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Gnôsis (Gr.) Lit., “knowledge”. The technical term used by the schools of religious philosophy, both before and during the first centuries of so-called Christianity, to denote the object of their enquiry. This Spiritual and Sacred Knowledge, the Gupta Vidya of the Hindus, could only be obtained by Initiation into Spiritual Mysteries of which the ceremonial “Mysteries” were a type.
Gnostics (Gr.) The philosophers who formulated and taught the Gnôsis or Knowledge (q.v.). They flourished in the first three centuries of the Christian era: the following were eminent, Valentinus, Basilides, Marcion, Simon Magus, etc. [ w.w.w. ]
Setting the Stage
Excerpt from the article “From Plato to the Neoplatonists”
. . .
Side by side with the decline of Athens, a new center of culture was arising on the southern shore of the Mediterranean. Two years before the death of Plato, Philip, the young King of Macedonia, had married a young novice in the Mystery School of Samothrace, and from their union sprang Alexander the Great. In 331 B.C. the walls of Alexandria were marked out, and within a comparatively short time the spirit of Athens reincarnated in the Egyptian city. The first Ptolemy, like Alexander, had been a pupil of Aristotle, and started out with the aim of making Alexandria a second Athens. The Museum, founded by Ptolemy Soter, became the world’s most famous University, and the library contained all that was best in Grecian, Roman, Jewish, Persian, Babylonian, Phoenician and Hindu literature. There were found the works of Hesiod and Homer, of Pythagoras and Plato, of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, as well as the large library which had once belonged to Aristotle. Ptolemy maintained a vast army of scholars in the Museum, who spent their time studying and translating the ancient texts. In addition, the Museum supported numerous lecturers who drew students from every part of the world. This brought about a new phase of philosophical thought, in which an attempt was made to unite the philosophies of the East and the West by showing their similarities and thus proving their common origin.
The larger Mystery Schools were by this time gradually declining, being replaced by smaller gnostic groups, each of which concentrated upon some special phase of the gnosis, or ancient wisdom. In Ephesus there was a great gnostic College, where Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, and the Chaldean system were taught side by side with the Platonic philosophy. In Aegea another gnostic school devoted itself to the doctrines of Pythagoras. Egypt was full of these gnostic schools, many of which were affiliated with Judaism. The Egyptian Mysteries were being perpetuated by the Essenes in their “greater” and “lesser” Mysteries. There was also a Pythagorean branch of the Essenes, known as the Koinobi, as well as the Gymnosophists. In Alexandria a Pythagorean group called the Therapeutae spent their lives in contemplation upon the higher problems of philosophy. In addition to these various Jewish-Pythagorean groups, there were also many individual Jews who tried to show the close relationship between the Hebrew and Greek teachings. Aristobulus pointed to the similarity between the ethics of Aristotle and the Laws of Moses. Philo Judaeus sought to reconcile the Pentateuch with the Pythagorean and Platonic philosophy. The translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint brought the Hebrew Scriptures within the reach of Greek scholars.
It was in some of these gnostic schools — all of which were remnants of the Mysteries — that Jesus received his knowledge. By establishing connection with the Koinobi, the Pythagorean branch of the Essenes, he was initiated into the secrets of the Egyptian Mysteries. All of the sayings attributed to Jesus are in the Pythagorean spirit, when not verbatim repetitions. An interesting corroboration of this statement will be found in Isis Unveiled II, 338. After his years of study in Egypt, Jesus returned to Judea, where he was initiated into the Chaldean Mysteries by the Nazars, or Magi, who built the ancient city of Nazara (afterward Nazareth) where they held their secret rites of initiation. The stories of Jesus’ birth, baptism, crucifixion and resurrection are all allegories belonging to the Mysteries. Even his title of Chrestos, or Christos, comes from the same source. In the days of Homer the city of Chrisa was mentioned as celebrated for its Mysteries, and the word chrestos was used to describe a disciple on probation. The same word is frequently found in the works of Plato, Demosthenes, Euripides, Aeschylus and Herodotus, clearly showing that it is not of Christian origin. In the Mysteries, when a chrestos had successfully passed through his probationary period, he was anointed with oil and given the title of Christos, the “anointed” or “purified.” Two Initiates followed after Jesus, each in his own way trying to perpetuate the Mystery Teachings. The first was Paul, who was partially, if not completely initiated. This is shown by his language, his peculiar phraseology, and the use of certain expressions known only in the Mysteries. His hair, shorn because he had taken a vow, shows that he was initiated into the Chaldean Mysteries, where the neophyte was obliged to sacrifice his locks on the altar. His calling himself a “Master Builder” indicates that he was also initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries, where the epoptae were known by that title. If the first five verses of the twelfth Chapter of Second Corinthians are read carefully, they will be found to contain a cautious description of Paul’s initiation into the Mysteries.
The other great Initiate of the first century A.D. was Apollonius of Tyana, who studied first with the Pythagorean group at Aegea, then with the Persian Magi, and finally with the great Sages of Kashmir. Upon his return to Europe, he revitalized the great occult centers by lecturing on the Island of Samos, where Pythagoras was born, by speaking in the garden where Plato had taught, and by giving instruction in the Temple of Apollo in Delphi and in the Temple of Serapis of Alexandria. By thus keeping alive the Wisdom-Religion in the western world Apollonius prepared the way for Ammonius Saccas and the Neoplatonic Movement.
— THEOSOPHY, Vol. 28, No. 1, November, 1939, Pages 3-8
Jesus, the Christ
Jesus, the Christ
The period of history that began with the first century B.C. and ended with the year 414 A.D. was an important one for the Western world. During those five hundred years certain causes were set in motion, the effects of which we are still feeling at the present day and will continue to feel for some time to come. This period of history should be carefully studied by every one calling himself a Christian. For it contains not only the life record of Jesus, but also the story of a Church that grew, in that comparatively short space of time, from a single individual to a powerful political organization. It is of equal importance to the Theosophist, for it witnessed the beginning, the growth and the final destruction of one of the greatest Theosophical Schools in history, marked the death of the Mysteries, and sealed the doom of the old religions, sciences and philosophies for many centuries.
In the first century B.C., the Theosophical Movement and Christianity were one, Jesus the Christ being a great Theosophist, and the work he tried to accomplish forming part of the program of the Theosophical Movement. But from the first century A.D. onwards, the Theosophical Movement and Christianity gradually separated; in the year 414 A.D. the work of the Theosophical Movement of that day was destroyed by the Church that called itself Christian.
In trying to find the causes that led up to this catastrophe, the Theosophical Movement and Christianity must be studied side by side. This study will be as fair and impartial as it is possible to make it, and each side will be allowed to present its own case. The story of the Church will be taken from Catholic historians and from the writings of the early Church Fathers themselves. The story of the Theosophical Movement will be drawn from the best historical sources available, and the teachings of the great Theosophists of the period will be presented in their own words. Direct quotations from the different writers will be given, and the motto used will be that of the Theosophical Society: There is no Religion higher than Truth.
