1. THE BRIDAL CHAMBER IN GENERAL
- Since it is a mystery, the Bridal Chamber is compared to the Holy of Holies: “The Holy of the Holies is the bridal chamber.”
(Gospel of Philip)
- The Bridal Chamber has not been revealed explicitly through the existing Gnostic texts, and remains a mystery. One can only make conjectures as to its nature.
- It is a rite mentioned in conjuction with other rites, particularly the baptism. See BAPTISM
- It is one of the rites that constitute the Five Seals. [baptism, chrism, eucharist, redemption and Bridal Chamber are supposed the basis of these five seals, as no single text describes the seals in detail
- It is a rite where the bride and bridegroom come together as a unity. However, the bride and bridegroom may be interpreted variously.
- Depending on the interpretation of bride and bridegroom, the rite may be a vow of chastity, the acquisition of a garment of light, or a wedding rite following the example of Christ and Sophia.
2. THE BRIDAL CHAMBER AS A VOW OF SEXUAL ABSTINENCE
- In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus says that it is the solitary ones (lit. ‘monastics’) who will enter the Bridal Chamber: “Many are standing at the door, but it is the solitary who will enter the bridal chamber.”
(Gospel of Thomas 46:11)
- As a rite of sexual abstinence, the catechumen was married to a spiritual being in the Upper Aeons. His ‘wedding vow’ thus became a vow of fidelity (sexual abstinence) to this Upper Aeonic being.
- It is possible that this vow of chastity was not only taken by individuals, but by married couples.
- In either case, the rite was based on the union of male and female, bride and bridegroom, in the Bridal Chamber.
- But, the pairing of male and female, bridegroom and bride, could be interpreted variously. The examples we have are the union of the spirit and soul, or of the angel and image.
3. THE BRIDAL CHAMBER AS THE UNION OF SOUL AND SPIRIT
- Since the soul is feminine and the spirit is masculine, then each person may unite these two aspects of him/herself in the Bridal Chamber.
- Valentinian Gnosticism expands this myth to say that Christ is the masculine spirit from above which descends to Sophia, the feminine soul below, in order to redeem her and ascend together to the Upper Aeons, where they will unite in the Bridal Chamber. See below.
- The Exegesis of the Soul is a long allegory in which the same schema applies, except the soul is treated uniquely rather than compared to Sophia. The soul is said to be androgynous in the Upper Aeons, but becomes feminine when it descends into the Lower Aeons, acquiring a body. “As long as she (the soul) was alone with the father, she was virgin and in form androgynous. But when she fell down into a body and came to this life, then she fell into the hands of many robbers.”
(Exegesis of the Soul)
- As feminine, the soul seeks to unite with a male. But, being in the body, the only form of union it can find is sexual union and the only male it can find are masculine demons. She consorts with these masculine demons, prostituting herself, until finally she repents. In response, the Father sends her the bridegroom, Christ. In preparation, she ‘cleanses’ herself through the rites of baptism and the Bridal Chamber.
- “From heaven the father sent her (the soul) her man, who is her brother, the firstborn. Then the bridegroom came down to the bride. She gave up her former prostitution and cleansed herself of the pollutions of the adulterers, and she was renewed so as to be a bride. She cleansed herself in the bridal chamber; she filled it with perfume; she sat in it waiting for the true bridegroom. No longer does she run about the market place, copulating with whomever she desires”
(Exegesis of the Soul)
- The soul then unites with the bridegroom. The marriage of the bride and bridegroom (in the Bridal Chamber) is not carnal. Those who unite in the Bridal Chamber will ‘leave behind physical desire’ and ‘not have intercourse with one another’ (i.e. it is a vow of sexual chastity): “But then the bridegroom, according to the father's will, came down to her into the bridal chamber, which was prepared. And he decorated the bridal chamber. For since that marriage is not like the carnal marriage, those who are to have intercourse with one another will be satisfied with that intercourse. And as if it were a burden, they leave behind them the annoyance of physical desire and they turn their faces from each other. But this marriage [...].”
