As we examine Jesus's life and teachings in reference to Perennialist concepts and practices, it is unmistakable that he was a true savant within the Perennial Tradition.
As we saw in chapter two, a major tenet of the Perennial Tradition is that authentic wisdom is adapted by a Perennialist teacher relative to the needs of the people in a particular culture and time. Teachings are organic nutrients to be assimilated not meant to remain in unaltered, undigested form for curiosity seekers, theoreticians, or autocrats to pick over and "elucidate."
Inevitably, every Perennialist teacher's ideas and exercises experience two totally divergent modes of treatment:
- A group of genuine followers retains the original message and passes it on to the next generation of students and initiates
- A group of followers who did not understand the original teaching recast the authentic teachings into distorted dogmas; these ecclesiastical and philosophical deformities are then used to build despotic establishments over which the new tyrants rule
We can expect both things to have happened to Jesus's teachings. Of all the persons writing about this period immediately following Jesus's death, only a few refer to a deliberate distortion of Jesus's teachings: Marcion, Valentinus, Origen, and several others who were called Gnostics (those who believe that knowledge of a rebirth is primary, beyond mere belief in a doctrine).
"The real Gnosis. . . is a mystical knowledge and experience transcending that appearance of things which the ordinary individual accepts as the only 'reality.'"
William Kingsland. The Gnosis or Ancient Wisdom
in the Christian Scriptures
Within a short time after Jesus's death, there came into being an organized church system which developed a congeries of contradictory and disparate doctrines and writings--what was described as the complexio oppositorum et variorum--"a collection of opposites and various elements." Harnack 1 lists several examples of the discordant doctrines within the developing church:
- "It placed great emphasis upon pure spirit and truth, and yet it produced a harsh and obscure literalism as well as sacraments that addressed religious sensuousness and mysticism."
- "It demanded, under threat of condemnation [and excommunication], the strictest conduct of life in restraint and renunciation, and it promised a perfect forgiveness for all sins."
- "It erected a religious democracy and from the very outset was concerned with subjecting it to strong authorities."
Along with the syncretism of contradictory doctrines, the burgeoning church developed a large number of writings which claimed to be authentic representations of Jesus's life and teachings. In this morass of confusion, a number of interpretations of Jesus's teachings vied for acceptance, having been created by the processes of excluding ideas thought to be unacceptable, accentuating personally selected doctrines, and organizing material into what was thought to be a coherent whole.
"The incipient catholic church gave to such men, who developed their own religion out of the total tradition and then set it in opposition to the church, the name of 'heretics,' i.e., those who followed what they themselves 'chose.'Paul saw himself as an apostle (one sent on a mission), perhaps "the" apostle, of Jesus. He believed he had actually experienced Jesus in a mystical encounter during which he was commissioned to spread the "good news"--the gospel of Jesus's teaching--presenting a conception of God as forgiving, loving, and wise.
"Here already we must think of the most prominent Christian missionary of the earliest period, the apostle Paul. His position is such a unique one because he was the father not only of the catholic church but of 'heresy' as well." 2
Paul was aghast when he learned that Peter and some of the other apostles of Jesus in Jerusalem and other cities were interpreting Jesus's message as an extension of Judaism, using the Hebrew Old Testament as a major scripture.
"Paul is the only one who had any apprehension of the real esoteric significance of the Christ Myth in its cosmic aspects, while at the same time he was obliged to base his teachings principally on the exoteric beliefs of his hearers which centred round the personal Jesus."
William Kingsland. The Gnosis or Ancient Wisdom
in the Christian Scriptures
Paul's "heresy" was to insist that a person could become a Christian who had not submitted to circumcision or other Jewish religious laws. Paul defined Christianity as the experience of re-birth in Jesus, a spiritual awakening of the same nature that he had gone through. Both Jesus and Paul made it clear that Christianity is decidedly not an extension of Judaism.
"Christ himself. . . confirms the Pauline gospel in general and in detail. Did he not break the law again and again in his life and through his teachings? Did he not declare war against the teachers of the law? Did he not call the sinners, while those teachers desired only righteous men as their pupils? Did he not declare the greatest prophet of the Old Testament God, John the Baptist, to be an uninformed man, one who had taken offense at him? . . .
"When he forbids the placing of a new patch on an old garment and the pouring of new wine into old wineskins, he thereby strictly forbids his people in any way to connect his preaching with that of the Old Testament. . ." 3
Thus in the early church a number of factions had arisen, with Peter and some of the other original apostles preaching a Judaised, sacerdotal Christianity requiring no more than belief, while Paul insisted that Jesus's teaching was about a spiritual rebirth such as he had himself experienced.
Both Jesus and Paul taught that religion is not mere belief in doctrines but a practical knowledge of the way to regain one's birthright as a "Son of God."
"We do not become Christs (Christos) because he was that. We shall never become it simply by believing that he was that, or that he did all that the Gospels record; or that he did something for us which washes away our sins and gives us a short cut to eternal bliss. No. We shall only achieve the same likeness when 'that same mind (or 'word') which was also in Christ Jesus' has been 'brought to birth' in us also, i.e. when we have realized that we, equally with him, are essentially divine in our deepest nature; that we are, equally with him, 'sons' of the same 'Father,' and are thus able to manifest as he did that divinity in our very humanity."
