Theosophical University Press Online Edition
Published as part of a set in the 1930s and '40s by Theosophical University Press; Revised Electronic Edition copyright © 1998 by Theosophical University Press. Electronic version ISBN 1-55700-102-2. All rights reserved. This edition may be downloaded for off-line viewing without charge. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted for commercial or other use in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of Theosophical University Press. Because of current limitations in ASCII character fonts, and for ease in searching, no diacritical marks appear in the electronic version of the text.
Chapter 1: Introductory
Chapter 2: Historical Sketch
"Pagan" Origin of Christianity
Early Forms of Christianity
Development of Christianity
Chapter 3: The Bible — Fundamental Teachings, Part 1
The New Testament
Redemption and Salvation
Sacraments: The Eucharist
Chapter 4: The Bible — Fundamental Teachings, Part 2
The Doctrine of the Trinity
The Second Coming of Christ
The Golden Rule
The Immanent Christ
Chapter 5: Christianity and Morality
The Problem of Evil
Chapter 6: Conclusion
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Theosophy is the essential truth underlying all religions and does not recognize any one religion as being supreme over the others or as the last word of truth. It is not hostile to Christianity, but finds itself obliged to combat many things which it considers alien to the genuine Christian gospel and which have gradually crept in since that gospel was originally proclaimed. Among these is the idea that Christianity is paramount among religions or that it is a final revelation of divine truth, superseding other faiths. This idea is contrary to the truth and is becoming more and more difficult to maintain. For this there are two principal reasons. 1) Ancient religions have been widely and intensively studied, especially those of India, which have become accessible through the knowledge of Sanskrit. 2) Intercommunication between nations has grown so wide and intimate. These two causes combine to prevent the exclusive attitude of mind which was possible in past times. But it is hard to give up cherished habits and, moreover, people imagine that if they surrender the paramouncy of Christianity they will be surrendering religion itself. And so we find strange expedients resorted to in the attempt to account for the existence in more ancient religions of so many of the doctrines and rituals which were supposed to be peculiar to Christianity. The Abbe Huc, in his celebrated Travels in Tartary, Tibet, and China, describes how he found among the Tibetan priests not only many characteristic doctrines of the Roman Church but even many of their rituals, vestures, and sacred implements. His explanation is that the Devil thus anticipated Christianity in order to deceive mankind; to which he adds a theory that early Christian missionaries may have penetrated to Tibet. A recent improvement on this is found in a theory which we have just seen in a book published under the auspices of a well-known Christian propagation society, to the effect that the lofty doctrines found in India's sacred books were due to the work of the Holy Spirit, who thus prepared mankind for the "greater things than these" to come in the future. But still it rests with him to show that the Christianity which came was really greater.
There are various brands of broad-church Christianity, which seek to enlarge the scope of the religions so as to take in many things now known to man but which did not occupy the minds of our forefathers; but the difficulty with them is to enlarge the gospel sufficiently without destroying its identity as Christianity; and again, if a body of water be widened without increasing its volume, the result is to make it shallower.
At the Church Congress in October, 1935, the Very Rev. W. R. Matthews, Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral, London, said that until recently almost the whole of Christendom would have said that there is one revelation of God, and that it is to be found in the Bible; but (he continued) the supreme revelation is not wholly external and we cannot recognize the "Word made Flesh" unless the Word is within us. He went on to say:
God does not dictate from heaven a creed or articles of faith. He manifests Himself through the experience and personalities of His prophets and of His Son. The doctrines of the Church are formulas in which the revelation has been summed up, guarded and preserved. . . . It may be that more adequate expressions will be found hereafter for the spiritual heritage that they have been formed to express. . . . The Holy Spirit will guide us into new truth.
When such eminent and leading authorities are conceding so much, we can hardly be accused of being altogether unorthodox; we are merely pointing out some of the logical conclusions to which the Dean's admissions inevitably point.
These various attempts all tend to the confession that religions change with the times, that humanity progresses independently of them, and that they must keep up with the needs of humanity or else become a drag upon progress. Yet we cannot on this account reject all religious truth and lapse into one of the forms of unbelief, atheism, or materialism. We must not throw away the substance with the outgrown form. An organized religious system, with its creed, its prescribed ritual, its church organization, is a spirit imbodied in a form; and like every other organism, the form has to undergo continual change, though the spirit within may ever be the same. These are facts which cannot be disputed by anyone with a modicum of historical knowledge or an acquaintance with the general laws of growth and evolution.
But there can be only one truth. Religion itself, apart from creeds and churches, is a recognition and observance of the basic laws of the universe. These basic laws are also inherent in man himself, so that the real eternal and universal religion is based on the facts of human nature and must remain the same as long as man is man. The most essential truth is that man is a divine spirit incarnate in an animal body; that his salvation consists in subduing his lower nature by means of his higher; and that the true law of human conduct is that which is expressed in the Golden Rule. This truth lies at the base of all religions, and Christianity, so far from having originated it, or even improved it, has merely inherited it.
