Gospel of Philip and the Sacraments

The Gospel of Philip is an early Christian ‘Gospel’ of Gnostic origin. More specifically it is Valentinian in flavour. Of course, thanks to the Da-Vinci code hype, this Gospel has received an inordinate amount of attention, and it has been, to the chagrin of most professional theologians, significantly misinterpreted. I will not here spend my time explaining what the theology of ‘kissing’ actually is in the Gospel of Philip (in connection with the Kiss of Peace which originally comprised part of the Mass). Instead, I have another interesting line of thought to pursue.

First off, the fact that this work is called a ‘Gospel’ is a bit of a misnomer. It certainly doesn’t fit the standard Genre of ‘Gospel’. Granted, the Genre itself is a flexible construct, as only the Gospels of Mark (1:1) and Matthew (26:13) actually refer to themselves as ‘ευαγγελιου’. Nevertheless, what we typically mean by Gospel, as opposed to theological treatise, is that it is at least biographical, and this work is hardly biographical. Instead this work would probably be more appropriately called an early Valentinian Catechism. Interestingly, it bears witness, indirectly, to the presence of the Sacraments in the early Church. For instance, consider the following quotations:

All those who anoint themselves with it [Love] take pleasure in it. While those who are anointed are present, those nearby also profit (from the fragrance). If those anointed with ointment withdraw from them and leave, then those not anointed, who merely stand nearby, still remain in their bad odor. The Samaritan gave nothing but wine and oil to the wounded man. it is nothing other than the ointment. It healed the wounds, for “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8)
~Gos. Phil. 77.15-78.24

This evidences, as will be further demonstrated down below, the particular fascination with the sacrament of confirmation, or ‘Chrism’, which the early Church practised from her beginning.

The Lord did everything in a mystery, a baptism and a chrism and a eucharist and a redemption and a bridal chamber.
~Gos. Phil. 67.27-29

This passage enumerates 5 sacraments.

It is through water and fire that the whole place is purified – the visible by the visible, the hidden by the hidden. there are some things hidden through those visible. There is water in water, there is fire in Chrism.
~Gos. Phil 67.5-9

The connection of fire with Chrism furthers the insight I had previously stumbled upon last year about the sacrament of confirmation being scripturally connected with Pentecost, such in the sacrament of confirmation, one is united to the Church at Pentecost. It is, thus, the Pentecostal sacrament. This seems almost too obvious once one realizes in the Latin Catholic tradition we constantly treat this sacrament as the ‘missionary’ sacrament, which Graces the individual with the power to profess the faith to the world.

The Chrism is superior to baptism, for it is from the word “Chrism” that we have been called “Christians,” certainly not because of the word “Baptism”. And it is becausee of the chrism that “the Christ” has his name. For the Father anointed the Son, and the Son anointed the apostles, and the apostles anointed us.
~Gos. Phil. 74.11-18

This quotation is perhaps one of the most beautiful I know of in early Christian literature.

The priest is completely holy, down to his very body. For if he has taken the bread, he will consecrate it. Or the cup or anything else that he gets, he will consecrate.
~Gos. Phil. 77.2-8

Here, the sacrament or ordination is implicit, since there is one in the congregation designated as the ‘priest’ – moreover the sacrament of ordination is one of the sacraments which is most clearly attested to in other early documents, so it isn’t unreasonable to take this to be assumed by the Valentinian community behind this Catechism.

The eucharist is Jesus. For he is called in Syriac “Pharisatha,” which is “the one who is spread out,” for Jesus came to crucify the world.
~Gos. Phil. 63.21-24

Not only was the Eucharist practiced, but this passage reflects the normative belief of the Church in the early centuries, and “the eucharist IS Jesus.”

One of the problems liturgists encounter in the study of early Christian liturgy is that Christians, both Catholic and ‘Gnostic’, typically practised what they called ‘the secret’ which was simply the practice of not revealing all the mysteries of the liturgy to those who are not yet innitiated into the community. This practice was intended to protect Christians from those would-be converts who only wanted to report what Christians actually did when they got together for Eucharist (In the early Church there were two services – one in the morning which was reserved only for the baptised, which was the eucharist, and the other in the evening for everyone, which was a banquet/potluck). Although the Valentinian liturgy may have inevitably undergone its own peculiar transformations, it is still significant that this early Gnostic text (even if its interpretations of some of the sacraments are different) bears witness to at least five of the sacraments being present in the early Church.

An example of a different interpretation of the sacraments could be easily given. The Bridal Chamber, or mystery of marriage, may not be at all what people expect, for by the theology in this catechism Adam and Eve sinned in that they were united to each other with-out the Bridal Chamber. Sex in general is not looked well upon in this theology. Another example I found, perhaps less mundane, is about Baptism:

If one goes down into the water and comes up without having received anything, and says “I am a Christian,” he has borrowed the name at interest. But if he receives the Holy Spirit, he has the name as a gift. He who has received a gift does not have to give it back, but of him who has borrowed it at interest, payment is demanded. this is the way it happens to one when he experiences a mystery.
~Gos. Phil. 64.22-31

This model of Baptism seems to imply belief that Baptism’s efficacy requires something on the part of the subject in addition to the sacrament’s instantiation. This is of course not the faith of the Catholic Church, as the Church believes that the Sacrament confers an indelible mark without requiring anything on the part of the subject.

This Gnostic Gospel indirectly serves to substantiate the claims of the Catholic Church that the sacraments were delivered to her by Christ and were practised in the Church from his time onwards. Thus, these gnostic sources are actually useful for Catholic apologetics. The same can be said, for instance, with the Gospel of Judas, which pictures Judas not as the hero, but rather as the one who sacrifices Christ. Interestingly, ‘Judas’ in that Gospel is intended by the Gnostic author to represent the Catholic priest (and by extension the whole Catholic Church), and the emphasis on Judas sacrificing Christ clearly evidences that the early Church recognized the Eucharist and the Mass as a ‘Sacrifice’ or ‘Sacrificial Rite’ from very early on.

As to the dating of the Gospel of Philip, debate rages. Many scholars prefer a date somewhere between 180 AD and 250 AD. However, others push for a date as late as 350 AD, and typically argue that it could not have been before 250 AD. What is interesting is that, while many Christian scholars (evangelical and Catholic) have been tempted to emphasize how late ‘Gnostic’ Gospels come in the history of the Church compared to the Canonical four, in one sense, for the sake of this Catholic apologetic, the earlier the better. The earliest dating is likely questioned on the grounds precisely that it evidences ‘Sacraments’! Catholics, far from fearing these alternative Gospels and other miscellaneous Gnostic works, or even other non-canonical Catholic works (such as the Proto-Evangelion of James), should readily turn to them to strengthen their own apologetic.


About tylerjourneaux

I am an aspiring Catholic theologian and philosopher, and I have a keen interest in apologetics. I am creating this blog both in order to practice and improve my writing and memory retention as I publish my thoughts, and in order to give evidence of my ability to understand and communicate thoughts on topics pertinent to Theology, Philosophy, philosophical theology, Catholic (Christian) Apologetics, philosophy of religion and textual criticism.
This entry was posted in Apologetics, Exegesis, Liturgy, Sacraments, Textual Criticism. Bookmark the permalink.

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