The First Council of Nicaea was convened by the Roman emperor Constantine the Great upon the recommendations of a synod led by the bishop Hosius of Corduba in the Spring of 325. In the summer of 325, the bishops of all provinces were summoned to Nicaea, Constantine had invited all 1,800 bishops of the Christian church within the Roman Empire, but a smaller and unknown number attended. The emperor was present as an overseer and presider, but did not cast any official vote. They debated and fought, and finally produced the Nicene Creed, which we all know today. To maintain this Creed, the four Gospels that were chosen for the Bible needed to have no rivals. So all the other sacred writings that hadn’t been chosen became a threat, they believed. In 367, Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria ordered that the monks destroy all the the writings that hadn’t been chosen.
Luckily for us, those rebel monks decided to preserve these holy writings by burying them in urns in the desert, and hiding them deep in caves in clay jars. I’m sure you’ve all heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls, over 900 different texts, many of which had not been seen for nearly 2000 years. It was an amazing discovery that has taken much too long to translate. These scrolls were not found all at the same time, but over the course of many years, in many different locations in the area of the Dead Sea, beginning in 1947 when the first jars of scrolls were found.
The Nag Hammadi Library, a collection of thirteen ancient codices, or stitched together pages, containing over fifty texts, was discovered in upper Egypt in 1945. These discoveries have been a wealth of knowledge, and have shown us how different the early branches of Christianity were from what we know now.
But one of the most amazing finds was in 1896 in an antiquities market in Cairo. A German scholar bought a text written in Coptic, the Egyptian language still used today by Egyptian Christians. Scholars refer to it as the Berlin Codex, and it is the Gospel of Mary Magdalene. In time, two more ancient copies of the Gospel of Mary were found, these written in Greek. Harvard Divinity professor Dr. Karen King explains in her translation of Mary’s gospel, “Because it is unusual for several copies from such early dates to have survived, the attestation of the Gospel of Mary as an early Christian work is unusually strong.” Basically, this was a very popular book for three copies of it to have survived.
In the book, “Mary Magdalene Revealed”, Meggan Watterson tells of her research and study of the Gospel of Mary over the past 20 years. There were several other gospels found in the past century as well, and when read together, they tell us a story of Mary, a Disciple of Jesus, whom Jesus loved more than the other disciples. Even kissing her on the mouth, according to Levi. Peter was a hothead, angry that Mary is the companion of Jesus, and that Jesus has given her special knowledge. Peter doesn’t like the fact that a woman has been placed above him.
But there have been other men who did not want women in the same category as the apostles. One of these was Pope Gregory from the 6th Century. By the time he was done proclaiming his Homily 33 sermon, Mary was a whore, a prostitute, and since she had seven demons expelled from her, he said this proved her sinfulness.
But the Gospel of Mary actually mentions seven powers; darkness, craving, ignorance, craving for death, enslavement to the physical body, the false peace of the flesh, and the compulsion of rage. These are very similar to the seven deadly Christian sins; pride, greed, envy, gluttony, lust, sloth, and anger. Perhaps these are actually the seven demons she was able to overcome with the help of Jesus. And since Jesus had accepted her as a disciple, then who were they to say otherwise? The role of women in that period of time was not one of equality. Women were seen as property. Jesus showed them a new way of thinking, that men and women were created to be equals. That women deserved the same education and acceptance as men. Jesus showed us in many ways that he judged humans as human, not greater or worse for their gender. Unfortunately, many pages of Mary’s gospel is missing. We may never know the rest of the teachings of Christ that Mary had been taught. Or perhaps, they are still copies of this gospel waiting to be discovered in clay jars in the desert.
Some people try to discredit these other gospels, but not every student learns the same things from a teacher. Every gospel is the story of that person’s experience with Jesus. Its their own interpretation of what happened and what was taught. Just as in any classroom, the experiences of each student are different. Some students really grasp a new concept, while others need to take the class twice to learn the new material. And as we read in Luke 9, there were a few disciples that didn’t get it. They argued over which of them was the greatest while Jesus was headed to his crucifixion. They just didn’t understand what was going on.
I personally would love to read the entire gospel of Mary, along with the full versions of the other gospels as well. I find it fascinating to read these new experiences from the other people who knew Jesus. One of the things from Mary’s gospel that really caught my attention is that Jesus told her that there is no sin other than what we as humans create. I have really thought about that. Its true, it makes sense. We humans are the ones causing all the problems, and Mary says we need to look inside ourselves to find our higher power to stop sinning. We need to stop injuring the earth and all the beauty and perfection that God has created. God sent Jesus to save us, save us from our sins. So as we continue to learn from these ancient gospels, I pray that humanity finds a way to stop sinning; to love each other, and to love ourselves as well. Jesus told Mary that each of us has the Divine inside us. I pray that we work to find and reveal that Divineness and use it to better the world. Amen.
*Please be aware that this is my copy to read, and perhaps there are some more parts which should have been cited specifically.