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The Role and Function of Thelemic Clergy

Subject: The Role and Function of Thelemic Clergy
                       in Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica
  by Tau Apiryon
  Copyright © 1997 Ordo Templi Orientis U.S.A. All rights reserved.
   The Christian Apostolic Succession
   The term "apostolic succession" derives from the Christian tradition
   that Jesus bestowed particular powers upon his apostles, which they
   were able to pass on to their successors. While still alive, He gave
   Peter the "keys of the kingdom of heaven" and the power to "bind" and
   to "loose" in heaven as on earth (Matthew XVI:18-19). At the
   ressurection, He bestowed the power to remit and retain sins upon the
   assembled apostles by breathing upon them and saying "Receive ye the
   Holy Ghost" (John XX:22-23).
   The precise formula for conferral of the apostolic succession in the
   Episcopate was established later. The essentials are the invocation of
   the Holy Spirit and the laying on of hands (cheirotonia), with right
   intent, after due preparation (i.e., after Christian baptism,
   confirmation and ordination to the Priesthood). The rite of
   exsufflation, or breathing upon the recipient, is also considered an
   integral component of the rite by some denominations. The apostolic
   succession is embodied in the Episcopate of the Catholic, Anglican and
   Orthodox Churches, as well as within the "wandering bishops"
   tradition, which includes the French Gnostic Churches. According to
   Saint Augustine, the powers conferred by a validly transmitted
   apostolic succession (i.e., the powers to remit and retain sins and to
   transmit the Holy Ghost) cannot be taken away once conferred; even
   though the individual may loose his standing, recognition and
   authority within the Church.
   Even though the apostolic succession is embodied in the Episcopate,
   the fact that one holds a validly transmitted apostolic succession
   does not automatically make one a bishop within any particular church.
   Episcopal power is derived from the apostolic succession, but
   Episcopal authority is delegated by the leadership of the Church. The
   ordination or "consecration" of a bishop may involve a perfectly
   "valid" conferral of the apostolic succession, but if it was performed
   without the authorization of the Church leadership, it is "illicit,"
   and conveys no authority in the Church.
   Within the exoteric Christian community, the apostolic succession is
   considered to emanate from Jesus and the apostles. However, from a
   historical and anthropological perspective, its roots are much deeper.
   The Book of Hebrews (V, VI, and VII) describes how Jesus was made a
   "Priest for ever after the Order of Melchizedek" by God (in accordance
   with Psalm 110), and how this eternal Order of Priesthood was the
   foundation of the spiritual authority of the apostles. The apostolic
   succession may then be considered to constitute the Order of
   Melchizedekian Priesthood. Who was Melchizedek? According to the sect
   of Melchizedekian Gnostics, he was an Avatar of Seth, the third son of
   Adam. According to cultural anthropologists, he was probably an
   ancient Jebusite Priest-King of the polytheistic Canaanite religion,
   which, being transplanted from Mesopotamia, had its deepest roots in
   ancient Sumeria. Qabalistically, Melchizedek, King of Salem, is the
   King of Righteousness and Peace, i.e. Jupiter/Chesed.
   In addition, as the heir to the patriarchal Hebrew tradition, the
   apostolic succession of Jesus would naturally have included the
   spiritual succession of Moses-- who was, of course, an Egyptian
   Later, the apostolic succession acquired a series of additional
   spiritual successions through its relationship with Roman paganism.
   The early Roman ruler Numa Pompilius (716-673 p.e.v.) founded the
   College of Pontiffs to govern the pagan religious system of Rome. The
   president of this college was known as the Pontifex Maximus, "Supreme
   Pontiff." On his accession as Emperor, Octavian Augustus took this
   title for himself, and it was thereafter reserved for the Emperor as
   formal head of the State Religion. After the time of Christ, the idea
   of monotheism became more popular. The Emperor Elagabalus (218-222
   e.v.) established the solar Baal worship of his native Syria as the
   imperial cult within the Roman pagan milieu. The cult of Elagabalus
   was short lived, but the main feature, the henotheistic idea of all
   the diverse gods subordinate to a supreme solar Deity, was resurrected
   by the Emperor Aurelian (270-274 e.v.) and merged with the Mithraic
   religion as the imperial cult of the Deus Sol Invictus. Under this
   system, the Emperor was considered the vicegerent of the supreme god
   Sol Invictus, who was also known by the names Mithra and Oriens. The
   Sol Invictus cult was very syncretistic, and incorporated elements of
   most of the various religions of the Roman Empire of the time,
   including Christianity. The system of Christianity was, in fact, very
   compatible with the system of Sol Invictus. There is a third century
   vault mosaic in the tomb of the Julii under St. Peter's which depicts
   Christ as Sol, rising in his chariot.
