A Word with the Theosophists
Theosophist, March, 1883
The following letters appeared recently in the Poona Observer. Were it not for a few flagrant misconceptions in letter the first and which it seems almost hopeless to dispel from the minds of the average public, it would not be worth noticing. But since a Theosophist undertook the weary task, we republish it together with the answer.—ED. [H.P.B.]
To The Editor of the Poona Observer.
Sir,—The anxiety of the Theosophists to overturn all existing religions, and first of all and especially the Christian religion, makes them not overscrupulous in the means used. Nothing could be more wild and absurd than their attempts to identify Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul with the ancient adepts in Occultism. The Apostle of the Gentiles was converted to Christianity by a miraculous event, while on his way to Damascus. He was then a fierce soldier and was actively engaged in a cruel persecution of the Christians; after his conversion the whole course of his life was changed and he became an ardent propagator of the new faith. It may be said that he was an occultist when he wrote his epistles, and that when caught up in Heaven and was shown things that it was not lawful for men to mention, that he was simply in a state of self-induced mesmeric sleep and had released his soul from his body, to roam for a time in the realms of the spirit world; but if so he manifestly saw and heard such things which established his belief in doctrines which are rejected by the Tibetan occultists, viz., a belief in a personal deity and the divinity of Christ, etc. The attempt to prove Christ an adept is absurd equally. Christ gave up his life and took it again, raised the dead, and cured every description of malignant diseases by touch or word of mouth, and did other great miracles; great, not because they were done on a large scale, but from the nature of them. With regard to the loaves and fishes—it does not matter whether five loaves became five thousand or five loaves became six, miraculous power was still required; similarly, if a wineglass of water could be converted into wine, it is equally the same as if a large quantity of water had been changed and a large company supplied with the wine. To sup port the theory that Christ and Saint Paul were adepts, the facts of their lives must be ignored as well as the doctrines they are reported to have taught.
Some Theosophists have probably recognized these difficulties, and seem to think the easiest way of disposing them is to deny that any such persons as Saint Paul and Christ ever existed. Sensible people should ask themselves this question: Are such Philosophers safe guides?
*** We think “Zero” has rather mistaken the Theosophical idea regarding Christ. The Theosophists do not, as far as we are aware, deny the possibility of the divinity of Christ; they only assert that he was so perfect a man as to have attained the highest possible form of earthly existence; in other words, something so akin to the godhead, as to be indistinguishable from it. Again, “Zero” may have heard the fundamental belief of the Theosophists is nothing is impossible. Thus, to deny the divinity of the Saviour would be to impeach their own watchword.—Editor, Poona Observer.
(Reply by a Theosophist.)
A WORD WITH “ZERO.”
In the Poona Observer of January 26, one “Zero,” rushing to the defence of Christ and Paul against the “Theosophists,” who neither individually nor collectively had ever thought of attacking either, brings against that body several charges. Whether the pseudonym means an empty cipher, as defined in dictionaries, or the point at which water congeals, as shown by the Celsius and Reaumur thermometers, since it is a question left to the option and intuitions of the reader, I incline toward the first hypothesis as being more suggestive of, and in harmony with, this Christian Don Quixote fighting wind-mills. A Theosophist permits himself to correct some of the very wild assertions of the Poona Observer’s correspondent.
He charges the Theosophists with the following misdeeds:
(a.) With a desire of overturning “all existing religions . . . especially the Christian,” and being, therefore, “not overscrupulous in the means used”;
(b.) With wildness and absurdity in “their attempts to identify Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul with the ancient adepts in Occultism;”
(c.) With denying, “as some Theosophists do, that any such persons as Saint Paul and Christ ever existed.”
The rest of the letter, and especially his arguments in refutation of the above, being a tissue of unwarrantable and unhistorical assumptions, based on a personal and blind belief in his own special religion—hence no proof at all to any man but a Christian—are not a matter for the serious consideration of one who rejects, a priori, “miracles”—something entirely outside of the laws of nature. Let “Zero” remember that between a phenomenon, however extraordinary, yet based on such laws, and a miracle of the kind of those he mentions as a proof against the assumptions of the Theosophists, there is an impassable abyss, guarded on one hand by experimental physical science and on the other by simple common sense. A few words will explain our attitude. No Theosophist-Occultist will ever deny the possibility of “five loaves becoming six loaves” and even “five thousand.” In the first case the phenomenon may be produced by what is known among practical Kabalists as exosmosis, in the second, by throwing a mesmeric maya, a glamour, over the crowds. But no Theosophist, save a beginner or a greenhorn (of those who take things on blind faith and against the dictates of reason and thus show themselves unfit for Occultism) will ever accept as a fact either the resurrection of a really dead body, or the incarnation of God in a pigeon or dove—for why should Christians, in such case, laugh at the Siamese white elephant?—or “an immaculate conception;” or again the miracle of the “ascension,” i.e., the actual elevation to, and disappearance in, heaven, of a solid human body. With this short explanation I will proceed to demolish the three specified charges—the only points deserving a certain attention as calculated to lead the profane reader into very erroneous ideas about our Society in general.
