Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica
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Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica (E.G.C.) is the Latin for Gnostic Catholic Church, a Thelemic ecclesiastical rite that comprises the church within Ordo Templi Orientis. The chief function of EGC is the performance of the Gnostic Mass (Liber XV), a Eucharistic ritual written by Aleister Crowley in 1913. The structure of the Mass is influenced by the rite of the Russian Orthodox Church; its content draws from the symbols and texts of Thelema. Its most notable divergence from similar rites of other churches is that both a Priest and a Priestess officiate, the latter sitting unclothed on the altar during most of the ceremony. In addition to the Mass, baptism, confirmation, marriage, ordination, and last rites are offered by EGC.
Crowley described the Gnostic Mass as "the central ritual of O.T.O., both public and private". It is the single most commonly performed ritual at O.T.O. bodies, with many locations celebrating the Mass monthly or more frequently. Most O.T.O. bodies make some or all of these celebrations open to interested members of the public, so the Mass is often an outsider's first experience of the Order. E.G.C. has a hierarchical structure of clergy, assisting officers, and laity which parallels the degree structure of the O.T.O. initiatory system. Before 1997, the two systems were more loosely correlated, but since then there have been strict rules concerning minimum O.T.O. degrees required to serve in particular E.G.C. roles.
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As currently constituted, E.G.C. includes both clergy and laity. Clergy must be initiate members of O.T.O., while laity may affiliate to E.G.C. through baptism and confirmation without undertaking any of the degree initiations of the Order.
Novice clergy are initiate members who participate in the administration of E.G.C. sacraments, although they have not yet taken orders (i.e. been through a ceremony of ordination).
The first ordination in E.G.C. is that of the Diaconate. Second Degree initiates of O.T.O. who have been confirmed in E.G.C. can be ordained as Deacons, whose principal duties are to assist the Priesthood.
The sacerdotal ordination admits members to the Priesthood. Sacerdotal ordinands must hold at least the K.E.W. degree of O.T.O., a degree only available by invitation. The Priesthood is responsible for administering the sacraments through the Gnostic Mass and other ceremonies as authorized by their supervising Bishops.
The Priesthood is supervised and instructed by the Episcopate or Bishops. Full initiation to the Seventh Degree of O.T.O. includes episcopal consecration in E.G.C. The Tenth Degree Supreme and Holy King serves as the Primate or chief Bishop for any country in which O.T.O. has organized a Grand Lodge. The Frater (Soror) Superior of O.T.O. is also the Patriarch (Matriarch) of the Church, with ultimate authority over the clergy.
The similarity of the titles of the various E.G.C. offices and ranks reflects some common history with Christian churches. However, E.G.C. does not administer Christian sacraments, and no Christian ecclesiastical standing, ritual customs, or canon laws are applicable as such within the E.G.C.
The principal ritual of the E.G.C. is the Gnostic Mass, a Eucharistic ceremony written by Aleister Crowley in 1913. Theodor Reuss produced and authorized a German translation in 1918.
The text of the Gnostic Mass makes reference to ceremonies of baptism, confirmation, and marriage. Crowley left some notes towards a baptism ritual, and his "Liber CVI" was written for use in a last rites circumstance. The Bishops of the contemporary Church have developed rituals for all of these purposes, as well as infant benedictions, exorcisms, consecration of holy oil, funerals, and home administration of the Eucharist to the sick.
Although some Gnostic Masses are held privately for initiates only, there is nothing secret about E.G.C. rituals as such, and they are commonly open to the public.
The E.G.C. descended from a line of French Gnostic revival churches that developed in the 19th century. At that time, these Gnostic churches were essentially Christian in nature. In 1907, Gerard Encausse, Jean Bricaud, and Louis-Sophrone Fugairon founded their own, simply called the Gnostic Catholic Church. In 1908, they gave O.T.O. Grand Master Theodor Reuss episcopal consecration and primatial authority in their GCC. Later that year, Reuss incorporated the Gnostic Catholic Church into O.T.O. after the original founders renamed their own church to the Universal Gnostic Church.
The name "Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica" was not applied to the church until Crowley wrote the Gnostic Mass in 1913, which Reuss proclaimed to be the church's official rite. This marked the first time an established church was to accept the Law of Thelema as its central doctrine. Reuss then announced a new title for himself: the "Sovereign Patriarch and Primate of the Gnostic Catholic Church."
In 1979, Hymenaeus Alpha X° (Grady McMurtry) separated the E.G.C. from Ordo Templi Orientis, and made it into an independent organization, with himself at the head of both. However, in 1985, his successor, Hymenaeus Beta, dissolved the separate Gnostic Catholic Church corporation and folded the church back into O.T.O. In 1991, he formally tied the initiatory and ecclesiastical together by making certain degrees a requirement for various duties within the church (Dionysos Thriambos, 2005).
- Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica (http://oto-usa.org/egc.html). US Grand Lodge, Ordo Templi Orientis.
- Sabazius History of the Gnostic Catholic Church (http://www.hermetic.com/sabazius/history_egc.htm). The Invisible Basilica.
- Sabazius. The Role and Function of Thelemic Clergy (http://www.hermetic.com/sabazius/clergy_egc.htm). The Invisible Basilica.
- A Collection of Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica and Gnostic Mass Materials (http://www.hermetic.com/egc/index.html)
- Dionysos Thriambos. (2004). "A Phylogeny of Modern Gnosticism." The Scarlet Letter. Vol.8, No.2, Fall Equinox.