William Kingsland. The Gnosis or Ancient Wisdom
in the Christian Scriptures
The original teaching of Jesus was thus passed on through Paul and those whom he and his immediate companions taught in the many cities they visited.
"The God that made the world and all things therein, he, being Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is he served by men's hands, as though he needed anything, seeing he himself giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; and he made of one every nation of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed seasons, and the bounds of their habitation; that they should seek God, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he is not far from each one of us; for in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain even of your own poets have said."
Paul Speaking to the men of AthensOne of the cities visited by Paul or his associates was Sinope, a Greek commercial city on the south shore of the Black Sea. In fact, one of Paul's fellow-workers, Aquila, had been born in Sinope. Here also was born a man who would be called the successor to Paul. His name was Marcion.
Marcion was born in 85 C.E. at Sinope, the son of a Christian bishop. After studying with Paul or one of Paul's companions, Marcion began to teach the Pauline gospel of a spiritual re-birth in Jesus. For this "false teaching" he was excommunicated from the Sinope church.
Marcion went to Asia Minor where he became a prosperous ship owner and merchant as well as a Christian teacher. He travelled to Rome in 140 C.E. and presented the Christian church there with a gift of 200,000 sesterces, a sizeable sum. While a member of the church in Rome, he continued to develop his own view of Jesus's teachings. When he presented his ideas to the church leaders in Rome in 144 C.E, they immediately rejected his concepts, returned his money to him, and excommunicated him forthwith.
Marcion set about organizing his own followers into a separate community. In Italy, Egypt, Palestine, Arabia, Syria, Asia Minor and Persia, Marcionite churches sprang up, splendidly organized, with their own bishops and ecclesiastical organization. Women were full participants and could administer the sacraments. Marcion died in 160 C.E., but the movement to which he gave his name continued into the tenth century in Syria.
What was it that Marcion preached which was so abhorrent to the Christian autocrats--and which places him within the ranks of those persons influenced by Perennialist ideas?
"The average member of the Christian communities appeared to be unaware of the difference between the Old Testament and the Christian concept of God. From this Marcion concluded that a great conspiracy against the truth must have taken place very early in the history of Christianity. Even the twelve Apostles had not understood Jesus correctly and afterward the Christian fellowships had been infiltrated by those men whom Paul denounced as false apostles and false brethren. These must have falsified the entire Gospel, acting as instruments of the evil powers who were seeking to destroy the revealed truth. According to Marcion, this carefully concealed event was the most fateful in the history of Christianity, for it turned everything into its opposite." Walter Nigg. The Heretics
According to Marcion, Jesus had preached a universal doctrine, a new revelation of the Good God, the Father over all: that humankind must undergo death and rebirth into a new being. Jesus was a Messenger who had come from a higher realm to teach humankind how to escape from its terrestrial prison and regain its original state of godlike immortality.
Jesus, Marcion said, was not the Messiah promised in the Jewish scriptures. That concept of an anointed one, he said, involved this person becoming an earthly king. This Christ concept was exclusively a Jewish idea, but the misguided, deluded Christian autocrats were trying to graft Jesus's teachings onto Judaism, the creed of one small nation. To carry this out, the church leaders had adulterated and garbled the original sayings of Jesus, adding the phrase "in order that it might be fulfilled" to everything Jesus did, to "prove" that he was the Jewish Messiah.
The New Testament "was made in its present form largely in order that it might conform with the supposed prophecies in the Jewish Old Testament Scriptures concerning an earthly Messiah, as is well shown in the numerous statements 'that the Scripture might be fulfilled,' or 'according to the Scriptures.'"
William Kingsland. The Gnosis or Ancient Wisdom
in the Christian Scriptures
If Jesus used the Christ concept in reference to himself it would have been in an entirely new, non-Jewish manner, with different content and meaning. The term Christos simply means "anointed one," and Jesus would have considered himself anointed or commissioned to communicate a specific teaching.
Because he felt that the writings about Jesus then in circulation were so thoroughly corrupted, Marcion created his own gospel which was used in the various Marcionite churches.
Marcion taught that the Jewish ideas about God, as set forth in the Old Testament, were inferior and antagonistic to the ideal of the Good God revealed by Jesus. Marcion saw that the Old Testament taught a false view of a hateful, avenging God. In Marcion's view, Jesus had taught a new concept of the one true God--so there can be no reality to the evil "God" of the Old Testament. Persons who allowed themselves to believe in the Old Testament concept of God created a fetid, evil "world" of illusion and suffering, whereas Jesus had taught about real life--life in the spirit with Jesus and a return to the loving God.
"Marcion's view was in some respects even more moderate than the judgment of some of our modern thinkers; he was willing to admit that the Yahweh of the Old Testament was just. With great acumen he arranged the sayings and doings ascribed to Yahweh by the writers, and compilers, and editors of the heterogeneous books of the Old Testament collection, in parallel columns, so to say, with the sayings and teachings of the Christ--in a series of antitheses which brought out in startling fashion the fact, that though the best of the former might be ascribed to the idea of a Just God, they were foreign to the ideal of the Good God preached by Christ. We know how in these latter days the best minds in the Church have rejected the horrible sayings and doings ascribed to God in some of the Old Testament documents, and we thus see how Marcion formulated a protest which must have already declared itself in the hearts of thousands of the more enlightened of the Christian name."