There are many persons, even in this enlightened day, who consider Christianity as a unique religion, the Bible as the only revelation of God, and Jesus Christ as His only-begotten Son. If this were true, it would mean that, during all the vast procession of the ages, there has been only one expression of Truth. But Truth, as every thinking person will admit, is universal, and could not have been limited to a single expression. Even if it had been so limited, this fact would not enhance its value. The fact that two and two make four is none the less important because the whole world knows it.
If Christianity is an expression of universal Truth, it will gain, rather than lose, by a recognition of its identity with other expressions of the same truth. If the Bible is a revelation of God, its truth will become more apparent if it is found to agree with other “revelations.” If Jesus was a “Son of God”, his position will become still more secure when he is recognized as a member of a great Fraternity of Perfected Men, all of whom have presented identical doctrines.
The study of the history of these five centuries will disclose an important fact: that there is nothing unique in Christianity. It will show that Jesus was not a unique character, but only one of a long line of Teachers. It will show that the Bible is not a unique book, but only one of the many Scriptures of the world. It will show that there is not a single dogma, ritual nor ceremony in the Christian Church that has not been taken bodily from the so-called “Pagan” religions. Finally it will show that not even the term Christian is unique.
Many persons believe that Christianity has been in existence for only two thousand years. But history shows that the terms Christ and Christians were well known to writers like Herodotus and Aeschylus fully five centuries before the “Christian” era, and were simply borrowed by the later “Christians” from the Temple terminology of the Pagans. The early Church knew this to be a fact, for it is openly admitted by no less an authority than Justin Martyr, one of the foremost Christian writers of the second century.
The terms Chrestos and Christos came from the Mysteries. There the word Chrestos was used to designate a disciple on probation, a neophyte, one who was preparing himself for initiation into the Mysteries. When the candidate had passed through the Chrestos condition, or the probationary period, and had finally reached the state of an Initiate, he was anointed and became a Christos.
The word Christos also meant the “Way” or the “Path.” When the Chrestos addressed his Master, he said: “Thou art the Path.” After the disciple had been initiated himself, the same words were repeated to him by his Teacher. “I am the Way”, said Jesus, after he had become a Christos. “Thou canst not travel on the Path until thou hast become that Path itself,” says the Voice of the Silence. And H. P. Blavatsky reiterated the same idea when she said to her pupils: “Do not follow me; follow the Path I show,” meaning by that: “Do not follow my personality; follow the Christos-principle within yourselves, the only ‘Light on the Path’ that really exists.”
Christos, or Christ, is therefore not a special title belonging to any one individual, but is a state or condition, the last stage in the long series of progressive awakenings of the soul. The Christos, or Christ-principle, lies latent within every man. Jesus had completely awakened this principle in himself. Therefore he is known as Jesus, the Christ.
As far as secular history goes, there seems to be no accurate record of Jesus. If he lived in the first century A.D. we would naturally expect to find references to him in the works of the great historians of that century. But Philo Judaeus, who lived in Palestine during the very years that Jesus is supposed to have been teaching there, never mentions him, and Josephus disposes of his whole career in one short sentence. Even that sentence, which is interpolated between incongruous paragraphs in one of the works of Josephus, (Antiquities of the Jews: Book xviii, chapter 3) is considered by scholars as spurious and a palpable forgery.
The second century offers little more. Neither Plutarch nor Dion Cassius, the two great historians of this century, refer to him. Suetonius, in his Life of the Twelve Caesars, speaks of the Jews that were banished from Rome during the reign of the Emperor Claudius because of the disturbances they were making at the instigation of one Chrestos. But as Jesus is supposed to have been in Jerusalem at that time, he could not have been the Chrestos to whom Suetonius refers. The Emperor Hadrian, also writing in the second century, does not mention Jesus, but speaks of the Christians, calling them worshippers of Serapis. This is because the Christians of that day, having no image or picture of Jesus to remind them of their Teacher, adopted the image of Serapis, who was always represented with long hair and wearing a garment reaching to his feet. The image of Jesus with which we are familiar at the present day is this same likeness of Serapis.
The ecclesiastical history of Jesus is quite as disappointing as the secular. Up to the year 180 A.D. none of the Christian writers seem to have known when Jesus was born, how long he taught or when he died. Some claim that he taught only one year, others extend the term of his ministry to ten and even twenty years. During the latter years of the second century an altercation took place between a man called Ptolamaeus, and Irenaeus, one of the foremost Church Fathers. Ptolemaeus argued that Jesus was too young to have given out anything of importance. Irenaeus rebuked him and accused him of
“Destroying Christ’s work, and robbing him of that age which is both necessary and more honorable than any other; the more advanced age, I mean, during which, also, he excelled all others.”
And then, having no certain data to furnish, he throws himself back on tradition and claims that Jesus had preached ten years, and that he was at least fifty years old at his death.
With such a lack of accurate historical data and such disagreement among the Christians, it is evident that we must look elsewhere for more dependable information. As Jesus and his twelve disciples are said to have been Jews, it is possible that Jewish history may be more correct than Christian.
One statement, which is commonly accepted by historians, and which furthermore, has the backing of actual history, is found in the Jewish Gemara, the section called Sepher Toldos Jeshu. In this story, Jesus is said to have been the son of a man named Pandira, who lived in the first century B.C. during the reign of King Alexander Janneus. Ernst Haeckel, in his Riddle of the Universe, finds in this story the solution of Jesus’ non-Jewish characteristics. Mr. Haeckel says:
“The statement of the apocryphal gospels that Pandira was the true father of Christ seems all the more credible when we make a careful anthropological study of the personality of Christ. He is generally regarded as pure Jewish. Yet the characteristics which distinguish his high and noble personality, and which give impress to his religion, are certainly not Semitical. Now the name of Christ’s real father, Pandira, points unequivocally to a Greek origin; in one manuscript, in fact, it is written Pandora.”
The Sepher Toldos Jeshu corroborates the apocryphal statements in regard to Jesus’ Greek paternity, and describes the years of his early youth:
“Mary, having become the mother of a son, named Jehoshuah, and the boy growing up, she entrusted him to the care of the Rabbi Elhanan. And the child progressed in knowledge, for he was well gifted with spirit and understanding. Rabbi Jehoshuah, son of Perachiah, continued the education of Jesus after Elhanan, and initiated him into the secret knowledge. But the King Janneus, having given orders to slay all the Initiates, Jehoshuah Ben Perachiah fled to Alexandria, in Egypt, taking the boy with him.”
Then follows a series of adventures which show that Jesus supplemented his initiation into the secret wisdom of the Jews with an additional acquisition of the secret knowledge of Egypt.
Two points stand out in this old story. The first is that Jesus lived during the reign of King Alexander Janneus, which was in the early years of the first century B.C. It is a matter of history that King Janneus actually did persecute and slay hundreds of Initiates, who in those days were called “Innocents”, “Infants” and “Little Ones”. But the reign of Herod, in which Jesus is supposed to have lived, contains no record of such a massacre.
