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The Secret Doctrine by H P Blavatsky

 

Esoteric Christianity

Or The Lesser Mysteries

by

Annie Besant

 

[SECOND EDITION]

 

The Theosophical Publishing Society.

LONDON AND BENARES.

1905.

 

 

 

 

     In proceeding to the contemplation of the mysteries of knowledge,

     we shall adhere to the celebrated and venerable rule of tradition,

     commencing from the origin of the universe, setting forth those

     points of physical contemplation which are necessary to be

     premised, and removing whatever can be an obstacle on the way; so

     that the ear may be prepared for the reception of the tradition of

     the Gnosis, the ground being cleared of weeds and fitted for the

     planting of the vineyard; for there is a conflict before the

     conflict, and mysteries before the mysteries.--_S. Clement of

     Alexandria._

 

     Let the specimen suffice to those who have ears. For it is not

     required to unfold the mystery, but only to indicate what is

     sufficient.--_Ibid._

 

     He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.--_S. Matthew._

 

 

 

 

FOREWORD.

 

 

The object of this book is to suggest certain lines of thought as to

the deep truths underlying Christianity, truths generally overlooked,

and only too often denied. The generous wish to share with all what is

precious, to spread broadcast priceless truths, to shut out none from

the illumination of true knowledge, has resulted in a zeal without

discretion that has vulgarised Christianity, and has presented its

teachings in a form that often repels the heart and alienates the

intellect. The command to "preach the Gospel to every

creature"[1]--though admittedly of doubtful authenticity--has been

interpreted as forbidding the teaching of the Gnosis to a few, and has

apparently erased the less popular saying of the same Great Teacher:

"Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your

pearls before swine."[2]

 

This spurious sentimentality--which refuses to recognise the obvious

inequalities of intelligence and morality, and thereby reduces the

teaching of the highly developed to the level attainable by the least

evolved, sacrificing the higher to the lower in a way that injures

both--had no place in the virile common sense of the early Christians.

S. Clement of Alexandria says quite bluntly, after alluding to the

Mysteries: "Even now I fear, as it is said, 'to cast the pearls before

swine, lest they tread them underfoot, and turn and rend us.' For it is

difficult to exhibit the really pure and transparent words respecting

the true Light to swinish and untrained hearers."[3]

 

If true knowledge, the Gnosis, is again to form a part of Christian

teachings, it can only be under the old restrictions, and the idea of

levelling down to the capacities of the least developed must be

definitely surrendered. Only by teaching above the grasp of the little

evolved can the way be opened up for a restoration of arcane knowledge,

and the study of the Lesser Mysteries must precede that of the Greater.

The Greater will never be published through the printing-press; they can

only be given by Teacher to pupil, "from mouth to ear." But the Lesser

Mysteries, the partial unveiling of deep truths, can even now be

restored, and such a volume as the present is intended to outline these,

and to show the _nature_ of the teachings which have to be mastered.

Where only hints are given, quiet meditation on the truths hinted at

will cause their outlines to become visible, and the clearer light

obtained by continued meditation will gradually show them more fully.

For meditation quiets the lower mind, ever engaged in thinking about

external objects, and when the lower mind is tranquil then only can it

be illuminated by the Spirit. Knowledge of spiritual truths must be thus

obtained, from within and not from without, from the divine Spirit whose

temple we are[4] and not from an external Teacher. These things are

"spiritually discerned" by that divine indwelling Spirit, that "mind of

Christ," whereof speaks the Great Apostle,[5] and that inner light is

shed upon the lower mind.

 

This is the way of the Divine Wisdom, the true THEOSOPHY. It is not, as

some think, a diluted version of Hinduism, or Buddhism, or Taoism, or of

any special religion. It is Esoteric Christianity as truly as it is

Esoteric Buddhism, and belongs equally to all religions, exclusively to

none. This is the source of the suggestions made in this little volume,

for the helping of those who seek the Light--that "true Light which

lighteth every man that cometh into the world,"[6] though most have not

yet opened their eyes to it. It does not bring the Light. It only says:

"Behold the Light!" For thus have we heard. It appeals only to the few

who hunger for more than the exoteric teachings give them. For those who

are fully satisfied with the exoteric teachings, it is not intended; for

why should bread be forced on those who are not hungry? For those who

hunger, may it prove bread, and not a stone.

 

 

 

 

CONTENTS.

 

 

                                              PAGE

FOREWORD                                      vii.

 

-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------
206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK. CF24-DL

CHAPTER I.

  THE HIDDEN SIDE OF RELIGIONS                  1

 


CHAPTER II.

  THE HIDDEN SIDE OF CHRISTIANITY              36

 


CHAPTER III.

  THE HIDDEN SIDE OF CHRISTIANITY              69

    (_concluded_)

 


CHAPTER IV.

  THE HISTORICAL JESUS                        120



CHAPTER V.

  THE MYTHIC CHRIST                           145



CHAPTER VI.

  THE MYSTIC CHRIST                           170

 


CHAPTER VII.

  THE ATONEMENT                               193



CHAPTER VIII.

  RESURRECTION AND ASCENSION                  231



CHAPTER IX.

  THE TRINITY                                 253



CHAPTER X.

  PRAYER                                      276



CHAPTER XI.

  THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS                     301



CHAPTER XII.

  SACRAMENTS                                  324

 


CHAPTER XIII.

  SACRAMENTS (_continued_)                    346



CHAPTER XIV.

  REVELATION                                  369

 

AFTERWORD                                     386

 

INDEX                                         388

 

 

 

 

 

ESOTERIC CHRISTIANITY.

 

 

 

 

-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------
206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK. CF24-DL

CHAPTER I.

 

THE HIDDEN SIDE OF RELIGIONS.

 

 

Many, perhaps most, who see the title of this book will at once traverse

it, and will deny that there is anything valuable which can be rightly

described as "Esoteric Christianity." There is a wide-spread, and withal

a popular, idea that there is no such thing as an occult teaching in

connection with Christianity, and that "The Mysteries," whether Lesser

or Greater, were a purely Pagan institution. The very name of "The

Mysteries of Jesus," so familiar in the ears of the Christians of the

first centuries, would come with a shock of surprise on those of their

modern successors, and, if spoken as denoting a special and definite

institution in the Early Church, would cause a smile of incredulity. It

has actually been made a matter of boast that Christianity has no

secrets, that whatever it has to say it says to all, and whatever it has

to teach it teaches to all. Its truths are supposed to be so simple,

that "a way-faring man, though a fool, may not err therein," and the

"simple Gospel" has become a stock phrase.

 

It is necessary, therefore, to prove clearly that in the Early Church,

at least, Christianity was no whit behind other great religions in

possessing a hidden side, and that it guarded, as a priceless treasure,

the secrets revealed only to a select few in its Mysteries. But ere

doing this it will be well to consider the whole question of this hidden

side of religions, and to see why such a side must exist if a religion

is to be strong and stable; for thus its existence in Christianity will

appear as a foregone conclusion, and the references to it in the

writings of the Christian Fathers will appear simple and natural instead

of surprising and unintelligible. As a historical fact, the existence

of this esotericism is demonstrable; but it may also be shown that

intellectually it is a necessity.

 

The first question we have to answer is: What is the object of

religions? They are given to the world by men wiser than the masses of

the people on whom they are bestowed, and are intended to quicken human

evolution. In order to do this effectively they must reach individuals

and influence them. Now all men are not at the same level of evolution,

but evolution might be figured as a rising gradient, with men stationed

on it at every point. The most highly evolved are far above the least

evolved, both in intelligence and character; the capacity alike to

understand and to act varies at every stage. It is, therefore, useless

to give to all the same religious teaching; that which would help the

intellectual man would be entirely unintelligible to the stupid, while

that which would throw the saint into ecstasy would leave the criminal

untouched. If, on the other hand, the teaching be suitable to help the

unintelligent, it is intolerably crude and jejune to the philosopher,

while that which redeems the criminal is utterly useless to the saint.

Yet all the types need religion, so that each may reach upward to a life

higher than that which he is leading, and no type or grade should be

sacrificed to any other. Religion must be as graduated as evolution,

else it fails in its object.

 

Next comes the question: In what way do religions seek to quicken human

evolution? Religions seek to evolve the moral and intellectual natures,

and to aid the spiritual nature to unfold itself. Regarding man as a

complex being, they seek to meet him at every point of his constitution,

and therefore to bring messages suitable for each, teachings adequate to

the most diverse human needs. Teachings must therefore be adapted to

each mind and heart to which they are addressed. If a religion does not

reach and master the intelligence, if it does not purify and inspire the

emotions, it has failed in its object, so far as the person addressed is

concerned.

 

Not only does it thus direct itself to the intelligence and the

emotions, but it seeks, as said, to stimulate the unfoldment of the

spiritual nature. It answers to that inner impulse which exists in

humanity, and which is ever pushing the race onwards. For deeply within

the heart of all--often overlaid by transitory conditions, often

submerged under pressing interests and anxieties--there exists a

continual seeking after God. "As the hart panteth after the

water-brooks, so panteth"[7] humanity after God. The search is sometimes

checked for a space, and the yearning seems to disappear. Phases recur

in civilisation and in thought, wherein this cry of the human Spirit for

the divine--seeking its source as water seeks its level, to borrow a

simile from Giordano Bruno--this yearning of the human Spirit for that

which is akin to it in the universe, of the part for the whole, seems to

be stilled, to have vanished; none the less does that yearning reappear,

and once more the same cry rings out from the Spirit. Trampled on for a

time, apparently destroyed, though the tendency may be, it rises again

and again with inextinguishable persistence, it repeats itself again

and again, no matter how often it is silenced; and it thus proves itself

to be an inherent tendency in human nature, an ineradicable constituent

thereof. Those who declare triumphantly, "Lo! it is dead!" find it

facing them again with undiminished vitality. Those who build without

allowing for it find their well-constructed edifices riven as by an

earthquake. Those who hold it to be outgrown find the wildest

superstitions succeed its denial. So much is it an integral part of

humanity, that man _will_ have some answer to his questionings; rather

an answer that is false, than none. If he cannot find religious truth,

he will take religious error rather than no religion, and will accept

the crudest and most incongruous ideals rather than admit that the ideal

is non-existent.

 

Religion, then, meets this craving, and taking hold of the constituent

in human nature that gives rise to it, trains it, strengthens it,

purifies it and guides it towards its proper ending--the union of the

human Spirit with the divine, so "that God may be all in all."[8]

 

 

The next question which meets us in our enquiry is: What is the source

of religions? To this question two answers have been given in modern

times--that of the Comparative Mythologists and that of the Comparative

Religionists. Both base their answers on a common basis of admitted

facts. Research has indisputably proved that the religions of the world

are markedly similar in their main teachings, in their possession of

Founders who display superhuman powers and extraordinary moral

elevation, in their ethical precepts, in their use of means to come into

touch with invisible worlds, and in the symbols by which they express

their leading beliefs. This similarity, amounting in many cases to

identity, proves--according to both the above schools--a common origin.

 

But on the nature of this common origin the two schools are at issue.

The Comparative Mythologists contend that the common origin is the

common ignorance, and that the loftiest religious doctrines are simply

refined expressions of the crude and barbarous guesses of savages, of

primitive men, regarding themselves and their surroundings. Animism,

fetishism, nature-worship, sun-worship--these are the constituents of

the primeval mud out of which has grown the splendid lily of religion. A

Krishna, a Buddha, a Lao-tze, a Jesus, are the highly civilised

but lineal descendants of the whirling medicine-man of the savage. God

is a composite photograph of the innumerable Gods who are the

personifications of the forces of nature. And so forth. It is all summed

up in the phrase: Religions are branches from a common trunk--human

ignorance.

 

The Comparative Religionists consider, on the other hand, that all

religions originate from the teachings of Divine Men, who give out to

the different nations of the world, from time to time, such parts of the

fundamental verities of religion as the people are capable of receiving,

teaching ever the same morality, inculcating the use of similar means,

employing the same significant symbols. The savage religions--animism

and the rest--are degenerations, the results of decadence, distorted and

dwarfed descendants of true religious beliefs. Sun-worship and pure

forms of nature-worship were, in their day, noble religions, highly

allegorical but full of profound truth and knowledge. The great

Teachers--it is alleged by Hindus, Buddhists, and by some Comparative

Religionists, such as Theosophists--form an enduring Brotherhood of men

who have risen beyond humanity, who appear at certain periods to

enlighten the world, and who are the spiritual guardians of the human

race. This view may be summed up in the phrase: "Religions are branches

from a common trunk--Divine Wisdom."

 

This Divine Wisdom is spoken of as the Wisdom, the Gnosis, the

Theosophia, and some, in different ages of the world, have so desired to

emphasise their belief in this unity of religions, that they have

preferred the eclectic name of Theosophist to any narrower designation.

 

The relative value of the contentions of these two opposed schools must

be judged by the cogency of the evidence put forth by each. The

appearance of a degenerate form of a noble idea may closely resemble

that of a refined product of a coarse idea, and the only method of

deciding between degeneration and evolution would be the examination, if

possible, of intermediate and remote ancestors. The evidence brought

forward by believers in the Wisdom is of this kind. They allege: that

the Founders of religions, judged by the records of their teachings,

were far above the level of average humanity; that the Scriptures of

religions contain moral precepts, sublime ideals, poetical aspirations,

profound philosophical statements, which are not even approached in

beauty and elevation by later writings in the same religions--that is,

that the old is higher than the new, instead of the new being higher

than the old; that no case can be shown of the refining and improving

process alleged to be the source of current religions, whereas many

cases of degeneracy from pure teachings can be adduced; that even among

savages, if their religions be carefully studied, many traces of lofty

ideas can be found, ideas which are obviously above the productive

capacity of the savages themselves.

 

This last idea has been worked out by Mr. Andrew Lang, who--judging by

his book on _The Making of Religion_--should be classed as a Comparative

Religionist rather than as a Comparative Mythologist. He points to the

existence of a common tradition, which, he alleges, cannot have been

evolved by the savages for themselves, being men whose ordinary beliefs

are of the crudest kind and whose minds are little developed. He shows,

under crude beliefs and degraded views, lofty traditions of a sublime

character, touching the nature of the Divine Being and His relations

with men. The deities who are worshipped are, for the most part, the

veriest devils, but behind, beyond all these, there is a dim but

glorious over-arching Presence, seldom or never named, but whispered of

as source of all, as power and love and goodness, too tender to awaken

terror, too good to require supplication. Such ideas manifestly cannot

have been conceived by the savages among whom they are found, and they

remain as eloquent witnesses of the revelations made by some great

Teacher--dim tradition of whom is generally also discoverable--who was

a Son of the Wisdom, and imparted some of its teachings in a long

bye-gone age.

 

The reason, and, indeed, the justification, of the view taken by the

Comparative Mythologists is patent. They found in every direction low

forms of religious belief, existing among savage tribes. These were seen

to accompany general lack of civilisation. Regarding civilised men as

evolving from uncivilised, what more natural than to regard civilised

religion as evolving from uncivilised? It is the first obvious idea.

Only later and deeper study can show that the savages of to-day are not

our ancestral types, but are the degenerated offsprings of great

civilised stocks of the past, and that man in his infancy was not left

to grow up untrained, but was nursed and educated by his elders, from

whom he received his first guidance alike in religion and civilisation.

This view is being substantiated by such facts as those dwelt on by

Lang, and will presently raise the question, "Who were these elders, of

whom traditions are everywhere found?"

 

Still pursuing our enquiry, we come next to the question: To what people

were religions given? And here we come at once to the difficulty with

which every Founder of a religion must deal, that already spoken of as

bearing on the primary object of religion itself, the quickening of

human evolution, with its corollary that all grades of evolving humanity

must be considered by Him. Men are at every stage of evolution, from the

most barbarous to the most developed; men are found of lofty

intelligence, but also of the most unevolved mentality; in one place

there is a highly developed and complex civilisation, in another a crude

and simple polity. Even within any given civilisation we find the most

varied types--the most ignorant and the most educated, the most

thoughtful and the most careless, the most spiritual and the most

brutal; yet each one of these types must be reached, and each must be

helped in the place where he is. If evolution be true, this difficulty

is inevitable, and must be faced and overcome by the divine Teacher,

else will His work be a failure. If man is evolving as all around him

is evolving, these differences of development, these varied grades of

intelligence, must be a characteristic of humanity everywhere, and must

be provided for in each of the religions of the world.

