The Theosophical Forum – May 1943

"THEOSOPHY: WHAT IT IS" (1)— Albert E. S. Smythe

A pamphlet with this title has been issued by the Methodist Church, the author being Rev. H. W. Crews, M. A., D. D. He might have consulted one of the local Theosophists before rushing into print, but we admit that this might have appeared to him to be a dangerous proceeding. And safety first is the general attitude of both Church and State in all circumstances. He begins modestly enough as his first paragraph will indicate.

"The writer," he says, "realizes that he is up against a big proposition in dealing with a subject like this. If he does not succeed in making it understood he will not be altogether to blame, for the advocates of Theosophy (Divine Wisdom) themselves are not any too well agreed as to its essential features. If some words are used, the meaning of which is unknown to the reader, the responsibility for this must rest with the mysterious cult which makes frequent use of such terms and apparently takes advantage of them in order to veil its vagaries."

None of these words are beyond the power of an M. A. or a D. D. to look up in the dictionary and explain to his readers, and for the mysterious cultists, they have to do this for themselves till they become familiar with them as they have to do with chromosomes, protons, ergs, ions, genes and other terms frequently and familiarly used in the mysterious cults of physics, chemistry and biology. Religious prejudice does not prevent the D. D.'S from looking up the meaning of these words, and if people are really in earnest in the search for truth they will not hesitate about consulting a dictionary.

 The use of "strange" words is largely due to the failure of the translators to supply synonyms for the Greek words in the New Testament, which they fail to present in their true meaning, so that often the same English word is used to represent several Greek words, thus veiling the sense. Mind, for example, is used to stand for Greek words as varied and different in meaning as gnome, dianoia, ennoia, noema, phronema, psyche. No wonder the preachers ignorant of Greek fight over their theologies and split up into sects. Theosophists have tried to clear up this confusion and to show that psyche and nous and phronema are very different things and not all to be called "mind."

To abuse us for using "strange" words, is like a theologian. Theosophy itself is not a strange word nor should it be. St. Paul uses it to explain his idea of Christ in I Corinthians i. 24, where he says that Christ is Theosophy, theou sophia, divine wisdom, and the power of God, theou dunamis. But Wisdom and Power cannot be said to be persons, since they are principles, and the theologians prefer to "veil" the meaning.

Dr. Crews next declares that Theosophy came from the East. The Theosophical Society began its career in New York in 1875. Christianity began in the East, but Methodism began in England. It is nothing the worse for that. In India Theosophy has been known through the ages as Brahma Vidya, just the same as the Greek and the English, Divine Wisdom. The Theosophical Society commends the study of ancient and modern religions to its members, hence they became familiar with the terms used in various religions to denote ideas which they all hold in common. These ideas are primeval. They began when the consciousness of man was able to understand what the Gods or Higher Powers sought to communicate to them. This idea of a primal revelation is also common to the various religions. Some think it came by one God, others by many Gods or Angels or other powers for which there are many names. The name in Hebrew is plural, Elohim, but Christians always make the Seven Elohim into One, and El, Adonai, Sabaoth, Shaddai and others corresponding to the seven days of the week and the corresponding deities of the Norsemen, of Greece and of Rome, were made subservient to Jehovah or Saturn to whom Saturday was made sacred, the seventh day. For the Theosophist as for St. Paul, there may be Lords many and Gods many but only one God and one Lord supreme above all the rest; but that one was not Jehovah nor any of the Seven Elohim.

Dr. Crews affects to think that Madame Blavatsky invented all this. All she did was to gather into her books the Wisdom of the Ages so that her own and later generations might know the truth of it. Dr. Crews should have known all this and been glad to spread such information, but he prefers to pretend that Madame Blavatsky was a spiritualistic medium, which she certainly was not, as any spiritualist could have told him, as she won the enmity of all spiritualists by explaining the means by which genuine phenomena were produced. Nor was she ever shown to be concerned with fraudulent proceedings as Dr. Crews alleges. People who spend their lives in the investigation of spiritual and religious truth and in writing books about such things are not capable of fraudulence as Dr. Crews asserts. He should have a higher opinion of the effect of religious study. But he transfers his attention to Mrs. Besant and admits the influence she exerted in India.

He is led to state that Theosophy disparages Christianity. In this he is mistaken. Christianity as at present understood is not the system taught by Jesus or Paul or John or James in the New Testament. Our "Churchianity" as Laurence Oliphant termed it, is vastly different from the Sermon on the Mount or the First Epistle of St. John. Theosophy, he says, repudiates the Personality of God. That is a matter of opinion. Personality implies limitation. We do not think that the Divine can be limited. Deity is Absolute, if anything. Even Athanasius believes in One Incomprehensible. That is not, as some ignorant people think, something that cannot be understood, but something that cannot be enclosed or confined. Personality both encloses and confines.

