"Neither do men put new wine into old skins, lest the skins be burst, and the wine is poured out, and the skins will be destroyed; but men cast new wine into new skins, and both are preserved together" — thus did Matthew, publican and scribe, record his Master's teaching: that the power and strength (dunamis) of a new Messianic force will not be poured into the musty "skins" of formalism, but will seek fresh vessels of interpretation. (Note the word in Greek is askos, meaning "skin," into which wine is poured, and not "bottle," as usually translated.)
Today, after some 2000 years of straining after the preservation of the wine-skins of Truth, we are beginning to recognize that it is the wine, and not the vessel, that is the Message; and that unless the vehicle of interpretation is constantly renewed by spiritual experience, the force of Truth will burst the vessel, and both "wine" and "skin" be destroyed.
There is no lack of earnestness in contemporary religionists, but there is indeed a lack of confidence in their ability to solve what one Presbyterian minister, Dr. Kenneth Miller of the New York City Mission Society, calls the "unprecedented needs of today." With not a little insight he questions:
How else may one explain the many attempts made this year to interpret afresh the life and works of the great souls of the past such as Thomas a Kempis, Francis de Sales, John Woolman, Soren Kierkegaard, as well as Luther, Calvin, Thomas Aquinas? Water for the revival of the soul must come from deep wells. — (Quoted from the Saturday Review of Literature, February 19, 1949.)
We echo: water for the revival of the soul, and of the spirit, must come from the wellspring of Truth — and not suffer taint by its passage through literalism. But where the wellspring? How find that pure stream of Truth unpolluted by dogma, creed, hypocrisy or priestcraft? Book after book on religious themes has appeared for generations, and religion today is by no means a "dead issue" we are assured, with the Bible continuing to be a "best seller." But organized religion has not yielded the answer as casual glance at the quality of religious output confirms. A grave insecurity of the spirit plagues the ministerial world, whose resources are badly strained to make religion a must in everyday affairs: in education, politics, social conditions, morals, psychology, as well as in international relations. Perhaps never before in recorded history has the search for religion played so prominent a role in Western psychology. Despite the avowed atheism in the modern (often but skin-deep, because born of contempt for the sham of pretended faith), there is sensed a deep yearning for religion per se, for the re-ligio or "leading back" towards spiritual foundations. The World Council of Churches which met last year at Amsterdam, Holland, where broad-scaled clergy from all parts of the world frankly discussed the problems facing them, was dubbed the "greatest church meeting since the Reformation." Still the problems remain unsolved, this exchange but serving to emphasize the spiritual inadequacy of existing religious formulas. The age-old circumstance rears its ugly head: old skins, cracked and withered by literalism, cannot retain fresh wine; aged formulas of faith, crystallized and degraded by priestly observance, cannot produce the vital solvent. Is there, then, no answer?
For seventy-five years the theosophist has studied and absorbed the Oriental atmosphere of thinking, leaving in large measure the Christian Scriptures to follow their well-grooved lines of procedure. There was ample justification in this, for H. P. Blavatsky could no more have poured the wine of her new spiritual Message into the already dried skins of credal Churchianity, than could Jesus 2000 years ago have utilized the dying formulas of thinking of his day. The present upheaval in priestly circles, however, and the insistent demand by both clergy and layman for a new and living interpretation of the Message of Jesus, produces its call, and theosophists are challenged once again to open their Bibles and with fresh vision untrammeled by dogma search out the universalism of the Christ-teaching.
In the words of A. L. Conger, students should attempt to
decode and make intelligible to the Christian adherents in the West the true value and meaning of the so-called Christian scriptures, and to develop the philosophy in the New Testament in the light of Theosophy, which will ultimately draw out an exposition of the Western conception of the SELF.
Armed with this incentive, we have opened our Bible, and in the light of the Greek original stand amazed at the pristine beauty of the Master's teaching: for within its pages, hidden here, and in places widely open, is the purity of a great Occult force. Rules of training, so simply stated, that their profundity is lost in miracle, allegory, or symbol.