 

We are thus brought face to face with the position that we cannot have

one and the same religious teaching even for a single nation, still less

for a single civilisation, or for the whole world. If there be but one

teaching, a large number of those to whom it is addressed will entirely

escape its influence. If it be made suitable for those whose

intelligence is limited, whose morality is elementary, whose perceptions

are obtuse, so that it may help and train them, and thus enable them to

evolve, it will be a religion utterly unsuitable for those men, living

in the same nation, forming part of the same civilisation, who have keen

and delicate moral perceptions, bright and subtle intelligence, and

evolving spirituality. But if, on the other hand, this latter class is

to be helped, if intelligence is to be given a philosophy that it can

regard as admirable, if delicate moral perceptions are to be still

further refined, if the dawning spiritual nature is to be enabled to

develope into the perfect day, then the religion will be so spiritual,

so intellectual, and so moral, that when it is preached to the former

class it will not touch their minds or their hearts, it will be to them

a string of meaningless phrases, incapable of arousing their latent

intelligence, or of giving them any motive for conduct which will help

them to grow into a purer morality.

 

Looking, then, at these facts concerning religion, considering its

object, its means, its origin, the nature and varying needs of the

people to whom it is addressed, recognising the evolution of spiritual,

intellectual, and moral faculties in man, and the need of each man for

such training as is suitable for the stage of evolution at which he has

arrived, we are led to the absolute necessity of a varied and graduated

religious teaching, such as will meet these different needs and help

each man in his own place.

 

There is yet another reason why esoteric teaching is desirable with

respect to a certain class of truths. It is eminently the fact in

regard to this class that "knowledge is power." The public promulgation

of a philosophy profoundly intellectual, sufficient to train an already

highly developed intellect, and to draw the allegiance of a lofty mind,

cannot injure any. It can be preached without hesitation, for it does

not attract the ignorant, who turn away from it as dry, stiff, and

uninteresting. But there are teachings which deal with the constitution

of nature, explain recondite laws, and throw light on hidden processes,

the knowledge of which gives control over natural energies, and enables

its possessor to direct these energies to certain ends, as a chemist

deals with the production of chemical compounds. Such knowledge may be

very useful to highly developed men, and may much increase their power

of serving the race. But if this knowledge were published to the world,

it might and would be misused, just as the knowledge of subtle poisons

was misused in the Middle Ages by the Borgias and by others. It would

pass into the hands of people of strong intellect, but of unregulated

desires, men moved by separative instincts, seeking the gain of their

separate selves and careless of the common good. They would be attracted

by the idea of gaining powers which would raise them above the general

level, and place ordinary humanity at their mercy, and would rush to

acquire the knowledge which exalts its possessors to a superhuman rank.

They would, by its possession, become yet more selfish and confirmed in

their separateness, their pride would be nourished and their sense of

aloofness intensified, and thus they would inevitably be driven along

the road which leads to diabolism, the Left Hand Path, whose goal is

isolation and not union. And they would not only themselves suffer in

their inner nature, but they would also become a menace to Society,

already suffering sufficiently at the hands of men whose intellect is

more evolved than their conscience. Hence arises the necessity of

withholding certain teachings from those who, morally, are as yet

unfitted to receive them; and this necessity presses on every Teacher

who is able to impart such knowledge. He desires to give it to those

who will use the powers it confers for the general good, for quickening

human evolution; but he equally desires to be no party to giving it to

those who would use it for their own aggrandisement at the cost of

others.

 

Nor is this a matter of theory only, according to the Occult Records,

which give the details of the events alluded to in Genesis vi. _et seq._

This knowledge was, in those ancient times and on the continent of

Atlantis, given without any rigid conditions as to the moral elevation,

purity, and unselfishness of the candidates. Those who were

intellectually qualified were taught, just as men are taught ordinary

science in modern days. The publicity now so imperiously demanded was

then given, with the result that men became giants in knowledge but also

giants in evil, till the earth groaned under her oppressors and the cry

of a trampled humanity rang through the worlds. Then came the

destruction of Atlantis, the whelming of that vast continent beneath the

waters of the ocean, some particulars of which are given in the Hebrew

Scriptures in the story of the Noachian deluge, and in the Hindu

Scriptures of the further East in the story of Vaivasvata Manu.

 

Since that experience of the danger of allowing unpurified hands to

grasp the knowledge which is power, the great Teachers have imposed

rigid conditions as regards purity, unselfishness, and self-control on

all candidates for such instruction. They distinctly refuse to impart

knowledge of this kind to any who will not consent to a rigid

discipline, intended to eliminate separateness of feeling and interest.

They measure the moral strength of the candidate even more than his

intellectual development, for the teaching itself will develope the

intellect while it puts a strain on the moral nature. Far better that

the Great Ones should be assailed by the ignorant for Their supposed

selfishness in withholding knowledge, than that They should precipitate

the world into another Atlantean catastrophe.

 

So much of theory we lay down as bearing on the necessity of a hidden

side in all religions. When from theory we turn to facts, we naturally

ask: Has this hidden side existed in the past, forming a part of the

religions of the world? The answer must be an immediate and unhesitating

affirmative; every great religion has claimed to possess a hidden

teaching, and has declared that it is the repository of theoretical

mystic, and further of practical mystic, or occult, knowledge. The

mystic explanation of popular teaching was public, and expounded the

latter as an allegory, giving to crude and irrational statements and

stories a meaning which the intellect could accept. Behind this

theoretical mysticism, as it was behind the popular, there existed

further the practical mysticism, a hidden spiritual teaching, which was

only imparted under definite conditions, conditions known and published,

that must be fulfilled by every candidate. S. Clement of Alexandria

mentions this division of the Mysteries. After purification, he says,

"are the Minor Mysteries, which have some foundation of instruction and

of preliminary preparation for what is to come after; and the Great

Mysteries, in which nothing remains to be learned of the universe, but

only to contemplate and comprehend nature and things."[9]

 

This position cannot be controverted as regards the ancient religions.

The Mysteries of Egypt were the glory of that ancient land, and the

noblest sons of Greece, such as Plato, went to Sais and to Thebes to be

initiated by Egyptian Teachers of Wisdom. The Mithraic Mysteries of the

Persians, the Orphic and Bacchic Mysteries and the later Eleusinian

semi-Mysteries of the Greeks, the Mysteries of Samothrace, Scythia,

Chaldea, are familiar in name, at least, as household words. Even in the

extremely diluted form of the Eleusinian Mysteries, their value is most

highly praised by the most eminent men of Greece, as Pindar, Sophocles,

Isocrates, Plutarch, and Plato. Especially were they regarded as useful

with regard to _post-mortem_ existence, as the Initiated learned that

which ensured his future happiness. Sopater further alleged that

Initiation established a kinship of the soul with the divine Nature, and

in the exoteric Hymn to Demeter covert references are made to the holy

child, Iacchus, and to his death and resurrection, as dealt with in the

Mysteries.[10]

 

From Iamblichus, the great theurgist of the third and fourth centuries

A.D., much may be learned as to the object of the Mysteries. Theurgy was

magic, "the last part of the sacerdotal science,"[11] and was practised

in the Greater Mysteries, to evoke the appearance of superior Beings.

The theory on which these Mysteries were based may be very briefly thus

stated: There is ONE, prior to all beings, immovable, abiding in the

solitude of His own unity. From THAT arises the Supreme God, the

Self-begotten, the Good, the Source of all things, the Root, the God of

Gods, the First Cause, unfolding Himself into Light.[12] From Him

springs the Intelligible World, or ideal universe, the Universal Mind,

the _Nous_ and the incorporeal or intelligible Gods belong to this.

From this the World-Soul, to which belong the "divine intellectual forms

which are present with the visible bodies of the Gods."[13] Then come

various hierarchies of superhuman beings, Archangels, Archons (Rulers)

or Cosmocratores, Angels, Daimons, &c. Man is a being of a lower order,

allied to these in his nature, and is capable of knowing them; this

knowledge was achieved in the Mysteries, and it led to union with

God.[14] In the Mysteries these doctrines are expounded, "the

progression from, and the regression of all things to, the One, and the

entire domination of the One,"[15] and, further, these different Beings

were evoked, and appeared, sometimes to teach, sometimes, by Their mere

presence, to elevate and purify. "The Gods," says Iamblichus, "being

benevolent and propitious, impart their light to theurgists in unenvying

abundance, calling upwards their souls to themselves, procuring them a

union with themselves, and accustoming them, while they are yet in body,

to be separated from bodies, and to be led round to their eternal and

intelligible principle."[16] For "the soul having a twofold life, one

being in conjunction with body, but the other being separate from all

body,"[17] it is most necessary to learn to separate it from the body,

that thus it may unite itself with the Gods by its intellectual and

divine part, and learn the genuine principles of knowledge, and the

truths of the intelligible world.[18] "The presence of the Gods, indeed,

imparts to us health of body, virtue of soul, purity of intellect, and,

in one word, elevates everything in us to its proper nature. It exhibits

that which is not body as body to the eyes of the soul, through those of

the body."[19] When the Gods appear, the soul receives "a liberation

from the passions, a transcendent perfection, and an energy entirely

more excellent, and participates of divine love and an immense joy."[20]

By this we gain a divine life, and are rendered in reality divine.[21]

 

The culminating point of the Mysteries was when the Initiate became a

God, whether by union with a divine Being outside himself, or by the

realisation of the divine Self within him. This was termed ecstasy, and

was a state of what the Indian Yogi would term high Samadhi, the gross

body being entranced and the freed soul effecting its own union with the

Great One. This "ecstasy is not a faculty properly so called, it is a

state of the soul, which transforms it in such a way that it then

perceives what was previously hidden from it. The state will not be

permanent until our union with God is irrevocable; here, in earth life,

ecstasy is but a flash.... Man can cease to become man, and become God;

but man cannot be God and man at the same time."[22] Plotinus states

that he had reached this state "but three times as yet."

 

So also Proclus taught that the one salvation of the soul was to return

to her intellectual form, and thus escape from the "circle of

generation, from abundant wanderings," and reach true Being, "to the

uniform and simple energy of the period of sameness, instead of the

abundantly wandering motion of the period which is characterised by

difference." This is the life sought by those initiated by Orpheus into

the Mysteries of Bacchus and Proserpine, and this is the result of the

practice of the purificatory, or cathartic, virtues.[23]

 

These virtues were necessary for the Greater Mysteries, as they

concerned the purifying of the subtle body, in which the soul worked

when out of the gross body. The political or practical virtues belonged

to man's ordinary life, and were required to some extent before he could

be a candidate even for such a School as is described below. Then came

the cathartic virtues, by which the subtle body, that of the emotions

and lower mind, was purified; thirdly the intellectual, belonging to the

Augoeides, or the light-form of the intellect; fourthly the

contemplative, or paradigmatic, by which union with God was realised.

Porphyry writes: "He who energises according to the practical virtues is

a worthy man; but he who energises according to the purifying virtues is

an angelic man, or is also a good daimon. He who energises according to

the intellectual virtues alone is a God; but he who energises according

to the paradigmatic virtues is the Father of the Gods."[24]

 

Much instruction was also given in the Mysteries by the archangelic and

other hierarchies, and Pythagoras, the great teacher who was initiated

in India, and who gave "the knowledge of things that are" to his pledged

disciples, is said to have possessed such a knowledge of music that he

could use it for the controlling of men's wildest passions, and the

illuminating of their minds. Of this, instances are given by Iamblichus

in his _Life of Pythagoras_. It seems probable that the title of

Theodidaktos, given to Ammonius Saccas, the master of Plotinus, referred

less to the sublimity of his teachings than to this divine instruction

received by him in the Mysteries.

 

Some of the symbols used are explained by Iamblichus,[25] who bids

Porphyry remove from his thought the image of the thing symbolised and

reach its intellectual meaning. Thus "mire" meant everything that was

bodily and material; the "God sitting above the lotus" signified that

God transcended both the mire and the intellect, symbolised by the

lotus, and was established in Himself, being seated. If "sailing in a

ship," His rule over the world was pictured. And so on.[26] On this use

of symbols Proclus remarks that "the Orphic method aimed at revealing

divine things by means of symbols, a method common to all writers of

divine lore."[27]

 

The Pythagorean School in Magna Graecia was closed at the end of the

sixth century B.C., owing to the persecution of the civil power, but

other communities existed, keeping up the sacred tradition.[28] Mead

states that Plato intellectualised it, in order to protect it from an

increasing profanation, and the Eleusinian rites preserved some of its

forms, having lost its substance. The Neo-Platonists inherited from

Pythagoras and Plato, and their works should be studied by those who

would realise something of the grandeur and the beauty preserved for

the world in the Mysteries.

 

The Pythagorean School itself may serve as a type of the discipline

enforced. On this Mead gives many interesting details,[29] and remarks:

"The authors of antiquity are agreed that this discipline had succeeded

in producing the highest examples, not only of the purest chastity and

sentiment, but also a simplicity of manners, a delicacy, and a taste for

serious pursuits which was unparalleled. This is admitted even by

Christian writers." The School had outer disciples, leading the family

and social life, and the above quotation refers to these. In the inner

School were three degrees--the first of Hearers, who studied for two

years in silence, doing their best to master the teachings; the second

degree was of Mathematici, wherein were taught geometry and music, the

nature of number, form, colour, and sound; the third degree was of

Physici, who mastered cosmogony and metaphysics. This led up to the true

Mysteries. Candidates for the School must be "of an unblemished

reputation and of a contented disposition."

 

The close identity between the methods and aims pursued in these various

Mysteries and those of Yoga in India is patent to the most superficial

observer. It is not, however, necessary to suppose that the nations of

antiquity drew from India; all alike drew from the one source, the Grand

Lodge of Central Asia, which sent out its Initiates to every land. They

all taught the same doctrines, and pursued the same methods, leading to

the same ends. But there was much intercommunication between the

Initiates of all nations, and there was a common language and a common

symbolism. Thus Pythagoras journeyed among the Indians, and received in

India a high Initiation, and Apollonius of Tyana later followed in his

steps. Quite Indian in phrase as well as thought were the dying words of

Plotinus: "Now I seek to lead back the Self within me to the

All-self."[30]

 

Among the Hindus the duty of teaching the supreme knowledge only to the

worthy was strictly insisted on. "The deepest mystery of the end of

knowledge ... is not to be declared to one who is not a son or a pupil,

and who is not tranquil in mind."[31] So again, after a sketch of Yoga

we read: "Stand up! awake! having found the Great Ones, listen! The road

is as difficult to tread as the sharp edge of a razor. Thus say the

wise."[32] The Teacher is needed, for written teaching alone does not

suffice. The "end of knowledge" is to know God--not only to believe; to

become one with God--not only to worship afar off. Man must know the

reality of the divine Existence, and then know--not only vaguely believe

and hope--that his own innermost Self is one with God, and that the aim

of life is to realise that unity. Unless religion can guide a man to

that realisation, it is but "as sounding brass or a tinkling

cymbal."[33]

 

So also it was asserted that man should learn to leave the gross body:

"Let a man with firmness separate it [the soul] from his own body, as a

grass-stalk from its sheath."[34] And it was written! "In the golden

highest sheath dwells the stainless, changeless Brahman; It is the

radiant white Light of lights, known to the knowers of the Self."[35]

"When the seer sees the golden-coloured Creator, the Lord, the Spirit,

whose womb is Brahman, then, having thrown away merit and demerit,

stainless, the wise one reaches the highest union."[36]

 

Nor were the Hebrews without their secret knowledge and their Schools of

Initiation. The company of prophets at Naioth presided over by

Samuel[37] formed such a School, and the oral teaching was handed down

by them. Similar Schools existed at Bethel and Jericho,[38] and in

Cruden's _Concordance_[39] there is the following interesting note: "The

Schools or Colleges of the prophets are the first [schools] of which we

have any account in Scripture; where the children of the prophets, that

is, their disciples, lived in the exercises of a retired and austere

life, in study and meditation, and reading of the law of God.... These

Schools, or Societies, of the prophets were succeeded by the

Synagogues." The _Kabbala_, which contains the semi-public teaching, is,

as it now stands, a modern compilation, part of it being the work of

Rabbi Moses de Leon, who died A.D. 1305. It consists of five books,

Bahir, Zohar, Sepher Sephiroth, Sepher Yetzirah, and Asch Metzareth, and

is asserted to have been transmitted orally from very ancient times--as

antiquity is reckoned historically. Dr. Wynn Westcott says that "Hebrew

tradition assigns the oldest parts of the Zohar to a date antecedent to

the building of the second Temple;" and Rabbi Simeon ben Jochai is said

to have written down some of it in the first century A.D. The Sepher

Yetzirah is spoken of by Saadjah Gaon, who died A.D. 940, as "very

ancient."[40] Some portions of the ancient oral teaching have been

incorporated in the _Kabbala_ as it now stands, but the true archaic

wisdom of the Hebrews remains in the guardianship of a few of the true

sons of Israel.

 

Brief as is this outline, it is sufficient to show the existence of a

hidden side in the religions of the world outside Christianity, and we

may now examine the question whether Christianity was an exception to

this universal rule.

 

 

 

 

-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------
206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK. CF24-DL

CHAPTER II.