 Perhaps a better word could be devised to represent the Absolute. The God of Jesus was impartial, insusceptible to favourites or enmities. He sends his rain on the evil and the good, his sun to shine on the just and the unjust alike. Perhaps Dr. Crews does not like that sort of God, but prefers one who would be moved by prayers and offerings, who sometimes got furious and was subsequently sorry for it and repented. But this does not consort with the idea of Absolute Justice, Absolute Truth and Absolute Love. God cannot favour one at the expense of another. Dr. Crews will find it difficult to reconcile Absoluteness with Personality.

It is not a Theosophic problem but distinctly a Christian one, or I should say a Church one. It is true that this problem involves the consideration of prayer. Jesus gave us a model prayer which was not for one but for all; for all in its petitions as well as for all who used it. It does not ask anything for one person alone. Even in asking forgiveness it bargains that the other party to the offence should not be left out of account. "As we forgive our Debtors!" We think it inadvisable to instruct the Divine as to what it should do according to our ignorance and considering its Omniscience. We are so confident of its Justice and its Love that we rely upon that and choose rather to try to measure up to our responsibilities than to waste our time in asking favours from the All-Knowing.

"Your Heavenly Father knoweth what things you need;" was the intelligent way in which Jesus dealt with the matter. We are not afraid to credit the All-Knowing with Intelligence. But the priests have had an ancient yearning to act as go-betweens and gain authority from the official position. Dr. Crews got into deep water when he took up the question of the Seven Planets, one of which he calls Devachan. That term corresponds to some extent with the idea of heaven as modern Christians understand it, heaven being a word to represent the Greek word ouranos, the Over-World, as opposed to this earth, the Underworld, or what we usually call Hell. It opens up a wonderful number of explanations to know that the Earth is Hell, the place of outer darkness, where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. You can ask the Germans, or the Poles, or most anybody.

Dr. Crews finds a characteristic feature of this "strange system" to be a belief in reincarnation, which he says comes from India. He might as well have said it came from Judea. The Greek word palingenesia, being born again, is used by Jesus, but the translators were afraid to use such a strange word in the New Testament. So when Jesus said the disciples would be born again and sit on thrones (Matthew xix. 23) it was the word "regeneration" that was used instead of reincarnation which was not supposed to be an orthodox word, although the Christian Church taught the doctrine for over 500 years till a small council, the Second of Constantinople, decided to bar the teaching. The world has been in a sad mess ever since.

Palingenesia is used by St. Paul in his epistle to Titus (iii. 5) which is translated in "The New Testament in Basic English" as "he gave us salvation through the washing of the new birth," which is as direct a meaning of the original as one might desire. A more frequent word than palingenesia is anastasis which is usually translated "resurrection" but really means "standing up again from the dead." Every birth of a new baby is the resurrection from a former life of an old soul coming again once more to seek its perfection or salvation, by renewed efforts in a new body, having, as St. Peter reminds us (II Peter i. 9), "forgotten our old sins."

St. Peter uses the old Greek term "drank of Lethe," but that too is unorthodox in flavour and would not appeal to Dr. Crews.

The Cosmological scheme outlined by Theosophy is no more confusing than the various sevenfold presentations in the Book of Revelation. They all have to do with states of consciousness, of which three at least are not strange to ordinary people. They are the waking, the sleeping and the dreaming states. One cannot have a state of consciousness without a body or vehicle of sensation corresponding to that state. St. Paul tells of these when he says there is a body of flesh and blood, a psychic body, which Dr. Crews and his fellow theologians insist upon calling a "natural" body, so that people think it means the flesh and blood body, which it does not, for when Paul means flesh and blood he says so. (See I Corinthians xv. 50).

There is also a pneumatic body translated "Spiritual" body. It ought to be Breath body being the body of the Holy Breath or Holy Ghost as it is usually spoken of. The strange words that Dr. Crews speaks of as having been found in Theosophical literature are the equivalents of these Greek terms used by Jesus and Paul, for which our theologians have failed to furnish us with English substitutes, apparently because they did not know what they meant. Did Dr. Crews know that he had a psychic body as well as one of flesh and blood? If he did he differs from most ministers.

Dr. Crews concluded his pamphlet with a reference to an Indian author who points out that the East pays attention to the Inner, the West to the Outer life. The Theosophist would have people pay attention to both as required. To spend all one's life in meditation will attain due results, as due results are attained by those who pay attention altogether to business or work on the physical plane. Jesus was very practical and taught us to do whatever our hands found to do, and to do it with all our might. The same applies to meditation, which is really a form of prayer in the true sense, communion with the Higher Self, one's own Godlike nature.

Intensification is the one word we need in both cases. The Kingdom of Heaven is taken by violence, or as Patanjali says, with ardent impetuosity. This cannot be achieved without the co-operation of all our powers, physical, psychic and spiritual, and their consecration to the one great service of Man. We are here because we are Sons of God. Our Mission is the redemption of the Human Race. "God so loved the world."


1. Reprinted from The Canadian Theosophist, September, 1942. Mr. Smythe is General Secretary of the T. S. (Adyar) in Canada, and is known for his consistent and vigorous support of the Theosophy enunciated by H. P. Blavatsky. (return to text)

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