And yet, even with the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord's Prayer, and the story of the Great Passion — may we not better say Compassion? — the searching question arises: how is it that the record of these teachings made so long after the passing of their Lord could have wielded so powerful an influence on Western civilization? Who was Jesus? To aver that he was indeed the Son of God, an incarnation of the Logos, born of the Virgin, one with the Father, either speaks volumes if understood — or says nothing at all. To recognize that here a spiritual-divine Force incarnated for the world's redemption at a balancing point in racial cycles is to come nearer the truth: one more effort of The Lodge had been tried.
It is the Messianic force that concerns us, not the intellectual depth of philosophy, for truth to tell, one ventures to suggest that had it not been for the backing of The Lodge at this particular junction point in racial history, the entire episode of the coming of Jesus might well have been lost in the shuffle of evolution. How remarkable that not a single historian of the period even notices his existence, much less his dramatic death! And yet, is it indeed so strange to a theosophist, who considering present day history will observe that not a single text-book, either of religion or philosophy, ever mentions Blavatsky, much less Theosophy; and when she is mentioned in literature it is more often than not as some strange weird phenomenon, or a charlatan to boot!
What, then, is the theosophical concept of Jesus? For answer we could hardly do better than quote from Isis Unveiled, the first theosophical work of Blavatsky, published in 1877:
. . . all the civilized portion of the Pagans who knew of Jesus honored him as a philosopher, an adept whom they placed on the same level with Pythagoras and Apollonius. Whence such a veneration on their part for a man, were he simply, as represented by the Synoptics, a poor, unknown Jewish carpenter from Nazareth? As an incarnated God there is no single record of him on this earth capable of withstanding the critical examination of science; as one of the greatest reformers, an inveterate enemy of every theological dogmatism, a persecutor of bigotry, a teacher of one of the most sublime codes of ethics, Jesus is one of the grandest and most clearly-defined figures on the panorama of human history. His age may, with every day, be receding farther and farther back into the gloomy and hazy mists of the past; and his theology — based on human fancy and supported by untenable dogmas may, nay, must with every day lose more of its unmerited prestige; alone the grand figure of the philosopher and moral reformer instead of growing paler will become with ever century more pronounced and more clearly defined. It will reign supreme and universal only on that day when the whole of humanity recognizes but one father — the UNKNOWN ONE above — and one brother — the whole of mankind below. — II, 150-1
Before opening our Bibles, however, we should well understand that the first problem in contacting the Christian mind is the following: the entire structure of Christian psychology is one built on "faith." Now faith per se is one of the most beautiful and cherished qualities of discipleship; but it must be a true pistis — to use the old Greek and Gnostic term — a pistis or "faith" born of knowledge, of inner conviction, of absolute trust in the LAW. When the pistis or faith becomes merely a blind unreasoning following of some one else's say-so, without the spirit meeting with the mind in knowledge, then the faith becomes sterile, and at worst a deterrent. No matter how released the individual Christian adherent may be from the dominance of the rule of faith: faith in the blood of Jesus, in the Christ as the only begotten Son of God; in the Immaculate Conception as such, in the Crucifixion and Resurrection as such — no matter, we repeat, how emancipated he may be from the overlordship of the Creed, there is still the psychology of the entire Christian belief, which is founded on, supported by, and expands today on, the faith in the supernatural and unique appearance or manifestation of the Christ, as the Son of the Father. For despite the preponderance of evidence that Jesus, the Christ, was but one of a "long line of Wise Men," Saviors of the Race, who come at appointed times, despite the vast array of Teachers, who have been born of an Immaculate Virgin, who have suffered Crucifixion, Descent into Hades, Resurrection and Ascension on the third day, there are still those who cling tenaciously to the theory propounded by embarrassed Church Fathers in the first and second centuries of the Christian Era, that the "Devil has his Christs," and that, as Tertullian and St. Justin explained, "a long time before there were Christians in existence, the devil had taken pleasure to have their future mysteries and ceremonies copied by his worshipers"! The promised Savior — Jesus the Christ — was, in their view, the culmination of the gropings of former periods, the "Desire of all Nations."
But with Church history we have no immediate concern. Those who are interested in the development of the Church during the first three centuries are strongly recommended to study F. C. Baur's Church History, published in English translation in 1878, the culmination of years of intensive labor to divest the supernatural and unique from the elements of Christianity, and with reverence yet powerful scholarship to interpret all the phenomena surrounding the appearance of Jesus, the coming of Christ, as "part of the great historical development." It is refreshing to realize that always there are pioneers, independent investigators, who despite the overbearing theological atmosphere of their surroundings, yet have courage, intuition, and the tenacity of purpose to search for Truth, and finding it declare it boldly.
