The Theosophical Forum – March 1941

THE MAKING OF A GOSPEL — Philip A. Malpas

Most of us have found our Gospels ready made and it has not occurred to us to speculate as to their birth. Millions of us have accepted them as simple history, in fact as "Gospel truth."

To avoid a long story, let us assume that we are at the beginning of a gospel-birth and that it is a single event, not spread out.

From the great storehouse of all wisdom and all the wise men of all the ages comes a Teacher — high, medium, or low, according to the ripeness of the time, or the reverse. He desires to set going keynotes of spiritual aspiration to last a certain time, until other Teachers and keynotes are due. How shall he do it? First, he must have a pupil or pupils — that is the aim of a Teacher. There may be pupils intellectually ready and, with luck, also spiritually ready, to assimilate and digest more teaching than they have. The Teacher's business is to lead them as far as they can safely go, if possible at that point dropping them as incapable of further progression at the moment, and not as opponents or enemies. Best of all is the rarer case where they never cease to progress. Delicate management is required, because the Teacher knows the tendencies of the imperfect human, like a moth with a candle, to oppose the Light when he has failed to advance with undazzled vision beyond a certain point of approach. Therefore caution is necessary. Also, how can he clearly express spiritual truths in terms of the intellect, however brilliant. In fact, the more brilliant the intellect unguided by the spirit, the more difficult it is for the spiritual light to penetrate the man's character. Only an approximation is possible, the closer the better.

The time is ripe; the pupils, whose destiny it is from past actions, are born in the time of their Teacher, and he begins. One lifetime is a very short period to found and establish a school, even among old pupils who are now to have their next chance. So the Teacher sometimes knocks at a strange door. He demonstrates certain unfamiliar laws of nature, which are often called miracles. Although in early Christian literature we find complaints that, though there are no "proofs" of the miracles of Jesus the Teacher, those of Apollonius, who lived a hundred years or so later are well known. The one who complains is perhaps unaware that the "miracles" of Jesus are not meant to be actual incidents in daily life, but types of a Teacher's credentials. They are dangerous credentials because of men's ignorance — either they may kill him as a sorcerer or they may worship him as a God, neither of which courses is welcome to him. What he wants is to awaken their spirituality and get them to live the spiritual life for themselves. And if they are very intellectual or psychically inclined, those qualities are often great stumbling-blocks, sometimes almost insuperable.

So he attracts his pupils as best he can. Soul calls to soul, and they recognise him according to their degree of perception.

He forms a school. There are pupils of very varying degrees. How can he amalgamate them? By forming degrees of classes. Also by teaching allegorically, "as through a glass darkly," to the least progressed, "face to face" with others who are ready.

His teaching is the story of man's evolution in theory and if possible, practice. So he builds up a "legend," a "mystery," and uses it as a lodge-ritual or drama of Everyman's life, now and in the future, in "life" and in the great intervals between lives that men call "death." Perhaps he chooses only a certain aspect or part of that non-stop life which we may call life-death-life.

Sometimes the allegory or symbolism is built up on familiar figures known to the intellect which can be used, so to say, as language, to describe the soul-processes which no intellect can really define.

One Teacher takes the symbolism of building a Temple as that of the building up or evolution of the soul, the Man. Another takes the Vineyard, and the intellectual-minded actually confuse the spiritual Wine of Life, the true Bacchic communion, with alcohol! The Sheepfold is a beautiful and graphic symbolism. The Bread or Corn is one of the most sublime. The Heavenly Marriage is also grand in its conception, but in the present state of mankind's development so little likely to be interpreted spiritually and not materially that it is very dangerous — as some early Christian sects found it. How can the public be expected to understand the symbolism of marriage among ascetics as spiritual symbolism and no more? Trees, doves, serpents, dragons, children, fishes, crosses — all have their uses as descriptive figure-material for such a symbol-ritual.

Because of the inevitable misunderstanding and degradation in the hands of untrained or unpledged disciples or profanes, it is necessary to keep the ritual secret or private, or at least its real application and working.

There were wise Greeks who said that Homer and Hesiod ought to have been condemned for their stories of the gods and their failings. They said they were a direct encouragement to bad men to do the same. But these stories were high symbolism and should have been kept for the crypt, the lodge, alone, where they were known to be symbolic. The same applies to many Bible stories of the little tribe of Jews in Palestine.

A very good plan for such a lodge-ritual or symbolism is to take the story of a man standing symbolically for every man, and show him coming through struggles to the goal of everyman, the spiritual state of a god.

Suppose such a Teacher wanted to build up on the beautiful Temple symbolism. He could take the Temple — the Great Pyramid, for instance, which some call El Harran — and show a great builder constructing it. The builder and the Temple could really be the same, separated for purposes of symbolism. Is not Man the builder of his own temple, himself?

The details of the building can be elaborated in any direction. And there you have a wonderful story, as a lodge-ritual. It would take too long to go into detail, but we can imagine the typical man being named Hermes with the strong guttural V. In the Egyptian language he might be connected with coens, cohens, or cowans, or priests, and some Egyptian form of the word Hermes. But in the Orient the word might well be chohans. The point is that all these names can be "localized" in forming a new ritual-story for any particular people or place. Thoth, Khnum, Kheper, Isis, and all the whole host of names might well be adapted from Sanskrit equivalents to make an Egyptian god-story.