(1.) What right has “Zero” to accuse so sweepingly “the Theosophists” of “unscrupulous means”? The first Theosophist he meets with might answer the charge by simply reminding the accuser that in his “Father’s house are many mansions;” in other words, that in the Parent Theosophical Society there are fifty-three Branches in India alone. Hence that the Society being composed of thousands of members of nearly every known nationality and creed, whose respective religious beliefs are never interfered with; and there being in the ranks a number of as good Christians as “Zero” ever was (aye, even Clergymen), this “Zero’s” charge against the Theosophists as a body, is proved absurd and falls to the ground. But even admitting that there are some Theosophists who in their desire of seeing their cause triumphant and seeking to establish Theosophy, i.e., a Universal Brotherhood on a firm basis, with a unanimous belief in that which they believe to be the one Truth, should seek “to overturn all existing [dogmatic] religions;” and even should deny the very existence of Christ and Paul (which is not the case as I will prove); why should such a policy be viewed, even in such a case, as more unscrupulous than the identical one used, with a vengeance, by the great body of bigoted Christians in general and the Missionaries especially? Is “Zero” prepared to affirm that there is one padri in India who would scruple to “overturn every existing religion” but his own? or would feel reluctant to deny the existence of the Hindu gods; or, to denounce in word and print every other divine Avatara but that of Christ as a “myth;” or show himself shy to treat publicly, as well as in private, Zoroaster and Krishna, Buddha and Mohammed, with the long string of “heathen” miracle-working Saviours and Rishis, Prophets and Yogis—as “world impostors” and jugglers? When a dominant religion produces an Inquisition, and with its power on the wane, such writers as the Rev. Mr. Hastie of Calcutta who, taking advantage of the natural timidity of a nation, of its lack of unity and solidarity of thought and action, insults it in its most sacred beliefs; spits on its religion, and throws mud on the honour of its women—then it behoves little indeed the votaries of that religion to call those of other creeds “not overscrupulous in the means used.”
(2.) We leave it to every impartial mind to judge whether Jesus is not more honoured by the Theosophists, who see in him, or the ideal he embodies, a perfect adept (the highest of his epoch), a mortal being far above uninitiated humanity, than he is by the Christians who have created out of him an imperfect solar-god, a saviour and Avatara, no better, and in more than one detail lower, than some of the Avataras who preceded him. No Theosophist, of those who ever gave a thought to Christianity—for our “heathen” members, of course, do not care one snap of their finger whether Christ and Paul lived or not—ever denied the existence of the Apostle who is an historical personage. Some of us, a few learned Christian mystics among our British Theosophists included, deny but the Gospel Jesus—who is not an historical personage—“Zero” and padris notwithstanding—but believe in an ideal Christ. Others are inclined to see the real Jesus in the adept mentioned in the oldest Talmudic as well as some Christian books, and known as Jeshu Ben Panthera.1 They say that while the best authoritative evidence to the existence of the Gospel Christ ever offered by the spasmodic and desperate efforts of the Church to the crucial test of critical analysis, is of the weakest kind and fenced all round with difficulties, they find the solution of the problem in the testimony of the Jews and even of Irenaeus. They maintain that this Jeshu (or Joshua), was the son of a woman called Stada (alias Miriam) and of Panthera, a Roman soldier; that he lived from the year 120 to 70 B.C.;2 was a pupil of Rabbi Jeachim Ben Perachia, his grand uncle, with whom during the persecution of the Jews by Alexander Jannaeus (King of the Jews in 106 B.C.)3 he fled to Alexandria, where he was initiated into the Egyptian mysteries or magic,4 and that upon his return to Palestine, being charged with heresy and sorcery, he was tried, sentenced to death, and hung on the tree of infamy (Roman Cross) outside the city of Lud or Lydda.5 This historical character (as historical as any other) was a great adept. As to Paul, no one, I know of, ever mistook him for an adept, and (since his history is pretty well known) least of all, our occultists. A simple tent-maker (not “a fierce soldier,” as “Zero” puts it), he became first a persecutor of the Nazarenes, then a convert and an enthusiast. It is Paul who is the real founder of Christianity, the Reformer of a little body, a nucleus formed from the Essenes, the Nabatheans, the Therapeutae, and other mystic brotherhoods (the Theosophical Societies of old Palestine)—and which was transformed over three centuries later, namely, under Constantine, into “Christians.” Paul’s visions from first to last point him out rather as a medium than an adept, since to make an adept requires years of study and preparation and a solemn initiation under some competent Hierophant.