   The Sol Invictus cult continued to grow under Aurelian's successors
   and reached its pinnacle of success under the Emperor Constantine I
   "the Great" (Emp. 310-337 e.v.). Constantine retained the title of
   Pontifex Maximus throughout his life, even through his death-bed
   baptism as a Christian. The Emperor Gratian (Emp. 367-383 e.v.),
   however, was converted relatively early in his life by St. Ambrose,
   and renounced the title of Pontifex Maximus in 379 e.v. There is no
   record, at least no record available to the public, of Gratian having
   appointed a successor to the office of Pontifex Maximus. However,
   though he renounced leadership of the state church hierarchy, he did
   not dissolve it; and that same year, the Bishop of Rome, Damasus I
   (Papacy 366-384 e.v.), referred to himself as the Pontifex Maximus in
   a petition to the Emperor for judicial immunity.
   Damasus was a powerful and ambitious leader. He had won the office of
   the Roman Episcopate by armed force, and he presided over a
   notoriously corrupt and sensuous church. He was a suave intellectual
   who moved easily among the pagan elites of Rome and converted many of
   them to Christianity. He was also the first of the Bishops of Rome to
   assert Roman primacy over all other bishops, and, as such, was the
   first true "pope." Appointment, even clandestine appointment, as
   supreme head of the Roman State Church, which was ripe for Christian
   conversion, would have suited his purposes very well.
   On his baptism in 380 e.v., Gratian's successor Theodosius I "the
   Great" (Emp. of East 378-394, Emp. of East and West 394-395 e.v.)
   proclaimed the Christianity of Pope Damasus the official State
   Religion of the Roman Empire. He then proceeded to issue a number of
   edicts which rendered the practice of pagan religions illegal. Pope
   Leo I "the Great" (Papacy 440-461 e.v.) publicly claimed the title of
   Pontifex Maximus for himself. Finally, under the Papacy of Paul II
   (1464-1471 e.v.), the title was made an official designation of the
   office of pope.
   Authors such as Ragon, Hislop, Inman, Higgins and Forlong have pointed
   out in detail the conspicuous similarities between the rites and
   symbols of Roman Catholic Christianity and those of its Roman
   predecessors, including the substitution of Saints for Gods, the
   replacement of the College of Pontiffs with the College of Cardinals,
   the replacement of the Pontifex Maximus with the Pope, and the
   celebration of Christ's birthday on December 25, the birthday of Sol
   Invictus Mithra. We may never know whether Pope Damasus I was actually
   appointed Pontifex Maximus of the Roman Church. Nonetheless, that
   mantle fell squarely upon his shoulders and those of his successors.
   Having either actually or effectively absorbed the Sol Invictus cult,
   the apostolic succession of the Roman Catholic Church has, since the
   time of Damasus, conveyed the spiritual successions of nearly all of
   the pre-Christian pagan/solar faiths of the Roman Empire.
   Thus, the "apostolic" succession, though considered within the
   exoteric Christian community to begin and end with Jesus, actually
   embodies the spiritual successions of the entire Western religious
   heritage: Christian, Judaic, and Pagan.
   The Thelemic/Gnostic Succession
   As Thelemites, we are little concerned with the exoteric Christian
   interpretation of apostolic succession. The power to remit and retain
   sins, which is the entire point of the Christian apostolic succession,
   is not particularly relevant to Thelemites. Therefore, it is not of
   critical importance for a bishop of the Thelemic E.G.C. to hold a
   valid "apostolic succession" as defined by the Canon Law of exoteric
   Christianity. The spiritual succession we hold from the Master
   Therion, the Prophet of the Aeon, the founder of our religion, is of
   much greater significance to us. This Thelemic/Gnostic succession,
   embodied in the leadership of O.T.O., conveys the power and authority
   to administer the outer institutions of the Thelemic Religion: the
   O.T.O. and Gnostic Catholic Church.