G.R.S. Mead. An Introduction to Marcion
The oldest dated Christian inscription we have comes from a sign over the doorway of a Marcionite building in a Syrian village:
"The Lord and Saviour Jesus, the Perfect One"
- The date next to the inscription is October 1, A.D. 318. From this and other records we know that the Marcionites referred to Jesus as the Chrestos, the Greek word for perfected one, the holy one, the saint. The Greek word for Messiah, in the Jewish sense, is Christos. Later Christian translators who found the word Chrestos would probably have automatically changed it to Christos, thus changing the message of Christianity from a universal religion proclaiming the attainment of a perfected being to a divine Saviour accessible only through the Church.Valentinus felt that he had experienced this new revelation from the Spirit of truth.
Valentinus. a second century Gnostic Christian, was born in Egypt and educated in Alexandria. He went to Rome about the same time as Marcion--during the reign of Pope Hyginus (136-40 C.E.). He probably studied with Marcion and became one of his successors, teaching in Rome for more than twenty years.
Valentinus possessed a discerning intelligence and spoke with eloquence. While in Rome he attracted a large following, his disciples including Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Theodotus, Ptolemaeus, Marcus, and Heracleon. He agreed with Marcion that the teaching of Jesus had been corrupted by false apostles and other false leaders in the church. The disciples of Valentinus claimed that he had received the teachings he preached from Theodas, disciple of Paul.
Valentinus' Gospel of Truth shares common ground with parts of all the New Testament books except the Pastoral Epistles. It resembles the Shepherd of Hermas which was probably written about the same time. John's gospel was Valentinus' favorite and he felt it prophesied a separate revelation which would lead initiated disciples into the whole truth (John 16:12-14):"When the Spirit of truth arrives, he will guide you into all truth; for he will not speak from his own knowledge, but will reveal what he receives through inner discernment and will reveal the future to you."
In about 140 C.E., Valentinus was passed over for the office of bishop of Rome. About twenty years later he moved to Cyprus and, abandoning orthodoxy, began teaching his own view of Jesus's message. Valentinus' followers continued his teachings and created two schools, one centered in Italy, the other in Alexandria.
"The real fact, therefore, is not that Gnosticism was a 'heresy,' a departure from the true 'Christianity,' but precisely the opposite, i.e. that Christianity in its dogmatic and ecclesiastical development was a travesty of the original Gnostic teachings."
William Kingsland. The Gnosis or Ancient Wisdom
in the Christian Scriptures
In Valentinus we see most clearly what Gnosticism means. Gnosis, gnosis, secret spiritual knowledge, is the means through which we regain our original, eternal being.
"Perfect salvation is the cognition itself of the ineffable greatness: for since through Ignorance came about Defect and Passion, the whole system springing from Ignorance is dissolved by gnosis [knowledge]. Therefore knowledge is salvation of the inner man; and it is not corporeal, for the body is corruptible; nor is it psychical, for even the soul is a product of the defect and is a lodging to the spirit; therefore salvation is spiritual; so that to us suffices the knowledge of universal being: this is the true salvation."
Origen (185-252 C.E.) was another of the early Christians who interpreted Jesus's teachings in a Perennialist manner. Origen was born in Egypt and dedicated himself to Christian piety at an early age, even going to the extreme of self-castration. As a student of Clement of Alexandria, Origen taught that there is a vital difference between the exoteric (public) and esoteric (secret) teachings of Jesus. Jesus's teachings contained, according to Origen, three levels of meaning:
- Literal meaning: somatikos
- Moral meaning: psychikos
- Mystical meaning: pneumatikos
Those who had been initiated into the mysteries of Jesus's teachings, the pneumatics, could find in them a portion of the mysteries of the Christian faith by interpreting what appear to be ordinary elements--people, events, concepts--as spiritual meanings or symbols. Every pneumatic Christian, according to Origen, becomes a Christ, a New Man. Man, he said is a microcosm. "Understand," he said "that you are a second world in small, that within you there are sun and moon and stars as well." God is the Great Teacher who guides human souls so they may be led back to their heavenly origin without forfeiting their right of free self-determination. In this way all souls will ultimately return to God.
Origin was an enthusiastic student of Greek philosophy, studying with Ammonius Saccas, Plotinus' teacher. This is undoubtedly one of the sources through which he came into contact with the Perennial Tradition. Gregorious Thaumaturgus, a student of Origen, said that "he taught us to seek wisdom by perusing all existing writings of the old philosophers and poets, as far as our strength enabled us, not excluding anything."
Origen considered gnosis, higher knowledge, as far superior to faith. This gnosis, he taught, can only be imparted by illumination and only a person who has actually experienced enlightenment can call himself a pneumatic. After entry into the spiritual body, a pneumatic can gain insights into the ultimate ground of existence with the "eye of the soul." As with later teachers in the Perennial Tradition, Origen's was a love mysticism; the soul seeking spiritual marriage with the Logos. The pneumatic Christian experiences a mystical ascent of the soul in which he becomes intoxicated with divinity. As the pneumatic practices an inner, wordless prayer, Christ is born in his soul."Knowing that Christ has come, we see that because of him there have been many Anointed Ones in the world, who like him have 'loved righteousness and hated iniquity.'"