(Exegesis of the Soul)
- The union of the bride and bridegroom (in the Bridal Chamber) restores the unity which Adam and Eve lost when they were divided: “But once they unite with one another, they become a single life. Wherefore the prophet said concerning the first man and the first woman, ‘They will become a single flesh.’ (Gn 2:24) For they (Adam and Eve) were originally joined one to another when they were with the father before the woman (Eve) led astray the man, who is her brother (Adam). This marriage has brought them back together again...”
(Exegesis of the Soul)
- Through union (or intercourse) with Christ, the soul receives a seed or spirit: “Thus when the soul had adorned herself again in her beauty [...] enjoyed her beloved, and he also loved her. And when she had intercourse with him, she got from him the seed that is the life-giving spirit, so that by him she bears good children and rears them. For this is the great, perfect marvel of birth. And so this marriage is made perfect by the will of the father. Now it is fitting that the soul regenerates herself and become again as she formerly was.”
(Exegesis of the Soul)
- To say that the soul “became again as she formerly was”
recalls the first line that “she was virgin and in form androgynous.”
- Conclusion. In Exegesis of the Soul, the rite of the Bridal Chamber appears to be a vow of sexual abstinence. While in the body, the soul acts according to its feminine nature, seeking to unite with a male. But, since the only form of union is through desire (male demons) and in the body (sexual intercourse), she repents. Instead, she turns to her true male (Christ the Bridegroom) and unites with him spiritually (the Bridal Chamber).
- Through this rite, the catechumen is wed to Christ and, in the process, his soul receives the spirit. Since he/she promises to renounce physical desire and sexual intercourse, the marriage becomes a vow of sexual chastity. As a reward, the soul will be made complete, through the union of feminine soul and masculine spirit in the Upper Aeons.
- It is possible that the rite of the Bridal Chamber described in this text applies to married couples as well as individuals.
- Following the vow of sexual abstinence, each partner in the couple will “leave behind them the annoyance of physical desire.”
(Exegesis of the Soul)
- It is further possible that the rite of the Bridal Chamber described here applies to married couples who do not abstain from sexual intercourse. Rather, it is a means for Pneumatics to multiply while still in the body. Through their souls’ union with the spirit of Christ (or the syzygy of Sophia-Christ), the woman will receive “the seed that is the life-giving spirit, so that by him she bears good children and rears them. For this is the great, perfect marvel of birth. And so this marriage is made perfect by the will of the father.”
(Exegesis of the Soul)
- In the text Silvanus, the Bridal Chamber is a marriage of the soul with ‘the mind’ rather than ‘the spirit’. The soul scorns the body and its ‘drunkeness’ to embrace the mind’s light: “O soul, persistent one, be sober and shake off your drunkenness, which is the work of ignorance. If you persist and live in the body, you dwell in rusticity. When you entered into a bodily birth, you were begotten. Come into being inside the bridal chamber! Be illuminated in mind!”
4. THE BRIDAL CHAMBER AS PUTTING ON A GARMENT OF LIGHT
- The rite of the Bridal Chamber is associated with light. In particular, the catechumen ‘puts on a garment of light’.
- The Gospel of Philip also mentions the soul and spirit in the context of the Bridal Chamber, adding that light is a necessary component in the Bridal Chamber ritual: “It is from water and fire that the soul and the spirit came into being. It is from water and fire and light that the son of the bridal chamber (came into being).”
(Gospel of Philip) In this gospel, water is associated with Baptism and fire is associated with the Chrism. Hence, this passage suggests that the rites of baptism (water) and chrism (fire) were combined with the Bridal Chamber (light).
- The Bridal Chamber is identified with baptism. It brings about a state of unity. In it, one puts on a garment of light: “It (baptism) is also called ‘bridal chamber’ because of the agreement and the indivisible state of those who know they have known him. It is also called ‘the light which does not set and is without flame’ since it does not give light, but those who have worn it are made into light.”
