The Gospel of Mary
by Reuben Albo
The Gospel of Mary is a source of much knowledge and controversy. The controversy centers around determining eligibility for authority and leadership in the Christian church. In particular, it raises issues of how females should be treated in relation to males when it came to leadership and knowing God. An attempt will be made to make clearer the message within the Gospel of Mary about such matters through the analysis of these scriptures.
Firstly it must be made clear that this gospel shows that organization and leadership in the church was never meant to be carried out in the rigid way that conventional Western churches have made it. Twice in this Gospel this is stressed. Firstly when the Savior says, “Do not lay down any rules beyond what I have appointed you and do not give a law like the lawgiver lest you be constrained by it,” and reaffirmed in the end when Levi talks about “…not laying down any other rule or other law beyond what the Savior said.” Hence there can be no specific scientific or political procedure by which authority can be given in the church since that will only “constrain” the people and not free their minds. The importance of the mind will be discussed later on.
So then this brings about the question of how will one come to know God and receive authority outside of regulatory measures and the answer to this question lies within human nature. Man is often said to be of a sinful nature, hence Peter asks “what is the sin of the world?” The Savior responds saying that “there is no sin” except that which man makes, but “the Good” has come to restore nature “to its root.” Hence the original nature of man was perfection without sin and through this, one comes to know God. Our present nature can be characterized by “a passion that has no equal” which comes from something “contrary to (the original) nature.” A simple illustration of this is shown through man’s covering of his nakedness; his original nature which has been corrupted by his passion.
Now that it is shown that man’s original pure nature and not simply his rules and laws is what is needed for one to come to God and thereby be given authority, the issue of male and female nature in relation to each other comes up. This is where the controversy centers. Females are often regarded as further from God than males and for this reason both Peter and Andrew doubted that the Savior revealed a vision to Mary. Some would argue, thus, that a female has no right to spiritual authority over a male. Then the opposite happens when Levi says “he (the Savior) loved her more than us.” Some may interpret this as giving women the authority. Still, some may take this to mean that indeed the Savior loved Mary, a woman, more than them to save even her from her more sinful nature. However, Mary’s vision shows that these judgments brought about by misinterpretation are not in keeping with holiness.
In her vision, Mary asks the Lord how one sees the vision; through the soul, or through the spirit? Firstly, these terms must be clarified. The soul can be considered innate in the body of the individual whether female or male. The spirit can be considered as that which enters the individual. The response to Mary’s question is that it enters through the mind. It seems that through the mind, the spirit can reach the soul. This also ties in with the earlier point that man’s laws only constrain the mind. Hence laws outside of Christ’s teaching are irrelevant and prevent one from “seeing the vision.”
Mary’s vision shows that male and female come to know God in the same way yet differently. The differences will first be examined. In the vision the soul is shown to be free from the desire that initially held it in captivity. Sinful desire is a human sin but it is different between men and women. The fact that a woman’s physical anatomy is much more sensitive to desire (particular sexual desire) shows that this alone is a difference. The “kingdom of the flesh,” the ultimate difference between man and woman is another obstacle that must be overcome differently by man and woman. Ignorance also questions the soul in her vision saying “Where are you going? In wickedness you are bound.” There seems to be a parallel between this part of Mary’s vision, and Peter’s and Andrew’s doubt that she is “going” anywhere with the Savior since she was “bound” in her feminine “wickedness.” Because of the flesh, men and women are held in captivity by these obstacles that the soul must overcome to be like Christ. Whether one party is closer to God than the next is not made clear since the message in the vision was also “do not judge.” Levi reaffirms this when he rebukes Peter for judging Mary because she was a woman. Levi, himself, also comments on the “separate” nature of man and woman and by extension every individual showing that knowing God is an individual search and not about following a doctrine.
The similarities of how men and women come to know God will now be dealt with. Essentially, when physical obstacles are overcome by a person, the person is then left in an almost undefinable state. This is why gender, at this point, would have no meaning anymore. Mary says “What binds me has been slain, and what turns me about has been overcome, and my desire has been ended and ignorance has died,” and “I have recognized that the All has been dissolved , both the earthly things and the heavenly.” This resembles the Bhuddist concept of having no self when enlightenment is obtained. By having “no self” one has, as a result, been “released from…the fetter of oblivion.” The universal nature of these philosophies is illustrated here, breaking barriers of religion, time, personality and also gender.
Another important suggestion made in the Gospel of Mary concerning the organizational structure of the church is that a man cannot judge a woman by the standard that she is a woman since man cannot fully understand woman. Surely man and woman are different creatures and because of this, neither can understand the other fully unless they have become like God. This is hinted when Levi says, “But if the Savior made her worthy, who are you indeed to reject her? Surely the Savior knows her very well. That is why he loved her more…”
The text proposes that both male and female have the potential for authority and leadership in the church. This authority cannot be determined by systematic rules and regulations since that will only constrain the mind and prevent the individual from coming to find his divine nature and overcoming physical obstacles. No particular way of appointing leadership is suggested. Maybe it can be considered the responsibility of those is touch with God to elect leaders but that is a new question raised. Christian communities should similarly be organized; not in a way full of rules and politics, but in a way that allows the divine nature that is innate in every individual, to present the truth to the individual. The issue of male and female standings in relation to each other in this text is treated as being contrary to the true purpose mankind must pursue, and that is to be perfect like Christ. Therefore all judgments of one against another will not be counted as significant when we do away with the self and the body.
From posing the initial question of how eligibility for authority and leadership is determined, it has been shown that neither organization nor gender favoritism is of great significance. New questions that come up now can only be ones of politics, unless politics itself is questioned. What is meant by politics is structural organization. This would then question whether Jesus meant for his teachings to be taught in an organized, somewhat political institution like a church. This would bring up the whole question of whether religion as we know it is even a beneficial thing when man and woman both have to work out their own salvation through the divine nature that exists within themselves. In this light, religion can be seen as a segregational barrier designed so that some follow one path, while others follow another path, and individualism is lost through a lack of understanding of the consciousness innate in every man. And if then such standards of religious teachings are done away with, the question then arises of how should people be taught or rather guided along their journey through the physical life, so they can count death as nothing? Only God knows.