Jesus the Perennialist Teacher
In Marcion we find the idea that even the apostles of Jesus had not understood their master. In Marcion, Valentinus, Origen, and many others writing in the first two centuries C.E., Jesus is depicted as a Perennialist teacher, bringing the message of rebirth into a new being.
In one of the extra-canonical gospels, purportedly written by the apostle John, we see both these ideas in bold relief.
Selections from The Acts of John
"Now before he was taken by the lawless Jews . . . he gathered all of us together and said: Before I am delivered up unto them let us sing an hymn to the Father, and so go forth to that which lieth before us. He bade us therefore make as it were a ring, holding one another's hands, and himself standing in the midst he said:
"I am the Word who did play and dance all things.
Now answer to my dancing.
Understand by dancing what I do.
Answer Amen unto me. He began, then, to sing an hymn and to say:
"Glory be to thee, father.
"And we, going about in a ring, answered him: Amen.
"Thus, my beloved, having danced with us the Lord went forth. And we as men gone astray or dazed with sleep fled this way and that. I, then, when I saw him suffer, did not even abide by his suffering, but fled unto the Mount of Olives, weeping at that which had befallen. And when he was crucified on the Friday, at the sixth hour of the day, darkness came upon all the earth. And my Lord standing in the midst of the cave and enlightening it, said: John, unto the multitude below in Jerusalem I am being crucified and pierced with lances and reeds, and gall and vinegar is given me to drink. But unto thee I speak and what I speak hear thou. I put it into thy mind to come up into this mountain, that thou mightest hear those things which it behoveth a disciple to learn from his teacher and a man from his God.
"And having thus spoken, he showed me a cross of light fixed (set up), and about the cross a great multitude, not having one form: and in it (the cross) was one form and one likeness. And the Lord himself I beheld above the cross, not having any shape, but only a voice: and a voice not such as was familiar to us, but one sweet and kind and truly of God, saying unto me: John, it is needful that one should hear these things from me, for I have need of one that will hear. This cross of light is sometimes called the word by me for your sakes, sometimes mind, sometimes Jesus, sometimes Christ, sometimes door, sometimes a way, sometimes bread, sometimes seed, sometimes resurrection, sometimes Son, sometimes Father, sometimes Spirit, sometimes life, sometimes truth, sometimes faith, sometimes grace.
"But this is not the cross of wood which thou wilt see when thou goest down hence: neither am I he that is on the cross, whom now thou seest not, but only hearest his voice. I was reckoned to be that which I am not, not being what I was unto many others; but they will call me something else which is vile and not worthy of me. . . .
"Thou hearest that I suffered, yet did I not suffer; that I suffered not, yet did I suffer; that I was pierced, yet I was not smitten; hanged, and I was not hanged; that blood flowed from me, and it flowed not; and, in a word, what they say of me, that befell me not, but what they say not, that did I suffer. "
In the last portion of the passage, what Jesus appears to be saying to John is: "I've been teaching you and the others for many months that the real essence of a person is not the body but the spirit. So don't be concerned about what they are now doing to my body. I am speaking to you in my spirit. My spirit cannot be crucified or pierced."
That Jesus worked within the Perennialist tradition can be deduced from the canonical New Testament itself.
"There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:
The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.
Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
| "Now of the process of re-birth there is and always has been a definite and exact science, the knowledge of which has been the property of the smallest of minorities and, for adequate reasons, has not been suffered to be promulgated to the multitude, although individuals who earnestly sought for it never failed in discovering it.
The Mystery-schools of antiquity, at least before the days of their degeneracy, possessed and administered it; it was the raison d'etre of their existence, as was well known to the public
of the time, any member of whom, prepared to abandon secular life and apply himself to the higher vocation, could seek admission therein. The Christianity of the first two centuries took over the doctrine and the science, confirmed and expanded as they became by the advent of Christ, but eventually lost them and put in their place the ecclesiastical machinery and dogmatic theology which have ruled throughout the subsequent centuries of European history, with the result that popular Christianity has for long known nothing of them. With the enjoinder of the assured necessity for regeneration proclaimed by the Master of their faith it and its theologians and pastors are well familiar. But can it be said that 'Ye must be born again' means for them more than a vague, mysterious, metaphoric counsel of perfection capable of being satisfied by living the ordinary natural life as far as possible in accordance with the standard of conduct indicated in the Gospels? Are the words accorded more than a value for ethical purposes, to the total neglect of the possibility of their literal practical fulfilment?"|
Hermetic Philosophy and Alchemy
The Triumph of Pseudo-Christianity
If you watch a TV history of Christianity or read a Protestant or Roman Catholic account of the early church, Christianity's becoming the official religion of the Roman state during Constantine's reign is considered a great victory. The only measure of success for these moderns is whether or not a tradition triumphed over all its competitors. Never mind what distorting of the original message had taken place. If a particular religion came out on top, it's to be considered the best.
