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” (Psalms, xlii,1) 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 re-appear, 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 out-grown 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”. (I Cor., xv,28) 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 havebeen 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 overarching 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 develop 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 ofthis 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 develop 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 thepractical 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”. (Ante-Nicene Library, Vol. XII. Clement of Alexandria. Stromata, bk, V, ch. xi.) 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.
So pater 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, lacchus, and to his death and resurrection, as dealt with in the Mysteries. (See Article on “Mysteries”, Encyc. Britannica, ninth edition) From lamblichus, 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”, (Psellus, quoted in lamblichus on the Mysteries. T. Taylor, p. 343, note on p. 23, second edition.) 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. Prom 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. (lamblichus, as ante, p. 301) 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”. (Ibid., p. 72.) Then come various hierarchies of super-human beings, Archangels Archons (Rulers) or Cosmocratores, Angels, Daimons, etc. 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. (The article on “Mysticism” in the Encyclopedia Britannica has the following on the teaching of Plotinus (204 – 206 A.D.): “The One (the Supreme God spoken of above) is exalted above the nous and the ‘ideas’; it transcends existence altogether and is not cognisable by reason. Remaining itself in repose, it rays out, as it were, from its own fullness, an image of itself, which is called nous, and which constitutes the system of ideas of the intelligible world. The soul is in turn the image or product of the nous, and the soul by its motion begets corporeal matter. The soul thus faces two ways — towards the nous, from which it springs, and towards the material life, which is its own product. Ethical endeavour consists in the repudiation of the sensible;material existence is itself estrangement from God….. To reach the ultimate goal, thought itself must be left behind; for thought is a form of motion, and the desire of the soul is for the motionless rest which belongs to the One. The union with transcendent deity is not so much knowledge or vision as ecstasy, coalescence, contact. “Neo-Platonism is thus “first of all a system of complete rationalism; it is assumed, in other words, that reason is capable of mapping out the whole system of things.
But, inasmuch as a God is affirmed beyond reason, the mysticism becomes in a sense the necessary complement of the would-be all-embracing rationalism. The system culminates in a mystical act”.) 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”. (lamblichus, as ante, p. 73.) and, further, these different Beings were evoked, and appeared, sometimes to teach, sometimes, by Their mere presence, to elevate and purify. “The Gods”, says lamblichus, “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”. (Ibid., pp. 55, 56) For “the soul having a twofold life, one being in conjunction with body, but the other being separate from all body”, (Ibid., pp. 118, 119.) “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. (lamblichus, pp. 118, 119) “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”. (Ibid., pp. 95,100.) 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”. (Ibid., p. 101.) By this we gain a divine life, and are rendered in reality divine. (Ibid., p. 330.) 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”. (G. R. S. Mead. Plotinus, p. 42. 3) 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. (lamblichus, p. 364, note on page 134.) 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 Augõeides, 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”. (G. R. S. Mead, Orpheus, pp. 285, 286.) 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 lamblichus 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 lamblichus, (lamblichus, p. 864, note on p. 134.) 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. (Ibid., p. 285, et seq.) 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”. (G. B. S. Mead. Orpheus, p. 59.) 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. (Ibid., p. 30.) 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, (G. R. S. Mead. Orpheus, pages 263 and 271.) 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”. (G. R. S. Mead. Plotinus.) Among the Hindus the duty of teaching the supreme knowledge only to the worthy wasstrictly 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”. (Shvetãshvataropanishat, vi, 22.) 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”. (Kathopanishat, iii, 14.) 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”. (I. Cor., xiii, 1) 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”. (Kathopanishat, vi., 17.)
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”. (Mundakopanishat, II, ii, 9) “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”. (Ibid., Ill, i, 3.) Nor were the Hebrews without their secret knowledge and their Schools of Initiation. The company of prophets at Naioth presided over by Samuel (I Sam., xix, 20.) formed such a School, and the oral teaching was handed down by them. Similar Schools existed at Bethel and Jericho, (II. Kings, ii, 2, 5) and in Cruden’s Concordance (Under “School”.) 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”. (Dr. Wynn Westcott, Sepher Yetzirah, page 9.) 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.
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 widespread 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 intothe 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 ecstasy, 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”. (S. Mark, iv, 10,11, 33,34.See also S. Matt., xiii, 11, 34, 36, and S. Luke, viii, 10) 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”. (S. John, xvi, 12) 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”. (Acts, 1, 3.) 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”. (Loc. cit, Trans, by G. R. S. Mead, I, i, 1.) 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” (S. Matt., vii, 6.) — 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 word “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. (As to the Greek woman: “It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it unto the dogs”.—S. Mark. vii, 27.) 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”. (S. Luke, xiii, 23, 24.)
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”. (S. Matt., vii, 13,14) 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”, (Kathopanishat II, iv, 10, 11..) 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. (Brhadãranyakopanishat IV, iv, 7.) 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”, (Rev., vii, 9) 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”. (Bhagavad Gita, vii, 3.) 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, (Ante, p. 23.) hose 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. (It must be remembered that the Jews believed that all imperfect souls returned to live again on earth) 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. (S. Matt., xix., 16—26.) 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 (S. John, xvii, 3.) 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”. (Heb., ix, 23) 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”, (S. John, iii, 3, 5) this is the first Initiation; a later one is that of “the Holy Ghost and fire”, (S. Matt., iii, 11.) 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. (Ibid., xviii, 3.) How thoroughly this imagery was familiar among the mystics 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?”(S. John, iii, 10.) 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”. (S. Matt., v, 48.) 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”, (Ante, p. 24.) 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 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’. (Note how this chimes in with the promise of Jesus in S. John, xvi, 12 — 14: “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when He, the Spirit of Truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth . . . He will show you things to come . . . He shall receive of mine and shall show it unto you”.) 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 (Another technical name in the Mysteries.) 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”. (Eph., iii, 3, 4, 9.) 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”. (Col., i, 23, 25 – 28. But S. Clement, in his Stromata, translates “every man”, as “the whole man”. See Bk. V, ch. x.) These Colossians he bids pray “that God would open to us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ”, (Col., iv, 3.) a passage to which S. Clement refers as one in which the apostle “clearly reveals that knowledge belongs not to all”. (Ante-Nicene Library, Vol. XII. Clement of Alexandria. Stromata, Bk. V, ch. x. Some additional sayings of the Apostles will be found in the quotations from Clement, showing what meaning they bore in the minds of those who succeeded the apostles, and were living in the same atmosphere of thought.) 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, (I. Tim., iii, 9, 16.) 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”, (I. Tim.,i,18.) 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”, (Ibid., iv,14.) 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” (Ibid., vi,13.) — 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: “0 Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust” (Ibid., 20) — 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” (II. Tim., i, 13,14.) — 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”. (Ibid, ii, 2.) 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”. (Phil,, iii, 8, 10-12,14, 15.) 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. (Rev., i, 18. “I am He that liveth, and was dead and behold, I am alive for evermore. Amen.”) 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”. (II. Cor., v, 16) The ordinary believer had “put on Christ”, as many of you as have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ. ” (Gal.,iii,27.) 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.” (Gal., iv, 19.) Already he was their spiritual father, having “begotten you through the gospel”. (I Cor., iv,15.) 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” (I.S.Pet., iii,4.) 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 fullness of Christ”. (Eph., iv,13.) Then he, as S. Paul was doing, filled up the sufferings of Christ in his own flesh, (Col., i, 24) and always bore “about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus”, (II.Cor., iv,10) so that he could truly say: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me”. (Gal., ii,20.) 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.'(II. Tim., iv, 6,8) This was the crown given to “him that over-cometh”, 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”. (Rev., iii,12.) 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. (Gal., iv, 22-31) Referring to the escape of the Israelites from Egypt, he speaks of the Bed 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. (I. Cor., x, 1-4) 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. (Eph., v, 23-32.) 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.
III – THE HIDDEN SIDE OF CHRISTIANITY
(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, (Vol. I. The Martyrdom of Ignatius, ch. iii. – The translations used are those of Clarke’s Ante-Nicene Library, a most useful compendium of Christian antiquity. The number of the volume which stands first in the references is the number of the volume in that Series.) 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” (Ibid., The Epistle of Polycarp, ch. xii.) — writing, apparently, before reaching full Initiation. Barnabas speaks of communicating “some portion of what I have myself received”, (Ibid., The Epistle of Barnabas, ch. i.) and after expounding the Law mystically, declares that “we then, rightly understanding His commandments, explain them as the Lord intended”. (Ibid., ch. x.) Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, a disciple of S. John, (Ibid., The Martyrdom of Ignatius, ch. i.) 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”, (Ibid., Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians, ch. iii.) and he speaks of them as “initiated into the mysteries of the Gospel with Paul, the holy, the martyred”. (Ibid., ch. xii.) 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 eons, 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”. (Ibid to the Trallians, ch. v. 2) 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”. (Ibid., to the Philadelphians, ch. ix.)
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’, (Vol. IV. Clement of Alexandria Stromata, bk. I., ch. i.) 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”, (Vol. IV. Stromata, bk. I., oh. xxviii.) 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 (It appears that even in those days there were some who objected to any truth being taught secretly!) 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”. (Ibid., bk. I, ch i.)