It is necessary to refer briefly to certain theosophical teachings which will be found more fully treated elsewhere, and one of these is the teaching as to the wisdom-religion or secret doctrine. This is knowledge concerning the deepest mysteries of nature and man, but in the present cycle of human evolution, it is unknown to mankind in general. During this cycle therefore it rests under the guardianship of the Masters of Wisdom, or the Great Lodge of initiates, whose function it is to preserve the sacred knowledge and to communicate it to the world at appropriate times and in appropriate places. They accomplish this work in several ways: one is by sending out a messenger from themselves, who appears among mankind, gathers a body of disciples, founds an esoteric school in which to give private instruction, and also gives exoteric teaching to the multitude.
"And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand." — Luke 8:10
"And with many such parables spake he the word unto them [the people], 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." — Mark, 4:33-4
But after the withdrawal of the teacher, the movement which he has started undergoes changes and degeneration. It falls under the influence of worldly motives and forces; it becomes formalized; it breaks up into schools and sects; it acquires various organic forms with churches, priesthood, and creeds. The process can be traced in the history of religions in general; it can be traced in Christianity, so that the Christianity of today is not in any of its forms the original gospel as given by the founder.
It will be well to say a few words about the attitude towards Christians which we here adopt. That attitude will be sympathetic, and not merely from feeling but from knowledge. For the writer, having been brought up in the Church of England and having in early life been a sincere Christian, is thereby qualified to speak with more sympathy and understanding than is sometimes the case with those who can view Christianity only from the outside. Moreover, there will not be the same likelihood of falling into the common forensic error of misrepresenting the case of one's opponent in a controversy, of comparing what is best in theosophy with what is worst in Christianity, or of attacking men of straw or flogging dead horses.
There is no wish to disturb the peace of those who find in Christianity, as they know it, all they need, and especially those who find in their faith the inspiration to a noble life. But there is a large and increasing number to whom our message may be welcome. The churches confess that they are losing their hold, and there are more people than ever who find themselves unable to accept what they are taught, and who yet cannot throw over religion itself and lapse into infidelity. Such people are at a loss for an expedient; they may find some way of their own, or they may form movements; but in any case their efforts lack both definiteness and cooperation. These needs are supplied by theosophy; theosophy can justly claim to stand as a champion of Christianity by pointing to the true and original excellence of that religion and showing how to extract the essence from the extraneous matter that encumbers it.
We shall show, then, what are the essential truths of religion which change not with the times, cause no conflict between creeds and sects, and are enshrined in the human heart; and we shall trace these in Christianity, its doctrines, its forms, and its scriptures. Thereby we shall prove that Christianity is kin to the other great religions and to the greatest philosophical systems, and that there is enough external evidence to prove that it is one of the effluents of the great river of the wisdom-religion. We shall try to trace Christianity from its beginnings, through various changes, to its present forms, so far as that may be possible with imperfect knowledge and in a limited scope. The principal dogmas, articles of faith, and ritual observances must be considered, their real meaning shown by comparison with the corresponding elements in other religions, in philosophies, and in mythologies. It will be shown how the teachings ascribed to Jesus in the Gospels, as well as some of those of his apostles in the Epistles, appear in a new light as soon as we have the key to their interpretation; and how many of such teachings have remained obscure because we had not that key.
Various movements have been started, and exist today, for uniting the world's religions in common service, so that they may pool their efforts instead of contending with each other; and though such efforts are worthy of all praise and have achieved beneficial results, yet their shortcomings and the reasons for these will be clear in the light of what we are saying. Religions are one in essence, and different in external form. The real way to unite them is to get back to the essence in each; attempts to bring about artificial union in externals are not so practicable. Moreover such attempts at unification are apt to take the form of eliminating from the common program the points of difference, so that what remains is a residue more or less vague and lifeless. Such a process resembles subtraction rather than addition; or, better, it is the attempt to find a common factor, which, as we know, becomes smaller in proportion to the multitude of the numbers whose common factor is to be found.
All religions have an esoteric basis beneath their exoteric form, and it is this which has so largely disappeared. Religions as they are do not satisfy the needs of human aspiration, for they leave out so large a part of what vitally concerns man. They are confined chiefly to ethical principles, but tell us nothing about the nature of the universe or the nature of man. Falling thus behind the age, they have allowed to grow up competing influences, such as natural science and abstract philosophy; and so we find the field of knowledge, which should be one, divided into compartments, either independent of each other or else conflicting.
The false antithesis between morals and knowledge, religion and science, righteousness and culture, has been one of the great banes of religion. A unification of the field of knowledge is much desired; a uniform law by which to live; a solid basis for ethics, morals, conduct, instead of dogmas which we cannot believe, or speculations and fads and cults innumerable. A person's real religion is what he lives by — whatever he may profess. Thus the real unification of religions is found, not by trying to force an external union, or by eliminating from them all points of difference and thus leaving a weak residue, but by getting back to the esoteric basis of religions and showing the common parentage of them all; in short, by reviving a knowledge of the ancient wisdom-religion.
