“Be perfect therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”Matthew 5:48
In the classical gnostic text Apocryphon of John, the word “perfect” is used to describe the world of the Aeons and the primal One from which all things emanate. The word in Greek (τέλειός) mirrors the English sense of “perfected”, fully matured, complete, rather than the more everyday use of “perfect” in English, without blemish or flaw.
The Aeons emanate from the One in a harmonious manner, each matched with a partner, acting in concert to continue the unfolding of the Divine Fullness. At least that is until Wisdom (Sophia) who takes a different path – she acts apart from her partner.
Wisdom on her own is deficient, partial, incomplete and acting apart from the One, the First Father. In this state of deficiency, of imperfection, she gives birth to a lion-faced flaming creature, Ialdabaoth, the Chief Ruler of the lower realms, the creator of human beings and of the psychic and material worlds and the merciless tyrant over all. She is troubled by the appearance of her child and abandons it and tries to conceal it. All the problems of our inner life arise as a consequence of this sequence of deficient actions.
I have long thought of Ialdabaoth as a cosmic archetype of the human Ego. Trying to control everything all the time, unable to conceive of any power higher than itself, a tyrant unto itself and, like all tyrants, driven by fear, rage and loneliness. The Ego is often thought of as The Big Problem in spiritual life and generations of spiritual Mothers and Fathers have described various methods for its discipline and eradication — either by subduing it, destroying it or outgrowing and transcending it.
Some recent realisations in my own inner life and continued meditation on the Apocryphon lead me to wonder if we are misidentifying the problem and prescribing a solution which may be more difficult than it needs to be. We all begin life as a child and as we develop through life we uncover what seems like wisdom — we learn life lessons, we become socialised and often we learn about how inappropriate and embarrassing our childish behaviour is.
This wisdom we think we gain is a higher vision of our self than the younger self it reflects on, but as adults, when we reflect on each stage we have matured through, we see how partial, how incomplete that wisdom — which seemed perfect at the time — was. Over time, we come to realise that whatever seems like wisdom now, will probably seem partial, incomplete, deficient as we continue to mature through our lives.
How many times have we replayed that story, the new wisdom, mother of our new self, is embarrassed and even ashamed of the child we have outgrown. The child is abandoned and hidden in the darkness as we strive to be someone new. But over and over, this new self buys its freedom, its adulthood with the imprisonment of who we have just been, the child who is now abandoned. This child who screams in outrage, who tries to take over our impulses and get what it needs by stealth, when it does not receive it by love.
A woman in my church recently uncovered a possible answer to a puzzle in this enigmatic text: who is Wisdom’s partner? That Wisdom (Sophia) has a partner is mentioned, but the identity of that partner is not clearly stated. This perceptive woman laid out some evidence from the text that the spouse of Wisdom may well be Perfection, another of the Aeons, which once she said it, seemed both obvious and beautiful.
Wisdom in the story achieves her redemption through Christ, the Self-Generated, perfect image of the One. She cannot do it herself because Perfection lies beyond herself and certainly beyond her tyrant son. United though, Perfection-Wisdom is the image of Christ, the image of the Perfect One and in that perfection Wisdom is able to see all things in their natural state, in Love and Joy.
The Apocryphon of John suggests how redemption, the solution to the human dilemma, is to be achieved, but it does not tell the end of the story. It leaves an open possibility into which every commentator has projected their own ideas of what we, its readers, ought to do. So I will follow this tradition and project my own ideas.
Perhaps the invitation from this ancient text, for us contemporary human beings, is to simply walk away from the broken fragmented view of our Self which our Deficient Wisdom has offered us all through life, look at ourselves with the eyes of love and see ourselves the way the First Father sees us, as Whole, as Complete, as His Children and His Image. If no part of this Self of mine is hideous or broken or wrong, if all of it is a part of the image of God and in worship of That One the only proper response seems to me to love every dark, lost part of me, to protect all those lost children inside.
As true as it is of my Self, how much is it true of Yours? How much love and care can I offer You, how much would ever be enough?
May we all be granted the Perfection-Wisdom to see ourselves as we are: the brightness of the everlasting light, the unspotted mirror of God’s power and the image of His goodness (Wisdom of Solomon 7:26).