The second point is that Jesus was initiated into the Mysteries of the Jewish Temple in his early youth, and later went to Egypt, where he was initiated into the Egyptian Mysteries. These two points are corroborated by the Masters and by H.P.B. She says:
“The position THEY give to Jesus, as far as we know, is that of an Initiate who recognized no difference — save the moral one — between men; who rejected caste and despised wealth; and who, finally, lived a century before our vulgar, so-called Christian era.”
Jesus is constantly referred to as an Initiate in Theosophical literature. H.P.B. says: “Let the world judge Jesus for what he was — a Mahatma, a Perfected Man.” And Mr. Judge, in the Ocean of Theosophy, describes him as an Avatar, a member of the great Fraternity of Adepts. If he was a true Initiate, as these words imply, and a member of that great Brotherhood which is the custodian of the Wisdom-Religion, then he must have taught the same Theosophical principles that we study today. For, as H.P.B. says,
…if he was an initiate of either the Pythagorean Essenes, the Chaldean Magi, or the Egyptian Priests, then the doctrine taught by him was but a portion of the “Secret Doctrine” taught by the Pagan hierophants to the few select adepts admitted within the sacred adyta. —Isis Unveiled II, 94.
These words give a clear indication of the places where Jesus gained his knowledge and received his initiation. It must have been among the Pythagorean Essenes (who were the descendants of the Egyptian Hierophants) or among the Nazarenes (who were the descendants of the Chaldean Magi). He must have supplemented his knowledge of the ancient Egyptian and Chaldean systems with that acquired through the study of the Pythagorean and Buddhistic philosophies, for:
1, all his sayings are in a Pythagorean spirit, when not verbatim repetitions; 2, his code of ethics is purely Buddhistic; 3, his mode of action and walk in life, Essenian; and 4, his mystical mode of expression, his parables, and his ways, those of an initiate, whether Grecian, Chaldean or Magian (for the “Perfect,” who spoke the hidden wisdom, were of the same school of archaic learning the world over), it is difficult to escape from the logical conclusion that he belonged to that same body of initiates. —Isis Unveiled, II, 337.
Let us go back in thought and try to reconstruct those years of Jesus’ life, when his mode of action and walk in life became Essenian. We remember that, after the persecution of the Initiates by King Janneus, Jesus and his teacher Rabbi Jehoshuah fled to Alexandria in Egypt. It would be interesting to know what sort of an impression this great cosmopolitan city made upon the young man. He must have been astonished at the magnificent Palace of the Ptolemies and the grandeur of the Museum and its gardens. He must have watched the galleys riding upon the blue waters in the shadow of the great lighthouse of Pharos and wondered about the strange countries from which they came. He must have gone out into the western quarter of the city and climbed the rocky hill that led to the Temple of Serapis, whose image was one day to be substituted for his own. He must have visited the great library of the Bruckion and examined some of its seven hundred thousand scrolls. He must have met some of the learned Jews who, like himself, had been initiated into the mysteries of the Kabala. But fascinating as the great city of Alexandria must have been, it did not hold the secrets that Jesus came to Egypt to garner.
Just south of the city of Alexandria there lived a community of men and women known as the Therapeutae. They formed an inner group within Alexandrian Judaism, an esoteric circle of illuminati, or wise men. Jesus’ knowledge of healing and the many “miraculous” cures attributed to him point to the fact that he must at one time have been a member of this community. They were the true mystics of that day, and Christianity is indebted to them for many of its mystical expressions.
The main object of Jesus’ stay in Egypt was, however, to gain a knowledge of the Egyptian philosophical system, which could be acquired only through initiation into the Egyptian Mysteries. These secrets were held by the descendants of the ancient Egyptian Hierophants, the Essenes, one group of which was known as the Konoibi. Jesus established connection with this group, and it is probably through them that he was eventually initiated into the secret wisdom of Egypt. Where this initiation took place it is impossible to say. The true Initiate does not speak of these sacred matters to the world at large. But, considering the connection of the Essenes with the ancient Egyptian Hierophants, it is highly probable that Jesus passed his final initiation within the sacred precincts of the great Pyramid of Gizeh, whose walls had often witnessed the initiation scenes of different members of the royal families of ancient Egypt.
The great Pyramid of Gizeh (now called Cheops) stands upon a low hill overlooking the yellow sands of the vast Libyan desert. Within it is a narrow passage leading up to the King’s Chamber, as it is now called, but which in olden days was the Holy of Holies, or Chamber of Initiation. At the top of this passage is a narrow gate that leads directly into the initiation chamber. Did Jesus himself climb this very passage and go through this “strait gate” on the day of his initiation? What else did H.P.B. mean when she said:
…the narrow upward passage leading to the King’s Chamber had a “narrow gate” indeed; the same “strait gate” which “leadeth unto life,” or the new spiritual rebirth alluded to by Jesus in Matthew vii. 13 et. seq.; and that it is this gate in the Initiation temple, that the writer who recorded the words alleged to have been spoken by an Initiate, was thinking of. —Secret Doctrine I, 318, footnote.
Having passed through the “strait gate that leadeth unto life”, the neophyte entered the Holy of Holies. On one side of this chamber there stands a great porphyry sarcophagus. This was the Baptismal Font, upon emerging from which the neophyte was “born again”. At the time of his initiation, the candidate was attached to a couch in the form of a cross and plunged into a deep sleep. He remained in that condition for three days and nights, during which time his spiritual Ego is said to have “ascended into Heaven and descended into Hell,” while his entranced body remained within the sarcophagus. On the night before the third day he was carried to the entrance of a gallery, where at a certain hour the beams of the sun struck him full in the face and he awoke to be initiated.
In this story of initiation, we find the source from which the Christian Church drew the Apostles’ Creed as well as the rite of Baptism and the story of the Crucifixion. Whether Jesus went through this rite within the Egyptian Pyramid or in the river Jordan, the idea is the same. The New Testament does not mention his initiation into the Egyptian Mysteries, but the Gospel of Matthew records his later initiation:
“And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water, and lo, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting upon him.”
Jesus’ crucifixion on the Cross of Calvary may, or may not have been an actual fact. The method by which an Initiate loses his physical body is of little consequence to him. But the “Cross of Calvary” which was always laid upon the breast of the Initiate after his new birth was of vital importance to him as well as to the world at large. For it spoke of the regenerated man who had crucified the man of flesh, and proclaimed to the world:
JOY UNTO YE, O MEN OF MYALBA
A PILGRIM HATH RETURNED BACK “FROM THE OTHER SHORE”
A NEW ARHAN IS BORN.
