What is Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica?
Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica (E.G.C.), or the Gnostic Catholic Church, is the ecclesiastical arm of Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.). The E.G.C. is a Thelemic religious environment, dedicated to the advancement of Light, Life, Love, and Liberty through alignment with the Law of Thelema.
The central activity of the E.G.C. is the celebration of the Gnostic Mass, as set forth in Liber XV, written by Aleister Crowley for O.T.O. and E.G.C. in 1913. The Mass celebrates the Law of Thelema – Light, Life, Love and Liberty – and through its sacrament the mystic doctrines of the Covenant of Resurrection and the Communion of Saints. With active clergy based in every major O.T.O. center, the church holds regular public celebrations of Liber XV. Since the Order’s inception it has been unique in restoring the sacred office and function of Priestess back into western religious context. Many O.T.O. local bodies celebrate the Gnostic Mass, as set forth in on a regular basis. In most locations, no formal affiliation is required to attend the Mass.
EGC is led by the Patriarch of the Church, Hymenaeus Beta XII°. The Church is organised into Bishops, Priests, Priestesses and lay members.
Lay membership in E.G.C. is available through baptism and confirmation.
Members of O.T.O. in good standing are eligible for clerical ordination in E.G.C. Members of II° and higher are eligible for ordination as Deacon, and those who have reached K.E.W. are eligible for ordination as Priest or Priestess. Novitiate clergy are provided with e-learning facilities, one-on-one and group training and a biannual spiritual retreat with the Primate and Bishops.
The short history of E.G.C.
The Gnostic Catholic Church was founded in 1907 e.v. by Jean Bricaud, Gérard Encausse and Louis-Sophrone Fugairon; the latter two having been bishops of Jules Doinel’s Gnostic Church (1890) before Doinel’s abdication as Patriarch. In 1908 e.v., Theodor Reuss appears to have received episcopal consecration and primatial authority in the Gnostic Catholic Church from Encausse, Bricaud and Fugairon in gratitude for his issuance to Encausse of a patent for the Masonic Rites of Memphis and Mizraim. The same year, Encausse, Bricaud and Fugairon changed the name of their church to the Universal Gnostic Church, leaving Reuss exclusive authority in the Gnostic Catholic Church. As with all his other affiliations, Reuss incorporated the Gnostic Catholic Church into the system of O.T.O.
Crowley adopted the Latin name Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica (E.G.C.) for use in Liber XV. Bricaud had used this name in the title of a Mass he circulated around 1908, but it was not generally used prior to Crowley’s use of it in Liber XV. Reuss translated the Gnostic Mass into German and published it in 1918 e.v., adopting it as an official rite of the Gnostic Catholic Church; and proclaiming himself “Sovereign Patriarch and Primate of the Gnostic Catholic Church,” as well as Gnostic Legate to Switzerland for Bricaud’s Universal Gnostic Church. Reuss’s publication of the Gnostic Mass constituted the formal acceptance of the Law of Thelema by the Gnostic Catholic Church, and its formal declaration of independence from Bricaud’s Universal Gnostic Church.
Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica is an inseparable part of Ordo Templi Orientis; and the Gnostic Mass is one of the official rituals, more specifically the central ritual, of Ordo Templi Orientis.
While E.G.C. traces its historic origins to the French Gnostic revival of the turn of the century, which was a movement within Christianity, it has since accepted the Law of Thelema. It has declared itself independent from the Christian Universal Gnostic Church and its successors, and is no longer considered to be a Christian Church. E.G.C. does not administer Christian Sacraments. Its ecclesiastical powers are founded on a spiritual succession from the Master Therion and the constituent originating assemblies of O.T.O., rather than on Christian Apostolic Succession.
The theology, doctrines and sacramental theory of E.G.C. are based on the principles of the Thelemic Religion. Its rites and ceremonies are eclectic in form (drawing upon the sacerdotal practices of a wide variety of cultures and historical religious systems), but are fundamentally Thelemic in character. The traditional doctrines, theology, canon law, and insignia of the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Jacobite Churches do not operate within E.G.C.
Read more: » History of the E.G.C.
Membership in E.G.C.
There are two recognized subclasses of Church membership, the Clergy (Clerical membership) and the Laity (Lay membership). The Clergy is composed of the Father (or Mother) of the Church (also known as the Patriarch or Matriarch), the Primate, the Bishops, the Priests and Priestesses, and the Deacons.
The Clergy: The Patriarchate
The Father (or Mother) of the Church, also known as the Sovereign Patriarch or Sovereign Matriarch, is the O.H.O. of O.T.O. All official rites and ceremonies used within E.G.C. are subject to the approval of the Patriarch. The Patriarch has the sole authority to suspend, revoke, and reinstate the recognition of any person’s clerical status as Bishop, Priest, Priestess or Deacon within E.G.C., and any person’s Clerical or Advisory membership in E.G.C. The Patriarch has the authority to approve texts to be used in celebrations of the Gnostic Mass by Priests and Priestesses of E.G.C., modify the Gnostic Mass to suit special functions and occasions, to set guidelines for its proper performance, and to issue guidelines for the preparation of the eucharistic elements.
