According to the Ecclesia Gnostica website, Ecclesia Gnostica is the oldest public Gnostic sacramental body in the United States . Its main branch is located in Los Angeles . In 2002 the church reported approximately 300 affiliated lay people, 14 priests and five congregations worldwide, as well as a seminary in Arizona (Encyclopedia of America Religions, 863). The history behind the formation of Ecclesia Gnostica reveals its ancestry in Theosophy and the Liberal Catholic Chuch, which in turns helps to explain its amalgamation of religious traditions and the resemblance of its services to those of the Catholic Church.
To trace the genealogy of Ecclesia Gnostica, it is useful to look back to the figure of Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophical Society in 1875. Theosophy endorses the belief that there are common central truths underlying the disparate mythologies and practices of all religions. In this way Theosophy embraces the practices of a variety of religions without subscribing to any single mode of belief or perspective. A similar admixture of religious practices and spiritual ideas manifests itself in many modern Gnostic churches, where tarot is just as likely to make an appearance as the Eucharist. Stephan Hoeller, Bishop of Eccelsia Gnostica, lectures on topics as diverse in subject as Kabbalah to Alchemy to Sufism.
Madame Blavatsky was involved in the interpretation of the three Gnostic codices known prior to the discovery of the Coptic texts at Nag Hammadi. [Look in book for what texts were analyzed].
In Paranoia Magazine's interview with Stephan Hoeller, Hoeller answers the question Is there a connection between Theosophy and Gnosticism? with the following reply:
"Oh, yes. Modern Theosophy, what is called Theosophy now, was really, you might say, enunciated by Madame Blavatsky in the latter part of the 19th century. The Theosophical Society was founded in 1875. She and her associates were very interested in Gnosticism. In her books she wrote a great deal about it and very sympathetically. Her close disciple, G.R.S. Mead, was one of the early, very fine and very accurate translators of Gnostic and Hermetic writings. So there was always a sympathetic relationship between Gnosticism and Theosophy."
The Liberal Catholic Church
The Liberal Catholic Church was founded in 1918 by two members of Blavatsky's Theosophical Society, James Wedgwood and Charles W. Leadbeater.
Formation of Ecclesia Gnostica
Eccelsia Gnostica was established in the United States in 1959 by Ronald Powell, who became known as Richard, Duc de Palatine. Before this it existed as the Pre-Nicene Gnostic Catholic Church in London , also overseen by Bishop de Palatine. Stephan A. Hoeller moved from Eastern Europe to the United States in 1952 and to Los Angeles in 1954, where he pursued his interest in Theosophy and the occult by
“In 1952, displaced from his family home in Eastern Europe by the Second World War, Stephan A. Hoeller arrived in the United States and in 1954, at the age of twenty-three, came to Los Angeles . Brought up as a Roman Catholic, he had a deep love for the Church's rituals; but he also had an interest in the occult and was a Theosophist. In Europe he had developed an interest in the psychology of C.G. Jung. In Los Angeles he linked up with local Theosophists, with Liberal Catholics, and, through [Arthur] Fronius, with the Gnostic Society. Hoeller was ordained a priest in 1958. The following year he began an afffiliation with the Order of the Pleroma, a Gnostic group formed in London in 1953 by Ronald Powell, who styled himself Richard, Duc de Palatine. De Palatine was also a Theosophist as well as an Independent Catholic Bishop. In 1967 Hoeller himself was consecrated a bishop. De Palatine moved to Los Angeles in 1970. There were differences, a schism, and a bitter feud that lasted until de Palatine's death in 1977. Bishop Hoeller and his Ecclesia Gnostica do not continue to promote themselves as Theosophists or Liberal Catholics, yet the traditions I have traced are central to them” (206)
Ecclesia Gnostica's history centers around two people: Ronald Powell, who became known as Richard, Duc de Palatine, and Stephan A. Hoeller. Bishop de Palatine was a Theosophist and also an Independent Catholic Bishop. In 1953 he formed a Gnostic group called the Order of the Pleroma in London , England . This was also called the Pre-Nicene Gnostic Catholic Church and it was brought to the United States by him in 1959. Stephan Hoeller, who was brought up as a Roman Catholic, came to the United States in 1952 from Eastern Europe and settled in Los Angeles soon after. He was also a Theosophist and he joined the Gnostic Society there where he was ordained a priest in 1958. When Bishop de Palatine brought the Order of the Pleroma to the United States in 1959, Hoeller began an affiliation with it and was ordained a Bishop in 1967. Although the two men both were interested in Theosophy and had a Catholic background, Bishop Hoeller was also deeply interested in the psychology of C. G. Jung. A rift developed between the two, and the church that Bishop Hoeller was associated with became known as Ecclesia Gnostica. Bishop de Palatine died in 1977. Ecclesia Gnostica, under the leadership of Bishop Hoeller, has a traditional Catholic form.
“It was organized as the Pre-Nicene Gnostic Catholic Church at first in England and since 1959 in the United States by the late Bishop Richard, Duc de Palatine. After the demise of the Duc de Palatine in the 1970's, the Church he established in America continued its work under the name Ecclesia Gnostica.”
“Although the outward form is traditionally Catholic, the intent is to have a mystery religion, and the Holy Orders given are grades of personal initiation. For the Ecclesia Gnostica, the sacraments are personal experiences of transformation, as indeed they were for some Gnostics” (210).
Modern Gnosticism versus Revival of Ancient Gnosticism
“As for such sacraments being performed by a clergy ordained within an apostolic succession, there is no such thing among the ancient Gnostics. On the contrary, the institutionalization of the apostolic succession was developed by the orthodox church specifically to combat and discredit Gnosticism . . . It is most surprising, therefore, to see the Ecclesia Gnostica boast about its apostolic ordinations performed by a valid bishop” (210).
Stephan A. Hoeller