"PAGAN" ORIGIN OF CHRISTIANITY
In this section we give evidence to show that Christianity was not new, but derived from what went before; that its cardinal doctrines are held in common with older religions; and that many of its rites and dogmas are adopted from what is called pagan belief. Those people called Fundamentalists seek to go back to the true old gospel; but how far back do they propose to go, and just what point in history do they stop at? Let us take a few quotations from early writers on Christianity.
St. Augustine says:
The very thing which is now called the Christian religion, really was known to the ancients, nor was it wanting at any time from the beginning of the human race up to the time Christ came in the flesh; from which time the true religion, which has previously existed, began to be called Christian, and this in our days is the Christian religion, not as having been wanting in former times, but as having in later times received that name. — Augustini Opera, I, 12
Eusebius, another Father, though an ardent advocate of the new faith, is constrained to admit that the Christian religion was neither new nor strange, and that it was known to the ancients (Ecclesiastical History, see bk. i, ch. iv).
Justin Martyr, in defending Christianity before the Emperor Hadrian, is at pains to show its identity with Paganism.
By declaring the Word (Logos), the first begotten of God, our Master Jesus Christ, to be born of a virgin without any human mixture, to be crucified and dead and afterwards to have risen and ascended into heaven, we say no more than what you say of those whom you call the sons of Jupiter . . . As to the objection of our Jesus being crucified, I say that suffering was common to all the aforementioned sons of Jupiter, only they suffered another kind of death. . . . As to his curing the lame and the paralytic and such as were cripples from birth, this is little more than what you say of your Aesculapius. — Apology, 1, chs. 21, 22
Ammonius Saccas says:
Christianity and Paganism, when rightly understood, differ in no essential points, but had a common origin, and are really one and the same thing.
The following quotation from the controversy between H. P. Blavatsky and the Abbe Roca, published in the French magazine Le Lotus, April 1888, is appropriate here:
For me, Jesus Christ, that is to say the Man-God of the Christians, a copy of the Avatars of all countries, from the Hindu Krishna as well as the Egyptian Horus, was never a historical person. He is a deified personification of the glorified type of the great Hierophants of the Temples, and his story told in the New Testament is an allegory, assuredly containing profound esoteric truths, but an allegory. . . . The legend of which I speak is founded . . . on the existence of a personage called Jehoshua (from which "Jesus" has been made) born at Lud or Lydda about 120 years before the modern era. . . . In spite of all the desperate researches made during long centuries, if we place on one side the witness of the "Evangelists," i. e., unknown men whose identity has never been established, and that of the Fathers of the Church, interested fanatics, neither history nor profane tradition, nor official documents, nor the contemporaries of the soi-disant drama, are able to provide one single serious proof of the historical and real existence, not only of the Man-God but even of him called Jesus of Nazareth, from the year 1 to the year 33. All is darkness and silence. Philo Judaeus, born before the Christian era . . . made several journeys to Jerusalem. He went there to write the history of the religious sects of his epoch in Palestine. No writer is more correct in his descriptions, more careful to omit nothing; no community, no fraternity, even the most insignificant, escaped him. Why then does he not speak of the Nazarenes? Why does he not make the most distant allusion to the Apostles, to the divine Galilean, to the Crucifixion? The answer is easy. Because the biography of Jesus was invented after the first century, and no one in Jerusalem was a bit better informed than Philo himself.
These passages, which are only a sample out of what might be adduced, show that Christianity was recognized as being a continuance of an age-old doctrine, with changes in external form made necessary by changing times.
The history of Christianity proves it to have been inspired by enormous force, all-conquering vitality, enabling it to last through the centuries and dominate so much of the world. And yet, if we seek the origin, we can find only the most meager foundation. The historicity of Jesus is very doubtful; his mission, as recorded in the Gospels, is limited to a few months and is ignored by Pagan historians. Christianity was a revival of the wisdom-religion, started by some great messenger from the Lodge, of whom the record has been lost. The figure in the Gospels is fictitious; the Gospels were not written until long after the time of which they profess to treat; and Paul in his Epistles seems to know nothing of them.
There is a Jewish account of a certain Syrian, named Jeshua or Jehoshua ben Panthera, who lived in the reign of the Jewish king Alexander Jannaeus about a century BC; and some think the name Jesus was derived from this. From this man were derived the doctrines of two sects of Jewish Christians, living before the Christian era, the Ebionites and the Nazarenes. They represent the purest form of Christianity, and taught that Christ is in all men, and the doctrines of Aeons or divine emanations, whereby man himself is shown to be a descendant from the highest divinities. Such too was the teaching of the Christian Gnostics and of the Neoplatonists.
Evidently Christianity was originally a form of the wisdom-religion and taught that man is essentially a divine being, the Christ being simply the divine spirit in man; and that man must achieve his own salvation by recognizing his own divinity and invoking it to his aid. Later this sublime and ancient truth was transformed into belief in a personal God, apart from man and from nature, and into the doctrine of vicarious atonement. But this process of change was gradual.