At this time, the Patriarch is Frater Superior Hymenaeus Beta, Caliph and Acting O.H.O. of O.T.O.
The Clergy: The Primacy
The Primate, or Presiding Bishop, is the National Grand Master General X°. The Primate shall in general supervise and control the affairs of E.G.C. within the U.S.A., subject to the ultimate authority of the Patriarch.
At this time, the Primate of E.G.C. within the U.S.A. is Sabazius X°, National Grand Master General of the U.S. Grand Lodge of O.T.O. Frater Superior Hymenaeus Beta has delegated, in full, his duties and authority within E.G.C. to Sabazius X° for exercise within the U.S.A. The actions and decisions of the Primate are subject to modification or reversal by the Patriarch upon appeal by any Bishop within the U.S.A.
The Clergy: The Episcopate
Bishops have the power and authority within E.G.C. to celebrate the Gnostic Mass; to ordain Priests, Priestesses and Deacons of E.G.C.; and to perform baptisms, confirmations, marriages and last rites, in accordance with local laws.
Bishops within E.G.C. must be Sovereign Grand Inspectors General VII° of O.T.O. Bishops of E.G.C. have the responsibility of serving as official representatives of E.G.C. within O.T.O. Any public celebration of the Gnostic Mass which involves the participation of a recognized Bishop of E.G.C. as an officer is by definition an official O.T.O. event and is subject to all the policies of O.T.O. regarding official O.T.O. events.
The term “Bishop” does not carry the same meaning within E.G.C. as it does in Christian Churches or in the so-called “Wandering Bishops” tradition. Possession of a valid and documented Apostolic Succession does not make one a Bishop of E.G.C.; neither is a Christian Apostolic Succession necessary to the Bishops of E.G.C.
Gnostic Bishops of the Doinel Succession assume a Mystic Name prefaced by the Greek letter “T” or “Tau” upon their consecration. Bishops of E.G.C. who wish to emphasize this part of their spiritual heritage may, at their option, follow this tradition. However, the Double Tau is reserved for use by the Patriarch and the Primate.
The Clergy: The Priesthood
The Priesthood of E.G.C. includes both Priests and Priestesses. Priests and Priestesses have the Sacerdotal power and authority to celebrate the Gnostic Mass as representatives of E.G.C. within O.T.O. A Bishop may also delegate to them the authority to ordain Deacons and perform baptisms, confirmations and last rites; and, in certain cases, to perform weddings. Priests and Priestesses are expected to coordinate their work with a Bishop.
Priests and Priestesses within E.G.C. must be Initiate members in good standing of at least the Knight of the East and West (KEW) degree. Their ordination must be reported to and recorded by the Grand Secretary General and the Ecclesiastical Secretary. They must be Lay members in E.G.C. prior to their ordination. The Primate may allow lay members to take on limited duties and authority of the Priesthood under the supervision of a Bishop.
Priests and Priestesses of E.G.C. have the responsibility of serving as official representatives of E.G.C. within O.T.O. Any public celebration of the Gnostic Mass which involves the participation of a recognized Priest or Priestess of E.G.C. as an officer is by definition an official O.T.O. event and is subject to all the policies of O.T.O. regarding official O.T.O. events.
The Clergy: The Diaconate
The Deacons of E.G.C. are ordained assistants to the Priests and Priestesses. Deacons within E.G.C. must be Initiate members in good standing of at least Second Degree (First Degree with the permission of the Primate); and their ordination must be recorded by the Grand Secretary General and the Ecclesiastical Secretary. Prior to their ordination, they must have been accorded Lay membership in E.G.C.
At this time, Deacons have the power and authority only to assist recognized Priests and Priestesses of E.G.C. in the performance of their duties. They are not considered as official representatives of E.G.C.
Initiate members of any degree who have been accorded Lay membership in E.G.C. may undergo a period of Novitiate training under the supervision of a Bishop, to prepare them for ordination as Priest, Priestess or Deacon. Such Initiate members may participate in the celebration of the Gnostic Mass as Novice Priests, Priestesses and Deacons.
Novice status is not formally recognized by the Order, and is not included in the Order’s records.
Lay Membership in E.G.C. is conferred by the ceremony of confirmation, which must be preceded by the ceremony of baptism. Lay Membership conveys no authority or special privileges within E.G.C. The Patriarch may, from time to time, modify or waive the ceremonial requirements for Lay membership in E.G.C.
Baptism is open to any person at least 11 years old. Baptism does not confer Lay Membership. Confirmation is open to any person who has been baptized and who has attained the age of puberty. Baptism or confirmation for any person less than 18 years of age requires the prior written consent of the custodial parent(s) or legal guardian(s). Baptism and confirmation are public ceremonies.