(Tripartite Tractate 128:33)
- The Bridal Chamber is a form of union that is without desire or the body. Rather, it belongs to the light (and is a union with the light): “No [one can] know when [the husband] and the wife have intercourse with one another, except the two of them. Indeed, marriage in the world is a mystery for those who have taken a wife. If there is a hidden quality to the marriage of defilement, how much more is the undefiled marriage a true mystery! It is not fleshly, but pure. It belongs not to desire, but to the will. It belongs not to the darkness or the night, but to the day and the light.”
(Gospel of Philip 81:34)
- In the rite of the Bridal Chamber, one renounces the Archons and puts on a robe of light: “Judas said, "Behold! The governors (i.e. Archons) dwell above us, so it is they who will rule over us!" The Lord said, "It is you who will rule over them! But when you rid yourselves of jealousy, then you will clothe yourselves in light and enter the bridal chamber.”
(Dialogue of the Saviour)
- The garment (of light) becomes a wedding garment in the Bridal Chamber. The mystery of the Bridal Chamber brings unity, but that mystery is not discussed: “...to the height. There I am, in the eternal realms that no one has seen or understood, where the wedding of the wedding robe is. It is the new wedding, not the old, and it does not perish, for the new bridal chamber is of the heavens, and it is perfect. As I have revealed, there are three ways, and this is an undefiled mystery in the spirit of the eternal realm that is not destroyed or divided or even discussed, for it is indivisible, universal, and permanent.”
(Second Treatise of the Great Seth 57:10 - Meyer translation)
- If the Father is understood as ‘the light’ and the soul is understood as ‘the virgin who came down’, then the Bridal Chamber is the marriage (union) of the soul with the Father’s light. From that moment onward, the soul wears ‘the garment of light’, in remembrance of its marriage (union) with the light: “Indeed, one must utter a mystery. The Father of everything united with the virgin who came down, and a fire shone for him on that day. He appeared in the great bridal chamber. Therefore his body (i.e. light-body or garment of light) came into being on that very day. It left the bridal chamber as one who came into being from the bridegroom and the bride.”
(Gospel of Philip)
- In conclusion, the Bridal Chamber is closely associated with the rite of the baptism. During this rite, the catechumen is baptised in the watery light of the Upper Aeons. He emerges from the baptismal water with his ‘garment of light’. This immersion in the watery light is interpreted, at the same time, as a union or marriage with the light. The catechumen is the feminine soul and the Father is the masculine light. These two are ‘united in the Bridal Chamber’, and from that time onward, the soul wears the ‘garment of light’ in remembrance of her union with the Father.
5. THE BRIDAL CHAMBER AS THE UNION OF ANGEL AND IMAGE
- The pairing of male and female, bridegroom and bride, may be interpreted as the marriage of the angel and image in the Upper Aeons.
- As such, the Bridal Chamber is, once again, a rite of sexual abstinence in which the catechumen is married to a spiritual being in the Upper Aeons. His ‘wedding vow’ becomes a vow of fidelity (sexual abstinence) to this Upper Aeonic being.
- In the Gospel of Philip, men are subject to temptation from female demons (succubi) while women are subject to temptation from male demons (incubi).
- To protect oneself against these demons, one receives ‘a male or female power’ in the Bridal Chamber: “...since they (the demons) detain him if he does not receive a male power or a female power, the bridegroom and the bride. One receives them from the mirrored bridal chamber.”
(Gospel of Philip 65:8)
- As well, ‘a man and his wife’ may avoid the demons’ temptations if ‘the image and the angel are united with one another’: “When the wanton women see a male sitting alone, they leap down on him and play with him and defile him. So also the lecherous men, when they see a beautiful woman sitting alone, they persuade her and compel her, wishing to defile her. But if they see the man and his wife sitting beside one another, the female cannot come into the man, nor can the male come into the woman. So if the image and the angel are united with one another, neither can any venture to go into the man or the woman.”
(Gospel of Philip 65:12)
- The angel here, like all angels in Gnosticism, would be androgynous. See ANDROGYNE.
- The man and his wife may each be a male and female ‘image’ of the one androgynous angel in the Upper Aeons.
- As such, the images of the man and his wife were united in their androgynous angel through the rite of the Bridal Chamber. Through the union of their images with the angel, they are protected against demons.