 

THE HIDDEN SIDE OF CHRISTIANITY.

 

 

_(a)_ THE TESTIMONY OF THE SCRIPTURES.

 

Having seen that the religions of the past claimed with one voice to

have a hidden side, to be custodians of "Mysteries," and that this claim

was endorsed by the seeking of initiation by the greatest men, we must

now ascertain whether Christianity stands outside this circle of

religions, and alone is without a Gnosis, offering to the world only a

simple faith and not a profound knowledge. Were it so, it would indeed

be a sad and lamentable fact, proving Christianity to be intended for a

class only, and not for all types of human beings. But that it is not

so, we shall be able to prove beyond the possibility of rational doubt.

 

And that proof is the thing which Christendom at this time most sorely

needs, for the very flower of Christendom is perishing for lack of

knowledge. If the esoteric teaching can be re-established and win

patient and earnest students, it will not be long before the occult is

also restored. Disciples of the Lesser Mysteries will become candidates

for the Greater, and with the regaining of knowledge will come again the

authority of teaching. And truly the need is great. For, looking at the

world around us, we find that religion in the West is suffering from the

very difficulty that theoretically we should expect to find.

Christianity, having lost its mystic and esoteric teaching, is losing

its hold on a large number of the more highly educated, and the partial

revival during the past few years is co-incident with the

re-introduction of some mystic teaching. It is patent to every student

of the closing forty years of the last century, that crowds of

thoughtful and moral people have slipped away from the churches, because

the teachings they received there outraged their intelligence and

shocked their moral sense. It is idle to pretend that the wide-spread

agnosticism of this period had its root either in lack of morality or in

deliberate crookedness of mind. Everyone who carefully studies the

phenomena presented will admit that men of strong intellect have been

driven out of Christianity by the crudity of the religious ideas set

before them, the contradictions in the authoritative teachings, the

views as to God, man, and the universe that no trained intelligence

could possibly admit. Nor can it be said that any kind of moral

degradation lay at the root of the revolt against the dogmas of the

Church. The rebels were not too bad for their religion; on the contrary,

it was the religion that was too bad for them. The rebellion against

popular Christianity was due to the awakening and the growth of

conscience; it was the conscience that revolted, as well as the

intelligence, against teachings dishonouring to God and man alike, that

represented God as a tyrant, and man as essentially evil, gaining

salvation by slavish submission.

 

The reason for this revolt lay in the gradual descent of Christian

teaching into so-called simplicity, so that the most ignorant might be

able to grasp it. Protestant religionists asserted loudly that nothing

ought to be preached save that which every one could grasp, that the

glory of the Gospel lay in its simplicity, and that the child and the

unlearned ought to be able to understand and apply it to life. True

enough, if by this it were meant that there are some religious truths

that all can grasp, and that a religion fails if it leaves the lowest,

the most ignorant, the most dull, outside the pale of its elevating

influence. But false, utterly false, if by this it be meant that

religion has no truths that the ignorant cannot understand, that it is

so poor and limited a thing that it has nothing to teach which is above

the thought of the unintelligent or above the moral purview of the

degraded. False, fatally false, if such be the meaning; for as that view

spreads, occupying the pulpits and being sounded in the churches, many

noble men and women, whose hearts are half-broken as they sever the

links that bind them to their early faith, withdraw from the churches,

and leave their places to be filled by the hypocritical and the

ignorant. They pass either into a state of passive agnosticism, or--if

they be young and enthusiastic--into a condition of active aggression,

not believing that that can be the highest which outrages alike

intellect and conscience, and preferring the honesty of open unbelief to

the drugging of the intellect and the conscience at the bidding of an

authority in which they recognise nothing that is divine.

 

In thus studying the thought of our time we see that the question of a

hidden teaching in connection with Christianity becomes of vital

importance. Is Christianity to survive as _the_ religion of the West? Is

it to live through the centuries of the future, and to continue to play

a part in moulding the thought of the evolving western races? If it is

to live, it must regain the knowledge it has lost, and again have its

mystic and its occult teachings; it must again stand forth as an

authoritative teacher of spiritual verities, clothed with the only

authority worth anything, the authority of knowledge. If these teachings

be regained, their influence will soon be seen in wider and deeper

views of truth; dogmas, which now seem like mere shells and fetters,

shall again be seen to be partial presentments of fundamental realities.

First, Esoteric Christianity will reappear in the "Holy Place," in the

Temple, so that all who are capable of receiving it may follow its lines

of published thought; and secondly, Occult Christianity will again

descend into the Adytum, dwelling behind the Veil which guards the "Holy

of Holies," into which only the Initiate may enter. Then again will

occult teaching be within the reach of those who qualify themselves to

receive it, according to the ancient rules, those who are willing in

modern days to meet the ancient demands, made on all those who would

fain know the reality and truth of spiritual things.

 

Once again we turn our eyes to history, to see whether Christianity was

unique among religions in having no inner teaching, or whether it

resembled all others in possessing this hidden treasure. Such a question

is a matter of evidence, not of theory, and must be decided by the

authority of the existing documents and not by the mere _ipse dixit_ of

modern Christians.

 

As a matter of fact both the "New Testament" and the writings of the

early Church make the same declarations as to the possession by the

Church of such teachings, and we learn from these the fact of the

existence of Mysteries--called the Mysteries of Jesus, or the Mystery of

the Kingdom--the conditions imposed on candidates, something of the

general nature of the teachings given, and other details. Certain

passages in the "New Testament" would remain entirely obscure, if it

were not for the light thrown on them by the definite statements of the

Fathers and Bishops of the Church, but in that light they became clear

and intelligible.

 

It would indeed have been strange had it been otherwise when we consider

the lines of religious thought which influenced primitive Christianity.

Allied to the Hebrews, the Persians, and the Greeks, tinged by the older

faiths of India, deeply coloured by Syrian and Egyptian thought, this

later branch of the great religious stem could not do other than again

re-affirm the ancient traditions, and place in the grasp of western

races the full treasure of the ancient teaching. "The faith once

delivered to the saints" would indeed have been shorn of its chief value

if, when delivered to the West, the pearl of esoteric teaching had been

withheld.

 

The first evidence to be examined is that of the "New Testament." For

our purpose we may put aside all the vexed questions of different

readings and different authors, that can only be decided by scholars.

Critical scholarship has much to say on the age of MSS., on the

authenticity of documents, and so on. But we need not concern ourselves

with these. We may accept the canonical Scriptures, as showing what was

believed in the early Church as to the teaching of the Christ and of His

immediate followers, and see what they say as to the existence of a

secret teaching given only to the few. Having seen the words put into

the mouth of Jesus Himself, and regarded by the Church as of supreme

authority, we will look at the writings of the great apostle S. Paul;

then we will consider the statements made by those who inherited the

apostolic tradition and guided the Church during the first centuries

A.D. Along this unbroken line of tradition and written testimony the

proposition that Christianity had a hidden side can be established. We

shall further find that the Lesser Mysteries of mystic interpretation

can be traced through the centuries to the beginning of the 19th

century, and that though there were no Schools of Mysticism recognised

as preparatory to Initiation, after the disappearance of the Mysteries,

yet great Mystics, from time to time, reached the lower stages of

exstasy, by their own sustained efforts, aided doubtless by invisible

Teachers.

 

The words of the Master Himself are clear and definite, and were, as we

shall see, quoted by Origen as referring to the secret teaching

preserved in the Church. "And when he was alone, they that were about

Him with the twelve asked of Him the parable. And He said unto them,

'Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God, but

unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables.'" And

later: "With many such parables spake He the word unto them, as they

were able to hear it. But without a parable spake He not unto them; and

when they were alone He expounded all things to His disciples."[41] Mark

the significant words, "when they were alone," and the phrase, "them

that are without." So also in the version of S. Matthew: "Jesus sent the

multitude away, and went into the house; and His disciples came unto

Him." These teachings given "in the house," the innermost meanings of

His instructions, were alleged to be handed on from teacher to teacher.

The Gospel gives, it will be noted, the allegorical mystic explanation,

that which we have called The Lesser Mysteries, but the deeper meaning

was said to be given only to the Initiates.

 

Again, Jesus tells even His apostles: "I have yet many things to say to

you, but ye cannot bear them now."[42] Some of them were probably said

after His death, when He was seen of His disciples, "speaking of the

things pertaining to the kingdom of God."[43] None of these have been

publicly recorded, but who can believe that they were neglected or

forgotten, and were not handed down as a priceless possession? There was

a tradition in the Church that He visited His apostles for a

considerable period after His death, for the sake of giving them

instruction--a fact that will be referred to later--and in the famous

Gnostic treatise, the _Pistis Sophia_, we read: "It came to pass, when

Jesus had risen from the dead, that He passed eleven years speaking with

His disciples and instructing them."[44] Then there is the phrase, which

many would fain soften and explain away: "Give not that which is holy to

the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine"[45]--a precept which

is of general application indeed, but was considered by the early

Church to refer to the secret teachings. It should be remembered that

the words had not the same harshness of sound in the ancient days as

they have now; for the words "dogs"--like "the vulgar," "the

profane"--was applied by those within a certain circle to all who were

outside its pale, whether by a society or association, or by a

nation--as by the Jews to all Gentiles.[46] It was sometimes used to

designate those who were outside the circle of Initiates, and we find it

employed in that sense in the early Church; those who, not having been

initiated into the Mysteries, were regarded as being outside "the

kingdom of God," or "the spiritual Israel," had this name applied to

them.

 

There were several names, exclusive of the term "The Mystery," or "The

Mysteries," used to designate the sacred circle of the Initiates or

connected with Initiation: "The Kingdom," "The Kingdom of God," "The

Kingdom of Heaven," "The Narrow Path," "The Strait Gate," "The

Perfect," "The Saved," "Life Eternal," "Life," "The Second Birth," "A

Little One," "A Little Child." The meaning is made plain by the use of

these words in early Christian writings, and in some cases even outside

the Christian pale. Thus the term, "The Perfect," was used by the

Essenes, who had three orders in their communities: the Neophytes, the

Brethren, and the Perfect--the latter being Initiates; and it is

employed generally in that sense in old writings. "The Little Child" was

the ordinary name for a candidate just initiated, _i.e._, who had just

taken his "second birth."

 

When we know this use, many obscure and otherwise harsh passages become

intelligible. "Then said one unto Him: Lord, are there few that be

saved? And He said unto them: Strive to enter in at the strait gate; for

many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in and shall not be able."[47]

If this be applied in the ordinary Protestant way to salvation from

everlasting hell-fire, the statement becomes incredible, shocking. No

Saviour of the world can be supposed to assert that many will seek to

avoid hell and enter heaven, but will not be able to do so. But as

applied to the narrow gateway of Initiation and to salvation from

rebirth, it is perfectly true and natural. So again: "Enter ye in at the

strait gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to

destruction, and many there be which go in thereat; because strait is

the gate and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life; and few there be

that find it."[48] The warning which immediately follows against the

false prophets, the teachers of the dark Mysteries, is most apposite in

this connection. No student can miss the familiar ring of these words

used in this same sense in other writings. The "ancient narrow way" is

familiar to all; the path "difficult to tread as the sharp edge of a

razor,"[49] already mentioned; the going "from death to death" of those

who follow the flower-strewn path of desires, who do not know God; for

those men only become immortal and escape from the wide mouth of death,

from ever repeated destruction, who have quitted all desires.[50] The

allusion to death is, of course, to the repeated births of the soul into

gross material existence, regarded always as "death" compared to the

"life" of the higher and subtler worlds.

 

This "Strait Gate" was the gateway of Initiation, and through it a

candidate entered "The Kingdom." And it ever has been, and must be, true

that only a few can enter that gateway, though myriads--an exceedingly

"great multitude, which no man could number,"[51] not a few--enter into

the happiness of the heaven-world. So also spoke another great Teacher,

nearly three thousand years earlier: "Among thousands of men scarce one

striveth for perfection; of the successful strivers scarce one knoweth

me in essence."[52] For the Initiates are few in each generation, the

flower of humanity; but no gloomy sentence of everlasting woe is

pronounced in this statement on the vast majority of the human race.

The saved are, as Proclus taught,[53] those who escape from the circle

of generation, within which humanity is bound.

 

In this connection we may recall the story of the young man who came to

Jesus, and, addressing Him as "Good Master," asked how he might win

eternal life--the well-recognised liberation from rebirth by knowledge

of God.[54] His first answer was the regular exoteric precept: "Keep the

commandments." But when the young man answered: "All these things have I

kept from my youth up;" then, to that conscience free from all knowledge

of transgression, came the answer of the true Teacher: "If thou wilt be

perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou

shalt have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me." "If thou wilt be

perfect," be a member of the Kingdom, poverty and obedience must be

embraced. And then to His own disciples Jesus explains that a rich man

can hardly enter the Kingdom of Heaven, such entrance being more

difficult than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle; with men

such entrance could not be, with God all things were possible.[55] Only

God in man can pass that barrier.

 

This text has been variously explained away, it being obviously

impossible to take it in its surface meaning, that a rich man cannot

enter a post-mortem state of happiness. Into that state the rich man may

enter as well as the poor, and the universal practice of Christians

shows that they do not for one moment believe that riches imperil their

happiness after death. But if the real meaning of the Kingdom of Heaven

be taken, we have the expression of a simple and direct fact. For that

knowledge of God which is Eternal Life[56] cannot be gained till

everything earthly is surrendered, cannot be learned until everything

has been sacrificed. The man must give up not only earthly wealth, which

henceforth may only pass through his hands as steward, but he must give

up his inner wealth as well, so far as he holds it as his own against

the world; until he is stripped naked he cannot pass the narrow gateway.

Such has ever been a condition of Initiation, and "poverty, obedience,

chastity," has been the vow of the candidate.

 

The "second birth" is another well-recognised term for Initiation; even

now in India the higher castes are called "twice-born," and the ceremony

that makes them twice-born is a ceremony of Initiation--mere husk truly,

in these modern days, but the "pattern of things in the heavens."[57]

When Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus, He states that "Except a man be

born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God," and this birth is spoken

of as that "of water and the Spirit;"[58] this is the first Initiation;

a later one is that of "the Holy Ghost and fire,"[59] the baptism of the

Initiate in his manhood, as the first is that of birth, which welcomes

him as "the Little Child" entering the Kingdom.[60] How thoroughly this

imagery was familiar among the mystic of the Jews is shown by the

surprise evinced by Jesus when Nicodemus stumbled over His mystic

phraseology: "Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these

things?"[61]

 

Another precept of Jesus which remains as "a hard saying" to his

followers is: "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in

heaven is perfect."[62] The ordinary Christian knows that he cannot

possibly obey this command; full of ordinary human frailties and

weaknesses, how can he become perfect as God is perfect? Seeing the

impossibility of the achievement set before him, he quietly puts it

aside, and thinks no more about it. But seen as the crowning effort of

many lives of steady improvement, as the triumph of the God within us

over the lower nature, it comes within calculable distance, and we

recall the words of Porphyry, how the man who achieves "the paradigmatic

virtues is the Father of the Gods,"[63] and that in the Mysteries these

virtues were acquired.

 

S. Paul follows in the footsteps of his Master, and speaks in exactly

the same sense, but, as might be expected from his organising work in

the Church, with greater explicitness and clearness. The student should

read with attention chapters ii. and iii., and verse 1 of chapter iv. of

the First Epistle to the Corinthians, remembering, as he reads, that the

words are addressed to baptised and communicant members of the Church,

full members from the modern standpoint, although described as babes and

carnal by the Apostle. They were not catechumens or neophytes, but men

and women who were in complete possession of all the privileges and

responsibilities of Church membership, recognised by the Apostle as

being separate from the world, and expected not to behave as men of the

world. They were, in fact, in possession of all that the modern Church

gives to its members. Let us summarise the Apostle's words:

 

"I came to you bearing the divine testimony, not alluring you with human

wisdom but with the power of the Spirit. Truly 'we speak wisdom among

them that are perfect,' but it is no human wisdom. 'We speak the wisdom

of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before

the world' began, and which none even of the princes of this world know.

The things of that wisdom are beyond men's thinking, 'but God hath

revealed them unto us by his Spirit ... the deep things of God,' 'which

the Holy Ghost teacheth.'[64] These are spiritual things, to be

discerned only by the spiritual man, in whom is the mind of Christ. 'And

I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto

carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.... Ye were not able to bear it,

neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal.' 'As a wise

master-builder[65] I have laid the foundation,' and 'ye are the temple

of God, and the Spirit of God dwelleth in you.' 'Let a man so account

of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the Mysteries of

God.'"