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 un-dazzled 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”. (Ibid., bk.V, ch.iv.) He then descants at great length on Symbols, expounding Pythagorean, Hebrew, Egyptian, (Ibid, ch. v-viii) 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?” (Ibid., ch. ix.) 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 were 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”. (Ibid., bk. V, ch. x) Further referring to S. Paul, he comments on his remark to the Romans that he will “come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ, (Loc. Cit, XX, 29.)” a and says that he thus designates “the spiritual gift and the Gnostic interpretation, which being present he desires to impart to them present as ‘ the fullness of Christ, according to the revelation of the Mystery sealed in the ages of eternity, but now manifested by the prophetic Scriptures’ (Ibid., xvi;ten, 25-26; the version quoted differs in words, but not in meaning, from the English Authorised Version) …..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’.” (Stromata, bk. V, ch. x)
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”. (Ibid., bk. VI, ch. vii) 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”. (Ibid., bk. VII, ch. xiv.)
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. (Ibid., bk. VI, ch. xv.) S. Clement naturally confined the higher instruction to the learned. “Our Gnostic will be deeply learned”, (Ibid., bk. VI, x) he says. “Now the Gnostic must be erudite”. (Ibid., bk. VI, vii) 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”. (Ibid., bk. I,ch. vi) “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”. (Ibid., ch. ix.)”The Gnostic avails himself of branches of learning as auxiliary preparatory exercise.” (Ibid., BK. VI, ch. x.) 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”. (Ibid., bk. I, ch. xiii.)” 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”, (Vol. XII. Stromata, bk. V, ch. iv.) 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 Hennas, 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. ‘ (lbid., bk. VI, lh. xv.)
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. (Book I, of Against Celsus is found in Vol. X of the Ante-Nicene Library. The remaining books are in Vol. XXIII.)
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”. (Vol. X. Origen against Celsus, bk. I, ch. vii.)
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.’ (Vol. X. Origen against Celsus, bk. I, ch. vii.)
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”. (Ex. xx.v, 40, xxvi, 30, and compare with Heb., viii, 5, and ix, 25.) 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 so high.”(Origen against Celsus, bk. IV, ch. xvi.) 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”. (Origen against Celsus, bk. Ill, ch. lix.) 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”. (Origen against Celsus, bk. Ill, ch. Ixi.) 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”. (Ibid., ch. Ixii.) “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”. (Origen against Celsus, bk. Ill, ch. Ix.) 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”. (Vol. XXIII. Origen against Celsus, bk. V, ch. xxv.) 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”. (Ibid., ch. xxviii.) 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”. (Vol. XXIII. Origen against Celsus, bk. V, ch. xxix.) 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. . . .” (Ibid., ch. xxxi) 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. . . .”(Ibid., ch. xxxii) as did Celsus. After remarking that ” the object of Christianity is that we should become wise”, (Ibid., ch. xlv.) 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”. (Vol. XXIII. Origen against Celsus, bk. V, ch. xlvi) 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”. (Ibid., chs. xlvii-liv.) 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”. (Vol. XXIII. Origen against Celsus, bk. V, ch, Ixxiv.) 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”. (Ibid., bk. IV, oh. xxxix.) 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”. (Vol. X. Origen against Celsus, bk. I, ch. xvii and others.) “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”. (Vol. X. Origen against Celsus, bk. I, ch. xlii.) 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”. (Vol. X. De Principiis, Preface, p. 8.) 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. (Ibid., ch. i.) 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”. (S. John, xiv, 18-20.) 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”. (Loc. cit., ch. i, Sec. Ill, p. 55.) 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”. (Loc. cit., ch. i, Sec. Ill, pp. 55, 56.) That is very probably, in fact, certainly, true, so far as the Church is concerned, but it is none the less recoverable. Commenting on Ireneeus, 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 theremust 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”. (Ibid., pp. 54, 55.) In a part of the section dealing with the allegorising method, he writes in reference to the sacrifice of Isaac, etc., as “typical of the New Testament revelation”: “In corroboration of this remark, let it be observed, that there seems to have been (“Seems to have been” is a somewhat weak expression, after what is said by Clement arid Origen, of which some specimens are given in the text.) 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”. (Ibid., p. 62.) 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 wasgiven 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 ecstasy, to spiritual vision. This latter, however, divorced from knowledge, rarely attained the true ecstasies, 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 theAreopagite 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”. (Article on “Mysticism”.— Encyc. Britan.) 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 philosophyand 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 tome. In my knowledge and love God knows and loves Himself”. (Article “Mysticism”. Encyclopaedia Britannica.) 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, lamblichus, and Proclus, who in turn followed Plato and Pythagoras. (Orpheus, pp. 53, 54.) 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 Augustiman 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 ecstatic — 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 Bohme (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 Bõhme, but the spirit of the Reformation was ever intensely anti-mystical, and wherever its breathhath passed the fair flowers of mysticism have withered as under the sirocco. Borne, 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. (Obligation must be here acknowledged to the Article “Mysticism”, in the Encyc. Brit., though that publication is by no means responsible for the opinions expressed.) 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 deS. 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, thosewho 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”. (The Mysteries of Magic. Trans, by A. E. Waite, pp. 58 and 60.) Will the Churches of today 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.
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. (II. S.Peter, i,5.) 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 studentfinds, 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 until Christ be formed in you”; (Gal., iv,19.) here S. Paul obviously cannot refer to a historical Jesus, but to some forth-putting 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; (II.Cor., v, 16.) 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 Borrows, 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 shownin 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” — (S. John, i, 14.) 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”, (Ibid., i, 32.) 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, (S. Matt., iii, 17) and from that time forward “Jesus began to preach”, (Ibid., iv. 17.) and was that wondrous mystery, “God manifest in the flesh” (I. Tim., iii, 16) — 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?” (S. John x, 34-86.) 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, (S. John, xiv, 18, 19.) 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”. (Valentinus. Trans, by G. B. S. Mead. Pistis Sophia, bk. i. 1.) They had not so far learned the distribution of the angelic orders, of part whereof Ignatius speaks. (Ante, p. 62.) 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”. (Ibid., 60.) 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; (Ibid., bk. ii, 218.) by that knowledge men became Christs, for such “men are myself, and I am these men”, for Christ is that highest Mystery. (Ibid., 230.) Knowing that, men are “transformed into pure light and are brought into the light”. (Ibid., 357.) 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”. (Ibid., 377.) 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 Michael-Angelo, that shone before the eyes of Murillo, and that gave the power that raised the marvels of the world, the Duorno 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 à 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”.
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 Abrégée de différents Cultes, of Dupuis’ Origines 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: “These 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”. (Vol. II. Justin Martyr. First Apology, §§ liv, Ixii and Ixvi.) “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”. (Vol. II. Justin Martyr. Second Apology, § xiii) 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 Appollinarian 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”. (Vol. VII. Tertullian, On Baptism, ch. v.) 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 ofthe 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. (The student might read Plato’s account of the “Cave” and its inhabitants, remembering that Plato was an Initiate. Republic, bk. vii.) 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 certainobject 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”. (Eliphas Levi. The Mysteries of Magic, p. 48.) 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 fixity of the birth-date and the variableness of the death-date are full of significance, when we remember that the one is a fixed and the other a variable solar position. “Easter” is a movable event, calculated by the relative positions of sun and moon, an impossible way of fixing year by year the anniversary of a historical event, but a very natural and indeed inevitable way of calculating a solar festival. These changing dates do not point to the history of a man, but to the Hero of a solar myth.
These events are reproduced in the lives of the various Solar Gods, and antiquity teems with illustrations of them. Isis of Egypt like Mary of Bethlehem was our Immaculate Lady, Star of the Sea, Queen of Heaven, Mother of God. We see her in pictures standing on the crescent moon, star-crowned; she nurses her child Horus, and the cross appears on the back of the seat in which he sits on his mother’s knee. The Virgo of the Zodiac is represented in ancient drawings as a woman suckling a child—the type of all future Madonnas with their divine Babes, showing the origin of the symbol. Devakî is likewise figured with the divine Krshna in her arms, as is Mylitta, or Istar, of Babylon, also with the recurrent crown of stars, and with her child Tammuz on her knee. Mercury and Aesculapius, Bacchus and Hercules, Perseus and the Dioscuri, Mithras and Zarathustra, were all of divine and human birth.