— THEOSOPHY, Vol. 24, No. 7, May, 1936, Pages 295-302
JESUS had been driven out of Judea in his early youth because of his initiation into the secret wisdom of Israel. During his stay in Egypt he had augmented this knowledge through his initiation into the Egyptian Mysteries. This initiation had proved to him that the secret wisdom of the Jews and the Egyptians was identical. As Eliphas Lévi says: “He had divined the occult theology of Israel, compared it with the wisdom of Egypt, and found thereby the reason for a universal synthesis.” But as Jesus’ mission was particularly to the Jews, it became necessary for him to return to his native land as soon as possible, in order to carry on his chosen work.
Both the New Testament and the Sepher Toldos Jeshu agree that Jesus returned to Judea after his stay in Egypt. The Gospel of Matthew says that he remained in Egypt until after the death of Herod, so that the prophecy might be fulfilled: “Out of Egypt have I called my son.” The Sepher Toldos Jeshu reports that he returned to Judea after King Janneus had ceased his persecution of the Initiates. But the Jews, knowing of his experiences, complained bitterly against him, declaring that he had discovered the secrets of their Temple and was profaning them by giving them out to the common people. Jesus, however, was not disturbed by these accusations, and so, according to the Gospel of Matthew:
He came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet: He shall be called a Nazarene.
In those days a Nazarene meant something far more important than an inhabitant of the city of Nazareth. The word Nazar is an ancient one, and is found in many languages. The Nazars were the Magi, or Wise Men; their great prophets were initiated members of that Fraternity of Adepts known to every Theosophist, their doctrines re-statements of the ancient Wisdom-Religion. These Nazars lived in Judea long before the time of Moses. They had built the ancient city of Nazara, where they held their secret rites of initiation. In Jesus’ time the name of the city had been changed to Nazareth, and it was evidently to this city that Jesus repaired. There he continued his study of the Chaldean Secret Doctrine, compared it with the wisdom of Egypt, found further proofs of their identity, and began his work of synthesis.
The synthetic quality of Jesus’ teachings is apparent to every one who is acquainted with the different sources from which he drew his knowledge. One of those sources was the great stream of Pythagorean lore which had affected the occult schools for many centuries. Five hundred years before Jesus was born, Pythagoras had gone through experiences similar to those through which Jesus was then going. He had studied with the Brachmanes in India, had been initiated into the Chaldean Mysteries, and had spent twenty-two years in Egypt before returning to his native land to found his school. Pythagoras had left a strong impression upon every religious and philosophical movement that he contacted, and Jesus had come under this influence in several different places, principally among the Essenes. Therefore, as H. P. Blavatsky says: “All his sayings are in a Pythagorean spirit, when not verbatim repetitions.” A few illustrations will prove the truth of this statement:
From Sextus, the Pythagorean
“Possess not treasures, but those things which no one can take from you.”
“It is better for a part of the body to be burnt than to continue so in another life.”
“Use yourselves as the Temple of God.”
“The greatest honor which can be paid to God is to know and imitate His perfection.”
From the New Testament
“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal.”
“And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off; it is better for thee to enter into life maimed than to go to hell.”
“Know ye not that ye are the Temple of God?”
“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect.”
Jesus’ true position as a Teacher and Savior of humanity can never be fully appreciated without an understanding of the doctrine of Avatars. An Avatar is one who through his own efforts continued for many ages has finally reached the place where reincarnation is no longer a Karmic necessity. He has gained the right to freedom from rebirth, but deliberately chooses to return to earth for the benefit of suffering humanity. As Krishna says in the Bhagavad-Gita:
I produce myself among creatures, O son of Bharata, whenever there is a decline of virtue and an insurrection of vice and injustice in the world; and thus I incarnate from age to age for the preservation of the just, the destruction of the wicked, and the establishment of righteousness.
The great Avatars appear in definite cycles, and each of the larger cycles includes and influences several smaller ones. The great cycles are those marked by the appearance of Rama, Krishna and Buddha in India, of Menes in Egypt and of Zoroaster in Persia. The Buddha was the last of the great Avatars, and the cycle in which Jesus appeared was one of the smaller ones within the great Buddha-cycle.
The legends surrounding the lives of all Avatars are similar. All of them have a symbolical meaning and should be so interpreted. As Jesus was an Avatar, it is natural that the legends with which we are all familiar should correspond in every way with those of his predecessors.
The mothers of Krishna, Buddha and Jesus are said to have been Virgins. “In the early years of the Kali-Yuga shall be born the son of a Virgin,” says the Vedanta. The Gospel of Matthew states: “Behold a Virgin shall conceive and bear a son.”
Krishna descended from a royal family, Buddha was the son of a King, and Jesus is said to have come from the royal line of David. Krishna was brought up by shepherds, the first disciples of Buddha were shepherds, and Jesus was worshipped by shepherds at his birth and is called the “Good Shepherd.”
Buddha and his cousin Ananda were born at the same time. The visit of Buddha’s mother to the mother of Ananda and the mutual greeting of the unborn children is repeated in the Christian story of Mary and Elizabeth.
Krishna was persecuted by the wicked tyrant King Kansa who, hoping to destroy the new prophet, ordered the destruction of all the male children in his realm. According to the Gospels, the same thing happened in Jesus’ day.
As a child, Buddha astonished his teachers with his great learning. It is said that Jesus discussed philosophy with the Jewish doctors, “and all that heard him were astonished at his learning.”
Buddha went through the temptation of the world, the flesh and the devil as personified by Mara. The Gospel of Matthew records: “Again the Devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the earth, and the glory of them, and saith unto him; ‘All these things will I give thee if thou wilt fall down and worship me.'”
Krishna, Buddha and Jesus were friends of the poor and humble. Each of them is said to have washed the feet of his disciples. All three are credited with miraculous cures.
Krishna is said to have died on a cross, nailed to it by an arrow. Buddha is represented in many temples as sitting under a cruciform tree, or with a cross on his breast. The crucifixion of Jesus is accepted by all Christians. After his death, Krishna is said to have ascended into Svarga, Buddha into Nirvana, and Jesus into Paradise.
These few legends alone are enough to prove that Jesus’ life was not in any way unique. No orthodox Buddhist or Brahman would deny the Christian incarnation, for the very corner-stone of their religion is the fact of the periodical incarnations of the Deity. If the Christian world had understood the law of Cycles, and had realized Jesus’ position in the Buddha-cycle, it would have seen that the mission of Jesus was to continue the work commenced by the Buddha, and to spread the same doctrines that the Buddha had taught many centuries before.
It was an easy matter for Jesus to acquaint himself with these doctrines. Three hundred years before his time Asoka, the great Indian King, had sent messengers to Asia Minor, Greece and Egypt carrying with them the doctrines of the Buddha. The Essenes, the Pythagoreans and the Nazarenes had recognized the practical and ethical import of this message, and had incorporated Buddhism into their own systems of thought. The Nazarenes of Jesus’ day were Buddhists, as their own Scripture, the Codex Nazaraeus, informs us, and Jesus, in becoming a Nazarene, had automatically become a Buddhist:
Jesus is the founder of the sect of the new Nazars, and, as the words imply, a follower of the Buddhist doctrine. — Codex Nazaraeus.