 

Can any one read this passage--and all that has been done in the summary

is to bring out the salient points--without recognising the fact that

the Apostle possessed a divine wisdom given in the Mysteries, that his

Corinthian followers were not yet able to receive? And note the

recurring technical terms: the "wisdom," the "wisdom of God in a

mystery," the "hidden wisdom," known only to the "spiritual" man, spoken

of only among the "perfect," wisdom from which the non-"spiritual," the

"babes in Christ," the "carnal," were excluded, known to the "wise

master-builder," the "steward of the Mysteries of God."

 

Again and again he refers to these Mysteries. Writing to the Ephesian

Christians he says that "by revelation," by the unveiling, had been

"made known unto me the Mystery," and hence his "knowledge in the

Mystery of Christ"; all might know of the "fellowship of the

Mystery."[66] Of this Mystery, he repeated to the Colossians, he was

"made a minister," "the Mystery which hath been hid from ages and from

generations, but now is made manifest to His saints"; not to the world,

nor even to Christians, but only to the Holy Ones. To them was unveiled

"the glory of this Mystery"; and what was it? "Christ _in you_"--a

significant phrase, which we shall see, in a moment, belonged to the

life of the Initiate; thus ultimately must every man learn the wisdom,

and become "perfect in Christ Jesus."[67] These Colossians he bids pray

"that God would open to us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of

Christ,"[68] a passage to which S. Clement refers as one in which the

apostle "clearly reveals that knowledge belongs not to all."[69] So

also he writes to his loved Timothy, bidding him select his deacons from

those who hold "the Mystery of the faith in a pure conscience," that

great "Mystery of Godliness," that he had learned,[70] knowledge of

which was necessary for the teachers of the Church.

 

Now S. Timothy holds an important position, as representing the next

generation of Christian teachers. He was a pupil of S. Paul, and was

appointed by him to guide and rule a portion of the Church. He had been,

we learn, initiated into the Mysteries by S. Paul himself, and reference

is made to this, the technical phrases once more serving as a clue.

"This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the

prophecies which went before on thee,"[71] the solemn benediction of the

Initiator, who admitted the candidate; but not alone was the Initiator

present: "Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by

prophecy, by the laying on of the hands of the Presbytery,"[72] of the

Elder Brothers. And he reminds him to lay hold of that "eternal life,

whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession

before many witnesses"[73]--the vow of the new Initiate, pledged in the

presence of the Elder Brothers, and of the assembly of Initiates. The

knowledge then given was the sacred charge of which S. Paul cries out so

forcibly: "O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy

trust"[74]--not the knowledge commonly possessed by Christians, as to

which no special obligation lay upon S. Timothy, but the sacred deposit

committed to his trust as an Initiate, and essential to the welfare of

the Church. S. Paul later recurs again to this, laying stress on the

supreme importance of the matter in a way that would be exaggerated had

the knowledge been the common property of Christian men: "Hold fast the

form of sound words which thou hast heard of me.... That good thing

which was committed unto thee, keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in

us"[75]--as serious an adjuration as human lips could frame. Further,

it was his duty to provide for the due transmission of this sacred

deposit, that it might be handed on to the future, and the Church might

never be left without teachers: "The things that thou hast heard of me

among many witnesses"--the sacred oral teachings given in the assembly

of Initiates, who bore witness to the accuracy of the transmission--"the

same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others

also."[76]

 

The knowledge--or, if the phrase be preferred, the supposition--that the

Church possessed these hidden teachings throws a flood of light on the

scattered remarks made by S. Paul about himself, and when they are

gathered together, we have an outline of the evolution of the Initiate.

S. Paul asserts that though he was already among the perfect, the

initiated--for he says: "Let us, therefore, as many as be perfect, be

thus minded"--he had not yet "attained," was indeed not yet wholly

"perfect," for he had not yet won Christ, he had not yet reached the

"high calling of God in Christ," "the power of His resurrection, and

the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His

death;" and he was striving, he says, "if by any means I might attain

unto the resurrection of the dead."[77] For this was the Initiation that

liberated, that made the Initiate the Perfect Master, the Risen Christ,

freeing Him finally from the "dead," from the humanity within the circle

of generation, from the bonds that fettered the soul to gross matter.

Here again we have a number of technical terms, and even the surface

reader should realise that the "resurrection of the dead" here spoken of

cannot be the ordinary resurrection of the modern Christian, supposed to

be inevitable for all men, and therefore obviously not requiring any

special struggle on the part of any one to attain to it. In fact the

very word "attain" would be out of place in referring to a universal and

inevitable human experience. S. Paul could not avoid _that_

resurrection, according to the modern Christian view. What then was the

resurrection to attain which he was making such strenuous efforts? Once

more the only answer comes from the Mysteries. In them the Initiate

approaching the Initiation that liberated from the cycle of rebirth, the

circle of generation, was called "the suffering Christ;" he shared the

sufferings of the Saviour of the world, was crucified mystically, "made

conformable to His death," and then attained the resurrection, the

fellowship of the glorified Christ, and, after, that death had over him

no power.[78] This was "the prize" towards which the great Apostle was

pressing, and he urged "as many as be perfect," _not the ordinary

believer_, thus also to strive. Let them not be content with what they

had gained, but still press onwards.

 

This resemblance of the Initiate to the Christ is, indeed, the very

groundwork of the Greater Mysteries, as we shall see more in detail when

we study "The Mystical Christ." The Initiate was no longer to look on

Christ as outside himself: "Though we have known Christ after the

flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more."[79]

 

The ordinary believer had "put on Christ;" "as many of you as have been

baptised into Christ have put on Christ."[80] Then they were the "babes

in Christ" to whom reference has already been made, and Christ was the

Saviour to whom they looked for help, knowing Him "after the flesh." But

when they had conquered the lower nature and were no longer "carnal,"

then they were to enter on a higher path, and were themselves to become

Christ. This which he himself had already reached, was the longing of

the Apostle for his followers: "My little children, of whom I travail in

birth again until Christ be formed _in you_."[81] Already he was their

spiritual father, having "begotten you through the gospel."[82] But now

"again" he was as a parent, as their mother to bring them to the second

birth. Then the infant Christ, the Holy Child, was born in the soul,

"the hidden man of the heart;"[83] the Initiate thus became that

"Little Child"; henceforth he was to live out in his own person the life

of the Christ, until he became the "perfect man," growing "unto the

measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ."[84] Then he, as S. Paul

was doing, filled up the sufferings of Christ in his own flesh,[85] and

always bore "about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus,"[86] so that

he could truly say: "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live;

yet not I, but Christ liveth in me."[87] Thus was the Apostle himself

suffering; thus he describes himself. And when the struggle is over, how

different is the calm tone of triumph from the strained effort of the

earlier years: "I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my

departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my

course, I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me a

crown of righteousness."[88] This was the crown given to "him that

overcometh," of whom it is said by the ascended Christ: "I will make him

a pillar in the temple of my God; and he shall go no more out."[89] For

after the "Resurrection" the Initiate has become the Perfect Man, the

Master, and He goes out no more from the Temple, but from it serves and

guides the worlds.

 

It may be well to point out, ere closing this chapter, that S. Paul

himself sanctions the use of the theoretical mystic teaching in

explaining the historical events recorded in the Scriptures. The history

therein written is not regarded by him as a mere record of facts, which

occurred on the physical plane. A true mystic, he saw in the physical

events the shadows of the universal truths ever unfolding in higher and

inner worlds, and knew that the events selected for preservation in

occult writings were such as were typical, the explanation of which

would subserve human instruction. Thus he takes the story of Abraham,

Sarai, Hagar, Ishmael, and Isaac, and saying, "which things are an

allegory," he proceeds to give the mystical interpretation.[90]

Referring to the escape of the Israelites from Egypt, he speaks of the

Red Sea as a baptism, of the manna and the water as spiritual meat and

spiritual drink, of the rock from which the water flowed as Christ.[91]

He sees the great mystery of the union of Christ and His Church in the

human relation of husband and wife, and speaks of Christians as the

flesh and the bones of the body of Christ.[92] The writer of the Epistle

to the Hebrews allegorises the whole Jewish system of worship. In the

Temple he sees a pattern of the heavenly Temple, in the High Priest he

sees Christ, in the sacrifices the offering of the spotless Son; the

priests of the Temple are but "the example and shadow of heavenly

things," of the heavenly priesthood serving in "the true tabernacle." A

most elaborate allegory is thus worked out in chapters iii.-x., and the

writer alleges that the Holy Ghost thus signified the deeper meaning;

all was "a figure for the time."

 

In this view of the sacred writings, it is not alleged that the events

recorded did not take place, but only that their physical happening was

a matter of minor importance. And such explanation is the unveiling of

the Lesser Mysteries, the mystic teaching which is permitted to be given

to the world. It is not, as many think, a mere play of the imagination,

but is the outcome of a true intuition, seeing the patterns in the

heavens, and not only the shadows cast by them on the screen of earthly

time.

 

 

 

 

-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------
206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK. CF24-DL

CHAPTER III.

 

THE HIDDEN SIDE OF CHRISTIANITY(_concluded_).

 

(_(b)_) THE TESTIMONY OF THE CHURCH.

 

 

While it may be that some would be willing to admit the possession by

the Apostles and their immediate successors of a deeper knowledge of

spiritual things than was current among the masses of the believers

around them, few will probably be willing to take the next step, and,

leaving that charmed circle, accept as the depository of their sacred

learning the Mysteries of the Early Church. Yet we have S. Paul

providing for the transmission of the unwritten teaching, himself

initiating S. Timothy, and instructing S. Timothy to initiate others in

his turn, who should again hand it on to yet others. We thus see the

provision of four successive generations of teachers, spoken of in the

Scriptures themselves, and these would far more than overlap the writers

of the Early Church, who bear witness to the existence of the Mysteries.

For among these are pupils of the Apostles themselves, though the most

definite statements belong to those removed from the Apostles by one

intermediate teacher. Now, as soon as we begin to study the writings of

the Early Church, we are met by the facts that there are allusions which

are only intelligible by the existence of the Mysteries, and then

statements that the Mysteries are existing. This might, of course, have

been expected, seeing the point at which the New Testament leaves the

matter, but it is satisfactory to find the facts answer to the

expectation.

 

The first witnesses are those called the Apostolic Fathers, the

disciples of the Apostles; but very little of their writings, and that

disputed, remains. Not being written controversially, the statements are

not as categorical as those of the later writers. Their letters are for

the encouragement of the believers. Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, and

fellow-disciple with Ignatius of S. John,[93] expresses a hope that his

correspondents are "well versed in the sacred Scriptures and that

nothing is hid from you; but to me this privilege is not yet

granted"[94]--writing, apparently, before reaching full Initiation.

Barnabas speaks of communicating "some portion of what I have myself

received,"[95] and after expounding the Law mystically, declares that

"we then, rightly understanding His commandments, explain them as the

Lord intended."[96] Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, a disciple of S.

John,[97] speaks of himself as "not yet perfect in Jesus Christ. For I

now begin to be a disciple, and I speak to you as my

fellow-disciples,"[98] and he speaks of them as "initiated into the

mysteries of the Gospel with Paul, the holy, the martyred."[99] Again

he says: "Might I not write to you things more full of mystery? But I

fear to do so, lest I should inflict injury on you who are but babes.

Pardon me in this respect, lest, as not being able to receive their

weighty import, ye should be strangled by them. For even I, though I am

bound [for Christ] and am able to understand heavenly things, the

angelic orders, and the different sorts of angels and hosts, the

distinction between powers and dominions, and the diversities between

thrones and authorities, the mightiness of the aeons, and the

pre-eminence of the cherubim and seraphim, the sublimity of the Spirit,

the kingdom of the Lord, and above all the incomparable majesty of

Almighty God--though I am acquainted with these things, yet am I not

therefore by any means perfect, nor am I such a disciple as Paul or

Peter."[100] This passage is interesting, as indicating that the

organisation of the celestial hierarchies was one of the subjects in

which instruction was given in the Mysteries. Again he speaks of the

High Priest, the Hierophant, "to whom the holy of holies has been

committed, and who alone has been entrusted with the secrets of

God."[101]

 

We come next to S. Clement of Alexandria and his pupil Origen, the two

writers of the second and third centuries who tell us most about the

Mysteries in the Early Church; though the general atmosphere is full of

mystic allusions, these two are clear and categorical in their

statements that the Mysteries were a recognised institution.

 

Now S. Clement was a disciple of Pantaenus, and he speaks of him and of

two others, said to be probably Tatian and Theodotus, as "preserving the

tradition of the blessed doctrine derived directly from the holy

Apostles, Peter, James, John, and Paul,"[102] his link with the Apostles

themselves consisting thus of only one intermediary. He was the head of

the Catechetical School of Alexandria in A.D. 189, and died about A.D.

220. Origen, born about A.D. 185, was his pupil, and he is, perhaps,

the most learned of the Fathers, and a man of the rarest moral beauty.

These are the witnesses from whom we receive the most important

testimony as to the existence of definite Mysteries in the Early Church.

 

The _Stromata_, or Miscellanies, of S. Clement are our source of

information about the Mysteries in his time. He himself speaks of these

writings as a "miscellany of Gnostic notes, according to the true

philosophy,"[103] and also describes them as memoranda of the teachings

he had himself received from Pantaenus. The passage is instructive: "The

Lord ... allowed us to communicate of those divine Mysteries, and of

that holy light, to those who are able to receive them. He did not

certainly disclose to the many what did not belong to the many; but to

the few to whom He knew that they belonged, who were capable of

receiving and being moulded according to them. But secret things are

entrusted to speech, not to writing, as is the case with God. And if

one say[104] that it is written, 'There is nothing secret which shall

not be revealed, nor hidden which shall not be disclosed,' let him also

hear from us, that to him who hears secretly, even what is secret shall

be manifested. This is what was predicted by this oracle. And to him who

is able secretly to observe what is delivered to him, that which is

veiled shall be disclosed as truth; and what is hidden to the many shall

appear manifest to the few.... The Mysteries are delivered mystically,

that what is spoken may be in the mouth of the speaker; rather not in

his voice, but in his understanding.... The writing of these memoranda

of mine, I well know, is weak when compared with that spirit, full of

grace, which I was privileged to hear. But it will be an image to recall

the archetype to him who was struck with the Thyrsus." The Thyrsus, we

may here interject, was the wand borne by Initiates, and candidates were

touched with it during the ceremony of Initiation. It had a mystic

significance, symbolising the spinal cord and the pineal gland in the

Lesser Mysteries, and a Rod, known to Occultists, in the Greater. To

say, therefore, "to him who was struck with the Thyrsus" was exactly the

same as to say, "to him who was initiated in the Mysteries." Clement

proceeds: "We profess not to explain secret things sufficiently--far

from it--but only to recall them to memory, whether we have forgot

aught, or whether for the purpose of not forgetting. Many things, I well

know, have escaped us, through length of time, that have dropped away

unwritten.... There are then some things of which we have no

recollection; for the power that was in the blessed men was great." A

frequent experience of those taught by the Great Ones, for Their

presence stimulates and renders active powers which are normally latent,

and which the pupil, unassisted, cannot evoke. "There are also some

things which remained unnoted long, which have now escaped; and others

which are effaced, having faded away in the mind itself, since such a

task is not easy to those not experienced; these I revive in my

commentaries. Some things I purposely omit, in the exercise of a wise

selection, afraid to write what I guarded against speaking; not

grudging--for that were wrong--but fearing for my readers, lest they

should stumble by taking them in a wrong sense; and, as the proverb

says, we should be found 'reaching a sword to a child.' For it is

impossible that what has been written should not escape [become known],

although remaining unpublished by me. But being always revolved, using

the one only voice, that of writing, they answer nothing to him that

makes enquiries beyond what is written; for they require of necessity

the aid of some one, either of him who wrote, or of some one else who

has walked in his footsteps. Some things my treatise will hint; on some

it will linger; some it will merely mention. It will try to speak

imperceptibly, to exhibit secretly, and to demonstrate silently."[105]

 

This passage, if it stood alone, would suffice to establish the

existence of a secret teaching in the Early Church. But it stands by no

means alone. In Chapter xii. of this same Book I., headed, "The

Mysteries of the Faith not to be divulged to all," Clement declares

that, since others than the wise may see his work, "it is requisite,

therefore, to hide in a Mystery the wisdom spoken, which the Son of God

taught." Purified tongue of the speaker, purified ears of the hearer,

these were necessary. "Such were the impediments in the way of my

writing. And even now I fear, as it is said, 'to cast the pearls before

swine, lest they tread them under foot and turn and rend us.' For it is

difficult to exhibit the really pure and transparent words respecting

the true light, to swinish and untrained hearers. For scarcely could

anything which they could hear be more ludicrous than these to the

multitude; nor any subjects on the other hand more admirable or more

inspiring to those of noble nature. But the wise do not utter with their

mouth what they reason in council. 'But what ye hear in the ear,' said

the Lord, 'proclaim upon the houses'; bidding them receive the secret

traditions of the true knowledge, and expound them aloft and

conspicuously; and as we have heard in the ear, so to deliver them to

whom it is requisite; but not enjoining us to communicate to all without

distinction, what is said to them in parables. But there is only a

delineation in the memoranda, which have the truth sown sparse and

broadcast, that it may escape the notice of those who pick up seeds like

jackdaws; but when they find a good husbandman, each one of them will

germinate and will produce corn."