The relation of the winter solstice to Jesus is also significant. The birth of Mithras was celebrated in the winter solstice with great rejoicings, and Horus was also then born: “His birth is one of the greatest mysteries of the (Egyptian) religion. Pictures representing it appeared on the walls of temples. He was the child of Deity. At Christmas time, or that answering to our festival, his image was brought out of the sanctuary with peculiar ceremonies, as the image of the infant Bambino is still brought out and exhibited at Rome”. (Bonwiok. Egyptian Belief, p. 157. Quoted in Williamson’s The Great Law, p. 26) On the fixing of the 25th December as the birthday of Jesus, Williamson has the following: “All Christians know that the 25th December is now the recognised festival of the birth of Jesus, but few are aware that this has not always been so. There have been, it is said, one hundred and thirty-six different dates fixed on by different Christian sects. Lightfoot gives it as 15th September, others as in February or August. Epiphanius mentions two sects, one celebrating it in June, the other in July. The matter was finally settled by Pope Julius I, in 337 A. D., and S. Chrysostom, writing in 390, says : ‘ On this day (.i.e., 25th December) also the birth of Christ was lately fixed at Rome, in order that while the heathen were busy with their ceremonies (the Brumalia, in honour of Bacchus) the Christians might perform their rites undisturbed.’ Gibbon in his Decline and Fall of the RomanEmpire, writes: ‘ The (Christian) Romans, as ignorant as their brethren of the real date of his (Christ’s birth) fixed the solemn festival to the 25th December, the Brumalia or winter solstice, when the Pagans annually celebrated the birth of the Sun.’ King, in his Gnostics and Their Remains, also says: ‘ The ancient festival held on the 25th December in honour of the birthday of the Invincible One, (The festival “Natalia Solis Invicti”, the birthday of the Invincible Son.) and celebrated by the great games at the Circus, was afterwards transferred to the commemoration of the birth of Christ, the precise date of which many of the Fathers confess was then unknown;’ while at the present day Canon Farrar writes that ‘all attempts to discover the month and day of the nativity are useless. No data whatever exist to enable us to determine them with even approximate accuracy.’ From the foregoing it is apparent that the great festival of the winter solstice has been celebrated during past ages, and in widely separated lands, in honour of the birth of a God, who is almost invariably alluded to as a ‘ Saviour,’ and whose mother is referred to as a pure virgin. The striking resemblances, too, which have been instanced not only in the birth but in the life of so many of these Saviour-Gods are far too numerous to be accounted for by any mere coincidence”. (Williamson. The Great Law, pp. 40-42, Those who wish to study this matter as one of Comparative Religion cannot do better than read The Great Law, whose author is a profoundly religious man and a Christian.) In the case of the Lord Buddha we may see how a myth attaches itself to a historical personage. The story of His life is well known, and in the current Indian accounts the birth-story is simple and human. But in the Chinese account He is born of a virgin, Mâyâdevi, the archaic myth finding in Him a new Hero. Williamson also tells us that fires were and are lighted on the 25th December on the hills among Keltic peoples, and these are still known among the Irish and the Scotch Highlanders as Bheil or Baaltinne, the fires thus bearing the name of Bel, Bal, or Baal, their ancient Deity, the Sun-God, though now lighted in honour of Christ. (Ibid., pp. 36, 37.) Rightly considered, the Christmas festival should take on new elements of rejoicing and of sacredness, when the lovers of Christ see in it the repetition of an ancient solemnity, see it stretching all the world over, and far, far back into dim antiquity; so that the Christmas bells are ringing throughout human history, and soundmusically out of the far-off night of time. Not in exclusive possession, but in universal acceptance, is found the hall-mark of truth.
The death-date, as said above, is not a fixed one, like the birth-date. The date of the death is calculated by the relative positions of Sun and Moon at the spring equinox, varying with each year, and the death-date of each Solar Hero is found to be celebrated in this connection. The animal adopted as the symbol of the Hero is the sign of the Zodiac in which the Sun is at the vernal equinox of his age, and this varies with the precession of the equinoxes. Oannes of Assyria had the sign of Pisces, the Fish, and is thus figured. Mithra is in Taurus, and, therefore, rides on a Bull, and Osiris was worshipped as Osiris-Apis, or Serapis, the Bull. Merodach of Babylon was worshipped as a Bull, as was Astarte of Syria. When the Sun is in the sign of Aries, the Ram or Lamb, we have Osiris again as Ram, and so also Astarte, and Jupiter Ammon, and it is this same animal that became the symbol of Jesus — the Lamb of God. The use of the Lamb as His symbol, often leaning on a cross, is common in the sculptures of the catacombs. On this Williamson says: “In the course of time the Lamb was represented on the cross, but it was not until the sixth synod of Constantinople, held about the year 680, that it was ordained that instead of the ancient symbol, the figure of a man fastened to a cross should be represented. This canon was confirmed by Pope Adrian I”. (The Great Law, p. 116.) The very ancient Pisces is also assigned to Jesus, and He is thus pictured in the catacombs. The death and resurrection of the Solar Hero at or about the vernal equinox is as wide-spread as his birth at the winter solstice. Osiris was then slain by Typhon, and He is pictured on the circle of the horizon, with outstretched arms, as if crucified — a posture originally of benediction, not of suffering. The death of Tammuz was annually bewailed at the spring equinox in Babylonia and Syria, as were Adonis in Syria and Greece, and Attis in Phrygia, pictured “as a man fastened with a lamb at the foot”. (Ibid., p. 68.) Mithras’ death was similarly celebrated in Persia, and that of Bacchus and Dionysius — one and the same — in Greece. In Mexico the same idea reappears, as usual accompanied with the cross. In all these cases the mourning for the death is immediately followed by the rejoicing over the resurrection, and on this it is interesting to notice hat the name of Easter has been traced to the virgin-mother of the slain Tammuz, Ishtar. (Ibid., p. 56.) It is interesting also to notice that the fast preceding the death at the vernal equinox, — the modern Lent — is found in Mexico, Egypt, Persia, Babylon, Assyria, Asia Minor, in some cases definitely for forty days. (Ibid., pp. 120-123.) In the Pseudo-Mysteries, the Sun-God story was dramatised, and in the ancient Mysteries it was lived by the Initiate, and hence the solar “myths” and the great facts of Initiation became interwoven together. Hence when the Master Christ became the Christ of the Mysteries, the legends of the older Heroes of those Mysteries gathered round Him, and the stories were again recited with the latest divine Teacher as the representative of the Logos in the Sun. Then the festival of His nativity became the immemorial date when the Sun was born of the Virgin, when the midnight sky was filled with the rejoicing hosts of the celestials, and Very early, very early, Christ was born. As the great legend of the Sun gathered round Him, the sign of the Lamb became that of His crucifixion as the sign of the Virgin had become that of His birth. We have seen thatthe Bull was sacred to Mithras and the Fish to Oannes, and that the Lamb was sacred to Christ, and for the same reason; it was the sign of the spring equinox, at the period of history in which He crossed the great circle of the horizon, was “crucified in space”.
These Sun myths, ever recurring throughout the ages, with a different name for their Hero in each new recension, cannot pass unrecognised by the student, though they may naturally and rightly be ignored by the devotee; and when they are used as a weapon to mutilate or destroy the majestic figure of the Christ, they must be met, not by denying the facts, but by understanding the deeper meaning of the stories, the spiritual truths that the legends expressed under a veil.
Why have these legends mingled with the history of Jesus, and crystallised round Him, as a historical personage? These are really the stories not of a particular individual named Jesus but of the universal Christ; of a Man who symbolised a Divine Being, and who represented a fundamental truth in nature; a Man who filled a certain office and held a certain characteristic position towards humanity; standing towards humanity in a special relationship, renewed age after age, as generation succeeded generation, as race gave way to race. Hence He was, as are all such, the “Son of Man”, a peculiar and distinctive title, the title of an office, not of an individual. The Christ of the Solar Myth was the Christ of the Mysteries, and we find the secret of the mythic in the mystic Christ.
VI – THE MYSTIC CHRIST
We now approach that deeper side of the Christ story that gives it its real hold upon the hearts of men. We approach that perennial life which bubbles up from an unseen source, and so baptises its representative with its lucent flood that human hearts cling round the Christ, and feel that they could almost more readily reject the apparent facts of history than deny that which they intuitively feel to be a vital, an essential truth of the higher life. We draw near the sacred portal of the Mysteries, and lift a corner of the veil that hides the sanctuary. We have seen that, go back as far as we may into antiquity, we find everywhere recognised the existence of a hidden teaching, a secret doctrine, given under strict and exacting conditions to approved candidates by the Masters of Wisdom. Such candidates were initiated into “The Mysteries” — a name that covers in antiquity, as we have seen, all that was most spiritual in religion, all that was most profound in philosophy, all that was most valuable in science. Every great Teacher of antiquity passed through the Mysteries and the greatest were the Hierophants of the Mysteries; each who came forth into the world to speak of the invisible worlds had passed through the portal of Initiation and had learned the secret of the Holy Ones from Their own lips: each who came forth came forth with the same story, and the solar myths are all versions of this story, identical in their essential features, varying only in their local colour. This story is primarily that of the descent of the Logos into matter, and the Sun-God is aptly His symbol, since the Sun is His body, and He is often described as “He that dwelleth in the Sun”. In one aspect, the Christ of the Mysteries is the Logos descending into matter, and the great Sun-Myth is the popular teaching of this sublime truth. As in previous cases, the Divine Teacher, who brought the Ancient Wisdom and republished it in the world, was regarded as a special manifestation of the Logos, and the Jesusof the Churches was gradually draped with the stories which belonged to this great One; thus He became identified, in Christian nomenclature, with the Second Person in the Trinity, the Logos, or Word of God, (See on this the opening of the Johannine Gospel, i, 1-5.