Jesus taught nothing that had not already been given out by the Buddha, as every student of Buddhism knows. His Sermon on the Mount begins with definitely Buddhistic precepts, and every word of this Sermon is simply an echo of monastic Buddhism. The Ten Commandments of the Buddha, found in an appendix to the Prâtimoksha Sûtra, are fully elaborated in the Gospel of Matthew. The writers of the four Gospels, (whoever they may have been) were well acquainted with the Buddhist stories, for these Gospels contain pages taken almost literally from Buddhist narratives. For example:
Whosoever, with a purely believing heart, offers nothing but a handful of water, or gives drink therewith to the poor and needy, this meritorious action will not be exhausted in many ages. —Buddhist Canon.
Whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward. —Matthew x:42.
As Jesus came in the Buddha-cycle, the motive which prompted him to incarnate at that particular time must have been determined by the Buddha’s own special work. The mission of the Buddha was to produce a religious reform based upon a system of pure ethics; the real mission of Jesus was identical.
At the time that the Buddha was born, the religion of his country had become narrow and dogmatic, and all real knowledge had been usurped by the priests. At the time of Jesus’ birth, the same conditions were present in Judea. Both of these great Teachers determined to break down this spirit of dogmatism which was threatening to overthrow pure religion. They both saw the intolerance and hypocrisy of the priests, the futility of their senseless ceremonials and prayers, the outward show of piety that covered their lack of true spirituality. As the Buddha took up arms against the Brahmanical priests, so did Jesus declare war against the proud Pharisees and Saducees. Both of them were reformers. Both of them pointed to ethics as the only secure foundation upon which any true system of religion can be reared. The Buddha called himself Tathagata — “he who follows in the footsteps of his predecessors.” As Jesus followed in the footsteps of his great predecessor, he, too must be called Tathagata.
The study of Jesus’ life, even in the fragmentary way that it has been presented, should give us a much broader view of the position occupied by this great Teacher than the one that is presented by the Church. It shows, for one thing, that Jesus was not a small provincial character with no particular education, but on the contrary was a man of profound learning, who had gathered his knowledge in some of the most powerful occult schools of the day. It shows, furthermore, that Jesus was not a narrow bigot whose knowledge was confined to the Hebrew Scriptures, but was a man fully acquainted with the philosophical systems of Egypt, Greece, Chaldea and the Far East. As he is known to have instituted reforms among all the different sects that he contacted, he no longer appears as the “meek and gentle Jesus” of the Sunday-school, but as a man of power and authority.
— THEOSOPHY, Vol. 24, No. 8, June, 1936, Pages 346-350
First Century Christianity
First Century Christianity
Theosophy is the ancient Wisdom-Religion, as old as thinking man, and part of the work of the Theosophical Movement is to keep these immemorial ideas alive in the world, so that men and women can live intelligently and purposefully.
Jesus the Christ was a member of that great Fraternity of Adepts which stands behind the Theosophical Movement. His aim and purpose, therefore, was to promulgate the fundamental principles of the ancient Wisdom-Religion, to exemplify those principles in practice, to give the world a truer realization of the SELF and a profounder conviction of Universal Brotherhood. Jesus did not come to found a new religion, but to purify the old religion of its dross. He did not come to bring new dogmas, but to replace with universal principles the narrow dogmatism that had crept into the Jewish religion. He did not come to establish a new form of priestcraft, but to destroy the power of the priests and give knowledge to the people themselves. Human nature was the same then as it is now, however, and the Prophet of Galilee met the same fate that has befallen most of the representatives of the Theosophical Movement who incarnated with but one purpose — to benefit mankind. The impersonal doctrines that he taught were soon perverted by his personal followers, and the bond of Brotherhood that he tried to establish was soon rent asunder by creeds and sects.
Apollonius of Tyana was a member of this same Fraternity. His aim and purpose was identical with that of Jesus. He promulgated the same impersonal truths, taught the same noble ethics, led the same life of self-sacrifice and altruism that Jesus had led. Yet, there is no record that Jesus and Apollonius ever met. This, however, can easily be explained. For Jesus, as has been shown, lived in the first century B.C., while Apollonius lived in the first century A.D., and even if Jesus’ life did extend into the so-called Christian era, he must have spent those years teaching in Judea, while Apollonius was busy in Aegea and Antioch.
When Apollonius returned from India after spending thirteen years with the Sages of Kashmir, he went back to the city of Antioch where he had formerly resided. According to Church history, both Peter and Paul were in Antioch at the time, and there was a large Christian community in the city. But, strange as it may seem, Apollonius made no effort to contact either the Apostles or the Christians. Why was that?
In the first chapter of the Ocean of Theosophy, Mr. Judge makes a statement, the importance of which is sometimes overlooked. He speaks of Apollonius as an Adept who appeared at a descending cycle, and only for the purpose of keeping a witness upon the scene for future generations.
If it seems strange that the Christian era is described as a descending, rather than an ascending cycle, we have but to compare the religious, philosophical and intellectual condition of the world around 500-600 B.C. with its condition around 500-600 A.D., to realize the truth of Mr. Judge’s statement.
Why then was a witness needed in this first century of the Christian era? So that the Wisdom-Religion might be kept alive and the line of the Theosophical Movement remain unbroken. If the followers of Jesus had been capable of performing this task, no other “witness” would have been necessary. The fact that Apollonius appeared to perform his mission at this particular time should give the world much food for thought; but we will now look at the other side of the picture and see how the early Christians performed theirs.
The first Christians were drawn from three sects. Some of them were Essenes and Therapeutae, members of that same mystical sect with whom Jesus had studied in Egypt; others were Nazarenes; the rest were Ebionites. The first Christian community was composed of small groups, scattered about and organized into secret societies, with their own passwords, grips and signs of recognition. All of them were, with slight differences, followers of the ancient Theurgic Mysteries. All of them more or less kabalistic. And, in spite of the fact that Jesus had gained his knowledge from them, all of them were doomed within the next two hundred years to be denounced as “heretics” by the Church. Of these three original sects, only one has survived in its integrity, and because it still exists, unaltered, it may be interesting to trace its genesis and growth.
After Jesus had returned from Egypt, he came and dwelt in the city of Nazareth, “so that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet: ‘He shall be called a Nazarene.'” The Nazarenes were the descendants of the ancient Chaldean Initiates. They were a philosophical sect, and were naturally opposed to the worship of the personal God Jehovah, which was then so prevalent in Judea. In place of the personal god idea, the Nazarenes substituted the impersonal Principle which present-day Theosophists call the Absolute. In place of the theory of the creation of the world they substituted the doctrine of Emanations. They must therefore be considered as one of the early Gnostic sects.