- On the contrary, the formal religion that became known as the Holy Roman Church was and is nothing but a vast repository of false teachings and practices. At the present time, what is called Christianity, in all its Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant guises, is a horrible deformity of Jesus's original teachings.Whereas the people Jesus befriended were the poor and outcast of society, the bureaucratized "church" began to direct its attentions to the wealthy and politically powerful. Already by the end of the first century C.E., Christians in Rome included members of the Emperor's household. As Clement, Marcion, and Origen made clear, the essence of Jesus's teaching was the esoteric initiation of a select number into the mysteries of the "new being." Within a hundred years Jesus's original teachings had been perverted into an ecclesiastical power system: the "triumph" of pseudo-Christianity.
"The Emperor Constantine who, having become a convert to Christianity, soon made his new faith the official religion of the Roman Empire, which he ruled from ancient Byzantium, renamed Constantinople. And so, at about 320 A.D. the Church not only came to glorious power but was given a clearly God-sent opportunity to revenge itself on the descendants of those who had persecuted it for almost three hundred years. Unleashing a reign of terror on those pagans who stubbornly refused the new faith, Constantine and the Church waded deep in blood and apparently enjoyed the experience, for the lions enjoyed pagans as much as they had Christians and the crosses now carried different victims."
Donovan Joyce. The Jesus Scroll"Christianity, which had been the religion of a community of equal brothers, without hierarchy or bureaucracy, became 'the Church,' the reflected image of the absolute monarchy of the Roman Empire." Erich Fromm. "The Dogma of Christ
- "Developing in the crowded poverty of the cities of Asia minor, Christian doctrine found its first adherents among craftsmen and laborers, many of them slaves. Its revolutionary affirmation of human rights found practical implementation in the organization of the oppressed. Jesus lived at a period of intense social ferment throughout the Roman empire. There were gilds [sic] of workers in many places. Even on the sea of Galilee, fishermen and boatmen were members of a secret religious-economic association. The great revolt of slaves led by Spartacus conquered most of southern Italy and threatened Rome in the century before Christ.
- "The persecution of the Christians was regarded as a social necessity by the rulers of Rome; the spread of the doctrine nourished dangerous discontents and provided new and effective channels of organization for the lower classes. Pliny the Younger, who was governor of Bithynia in the early years of the second century, wrote to the emperor concerning the troublesome activity of Christians in forming collegia or gilds, and he told of torturing two maidservants in order to get information about these associations.
- "As Christianity developed, it gained adherents among well-to-do craftsmen and merchants, especially in the cities of the eastern Mediterranean; economic interest made it imperative for these classes to oppose the corrupt and oppressive power of the empire. In joining the Christian movement, they could restrain its more radical tendencies, and utilize its organized strength as a defense against imperial restrictions. The disintegration of the imperial system forced Constantine to abandon Rome and move his capital to Byzantium in order to control the eastern area of trade. At the same time, he had to adopt Christianity, as the best means of maintaining his authority over the urban centers which were the key to the economic existence of the empire.
- "The adoption of Christianity as a state religion required a fundamental change in its class character and ideology. But this was not an easy task. It could not be accomplished without a violent conflict between the patrician class which ruled the empire and the majority who took Christianity literally as a gospel of equality and brotherhood. By the time of Augustine, the conflict had reached a stage of crisis, which threatened to disrupt the empire."
John Howard Lawson, (1950). The Hidden Heritage
The New Being
One of the most profound interpretations of Jesus's teachings is found in Maurice Nicoll's The New Man. As we peruse Nicoll's ideas about Jesus's teachings, it becomes evident that they are in the same vein as those of Origen, Marcion, Valentinus, and a number of other Perennialist teachers.
"All sacred writings contain an outer and an inner meaning. Behind the literal words lies another range of meaning, another form of knowledge. According to an old-age tradition, Man once was in touch with this inner knowledge and inner meaning. There are many stories in the Old Testament which convey another knowledge, a meaning quite different from the literal sense of the words. . . . And in the Gospels the parable is used in a similar way."Nicoll views sacred writing, including the New Testament, as conveying a higher meaning than the literal words contain. This esoteric truth must be seen by a person with his inner organs of cognition. Cast in ordinary words and images, the higher, concealed, inner, or esoteric meanings can only be discerned by the higher understanding. A person's literal understanding of Jesus's teachings is insufficient for grasping the higher, esoteric, secret meanings.
"Higher knowledge, higher meaning, if it falls on the ordinary level of understanding, will either seem nonsense, or it will be wrongly understood. . . . Higher meaning can only be given to those who are close to grasping it rightly. This is one reason why all sacred writings--that is, writings that are designed to convey more than the literal sense of the words must be concealed, as it were, by an outer wrapping. It is not a question of misleading people but a question of preventing this higher meaning from falling in the wrong place, on lower meaning, and thereby having its finer significance destroyed. People sometimes imagine they can understand anything, once they are told it. But this is quite wrong. The development of the understanding, the seeing of differences, is a long process."
| "Knowledge is a function of being. When there is a change in the being of the knower, there is a corresponding change in the nature and amount of knowing. For example, the being of a child is transformed by growth and education into that of a man; among the results of this transformation is a revolutionary change in the way of knowing and the amount and character of the things known."|
Jesus's teachings convey higher knowledge through the use of parables or stories. The ordinary meaning of the parable encourages a person to consider if there is a higher meaning and to see if he can discern what this is. The ordinary meaning works on the mind to lift it to a higher level of comprehension. Jesus's stories are transforming instruments which prepare a person's mind to understand higher meaning."The Gospels speak mainly of a possible inner evolution called 're-birth.' This is their central idea. . . The Gospels teach that a man living on this earth is capable of undergoing a definite inner evolution if he comes in contact with definite teaching on this subject."Humankind is capable of a definite inner evolution through which its understanding expands.
