Among the ancient Gnostic manuscripts rediscovered in modern times, the Secret Book of John is one of the most important. It a sacred reservoir of Gnostic myth and revelation. It breathes with the life of vision that vitalized early Christianity, a life suppressed and then largely forgotten in later ages. A modern reading grants fundamental insights into the lost foundations of Christian tradition.In the second chapter, John asks God’s messenger for instruction, and it begins by teaching him the true nature of God:
The One rules everything. Nothing has authority over it. It is God. It is the father of everything, the invisible, one over everything. It is uncontaminated pure light no eye can bear to look on.
The One is the invisible Spirit. It is not right to think of it as a god or as something like a god. It is more than just divine. Nothing is above it. Nothing rules it. Since everything exists within it, it does not exist within anything. Since it is not dependent on anything, it is eternal. It is absolutely complete and so needs nothing. It is utterly perfect light.
The One is limitless; nothing exists outside of it to limit it. The One is inscrutable; nothing exists apart from it to investigate it. The One is immeasurable; nothing exists outside it to measure it. The One cannot be seen. No one can envision it. The One is eternal. The One is inconceivable. No one can comprehend it. The One is indescribable. No one can name it. The One is infinite light, purity, and holiness; it is stainless. The One is incomprehensible. It is perfectly free from corruption. It is neither “perfect”, “blessed”, nor “divine”, but is superior to such concepts.
It is neither physical nor incorporeal, neither immense nor infinitesimal. It is impossible to specify its quantity or quality, because it is unknowable. The One is not something that exists. It is vastly superior, but it is not superior to other things or even comparable to them. It is outside of realms of being and time. Whatever is within realms of being was created, and whatever is within time had time allotted to it. The One receives nothing from anything.
The One gazes at itself, marveling in its own perfect light, for it is vast. It possesses measureless simplicity. It is the realm that produces all realms, light giving light, life giving life, blessedness producing blessedness, knowledge giving understanding, good producing goodness, mercy producing mercy and salvation, grace producing grace. Yet it does not “possess” these qualities.
How can I tell you about its immeasurable, incomprehensible light? Its being is indestructible, peaceful, silent, and at rest. It existed before everything. It is the source of every realm, sustaining all of them with its goodness.
Note that I have replaced the word “aeon” with the word “realm”, as Stephen Davies does in his translation.
This Gnostic conception of God is highly pantheistic. The parallels between this description of the godhead and Lao Tsu’s description of the Tao are striking:
The way that can be trodden is not the enduring and unchanging Tao. The thing that can be named is not the enduring and unchanging Tao.
When conceived of as having no name, it is the Originator of heaven and earth; when thought of as having a name, it is the Mother of all things.
Next Chapter: The Pentad of Aeons