At the time of which we are speaking, the Nazarenes themselves were divided into several different sects, one of them being known as the Ebionites. The Ebionites were the pupils and followers of the early Nazarenes, and at that time John the Baptist was their Prophet. While Jesus was living in Egypt, his cousin John had affiliated himself with the Ebionites, and had made so much of the ancient Chaldean rite of baptism which they practiced that he had become known as “John the Baptist” instead of “John the Ebionite.” According to the Codex Nazaraeus, John had been baptizing for forty-two years when Jesus came to him and was baptized by him in the river Jordan. This would make Jesus over sixty years old at the time of his baptism.
Many of Jesus’ immediate relatives belonged to this sect of the Ebionites. After Jesus’ death they were driven out of their native land by bitter persecutions, and finally found refuge in Persia. And there today the traveller may converse with the direct descendants of these “Disciples of St. John” who listened to the “man sent from God” and were baptized by him in the river Jordan. These “Disciples of St. John” and their modern descendants, the Mendaeans, do not believe in the divinity or the uniqueness of Jesus, but consider him merely as one of the great Prophets. They do not read the Christian Scriptures, but confine themselves to the document which contains many of the esoteric teachings of Jesus — the original Gospel of Matthew.
Jesus, like all other great spiritual reformers, divided his teachings into two parts: exoteric and esoteric. His exoteric teachings were given out to the multitude in the form of parables, and consisted for the most part of the same ethical rules which had been taught by his predecessor, Gautama the Buddha. His esoteric teachings were reserved for the few. As the Gospel of St. Mark records:
“Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the Kingdom of God; but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables. That seeing, they might see and not perceive; and hearing they may hear and not understand.” —Mark iv:11-12.
Although Jesus does not seem to have established a regular esoteric school of His own, as Apollonius did, there was one document which contained many of his secret, or esoteric teachings. This was the original Gospel of Matthew, written in the Chaldaic language, but with Hebrew letters, by an Evangelist who was the close friend and companion of Jesus. This Logia of Matthew, which contains the “Sayings of Jesus” mentioned by Papias, is the only half-original document that has come down to us from those primitive days. These “Sayings” were of the same nature as the small manuscripts put into the hands of neophytes who were preparing themselves for initiation into the Mysteries, and contained the revelation of many important rites and symbols. Like the Aporrheta, or secret discourses of the Mysteries, these Logia could be understood only with a key.
Modern scholars generally agree as to the authenticity of this document, basing their conclusions upon the many references to it that are found in the works of early writers. In the year 140 A.D. Papias, Bishop of Hierapolis, wrote:
“Matthew, however, composed the Logia in the Hebrew dialect, but each one interpreted them as he was able.”
Forty years later, Papias’ statement was corroborated by his pupil, Irenaeus. In the second century parts of this Gospel came to light in the works of Basilides, the Christian Gnostic, who claimed that he had been instructed by Matthew himself. In the fourth century a copy of this document fell into the hands of the Church Father St. Jerome, who found it in the Library collected by Pamphilus in Caesarea, and was commanded to translate it by the two Bishops Chromatius and Heliodorus. He made the translation under protest, for he recognized its esoteric character. Writing under the name of Hieronymus, Jerome says:
“A difficult work is enjoined, since this translation is commanded by your Felicities, which St. Matthew himself, the Apostle and Evangelist, did not wish to be openly written. For if it had not been secret, he (Matthew) would have added to the Evangel that what he gave forth was his. But he made up the book sealed in the Hebrew characters, which he put forth in such a way that the book might be possessed only by the men most religious.”
By his own confession, Jerome admits that this Gospel contained the real teachings of Jesus. He must have realized that of the two Gospels of Matthew — the one written in Hebrew and the other in Greek — one must be spurious. Why then did the Church choose to perpetuate the Greek, instead of the original Hebrew Gospel? The answer is not difficult to find. If it had adopted the original Gospel, the very foundations of the Church would have been shattered. For in that Gospel it was not the divinity of the man Jesus that was proclaimed, but the divinity of the Christos-principle that lies latent in every man. And so, according to his own confession found in Book II of his Commentary to Matthew, Jerome deliberately substituted the Greek Gospel for the Hebrew, the one in our present Canon evidently having been written by Jerome himself. And so, owing to the efforts of this too zealous Church Father, the very meaning of the terms Chrestos and Christos has now become a dead letter to the Christian world.
The unity of the primitive Christian community was of short duration, for it soon split up into two distinct branches. The first branch may be called the Christian Kabalists of the Jewish Tanäim School; the second, the Christian Kabalists of the Platonic Gnosis. The first branch represented the Jewish faction of Christianity; the second, the Gentile, or pagan faction. The first was represented by the followers of Peter; the second by the followers of Paul.
Secular history is just as reticent about Peter as it is about Jesus, and Church history just as full of contradictions. And so again, as in the case of Jesus, we must turn to that section of the Talmud known as Sepher Toldos Jeshu for information that is at least consistent. This book describes Peter as a Jew, “a faithful servant of the living God,” a man given over to austerities and meditation, who lived in Babylon at the top of a tower. It also credits Peter with having invented a burning hell and threatening every one with it, and speaks of him as a man who promised miracles, but performed none.
Peter was claimed by the Jews as one of their own brethren, faithful to the old Law, a defender of the Old Testament, and an apostle of circumcision. Peter therefore represents the Jewish faction of the early Christian Church. The Jewish tendencies of this faction are admitted by all Christian historians. The eminent Catholic historian, the Reverend Father George Stebbing, C.SS.R. says in his Story of the Catholic Church:
“The Church at Jerusalem was of course entirely Jewish, and being composed mainly of those who had been most zealous for the Law, its members in great part still clung to its observance, and some went so far as to think that any Gentiles who embraced Christianity would by the very act bind themselves to the Mosaic Law which all the first disciples of Our Lord had been trained to keep. And, coming from Judea to Antioch, they put pressure on the Christians there to make them do likewise, at least in the matter of circumcision.”
Considering the fact that Peter, the Founder of the Church of Rome, was a circumcised Jew, that (according to Eusebius) the first fifteen Christian Bishops were also circumcised Jews, and that “all the first disciples of Our Lord” had been trained to keep the Mosaic Law, why then did the Church make such an effort to depart from that Law? But the Reverend Father Stebbing continues:
“Paul and Barnabas came forward as spokesmen of the opposite view. This decree, which was a victory over the Judaizing tendencies of some of the early Christians, must have helped and secured Paul in his Apostolate.”
In other words, Paul secured his Apostolate by going against the very Law which “all the first disciples of Our Lord had been trained to keep.” This matter of circumcision seems to have been an important issue with the early Christians, for Paul says:
“The gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter.” —Galatians ii:7.