"The Gospels are from beginning to end all about this possible self-evolution. They are psychological documents. They are about the psychology of this possible inner development--that is, about what a man must think, feel, and do in order to reach a new level of understanding."A part of this teaching about rebirth to a new being is the idea that man internally is a seed capable of a definite growth--if he dies to being a seed. Thus, as we are we are incomplete. Jesus's esoteric teaching says that man is capable of a second birth. However, this re-birth or second birth belongs to the inner aspect of man, not to man as he seems to be in himself, a materialistic body living on earth."The esoteric teaching about knowledge and being refers to the fact that knowledge cannot be understood unless there is a corresponding development of being. A man may know a great deal and understand nothing because his being is not equal to his knowledge."To experience rebirth means to evolve to a higher level of understanding. This can only be achieved by new knowledge, gnosis, and by practicing this new understanding. The gnosis or knowledge which gives man this possibility of evolving is sometimes called Truth and at other times called the Word. It is not ordinary truth or knowledge; it is knowledge about this further evolutionary step which man can take."In the esoteric schools of which we can see traces in ancient literature, many very severe disciplines existed before a candidate was allowed to receive esoteric knowledge. He might have to serve in a most menial position for years, subject to insults that were a test on the side of being. If he passed these tests successfully and developed in himself strength and patience he was allowed to receive some knowledge. But if he broke, if he pitied himself, if he complained, if he was weak in his being, if he lied, if he behaved maliciously, if he took advantage of others, if he was resentful, if he thought he was better than other people, he received no knowledge."
The Esoteric Interpretation of Paul's Writings
We can best understand how the New Testament--including Paul's writings--were interpreted by Esoteric Christians through studying the outstanding book by Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Paul. In this book, Pagels references the various interpretations of Paul's writings by distinct groups of esoteric Christians.
"The Valentinians claim that most Christians make the mistake of reading the scriptures only literally. They themselves, through their initiation into gnosis, learn to read his letters (as they read all the scriptures) on the symbolic level, as they say Paul intended. Only this pneumatic reading yields 'the truth' instead of its mere outward 'image.'"Esoteric Christians believed that Paul, throughout his letters, 4 was referring to two very different kinds of Christians:
- Exoteric Christians
- Referred to as:
- Psychichos: Greek for earthling or as the King James translates it: natural man
- Jews (used as a symbolic word)
- Seek "salvation" by "works" "according to the law"
- Accept only what they see with their own eyes, needing "works of power" to believe
- Have access to and understand only the exoteric meaning of spiritual writings
- Esoteric Christians
- Referred to as:
- Pneumaticos: Greek for spiritual persons
- Gentiles (used as a symbolic word)
- Seek knowledge (gnosis) and wisdom (sophia) through the spirit
- Understand through spiritual discernment the wisdom which to earthlings seems foolish
- Have access to and understand the esoteric meaning of spiritual writings
It was particularly in such passages as the second chapter of I Corinthians that Esoteric Christians felt sure Paul acknowledged and authorized the secret wisdom tradition which they had received from him through such emissaries as Theodas.
I Corinthians 2:6-8: "We do speak wisdom (sophia) among the initiates (teleioi), but not the wisdom of this age or of the archons of this age, who are passing away. But we speak the hidden wisdom of God in a mystery, which God ordained before the aions for our glory. None of the archons of this age knew this: had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory."In such passages, esoteric Christians believed that Paul was speaking of the secret mystery tradition which only he among all the apostles knew and transmitted. Whereas Paul preached a simplified message of "Christ crucified" to the earthlings--the exoteric Christians--among the initiates he taught the higher wisdom, the hidden gnosis of re-birth. Higher spiritual truth cannot be fully communicated by means of written documents, so Paul only referred to it and then sent such emissaries as Theodas and Timothy to initiate them into the secret rites leading to actual regeneration--death and rebirth through a spiritual baptism.
I Corinthians 2:14-16: "For the earthling (ho psychichos) does not receive the things of the spirit of God: they are foolishness to him, and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually (pneumatically) discerned. The spiritual (ho pneumatikos) on the other hand discerns all things, but himself is discerned by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord, and who may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ."
What we receive from esoteric teachings within the Perennial Tradition depends entirely upon what we have made of ourselves.
"A divinity approaches you. It is either everything or nothing. Nothing, if you meet it in the frame of mind with which you confront everyday matters. Everything, if you are prepared, and attuned to the meeting. What the Divinity is in itself is a matter which does not affect you; the important point for you is whether it leaves you as it found you or makes another man of you. But this depends entirely on yourself. You must have been prepared by a special education, by a development of the inmost forces of your personality for the work of kindling and releasing what a divinity is able to kindle and release in you. What is brought to you depends on the reception you give to it."