EARLY FORMS OF CHRISTIANITY
The center of Western civilization at the Christian era was the Mediterranean basin, the scene of a wonderful medley of competing beliefs and cults, under the general government of the Roman Empire. There were several centers where the ancient Mysteries were preserved, taught, and practiced — Alexandria, Antioch, and other places in Asia Minor — and these had communications with India and Persia. We find early Christianity maintaining the doctrines of these schools, and it has been customary to regard these forms of Christianity as heresies due to contamination from Pagan sources, which is exactly the reverse of the actual case. It is these which were the genuine Christianity, and later Christianity was a very much expurgated derivative. So much has our attention been focused upon the particular phase of this religion which eventually survived, that we have ignored the many other forms which for centuries rivaled it, only to succumb to the advancing materialism of the times.
Marcion, who founded the churches of the Marcionites in the second century AD, sought to purify Christianity from the corruptions into which it had fallen. He denied the stories about Christ found in the Gospels, saying that such statements were "carnalizations" of metaphysical allegories and a degradation of the true spiritual idea. He accused the Church Fathers of framing their doctrine according to the capacity of their hearers — "blind things for the blind according to their blindness; for the dull according to their dullness."
Manicheism was a formidable rival to the Church. Roman emperors sought to repress it, Popes anathematized it; yet for nearly a thousand years it maintained its influence, which was felt even as late as the thirteenth century by the Albigenses in southern France, who held several of its doctrines. Its founder, Mani, was of Iranian descent, born in Babylonia; and in 242 AD he proclaimed himself the herald of a new religion, sent forth apostles, and founded congregations all over Asia Minor.
Clement of Alexandria, born about the middle of the second century, wished to enrich Christianity "with the deep spirituality of Platonism" and "advocated a Christianity resting on free inquiry," not on faith alone. Origen, who succeeded him, exhorted his pupil to devote himself to Greek philosophy as a preparatory study for Christian philosophy.
Celsus wrote his work, the True Word, somewhere between 177 and 200; and what we know of it and its author is contained in Origen's work written in opposition to it. He maintains that Christianity is of oriental origin; that its ethical teachings are not new; and that many of its ceremonies are the same as those of heathen religions. He asks why the one God whom Christians and Pagans alike recognize cannot be worshipped under various names, such as Zeus, Serapis, etc. Why should Jehovah be the only name by which Deity can be recognized? Why did Jesus come so late to save mankind?
Origen had been a Neoplatonist, both he and Plotinus having been educated in the school of Ammonius Saccas. He was born in 185, and marks a further stage in the development of Christianity from its broad and lofty origins towards its narrow and dogmatic ecclesiastical form. Yet he held many doctrines since condemned as heretical, such as that all souls are in substantial unity with God, and not the soul of Jesus alone; and that the visible universe is a manifestation of a higher spiritual causal world. Like Paul he knew of the doctrine of hierarchies of divine beings intermediate between God and man ("thrones, dominions, principalities, powers," etc.). The universe had a beginning, so also it must have an end; but it will be succeeded by other universes, its children — a very theosophical doctrine.
The Gnostics of the first three centuries taught the gnosis or divine knowledge, and include such names as Valentinus, Basilides, Marcion, Simon Magus. Their teachings represent a stage of Christianity when it still had teachings about the nature of the universe and of man; but when the religion became vulgarized, these teachings were condemned as heretical. Their principal teachings may be summarized as follows:
1. The opposition between spirit and matter.
2. The allegorical interpretation of Old Testament stories.
3. That the supreme God was not the God who created the world; the world was created by an inferior Aeon, called the Demiurge.
4. Jesus was not the son of Joseph and Mary, but had descended from on high; was in fact the highest of the Aeons, proceeding immediately from the Divine; he was the Redeemer not only of man but of the world, and came to restore the original ancient Gnosis.
5. Belief in karma and reincarnation.
We must confine ourselves to these few samples which will, we hope, invite the student to follow up the subject by his own further studies. That so little is generally known about these matters is due simply to the fact that the condemnation of the churches has prevented people from studying them. But once we become aware that such information is available, we can readily assure ourselves that there is amply sufficient to establish the case. The present object is to indicate that Christianity has come down to us in a very much altered and debased form from much nobler origins.
DEVELOPMENT OF CHRISTIANITY
The history of the early Christians as gathered from contemporary chroniclers of the Roman world is more familiar to the general reader. We find at first a sort of communistic sect, practicing high ideals of conduct; and as this grows larger, it acquires organization and becomes stratified into orders and we have the beginnings of an ecclesiastical hierarchy. The imperial authorities were tolerant or indifferent as regards religious belief, but extremely jealous of any organization which might threaten competition with the imperial sway. Trajan, though a man of broad sympathies, would not even permit the incorporation of a civic fire brigade for this reason.