It may seem strange to some today, who ungrounded in Christian belief, and to whom at best the Christian scriptures are but good literature, to make so "much ado about nothing." But it must be remembered that we live in a Christian land, where millions of earnest men and women are spiritually starving, hungering for just that sound philosophy which can be found in Christian thought. However much the concept of Tertullian has become broadened by time and scholarship, however much we may feel that the Christian world as a whole has advanced beyond the narrowness of such a belief, there is still that closed-door attitude of faith first, inquiry second. We say, faith yes, but strengthened, illumined by "inquiry," the investigative spirit, for as Plato truly said: "Life for man without inquiry is not worth living."
A study of the present illumines the past; research into the past makes clear the present. A glance at the spiritual unrest of 2000 ago should give courage and a new hope. What happened is taking place now. Physically, politically, morally, education ally, socially, to say nothing of the spiritual turmoil of the period the nations surrounding the Mediterranean basin were in a flux of change, unrest, of spiritual and psychic ferment. The old forms of the spirit had cracked, yet the religious yearning was deep, insistent tempestuous in its demand for expression. The Greek mysteries had become but orgies of a degraded type; the old gods and goddesses of Classic mythology were but a mockery of a once deific communion-the rites of Isis in Alexandrian Egypt, while retaining much of the splendor of ancient days, were despoiled of the Spirit. Zoroastrianism had become a form, a mere shadow of a vanished glory. The Hebrews no longer produced their Jeremiahs whose integrity and courage marked the highpoint of Jewish power; even the heroic defiance and benevolent rule of the first Maccabees had gone, and the Jews once again had become a dominated people — their religion formalized.
What was the secret of this decadence — the three once potent religious streams, Hellenism, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism, now but empty sepulchers, the living spirit long since fled? Was it the influx of the new Christian force that shattered and crumbled the old? Should the decay of Paganism in all its forms be laid at the door of Christianity? Not at all. Was it not rather that the turbulence of the time was utilized by Those who watch over the destinies of nations to sow the new seed in the fresh turned soil of inquiry? Was it not that the new cycle then aborning had slowly, but surely, been in seeding for generations, and that only then at that particular convergence of cycles when the Sun slipped into the new zodiacal influence, the Piscean, it could manifest? For suggestive answer we quote from Professor Baur of the Tubingen School, whose indefatigable researches into primitive Christian origins have earned him the gratitude of scholars and thinkers the world over:
Decay and dissolution, . . . had completely seized on the old religions. . . But what had so thoroughly broken up the old faiths? They were crumbling into ruins before Christianity came to touch them. Some other power must have been at work on them which was stronger than they. It is a mistake to think that ages of transition, like that immediately preceding the appearance of Christianity, are simply times of decay and disintegration, when all spiritual and religious life is completely moribund. At such a time the old forms in which religion used to move do indeed decay. What used to fill them with life and reality departs from them, till the hollow forms alone are left. But the very cause of this process is, that the spirit, whose religious feelings the forms once served to express, has expanded and risen beyond them.
— F. C. Baur, Church History, I, 9-10 (itals. ours)
Some "other power" had indeed been at work. For The Lodge wastes not its force on dying forms, on departmentalized religious expression. The once wide-sweeping universalism of the old philosophies and religions, of Hellenic, Persian and Hebraic thought — a universalism of spiritual concept, not of material power, had given way to particularisms, so that the spirit of Truth had "expanded and risen beyond them." Professor Baur continues:
Where an old system decays we may be sure it is because the new truth which is to succeed it is already there; the old would not decay if the new had not arrived, be it but in germ, and been long labouring to undermine and eat away the existing structure. — Ibid.
