Église Gnostique

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Église Gnostique: History, Sacraments and Teachings by Jules Doinel, edited and translated by Rune Ødegaard.

Doinel Ødegaard Église Gnostique

This book from a small Norwegian press collects a variety of texts from the 19th century, chiefly by Jules Doinel, the founding patriarch of the Église Gnostique (or “Church of the Paraclete”). Editor and translator Rune Ødegaard apologizes that he is not a native French speaker, and invites correction regarding his understanding of the texts (16). Alas, on the evidence of spelling, grammar, and typographical errors, he is also not a native English speaker, and this book would definitely have benefited from further proofreading. 

The Église Gnostique was autochthonous, so to speak, emerging from Doinel’s antiquarian researches and his experiences in the seances of Lady Caithness’ circle. Its liturgy was chiefly an effort at Cathar revival (though admittedly less rigorous than the medieval original) and its doctrines drew on what Doinel and his fellow bishops were able to discover about the ancient Gnosis of Simon Magus and Valentinus. The valorization of the divine feminine was a chief mission of the church. Deacons and Deaconesses had complementary functions in ceremony, while male Bishops and female Sophias (“Sophials” in this book) were of equal rank in their sovereignty over congregations. 

Ødegaard supplies an original biography of Doinel and history of his church up to Doinel’s death in 1903. The historical primary documents which make up the remaining two-thirds of the book include creeds, catechisms, sacramental liturgies, homilies and other articles. Much of the doctrinal material was familiar to me from previous study, as were the main ceremonies. This reading did provide my first encounter with the (ultimately unproductive) chivalric component of Doinel’s organizing: the three grades of the Order of Knights of the Dove and the Paraclete. 

Latin hymns and prayers in the liturgies are largely untranslated. Ødegaard claims to have drawn on the archives of the Martinist Ordre Reaux Croix in Oslo for the basis of much of the book’s content, but individual items are not given source citations, and the “Main References” in the end matter specify just three further books, along with an “outdated online mms” regarding Gnostic Church History. Despite the book’s apparent scholarly weaknesses, it is a helpful digest of material from the early history of the modern Neognostic movement.

A preface consists of friendly impressions from an anonymous attendee at a 21st-century Gnostic service among Norwegians working in a filiation from the Église Gnostique. Ødegaard’s afterword laments the later shift of the Neognostic movement to emphasize apostolic succession and high-church liturgies, while downplaying Doinel’s work and visionary experiences. I am curious about what sort of “Sethian” Neognosticism is represented in the other books under Ødegaard’s independent byline.