The name Logos, ascribed to the manifested God, shaping matter — “all things were made by Him” — is Platonic, and is hence directly derived from the Mysteries; ages before Plato, Vâk, Voice, derived from the same source, was used among Hindus,) and the salient events recounted in the myth of the Sun-God became the salient events of the story of Jesus, regarded as the incarnate Deity, the “mythic Christ”. As in the macrocosm, the kosmos, the Christ of the Mysteries represents the Logos, the Second Person in the Trinity, so in the microcosm, man, does He represent the second aspect of the Divine Spirit in man — hence called in man “the Christ”. (See Ante, pp. 106-107) The second aspect of the Christ of the Mysteries is then the life of the Initiate, the life which is entered on at the first great Initiation, at which the Christ is born in man, and after which He develops in man. To make this quite intelligible, we must consider the conditions imposed on the candidate for Initiation, and the nature of the Spirit in man. Only those could be recognised as candidates for Initiation who were already good as men count goodness, according to the strict measure of the law. Pure, holy, without defilement, clean from sin, living without transgression — such were some of the descriptive phrases used of them. (See Ante, p. 80. 3) Intelligent also must they be, of well-developed and well-trained minds. (See Ante, p. 73.) The evolution carried on in the world life after life, developing and mastering the powers of the mind, the emotions, and the moral sense, learning through exoteric religions, practising the discharge of duties, seeking to help and lift others — all this belongs to the ordinary life of an evolving man. When all this is done, the man has become “a good man”, the Chrêstos of the Greeks, and this he must be ere he can become the Christos, the Anointed. Having accomplished the exoteric good life, he becomes a candidate for the esoteric life, and enters on the preparation for Initiation, which consists in the fulfilment of certain conditions. These conditions mark out the attributes he is to acquire, and while he is labouring to create these, he is sometimes said to be treading the Probationary Path, the Path which leads up to the “Strait Gate”, beyond which is the “Narrow Way”, or the “Path of Holiness”, the ” Way of the Cross”. He is not expected to develop these attributes perfectly, but he must have made some progress in all of them, ere the Christ can be born in him. He must prepare a pure home for that Divine Child who is to develop within him. The first of these attributes — they are all mental and moral — is Discrimination; this means that the aspirant must begin to separate in his mind the Eternal from the Temporary, the Real from the Unreal, the True from the False, the Heavenly from the Earthly.
“The things which are seen are temporal”, says the Apostle; “but the things which are not seen are eternal”. (II. Cor., IV, 18.) Men are constantly living under the glamour of the seen, and are blinded by it to the unseen. The aspirant must learn to discriminate between them, so that what is unreal to the world may become real to him, and that which is real to the world may to him become unreal, for thus only is it possible to “walk by faith, not by sight”. (Ibid., v, 7.) And thus also must a man become one of those of whom the Apostle says that they “are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil”. (Heb., v, 14.) Next, this sense of unreality must breed in him Disgust with the unreal and the fleeting, the mere husks of life, unfit to satisfy hunger, save the hunger of swine. (S. Luke, xv, 16.) This stage is described in the emphatic language of Jesus: “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple”. (Ibid., xiv, 26) Truly a “hard saying”, and yet out of this hatred will spring a deeper, truer, love, and the stage may not be escaped on the way to the Strait Gate. Then the aspirant must learn Control of thoughts, and this will lead to Control of actions, the thought being, to the inner eye, the same as the action: “Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart”. (S. Matt., v, 28.) He must acquire Endurance, for they who aspire to tread “the Way of the Cross” will have to brave long and bitter sufferings, and they must be able to endure, “as seeing Him who is invisible”. (Heb., xi, 27.) He must add to these Tolerance, if he would be the child of Him who “maketh His sun to rise on the evil, and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust”, (S. Matt., v, 45.) the disciple of Him who bade His apostles not to forbid a man to use His name because he did not follow with them. (S. Luke, ix, 49, 60.) Further, he must acquire the Faith to which nothing is impossible, (S. Matt., xvii, 20.) and the Balance which is described by the Apostle. (II. Cor., vi, 8-10.) Lastly, he must seek only “those things which are above”, (Col., iii, 1.) and long to reach the beatitude of the vision of and union with God. (S. Matt., v, 8; and S. John, xvii, 21) When a man has wrought these qualities into his character he is regarded as fit for Initiation, and the Guardians of the Mysteries will open for him the Strait Gate. Thus, but thus only, he becomes the prepared candidate.
Now, the Spirit in man is the gift of the Supreme God, and contains within itself the three aspects of the Divine Life — Intelligence, Love, Will — being the Image of God. As it evolves, it first develops the aspect of Intelligence, develops the intellect, and this evolution is effected in the ordinary life in the world. To have done this to a high point, accompanying it with moral development, brings the evolving man to the condition of the candidate. The second aspect of the Spirit is that of Love, and the evolution of that is the evolution of the Christ. In the true Mysteries this evolution is undergone — the disciple’s life is the Mystery Drama, and the Great Initiations mark its stages. In the Mysteries performed on the physical plane these used to be dramatically represented, and the ceremonies followed in many respects “the pattern” ever shown forth “on the Mount”, for they were the shadows in a deteriorating age of the mighty Realities in the spiritual world. The Mystic Christ, then, is twofold — the Logos, the Second Person of the Trinity, descending into matter, and the Love, or second, aspect of the unfolding Divine Spirit in man. The one represents kosmic processes carried on in the past and is the root of the Solar Myth; the other represents a process carried on in the individual, the concluding stage of his human evolution, and added many details in the Myth. Both of these have contributed to the Gospel story, and together form the Image of the “Mystic Christ”. Let us consider first the kosmic Christ, Deity becoming enveloped in matter, the becoming incarnate of the Logos, the clothing of God in “flesh”. When the matter which is to form our solar system is separated off from the infinite oceanof matter which fills space, the Third Person of the Trinity — the Holy Spirit — pours His Life into this matter to vivify it, that it may presently take form. It is then drawn together, and form is given to it by the life of the Logos, the Second Person of the Trinity, who sacrifices Himself by putting on the limitations of matter, becoming the “Heavenly Man”, in whose Body all forms exist, of whose Body all forms are part. This was the kosmic story, dramatically shown in the Mysteries — in the true Mysteries seen as it occurred in space, in the physical plane Mysteries represented by magical or other means, and in some parts by actors. These processes are very distinctly stated in the Bible; when the “Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters” in the darkness that was “upon the face of the deep”, (Gen., i, 2. 3) the great deep of matter showed no forms, it was void, inchoate. Form was given by the Logos, the Word, of whom it is written that “all things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made”. (S. John, i, 3.) C. W. Leadbeater has well put it: “The result of this first great outpouring (the ‘moving’ of the Spirit) is the quickening of that wonderful and glorious vitality which pervades all matter (inert though it may seem to our dim physical eyes), so that the atoms of the various planes develop, when electrified by it, all sorts of previously latent attractions and repulsions, and enter into combinations of all kinds”. (The Christian Creed, p. 29. This is a most valuable and fascinating little book, on the mystical meaning of the creeds.) Only when this work of the Spirit has been done can the Logos, the kosmic Mystic Christ, take on Himself the clothing of matter, entering in very truth the Virgin’s womb, the womb of Matter as yet virgin, unproductive.
This matter had been vivified by the Holy Spirit, who, overshadowing the Virgin, poured into it His life, thus preparing it to receive the life of the Second Logos, who took this matter as the vehicle for His energies. This is the becoming incarnate of the Christ, the taking flesh — “Thou did’st not despise the Virgin’s womb”. In the Latin and English translations of the original Greek text of the Nicene Creed, the phrase which describes this phase of the descent has changed the prepositions and so changed the sense. The original ran: “and was incarnate of the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary”, whereashe translation reads: ” and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary.” (The Christian Creed, p. 42) The Christ “takes form not of the ‘ Virgin’ matter alone, but of matter which is already instinct and pulsating with the life of the Third Logos, (A name of the Holy Ghost) so that both the life and the matter surround Him as a vesture”. (Ibid., p. 43) This is the descent of the Logos into matter, described as the birth of the Christ of a Virgin, and this, in the Solar Myth, becomes the birth of the Sun-God as the sign Virgo rises. Then come the early workings of the Logos in matter, aptly typified by the infancy of the myth. To all the feebleness of infancy His majestic powers bow themselves, letting but little play forth on the tender forms they ensoul. Matter imprisons, seems as though threatening to slay, its infant King, whose glory is veiled by the limitations He has assumed. Slowly He shapes it towards high ends, and lifts it into manhood, and then stretches Himself on the cross of matter that He may pour forth from that cross alt the powers of His surrendered life.
This is the Logos of whom Plato said that He was in the figure of a cross on the universe ; this is the Heavenly Man, standing in space, with arms outstretched in blessing; this is the Christ crucified, whose death on the cross of matter fills all matter with His life. Dead He seems and buried out of sight, but He rises again clothed in the very matter in which He seemed to perish, and carries up His body of now radiant matter into heaven, where it receives the downpouring life of the Father, and becomes the vehicle of man’s immortal life. For it is the life of the Logos which forms the garment of the Soul in man, and He gives it that men may live through the ages and grow to the measure of His own stature. Truly are we clothed in Him, first materially and then spiritually. He sacrificed Himself to bring many sons into glory, and He is with us always, even to the end of the age. The crucifixion of Christ, then, is part of the great kosmic sacrifice, and the allegorical representation of this in the physical Mysteries, and the sacred symbol of the crucified man in space, became materialised into an actual death by crucifixion, and a crucifix bearing a dying human form; then this story, now the story of a man, was attached to the Divine Teacher, Jesus, and became the story of His physical death, while the birth from a Virgin, the danger-encircledinfancy, the resurrection and ascension, became also incidents in His human life. The Mysteries disappeared, but their grandiose and graphic representations of the kosmic work of the Logos encircled and uplifted the beloved figure of the Teacher of Judaea, and the kosmic Christ of the Mysteries, with the lineaments of the Jesus of history, thus became the central Figure of the Christian Church. But even this was not all; the last touch of fascination is added to the Christ-story by the fact that there is another Christ of the Mysteries, close and dear to the human heart — the Christ of the human Spirit, the Christ who is in every one of us, is born and lives, is crucified, rises from the dead, and ascends into heaven, in every suffering and triumphant “Son of Man”. The life-story of every Initiate into the true, the heavenly Mysteries, is told in its salient features in the Gospel biography. For this reason, S. Paul speaks as we have seen (Ante, p. 107.) of the birth of the Christ in the disciple, and of His evolution and His full stature therein.