It was thus that the Christians came in conflict with the powers that be; and the story is familiar to readers of Gibbon. It was the refusal of the Christians to enter into the ordinary life of the community, to sacrifice, to perform the usual ceremonies, to serve as soldiers, which set them apart as a dangerous sect and caused their persecution. As we know, they only grew stronger through persecution, until at last the worldly potentates were driven to make terms with the ecclesiastical ones — Clovis in the west, Roman emperors farther east. Two great factions, the Athanasians and the Arians, occupy the arena for centuries, different emperors espousing the one or the other cause; until at last the Athanasian doctrine becomes predominant in the west, the Arian in the east. Christianity is adopted by the northern conquerors of Rome, and becomes, with modifications, the religion of northern Europe.
We need not follow the story through succeeding centuries: the long and bitter struggles of the Reformation, when both parties took their faith very seriously and the temporal power was not distinguished from the spiritual, are familiar enough. We see one side resting their case on authority, supposed to have been derived by lineal descent from the apostles; the other side resting their case on the Bible. The ghost of the Roman despotic imperium still survives, disputing the field with freedom of thought; but the controversy has lost strength, as humanity is seeking its inspiration at the eternal fount the divine spark within the human breast.
Valentinus was the most famous Christian teacher of the second century, and was the instructor of the Church Fathers Origen and Clement. It suits Christian apologists to regard him as having sought to weld together into one, Grecian, neo-Grecian, Jewish, and Christian elements, and to have displayed marvelous ingenuity and originality in so doing. But a comparison of his doctrines with those of other systems shows at once that they were those of the ancient wisdom which he must have derived from the esoteric schools then existent in Egypt and other parts of the Mediterranean world. His school, the Valentinians, was very influential and widespread for a long time, having main branches in Italy and in Asia Minor, and giving rise to several minor branches. His influence on subsequent thought was very great. He averred that the Apostles had not given out publicly all that they knew, but that they had esoteric teachings. He teaches that the Primal Cause, which he names Bythos (the Depth), manifested itself as the Pleroma (Fullness), which is the sum-total of the manifested universe. He teaches the doctrine of divine hierarchies, according to which the supreme Deity emanates from himself successive orders of divine beings, to which are sometimes given such names as Archangels, Angels, Principalities, Powers, etc., until we come to man himself, who is thus in direct descent from the supreme Deity, and who therefore contains within himself all divine powers, which are mostly latent but can be called forth into activity. The world in which we live was not created by the supreme Deity, but by some of the inferior Emanations, and this explains its imperfections, which have so often been found hard to reconcile with our faith in divine wisdom. He gives the true teaching as to the meaning of Christ as the divine incarnation in every man, and salvation as the reawakening of man to a knowledge of his own essential divinity.
This gives some idea of what Christianity really is and what it was at one time known to be. But when Christianity became mainly a political factor, and it was found necessary to adapt it to the needs of so many different peoples — Roman, Greek, Asiatic, Teutonic — the necessity for uniformity and for an established church with fixed doctrines caused these finer teachings to be eliminated.
What is the truth between the extreme views that the Bible is the literal word of God, and that it is a mass of foolish folklore? The Bible is an esoteric scripture, full of profound meaning when interpreted aright, a mere collection of stories if taken in the dead-letter sense. H. P. Blavatsky, the founder of the Theosophical Society, pays the Bible the greatest respect, but only on the condition that it be understood in the former sense. It is one of many scriptures belonging to various times and nations. It should be studied in due relation to its fellow scriptures.
We have the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament is a collection of ancient Jewish scriptures, and we read that, after the Jews had returned from their Babylonian captivity, the scribe Ezra collected again as much as he could of the old books and reestablished the Jewish canon. From this source, after other changes and eliminations, the Christian Old Testament was ultimately compiled. The Jews have their own interpretations in their Kabalistic books, such as the Zohar and the Sepher Jetzirah, and a great wealth of commentaries; but the Christians know only the dead-letter sense. This has shed a bad influence on the tone of Christianity, for some of these books, literally interpreted, contain much of war, cruelty, treachery, and grossness.
The Pentateuch or first five books of the Old Testament occupies a place of special importance; though long believed to be the work of Moses, yet intelligent criticism has shown that he cannot have been the author, and it is thought that they are largely the work of Ezra. Ostensibly these books contain the accounts of creation and the flood, the ancestry of the Hebrew nation, the wanderings and final settlement, and the law of Moses. The attempt to find consistency and to reconcile the narratives with other historical data is a puzzle to Biblical critics. No wonder, for it is a collection of allegorical legends put together for the main purpose of conveying the hidden meaning. But read esoterically in the light of the Zohar, etc., it reveals a mine of priceless occult truths.
The Old Testament also contains the prophetic books, and Ezekiel and Daniel contain much easily recognized occult symbology, though much tortured by those who try to find in them prophecies about the second advent and the end of the world. Then there is the poetical and imaginative literature, such as Psalms, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon; and Job, a very ancient allegory of the trials of a candidate for initiation, which is found elsewhere and whose origin is undiscoverable.