In these very words is found one of the many reasons why an outside “witness” was required upon the scene. For they show that, even at this early date, the Christians were not concerning themselves primarily and entirely with the philosophical and ethical precepts of their great Teacher, but with side issues. What has circumcision to do with the spiritual life? If it was as important as the early Christians considered it to be, which of the two “gospels” was correct: the gospel of circumcision committed unto Peter, or the gospel of uncircumcision committed unto Paul? The Church of Rome must have considered the first “gospel” as the correct one, for it acknowledges that the twelve circumcised disciples were chosen to be the foundations of the new City of God, and that Peter, the circumcised Jew and the apostle of circumcision, was chosen as the Rock upon which the Church was to be built. As the Reverend Father Stebbing says:
“The twelve disciples were chosen to be the twelve foundations of the new City of God. One of their number was chosen out, given the new name of Peter, and declared to be the Rock upon which His Church was to rest. Given the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, he was to open and shut its gates with full commission of authority in the name of its King.”
If Jesus used the word “Peter,” what did he mean by it? Was it Peter the man? Would any great Adept like Jesus choose a personality as the foundation of his work? Would he deliberately choose for that responsible position the only disciple, save Judas, who denied him at the moment of danger, the only one, furthermore whom he addressed as Satan?
“And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him. But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying: Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.” —Mark viii:32.
There is a tradition in the Greek Church that has never found favor in the Vatican. It shows Jesus’ recognition of the chain of causes that was even then being forged. This tradition states that Peter, frightened at the accusation of the High Priest, denied his Master three times just before the cock crowed. Jesus, who was then passing through the hall in the custody of the soldiers, turned to Peter and said:
“Verily I say unto thee, Peter, thou shalt deny me through the ages, and shalt never stop until thou shalt be old, and shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee and carry thee whither thou wouldst not.”
Can we then believe that it was Peter, the unfaithful disciple, whom Jesus chose to be his successor? If not, what then did Jesus mean by the word Peter?
Jesus had been initiated into both the Chaldean and Egyptian Mysteries. The word Peter comes from the Mysteries. It was the Chaldean title of the Supreme Hierophant, and meant an interpreter. As Professor Alexander Wilder points out in his Introduction to the Bacchic and Eleusinian Mysteries:
“In the Oriental countries the designation of Peter (in Phoenician and Chaldean, an interpreter) appears to have been the title of the Hierophant.”
Therefore if Jesus used the word Peter, he must have meant that any one who was capable of carrying on his work must be an interpreter of the Mysteries. As Peter, the disciple, had never been initiated into the Mysteries, how could Jesus have chosen him to be their interpreter?
There is another word in the Mysteries which throws additional light upon Jesus’ statement: “Upon this Rock will I found my Church.” That word is Petra, meaning a Rock and referring to the Rock-temple, and by metaphor to the Mysteries. Hence the Rock upon which Jesus’ work was founded must have been the Mysteries themselves.
During the final initiations into the Mysteries, a double set of stone tablets, called the Petroma, was used by the Hierophant. The combination of the two words Peter and Roma, forming the word Petroma, gave the Church still another opportunity to profit by the name of the disciple. The idea of the Keys given to Peter to unlock the gates of Heaven also comes from the Mysteries. There the Key was used to symbolize the vow of secrecy taken by the candidate, which would forever lock his lips. It also symbolized the unlocking of hitherto impenetrable mysteries to which his initiation would entitle him. And so in the Mysteries themselves we find the solution to the mystery of Peter.
Although Peter is claimed by the Church of Rome as its titular founder, the history of his life, even from Catholic sources, seems to be based upon assumption. The Reverend Father Stebbing says:
“St. Peter is supposed to have gone first to Rome. The accepted period of twenty-five years for his episcopate in the city of Rome is dated from this time. We now lose sight of Peter in the Acts, and are left to conjecture the details of his further career.”
Many modern critics are of the opinion that Peter was never in Rome at all. Justin Martyr, the great champion of Christianity, whom the Reverend Father Stebbing calls “the most valuable witness to the Faith,” wrote extensively in Rome during the second century. And yet, strange as it may seem, Justin appears to be ignorant of Peter’s existence. Neither does any other writer of consequence mention Peter in connection with the Church of Rome earlier than the days of Irenaeus.
The reason for the first split in Christianity becomes still more apparent when we observe the difference between Peter and Paul. Where Peter was an “unlearned and ignorant man” (Acts iv:13), Paul was learned, a Greek scholar, a student of the Gnosis. There is no doubt that Paul had been partially, if not completely, initiated into the Mysteries. His choice of language, the phraseology so peculiar to Greek philosophers, certain expressions used only by Initiates, all point to the position he had attained. His name is a further indication of the same fact.
Paul’s real name was Elisha Ben Abuiah. The name of Saul, which means “a vision of Paradise,” denoted his position as a Chrestos, or disciple on probation. When he was initiated and became a Christos, his name was changed to Paul, which means “the little man.” As the Initiates in those days were always called “Little Ones,” the name of Paul tells its own story.
Paul was a student of the Platonic Gnosis; in other words, of the ancient Wisdom-Religion as it was given out by Plato. This study had given him an impersonal concept of both God and Christ. The God that Paul worshipped was never the personal God Jehovah, but the Impersonal Principle that is indicated by the very word God itself. For this word comes from the ancient Persian word Goda, meaning Itself, or that which emanates from the Absolute Principle. The impersonal concept of God was considered as a “heresy” by the Jehovah-worshipping Jews, and in another century it was the “heresy” most bitterly fought by the Church. And yet Paul said:
“This I confess to thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers.” —Acts xxiv:14.
Paul’s heretical view of God included an equally heretical view of Christ. He never considered Christ as a man, but as a Principle. “If any man is in Christ,” he said “he is a new creature.” And again: “I am crucified in Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.”
Peter was a conservative, faithful to the old Law, a defender of the Old Testament. Paul was a radical who exhorted his followers to free themselves from the trammels of Jewish dogmatism. “Cast out the bondwoman and her son” (the old Law and the Synagogue) he cried. “The son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the free-woman. Stand fast, therefore, in the liberty with which Christ hath made us free; be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” Peter was an orthodox Jew, Paul a heretic. Peter was an apostle of circumcision, Paul an apostle of uncircumcision. And yet, in spite of the fundamental differences between these two Apostles, Peter and Paul are claimed by the Roman Church as the “twin-founders” of the Apostolic See.
The average person who wants to know the history of the first century of Christianity naturally turns for information to books written by modern Christian historians, Catholic or Protestant, as the case may be. The Theosophist, following the method suggested in the second object of the Theosophical Society, makes a comparative study of the works of different writers, going back, wherever possible, to the original sources.
The Reverend Father Stebbing, in the preface of his book, gives us his reasons why Church history should be studied from the Catholic point of view. He says:
“This is meant to be history; but history from the Catholic point of view. And if there is a tone becoming the Catholic telling the story of the Kingdom of God upon earth, it is a tone of triumph rather than anything else. For the Catholic who tells the history of the Church knows that it came from God; knows that it has an abiding presence in it in sunshine and in storm; knows that it must win in the end and on the whole.”
