Sophia in Gnosticism
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Sophia is a prominent figure in Gnosticism. The Gnostic movement was made up
of diverse sects and movements within early Christianity. The Greek word "gnosis"
is usually translated as "insight." As a religion Gnosticism means "religion
of knowledge." It was declared a heresy in the second century C.E. and was
followed by a fierce campaign by the church fathers to seek out and burn every
trace of Gnostic teaching.
Gnostics believed that Jesus was Sophia: i.e., the "Word" or logos
that would come to birth within the person. They rejected organized religion and
claimed priests were unnecessary. The individual could actualize the inner reality,
independent of a leader or organized hierarchy. In "orthodox" Christianity
represented by Peter, God the father passed his authority and keys to the kingdom
of heaven to Jesus his son, and Jesus passed them on to Peter and his successors.
To be saved, a person had to seek admission through Peter's chosen men (i.e.,
There are two Sophias in Gnosticism, the heavenly Sophia or wisdom of God, and
her daughter, Sophia Achamoth. Valentinus, leader of a major Gnostic sect, described
the heavenly Sophia as "Mother of the All" who is Grace, Silence, and
The original Dyad, Sophia and the Primal Father, bring forth a couple, Nous
and Truth. The divine Pleroma consists of a series of male-female aeons. The last
aeon, Sophia Achamoth, plays the role of Cosmic Eve.
The Gnostic system, although there are many differing versions, give Sophia
a high profile role in both the creation myth and redemption motif. In Gnostic
groups, women were of equal status with men. In Neoplatonism, whose interpreters
were contemporaries of the Gnostics, Sophia was equated with the Intellectual-Principle
(Nous) of the individual soul (which in the system of Plotinus was the point of
contact between the soul and the Intellectual-Principle). This redeems itself
by renouncing error. Sophia must turn away from the beliefs and assumptions that
bind her to darkness, and by so doing she recovers the light, her twin, the Soter
Christ. Unless the two are united, knowledge remains without guidance.
The Gnostics identified Jesus with Sophia. The Gnostic churches downplayed the
humanity of Jesus and the crucifixion. Many did not believe that Jesus was human
and died. They saw Jesus as the divine redeemer who therefore could not die. The
churches represented by the New Testament, however, established as one of the
primary tenets of faith that Jesus was human as well as the Son of God; and that
he actually died. The entire hierarchy of the early Church rested on these beliefs
and especially the Resurrection. The historical, literal fact of the Resurrection
and the witnesses to it determined the structure and organization of the Church.
(E. Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels, 49) To the Gnostics, Sophia was the feminine
aspect of the Divine who came down from God with a special message. Since "being
saved" was a function of knowing Jesus' message rather than the crucifixion-resurrection
event, the message-carrying Sophia was an especially appealing image of Jesus
Sophia As Ogdoad--Boundary And Gateway To The Stars
Both Gnosticism and alchemy speak of ascent through the planetary spheres.
One of Sophia's designations is the "Ogdoad." The world view in antiquity
placed the earth as the center of the universe which was made up of spheres arranged
concentrically around the earth and named after the planets. In Gnosticism the
outermost planetary sphere or archon was Saturn. Outside this is the realm of
the fixed stars, corresponding to the ogdoad, domain of Sophia Achamoth (C.G.
Jung, CW 13, 578).
Sophia rules the eighth clime, the archetypal world of images, "the world
in which the forms of our thoughts and desires, of our presentiments and of our
behavior and of all works accomplished on earth subsist." (C.G. Jung, CW
Kathleen Damiani, Ph.D.
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