoia.
Whether in history she was or not is really not important to the Gnostic
perspective. The association of Mary with the story of the repentant prostitute
who after a metanoia becomes united to Christ in a spiritual way becomes
a story of the condition of the Gnostic soul in the world and the means
for its redemption. The relationship between the existential condition
of the human soul in the world and the figure of the prostitute is made
most clear in a passage again from The Exegesis of the Soul.
Wise men of old gave the soul a feminine name. Indeed she is female
in her nature as well. She even has a womb. As long she was alone, a single
one, with the Father, she was virgin and in form androgynous. But when
she fell down into a body and came to this life, then she fell into the
hands of many robbers. And the wanton creatures passed her from one to
another and made use of her. Some made use of her by force, while others
did so by seducing her with a gift. In short they defiled her and she lost
And in her body she prostituted herself and gave herself to one and
all, considering each one she was about to embrace to be her husband. When
she had given herself to wanton, unfaithful adulterers, so that they might
make use of her, then she sighed deeply and repented. But even when she
turns her face from those adulterers, she runs to others and they compel
her to live with them and render service to them upon their bed, as if
they were her masters. Out of shame she no longer dares to leave them,
whereas they deceive her for a long time, pretending to be true and faithful
husbands, as if they greatly respected her. And after all this, they abandon
her and go.
This passage makes it clear that, as the psychic perspective would propose
that repentance and change of behavior is all that is needed, the Gnostic
knows that repentance alone is not enough for salvation and freedom, the
mystical vision and union as well must take place. There must be a change
of relationship between the soul and the spirit, between the nous and Christ.
We ourselves, even as Mary Magdalen, must become the Beloved of the Logos.
The key to this relationship is told in the story of Jesus response
to the kind, loving and knowing act of a weeping woman, who anoints the
feet of her Lord, and washes them with her tears and her hair. Jesus responds
to her when questioned about her status, Her sins, which are many, are
forgiven, for she loved much. We can see in this story the keynote of
love and forgiveness. Mary Magdalen has been called in our liturgies, the
pattern of our love. The feeling tone of such love is pure forgiveness.
Someone in an exalted state of consciousness once said, Such forgiveness,
such forgiveness, such forgiveness in the very being of consciousness itself.
The response to such forgiveness is a gratitude that transcends the tongues
speech. If each of us could know what Mary knew, that those from whom we
have been sent love us with a gratitude that we can scarcely imagine; if
we knew what Mary knew, we would have no fear of death, no fear of anything
of this world, for we would know the Beloved of our Souls.
It is such a love that casts out all fear; it is the truth that sets
free. It is a love that transcends all of our anxious attachments whether
physical, emotional, intellectual or ideational. It is where the soul merges
and rests, moves and merges and rests again with the spirit. It is a movement
and a rest, a rhythm and a dance, inwardly at rest and outwardly moving
in the world or outwardly at rest and inwardly in motion and dynamic union,
like looking at your soul in a mirror in front of a mirror, the reflection
being reflected upon and within itself for ever and ever. The Gospel of
thomas describes such an experience where Jesus says, When they ask you
what is the sign of the Father in you, tell them: It is a movement and
Everything else that worldly life promises us is but a paltry substitute,
a sham, a seducing lie distracting us from the real union. The true beauty,
the true joy for which the soul, the bride of the spirit, longs is the
true Bridegroom. This Beloved never uses or abuses us, never abandons us,
as do the false and temporal promises of this world. When we have
this Gnosis, we know the Beloved in eternity, we know who we are, from
whence we have come, and whither we are going. This is the ecstasy of the
union with the Beloved, out of time, out of the limitations of flesh. Sometimes
this union is found in another in this world. Most often it is a relationship
with something transcendent, which can nonetheless deepen, transform, and
give greater meaning to our terrestrial relationships. If we have this
love, it does not matter with whom, with what gender, or how this love
manifests in our lives. However the silly dramas and romances of our lives
play out, however we may have won or lost in love, what is important is
that timeless and limitless love of the Savior, and that we recognize ourselves,
like Mary, as the Beloved of the Logos. May we find that Bridechamber
of the Light, as we take Mary Magdalen as the pattern of our love. Just
as Jesus said to Mary, so let it be said of us that we loved much.
-- Rev. Steven Marshall