XI — THE CHRIST
It may seem strange that we should include this among the symbols, but we do not propose to limit ourselves to those which can be drawn as pictures — though the Christ, to be sure, has one symbol in the Cross (March, 1936). Christ may be for many people the name of a particular person, but it stands for a universal idea. Christ is the "Word made flesh" mentioned in John, i, 14: "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us." In the beginning of this gospel we have a fragment of Gnostic teaching, which connects Christianity with its parent source in the Wisdom-Religion. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . In him was life; and the life was the light of men." This is the original doctrine of the Ancient Wisdom. The Logos (Word) is a creative emanation of the supreme deity; he is at the same time one and many; he has his throne in the hearts of all men. Thus man is, in his inmost essence, a God; but this God has been "made flesh"; man is an immortal soul imprisoned in a mortal body. The Jesus of the Gospels insists on this truth in many well-known passages; he usually speaks of the supreme deity as the Father, and of the Word or Logos as the Son. With this clue in mind, we can see that such was the teaching of Jesus: he desired to show men how they could achieve salvation by invoking their own divinity, by following in his footsteps. But this has been turned into the dogma that man's nature is of itself corrupt, and that he can be saved only by faith in this particular God-man, Jesus of Nazareth.
The Jesus of the Gospels is a character, partly fictitious, partly symbolic, built around some actual personality, whose identity is buried among a confusion of historical and traditional materials. Though every man is an incarnation of divinity, there are some who are so in a special sense. These are men who have progressed in their individual evolution to a point beyond that reached by the average humanity of their time, and who come to the world in times of spiritual darkness to teach the truths of the Ancient Wisdom. Such Teachers are the world's Christs; and we find in the religions of India, Egypt, ancient America, and elsewhere, accounts similar in essentials to our own Gospel narratives. The Savior is born by the Holy Spirit of a human virgin, is tempted and overcomes, is crucified on a cross, entombed for three days, rises again. That such is the fact can readily be ascertained by anyone wishing to do so, but it would unduly burden this article to enumerate instances. They can be found in The Secret Doctrine and other Theosophical writings; they have been known to some eminent Christian writers, to whom they have been the occasion of much wonderment. Suffice it to say here that the story found in our Bible and in our church doctrine is but a particular adaptation of a doctrine that is both old and everywhere diffused; and, in pointing this out, we are by no means disparaging Christianity, but merely reinstating it in the original dignity from which it has departed. The only thing we do call in question is the claim of the Christian doctrine to originality or exclusiveness or finality. And it is only right, in this age of general commingling of human races, that a broader and more tolerant attitude towards the claims of other religions should be adopted.
The hinge-point of the matter is in the individual responsibility of every man for his own salvation. It may be objected that it is presumptuous and impious to set up man's strength against that of his Divine Savior, the only Son of God; but here again we come upon an essential difference between the original doctrine and the perversion of it which has come to us. The perverted form tells us that man is essentially corrupt — due, it is said, to the sin of Adam — and that he consequently needs the special mercy of a Savior in order to secure his salvation. But Theosophy says that man is essentially divine, and such indeed is the teaching of Jesus; and that, being divine, he must save himself by his own innate divinity. The doctrine that man is saved by the divine love and grace, and despite his own unatoned offences, may be very consoling, but it is both unjust and unmanly. The law that we must reap as we have sown holds good; and if death deprives us of the opportunity of paying our debts to society in this life, then we shall have that opportunity in one of our lives to come. The Christ upon whom we must call for help is the Christ within — our own Higher Self.
The mind in man — Manas — is his intelligence, neutral in itself, and colored by that to which it is allied. When allied to the earthy passional part of our nature, this mind becomes the lower personal self, at odds with other selves, and leading us away from our true path in life. But every man has within him the principle of Buddhi, divine wisdom; and if Manas allies itself therewith, we have the Higher Self, which is our Savior. It is taught that man was originally created as an animal soul, which was later inspired by the breath of Divinity and so made into a potential God. This is the true Divine Incarnation; this is the Christ in man. But that Christ lies buried, latent, unmanifested, until called into active being by our own will. As has been pointed out, the symbol of the Christ is the Cross, or, more accurately the Cross surmounted by the circle, thus making the sign of the planet Venus. In the symbology of the seven sacred planets, Venus stands towards the Earth in the same relation as the Higher Self stands to the lower self. The circle denotes divinity — -the "Word"; the Cross denotes matter; so that the whole symbol denotes the "Word made Flesh," that dwells among us. The mystery of the Christ is therefore that of the Divine Power descending into matter, for the purpose of operating in the lower kingdoms of Nature. The Divine Power is at first sacrificed; for its radiance is obscured, its voice drowned, amid the turmoil of material life and the selfish passions. But it is man's redeemer, and must sooner or later arise from the tomb in the true Resurrection, when man becomes fully aware of his own divinity. This, for the individual man, may take place at any time; for the human race as a whole, at the appropriate cyclic era in the future. When a man, having thus resurrected the Christ within him, becomes perfected, he is able to go forth to the world as a Teacher; either one of those Teachers whose presence remains concealed, or one of the great founders of religions, or perhaps the originator of some great philosophic school like those of Pythagoras and Plato.
So the symbol of the Christ may mean that which takes place in the life of every man, or it may mean the case of some particular manifestation of Divinity, such as the Buddha or the mysterious Teacher upon whose unknown life has been built the legend of Jesus of Nazareth.
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