 

Clement might have added that to "proclaim upon the houses" was to

proclaim or expound in the assembly of the Perfect, the Initiated, and

by no means to shout aloud to the man in the street.

 

Again he says that those who are "still blind and dumb, not having

understanding, or the undazzled and keen vision of the contemplative

soul ... must stand outside of the divine choir.... Wherefore, in

accordance with the method of concealment, the truly sacred Word, truly

divine and most necessary for us, deposited in the shrine of truth, was

by the Egyptians indicated by what were called among them _adyta_, and

by the Hebrews by the veil. Only the consecrated ... were allowed access

to them. For Plato also thought it not lawful for 'the impure to touch

the pure.' Thence the prophecies and oracles are spoken in enigmas, and

the Mysteries are not exhibited incontinently to all and sundry, but

only after certain purifications and previous instructions."[106] He

then descants at great length on Symbols, expounding Pythagorean,

Hebrew, Egyptian,[107] and then remarks that the ignorant and unlearned

man fails in understanding them. "But the Gnostic apprehends. Now then

it is not wished that all things should be exposed indiscriminately to

all and sundry, or the benefits of wisdom communicated to those who have

not even in a dream been purified in soul (for it is not allowed to hand

to every chance comer what has been procured with such laborious

efforts); nor are the Mysteries of the Word to be expounded to the

profane." The Pythagoreans and Plato, Zeno, and Aristotle had exoteric

and esoteric teachings. The philosophers established the Mysteries, for

"was it not more beneficial for the holy and blessed contemplation of

realities to be concealed?"[108] The Apostles also approved of "veiling

the Mysteries of the Faith," "for there is an instruction to the

perfect," alluded to in Colossians i. 9-11 and 25-27. "So that, on the

one hand, then, there are the Mysteries which were hid till the time of

the Apostles, and were delivered by them as they received from the Lord,

and, concealed in the Old Testament, were manifested to the saints. And,

on the other hand, there is 'the riches of the glory of the mystery in

the Gentiles,' which is faith and hope in Christ; which in another place

he has called the 'foundation.'" He quotes S. Paul to show that this

"knowledge belongs not to all," and says, referring to Heb. v. and vi.,

that "there were certainly among the Hebrews, some things delivered

unwritten;" and then refers to S. Barnabas, who speaks of God, "who has

put into our hearts wisdom and the understanding of His secrets," and

says that "it is but for few to comprehend these things," as showing a

"trace of Gnostic tradition." "Wherefore instruction, which reveals

hidden things, is called illumination, as it is the teacher only who

uncovers the lid of the ark."[109] Further referring to S. Paul, he

comments on his remark to the Romans that he will "come in the fulness

of the blessing of Christ,"[110] and says that he thus designates "the

spiritual gift and the Gnostic interpretation, while being present he

desires to impart to them present as 'the fulness of Christ, according

to the revelation of the Mystery sealed in the ages of eternity, but now

manifested by the prophetic Scriptures'[111].... But only to a few of

them is shown what those things are which are contained in the Mystery.

Rightly, then, Plato, in the epistles, treating of God, says: 'We must

speak in enigmas; that should the tablet come by any mischance on its

leaves either by sea or land, he who reads may remain ignorant.'"[112]

 

After much examination of Greek writers, and an investigation into

philosophy, S. Clement declares that the Gnosis "imparted and revealed

by the Son of God, is wisdom.... And the Gnosis itself is that which has

descended by transmission to a few, having been imparted unwritten by

the Apostles."[113] A very long exposition of the life of the Gnostic,

the Initiate, is given, and S. Clement concludes it by saying: "Let the

specimen suffice to those who have ears. For it is not required to

unfold the mystery, but only to indicate what is sufficient for those

who are partakers in knowledge to bring it to mind."[114]

 

Regarding Scripture as consisting of allegories and symbols, and as

hiding the sense in order to stimulate enquiry and to preserve the

ignorant from danger.[115] S. Clement naturally confined the higher

instruction to the learned. "Our Gnostic will be deeply learned,"[116]

he says. "Now the Gnostic must be erudite."[117] Those who had acquired

readiness by previous training could master the deeper knowledge, for

though "a man can be a believer without learning, so also we assert that

it is impossible for a man without learning to comprehend the things

which are declared in the faith."[118] "Some who think themselves

naturally gifted, do not wish to touch either philosophy or logic; nay

more, they do not wish to learn natural science. They demand bare faith

alone.... So also I call him truly learned who brings everything to bear

on the truth--so that, from geometry, and music, and grammar, and

philosophy itself, culling what is useful, he guards the faith against

assault.... How necessary is it for him who desires to be partaker of

the power of God, to treat of intellectual subjects by

philosophising."[119] "The Gnostic avails himself of branches of

learning as auxiliary preparatory exercises."[120] So far was S.

Clement from thinking that the teaching of Christianity should be

measured by the ignorance of the unlearned. "He who is conversant with

all kinds of wisdom will be pre-eminently a Gnostic."[121] Thus while he

welcomed the ignorant and the sinner, and found in the Gospel what was

suited to their needs, he considered that only the learned and the pure

were fit candidates for the Mysteries. "The Apostle, in

contradistinction to Gnostic perfection, calls the common faith _the

foundation_, and sometimes _milk_,"[122] but on that foundation the

edifice of the Gnosis was to be raised, and the food of men was to

succeed that of babes. There is nothing of harshness nor of contempt in

the distinction he draws, but only a calm and wise recognition of the

facts.

 

Even the well-prepared candidate, the learned and trained pupil, could

only hope to advance step by step in the profound truths unveiled in the

Mysteries. This appears clearly in his comments on the vision of

Hermas, in which he also throws out some hints on methods of reading

occult works. "Did not the Power also, that appeared to Hermas in the

Vision, in the form of the Church, give for transcription the book which

she wished to be made known to the elect? And this, he says, he

transcribed to the letter, without finding how to complete the

syllables. And this signified that the Scripture is clear to all, when

taken according to base reading; and that this is the faith which

occupies the place of the rudiments. Wherefore also the figurative

expression is employed, 'reading according to the letter,' while we

understand that the gnostic unfolding of Scriptures, when faith has

already reached an advanced state, is likened to reading according to

the syllables.... Now that the Saviour has taught the Apostles the

unwritten rendering of the written (scriptures) has been handed down

also to us, inscribed by the power of God on hearts new, according to

the renovation of the book. Thus those of highest repute among the

Greeks dedicate the fruit of the pomegranate to Hermes, who they say is

speech, on account of its interpretation. For speech conceals much....

That it is therefore not only to those who read simply that the

acquisition of the truth is so difficult, but that not even to those

whose prerogative the knowledge of the truth is, is the contemplation of

it vouchsafed all at once, the history of Moses teaches; until

accustomed to gaze, as the Hebrews on the glory of Moses, and the

prophets of Israel on the visions of angels, so we also become able to

look the splendours of truth in the face."[123]

 

Yet more references might be given, but these should suffice to

establish the fact that S. Clement knew of, had been initiated into, and

wrote for the benefit of those who had also been initiated into, the

Mysteries in the Church.

 

The next witness is his pupil Origen, that most shining light of

learning, courage, sanctity, devotion, meekness, and zeal, whose works

remain as mines of gold wherein the student may dig for the treasures of

wisdom.

 

In his famous controversy with Celsus attacks were made on Christianity

which drew out a defence of the Christian position in which frequent

references were made to the secret teachings.[124]

 

Celsus had alleged, as a matter of attack, that Christianity was a

secret system, and Origen traverses this by saying that while certain

doctrines were secret, many others were public, and that this system of

exoteric and esoteric teachings, adopted in Christianity, was also in

general use among philosophers. The reader should note, in the following

passage, the distinction drawn between the resurrection of Jesus,

regarded in a historical light, and the "mystery of the resurrection."

 

"Moreover, since he [Celsus] frequently calls the Christian doctrine a

secret system [of belief], we must confute him on this point also, since

almost the entire world is better acquainted with what Christians preach

than with the favourite opinions of philosophers. For who is ignorant

of the statement that Jesus was born of a virgin, and that He was

crucified, and that His resurrection is an article of faith among many,

and that a general judgment is announced to come, in which the wicked

are to be punished according to their deserts, and the righteous to be

duly rewarded? And yet the Mystery of the resurrection, not being

understood, is made a subject of ridicule among unbelievers. In these

circumstances, to speak of the Christian doctrine as a _secret_ system,

is altogether absurd. But that there should be certain doctrines, not

made known to the multitude, which are [revealed] after the exoteric

ones have been taught, is not a peculiarity of Christianity alone, but

also of philosophic systems, in which certain truths are exoteric and

others esoteric. Some of the hearers of Pythagoras were content with his

_ipse dixit_; while others were taught in secret those doctrines which

were not deemed fit to be communicated to profane and insufficiently

prepared ears. Moreover, all the Mysteries that are celebrated

everywhere throughout Greece and barbarous countries, although held in

secret, have no discredit thrown upon them, so that it is in vain he

endeavours to calumniate the secret doctrines of Christianity, seeing

that he does not correctly understand its nature."[125]

 

It is impossible to deny that, in this important passage, Origen

distinctly places the Christian Mysteries in the same category as those

of the Pagan world, and claims that what is not regarded as a discredit

to other religions should not form a subject of attack when found in

Christianity.

 

Still writing against Celsus, he declares that the secret teachings of

Jesus were preserved in the Church, and refers specifically to the

explanations that He gave to His disciples of His parables, in answering

Celsus' comparison of "the inner Mysteries of the Church of God" with

the Egyptian worship of animals. "I have not yet spoken of the

observance of all that is written in the Gospels, each one of which

contains much doctrine difficult to be understood, not merely by the

multitude, but even by certain of the more intelligent, including a

very profound explanation of the parables which Jesus delivered to

'those without,' while reserving the exhibition of their full meaning

for those who had passed beyond the stage of exoteric teaching, and who

came to Him privately in the house. And when he comes to understand it,

he will admire the reason why some are said to be 'without,' and others

'in the house.'"[126]

 

And he refers guardedly to the "mountain" which Jesus ascended, from

which he came down again to help "those who were unable to follow Him

whither His disciples went." The allusion is to "the Mountain of

Initiation," a well-known mystical phrase, as Moses also made the

Tabernacle after the pattern "showed thee in the mount."[127] Origen

refers to it again later, saying that Jesus showed himself to be very

different in his real appearance when on the "Mountain," from what those

saw who could not "follow Him on high."[128]

 

So also, in his commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, Chap, xv., dealing

with the episode of the Syro-Phoenician woman, Origen remarks: "And

perhaps, also, of the words of Jesus there are some loaves which it is

possible to give to the more rational, as to children, only; and others

as it were crumbs from the great house and table of the well-born, which

may be used by some souls like dogs."

 

Celsus complaining that sinners were brought into the Church, Origen

answers that the Church had medicine for those that were sick, but also

the study and the knowledge of divine things for those who were in

health. Sinners were taught not to sin, and only when it was seen that

progress had been made, and men were "purified by the Word," "then and

not before do we invite them to participation in our Mysteries. For we

speak wisdom among them that are perfect."[129] Sinners came to be

healed: "For there are in the divinity of the Word some helps towards

the cure of those who are sick.... Others, again, which to the pure in

soul and body exhibit the 'revelation of the Mystery, which was kept

secret since the world began, but now is made manifest by the Scriptures

of the prophets,' and 'by the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ,' which

'appearing' is manifested to each one of those who are perfect, and

which enlightens the reason in the true knowledge of things."[130] Such

appearances of divine Beings took place, we have seen, in the Pagan

Mysteries, and those of the Church had equally glorious visitants. "God

the Word," he says, "was sent as a physician to sinners, but as a

Teacher of Divine Mysteries to those who are already pure, and who sin

no more."[131] "Wisdom will not enter into the soul of a base man, nor

dwell in a body that is involved in sin;" hence these higher teachings

are given only to those who are "athletes in piety and in every virtue."

 

Christians did not admit the impure to this knowledge, but said:

"Whoever has clean hands, and, therefore, lifts up holy hands to God ...

let him come to us ... whoever is pure not only from all defilement,

but from what are regarded as lesser transgressions, let him be boldly

initiated in the Mysteries of Jesus, which properly are made known only

to the holy and the pure." Hence also, ere the ceremony of Initiation

began, he who acts as Initiator, according to the precepts of Jesus, the

Hierophant, made the significant proclamation "to those who have been

purified in heart: He, whose soul has, for a long time, been conscious

of no evil, especially since he yielded himself to the healing of the

Word, let such a one hear the doctrines which were spoken in private by

Jesus to His genuine disciples." This was the opening of the "initiating

those who were already purified into the sacred Mysteries."[132] Such

only might learn the realities of the unseen worlds, and might enter

into the sacred precincts where, as of old, angels were the teachers,

and where knowledge was given by sight and not only by words. It is

impossible not to be struck with the different tone of these Christians

from that of their modern successors. With them perfect purity of life,

the practice of virtue, the fulfilling of the divine Law in every detail

of outer conduct, the perfection of righteousness, were--as with the

Pagans--only the beginning of the way instead of the end. Nowadays

religion is considered to have gloriously accomplished its object when

it has made the Saint; then, it was to the Saints that it devoted its

highest energies, and, taking the pure in heart, it led them to the

Beatific Vision.

 

The same fact of secret teaching comes out again, when Origen is

discussing the arguments of Celsus as to the wisdom of retaining

ancestral customs, based on the belief that "the various quarters of the

earth were from the beginning allotted to different superintending

Spirits, and were thus distributed among certain governing Powers, and

in this way the administration of the world is carried on."[133]

 

Origen having animadverted on the deductions of Celsus, proceeds: "But

as we think it likely that some of those who are accustomed to deeper

investigation will fall in with this treatise, let us venture to lay

down some considerations of a profounder kind, conveying a mystical and

secret view respecting the original distribution of the various quarters

of the earth among different superintending Spirits."[134] He says that

Celsus has misunderstood the deeper reasons relating to the arrangement

of terrestrial affairs, some of which are even touched upon in Grecian

history. Then he quotes Deut. xxxii. 8-9: "When the Most High divided

the nations, when he dispersed the sons of Adam, He set the bounds of

the people according to the number of the Angels of God; and the Lord's

portion was his people Jacob, and Israel the cord of his inheritance."

This is the wording of the Septuagint, not that of the English

authorised version, but it is very suggestive of the title the "Lord"

being regarded as that of the Ruling Angel of the Jews only, and not of

the "Most High," _i.e._ God. This view has disappeared, from ignorance,

and hence the impropriety of many of the statements referring to the

"Lord," when they are transferred to the "Most High," _e.g._ Judges i.

19.

 

Origen then relates the history of the Tower of Babel, and continues:

"But on these subjects much, and that of a mystical kind, might be said;

in keeping with which is the following: 'It is good to keep close the

secret of a king,' Tobit xii. 7, in order that the doctrine of the

entrance of souls into bodies (not, however, that of the transmigration

from one body into another) may not be thrown before the common

understanding, nor what is holy given to the dogs, nor pearls be cast

before swine. For such a procedure would be impious, being equivalent to

a betrayal of the mysterious declarations of God's wisdom.... It is

sufficient, however, to represent in the style of a historic narrative

what is intended to convey a secret meaning in the garb of history, that

those who have the capacity may work out for themselves all that relates

to the subject."[135] He then expounds more fully the Tower of Babel

story, and writes: "Now, in the next place, if any one has the capacity

let him understand that in what assumes the form of history, and which

contains some things that are literally true, while yet it conveys a

deeper meaning...."[136]

 

After endeavouring to show that the "Lord" was more powerful than the

other superintending Spirits of the different quarters of the earth, and

that he sent his people forth to be punished by living under the

dominion of the other powers, and afterwards reclaimed them with all of

the less favoured nations who could be drawn in, Origen concludes by

saying: "As we have previously observed, these remarks are to be

understood as being made by us with a concealed meaning, by way of

pointing out the mistakes of those who assert ..."[137] as did Celsus.

