The Folly of Materialism in the Gospel of Thomas

Jesus said: “There was a man of wealth who had many riches. He said: ‘I will use my riches to sow, reap, plant, and to fill my treasure-house with fruit, so that I will not need anything.’ These thoughts he had in his mind (alt. ‘in his heart’); and in the present night, he died. He who has an ear to lend, let him listen.”

Logion 63 of the Gospel of Thomas

Little spiritual discernment is needed to understand the implications of this logion. The message here—for once devoid of a hidden subtext—is urgently conveyed to anyone who has an ear to lend: our engrossment with materialism is dire foolishness.
A man accumulates all the possessions he believes he might need in his life only to die the same day he completes his task. That is the irony of an existence spent in preparation for hypothetical necessities without a care for death who might come unannounced and swiftly.

painting by Hieronymus Bosch of an angel urging the soul to turn to the empyreal light while death looks upon the scene
Hieronymus Bosch, Death and the Miser (detail)

The ruling elite of the Etruscans, the Celts, and the Vikings, the potentates of the ancient Chinese kingdoms, the Pharaohs and priests of Egypt were entombed surrounded by their earthly belongings in a vain hope to perpetuate their privileged status in the afterlife. You would think our modern consciousness has transcended such limited outlook, but what sort of highly conceptualized metaphysics can you really expect from the average person who cannot part with his smartphone for more than 20 minutes at a time. Instead, we witness the ever increasing popularity of pseudo-spiritual schemes such as the “Law of Attraction,” or the “Prosperity Gospel,” that conveniently allow for greed to be justified through a metaphysical perspective. Far from renouncing our attachment to materiality, we have grown more dependent on the rich variety of its dubious gifts. The contemporary individual may scoff at the poor spiritual foresight and awareness of his ancestors but he is hardly more enlightened than his predecessors. In our days, we simply ignore our impending demise and give ourselves entirely to the “pursuit of happiness” (the most inventive euphemism ever concocted for our obsession with property and the accumulation of the useless). Our “needs” are constantly pushed farther so that there is no possibility of fulfilling them: a blind intent that is the basis for industrial societies epitomized in capitalist America by its underpinning middle-class.
In his essay On the Vanity of Existence, the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer remarks:

How insatiable a creature is man! Every satisfaction he attains lays the seeds of some new desire, so that there is no end to the wishes of each individual will.

Hieronymus Bosch, Death and the Miser (detail)

Crass materialism was made acceptable under the guise of an ideal to which we attached many values (including religious or spiritual ones), but we are fooling ourselves: we left in the distant past our legitimate yearnings for comfort and rushed headlong in a greedy chase after persistently receding aims. Oblivious to its annihilating power, we revel in the insatiability that devours us.
The rich man in Thomas’ story uses his money to increase profits; Georges Bernanos wrote that spiritual values will never be restored as long as profit is honored, when it should only be tolerated and controlled. Our descent in the bottomless ravine of greed begins the moment we seek to multiply gains beyond the requirements of our well-being. Tragically, we cannot discern the lies we are telling ourselves, and each step we believe is taking us closer to achieving our goal of “happiness” is in reality leading us away from the richness of a mystical sovereignty. In Logion 110, Thomas drops the parable in favor of a straightforward approach:

Whoever has found the world and become rich, let him renounce the world.

There is no ambiguity in Thomas’ views about wealth: it is the fastest road into the trapping of the physical world. Even more dangerous to our soul than excess wealth is the power it yields:

Whoever has become rich, let him become king, and he who has power, let him renounce (it)

Logion 81 of the Gospel of Thomas
Hieronymus Bosch, Death and the Miser (detail). In this bottom portion of the painting we see the emblems of power that a dying man cannot carry with him in the beyond.

The final snare of excessive wealth is that the plutocrat cannot conceive of something loftier for the soul. He loses the ability to think abstractly and favors a notion that there isn’t really anything better than what can be accumulated physically. In Thomas’ philosophy, money rules the world, and the rulers of the world are the rich. Anyone finding himself in such a mighty position should weight his priorities: One cannot serve God and mammon. For the gnostic, the material plane has nothing of authentic value to offer. She seeks not the rewards of the world but an empyreal sovereignty through a knowledge of herself.

For a thorough esoteric examination of the Gospel of Thomas, see A Book to Free the Soul.

Hieronymus Bosch, Ascent of the blessed, or Ascent into the Empyrean (detail) ; the reward of those who voluntarily leave the material world and separate their soul from its concerns.

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