Every man is a potential Christ, and the unfolding of the Christ-life in a man follows the outline of the Gospel story in its striking incidents, which we have seen to be universal, and not particular. There are five great Initiations in the life of a Christ, each one marking a stage in the unfolding of the Life of Love. They are given now, as of old, and the last marks the final triumph of the Man who has developed into Divinity, who has transcended humanity, and has become a Saviour of the world. Let us trace this life-story, ever newly repeated in spiritual experience, and see the Initiate living out the life of the Christ. At the first great Initiation the Christ is born in the disciple; it is then that he realises for the first time in himself the outpouring of the divine Love, and experiences that marvellous change which makes him feel himself to be one with all that lives. This is the “Second Birth”, and at that birth the heavenly ones rejoice, for he is born into ” the kingdom of heaven”, as one of the ” little ones,” as “a little child ” — the names ever given to the new initiates. Such is the meaning of the words of Jesus, that a man must become a little child to enter into the Kingdom. (S. Matt., xviii, 3.) It is significantly said in some of the early Christian writers that Jesus was “born in a cave” — the”stable” of the gospel narrative; the “Cave of Initiation” is a well-known ancient phrase, and the Initiate is ever born therein; over that cave “where the young child” is, burns the “Star of Initiation”, the Star that ever shines forth in the East when a Child-Christ is born. Every such child is surrounded by perils and menaces, strange dangers that befall not other babes; for he is anointed with the chrism of the second birth and the Dark Powers of the unseen world ever seek his undoing. Despite all trials, however, he grows into manhood, for the Christ once born can never perish, the Christ once beginning to develop can never fail in his evolution; his fair life expands and grows, ever-increasing in wisdom and in spiritual stature, until the time comes for the second great Initiation, the Baptism of the Christ by Water and the Spirit, that gives him the powers necessary for the Teacher, who is to go forth and labour in the world as “the beloved Son”. Then there descends upon him in rich measure the divine Spirit, and the glory of the unseen Father pours down its pure radiance on him; but from that scene of blessing is he led by the Spirit into the wilderness and is once more exposed to the ordeal of fierce temptations. For now the powers of the Spirit are unfolding themselves inhim, and the Dark Ones strive to lure him from his path by these very powers, bidding him use them for his own helping instead of resting on his Father in patient trust. In the swift, sudden transitions which test his strength and faith, the whisper of the embodied Tempter follows the voice of the Father, and the burning sands of the wilderness scorch the feet erstwhile laved in the cool waters of the holy river.
Conqueror over these temptations he passes into the world of men to use for their helping the powers he would not put forth for his own needs, and he who would not turn one stone to bread for the stilling of his own cravings feeds “five thousand men, besides women and children”, with a few loaves. Into his life of ceaseless service conies another brief period of glory, when he ascends “a high mountain apart” — the sacred Mount of Initiation. There he is transfigured and there meets some of his great Forerunners, the Mighty Ones of old who trod where he now is treading. He passes thus the third great Initiation, and then the shadow of his coming Passion falls on him, and he steadfastly sets his face to go to Jerusalem — repelling the tempting words of one of his disciples — Jerusalem, where awaits him the baptism of the Holy Ghost and of Fire. After the Birth, the attack by Herod; after the Baptism, the temptation in the wilderness; after the Transfiguration, the setting forth towards the last stage of the Way of the Cross. Thus is triumph ever followed by ordeal, until the goal is reached. Still grows the life of love, ever fuller and more perfect, the Son of Man shining forth more clearly as the Son of God, until the time draws near for his final battle, and the fourth great Initiation leads him in triumph into Jerusalem, into sight of Gethsemane and Calvary. He is now the Christ ready to be offered, ready for the sacrifice on the cross- He is now to face the bitter agony in the Garden, where even his chosen ones sleep while he wrestles with his mortal anguish, and for a moment prays that the cup may pass from his lips; but the strong will triumphs and he stretches out his hand to take and drink, and in his loneliness an angel comes to him and strengthens him, as angels are wont to do when they see a Son of Man bending beneath his load of agony.
The drinking of the bitter cup of betrayal, of desertion, of denial, meets him as he goes forth, and alone amid his jeering foes he passes to his last fierce trial. Scourged by physical pain, pierced by cruel thorns of suspicion, stripped of his fair garments of purity in the eyes of the world, left in the hands of his foes, deserted apparently by God and man, he endures patiently all that befalls him, wistfully looking in his last extremity for aid. Left still to suffer, crucified, to die to the life of form, to surrender all life that belongs to the lower world, surrounded by triumphant foes who mock him, the last horror of great darkness envelopes him, and in the darkness he meets all the forces of evil; his inner vision is blinded, he finds himself alone, utterly alone, till the strong heart, sinking in despair, cries out to the Father who seems to have abandoned him, and the human soul faces, in uttermost loneliness, the crushing agony of apparent defeat. Yet, summoning all the strength of the “unconquerable spirit”, the lower life is yielded up, its death is willingly embraced, the body of desire is abandoned, and the Initiate “descends into hell”, that no region of the universe he is to help may remain untrodden by him, that none may be too outcast to be reached by his all-embracing love. And then springing upwards from the darkness, he sees the light once more, feels himself again as the Son, inseparable from the Father whose he is, rises to the life that knows no ending, radiant in the consciousness of death faced and overcome, strong to help to the uttermost every child of man, able to pour out his life into every struggling soul. Among his disciples he remains awhile to teach, unveiling to them the mysteries of the spiritual worlds, preparing them also to tread the path he has trodden, until, the earth-life over, he ascends to the Father, and, in the fifth great Initiation, becomes the Master triumphant, the link between God and man. Such was the story lived through in the true Mysteries of old and now, and dramatically portrayed in symbols in the physical plane Mysteries, half veiled, half shown. Such is the Christ of the Mysteries in His dual aspect, Logos and man, kosmic and individual. Is it any wonder that this story, dimly felt, even when unknown, by the mystic, has woven itself into the heart, and served as an inspiration to all noble living? The Christ of the human heart is, for the most part, Jesus seen as the mystic human Christ, struggling, suffering, dying, finally triumphant, the Man in whom humanity is seen crucified and risen, whose victory is the promise of victory to every one who, like Him, is faithful through death and beyond — the Christ who can never be forgotten while He is born again and again in humanity, while the world needs Saviours, and Saviours give themselves for men.
VII – THE ATONEMENT
We will now proceed to study certain aspects of the Christ-Life, as they appear among the doctrines of Christianity. In the exoteric teachings they appear as attached only to the Person of the Christ; in the esoteric they are seen as belonging indeed to Him, since in their primary, their fullest and deepest meaning they form part of the activities of the Logos, but as being only secondarily reflected in the Christ, and therefore also in every Christ-Soul that treads the way of the Cross. Thus studied they will be seen to be profoundly true, while in their exoteric form they often bewilder the intelligence and jar the emotions. Among these stands prominently forward the doctrine of the Atonement; not only has itbeen a point of bitter attack from those outside the pale of Christianity, but it has wrung many sensitive consciences within that pale. Some of the most deeply Christian thinkers of the last half of the nineteenth century have been tortured with doubts as to the teaching of the churches on this matter, and have striven to see, and to present it, in a way that softens or explains away the cruder notions based on an unintelligent reading of a few profoundly mystical texts. Nowhere, perhaps, more than in connection with these should the warning of S. Peter be borne in mind: “Our beloved brother Paul also, according to the wisdom given unto him, hath written unto you — as also in all his epistles — speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction”. (2 S. Peter, III, 15,16.) For the texts that tell of the identity of the Christ with His brother-men have been wrested into a legal substitution of Himself for them, and have thus been used as an escape from the results of sin, instead of as an inspiration to righteousness.
The general teaching in the Early Church on the doctrine of the Atonement was that Christ, as the Representative of Humanity, faced and conquered Satan, the representative of the Dark Powers, who held humanity in bondage, wrested his captive from him, and set him free. Slowly, as Christian teachers lost touch with spiritual truths, and they reflected their own increasing intolerance and harshness on the pure and loving Father of the teachings of the Christ, they represented Him as angry with man, and the Christ was made to save man from the wrath of God instead of from the bondage of evil. Then legal phrases intruded, still further materialising the once spiritual idea, and the “scheme of redemption” was forensically outlined”. The seal was set on the ‘redemption scheme’ by Anselm in his great work, Cur Deus Homo, and the doctrine which had been slowly growing into the theology of Christendom was thenceforward stamped with the signet of the Church. Roman Catholics and Protestants, at the time of the Reformation, alike believed in the vicarious and substitutionary character of the atonement wrought by Christ. There is no dispute between them on this point. I prefer to allow the Christian divines to speak for themselves as to the character of the atonement. … Luther teaches that’ Christ did truly and effectually feel for all mankind the wrath of God, malediction, and death’. Flavel says that ‘to wrath, to the wrath of an infinite God without mixture, to the very torments of hell, was Christ delivered, and that by the hand of his own father’. The Anglican homily preaches that ‘sin did pluck God out of heaven to make him feel the horrors and pains of death’, and that man, being a firebrand of hell and a bondsman of the devil ,’was ransomed by the death of his only and well-beloved son’; the ‘heat of his wrath’, ‘his burning wrath’, could only be ‘pacified’ by Jesus, ‘so pleasant was the sacrifice and oblation of his son’s death’. Edwards, being logical, saw that there was a gross injustice in sin being twice punished, and in the pains of hell, the penalty of sin, being twice inflicted, first on Jesus, the substitute of mankind, and then on the lost, a portion of mankind; so he, in common with most Calvinists, finds himself compelled to restrict the atonement to the elect, and declared that Christ bore the sins, not of the world, but of the chosen out of the world; he suffers ‘not for the world, but for them whom thou hast given me’.
