What Is Found in This Gospel?
The Gospel of Philip expounds upon the Valentinian notion that the separation of the sexes brought error into the world. When Adam and Eve were together, death did not exist. But when Eve became separate from Adam, their androgyny ceased. Christ had to come in order to reunite Adam and Eve. The gospel reveals that two thus united in the “bridal chamber” no longer will be separated. Such were the beliefs of the followers of Valentinus, the great Gnostic teacher who almost became pope (he was a candidate but narrowly lost the election). They called themselves the “spiritual ones” or “the elect” or “disciples of God.”
What was the gospel tradition? It encompassed the oral teaching about Jesus' ministry, death, and resurrection. The Christian church initially began and evolved through public preaching (not with the use of texts). The Apostles traveled throughout the ancient world, sharing a core message that Jesus died for the sins of humankind. However, their retelling of the stories of his life most likely meant that many gospels accounts circulated.
The Gospel of Philip dates to roughly the third century. Scholars are still debating whether the original was written in Syriac or Greek. The gospel was lost until a copy was found in the Nag Hammadi cache of ancient texts that were buried perhaps in the fourth century, when the official church was burning texts deemed heretical.
Philip, the Third Man Jesus Called
The Gnostics had high regard for Jesus' apostle Philip and believed he was the authority for the gospel named after him. Unlike the Gospel of Thomas that declares Thomas to be the author of that account, the Gospel of Philip makes no such declaration. The Philip of the Gospel of Philip is not to be confused with the evangelist (whose name appears in the Acts of the Apostles). Like the Apostles Peter and Andrew, Philip was born in Bethsaida. Originally a follower of John the Baptist, Philip became the third disciple that Jesus called. He was knowledgeable about the scripture and may have spoken Greek. The book of John reveals that Philip was both practical and helpful.
Philip was married, according to the writings of early church father Clement. Like the other Apostles, after Jesus' resurrection Philip went to work, performing miracles, preaching, and traveling to Greece, Azota, Phrygia (modern Turkey), Galilee, and Syria (some sources also say Gaul) in connection with his Christian missionary tasks. Tradition teaches that Philip also may have lived and worked in Scythia, which today is the Ukraine. At least one of his daughters was married. Other daughters of Philip remained unmarried, for church historian Eusebius stated that Polycrates, bishop in Ephesus in the second century, wrote that one of Philip's daughters was buried in Ephesus while Philip was interred at Hieropolis.
Exploits and Demise
One story of Philip's exploits during Emperor Domitian's rule, circa
Sayings attributed to Jesus and used in the New Testament Gospels are known as logia (from the Greek logia, meaning “divine utterances or sayings”). The Sayings Gospel Q and the Gospel of Thomas may have served as the sources for the logia contained in the canonical gospels.
Philip's virgin daughters were buried with him at Hieropolis, although one of his daughters was buried at Ephesus. At some point later, Philip's relics were taken from Hieropolis to Constantinople and then to Rome, where they were placed in the Basilica of the Twelve Apostles. The Roman Catholic Church now celebrates Philip's feast day on May 3 (from the sixth century, it was celebrated on May 1); the Greek Orthodox Church celebrates it on November 14.
The Holiest of Holy
The Gospel of Philip declares that the means of attaining Christhood is in the sacrament of the Bridal Chamber. That Gnostic sacrament was also mentioned in other noncanonical texts — for example, the Gospel of Thomas (saying number 75) and the Exegesis on the Soul, in which the Soul waits for the true bridegroom in the bridal chamber that she has filled with perfume and in which she has cleansed herself. The Gospel of Philip, however, discusses the value of the sacraments but places special emphasis on that particular sacrament, raising questions for modern scholars. For example, what did the Gnostics mean by the sacrament of the Bridal Chamber? Should the meaning be taken as allegorical, as the merging of two beings or energies, or the sense of separateness from the wholeness of the Divine back into oneness? Or could the sacrament refer to the physical sexual union between a man and a woman? Could it have been a single initiation that included five steps: baptism, chrism, Eucharist, redemption, and bridal chamber all in one?
Another theory suggests that the Bridal Chamber might simply be a single sacramental rite, perhaps involving an entirely spiritual sexual act performed in a controlled manner rather than through inflamed passions. If so, was it a fertility rite? Could it have been a sacred sexual act to create spiritually-evolved offspring? Could the Gnostics have seen it as the “correct, conscious” way to have intercourse because of a belief they may have had about the spiritual pitfalls or consquences of an unconsecrated sex act? If, as some Gnostics believed, that improper mixing of the spirit with the flesh (as in the sexual act) was the reason for humanity's downfall from grace, then the idea of procreating physical offspring in order to have spiritually advanced children would have had little appeal. The higher path would have been to abstain and have no children.
Some Christian sects embracing Gnostic ideas saw the body as filthy and the world of matter as evil. Many practiced celibacy, lived an ascetic lifestyle, fasted, and gave little attention to the demands of the flesh. Hoping to be freed from passions of the flesh and sexuality altogether, they sought to clothe themselves in the “light” through gnosis of the divine truths.
The Valentinians sought in union with the Divine the kind of love that would reestablish wholeness, fill the longing of the empty heart, restore the soul, and heal the fractiousness found in the human condition. Their sacrament of the Bridal Chamber represented their hearts straining toward that transcendant love.
The Gospel of Philip states that the bridal chamber cannot be entered by defiled women (prostitutes, adulteresses), slaves, and animals. It states who can enter: free men and virgins. It also declares that those clothed in the “perfect light” cannot be seen by the powers and that in the sacramental union, one clothes oneself in that light.
Free men do not love the flesh and are not enslaved by it. But archons by nature seek to entrap free men and imprison them in fleshly ignorance. Slaves are those unknowing about their inner lives and what entraps them as well as what frees them.
The gospel also differentiates between sons of man who create and sons of man who beget. Those who create (or have the ability to do so) are creators and their progeny are humans ensnared in matter, but those who beget do so in private and their offspring are children of light. No one knows when the husband and wife have intercourse because it is pure and in the light and no one can see them. The Gospel of Philip states that for those who have received the light of the bridal chamber, none can torment them for they cannot be seen and they cannot be detained or enslaved.
Sex with an Angel
The Gnostics saw the Sophia's fall from the Pleroma as the beginning of the imperfect physical universe and all the suffering that accompanied material creation. You'll recall from previous chapters how she tried to create without her male counterpart and the result was the Demiurge. Early church father Tertullian's polemic Against Valentinians explains the fantastic theology and complexities of the Valentinian doctrine.
In chapter seventeen of Against Valentinians, Tertullian examines the Valentinian idea that Achamoth (the fallen Sophia) harbored a carnal desire for angelic luminaries (Tertullian saw this kind of thinking, in particular, as lascivious) and during her emotionally inflamed, passionate phase became pregnant. In due time, she birthed an offspring, the Demiurge, that had three natures — material, animal, and spiritual. The Demiurge then created humans. The Redeemer, Christ the Savior, came to the aid of humanity and into the world, not by virtue of being born of a virgin, but using the virgin as a passageway or channel. Tertullian wrote that the Valentinians strangely believed that Jesus and Christ were not the same. He noted that the Valentinians “engrafted Jesus,” inserting a spiritual seed into him through animal “inflatus.” Indeed, Tertullian addresses rather condescendingly the studying that the Valentinians did in their theology. He noted that they believed Jesus was not human, that Soter (seeded) Jesus entered Christ but left again when Christ was examined by Pilate. In fact, Tertullian claimed that the Valentinians reduced everything to images and imaginery beings.