 

After remarking that "the object of Christianity is that we should

become wise,"[138] Origen proceeds: "If you come to the books written

after the time of Jesus, you will find that those multitudes of

believers who hear the parables are, as it were, 'without,' and worthy

only of exoteric doctrines, while the disciples learn in private the

explanation of the parables. For, privately, to His own disciples did

Jesus open up all things, esteeming above the multitudes those who

desired to know His wisdom. And He promises to those who believe on Him

to send them wise men and scribes.... And Paul also in the catalogue of

'Charismata' bestowed by God, placed first 'the Word of wisdom,' and

second, as being inferior to it, 'the word of knowledge,' but third, and

lower down, 'faith.' And because he regarded 'the Word' as higher than

miraculous powers, he for that reason places 'workings of miracles' and

'gifts of healings' in a lower place than gifts of the Word."[139]

 

The Gospel truly helped the ignorant, "but it is no hindrance to the

knowledge of God, but an assistance, to have been educated, and to have

studied the best opinions, and to be wise."[140] As for the

unintelligent, "I endeavour to improve such also to the best of my

ability, although I would not desire to build up the Christian community

out of such materials. For I seek in preference those who are more

clever and acute, because they are able to comprehend the meaning of the

hard sayings."[141] Here we have plainly stated the ancient Christian

idea, entirely at one with the considerations submitted in Chapter I. of

this book. There is room for the ignorant in Christianity, but it is not

intended _only_ for them, and has deep teachings for the "clever and

acute."

 

It is for these that he takes much pains to show that the Jewish and

Christian Scriptures have hidden meanings, veiled under stories the

outer meaning of which repels them as absurd, alluding to the serpent

and the tree of life, and "the other statements which follow, which

might of themselves lead a candid reader to see that all these things

had, not inappropriately, an allegorical meaning."[142] Many chapters

are devoted to these allegorical and mystical meanings, hidden beneath

the words of the Old and New Testaments, and he alleges that Moses, like

the Egyptians, gave histories with concealed meanings.[143] "He who

deals candidly with histories"--this is Origen's general canon of

interpretation--"and would wish to keep himself also from being imposed

on by them, will exercise his judgment as to what statements he will

give his assent to, and what he will accept figuratively, seeking to

discover the meaning of the authors of such inventions, and from what

statements he will withhold his beliefs, as having been written for the

gratification of certain individuals. And we have said this by way of

anticipation respecting the whole history related in the Gospels

concerning Jesus."[144] A great part of his Fourth Book is taken up with

illustrations of the mystical explanations of the Scripture stories, and

anyone who wishes to pursue the subject can read through it.

 

In the _De Principiis_, Origen gives it as the received teaching of the

Church "that the Scriptures were written by the Spirit of God, and have

a meaning, not only such as is apparent at first sight, but also

another, which escapes the notice of most. For those [words] which are

written are the forms of certain Mysteries, and the images of divine

things. Respecting which there is one opinion throughout the whole

Church, that the whole law is indeed spiritual; but that the spiritual

meaning which the law conveys is not known to all, but to those only on

whom the grace of the Holy Spirit is bestowed in the word of wisdom and

knowledge."[145] Those who remember what has already been quoted will

see in the "Word of wisdom" and "the word of knowledge" the two typical

mystical instructions, the spiritual and the intellectual.

 

In the Fourth Book of _De Principiis_, Origen explains at length his

views on the interpretation of Scripture. It has a "body," which is the

"common and historical sense"; a "soul," a figurative meaning to be

discovered by the exercise of the intellect; and a "spirit," an inner

and divine sense, to be known only by those who have "the mind of

Christ." He considers that incongruous and impossible things are

introduced into the history to arouse an intelligent reader, and compel

him to search for a deeper explanation, while simple people would read

on without appreciating the difficulties.[146]

 

Cardinal Newman, in his _Arians of the Fourth Century_, has some

interesting remarks on the _Disciplina Arcani_, but, with the

deeply-rooted ingrained scepticism of the nineteenth century, he cannot

believe to the full in the "riches of the glory of the Mystery," or

probably never for a moment conceived the possibility of the existence

of such splendid realities. Yet he was a believer in Jesus, and the

words of the promise of Jesus were clear and definite: "I will not leave

you comfortless; I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world

seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. At

that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in

you."[147] The promise was amply redeemed, for He came to them and

taught them in His Mysteries; therein they saw Him, though the world saw

Him no more, and they knew the Christ as in them, and their life as

Christ's.

 

Cardinal Newman recognises a secret tradition, handed down from the

Apostles, but he considers that it consisted of Christian doctrines,

later divulged, forgetting that those who were told that they were not

yet fit to receive it were not heathen, nor even catechumens under

instruction, but full communicating members of the Christian Church.

Thus he states that this secret tradition was later "authoritatively

divulged and perpetuated in the form of symbols," and was embodied "in

the creeds of the early Councils."[148] But as the doctrines in the

creeds are to be found clearly stated in the Gospels and Epistles, this

position is wholly untenable, all these having been already divulged to

the world at large; and in all of them the members of the Church were

certainly thoroughly instructed. The repeated statements as to secrecy

become meaningless if thus explained. The Cardinal, however, says that

whatever "has not been thus authenticated, whether it was prophetical

information or comment on the past dispensations, is, from the

circumstances of the case, lost to the Church."[149] That is very

probably, in fact certainly, true, so far as the Church is concerned,

but it is none the less recoverable.

 

Commenting on Irenaeus, who in his work _Against Heresies_ lays much

stress on the existence of an Apostolic Tradition in the Church, the

Cardinal writes: "He then proceeds to speak of the clearness and cogency

of the traditions preserved in the Church, as containing that true

wisdom of the perfect, of which S. Paul speaks, and to which the

Gnostics pretended. And, indeed, without formal proofs of the existence

and the authority in primitive times of an Apostolic Tradition, it is

plain that there must have been such a tradition, granting that the

Apostles conversed, and their friends had memories, like other men. It

is quite inconceivable that they should not have been led to arrange

the series of revealed doctrines more systematically than they record

them in Scripture, as soon as their converts became exposed to the

attacks and misrepresentations of heretics; unless they were forbidden

to do so, a supposition which cannot be maintained. Their statements

thus occasioned would be preserved as a matter of course; together with

those other secret but less important truths, to which S. Paul seems to

allude, and which the early writers more or less acknowledge, whether

concerning the types of the Jewish Church, or the prospective fortunes

of the Christian. And such recollections of apostolical teaching would

evidently be binding on the faith of those who were instructed in them;

unless it can be supposed that, though coming from inspired teachers,

they were not of divine origin."[150] In a part of the section dealing

with the allegorising method, he writes in reference to the sacrifice of

Isaac, &c., as "typical of the New Testament revelation": "In

corroboration of this remark, let it be observed, that there seems to

have been[151] in the Church a traditionary explanation of these

historical types, derived from the Apostles, but kept among the secret

doctrines, as being dangerous to the majority of hearers; and certainly

S. Paul, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, affords us an instance of such a

tradition, both as existing and as secret (even though it be shown to be

of Jewish origin), when, first checking himself and questioning his

brethren's faith, he communicates, not without hesitation, the

evangelical scope of the account of Melchisedec, as introduced into the

book of Genesis."[152]

 

The social and political convulsions that accompanied its dying now

began to torture the vast frame of the Roman Empire, and even the

Christians were caught up in the whirlpool of selfish warring interests.

We still find scattered references to special knowledge imparted to the

leaders and teachers of the Church, knowledge of the heavenly

hierarchies, instructions given by angels, and so on. But the lack of

suitable pupils caused the Mysteries to be withdrawn as an institution

publicly known to exist, and teaching was given more and more secretly

to those rarer and rarer souls, who by learning, purity, and devotion

showed themselves capable of receiving it. No longer were schools to be

found wherein the preliminary teachings were given, and with the

disappearance of these the "door was shut."

 

Two streams may nevertheless be tracked through Christendom, streams

which had as their source the vanished Mysteries. One was the stream of

mystic learning, flowing from the Wisdom, the Gnosis, imparted in the

Mysteries; the other was the stream of mystic contemplation, equally

part of the Gnosis, leading to the exstasy, to spiritual vision. This

latter, however, divorced from knowledge, rarely attained the true

exstasis, and tended either to run riot in the lower regions of the

invisible worlds, or to lose itself amid a variegated crowd of subtle

superphysical forms, visible as objective appearances to the inner

vision--prematurely forced by fastings, vigils, and strained

attention--but mostly born of the thoughts and emotions of the seer.

Even when the forms observed were not externalised thoughts, they were

seen through a distorting atmosphere of preconceived ideas and beliefs,

and were thus rendered largely unreliable. None the less, some of the

visions were verily of heavenly things, and Jesus truly appeared from

time to time to His devoted lovers, and angels would sometimes brighten

with their presence the cell of monk and nun, the solitude of rapt

devotee and patient seeker after God. To deny the possibility of such

experiences would be to strike at the very root of that "which has been

most surely believed" in all religions, and is known to all

Occultists--the intercommunication between Spirits veiled in flesh and

those clad in subtler vestures, the touching of mind with mind across

the barriers of matter, the unfolding of the Divinity in man, the sure

knowledge of a life beyond the gates of death.

 

Glancing down the centuries we find no time in which Christendom was

left wholly devoid of mysteries. "It was probably about the end of the

5th century, just as ancient philosophy was dying out in the Schools of

Athens, that the speculative philosophy of neo-Platonism made a definite

lodgment in Christian thought through the literary forgeries of the

Pseudo-Dionysius. The doctrines of Christianity were by that time so

firmly established that the Church could look upon a symbolical or

mystical interpretation of them without anxiety. The author of the

_Theologica Mystica_ and the other works ascribed to the Areopagite

proceeds, therefore, to develop the doctrines of Proclus with very

little modification into a system of esoteric Christianity. God is the

nameless and supra-essential One, elevated above goodness itself. Hence

'negative theology,' which ascends from the creature to God by dropping

one after another every determinate predicate, leads us nearest to the

truth. The return to God is the consummation of all things and the goal

indicated by Christian teaching. The same doctrines were preached with

more of churchly fervour by Maximus the Confessor (580-622). Maximus

represents almost the last speculative activity of the Greek Church, but

the influence of the Pseudo-Dionysian writing was transmitted to the

West in the ninth century by Erigena, in whose speculative spirit both

the scholasticism and the mysticism of the Middle Ages have their rise.

Erigena translated Dionysius into Latin along with the commentaries of

Maximus, and his system is essentially based upon theirs. The negative

theology is adopted, and God is stated to be predicateless Being, above

all categories, and therefore not improperly called Nothing [_query_,

No-Thing]. Out of this Nothing or incomprehensible essence the world of

ideas or primordial causes is eternally created. This is the Word or Son

of God, in whom all things exist, so far as they have substantial

existence. All existence is a theophany, and as God is the beginning of

all things, so also is He the end. Erigena teaches the restitution of

all things under the form of the Dionysian _adunatio_ or _deificatio_.

These are the permanent outlines of what may be called the philosophy

of mysticism in Christian times, and it is remarkable with how little

variation they are repeated from age to age."[153]

 

In the eleventh century Bernard of Clairvaux (A.D. 1091-1153) and Hugo

of S. Victor carry on the mystic tradition, with Richard of S. Victor in

the following century, and S. Bonaventura the Seraphic Doctor, and the

great S. Thomas Aquinas (A.D. 1227-1274) in the thirteenth. Thomas

Aquinas dominates the Europe of the Middle Ages, by his force of

character no less than by his learning and piety. He asserts

"Revelation" as one source of knowledge, Scripture and tradition being

the two channels in which it runs, and the influence, seen in his

writings, of the Pseudo-Dionysius links him to the Neo-Platonists. The

second source is Reason, and here the channels are the Platonic

philosophy and the methods of Aristotle--the latter an alliance that did

Christianity no good, for Aristotle became an obstacle to the advance of

the higher thought, as was made manifest in the struggles of Giordano

Bruno, the Pythagorean. Thomas Aquinas was canonised in A.D. 1323, and

the great Dominican remains as a type of the union of theology and

philosophy--the aim of his life. These belong to the great Church of

western Europe, vindicating her claim to be regarded as the transmitter

of the holy torch of mystic learning. Around her there also sprang up

many sects, deemed heretical, yet containing true traditions of the

sacred secret learning, the Cathari and many others, persecuted by a

Church jealous of her authority, and fearing lest the holy pearls should

pass into profane custody. In this century also S. Elizabeth of Hungary

shines out with sweetness and purity, while Eckhart (A.D. 1260-1329)

proves himself a worthy inheritor of the Alexandrian Schools. Eckhart

taught that "The Godhead is the absolute Essence (Wesen), unknowable not

only by man but also by Itself; It is darkness and absolute

indeterminateness, _Nicht_ in contrast to _Icht_, or definite and

knowable existence. Yet It is the potentiality of all things, and Its

nature is, in a triadic process, to come to consciousness of Itself as

the triune God. Creation is not a temporal act, but an eternal

necessity, of the divine nature. I am as necessary to God, Eckhart is

fond of saying, as God is necessary to me. In my knowledge and love God

knows and loves Himself."[154]

 

Eckhart is followed, in the fourteenth century, by John Tauler, and

Nicolas of Basel, "the Friend of God in the Oberland." From these sprang

up the Society of the Friends of God, true mystics and followers of the

old tradition. Mead remarks that Thomas Aquinas, Tauler, and Eckhart

followed the Pseudo-Dionysius, who followed Plotinus, Iamblichus, and

Proclus, who in turn followed Plato and Pythagoras.[155] So linked

together are the followers of the Wisdom in all ages. It was probably a

"Friend" who was the author of _Die Deutsche Theologie_, a book of

mystical devotion, which had the curious fortune of being approved by

Staupitz, the Vicar-General of the Augustinian Order, who recommended it

to Luther, and by Luther himself, who published it A.D. 1516, as a book

which should rank immediately after the _Bible_ and the writings of S.

Augustine of Hippo. Another "Friend" was Ruysbroeck, to whose influence

with Groot was due the founding of the Brethren of the Common Lot or

Common Life--a Society that must remain ever memorable, as it numbered

among its members that prince of mystics, Thomas a Kempis (A.D.

1380-1471), the author of the immortal _Imitation of Christ_.

 

In the fifteenth century the more purely intellectual side of mysticism

comes out more strongly than the exstatic--so dominant in these

societies of the fourteenth--and we have Cardinal Nicolas of Cusa, with

Giordano Bruno, the martyred knight-errant of philosophy, and

Paracelsus, the much slandered scientist, who drew his knowledge

directly from the original eastern fountain, instead of through Greek

channels.

 

The sixteenth century saw the birth of Jacob Boehme (A.D. 1575-1624), the

"inspired cobbler," an Initiate in obscuration truly, sorely persecuted

by unenlightened men; and then too came S. Teresa, the much-oppressed

and suffering Spanish mystic; and S. John of the Cross, a burning flame

of intense devotion; and S. Francois de Sales. Wise was Rome in

canonising these, wiser than the Reformation that persecuted Boehme, but

the spirit of the Reformation was ever intensely anti-mystical, and

wherever its breath hath passed the fair flowers of mysticism have

withered as under the sirocco.

 

Rome, however, who, though she canonised Teresa dead, had sorely harried

her while living--did ill with Mme. de Guyon (A.D. 1648-1717), a true

mystic, and with Miguel de Molinos (1627-1696), worthy to sit near S.

John of the Cross, who carried on in the seventeenth century the high

devotion of the mystic, turned into a peculiarly passive form--the

Quietist.

 

In this same century arose the school of Platonists in Cambridge, of

whom Henry More (A.D. 1614-1687) may serve as salient example; also

Thomas Vaughan, and Robert Fludd the Rosicrucian; and there is formed

also the Philadelphian Society, and we see William Law (A.D. 1686-1761)

active in the eighteenth century, and overlapping S. Martin (A.D.

1743-1803), whose writings have fascinated so many nineteenth century

students.[156]

 

Nor should we omit Christian Rosenkreutz (d. A.D. 1484), whose mystic

Society of the Rosy Cross, appearing in 1614, held true knowledge, and

whose spirit was reborn in the "Comte de S. Germain," the mysterious

figure that appears and disappears through the gloom, lit by lurid

flashes, of the closing eighteenth century. Mystics too were some of the

Quakers, the much-persecuted sect of Friends, seeking the illumination

of the Inner Light, and listening ever for the Inner Voice. And many

another mystic was there, "of whom the world was not worthy," like the

wholly delightful and wise Mother Juliana of Norwich, of the fourteenth

century, jewels of Christendom, too little known, but justifying

Christianity to the world.

 

Yet, as we salute reverently these Children of the Light, scattered over

the centuries, we are forced to recognise in them the absence of that

union of acute intellect and high devotion which were welded together by

the training of the Mysteries, and while we marvel that they soared so

high, we cannot but wish that their rare gifts had been developed under

that magnificent _disciplina arcani_.