- Irenaeus mentions the union of spirits with angels in the Bridal Chamber at the time of the restitution: “When the whole seed is perfected, then (...) the spiritual beings will divest themselves of their souls and become intelligent spirits, and, without being hindered or seen, they will enter into the Pleroma, and will be bestowed as brides on the angels around the Savior.”
(Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses 1.7.1)
- The Tomb inscription of Flavia Sophe records that she was baptized and anointed (past tense). As well, that she had entered the Bridal Chamber and deathlessly ascended to the Upper Aeons (past tense - hence, in a visionary ascent). As a result, she hopes after death to ‘gaze on the great angel’:
“You, who did yearn for the paternal light
Sister, spouse, my Sophe
Anointed in the baths of Christ with everlasting holy oil,
Hasten to gaze at the divine features of the aeons,
The great Angel of the great council
The true Son;
You entered the Bridal Chamber and deathless ascended
To the bosom of the Father.”
(trans. by Kurt Rudolf, Gnosis, p. 212)
6. THE UNION OF CHRIST AND SOPHIA AS A MODEL FOR THE BRIDAL CHAMBER
- All the beings in the Upper Aeons were created as androgynous angels, which is to say, they are one being with male and female genders or names. As male and female, the two genders are also called ‘consorts’ (syzygies) and resemble each other. These two may consent to re-unite in order to produce another androgynous angel.
- Christ and Sophia are the male and female ‘names’ of one androgynous being. Sophia’s fault was that she created without her consort’s consent, resulting in the [illigitimate] child Yaltabaoth, who engendered the Lower Aeons. Subsequently, Sophia fell from the Upper Aeons.
- During the restitution at the end of time, Sophia’s fault will be corrected. Christ will descend and return with her to the Upper Aeons. And there, they will unite once more as one androgynous being. The two consorts will consent to re-unite.
- The initial division of Christ and Sophia manifest itself, eventually, in the division of Adam and Eve, and ultimately, in the division of all humans into male and female.
- The restitution will not only re-unite Christ and Sophia, but the human descendents of Adam and Eve that were separated into male and female. More specifically, the Pneumatics (or ‘spirits’) will be re-united in their androgynous angels.
- This restitution is called ‘a wedding’ and it will take place in the Pleroma (Upper Aeons), which is called ‘the Bridal Chamber’.
- The rite of the Bridal Chamber may imitate and ritually make present that anticipated event at the end of time. It would allow a man and a woman to unite, here and now, in recognition and anticipation of their ultimate union in one androgynous being during the restitution.
- Hence, it may be a wedding rite in which a man and woman make a vow, recognizing one another as the bride and the bridegroom, as Christ and Sophia, as two consorts that consent to re-unite in one androgynous being. They recognize that they are two ‘images’ of one androgynous ‘angel’.
- Irenaeus describes the entire schema of the restitution: the union of Christ and Sophia, as well as the spirits (Pneumatics) and their angels, in the Bridal Chamber of the Pleroma (Upper Aeons): “When the whole seed is perfected, then, they say, will the mother, (Sophia) Achamoth leave the place of the Middle, enter into the Pleroma, and receive her bridegroom, the Savior, who came into being from all (the aeons), with result that the Savior and Sophia, who is Achamoth, form a pair (syzygy) These then are said to be bridegroom and bride, but the bridal chamber is the entire Pleroma. The spiritual beings will divest themselves of their souls and become intelligent spirits, and, without being hindered or seen, they will enter into the Pleroma, and will be bestowed as brides on the angels around the Savior.”
(Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses 1.7.1 cf. Excerpta ex Theodoto 63-65)
- The Valentinian Exposition, though a fragmented text, describes this same schema: “That she (Sophia) should suffer, was not the will of the Father, for she dwells in herself alone without her consort (Christ) (...) But the syzygy is the [complete one], and Sophia and Jesus and [the angels] and the seeds are [images of] the Pleroma. (...) Moreover when Sophia [receives] her consort and Jesus receives the Christ and the seeds and the angels, then [the] Pleroma will receive Sophia joyfully, and the All will come to be in unity and reconciliation.”