Rudolph Steiner. Christianity as Mystical Fact
Some of the New Testament is a record of spiritual experiences which are reproducible in our lives. It is our responsibility to determine what is genuine and what is counterfeit in the New Testament, just as we must discriminate in regard to all teachings. Some parts of the New Testament are dogmas added by later sectarians to support their personal prejudices. For example, many references to Jesus's actions as fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies were added by persons trying to prove that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah. As we examine the New Testament discerningly we discover elements which do not ring true, certain supposed "miracles" and mythological events that cast Jesus in an unfavorable light.
Even so, there are genuine components of the New Testament which comprise spiritual experiences which we should reproduce in our lives. This is especially true of the central teaching of the New Testament: rebirth into a higher consciousness.
The Ancient Teaching
It is terribly difficult for us to grasp the meaning of Jesus's teaching about the new being. Our natural tendency is to construe it as a metaphor, not an actual inner experience of death and new life. We have explored the dimensions of this death experience in the chapter on Illumination.
This rebirth teaching is as old as humankind. It is the first teaching of Hermes Trismegistus.
Tat, the son of Trismegistus, asks his father to teach him about rebirth, claiming that he has learned to see through the illusions of the world and is now ready for the final initiation. Trismegistus tells Tat that rebirth is through acquisition of higher wisdom, the seed of the True Good, which must be sown in him by the Will of God. The reborn person "will be god, the son of God, all in all, composed of all the Powers."
Trismegistus tells Tat that he himself has had the rebirth experience. With growing excitement, Tat implores him to pass it on to him. "Who is the activator in the work of regeneration?" he asks, and the reply is, "The Son of God, a man like other men, by the will of God." Tat asks what truth is, and he is told that it is "that . . . which can only be apprehended by itself, the unalterable Good, the Incorporeal." It cannot be perceived by the senses and can only be known by the effects of its power and energy, which demands that a person must be capable of understanding rebirth in God. "Am I not capable of this, O Father?" cries Tat, and the answer is that he must draw it to himself and it will come; wish it and it will be produced; arrest the activity of the bodily senses and the divinity will be born in him; purify himself from the "irrational punishments of matter." When his rebirth experience is completed, Trismegistus leads Tat out of the "tent" (translated tabernaculum by Ficino) under which he had been and which was constituted by the circle of the zodiac. The powers sing in Tat the Hymn of Regeneration.
Unmistakably, the Hermetic writings constitute an ancient embodiment of the Perennial Tradition which pre-dates Plato. As we saw in Chapter 11, Plato conceived of philosophy (philosophia) as the actual achievement of a higher state of consciousness, gained through self-discipline and mystical contemplation. According to Plato, philosophia is the actual practice of learning to leave the body and live in the soul, the spiritual body.
Those who followed the genuine teaching of Jesus--as distinct from those who created a new, state-supported ecclesiastical tyranny--understood Jesus as one of a long line of savants who initiated chosen disciples into the mystery of a mystical rebirth of the soul into a Higher Consciousness along the same lines as had Plato. The Perennialist teachers in the period following Jesus understood his true teaching and did not see him as a deity.
The orthodox Christian, of course, sees this view of Jesus as the height of error, or even heresy.
"The author's intention is to show, by means of what is here called 'mystical knowledge', how the source of Christianity prepared its own ground in the Mysteries of pre-Christian times. In this pre-Christian mysticism we find the soil in which Christianity throve as a germ of quite independent nature. This point of view makes it possible to understand Christianity in its own independent being, even though its evolution is traced from pre-Christian mysticism. If this point of view be overlooked, it is easy to misunderstand that independent character, and to think that Christianity was merely a further development of what already existed in pre-Christian mysticism. Many people of the present day have fallen into this error, comparing the content of Christianity with pre-Christian conceptions, and then thinking that Christian ideas were only a continuation of the former."
Rudolph Steiner, Christianity as Mystical Fact, 1914
If we follow Steiner's argument in the book cited, we discover that in fact he does not in any way show that this conception of Christianity as "a further development of what already existed in pre-Christian mysticism" is incorrect. Steiner merely asserts that "the nature of the divine and its relation is given by revealed [Christian] theology, which is not accessible to man's own researches and is, as the substance of faith, superior to all knowledge."
The underlying essence of Jesus' teaching was precisely what Hermes and Plato had taught. Many of the genuine followers of Jesus' teachings, such as Clement of Alexandria and Origen, were profoundly influenced by Plato's mystical concepts. It would be correct to say that they were as much Platonists as Christians.
When the Christian faith became a secularized, sacerdotal autocracy supporting the depraved Roman emperor Constantine, the hierarchy of priests and potentates of the Church found it necessary to concoct a system of dogmas which would separate Christian theology from Platonism.
So, three hundred and twelve bishops were ordered by Emperor Constantine to work out a creed that would put a stop to the increasingly troublesome theological bickering. The emperor himself, dressed in a purple gown and with a silver diadem, opened the council. The Council of Nicea in 325 C.E. made it clear that Christianity was to be definitely distinguished from the pagan Platonic heresy. Jesus Christ was of the same substance as God and only Christ could bring about humankind's salvation.