Charge the third, being logically refuted by the aforesaid proofs showing the inconsistency of the first two accusations, I might close the case and dismiss it altogether. And if perchance, “Zero” would persist in defending his Gospel Christ against those who call him a myth built on the historical Jeshu of Lydda, then I would fain ask him to explain to us the following:
(1.) How is it that Philo Judaeus, the most accurate as the most learned of the historians contemporary to the Jesus of the Gospels; a man whose birth anteceded and whose death succeeded the birth and death of Jesus, respectively, by ten and fifteen years; one who visited Jerusalem from Alexandria, where he lived, several times during his long career, and who must have come to Jerusalem but a few years after the alleged crucifixion; an author, in short, who in describing the various religious sects, societies and corporations of Palestine, takes the greatest care to omit none, even of those hardly worth mentioning—how is it, I ask, that Philo Judaeus never so much as heard about a Jesus, a crucifixion, or any other event that would connect it with the so-called facts of Theological Christianity?
(2.) Why are the sixteen famous lines of Josephus about Christ, lines appearing like a patch on a whole garment, and not bearing the slightest connection with either the preceding subject or the lines that follow in the text, why are these lines rejected by most of the Christian theologians themselves? The barefaced forgery is attributed by them to Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, that “prince of patristic liars” and “dishonest writers,” as he is called by Baron Bunsen, Niebuhr, Dr. Lardner, and several others? And if these authorities are all wrong, and the lines are not an interpolation, as they think, how is it that Paley himself, an author so anxious that his “Evidences of Christianity” should be accepted, deplores and confesses that “evidence” (in Josephus) as being far from satisfactory, and very difficult of acceptance. The more so since Josephus—after he had by the forger thus been made virtually to recognize in Jesus “the Messiah of the Jews” and to show such a reverence for Jesus that he had hardly dared to call him a man—died, at the age of eighty, a stiff-necked, orthodox Jew, disdainfully silent, if not entirely ignorant of the appearance, the crucifixion, or anything connected with that Messiah!
(3.) How would “Zero” explain the fact of the total silence of the “Mishna,” its evident ignorance of Jesus and the crucifixion? The “Mishna,” founded by Hillel forty years B.C., edited and amplified (till about the beginning of the third century of our era) at Tiberias, by the Sea of Galilee, the very focus of the doings of the Biblical Apostles and of Christ’s miracles; the “Mishna,” which contains an unbroken record of all the Heresiarchs and rebels against the authority of the Jewish Sanhedrim, from the year 40 B.C. to about A.D. 237; a diary, in short, of the doings of the Synagogue and the History of the Pharisees, those same men who are accused of having put Jesus to death—how is it that not one of the eminent Rabbis, authors of the “Mishna,” seems to have ever heard of Jesus, or whispers a word in the defence of his sect charged with deicide, but is, in fact, absolutely silent as to the great event? Strange omissions of “universally recognized facts!”
Concerning the editorial remark in the Poona Observer, I have but a few more words to add. Those Theosophists who have studied the Christian Ecclesiastical history (?) and literature, and have read upon the subject, with the exception of a few Christians, deny most emphatically not only the divinity but even “the possibility of the divinity of the Biblical Christ.” Quite true: “the fundamental belief of the Theosophists is that nothing is impossible;” but only so far as it does not clash with reason nor claim any thing miraculous, in the theological sense of the word. Otherwise, once we admit Joshua’s power over the course of the sun, Jonah’s pleasure-trip into the belly of the whale, or the resurrection to life of the half-decayed body of Lazarus, I do not see why we should be made to stop there. Why in such a case and under the penalty of inconsistency, we should not proclaim our firm belief in Hanuman, the monkey-god, and his strategical capacities; in the Arhat who made Mount Meru revolve on the tip of his finger; or in the actual gestation of Gautama Buddha and his subsequent birth in the shape of a white elephant. We Theosophists at least, without “impeaching our watchword,” beg to be allowed to draw the line of demarcation at that point where a psychophysical phenomenon ceases to be such and becomes a monstrous absurdity—a miracle, of which we find so many in the Bible. And now repeating “Zero’s” words we too can say: Let all “sensible people” ask themselves the question: which—the Christians or the Theosophists—are the more “philosophical” and safer “guides”?
1. Epiphanius in his book against Heresies (fourth century) gives the genealogy of Jesus, as follows:
(See Mr. Gerald Massey’s “Jesus and the Records of his Time,” in the April Spiritualist, 1878.)
2. See “Irenaeus against Heresies” (Book 2, Cap. XXII, 5). Irenaeus positively maintains that John (of the 4th Gospel) “conveyed himself the information,” and “all the Elders confirmed the statement” that “Jesus preached from his fortieth to his fiftieth year of age.”
3. See the “Babylonian Gemara” (Tract Sanhidrim, Fol. 107, and Sota, fol. 47).
4. See, Ibid, Fol. 47.
5. See Babyl Gemara to the Mishna of Tract Sabbath, Vol. 67-104.