 

Alphonse Louis Constant, better known under his pseudonym, Eliphas Levi,

has put rather well the loss of the Mysteries, and the need for their

re-institution. "A great misfortune befell Christianity. The betrayal of

the Mysteries by the false Gnostics--for the Gnostics, that is, _those

who know_, were the Initiates of primitive Christianity--caused the

Gnosis to be rejected, and alienated the Church from the supreme truths

of the Kabbala, which contain all the secrets of transcendental

theology.... Let the most absolute science, let the highest reason,

become once more the patrimony of the leaders of the people; let the

sacerdotal art and the royal art take the double sceptre of antique

initiations, and the social world will once more issue from its chaos.

Burn the holy images no longer; demolish the temples no more; temples

and images are necessary for men; but drive the hirelings from the house

of prayer; let the blind be no longer leaders of the blind, reconstruct

the hierarchy of intelligence and holiness, and recognise only those who

know as the teachers of those who believe."[157]

 

Will the Churches of to-day again take up the mystic teaching, the

Lesser Mysteries, and so prepare their children for the re-establishment

of the Greater Mysteries, again drawing down the Angels as Teachers, and

having as Hierophant the Divine Master, Jesus? On the answer to that

question depends the future of Christianity.

 

 

 

 

-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------
206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK. CF24-DL

CHAPTER IV.

 

THE HISTORICAL CHRIST.

 

 

We have already spoken, in the first chapter, on the identities existing

in all the religions of the world, and we have seen that out of a study

of these identities in beliefs, symbolisms, rites, ceremonies,

histories, and commemorative festivals, has arisen a modern school which

relates the whole of these to a common source in human ignorance, and in

a primitive explanation of natural phenomena. From these identities have

been drawn weapons for the stabbing of each religion in turn, and the

most effective attacks on Christianity and on the historical existence

of its Founder have been armed from this source. On entering now on the

study of the life of the Christ, of the rites of Christianity, its

sacraments, its doctrines, it would be fatal to ignore the facts

marshalled by Comparative Mythologists. Rightly understood, they may be

made serviceable instead of mischievous. We have seen that the Apostles

and their successors dealt very freely with the Old Testament as having

an allegorical and mystic sense far more important than the historical,

though by no means negating it, and that they did not scruple to teach

the instructed believer that some of the stories that were apparently

historical were really purely allegorical. Nowhere, perhaps, is it more

necessary to understand this than when we are studying the story of

Jesus, surnamed the Christ, for when we do not disentangle the

intertwisted threads, and see where symbols have been taken as events,

allegories as histories, we lose most of the instructiveness of the

narrative and much of its rarest beauty. We cannot too much insist on

the fact that Christianity gains, it does not lose, when knowledge is

added to faith and virtue, according to the apostolic injunction.[158]

Men fear that Christianity will be weakened when reason studies it, and

that it is "dangerous" to admit that events thought to be historical

have the deeper significance of the mythical or mystical meaning. It is,

on the contrary, strengthened, and the student finds, with joy, that the

pearl of great price shines with a purer, clearer lustre when the

coating of ignorance is removed and its many colours are seen.

 

There are two schools of thought at the present time, bitterly opposed

to each other, who dispute over the story of the great Hebrew Teacher.

According to one school there is nothing at all in the accounts of His

life save myths and legends--myths and legends that were given as

explanations of certain natural phenomena, survivals of a pictorial way

of teaching certain facts of nature, of impressing on the minds of the

uneducated certain grand classifications of natural events that were

important in themselves, and that lent themselves to moral instruction.

Those who endorse this view form a well-defined school to which belong

many men of high education and strong intelligence, and round them

gather crowds of the less instructed, who emphasise with crude

vehemence the more destructive elements in their pronouncements. This

school is opposed by that of the believers in orthodox Christianity, who

declare that the whole story of Jesus is history, unadulterated by

legend or myth. They maintain that this history is nothing more than the

history of the life of a man born some nineteen centuries ago in

Palestine, who passed through all the experiences set down in the

Gospels, and they deny that the story has any significance beyond that

of a divine and human life. These two schools stand in direct

antagonism, one asserting that everything is legend, the other declaring

that everything is history. Between them lie many phases of opinion

generally labelled "freethinking," which regard the life-story as partly

legendary and partly historical, but offer no definite and rational

method of interpretation, no adequate explanation of the complex whole.

And we also find, within the limits of the Christian Church, a large and

ever-increasing number of faithful and devout Christians of refined

intelligence, men and women who are earnest in their faith and

religious in their aspirations, but who see in the Gospel story more

than the history of a single divine Man. They allege--defending their

position from the received Scriptures--that the story of the Christ has

a deeper and more significant meaning than lies on the surface; while

they maintain the historical character of Jesus, they at the same time

declare that THE CHRIST is more than the man Jesus, and has a mystical

meaning. In support of this contention they point to such phrases as

that used by S. Paul: "My little children, of whom I travail in birth

again again until Christ be formed in you";[159] here S. Paul obviously

cannot refer to a historical Jesus, but to some forthputting from the

human soul which is to him the shaping of Christ therein. Again the same

teacher declares that though he had known Christ after the flesh yet

from henceforth he would know him thus no more;[160] obviously implying

that while he recognised the Christ of the flesh--Jesus--there was a

higher view to which he had attained which threw into the shade the

historical Christ. This is the view which many are seeking in our own

days, and--faced by the facts of Comparative Religion, puzzled by the

contradictions of the Gospels, confused by problems they cannot solve so

long as they are tied down to the mere surface meanings of their

Scripture--they cry despairingly that the letter killeth while the

spirit giveth life, and seek to trace some deep and wide significance in

a story which is as old as the religions of the world, and has always

served as the very centre and life of every religion in which it has

reappeared. These struggling thinkers, too unrelated and indefinite to

be spoken of as forming a school, seem to stretch out a hand on one side

to those who think that all is legend, asking them to accept a

historical basis; on the other side they say to their fellow Christians

that there is a growing danger lest, in clinging to a literal and unique

meaning, which cannot be defended before the increasing knowledge of the

day, the spiritual meaning should be entirely lost. There is a danger of

losing "the story of the Christ," with that thought of the Christ which

has been the support and inspiration of millions of noble lives in East

and West, though the Christ be called by other names and worshipped

under other forms; a danger lest the pearl of great price should escape

from our hold, and man be left the poorer for evermore.

 

What is needed, in order that this danger may be averted, is to

disentangle the different threads in the story of the Christ, and to lay

them side by side--the thread of history, the thread of legend, the

thread of mysticism. These have been intertwined into a single strand,

to the great loss of the thoughtful, and in disentangling them we shall

find that the story becomes more, not less, valuable as knowledge is

added to it, and that here, as in all that is basically of the truth,

the brighter the light thrown upon it the greater the beauty that is

revealed.

 

We will study first the historical Christ; secondly, the mythic Christ;

thirdly, the mystic Christ. And we shall find that elements drawn from

all these make up the Jesus Christ of the Churches. They all enter into

the composition of the grandiose and pathetic Figure which dominates the

thoughts and the emotions of Christendom, the Man of Sorrows, the

Saviour, the Lover and Lord of Men.

 

 

THE HISTORICAL CHRIST, OR JESUS THE HEALER AND TEACHER.

 

The thread of the life-story of Jesus is one which may be disentangled

from those with which it is intertwined without any great difficulty. We

may fairly here aid our study by reference to those records of the past

which experts can reverify for themselves, and from which certain

details regarding the Hebrew Teacher have been given to the world by H.

P. Blavatsky and by others who are experts in occult investigation. Now

in the minds of many there is apt to arise a challenge when this word

"expert" is used in connection with occultism. Yet it only means a

person who by special study, by special training, has accumulated a

special kind of knowledge, and has developed powers that enable him to

give an opinion founded on his own individual knowledge of the subject

with which he is dealing. Just as we speak of Huxley as an expert in

biology, as we speak of a Senior Wrangler as an expert in mathematics,

or of Lyell as an expert in geology, so we may fairly call a man an

expert in occultism who has first mastered intellectually certain

fundamental theories of the constitution of man and the universe, and

secondly has developed within himself the powers that are latent in

everyone--and are capable of being developed by those who give

themselves to appropriate studies--capacities which enable him to

examine for himself the more obscure processes of nature. As a man may

be born with a mathematical faculty, and by training that faculty year

after year may immensely increase his mathematical capacity, so may a

man be born with certain faculties within him, faculties belonging to

the Soul, which he can develop by training and by discipline. When,

having developed those faculties, he applies them to the study of the

invisible world, such a man becomes an expert in Occult Science, and

such a man can at his will reverify the records to which I have

referred. Such reverification is as much out of the reach of the

ordinary person as a mathematical book written in the symbols of the

higher mathematics is out of the reach of those who are untrained in

mathematical science. There is nothing exclusive in the knowledge save

as every science is exclusive; those who are born with a faculty, and

train the faculty, can master its appropriate science, while those who

start in life without any faculty, or those who do not develop it if

they have it, must be content to remain in ignorance. These are the

rules everywhere of the obtaining of knowledge, in Occultism as in every

other science.

 

The occult records partly endorse the story told in the Gospels, and

partly do not endorse it; they show us the life, and thus enable us to

disentangle it from the myths which are intertwined therewith.

 

The child whose Jewish name has been turned into that of Jesus was born

in Palestine B.C. 105, during the consulate of Publius Rutilius Rufus

and Gnaeus Mallius Maximus. His parents were well-born though poor, and

he was educated in a knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures. His fervent

devotion and a gravity beyond his years led his parents to dedicate him

to the religious and ascetic life, and soon after a visit to Jerusalem,

in which the extraordinary intelligence and eagerness for knowledge of

the youth were shown in his seeking of the doctors in the Temple, he was

sent to be trained in an Essene community in the southern Judaean desert.

When he had reached the age of nineteen he went on to the Essene

monastery near Mount Serbal, a monastery which was much visited by

learned men travelling from Persia and India to Egypt, and where a

magnificent library of occult works--many of them Indian of the

Trans-Himalayan regions--had been established. From this seat of mystic

learning he proceeded later to Egypt. He had been fully instructed in

the secret teachings which were the real fount of life among the

Essenes, and was initiated in Egypt as a disciple of that one sublime

Lodge from which every great religion has its Founder. For Egypt has

remained one of the world-centres of the true Mysteries, whereof all

semi-public Mysteries are the faint and far-off reflections. The

Mysteries spoken of in history as Egyptian were the shadows of the true

things "in the Mount," and there the young Hebrew received the solemn

consecration which prepared him for the Royal Priesthood he was later to

attain. So superhumanly pure and so full of devotion was he, that in his

gracious manhood he stood out pre-eminently from the severe and somewhat

fanatical ascetics among whom he had been trained, shedding on the stern

Jews around him the fragrance of a gentle and tender wisdom, as a

rose-tree strangely planted in a desert would shed its sweetness on the

barrenness around. The fair and stately grace of his white purity was

round him as a radiant moonlit halo, and his words, though few, were

ever sweet and loving, winning even the most harsh to a temporary

gentleness, and the most rigid to a passing softness. Thus he lived

through nine-and-twenty years of mortal life, growing from grace to

grace.

 

This superhuman purity and devotion fitted the man Jesus, the disciple,

to become the temple of a loftier Power, of a mighty, indwelling

Presence. The time had come for one of those Divine manifestations which

from age to age are made for the helping of humanity, when a new impulse

is needed to quicken the spiritual evolution of mankind, when a new

civilisation is about to dawn. The world of the West was then in the

womb of time, ready for the birth, and the Teutonic sub-race was to

catch the sceptre of empire falling from the failing hands of Rome. Ere

it started on its journey a World-Saviour must appear, to stand in

blessing beside the cradle of the infant Hercules.

 

A mighty "Son of God" was to take flesh upon earth, a supreme Teacher,

"full of grace and truth"--[161] One in whom the Divine Wisdom abode in

fullest measure, who was verily "the Word" incarnate, Light and Life in

outpouring richness, a very Fountain of the Waters of Life. Lord of

Compassion and of Wisdom--such was His name--and from His dwelling in

the Secret Places He came forth into the world of men.

 

For Him was needed an earthly tabernacle, a human form, the body of a

man, and who so fit to yield his body in glad and willing service to One

before whom Angels and men bow down in lowliest reverence, as this

Hebrew of the Hebrews, this purest and noblest of "the Perfect," whose

spotless body and stainless mind offered the best that humanity could

bring? The man Jesus yielded himself a willing sacrifice, "offered

himself without spot" to the Lord of Love, who took unto Himself that

pure form as tabernacle, and dwelt therein for three years of mortal

life.

 

This epoch is marked in the traditions embodied in the Gospels as that

of the Baptism of Jesus, when the Spirit was seen "descending from

heaven like a dove, and it abode upon Him,"[162] and a celestial voice

proclaimed Him as the beloved Son, to whom men should give ear. Truly

was He the beloved Son in whom the Father was well-pleased,[163] and

from that time forward "Jesus began to preach,"[164] and was that

wondrous mystery, "God manifest in the flesh"[165]--not unique in that

He was God, for: "Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are Gods? If

he called them Gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture

cannot be broken; say ye of Him, whom the Father hath sanctified and

sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of

God?"[166] Truly all men are Gods, in respect to the Spirit within them,

but not in all is the Godhead manifested, as in that well-beloved Son of

the Most High.

 

To that manifested Presence the name of "the Christ" may rightly be

given, and it was He who lived and moved in the form of the man Jesus

over the hills and plains of Palestine, teaching, healing diseases, and

gathering round Him as disciples a few of the more advanced souls. The

rare charm of His royal love, outpouring from Him as rays from a sun,

drew round Him the suffering, the weary, and the oppressed, and the

subtly tender magic of His gentle wisdom purified, ennobled, and

sweetened the lives that came into contact with His own. By parable and

luminous imagery He taught the uninstructed crowds who pressed around

Him, and, using the powers of the free Spirit, He healed many a disease

by word or touch, reinforcing the magnetic energies belonging to His

pure body with the compelling force of His inner life. Rejected by His

Essene brethren among whom He first laboured--whose arguments against

His purposed life of loving labour are summarised in the story of the

temptation--because he carried to the people the spiritual wisdom that

they regarded as their proudest and most secret treasure, and because

His all-embracing love drew within its circle the outcast and the

degraded--ever loving in the lowest as in the highest the Divine

Self--He saw gathering round Him all too quickly the dark clouds of

hatred and suspicion. The teachers and rulers of His nation soon came to

eye Him with jealousy and anger; His spirituality was a constant

reproach to their materialism, His power a constant, though silent,

exposure of their weakness. Three years had scarcely passed since His

baptism when the gathering storm outbroke, and the human body of Jesus

paid the penalty for enshrining the glorious Presence of a Teacher more

than man.

 

The little band of chosen disciples whom He had selected as repositories

of His teachings were thus deprived of their Master's physical presence

ere they had assimilated His instructions, but they were souls of high

and advanced type, ready to learn the Wisdom, and fit to hand it on to

lesser men. Most receptive of all was that "disciple whom Jesus loved,"

young, eager, and fervid, profoundly devoted to his Master, and sharing

His spirit of all-embracing love. He represented, through the century

that followed the physical departure of the Christ, the spirit of mystic

devotion that sought the exstasis, the vision of and the union with the

Divine, while the later great Apostle, S. Paul, represented the wisdom

side of the Mysteries.

 

The Master did not forget His promise to come to them after the world

had lost sight of Him,[167] and for something over fifty years He

visited them in His subtle spiritual body, continuing the teachings He

had begun while with them, and training them in a knowledge of occult

truths. They lived together, for the most part, in a retired spot on the

outskirts of Judaea, attracting no attention among the many apparently

similar communities of the time, studying the profound truths He taught

them and acquiring "the gifts of the Spirit."

 

These inner instructions, commenced during His physical life among them

and carried on after He had left the body, formed the basis of the

"Mysteries of Jesus," which we have seen in early Church History, and

gave the inner life which was the nucleus round which gathered the

heterogeneous materials which formed ecclesiastical Christianity.

 

In the remarkable fragment called the _Pistis Sophia_, we have a

document of the greatest interest bearing on the hidden teaching,

written by the famous Valentinus. In this it is said that during the

eleven years immediately after His death Jesus instructed His disciples

so far as "the regions of the first statutes only, and up to the regions

of the first mystery, the mystery within the veil."[168] They had not so

far learned the distribution of the angelic orders, of part whereof

Ignatius speaks.[169] Then Jesus, being "in the Mount" with His

disciples, and having received His mystic Vesture, the knowledge of all

the regions and the Words of Power which unlocked them, taught His

disciples further, promising: "I will perfect you in every perfection,

from the mysteries of the interior to the mysteries of the exterior: I

will fill you with the Spirit, so that ye shall be called spiritual,

perfect in all perfections."[170] And He taught them of Sophia, the

Wisdom, and of her fall into matter in her attempt to rise unto the

Highest, and of her cries to the Light in which she had trusted, and of

the sending of Jesus to redeem her from chaos, and of her crowning with

His light, and leading forth from bondage. And He told them further of

the highest Mystery the ineffable, the simplest and clearest of all,

though the highest, to be known by him alone who utterly renounced the

world;[171] by that knowledge men became Christs for such "men are

myself, and I am these men," for Christ is that highest Mystery.[172]

Knowing that, men are "transformed into pure light and are brought into

the light."[173] And He performed for them the great ceremony of

Initiation, the baptism "which leadeth to the region of truth and into

the region of light," and bade them celebrate it for others who were

worthy: "But hide ye this mystery, give it not unto every man, but unto

him [only] who shall do all things which I have said unto you in my

commandments."[174]

 

Thereafter, being fully instructed, the apostles went forth to preach,

ever aided by their Master.