But Edwards adheres firmly to the belief in substitution, and rejects the universal atonement for the very reason that ‘to believe Christ died for all is the surest way of proving that he died for none in the sense Christians have hitherto believed.’ He declares that ‘Christ suffered the wrath of God for men’s sins’; that ‘God imposed his wrath due unto, and Christ underwent the pains of hell for’, sin. Owen regards Christ’s sufferings as ‘ a full valuable compensation to the justice of God for all the sins’ of the elect, and says that he underwent ‘ that same punishment which.. . they themselves were bound to undergo”. (A. Besant. Essay on the Atonement.) To show that these views were still authoritatively taught in the churches, I wrote further: “Stroud makes Christ drink ‘the cup of the wrath of God’. Jenkyn says ‘He suffered as one disowned and reprobated and forsaken of God Dwight considers that he endured God’s ‘hatred and contempt’. Bishop Jeune tells us that ‘after man had done his worst, worse remained for Christ to bear. He had fallen into his father’s hands’. Archbishop Thomson preaches that ‘the clouds of God’s wrath gathered thick over the whole human race: they discharged themselves on Jesus only’. He ‘becomes a curse for us and a vessel of wrath’. Liddon echoes the same sentiment: ‘The apostles teach that mankind are slaves, and that Christ on the cross is paying their ransom. Christ crucified is voluntarily devoted and accursed’; he even speaks of ‘the precise amount of ignominy and pain needed for the redemption’, and says that the ‘divine victim’ paid more than was absolutely necessary”. (A. Besant. Essay on the Atonement.) These are the views against which the learned and deeply religious Dr. McLeod Campbell wrote his well-known work, On the Atonement, a volume containing many true and beautiful thoughts; F. D. Maurice and many other Christian men have also striven to lift from Christianity the burden of a doctrine so destructive of all true ideas as to the relations between God and man. None the less, as we look backwards over the effects produced by this doctrine, we find that belief in it, even in its legal — and to us crude exoteric — form, is connected with some of the very highest developments of Christian conduct, and that some of the noblest examples of Christian manhood and womanhood have drawn from it their strength, their inspiration, and their comfort. It would be unjust not to recognise this fact. And whenever we come upon a fact that seems to us startling and incongruous, we do well to pause upon that fact, and to endeavour to understand it. For if this doctrine contained nothing more than is seen in it by its assailants inside and outside the churches, if it were in its true meaning as repellent to the conscience and the intellect as it is found to be by many thoughtful Christians, then it could not possibly have exercised over the minds and hearts of men a compelling fascination, nor could it have been the root of heroic self-surrenders, of touching and pathetic examples of self-sacrifice in the service of man. Something more there must be in it than lies on the surface, some hidden kernel of life which has nourished those who have drawn from it their inspiration.
In studying it as one of the Lesser Mysteries we shall find the hidden life which these noble ones have unconsciously absorbed, these souls which were so at one with that life that the form in which it was veiled could not repel them. When we come to study it as one of the Lesser Mysteries, we shall feel that for its understanding some spiritual development is needed, some opening of the inner eyes. To grasp it requires that its spirit should be partly evolved in the life, and only those who know practically something of the meaning of self-surrender will be able to catch a glimpse of what is implied in the esoteric teaching on this doctrine, as the typical manifestation of the Law of Sacrifice. We can only understand it as applied to the Christ, when we see it as a special manifestation of the universal law, a reflection below of the Pattern above, showing us in a concrete human life what sacrifice means. The Law of Sacrifice underlies our system and all systems, and on it all universes are builded. It lies at the root of evolution, and alone makes it intelligible. In the doctrine of the Atonement it takes a concrete form in connection with men who have reached a certain stage in spiritual development, the stage that enables them to realise their oneness with humanity, and to become, in very deed and truth, Saviours of men. All the great religions of the world have declared that the universe begins by an act of sacrifice and have incorporated the idea o sacrifice into their most solemn rites In Hinduism, the dawn of manifestation is said to be by sacrifice, (Brhadãaranyakopanishat, I, i, 1.) mankind is emanated with sacrifice , (Bhagavad-Gita, iii, 10.) and it is Deity who sacrifices Himself;, (Brhadãranyakopanishat, I, ii,7) the object of the sacrifice is manifestation;
He cannot become manifest unless an act of sacrifice be performed and inasmuch as nothing can be manifest untilHe manifests, (Mundakopanishat, II, ii, 10.) the act of sacrifice is called “the dawn” of creation.
In the Zoroastrian religion it was taught that in the Existence that is boundless, unknowable, unnameable, sacrifice was performed and manifest Deity appeared; Ahura-mazdao was born of an act of sacrifice. (Hang. Essays on the Parsis, pp. 12-14. 1)
In the Christian religion the same idea is indicated in the phrase: “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world”, (Rev., xiii, 8.) slain at the origin of things. These words can but refer to the important truth that there can be no founding of a world until the Deity has made an act of sacrifice. This act is explained as limiting Himself in order to become manifest. “The Law of Sacrifice might perhaps more truly be called The Law of Manifestation, or the Law of Love and of Life, for throughout the universe, from the highest to the lowest, it is the cause of manifestation and life”. (W. Williamson. The Great Law, p. 406.)
“Now, if we study this physical world, as being the most available material, we find that all life in it, all growth, all progress, alike for units and for aggregates, depend on continual sacrifice and the endurance of pain. Mineral is sacrificed to vegetable, vegetable to animal, both to man, men to men, and all the higher forms again break up, and reinforce again with their separated constituents the lowest kingdom. It is a continual sequence of sacrifices from the lowest to the highest, and the very mark of progress is that the sacrifice from being involuntary and imposed becomes voluntary and self-chosen, and those who are recognised as greatest by man’s intellect and loved most by man’s heart are the supreme sufferers, those heroic souls who wrought, endured, and died that the race might profit by their pain. If the world be the work of the Logos, and the law of the world’s progress in the whole and the parts is sacrifice, then the Law of Sacrifice must point to something in the very nature of the Logos; it must have its root in the Divine Nature itself. A little further thought shows us that if there is to be a world, a universe at all, this can only be by the One Existence conditioning Itself and thus making manifestation possible, and that the very Logos is the Self-limited God; limited to become manifest; manifested to bring a universe into being; such self-limitation and manifestation can only be a supreme act of sacrifice, and what wonder that on every hand the world should show its birth-mark, and that the Law of Sacrifice should be the law of being, the law of the derived lives.
“Further, as it is an act of sacrifice in order that individuals may come into existence to share the Divine bliss, it is very truly a vicarious act — an act done for the sake of others; hence the fact already noted, that progress is marked by sacrifice becoming voluntary and self-chosen, and we realise that humanity reaches its perfection in the man who gives himself for men, and by his own suffering purchases for the race some lofty good. ”Here, in the highest regions, is the inmost verity of vicarious sacrifice, and however it may be degraded and distorted, this inner spiritual truth makes it indestructible, eternal, and the fount whence flows the spiritual energy which, in manifold forms and ways, redeems the world from evil and draws it home to God”. (A. Besant. Nineteenth Century, June, 1895, “The Atonement”) When the Logos comes forth from “the bosom of the Father” in that “Day” when He is said to be “begotten”, (Heb., i, 5.) the dawn of the Day of Creation, of Manifestation, when by Him God “made theworlds”, (Heb., i, 2.) He by His own will limits Himself, making as it were a sphere enclosing the Divine Life, coming forth as a radiant orb of Deity, the Divine Substance, Spirit within and limitation, or Matter, without. This is the veil of matter which makes possible the birth of the Logos, Mary, the World-Mother, necessary for the manifestation in time of the Eternal, that Deity may manifest for the building of the worlds. That circumscription, that self-limitation, is the act of sacrifice, a voluntary action done for love’s sake, that other lives may be born from Him. Such a manifestation has been regarded as a death, for, in comparison with the unimaginable life of God in Himself, such circumscription in matter may truly be called death. It has been regarded, as we have seen, as a crucifixion in matter, and has been thus figured, the true origin of the symbol of the cross, whether in its so-called Greek form, wherein the vivifying of matter by the Holy Ghost is signified, or in its so-called Latin, whereby the Heavenly Man is figured, the supernal Christ. (C. W. Leadbeater.- The Christian Creed pp 54-56) ”In tracing the symbolism of the Latin cross, or rather of the crucifix, back into the night of time, the investigators had expected to find the figure disappear, leaving behind what they supposed to be the earlier cross-emblem. As a matter of fact exactly the reverse took place, and they were startled to find that eventually the cross drops away, leaving only the figure with uplifted arms. No longer is there any thought of pain or sorrow connected with that figure, though still it tells of sacrifice; rather is it now the symbol of the purest joy the world can hold — the joy of freely giving — for it typifies the Divine Man standing in space with arms upraised in blessing, casting abroad His gifts to all humanity, pouring forth freely of Himself in all directions, descending into that ‘dense sea’ of matter, to be cribbed, cabined, and confined therein, in order that through that descent we may come into being”. (C. W. Leadbeater. The Christian Creed, pp. 56, 57.) This sacrifice is perpetual, for in every form in this universe of infinite diversity this life is enfolded, and is its very heart, the “Heart of Silence” of the Egyptian ritual, the “Hidden God”. This sacrifice is the secret of evolution. The Divine Life, cabined within a form, ever presses outwards in order that the form may expand, but presses gently, lest the form should break ere yet it had reached its utmost limit of expansion.