   Just as the Christian apostolic succession, which nominally begins
   with Jesus, actually conveys the spiritual heritage of many earlier
   traditions, so does our Thelemic/Gnostic succession from the Master
   Therion convey all the various lineal successions of the "constituent
   originating assemblies of the O.T.O." listed in Book 52, which were
   conferred upon Crowley by Theodor Reuss when Crowley was made head of
   O.T.O. for Ireland, Iona and all the Britains. One of these
   constituent originating assemblies was the Gnostic Catholic Church,
   which was originally Christian, and whose Episcopate conveyed the
   traditional apostolic succession through Joseph René Vilatte, one of
   the "wandering bishops." Thus, our Thelemic Ecclesia Gnostica
   Catholica has united virtually all of the various spiritual
   successions of the Western religious tradition in service to the Law
   of Thelema.
   The Thelemic/Gnostic succession embodied in the Episcopate of our
   Gnostic Catholic Church can be considered, in both a symbolic and a
   spiritual sense, as a heritage of the primitive Order of Priesthood,
   as a transmission of the Essence of all the "saints of the true church
   of old time," whose mingled Blood fills the Cup of Babalon. Upon this
   succession we may rightfully claim the heirship, communion and
   benediction of those saints. Through the right use of this succession
   we may build the invisible edifice of a Spiritual Ecclesia as we
   celebrate our Gnostic Mass; and by the power of this succession we may
   once again awaken the egregore of the True Church of Old Time upon the
   Priesthood and Gnosis
   One of the most commonly cited "invariants" of Gnosticism is the
   doctrine of personal illumination: that the salvific Gnosis is
   obtained directly from the transcendent realm by each individual
   Gnostic. Some modern writers have gone so far as to opine that the
   violent opposition of the early Catholic Church against the Gnostics
   was a result of the refusal of the Gnostics to accept the concept of a
   mediatory priesthood. There were, of course, many other reasons beside
   this; but this idea has led some to question the value of an
   ecclesiastical hierarchy in the E.G.C.
   First, it should be pointed out that many classical Gnostic systems
   had ecclesiastical hierarchies. Most of the Alexandrian and Syrian
   Gnostic groups were centered around an authoritative Teacher and his
   deputies. The Manichaean Church had an elaborate and very rigid
   hierarchical system composed of lay members (Hearers) and a clergy
   (Elect), who were governed by 360 Elders, 72 Bishops, 12 Masters and a
   single Archegos or chief.
   Second, while many of us tend to view the "Gnosis" as a true unitive
   experience, like Samadhi, or the "Enlightenment" of Zen Buddhism, or
   the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel, many of the
   Classical Gnostic systems viewed it simply as the personal conviction
   that one's own true nature was divine, and, as such, that one dwelt in
   the material world as a "stranger in a strange land," as a traveler
   whose ultimate goal was the transcendent Pleroma. This belief could
   only bring "salvation" if it were truly a deep knowledge as opposed to
   a purely intellectual belief. It required the strength of what William
   James called the "conversion experience." A Gnostic clergy would have
   been useful to those in pursuit of this experience: as sources of
   theoretical and technical information, of spiritual guidance and
   reassurance; to answer their questions, resolve their doubts and help
   them through their studies and meditations to come ultimately to the
   full personal realization of the Gnosis.
   The real distinction between the clergy of the Gnostic and Catholic
   Christian systems was that the Catholic priest actually took the part
   of Christ in intervening on behalf of the individual; whereas in the
   Gnostic Christian systems, the clergy assisted the individual toward
   accomplishing this for him or herself.
   The two systems had similarly divergent doctrines on the nature of
   Christ. The Catholics held, and hold, him to be the effecter of World
   Salvation through the principle of vicarious sacrifice; the Gnostics
   held him to be a divine Illuminator, pointing the way toward salvation
   for those with the ability to see.
   Function of the E.G.C. Clergy
   In the E.G.C., as in the Christian Gnostic systems, personal Gnosis is
   stressed, so our clergy do not serve as intervening spiritually on
   behalf of the congregation. Although they may, if they have the
   ability, serve somewhat in the same capacity as the Classical Gnostic
   clergy, i.e. as teachers, facilitators and counselors, the principal
   duty of the E.G.C. clergy is to see that the rituals are "rightly
   performed with joy & beauty." As such, they are the official
   representatives of the Church and the custodians of its paradigms;
   they are responsible for communicating the Word of the Thelemic E.G.C.
   to the world.
