Gnostic priest addresses Da Vinci Code controversy
May 26 2006
By Mark Browne
Even followers of Gnosticism have something to say about The Da Vinci Code.
But the Capital Region's only ordained Gnostic priest doesn't have the same concerns as conservative Christians angered by Dan Brown's novel and the movie based on the book. While many have suggested that The Da Vinci Code is rooted in Gnosticism, Jordan Stratford says that isn't the case. Stratford's position is explained in his just-released book, The da Vinci Prayerbook.
Many Christians denounce The Da Vinci Code for its premise that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and that the couple had children. The novel and film takes the view, which is consistent with the fourth century Arians, that Jesus was a man and not a divine figure.
Gnostics, on the other hand, consider the image of Jesus to be a purely spiritual being, according to Stratford.
"Purely spiritual beings tend not to have children," he said.
However, Stratford stressed that the notion of Jesus as a spiritual being - and all of the other stories about Christ - should be viewed in a strictly metaphorical sense.
"Gnosticism does not rely on historical literalism in the same way that Christianity does," Stratford explained. "Let's ask the bigger question about what this stuff means."
The idea that Jesus married Mary Magdalene can be understood as myth that conveys the "marriage" between Christian tradition and the older religions of the divine feminine, he said. Moreover, that marriage can be interpreted as a balance between the masculine and the feminine.
"Gnosticism teaches that Mary Magdalene is an expression of the myth of Sophia, the goddess of wisdom and of the holy spirit."
The idea of the sacred feminine was quite prevalent until the fourth century when the Roman church opted for a more patriarchal approach to Christianity with a sole emphasis on Jesus and a de-emphasis on Mary Magdalene.
There's no way of knowing with any certainty whether Jesus married Mary Magdalene and that they had children, Stratford said. At the same time, it's irrelevant whether that hypothesis is true as he reiterates that it's all about the metaphorical meaning.
All that said, myths surrounding the history of Christianity have an important purpose.
"It invites the reader into a mythic space where they can sort these things out for themselves," Stratford said. "These things aren't valuable because they are literally true. They are valuable because they are beautiful."
Gnosticism has been around for the past 2,200 years.
It's a religion that greatly influenced early Christianity, Islam and medieval Judaism, he pointed out. The origins of Gnosticism occurred in a community of Greek-speaking and educated Jews living in Egypt. The religion is essentially a blend of Jewish mysticism, Greek philosophy and the mystery religions of the ancient world, Stratford said.
Gnosticism is similar to Buddhism in that it stresses personal responsibility, compassion and enlightenment, he said.
The 40-year old has been a practicing Gnostic for the past 18 years and now oversees a congregation of 12. Stratford is a priest with the Apostolic Johannite Church. That branch of Gnosticism was established in 1770 by Freemasons, he pointed out. While people of all religions can be members of the Freemasons, there is a strong historical connection to Gnosticism, according to Stratford, a Freemason himself.
People of different religious faiths can also be followers of Gnosticism, he said. Gnosticism is particularly suitable for creative people because of the poetic nature of the stories encompassed by the faith.
"Imagination is prized as a Gnostic value," Stratford said.
While Stratford has concerns about the common perception that The Da Vinci Code is inherently Gnostic, he's quick to point out that the release of the novel and subsequent film is a positive development despite opposition by many conservative Christians.
"It's a starting point for discussion. I don't think anybody should be threatened by debate and dialogue."
For more information on Stratford's book, see the website, www.thedavinciprayerbook.com.