With infinite patience and tact and discretion, the divine One keeps up the constant pressure that expands, without loosing a force that would disrupt. In every form, in mineral, in vegetable, in animal, in man, this expansive energy of the Logos is ceaselessly working. That is the evolutionary force, the lifting life within the forms, the rising energy that science glimpses, but knows not whence it comes. The botanist tells of an energy within the plant, that pulls ever upwards; he knows not how, he knows not why, but he gives it a name — the vis a fronte — because he finds it there, or rather finds its results. Just as it is in plant life, so is it in other forms as well, making them more and more expressive of the life within them. When the limit of any form is reached, and it can grow no further, so that nothing more can be gained through it by the soul of it — that germ of Himself, which the Logos is brooding over — then He draws away His energy, and the form disintegrates — we call it death and decay. But the soul is with Him, and He shapes for it a new form, and the death of the form is the birth of the soul into fuller life. If we saw with the eyes of the Spirit instead of with the eyes of the flesh, we should not weep over a form, which is a corpse giving back the materials out of which it was builded, but we should joy over the life passing onwards into nobler form, to expand under the unchanging process the powers still latent within. Through that perpetual sacrifice of the Logos all lives exist; it is the life by which the universe is ever becoming. This life is One, but it embodies itself in myriad forms, ever drawing them together and gently overcoming their resistance.
Thus it is an At-one-ment, a unifying force, by which the separated lives are gradually made conscious of their unity, labouring to develop in each a self-consciousness, which shall at last know itself to be one with all others, and its root One and divine. This is the primary and ever-continued sacrifice, and it will be seen that it is an outpouring of Life directed by Love, a voluntary and glad pouring forth of Self for the making of other Selves. This is “the joy of thy Lord” (S. Matt., xxv, 21, 23, 31-45) into which the faithful servant enters, significantly followed by the statement that He was hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, a stranger and in prison, in the helped or neglected children of men. To the free Spirit to give itself is joy, and it feels its life the more keenlythe more it pours itself forth. And the more it gives, the more it grows, for the law of the growth of life is that it increases by pouring itself forth and not by drawing from without — by giving, not by taking. Sacrifice, then, in its primary meaning, is a thing of joy the Logos pours Himself out to make a world, and, seeing the travail of His soul, is satisfied. (Is.liii,11) But the word has come to be associated with suffering, and in all religious rites of sacrifice some suffering, if only that of a trivial loss to the sacrificer, is present. It is well to understand how this change has come about, so that when the word “sacrifice” is used the instinctive connotation is one of pain. The explanation is seen when we turn from the manifesting Life to the forms in which it is embodied, and look at the question of sacrifice from the side of the forms. While the life of Life is in giving, the life, or persistence, of form is in taking, for the form is wasted as it is exercised, it is diminished as it is exerted. If the form is to continue, it must draw fresh material from outside itself in order to repair its losses, else will it waste and vanish away. The form must grasp, keep, build into itself what it has grasped, else it cannot persist; and the law of growth of the form is to take and assimilate that which the wider universe supplies. As the consciousness identifies itself with the form, regarding the form as itself, sacrifice takes on a painful aspect; to give, to surrender, to lose what has been acquired, is felt to undermine the persistence of the form, and thus the Law of Sacrifice becomes a law of pain instead of a law of joy. Man had to learn by the constant breaking up of forms, and the pain involved in the breaking, that he must not identify himself with the wasting and changing forms, but with the growing persistent life, and he was taught his lesson not only by external nature, but by the deliberate lessons of the Teachers who gave him religions.
We can trace in the religions of the world four great stages of instruction in the Law of Sacrifice. First, man was taught to sacrifice part of his material possession in order to gain increased material prosperity, and sacrifices were made in charity to men and in offerings to Deities, as we may read in the scriptures of the Hindus, the Zoroastrians, the Hebrews, indeed all the world over. The man gave up something he valued to insure future prosperity to himself, his family, his community, his nation. He sacrificed in the present to gain in the future. Secondly, came a lesson a little harder to learn; instead of physical prosperity and worldly good, the fruit to be gained by sacrifice was celestial bliss. Heaven was to be won, happiness was to be enjoyed on the other side of death — such was the reward for sacrifices made during the life led on earth. A considerable step forward was made when a man learned to give up the things for which his body craved for the sake of a distant good which he could not see nor demonstrate. He learned to surrender the visible for the invisible, and in so doing rose in the scale of being; for so great is the fascination of the visible and the tangible, that if a man be able to surrender them for the sake of an unseen world in which he believes, he has acquired much strength and has made a long step towards the realisation of that unseen world. Over and over again martyrdom has been endured, obloquy has been faced, man has learned to stand alone, bearing all that his race could pour upon him of pain, misery, and shame, looking to that which is beyond the grave.
True, there still remains in this a longing for celestial glory, but it is no small thing to be ableto stand alone on earth and rest on spiritual companionship, to cling firmly to the inner life when the outer is all torture. The third lesson came when a man, seeing himself as part of a greater life, was willing to sacrifice himself for the good of the whole, and so became strong enough to recognise that sacrifice was right, that a part, a fragment, a unit in the sum total of life, should subordinate the part to the whole, the fragment to the totality. Then he learned to do right, without being affected by the outcome to his own person, to do duty, without wishing for result to himself, to endure because endurance was right not because it would be crowned, to give because gifts were due to humanity not because they would be repaid by the Lord. The hero-soul thus trained was ready for the fourth lesson: that sacrifice of all the separated fragment possesses is to be offered because the Spirit is not really separate but is part of the divine Life, and knowing no difference, feeling no separation, the man pours himself forth as part of the Life Universal, and in the expression of that Life he shares the joy of his Lord. It is in the three earlier stages that the pain-aspect of sacrifice is seen. The first meets but small sufferings; in the second the physical life and all that earth has to give may be sacrificed; the third is the great time of testing, of trying, of the growth and evolution of the human soul. For in that stage duty may demand all in which life seems to consist, and the man, still identified in feeling with the form, though knowing himself theoretically to transcend it, finds that all he feels as life is demanded of him, and questions: “If I let this go, what then will remain?” It seems as though consciousness itself would cease with this surrender, for it must loose its hold on all it realises, and it sees nothing to grasp on the other side. An over-mastering conviction, an imperious voice, call on him to surrender his very life. If he shrinks back, he must go on in the life of sensation, the life of the intellect, the life of the world, and as he has the joys he dared not resign, he finds a constant dissatisfaction, a constant craving, a constant regret and lack of pleasure in the world, and he realises the truth of the saying of the Christ, that “he that will save his life shall lose it”, (S. Matt., xvi, 25.) and that the life that was loved and clung to is only lost at last. Whereas if he risks all in obedience to the voice that summons, if he throws away his life, then in losing it, he finds it unto life eternal, (S. John, xii, 25.) and he discovers that the life he surrendered was only death in life, that all he gave up was illusion, and that he found reality. In that choice the metal of the soul is proved, and only the pure gold comes forth from the fiery furnace, where life seemed to be surrendered but where life was won.
And then follows the joyous discovery that the life thus won is won for all, not for the separated self, that the abandoning of the separated self has meant the realising of the Self in man, and that the resignation of the limit which alone seemed to make life possible has meant the pouring out into myriad forms, an undreamed vividness and fullness, ” the power of an endless life”. (Heb., vii, 16.) Such is an outline of the Law of Sacrifice, based on the primary Sacrifice of the Logos, that Sacrifice of which all other sacrifices are reflections. We have seen how the man Jesus, the Hebrew disciple, laid down His body in glad surrender that a higher Life might descend and become embodied in the form He thus willingly sacrificed, and how by that act He became a Christ of full stature, to be the Guardian of Christianity, and to pour out His life into the great religion founded by the Mighty One with whom thesacrifice had identified Him. We have seen the Christ-Soul passing through the great Initiations — born as a little child, stepping down into the river of the world’s sorrows, with the waters of which he must be baptised into his active ministry, transfigured on the Mount, led to the scene of his last combat, and triumphing over death. We have now to see in what sense he is an atonement, how in the Christ-life the Law of Sacrifice finds a perfect expression. The beginning of what may be called the ministry of the Christ come to manhood is in that intense and permanent sympathy with the world’s sorrows which is typified by the stepping down into the river. From that time forward the life must be summed up in the phrase, “He went about doing good”; for those who sacrifice the separated life to be a channel of the divine Life, can have no interest in this world save the helping of others. He learns to identify himself with the consciousness of those around him, to feel as they feel, think as they think, enjoy as they enjoy, suffer as they suffer, and thus he brings into his daily waking life that sense of unity with others which he experiences in the higher realms of being. He must develop a sympathy which vibrates in perfect harmony with the many-toned chord of human life, so that he may link in himself the human and the divine lives, and become a mediator between heaven and earth.