   In the Roman Catholic Church, there is no such thing as an incompetent
   priest in celebrating Mass. If he is duly ordained and says the words,
   the miracle is alleged to occur. It does not matter if he mumbles his
   lines with his face buried in the Missal, wears his chasuble backwards
   and forgets to ring the bell.
   Such is not the case in the E.G.C. Where the Catholic Mass is a
   miraculous rite, depending for its efficacy on the Grace of God; the
   Gnostic Mass is a magical rite, depending for its efficacy on the
   knowledge, power and talent of the celebrants. The effectiveness of
   the rite is directly proportional to the magical skill of the
   officers. The officers must, then, be magicians: they are technicians
   performing a complex technical procedure. They must, therefore, be
   educated in its theory and trained in its practice to be effective.
   The E.G.C. clergy also serve a dramatic function as performers in a
   mystery play, whether they are presiding over the Gnostic Mass, or a
   baptism, or a wedding, or any other sacred rite. Their roles are those
   of specific divine forces which are interior elements of each
   individual as well as forces of nature. As such, their function is to
   create a sympathetic magical response in the consciousness of those
   present. The effectiveness of this function is directly proportional
   to the dramatic ability of the officers.
   Another aspect of the function of the E.G.C. clergy is social
   leadership. One of the basic functions of any religion is to define a
   community; and churches have always served the communal aspects of
   religion. The clergy of a church, whatever their other duties may be,
   must work to promote a sense of community and friendship among the
   members of the church. While the initiatory rites of M:.M:.M:. and
   O.T.O. are restricted to the members of certain degrees, the Gnostic
   Mass and most of the other rites of E.G.C. are open to all members,
   and in some cases, even to non-members. The E.G.C. thus serves as the
   social focal point of the Thelemic community, and its clergy are
   responsible for fostering harmony and fellowship.
   In summary, the clergy of E.G.C. must be thoroughly familiar with the
   official ceremony of the Gnostic Mass and must have a good general
   understanding of its theory. They must have a relatively clear
   conception of the basic doctrines of Thelema in general and of the
   O.T.O. and E.G.C. in particular (in accordance, of course, with their
   degree of initiation). They should be familiar with the theory and
   techniques of ceremonial Magick and group dramatic ritual in
   particular. Ideally, they should also have a certain amount of
   aptitude for dramatic performance: they should be understand teamwork,
   they should "look good in robes," as Crowley put it, and they should
   be able to draw and hold the attention of those attending the ritual.
   They should, as visible leaders, be able to offer their services as
   facilitators to their congregations, in the form of teaching and
   counseling. They should endeavour to create and maintain a sense of
   community within the congregation. They should understand the
   differences, as well as the similarities, between their roles as
   Thelemic clergy and those of the clergy of other religions. Finally,
   they should establish their link with the egregore of the church
   through initiation, ordination and regular celebration of the Gnostic
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   Grail, Dell, NY 1982
   Eliade, Mircea (Editor in Chief); The Encyclopedia of Religion,
   MacMillan Publishing Co., New York 1987
   Forlong, J.G.R.; Faiths of Man, a Cyclopaedia of Religions [Bernard
   Quaritch, 1906], University Books, NY 1964
   Forlong, J.G.R.; Rivers of Life, London 1883
   Higgins, Godfrey; Anacalypsis, an Attempt to Draw Aside the Veil of
   the Saitic Isis; or, an Inquiry into the Origin of Languages, Nations,
   and Religions. Longman, Green, et al., London 1836, reprinted by
   Health Research, Mokelumne Hill, CA 1972
   Halsberghe, Gaston H.; The Cult of Sol Invictus, E.J. Brill, Leiden
   Hislop, Rev. Alexander; The Two Babylons, or, The Papal Worship,
   Loizeaux Bros., New Jersey 1916, 1959
   Inman, Thomas; Ancient Pagan and Modern Christian Symbolism
   [1869/1874], Kessinger Publications, Kila, MT 1993
   James, E.O.; The Nature and Function of Priesthood, Barns & Noble, New
   York, 1955
   Le Forestier, René; L'Occultisme en France aux XIXème et XXème
   siècles: L'Église Gnostique, Ouvrage inédit publié par Antoine Faivre,
   Archè, Milano 1990
   McDonald, William J. (Ed. in Chief); New Catholic Encyclopedia, McGraw
   Hill, NY 1967
   Rudolph, Kurt; Gnosis, Harper & Rowe, San Francisco, 1977
   Weltin, E.G.; The Ancient Popes, The Newman Press, Westminster, MD
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