A hint is even given by Plato and H. P. Blavatsky that Atlantean names were so transferred to Egyptian equivalents and thence to other Greek equivalents, each language concealing the story behind the name.

Our Teacher then, of high degree or low, might wish to transfer, or localize, shall we say, an Egyptian ritual into a Hebrew ritual. He would take the name Hermes in its Greek form and render it say "Hiram," each form of the word containing the essential consonants H-rr-m. Thoth he might make into Tot or D-O-D, Daud or even David, the "writer." Sol-om-on, the god-name in three languages, fits in very well with Suleyman or its variations, Salamon, Salmon, etc. Just as in Greek Sol-on is also "the wisest man who ever lived."

So a purely local ritual may be built up of Egyptian, Chaldaean, Hindu, or Atlantean elements. The hierophant and the adepts know perfectly well what it all means, but the lower degrees know in ever more veiled form, until the profanes — those "outside the temple," if they get to know the stories and names, know nothing of their real significance. In time, as corruption and materialism increase, the inner meanings are lost or, for safety, withdrawn, and you have the exoteric local story as "history," or at least myth or mythos.

I have never heard that the Jews made of Hiram a god, much less worshiped him. If they did so, it must have been very much in secret. The Temple story is very beautiful, and every word has its inner meaning down to the very open confession that it was "made without the sound of axe or hammer" or any noise. The growth of the soul always is in the silence. But I have no doubt that there were many neophytes who became "Hirams" for the period of their initiation before as many "Solomons."

It is easy to figurate some later Teacher who desires to give a new spiritual impulse to some group, perhaps not a high teacher, or possibly a high teacher unable to utilize his full strength owing to the quality of the time and the pupils, working with a group in a downward cycle preparing for a period of worse materialism than usual. He might also choose a Hebrew setting for his ritual. "Man" is "Ish." Joshua the "Savior" is also a form of "Ish," "Ish-u," shall we say. Rendered more Latin or Greek in form it is the same word as "Jesus" or "Iesous." The story of the Chrest — the pilgrim, the man, the neophyte, the struggler towards spirituality, is a very good figure for the Ish or Jesus.

It would take too long to go into all details, but the general idea is clear. A ritual is built up, and like all others made by experts; it is a beautiful allegory of the soul's, or man's evolution, and his hothouse evolution also, so to say, or initiation.

But whatever the lodge or sect or brotherhood or gnostic association that used this little ritual, it became more or less public and therefore inevitably corrupt through lack of knowledge. In some inexplicable way the Chrest became tangled up with the Christ — quite a different affair. The Chrest does not become a Christ before he dies the initiation-death, but how were the uninitiated to know that? The result is that at some later date a wholesale substitution of "Christ" for "Chrest" occurred, or even for "Jesus." Quite in line with this is the odd deletion of the name Jesus Barabbas, because no one could understand that such a bad man and criminal (instead of a personified human principle!) could bear the name Jesus. (But a few of the oldest MSS., or copies of them, still retain the Jesus Barabbas — Jesus the son of the Father!)

We have run a little ahead of our story. The original "gospels" might have been small fragments, each complete in itself, which were later hammered together in the Museum at Alexandria into what we call the gospel. At some point along the line it was evidently decided to make the mythos into history and a real living historical man was sought as the typical Ish or "Man" (Mensch). It was not difficult to find one. There was a great Avatara who had chosen to be born in a Syrian or Palestinian body, or if you prefer it more accurately, a divine power chose to overenlighten a highly spiritual being who in his turn had chosen a Syrian body. That was in the troublous reign of King Alexander Jannaeus of Judea, there or thereabouts, say 120 b. c. His name might or might not have been Jesus, or that name might have been given him in view of the Savior and Ish and Joshua implications; often a mystic name has many meanings. This historical figure, almost unknown to history as to his personal life, was dovetailed into the beautiful and significant mythos, and the ritual became "history." More, this grand figure even came to be worshiped by the profanes as a god — not that they quite know what a god is or might be, but a sense of vagueness adds to the illusion.

So now we have, launched upon the world, the exoteric story of the personified Man or Soul on its way to Godhead. And the "gospel" has become a very exoteric gospel indeed.

One could write volumes on the theme, but we have said enough.

A final hint may be given for thought. Has anyone ever thought of the lower class of gods who are the creator and creators, and the higher — the architect? The Creator god is not a high god at all except for the uninformed public — the pro-fane. One of the most ingenious and beautiful Gnostic mythoi describes the origin of Christianity as being the supplanting of the material, violent, revengeful, material God of the Jews by the much higher Gnostic God, Jesus or Christ, the architect God, because the creator, the workman, the builder god, did not know he was not the highest, and therefore was making a sorry business of his reign, impossible to continue as such.

But the Creator principle is still very beautifully allegorized and symbolized in its place. It is the Jot or Jod, the tenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. And it has a very striking resemblance to the Western word God, Gott, and its variations. I believe it is one of the Siva symbols, equally beautiful to a beautiful mind. You might write it as "I" in Hebrew and "G" in English.

The word "Evangelion" in Greek, which we translate Gospel, would also bear a little thought, remembering that these adept ritual-makers more than often hid meaning after meaning under the "cloak" of the outer word or narrative, and especially names. Some sort of a play of the words is made as meaning the "good message" the good-spel or god-spel, the gospel — but there may be other and not uninteresting derivations for our cryptographers who know the Gnostic methods of "concealing while half-revealing." Who can say?


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