Power is now manifested in him, for the Spirit is resting on him, and he begins to stand out in the eyes of men as one of those who are able to help their younger brethren to tread the path of life. As they gather round him, they feel the power that comes out from him, the divine Life in the accredited Son of the Highest. The souls that are hungry come to him and he feeds them with the bread of life; the diseased with sin approach him, and he heals them with the living word which cures the sickness and makes whole the soul; the blind with ignorance draw nigh him, and he opens their eyes by the light of his wisdom. It is the chief mark in his ministry that the lowest and the poorest, the most desperate and the most degraded, feel in approaching him no wall of separation, feel as they throng around him welcome and not repulsion; for there radiates from him a love that understands and that can therefore never wish to repel. However low the soul may be, he never feels the Christ-Soul as standing above him but rather as standing beside him, treading with human feet the ground healso treads; yet as filled with some strange uplifting power that raises him upwards and fills him also with new impulse and fresh inspiration. Thus he lives and labours, a true Saviour of men, until the time comes when he must learn another lesson, losing for awhile his consciousness of that divine Life of which his own has been becoming ever more and more the expression. And this lesson is that the true centre of divine Life lies within and not without. The Self has its centre within each human soul — truly is “the centre everywhere”, for Christ is in all, and God in Christ — and no embodied life, nothing “out of the Eternal’ (Light on the Path, § 8.) “can help him in his direst need. He has to learn that the true unity of Father and Son is to be found within and not without, and this lesson can only come in uttermost isolation, when he feels forsaken by the God outside himself. As this trial approaches, he cries out to those who are nearest to him to watch with him through his hour of darkness; and then, by the breaking of every human sympathy, the failing of every human love, he finds himself thrown back on the life of the divine Spirit, and cries out to his Father, feeling himself in conscious union with Him, that the cup may pass away. Having stood alone, save for that divine Helper, he is worthy to face the last ordeal, where the God without him vanishes, and only the God within is left. “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” rings out the bitter cry of startled love and fear. The last loneliness descends on him, and he feels himself forsaken and alone. Yet never is the Father nearer to the Son than at the moment when the Christ-Soul feels himself forsaken, for as he thus touches the lowest depth of sorrow, the hour of his triumph begins to dawn. For now he learns that he must himself become the God to whom he cries, and by feeling the last pang of separation he finds the eternal unity, he feels the fount of life is within, and knows himself eternal. None can become fully a Saviour of men nor sympathise perfectly with all human suffering, unless he has faced and conquered pain and fear and death unaided, save by the aid he draws from the God within him.
It is easy to suffer when there is unbroken consciousness between the higher and the lower; nay, suffering is not, while that consciousness remains unbroken, for the light of the higher makes darkness in the lower impossible, and pain is not pain when borne in the smile of God. There is a suffering that men haveto face, that every Saviour of man must face, where darkness is on the human consciousness, and never a glimmer of light comes through; he must know the pang of the despair felt by the human soul when there is darkness on every side, and the groping consciousness cannot find a hand to clasp. Into that darkness every Son of Man goes down, ere he rises triumphant; that bitterest experience is tasted by every Christ, ere he is “able to save them to the uttermost” (Heb., vii, 25.) who seek the Divine through him. Such a one has become truly divine, a Saviour of men, and he takes up the world-work for which all this has been the preparation. Into him must pour all the forces that make against man, in order that in him they may be changed into forces that help. Thus he becomes one of the Peace-centres of the world, which transmute the forces of combat that would otherwise crush man. For the Christs of the world are these Peace-centres into which pour all warring forces, to be changed within them and then poured out as forces that work for harmony. Part of the sufferings of the Christ not yet perfect lies in this harmonising of the discord-making forces in the world. Although a Son, he yet learns by suffering and is thus “made perfect”. (Heb., v, 8, 9.) Humanity would be far more full of combat and rent with strife were it not for the Christ-disciples living in its midst, and harmonising many of the warring forces into peace.
When it is said that the Christ suffers ” for men”, that His strength replaces their weakness, His purity their sin, His wisdom their ignorance, a truth is spoken; for the Christ so becomes one with men that they share with Him and He with them. There is no substitution of Him for them, but the taking of their lives into His, and the pouring of His life into theirs. For, having risen to the plane of unity, He is able to share all He has gained, to give all He has won. Standing above the plane of separateness and looking down at the souls immersed in separateness, He can reach each while they cannot reach each other. Water can flow from above into many pipes, open to the reservoir though closed as regards each other, and so He can send His life into each soul. Only one condition is needed in order that a Christ may share His strength with a younger brother: that in the separated life the human consciousness will open itself to the divine, will show itself receptive of the offered life, and takethe freely outpoured gift. For so reverent is God to that Spirit which is Himself in man, that He will not even pour into the human soul a flood of strength and life unless that soul is willing to receive it. There must be an opening from below as well as an outpouring from above, the receptiveness of the lower nature as well as the willingness of the higher to give. That is the link between the Christ and the man; that is what the churches have called the outpouring of “divine grace”; that is what is meant by the “faith” necessary to make the grace effective. As Giordano Bruno once put it — the human soul has windows, and can shut those windows close. The sun outside is shining, the light is unchanging; let the windows be opened and the sunlight must stream in. The light of God is beating against the windows of every human soul, and when the windows are thrown open, the soul becomes illuminated. There is no change in God, but there is a change in man; and man’s will may not be forced, else were the divine Life in him blocked in its due evolution. Thus in every Christ that rises, all humanity is lifted a step higher, and by His wisdom the ignorance of the whole world is lessened. Each man is less weak because of His strength, which pours out over all humanity and enters the separated soul Out of that doctrine, seen narrowly, and therefore mis-seen, grew the idea of the vicarious Atonement as a legal transaction between God and man, in which Jesus took the place of the sinner.
It was not understood that One who had touched that height was verily one with all His brethren; identity of nature was mistaken for a personal substitution, and thus the spiritual truth was lost in the harshness of a judicial exchange. ”Then he comes to a knowledge of his place in the world, of his function in nature — to be a Saviour and to make atonement for the sins of the people. He stands in the inner Heart of the world, the Holy of Holies, as a High Priest of Humanity. He is one with all his brethren, not by a vicarious substitution, but by the unity of a common life. Is any sinful? he is sinful in them, that his purity may purge them. Is any sorrowful? in them he is the man of sorrows; every broken heart breaks his, in every pierced heart his heart is pierced. Is any glad? in them he is joyous, and pours out his bliss. Is any craving? in them he is feeling want that he may fill them with his utter satisfaction. He has everything, and because it is his it is theirs. He is perfect; then they are perfect with him. He is strong; who then can be weak, since he is in them? He climbed to his high place that he might pour out to all below him, and he lives in order that all may share his life. He lifts the whole world with him as he rises, the path is easier for all men because he has trodden it. ”Every son of man may become such a manifested Son of God, such a Saviour of the world. In each such Son is ‘God manifest in the flesh’, (1 Tim., iii, 16.) the atonement that aids all mankind, the living power that makes all things new. Only one thing is needed to bring that power into manifested activity in any individual soul; the soul must open the door and let Him in. Even He, all-permeating, cannot force His way against His brother’s will; the human will can hold its own alike against God and man, and by the law of evolution it must voluntarily associate itself with divine action, and not be broken into sullen submission. Let the will throw open the door and the life will flood the soul. While the door is closed it will only gently breathe through it its unutterable fragrance, that the sweetness of that fragrance may win, where the barrier may not be forced by strength.
“This it is, in part, to be a Christ; but how can mortal pen mirror the immortal, or mortal words tell of that which is beyond the power of speech? Tongue may not utter, the unillumined mind may not grasp, that mystery of the Son who has become one with the Father, carrying in His bosom the sons of men”. (Annie Besant. Theosophical Review, Dec.,1898, pp. 344, 346.) Those who would prepare to rise to such a life in the future must begin even now to tread in the lower life the path of the Shadow of the Cross. Nor should they doubt their power to rise, for to do so is to doubt the God within them. “Have faith in yourself”, is one of the lessons that comes from the higher view of man, for that faith is really in the God within. There is a way by which the shadow of the Christ-life may fall on the common life of man, and that is by doing every act as a sacrifice, not for what it will bring to the doer but for what it will bring to others, and, in the daily common life of small duties, petty actions, narrow interests, by changing the motive and thus changing all. Not one thing in the outer life need necessarily be varied; in any life sacrifice may be offered, amid any surroundings God may be served. Evolving spirituality is marked not bywhat a man does, but by how he does it; not in the circumstances, but in the attitude of a man towards them, lies the opportunity of growth.
“And indeed this symbol of the cross may be to us as a touchstone to distinguish the good from the evil in many of the difficulties of life. ‘Only those actions through which shines the light of the cross are worthy of the life of the disciple’, says one of the verses in a book of occult maxims; and it is interpreted to mean that all that the aspirant does should be prompted by the fervour of self-sacrificing love. The same thought appears in a later verse: ‘When one enters the path, he lays his heart upon the cross; when the cross and the heart have become one, then hath he reached the goal’. So, perchance, we may measure our progress by watching whether selfishness or self-sacrifice is dominant in our lives”. (C.W. Leadbeater. The Christian Creed, pp. 61, 62.) Every life which begins thus to shape itself is preparing the cave in which the Child-Christ shall be born, and the life shall become a constant at-one-ment, bringing the divine more and more into the human. Every such life shall grow into the life of a “beloved Son” and shall have in it the glory of the Christ. Every man may work in that direction by making every act and power a sacrifice, until the gold is purged from the dross, and only the pure ore remains.