The Fall of Sophia: A Gnostic Text on the Redemption of Universal Consciousness

The Fall of Sophia: A Gnostic Text on the Redemption of Universal Consciousness

Translated with commentary by Violet MacDermot, and foreword by Stephan A. Hoeller
Great Barrington, MA: Lindisfarne Books, 2001. Paperback, 224 pages.

Stephan Hoeller is considered by many as today's foremost advocate of a renewed Gnostic tradition. Many in the Theosophical Society know him as an informative lecturer whose humor and in-depth knowledge always provide a reason for listening to his message. Not as many people know that Hoeller, age 70, is also known as Bishop Hoeller and has presided since 1977 at Ecclesia Gnostica, the chapel of the Gnostic Society. Its web site is: Is my understanding that his parish extends to Portland and Salt Lake City.

Hoeller has written a book on Gnosticism that has been greatly needed since the popular classic The Gnostic Gospels was written and published in the late 1970s by Elaine Pagels. If anecdotal evidence shows a trend, Gnosticism is quietly making inroads as more people are thinking for themselves rather than letting organized religion do it for them. For Theosophists, this book will be a very welcome addition to their library. Prior to the Nag Hammadi discovery, Theosophists essentially had the writings of Madame Blavatsky and G. R. S. Mead for Gnostic studies and insights. Now we have a plethora of books in print and numerous sites on the Internet dealing with Gnosticism. However, to sort it all out and take the time to make sense of "Gnostic information overload" is asking too much for many of us. Hoeller's book solves that problem-it presents the essence of Gnosticism. Hoeller indicates, "This book is a concise and sympathetic presentation of the teachings and spiritual ambience of the Gnostic tradition."

Hoeller tell us that "the Gnostics always emphasized understanding and the insights derived from understanding." The book begins to help us with those insights by examining the Gnostic worldview. Next, God and Cosmos, the human being, and individual salvation are considered before we revisit Genesis in the Old Testament. We next look at Sophia as a Gnostic archetype of feminine wisdom. This is a germane discussion for the second book in this review. Finally, we examine the Gnostic Christ, the Gnostic view of Evil, and its initiatory Sacraments. This material forms almost one-half of the book.

The chapter on the Gnostic Christ could have been longer. Actually, I would hope that Hoeller develops this chapter into a book because it is needed. In many ways I consider myself to be a Christian Gnostic. However, I quite often find it difficult to define what that means when I try to articulate it. The material in the chapter on the Gnostic Christ helped in formulating my thoughts and beliefs, but I'm still searching for more help in this area. Some of the best material that I have found has come from the old lessons from the Holy Order of MANS (now Science of Man). These lessons are still in print and information on them can be found on the web site under their Discipleship Study program: .

The second half of the book is a standard history beginning with some early Gnostic teachers (Simon Magus, Carpocrates, Alexandra, and Valentinus), and later teachers (H. P. Blavatsky, G. R. S. Mead, and Jung) and concluding with a chapter on Gnosticism and postmodern thought. As with the Gnostic Christ, many of these chapters could each be a separate book. Let us remember, however, that Hoeller warned, "This book is a concise and sympathetic presentation." Therefore, we find a very nice, short, and selected history that fits together well. A Gnostic reading list and glossary are included and are quite useful. I did find the material on postmodern Thought to be somewhat ambiguous. I wished he had developed the environmentalism material (p. 219) a little more. Also, his brief but accurate comments on theoretical physics (p. 220) are quite timely. But since Capra's The Tao of Physics is so well recognized today, we could have had a longer discussion on how physics enhances the Gnostic perspective.

About forty years ago, I remember reading a book on the Essenes and Gnosticism that touched my inner self. Later, I became interested in the French Christian-Jewish mystic Simone Weil. When I discovered her spiritual interest in Catharism and its connection to Gnosticism, I had that same feeling again. Hoeller's book put my insight and feeling into a historical perspective. His discussion of the Gnostic religions of the Mandaeans, Manichaeans, and Cathars is very well done. Any book that helps clarify thinking in this area is useful. You probably will find similar reasons for wanting to add this text to your bookshelf.

The second book in this review is Egyptologist Violet MacDermot's translation of the Pistis Sophia. Part one of this book is a stand-alone discussion of the Gnostic myth of Sophia. The impact of science is considered, and as a bonus Swedenborg and the human body as microcosm are covered. Part two is the first and second books of Pistis Sophia. Sophia's fall is our Story of separation and a slow evolution to a new level of consciousness. Hoeller writes the foreword in this book and provides all the necessary background. This would be a' perfect follow-up, to Hoeller’s Gnosticism book;


March/April 2003