We can be assured that the "balance of power" in spiritual things is maintained: where it retreats in one sphere, the spirit is sure to pour forth in a new and ready vehicle. Constantly is The Lodge alerted to the great cyclic turnings of the wheel of destiny, so that not only do human and divine cycles conjoin, but the convergence of terrestrial with solar cycles is well observed. Is it so strange, then, that when the Sun slips from one sign of the Zodiac to another (in its precessional cycle) that the forces then released should be utilized for a special outpouring of Spiritual force; that the solar power magnetically generated by the transfer of zodiacal emphasis from one mansion to another should not be accompanied by a spiritual release through some "angelos" or messenger from the Sun? This thought is not unnatural to the Orient, for every child there is taught at its mother's knee of the ten "incarnations" of the Vishnu Avatara — nine of which have already appeared, the tenth to come serving as the prototype in fact of the Christian Messiah still to appear, the "second coming" of the Lord. Nor is this concept so foreign to the emancipated West to whom the Gita has become a companion and guide, for Krishna addresses Arjuna, his disciple, as follows:
Even though myself unborn, of changeless essence, and the lord of all existence, yet in presiding over nature — which is mine — I am born but through my own maya, the mystic power of self-ideation, the eternal thought in the eternal mind. I produce myself among creatures, O son of Bharata, whenever there is a decline of virtue and an insurrection of vice and injustice in the world; and thus I incarnate from age to age for the preservation of the just, the destruction of the wicked, and the establishment of righteousness. (ch. iv, itals. ours).
But what of the present cycle of tortuous upheaval? The Age of Pisces is closing, the Aquarian Age is arriving. Is it not marked by unrest, disintegration and decay, and a thorough breaking up of old ideologies, so that the world hungers for a new Messiah, a new revelation, a new dispensation? Strange that "the Light shineth in darkness, but the darkness comprehendeth it not" remains as true today as when John first wrote those immortal words. The light of Theosophy is clear and strong, but the darkness of credal thinking is still too comfortable for religionists and the world-at-large to welcome the light of Truth. Yet this is not remarkable, nor is it unique in history, whether spiritual or profane. Always the borning time of new growths is slow, taking centuries perhaps before the fruitage is seen. The pregnant words of Baur come again to mind, which though applying to the advent of the Christian Messianic force of 2000 years ago, are equally applicable to the reception of Theosophy since the coming of H. P. Blavatsky in 1875:
It may be long before a new kind of spiritual life takes such shape as to arrest the notice of the world. But the plastic spirit is active all the while, though unobserved; the leaven is working deep out of sight, and the unresting vital process cannot be stayed, but goes evenly and regularly forward, in its successive stages, until it has produced a new creation. — Church History, I, 10
Slow though the reception of theosophic ideas may appear, we have no quarrel with the speed of transition. The emancipation of thought during the last 75 years has been gargantuan, and needs no defence. The important point is to draw the parallel sharp and clear between the movement of 2000 years ago which Jesus initiated, and the Theosophical movement of today. Both shattered and thundered at hypocrisy, at sham, at the vanity of selfish prayer. Where Jesus scorned the Scribes and Pharisees of his day, who represented all that was constricted and formalized (though be it noted that the Pharisees embraced far more liberalism in spiritual thinking than the Sadducees, being used by Christ merely as an example), H. P. Blavatsky scourged and lashed at the hypocrites and pretenders of her day. Liberalism in Christian thought in the 19th century was a thing to be dreaded. Originality of belief some three or four centuries ago meant burning at the Stake. And as for the Inquisition and the cruelties it has perpetrated in the "name of religion," one wonders that there is yet left an atom of strength in the Christian faith. So great, however, is the force and power (dunamis) of the original Messianic expression of Jesus, that even today, with its wornout formalisms, it brings a message of strength to many in need. It is not enough, however, to satisfy the present demand for more light, more hope, more sound philosophy.
Where then is the wine of the spirit belonging to this age, to this Messianic cycle? In the vehicle established by Those who sent forth the new "angelos" or messenger to establish a fresh vessel of Truth that men might once again feel the freedom of a universalism of teaching, instead of the narrow particularism of a crystallized faith. In other words — in that movement started by H. P. Blavatsky who was the vehicle of that titanic Messianic force that was to pour into new vessels of the spirit a new wine from The Lodge. She might have called it anything — she called it Theosophy — a most appropriate term, it being the secret name among the occultists of the past fifteen or more centuries, kept alive in crypt and cave through those dark terrible Ages in Europe when the few, tired of the dregs of literalism, thirsted and found a draught of true wine.
The Theosophical ForumTHEOSOPHICAL UNIVERSITY PRESS ONLINE