THE NEW TESTAMENT
The present canon was arrived at as the final result of a series of decisions, and is a selection out of a larger number of books, some of which are still published under the name of the Apocryphal New Testament. There were other Gospels besides the familiar four, and critics can trace back the present Gospels to older ones from which they are evidently derived. We give some quotations from The Esoteric Character of the Gospels, written by H. P. Blavatsky in her magazine Lucifer for November, 1887:
the Bible is not the "Word of God," but contains at best the words of fallible men and imperfect teachers. Yet read esoterically, it does contain, if not the whole truth, still, "nothing but the truth," under whatever allegorical garb.
No more than any other scripture of the great world-religions can the Bible be excluded from that class of allegorical and symbolical writings which have been, from the pre-historic ages, the receptacle of the secret teachings of the Mysteries of Initiation, under a more or less veiled form. The primitive writers of the Logia (now the Gospels) knew certainly the truth, and the whole truth; but their successors had, as certainly, only dogma and form, which lead to hierarchical power at heart, rather than the spirit of the so-called Christ's teachings. Hence the gradual perversion.
. . . the Christian canon, especially the Gospels, Acts and Epistles, are made up of fragments of gnostic wisdom, the ground-work of which is pre-Christian and built on the MYSTERIES of Initiation.
. . . the more one studies ancient religious texts, the more one finds that the ground-work of the New Testament is the same as the ground-work of the Vedas, of the Egyptian theogony, and the Mazdean allegories.
Not to make too many quotations, we may say briefly that the Gospels are symbolic narratives, sacred writings, written down by unknown scribes from their recollections or notes, and afterwards compiled into a canonical collection and taken in their literal instead of their symbolic sense. But more of this will come out when we treat of the teachings under their separate headings.
As to Paul's Epistles, it is evident that he did not teach the representative Christian doctrines of today. The Christ, for him, is an indwelling spirit in all men; he speaks like an initiated teacher, exhorting men to put off the old life of the flesh and to enter into the new life, wherein the Christ becomes alive and conscious in them. He is concerned with attainment and salvation in this life, not in some future life. He is evidently an adept teacher, unable to give out all he knows, especially in open letters, and doing his best to suit his message to the capacities of the various communities he is addressing.
The creation of the universe and of man occupy a foremost place in all cosmogonies and may be said to form the first chapter in the teachings of the ancient wisdom-religion. The word "evolution" would be preferable to "creation," because the latter word is associated with the idea of a personal God creating the universe out of nothing. The subject of the evolution of worlds is treated of elsewhere, and we are concerned here only with showing it as found in the Christian Scriptures.
In the early chapters of Genesis (which means "becoming" or "begetting"), we find a rather confused and abbreviated version of what is to be found in fuller and more accurate form in older scriptures. It derives immediately from Chaldean scriptures of earlier date, some of which have been discovered by archaeologists; but it can be traced farther back to the sacred writings of ancient Persia and India. Similar accounts are to be found in China, in the mythology of ancient Scandinavia, and even among the records of ancient America. This is to mention only a few, for it is not too much to say that the same accounts of the beginnings of worlds and of the evolution of man are to be found all over the globe.
The word "God" is in the Hebrew elohim, which is a plural word meaning "gods" or "spirits," and refers to the creative powers. First there existed naught but chaos, void, emptiness, often spoken of as the Waters or the Great Deep. Over this the creative spirits brood, and the first creation is light. From these beginnings are produced the worlds and all living creatures therein. As to the creation of man —
And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. -- Genesis 2:7
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. — Genesis 1:26-7
As usual there are two accounts of the creation of man: he is first created a living soul (or, as more accurately translated, an animal soul); and then he is made divine. These two accounts have become transposed in the Authorized Version. Man has really a triple creation: first, out of the dust of the earth; then this is animated with the breath of life; last, this animal being is endowed with divine faculty — made in the image of the gods (elohim). The plural word elohim has for some reason been translated God or Lord God; it means creative spirits, divine beings. This teaching of the twofold creation of man is very important, as it shows how man came by his dual nature, and in what way he differs from the animal creation.
As is stated elsewhere, the early races of mankind were "mindless," not endowed with the self-conscious mind; and at a certain stage in evolution, the innate divinity in man was called to life by the manasaputras or "sons of mind," who incarnated in the nascent human race, thus making man a self-conscious responsible being.
The story is continued in the legend of the Garden of Eden. This Garden represents the sinless innocent state of man before he became self-conscious. He was without sin, but also without the power of progress; he knew neither good nor evil. Then comes to man what has been called the temptation. A Serpent, who is described as very wise, appears to man and persuades him to exercise free will and rebel against God. To obtain this free will he must eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. He does so, and forthwith loses his state of innocent bliss, and becomes self-conscious and distinguishes between good and evil. He is cast out of the Garden and begins a life of struggle in the outer world.