The Gnostic Mass
Aleister Crowley wrote Liber XV in 1913 in Moscow, the year after his appointment by Theodor Reuss as the X° Head of the British Section of O.T.O. According to W. B. Crow in A History of Magic, Witchcraft and Occultism (Aquarian Press, London 1968), Crowley wrote it “under the influence of the Liturgy of St. Basil of the Russian Church.” Crowley published the Gnostic Mass three times during his life: in 1918 in The International, in 1919 in The Equinox, Volume III, No. 1 (the “Blue Equinox”), and in 1929 in Appendix VI of Magick in Theory and Practice. Theodor Reuss published a German variant in 1918. It was first publicly celebrated on Sunday, March 19, 1933 e.v. by Wilfred T. Smith and Regina Kahl in Hollywood, California. Crowley writes in Chapter 73 of his Confessions:
“During this period [The summer of 1913 e.v. – Ed.] the full interpretation of the central mystery of freemasonry became clear in consciousness, and I expressed it in dramatic form in `The Ship’. The lyrical climax is in some respects my supreme achievement in invocation; in fact, the chorus beginning:
Thou who art I beyond all I am…
seemed to me worthy to be introduced as the anthem into the Ritual of the Gnostic Catholic Church, which, later in the year, I prepared for the use of the O.T.O., the central ceremony of its public and private celebration, corresponding to the Mass of the Roman Catholic Church.”
Public and Private Celebration
A public celebration of the Gnostic Mass is one which is open to members of the public; or which is noticed in any official O.T.O. publication under the name “Gnostic Mass”, “Gnostic Catholic Mass,” “Liber XV”, or equivalent names. A private celebration of the Gnostic Mass is one at which the individual participants are all initiate members of O.T.O. of at least 0°. Private celebrations of the Gnostic Mass may be held for initiates of higher degrees as well.
For public celebrations of the Gnostic Mass, at least one of the three principal celebrating officers must be a Clerical member of E.G.C. with recognized status as Priest, Priestess, Bishop, or Auxiliary Bishop. In developing areas, this last requirement may be waived by the Primate or the Patriarch when the Gnostic Mass is being celebrated by Novices under the supervision of a Bishop.
Public celebrations of the Gnostic Mass are to be held to the highest standards of performance and fidelity to approved texts of Liber XV. The Deacon may use a script while intoning the Collects, but at all other times, officers of the Mass are expected to have their parts memorized.
The text of Liber XV, including the Collects, is not to be added to or modified without the express permission of the current Patriarch.
Local economic and spatial constraints may prevent the full implementation of the provisions in Liber XV regarding temple furniture and costuming. However, these provisions should be implemented as best as possible; and improvements should continue to be made as additional resources become available.
The roles of the two “Children” in Liber XV should be filled whenever possible for public celebrations of the Gnostic Mass. These roles may be filled by any two individuals who have been baptized in E.G.C., including adults. The Children serve the Cakes of Light and goblets of wine to the individual communicants. Where the roles of the Children cannot be filled in a public celebration of the Gnostic Mass, the Deacon should serve the Cakes of Light and the goblets of wine to the individual communicants.
Liber XV may be modified for Requiem Masses by including a brief mention of the deceased at the eleventh Collect.
Any celebration of the Gnostic Mass which is held at, or is sponsored by, an official O.T.O. Local Body is, by definition, an official E.G.C. and O.T.O. event, and is subject to all the policies of O.T.O. regarding official O.T.O. events. The Master of the Local Body is responsible for enforcing these policies.
Other Sacerdotal Rites
All rites of baptism, confirmation, and ordination within E.G.C. are subject to the approval of the Patriarch. Approved rites of baptism, confirmation, and ordination, as well as recommended rites and ceremonies for other E.G.C. functions such as weddings and last rites are available to all U.S. E.G.C. Clergy from the Grand Secretary General.
In some jurisdictions, civil registration may be required to perform certain religious functions. Generally, civil registration is required only for the performance of weddings, but in some jurisdictions the performance of other religious functions may require civil registration as well. The Supreme Grand Council of O.T.O. will assist those Bishops and Auxiliary Bishops who qualify for recognition of Ministerial Status within O.T.O. to obtain the appropriate civil registrations. Bishops and Auxiliary Bishops who possess the necessary civil registrations may assist Priests and Priestesses within their jurisdictions to obtain their own civil registrations, if necessary.
All funds collected at official Ceremonies of E.G.C. within O.T.O. shall be duly recorded and reported through a chartered local body of O.T.O. to the Grand Treasurer General.
Ordinations should be reported to the Grand Secretary General and the Ecclesiastical Secretary for recording and official recognition. Baptisms and consecrations may also be reported to the Ecclesiastical Secretary.
Certificates commemorating baptism, confirmation and ordination may be issued by individual Bishops. The design of such certificates must be submitted to the Grand Secretary General for approval by the Primate.
The Ecclesiastical Secretary is an Assistant Secretary of O.T.O. whose duty is to log and maintain records of Ecclesiastical Membership.
Questions on E.G.C. policies and procedures should be addressed to the Grand Secretary General.
Sabazius X°, Primate of E.G.C. and National Grand Master General in the U.S.A., maintains a website called » The Invisible Basilica of Sabazius which offers essays, rituals, and other material pertinent to E.G.C.