 

Moreover these same disciples and their earliest colleagues wrote down

from memory all the public sayings and parables of the Master that they

had heard, and collected with great eagerness any reports they could

find, writing down these also, and circulating them all among those who

gradually attached themselves to their small community. Various

collections were made, any member writing down what he himself

remembered, and adding selections from the accounts of others. The inner

teachings, given by the Christ to His chosen ones, were not written

down, but were taught orally to those deemed worthy to receive them, to

students who formed small communities for leading a retired life, and

remained in touch with the central body.

 

The historical Christ, then, is a glorious Being belonging to the great

spiritual hierarchy that guides the spiritual evolution of humanity, who

used for some three years the human body of the disciple Jesus; who

spent the last of these three years in public teaching throughout Judaea

and Samaria; who was a healer of diseases and performed other remarkable

occult works; who gathered round Him a small band of disciples whom He

instructed in the deeper truths of the spiritual life; who drew men to

Him by the singular love and tenderness and the rich wisdom that

breathed from His Person; and who was finally put to death for

blasphemy, for teaching the inherent Divinity of Himself and of all men.

He came to give a new impulse of spiritual life to the world; to

re-issue the inner teachings affecting spiritual life; to mark out again

the narrow ancient way; to proclaim the existence of the "Kingdom of

Heaven," of the Initiation which admits to that knowledge of God which

is eternal life; and to admit a few to that Kingdom who should be able

to teach others. Round this glorious Figure gathered the myths which

united Him to the long array of His predecessors, the myths telling in

allegory the story of all such lives, as they symbolise the work of the

Logos in the Kosmos and the higher evolution of the individual human

soul.

 

But it must not be supposed that the work of the Christ for His

followers was over after He had established the Mysteries, or was

confined to rare appearances therein. That Mighty One who had used the

body of Jesus as His vehicle, and whose guardian care extends over the

whole spiritual evolution of the fifth race of humanity, gave into the

strong hands of the holy disciple who had surrendered to Him his body

the care of the infant Church. Perfecting his human evolution, Jesus

became one of the Masters of Wisdom, and took Christianity under His

special charge, ever seeking to guide it to the right lines, to protect,

to guard and nourish it. He was the Hierophant in the Christian

Mysteries, the direct Teacher of the Initiates. His the inspiration that

kept alight the Gnosis in the Church, until the superincumbent mass of

ignorance became so great that even His breath could not fan the flame

sufficiently to prevent its extinguishment. His the patient labour which

strengthened soul after soul to endure through the darkness, and cherish

within itself the spark of mystic longing, the thirst to find the Hidden

God. His the steady inpouring of truth into every brain ready to

receive it, so that hand stretched out to hand across the centuries and

passed on the torch of knowledge, which thus was never extinguished. His

the Form which stood beside the rack and in the flames of the burning

pile, cheering His confessors and His martyrs, soothing the anguish of

their pains, and filling their hearts with His peace. His the impulse

which spoke in the thunder of Savonarola, which guided the calm wisdom

of Erasmus, which inspired the deep ethics of the God-intoxicated

Spinoza. His the energy which impelled Roger Bacon, Galileo, and

Paracelsus in their searchings into nature. His the beauty that allured

Fra Angelica and Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci, that inspired the genius

of Michelangelo, that shone before the eyes of Murillo, and that gave

the power that raised the marvels of the world, the Duomo of Milan, the

San Marco of Venice, the Cathedral of Florence. His the melody that

breathed in the masses of Mozart, the sonatas of Beethoven, the

oratorios of Handel, the fugues of Bach, the austere splendour of

Brahms. His the Presence that cheered the solitary mystics, the hunted

occultists, the patient seekers after truth. By persuasion and by

menace, by the eloquence of a S. Francis and by the gibes of a Voltaire,

by the sweet submission of a Thomas a Kempis, and the rough virility of

a Luther, He sought to instruct and awaken, to win into holiness or to

scourge from evil. Through the long centuries He has striven and

laboured, and, with all the mighty burden of the Churches to carry, He

has never left uncared for or unsolaced one human heart that cried to

Him for help. And now He is striving to turn to the benefit of

Christendom part of the great flood of the Wisdom poured out for the

refreshing of the world, and He is seeking through the Churches for some

who have ears to hear the Wisdom, and who will answer to His appeal for

messengers to carry it to His flock: "Here am I; send me."

 

 

 

 

-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------
206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK. CF24-DL

CHAPTER V.

 

THE MYTHIC CHRIST.

 

 

We have already seen the use that is made of Comparative Mythology

against Religion, and some of its most destructive attacks have been

levelled against the Christ. His birth of a Virgin at "Christmas," the

slaughter of the Innocents, His wonder-working and His teachings, His

crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension--all these events in the story

of His life are pointed to in the stories of other lives, and His

historical existence is challenged on the strength of these identities.

So far as the wonder-working and the teachings are concerned, we may

briefly dismiss these first with the acknowledgment that most great

Teachers have wrought works which, on the physical plane, appear as

miracles in the sight of their contemporaries, but are known by

occultists to be done by the exercise of powers possessed by all

Initiates above a certain grade. The teachings He gave may also be

acknowledged to be non-original; but where the student of Comparative

Mythology thinks that he has proved that none is divinely inspired, when

he shows that similar moral teachings fell from the lips of Manu, from

the lips of the Buddha, from the lips of Jesus, the occultist says that

certainly Jesus must have repeated the teachings of His predecessors,

since He was a messenger from the same Lodge. The profound verities

touching the divine and the human Spirit were as much truths twenty

thousand years before Jesus was born in Palestine as after He was born;

and to say that the world was left without such teaching, and that man

was left in moral darkness from his beginnings to twenty centuries ago,

is to say that there was a humanity without a Teacher, children without

a Father, human souls crying for light into a darkness that gave them no

answer--a conception as blasphemous of God as it is desperate for man, a

conception contradicted by the appearance of every Sage, by the mighty

literature, by the noble lives, in the thousands of ages ere the Christ

came forth.

 

Recognising then in Jesus the great Master of the West, the leading

Messenger of the Lodge to the western world, we must face the difficulty

which has made havoc of this belief in the minds of many: Why are the

festivals that commemorate events in the life of Jesus found in

pre-Christian religions, and in them commemorate identical events in the

lives of other Teachers?

 

Comparative Mythology, which has drawn public attention to this question

in modern times, may be said to be about a century old, dating from the

appearance of Dulaure's _Histoire Abregee de differens Cultes_, of

Dupuis' _Origine de tous les Cultes_, of Moor's _Hindu Pantheon_, and of

Godfrey Higgins' _Anacalypsis_. These works were followed by a shoal of

others, growing more scientific and rigid in their collection and

comparison of facts, until it has become impossible for any educated

person to even challenge the identities and similarities existing in

every direction. Christians are not to be found, in these days, who are

prepared to contend that Christian symbols, rites, and ceremonies are

unique--except, indeed, among the ignorant. There we still behold

simplicity of belief hand-in-hand with ignorance of facts; but outside

this class we do not find even the most devout Christians alleging that

Christianity has not very much in common with faiths older than itself.

But it is well known that in the first centuries "after Christ" these

likenesses were on all hands admitted, and that modern Comparative

Mythology is only repeating with great precision that which was

universally recognised in the Early Church. Justin Martyr, for instance,

crowds his pages with references to the religions of his time, and if a

modern assailant of Christianity would cite a number of cases in which

Christian teachings are identical with those of elder religions, he can

find no better guides than the apologists of the second century. They

quote Pagan teachings, stories, and symbols, pleading that the very

identity of the Christian with these should prevent the off-hand

rejection of the latter as in themselves incredible. A curious reason

is, indeed, given for this identity, one that will scarcely find many

adherents in modern days. Says Justin Martyr: "Those who hand down the

myths which the poets have made adduce no proof to the youths who learn

them; and we proceed to demonstrate that they have been uttered by the

influence of the wicked demons, to deceive and lead astray the human

race. For having heard it proclaimed through the prophets that the

Christ was to come, and that the ungodly among men were to be punished

by fire, they put forward many to be called sons of Jupiter, under the

impression that they would be able to produce in men the idea that the

things which were said with regard to Christ were mere marvellous tales,

like the things which were said by the poets." "And the devils, indeed,

having heard this washing published by the prophet, instigated those who

enter their temples, and are about to approach them with libations and

burnt offerings, also to sprinkle themselves; and they cause them also

to wash themselves entirely as they depart." "Which [the Lord's Supper]

the wicked devils have imitated in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding

the same thing to be done."[175] "For I myself, when I discovered the

wicked disguise which the evil spirits had thrown around the divine

doctrines of the Christians, to turn aside others from joining them,

laughed."[176]

 

These identities were thus regarded as the work of devils, copies of the

Christian originals, largely circulated in the pre-Christian world with

the object of prejudicing the reception of the truth when it came. There

is a certain difficulty in accepting the earlier statements as copies

and the later as originals, but without disputing with Justin Martyr

whether the copies preceded the original or the original the copies, we

may be content to accept his testimony as to the existence of these

identities between the faith flourishing in the Roman empire of his

time and the new religion he was engaged in defending.

 

Tertullian speaks equally plainly, stating the objection made in his

days also to Christianity, that "the nations who are strangers to all

understanding of spiritual powers, ascribe to their idols the imbuing of

waters with the self-same efficacy." "So they do," he answers quite

frankly, "but these cheat themselves with waters that are widowed. For

washing is the channel through which they are initiated into some sacred

rites of some notorious Isis or Mithra; and the Gods themselves they

honour by washings.... At the Apollinarian and Eleusinian games they

are baptised; and they presume that the effect of their doing that is

the regeneration and the remission of the penalties due to their

perjuries. Which fact, being acknowledged, we recognise here also the

zeal of the devil rivalling the things of God, while we find him too

practising baptism in his subjects."[177]

 

To solve the difficulty of these identities we must study the Mythic

Christ, the Christ of the solar myths or legends, these myths being the

pictorial forms in which certain profound truths were given to the

world.

 

Now a "myth" is by no means what most people imagine it to be--a mere

fanciful story erected on a basis of fact, or even altogether apart from

fact. A myth is far truer than a history, for a history only gives a

story of the shadows, whereas a myth gives a story of the substances

that cast the shadows. As above so below; and _first_ above and _then_

below. There are certain great principles according to which our system

is built; there are certain laws by which these principles are worked

out in detail; there are certain Beings who embody the principles and

whose activities are the laws; there are hosts of inferior beings who

act as vehicles for these activities, as agents, as instruments; there

are the Egos of men intermingled with all these, performing their share

of the great kosmic drama. These multifarious workers in the invisible

worlds cast their shadows on physical matter, and these shadows are

"things"--the bodies, the objects, that make up the physical universe.

These shadows give but a poor idea of the objects that cast them, just

as what we call shadows down here give but a poor idea of the objects

that cast them; they are mere outlines, with blank darkness in lieu of

details, and have only length and breadth, no depth.

 

History is an account, very imperfect and often distorted, of the dance

of these shadows in the shadow-world of physical matter. Anyone who has

seen a clever Shadow-Play, and has compared what goes on behind the

screen on which the shadows are cast with the movements of the shadows

on the screen, may have a vivid idea of the illusory nature of the

shadow-actions, and may draw therefrom several not misleading

analogies.[178]

 

Myth is an account of the movements of those who cast the shadows; and

the language in which the account is given is what is called the

language of symbols. Just as here we have words which stand for

things--as the word "table" is a symbol for a recognised article of a

certain kind--so do symbols stand for objects on higher planes. They are

a pictorial alphabet, used by all myth-writers, and each has its

recognised meaning. A symbol is used to signify a certain object just as

words are used down here to distinguish one thing from another, and so a

knowledge of symbols is necessary for the reading of a myth. For the

original tellers of great myths are ever Initiates, who are accustomed

to use the symbolic language, and who, of course, use symbols in their

fixed and accepted meanings.

 

A symbol has a chief meaning, and then various subsidiary meanings

related to that chief meaning. For instance, the Sun is the symbol of

the Logos; that is its chief or primary significance. But it stands also

for an incarnation of the Logos, or for any of the great Messengers who

represent Him for the time, as an ambassador represents his King. High

Initiates who are sent on special missions to incarnate among men and

live with them for a time as Rulers or Teachers, would be designated by

the symbol of the Sun; for though it is not their symbol in an

individual sense, it is theirs in virtue of their office.

 

All those who are signified by this symbol have certain characteristics,

pass through certain situations, perform certain activities, during

their lives on earth. The Sun is the physical shadow, or body, as it is

called, of the Logos; hence its yearly course in nature reflects His

activity, in the partial way in which a shadow represents the activity

of the object that casts it. The Logos, "the Son of God," descending

into matter, has as shadow the annual course of the Sun, and the

Sun-Myth tells it. Hence, again, an incarnation of the Logos, or one of

His high ambassadors, will also represent that activity, shadow-like, in

His body as a man. Thus will necessarily arise identities in the

life-histories of these ambassadors. In fact, the absence of such

identities would at once point out that the person concerned was not a

full ambassador, and that his mission was of a lower order.

 

The Solar Myth, then, is a story which primarily representing the

activity of the Logos, or Word, in the kosmos, secondarily embodies the

life of one who is an incarnation of the Logos, or is one of His

ambassadors. The Hero of the myth is usually represented as a God, or

Demi-God, and his life, as will be understood by what has been said

above, must be outlined by the course of the Sun, as the shadow of the

Logos. The part of the course lived out during the human life is that

which falls between the winter solstice and the reaching of the zenith

in summer. The Hero is born at the winter solstice, dies at the spring

equinox, and, conquering death, rises into mid-heaven.

 

The following remarks are interesting in this connection, though looking

at myth in a more general way, as an allegory, picturing inner truths:

"Alfred de Vigny has said that legend is frequently more true than

history, because legend recounts not acts which are often incomplete

and abortive, but the genius itself of great men and great nations. It

is pre-eminently to the Gospel that this beautiful thought is

applicable, for the Gospel is not merely the narration of what has been;

it is the sublime narration of what is and what always will be. Ever

will the Saviour of the world be adored by the kings of intelligence,

represented by the Magi; ever will He multiply the eucharistic bread, to

nourish and comfort our souls; ever, when we invoke Him in the night and

the tempest, will He come to us walking on the waters, ever will He

stretch forth His hand and make us pass over the crests of the billows;

ever will He cure our distempers and give back light to our eyes; ever

will He appear to His faithful, luminous and transfigured upon Tabor,

interpreting the law of Moses and moderating the zeal of Elias."[179]

 

We shall find that myths are very closely related to the Mysteries, for

part of the Mysteries consisted in showing living pictures of the

occurrences in the higher worlds that became embodied in myths. In fact

in the Pseudo-Mysteries, mutilated fragments of the living pictures of

the true Mysteries were represented by actors who acted out a drama, and

many secondary myths are these dramas put into words.

 

The broad outlines of the story of the Sun-God are very clear, the

eventful life of the Sun-God being spanned within the first six months

of the solar year, the other six being employed in the general

protecting and preserving. He is always born at the winter solstice,

after the shortest day in the year, at the midnight of the 24th of

December, when the sign Virgo is rising above the horizon; born as this

sign is rising, he is born always of a virgin, and she remains a virgin

after she has given birth to her Sun-Child, as the celestial Virgo

remains unchanged and unsullied when the Sun comes forth from her in the

heavens. Weak, feeble as an infant is he, born when the days are

shortest and the nights are longest--we are on the north of the

equatorial line--surrounded with perils in his infancy, and the reign of

the darkness far longer than his in his early days. But he lives

through all the threatening dangers, and the day lengthens towards the

spring equinox, till the time comes for the crossing over, the

crucifixion, the date varying with each year. The Sun-God is sometimes

found sculptured within the circle of the horizon, with the head and

feet touching the circle at north and south, and the outstretched hands

at east and west--"He was crucified." After this he rises triumphantly

and ascends into heaven, and ripens the corn and the grape, giving his

very life to them to make their substance and through them to his

worshippers. The God who is born at the dawning of December 25th is ever

crucified at the spring equinox, and ever gives his life as food to his

worshippers--these are among the most salient marks of the Sun-God. The