This teaching has been perverted by theology into a curse and a fall; and Adam is represented to have sinned, and thereby to have communicated to all his descendants his sin, so that all men are born in sin and need a special divine sacrifice to save them. But in the original teaching, the so-called fall and temptation is a necessary stage in the evolution of man. The Serpent (who has been turned by theology into the Devil) is merely God over again in another form; for this Lord God is not the supreme deity but those creative spirits (elohim) who had made the first unenlightened man. And the Serpent is not the Devil but those sons of mind who, as aforesaid, enlightened mankind, showing him how to partake of the fruit of knowledge and to "become as Gods." This mystery is found in the Greek mythology in the story of Prometheus who, rebelling against Zeus, brings fire from heaven to enlighten man. Both the Serpent of Eden and Prometheus are the same as Lucifer, the Light-Bringer, who has likewise been turned by theology into a devil.
Satan, or the Red Fiery Dragon, the "Lord of Phosphorus" . . . and Lucifer, or "Light-Bearer," is in us: it is our Mind — our tempter and Redeemer, our intelligent liberator and Saviour from pure animalism. Without this principle — the emanation of the very essence of the pure divine principle Mahat (Intelligence), which radiates direct from the Divine Mind — we would be surely no better than animals. The first man Adam was made only a living soul (nephesh), the last Adam was made a quickening Spirit: — says Paul, his words referring to the building or Creation of man. -- The Secret Doctrine 2:513
It is the misinterpretation of this beautiful truth that has given color to the slander against human nature, whereby man is persuaded that he is naturally corrupt, is set at enmity with his own nature and made to mistrust his own intelligence and freedom of thought; it is thereby that man is cursed for performing a simple natural act, which is sinful only when perverted and associated in the mind with guilt and impurity.
This subject of the creation of man and his so-called fall connects naturally with the subject of redemption and salvation, another grand old teaching which has become lost during dark ages, and which has been similarly perverted into something quite different.
This is another sacred allegory common to all peoples. The story of a universal deluge, as is well known, is found everywhere, and has been supposed to be a tradition of floods following the last glaciation of parts of the northern hemisphere. And while it is perfectly true that there was an actual physical deluge — one of many, as geologists will admit — there is much more in the legend than its merely physical aspect. Daniel Brinton, in his Myths of the New World, has brought together a number of the flood stories of various races of ancient Americans, north, central, and south; and what is remarkable about them is the very close similarity in such details as the ark, its resting on a mountain, the sending forth of birds.
In the Sumerian Epic of Creation, which dates one thousand years earlier than Genesis, the flood is placed before the fall. Flood stories, with arks, etc., are found in ancient India, the Norse Edda, the Finnish Kalevala, the Mexican Popol Vuh, among African tribes and Polynesians. The Greek story of Deucalion and Pyrrha, who escaped from the flood and repeopled the earth by casting stones behind them, is familiar to classical readers. The flood story is always connected with a purification of the earth by destruction of the wicked, and there is always an ark or sacred vessel which preserves a few remnants for the founding of a new race.
Is all this physical and historical, or is it allegorical? It is both; for the universal correspondences ordain that physical events shall be molded on spiritual events. There actually have been periodic alterations of the earth's surface, accompanied by the sinking of lands and the upheaval of new lands, as indeed the geological records show. But these events have been but the physical accompaniments of great moral changes; they have been coeval with the ending of great races and the beginning of new races of mankind; and here we are using the word "race" to mean one of the great root-races, each of which lasts more than a million years. While the flood has this general meaning, the innumerable accounts referred to have usually a special reference to the last great deluge, that which accompanied the submergence of the continent of Atlantis, or to the last remaining portions thereof. This was the habitat of the fourth root-race, followed by the present fifth. The Atlantean race having reached the end of its cycle, many of them had descended into gross materiality and had become black magicians; they were of gigantic stature, which is referred to in the Bible narrative and has given rise to the universal tradition as to wicked giants. It was necessary that this corrupt society should be destroyed, and that the good should be preserved to form the seed of the new race to come. Hence the stories of floods, arks, and the other features. The Greek mythology abounds in stories of the semi-divine founders of cities and centers of civilization, and represents these founders as having migrated into Greece from the far west "beyond the pillars of Hercules"; and there is frequent mention of the sinking of lands beneath the ocean, and the rise of other lands, on which the immigrants settled.
The fact that these deluge stories, so similar to the one in the Bible, are so universally found, is conveniently kept out of sight by most Christians, and is a stumbling-block to others, who wish to regard the Christian revelation as unique and paramount; but the problem is cleared up when we remember how the Old Testament is a compilation of ancient sacred books, which had been preserved by the Hebrews from the still older sources whence they had derived them.
REDEMPTION AND SALVATION
The drama of evolution, whether of worlds or of man, includes a descent from spirit into matter, and a reascent from matter into spirit. Man was at first spiritual, but mindless and undeveloped, living in a "Golden Age" typified by the Garden of Eden. Then he acquires the power of self-consciousness, which is aroused within him by beings who possessed it themselves. The Fall of man is a fall in one sense, but in another sense it is the fulfillment of a vital step in his evolution. He loses for a time his contact with spirit, in order that he may enter on a career of incarnation in this world and pass through all its experiences. His new power of free will he misuses and brings trouble upon himself; but eventually the divinity within him is destined to win through, so that man will rise again a much more glorious and complete being than before, because of all the added knowledge which he has garnered by his experiences. This is what is meant by redemption and salvation. It applies to the human race as a whole, to particular races of mankind, and to individuals. In the case of individuals we must of course take into account reincarnation.