- The Gospel of Philip describes the fall of Adam and Eve as the division of humans into male and female. Hence, Christ descends to repair that separation by uniting the male and female in the Bridal Chamber: “If the woman had not separated from the man, she should not die with the man. His separation became the beginning of death. Because of this, Christ came to repair the separation, which was from the beginning, and again unite the two, and to give life to those who died as a result of the separation, and unite them. But the woman is united to her husband in the bridal chamber. Indeed, those who have united in the bridal chamber will no longer be separated. Thus Eve separated from Adam because it was not in the bridal chamber that she united with him.”
(Gospel of Philip 70:9)
- Those who know their consorts will not die. The Lord: “These do not die, [...] they are not destroyed, for they have known their consorts and him who would receive them.”
(Dialogue of the Saviour 125:13)
- Again, Christ descends to repair the mistake that Sophia made when she separated from him: “I (the saviour) came from the places above by the will of the great Light, (I) who escaped from that bond; I have cut off the work of the robbers; I have awakened that drop that was sent from Sophia, that it might bear much fruit through me, and be perfected and not again be defective, but be joined through me, the Great Savior, that his glory might be revealed, so that Sophia might also be justified in regard to that defect, that her sons might not again become defective but might attain honor and glory and go up to their Father...”
(Sophia of Jesus Chrrist 107:11)
- The restitution as a wedding and union: “This is a wedding of truth, (...) this is union, a feast of love (or ‘love feast’), and all are fulfilled in the One.”
(Second Treatise of the Great Seth 67:5 Meyer trans.)
- That Christ and Sophia are consorts: “And his consort is the Great Sophia, who from the first was destined in him for union...”
(Sophia of Jesus Christ 101:16) ‘His’ refers to ‘the immortal androgynous man’, which is a name for Christ.
- Christ: “But I alone am the friend of Sophia.”
(Second Treatise of the Great Seth 70:4)
7. THE BRIDAL CHAMBER AS A RITE OF MARRIAGE FOLLOWING THE UNION OF CHRIST AND SOPHIA
- The Gospel of Philip states that the mystery of the Bridal Chamber is hidden to those who exist in the Lower Aeons. Nevertheless, they may still enter its mystery through a rite that is an image or imitation of the true Bridal Chamber in the Upper Aeons: “The mysteries of truth are revealed, though in type and image. The bridal chamber remains hidden. (...Still,) those (who are) above opened to us the things below, in order that we may go in to the secret of the truth. (...) We shall go in there by means of lowly types (...). They are lowly indeed when compared with the perfect glory. (...Still) the perfect things have opened to us, together with the hidden things of truth. The holies of the holies were revealed, and the bridal chamber invited us in.”
(Gospel of Philip 84:20)
- This schema is re-iterated, but in somewhat obscure terms: “Truth did not come into the world naked, but it came in types and images. (...) The bridal chamber and the image must enter through the image into the truth: this is the restoration.”
(Gospel of Philip)
- Irenaeus describes a rite of the Bridal Chamber in which the initiates affirm that their spiritual marriage is an image or imitation of (their union in) the syzygies above: “For some of them prepare a nuptial couch, (i.e. bridal chamber) and perform a sort of mystic rite (pronouncing certain expressions) with those who are being initiated, and affirm that it is a spiritual marriage which is celebrated by them, after the likeness (i.e. image) of the conjunctions (i.e. syzygies) above. (... They say) ‘I do not divide the Spirit of Christ, neither the heart nor the supercelestial power which is merciful; may I enjoy Thy name, O Saviour of truth!’”
(Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses 1.21.3)
- The mystery of unity in the Bridal Chamber is revealed only to those who have experienced its unity: “No one can know when the husband and the wife have intercourse with one another, except the two of them. Indeed, marriage in the world is a mystery for those who have taken a wife (...) Bridegrooms and brides belong to the bridal chamber. No one shall be able to see the bridegroom with the bride unless he become such a one.”
(Gospel of Philip)
Laurence Caruana - Glossary of Gnostic Terms