It is instructive to see the distinctions between the two systems of thought as outlined by a contemporary orthodox Christian:Platonism: "Man, it says, lives in a transient world of sensible phenomena and of conjecture, or opinion, based on it. But his soul belongs to a higher, truer world which is eternal and immutable. To regain its kinship with that world the soul must purify itself from this world; it must seek to die to this world, to live now the life it hopes it may lead after death. This purification has two sides: moral and intellectual. Moral purification will restore to the soul transcendence over the body; the body will cease to disturb its endeavours after contemplation. Intellectual purification, or dialectic, trains the soul in abstract thought; it weans the soul from dependence on the world of sense and accustoms it to the more austere, but also more real because eternal, world of the Forms or Ideas. When the soul has sufficiently purified itself it may - suddenly and without warning - attain contemplation, theoria, of the highest of the Forms, the Beautiful or the Good, for which it has longed. In this gratuitous act of theoria the whole world of ultimate reality is seen as a single whole, and the meaning even of sensible reality becomes clear. This sudden ultimate act of theoria is experienced as ecstasy: the soul seems to transcend itself, to be rapt out of itself At the same time, this ecstasy is a sort of home-coming. The soul becomes what it truly is in its deepest self; its kinship with ultimate reality becomes something experienced."
Christianity: "But, for Christianity, man is a creature; he is not ultimately God's kin, but created out of nothing by God and only sustained in being by dependence on His will. There is an ontological gulf between God and his creation, a real difference of being. Only in Christ, in whom divine and human natures are united, do we find One who is of one substance with the Father. . .
"Christianity, on the other hand, speaks of the Incarnation of God, of his descent into the world that he might give to man the possibility of a communion with God that is not open to him by nature."
Andrew Louth. (1981), The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition
Orthodox Christianity Devolves Into A Tyranny
In our review above of those early thinkers who understood the true essence of Jesus's teachings--Paul, Marcion, Valentinus, and Origen--we discovered that in fact the Perennialist view of Jesus and his teachings was common among them. Jesus was seen as a master within a continuing tradition of personal regeneration which had been embodied earlier in the Hermetic and Platonic writings.
Within a few centuries, we find that Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant theologians have turned away from Jesus's teachings of the rebirth of the soul to a degraded conception of religion as mere faith in the dogmas of the Church.
With such a man as Augustine, we experience the tragedy of a brilliant mind that gained an insight into the true essence of the Perennial Tradition--and Jesus's specific embodiment of that tradition--but which degenerated into self-deceiving zealotry in regard to the dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church.
Here was a person who experienced actual mystical union with Higher Consciousness in his early life but wound up as a bigot recommending that anyone not believing in the true Roman Catholic faith be tortured and killed. This hideous aspect of the murderous zealot faces us within all organized religions.
It is disappointing to see otherwise brilliant contemporary thinkers such as Max Muller, Rudolph Steiner, and Paul Elmer More--to mention only a few--discourse intelligently on the mystical aspects of Plato and then fall into the abyss of sanctimonious ecclesiasticism.
"When delivering these [Gifford] lectures [in 1893], I confess that what I feared far more than the taunts of those who, like Henry VII, call themselves the defenders of the faith, were the suspicions of those who might doubt my perfect fairness and impartiality in defending Christianity by showing how, if only properly understood, it is infinitely superior to all other religions."
Max Muller, Theosophy or Psychological Religion
"That which man previously had sought to attain through the Mysteries was now replaced by the belief that Christ had lived on earth, and that the faithful belonged to him.
"Henceforward, part of what was formerly only to be gained through mystical methods, could be replaced, in the Christian community, by the conviction that the divine had been manifested in the Word present amongst them. . .
"The Mysteries handed down traditionally the means of arriving at truth; the Christian community itself propagates the truth."
Rudolph Steiner, Christianity as Mystical Fact, 1914
"The real change comes with Clement of Alexandria, whose life-work in the Christian field was much like that of Philo in the Jewish, an effort to enrich religion with the spoils of Platonic Idealism while still maintaining that revelation had brought a higher kind of wisdom to mankind. . . .
"In Christianity the perception of truth has become secondary to and dependent upon theological and mythological dogma, whereas to the pagan it was primary and free."
"What if the Christian scheme, by its very hardness and unreasonableness, should throw open the door to a divine attribute of mercy to which the human heart can cling as it can never quite cling to the inexorable God of Plato's philosophy? . . .
"In the end it may turn out that the Christian dogma, or myth if you prefer, lends to the idea of Providence a depth of meaning which is in the highest degree divine, yet which reason of itself cannot fathom."
Paul Elmer More The Religion of Plato, 1921What a pity that thinkers such as Augustine and these three modern scholars can attain great heights in understanding the Hermetic and Platonic embodiments of the Perennial Tradition yet feel the necessity to fall back upon a dogmatic adherence to orthodox Christianity which runs completely counter to the Higher Wisdom.
A corrupt and self-serving power-system calling itself Christianity has lost all knowledge of Jesus's secret Perennialist teachings. However, the hidden, inner teachings of Jesus are still available to persons who go through the discipline of rediscovering the source, as mystics throughout the centuries have proved in their lives and writings.
1 Adolf von Harnack, Marcion: the Gospel of the Alien God,
- pp. 4, 5
2 Ibid., p. 8
3 Ibid., p. 22
4 Esoteric Christians, such as the Valentinians, cite as authentically Pauline only the following writings: Romans, I and I Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Phillipians, Colossians, I Thessalonians, and Hebrews