And so the world's great teachers have at many times come into our world to preach anew the glad tidings, or rather to remind man of his forgotten birthright. For man is like some prince in an old story, who has been brought up among peasants so that he is unaware of his royalty; though even in dark ages there have always been a few mystics and intuitive minds who have perceived the truth. The wise one who initiated Christianity (whoever he was) was one of these teachers; and even in the mutilated fragments of his teachings which remain to us we can see that he was proclaiming that old truth. Yet see what ages of spiritual darkness have made of it! Whereas the teacher proclaimed the divinity of man and showed to his hearers the age-old path to salvation, we are told today that we are essentially corrupt and that it is impious to rely on our own resources — we, created in God's own image! Truly theosophy has come to raise the buried Christ from the tomb wherein his disciples have cast him. For theosophy is just such another revival of the wisdom-religion, two thousand years later; and what Jesus said of the Pharisees of his day might be applied to much that goes today under the name of religion.
The atonement, or making "at one," is theologically regarded as a reconciliation between God and man, due to the propitiation of his Son; but in the light of what has been said the word acquires a truer sense. It means the uniting of the human ego with the spiritual ego — the innate Christ, whereby man recognizes that this spiritual ego, and not his personal ego, is his true self.
SACRAMENTS: THE EUCHARIST
And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body, which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you. — Luke 22:19-20
Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. — John 6:53-6
The sacrament of the Lord's Supper means much to those who partake of it devoutly, but it might mean much more. Its sacredness and power are due to its august origin from one of the sublimest rites of the sacred Mysteries of old. Its frailty as a potent influence for good in the world, its role as a bone of bitter contention, are due to the attenuated and misunderstood form in which it has come down to us. If we study the ancient Mysteries, we find that bread and wine play a foremost part in the ritual of initiation, as also in the "lesser Mysteries" which were displayed before the public. In the greater Mysteries candidates were initiated into what Jesus calls the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven, into which he seems anxious that his disciples should be initiated. Wine is often spoken of alternatively with blood, and both signify spiritual life: the words are thus used in the New Testament. Over against these we find bread or grain, or alternatively flesh; and these words also are used in the New Testament. This latter signifies terrestrial mortal life, so that the two together mean the higher and lower nature of man.
The reference is to symbols which were used in the ancient Mysteries, in which there was a twofold initiation, symbolized respectively by bread and wine, or by flesh and blood. The candidate had to be pure in body and the lower principles of his nature before receiving the baptism of blood or the wine of the spirit. These facts relative to the Greek and other Mysteries can be verified by reference to any encyclopedia or book on the subject. In the Bible we find frequent reference thereto. Besides the two quotations at the head of this section, we may cite the interview with Nicodemus in John 3:
Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. . . . Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh: and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
Here we see the double birth: the first of flesh, the second of spirit. This doctrine of the second birth is of course the principal theme of Paul, and it is surprising that so little is made of it; at most it is regarded as referring to a state of mind or heart varying from mere self-satisfaction to a real holiness of character. But the real meaning is quite lost owing to belief in original sin and vicarious atonement and an ignorance of reincarnation.
These ancient teachings are immortal, which is why they survive through the ages, if only in form, until the time comes for them to be restored. The Eucharist is still celebrated as a means of receiving divine grace and as a commemoration, and some attach great importance to the faith in a miraculous transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the actual flesh and blood of Jesus.
This is another rite derived from the ancient Mysteries. It was the outer and visible form of a purificatory process undergone by the candidate for initiation. Initiatory ablutions are common to all cults. In Christianity it means admission to the Church, and is regarded as cleansing from sin, affiliating with God, and the gift of the spirit. That those who have not been baptized will suffer damnation is a formal article of faith with some. The idea is repugnant to the feelings of the present day; but if we can be saved without baptism, why be baptized?
Sacraments are defined in the Catechism as the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. They repeat physically what has already occurred spiritually, otherwise the ceremony is but an empty form. There are two baptisms: that of water and that of fire, corresponding with the two forms of the Eucharist already mentioned. It would seem that the candidate for baptism should be of an age suitable to the full understanding of the meaning of the ceremony. In these days, when our knowledge of nature is so restricted to externals, we have lost sight of that intimate knowledge of nature, of man, and of man's relation to nature which was possessed in more ancient times. The rites and customs of which we read in Greek and Roman history, or as practiced in ancient and oriental races, seem to us superstition because we do not grasp their real meaning; and it is quite likely that the Greeks and Romans themselves in later times had lost it also and continued the ceremonies merely from custom. But a further study shows that they originated in the teachings of the ancient wisdom. It is curious that we still go on practicing them; but there is an undying life in these ancient institutions which preserves them through the ages, like a seed under the snow, until the time comes round for them to be revivified.