This eminent Catholic historian informs us that the Christians of the first century “presented a bright example of the ideally perfect Christian life. All were of one heart, one mind, one soul.” But strangely enough, the writings of Peter and Paul tell an entirely different story, and show that the “twin-founders of the Apostolic See,” at any rate, were far from that condition. Paul says:
“When Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, for he was to be blamed. For before that certain men came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles; but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the Gospel, I said unto Peter before them all: ‘If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of the Gentiles, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?'” —Galatians ii:11-14.
Paul was a brave, honest, fearless and outspoken man. His rebuke of Peter was not a personal one, but was made against the hypocrisy of his actions, and furthermore was made to his face. When Peter replied to Paul’s accusation, he did not have the courage to come out boldly and openly, as Paul had done, but addressed him under another name, calling him an enemy and a personal rival. But, says Canon Westcott (On the Canon: page 252): “There can be no doubt that St. Paul is referred to as the ‘enemy.'” Peter’s reply is found in the Clementine Homilies:
“Some among the Gentiles rejected my lawful teaching, and accepted certain lawless and foolish teaching of the enemy. I have followed him as light upon darkness, as knowledge upon ignorance, as health upon disease.”
And then addressing Paul directly, although still anonymously, Peter continues:
“For you now set yourself up against me, who am a firm rock, the foundation of the Church. If you were not an opponent, you would not calumniate me, you would not revile my teachings, as though I were condemned.”
The first split in Christianity commenced with the dissensions between Peter and Paul. In a short time these dissensions were between their followers. The Jewish Christians were putting pressure on the Gentile Christians by trying to force them to adopt the Mosaic rites and ceremonies. The Gentile Christians retaliated by excluding the Jewish Christians from all hope of salvation. When Justin Martyr was pressed to declare the sentiments of the Church in this matter, he confessed that there were many among the orthodox Christians who not only excluded their Jewish-Christian brothers from all hope of salvation, but who also declined any intercourse with them in the common offices of friendship, hospitality or social life. Therefore, if the statements of the two Apostles and the “most valuable witness to the Faith” are to be believed, the Christianity of the first century was not the expression of brotherly love that the modern Christian historian would have us believe.
The seeds of dissension which were sown in the first century came to full fruition in the second. For by that time the Church itself was split up into two opposing factions. On the one side stood the orthodox Church of Rome; on the other the movement known as “Christian Gnosticism.”
— THEOSOPHY, Vol. 24, No. 10, August, 1936, Pages 433-443
In the first century before the Christian era, a fresh impulse was given to the work of the Theosophical Movement by the Adept now known to the world as Jesus the Christ. In the following century Christianity had already separated into two broad divisions, represented on the one side by the followers of Peter, the orthodox Jew, and on the other side by the followers of Paul, the Gnostic “heretic.” In the second century the division was still more marked. But now it was between the orthodox Church and the Movement within the Church known as Christian Gnosticism. On one side were ranged the Church Fathers who upheld the worship of a personal God and a personal Christ; on the other, the Gnostic Fathers, who stood for an Absolute Principle instead of a personal God, for the Christos-Principle in place of a personal Christ, for knowledge as opposed to faith.
In the second century began the fierce struggle between principles and personalities which lasted for over three hundred years. This battle assumed three distinct phases. In the second and third centuries the orthodox Church fought the “Heresies” (as the impersonal doctrines were called) by means of Refutations. In the fourth century the Church borrowed the ideas she had been so bitterly opposing, materialized them and metamorphosed them into her own rituals and dogmas. In the fifth century she destroyed all the records of her plagiarism that she could lay her hands on, and inaugurated a thousand years of mental and spiritual darkness from which the world has not yet recovered.
In trying to get a clear picture of second century Christianity, the same method will be pursued as was used in the preceding articles. No single historian will be taken as final authority, but a comparative study will be made of the writings of different historians, ancient and modern, leaving each student free to draw his own deductions.
According to the modern Catholic historian, the Reverend Father George Stebbing, the Church had already triumphed in the second century, although the records of this triumph are very vague. He points to the fact that there are cities in almost every country in Europe claiming an Apostolic origin, “but these claims rest upon a very insecure foundation.” Seven Churches are supposed to have been founded in Asia, “but the names of those presiding in them have not come down to us.” Although it seems positive that there were many Christians in Spain, Gaul, Germany and Italy, “there is little information that will bear criticism.”
Justin Martyr, writing in the second century, is not quite as cautious as this modern Catholic historian. He claims that “there is not a people, whether Greek or barbarian, or any other race of men, among whom prayers are not offered up in the name of a crucified Christ to the Father and Creator of all things.” The historian Gibbon, in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, calls Justin’s statement a “splendid exaggeration,” the rash sally of a devout but careless writer, the measure of whose belief was regulated by that of his desires. Gibbon calls attention to the now well-known historical fact that the inhabitants of Germany and Scythia were completely “pagan” at that time, and that the conversion of such countries as Spain, Armenia and Ethiopia was not attempted with any degree of success until the fourth century.
According to the irreproachable testimony of Origen, the number of Christians in the first two centuries was very inconsiderable. We know, at least, that their achievements made little impression upon the historians of the day. In the compilation of the Augustan Library, part of which was accomplished during the reign of Constantine in the fourth century, there are not six lines relating to the Christians. Plutarch, who spoke with unerring accuracy of every other spiritual and ethical movement, is absolutely silent upon the subject of Christianity. And Dion Cassius, who wrote the history of Rome in eighty volumes during the latter part of the second century, mentions neither Christians nor Christian Churches.
Why this strange silence on the part of historians? Was it because the Christians themselves belonged to the uneducated masses? Was it because of the attitude they assumed toward education and knowledge? According to the testimony of Minucius Felix, Celsus, and Julian, the Christian community was composed of “the dregs of the populace, of peasants and mechanics, of beggars and slaves, the last of whom might sometimes introduce the missionaries into the rich and noble families to which they belonged.” Constantine, the first Christian Emperor, published an edict giving freedom to all slaves who would embrace Christianity, and promising a white robe and twenty pieces of gold to all Roman citizens who would profess the Christian faith. As a result of this edict, twenty thousand men, with a proportionate number of women and children, were baptized in the city of Rome alone. This method of procuring converts naturally added nothing to the dignity of the Christian religion, and may have had something to do with the silence of contemporary historians.
Another reason for their silence may be found in the Christian attitude toward knowledge. The adoption of the Christian religion depended then, as it depends now, upon the profession of faith. The pursuit of knowledge was condemned by the Church from the first, and those who professed knowledge were first denounced, then persecuted and finally burned at the stake. As early as the second century we find Tertullian, the Church Father, declaring that,
“Schoolmasters and professors of literature are in affinity with manifest idolatry and sin.”
In the fourth century Eusebius complained against some of the more enlightened who continued their intellectual studies after their conversion to Christianity. He accused them of abandoning the rule of faith in favor of the “subtile precepts of logic,” and declared that they were corrupting the simplicity of the Gospels by the refinements of reason.
Passing over the Middle Ages, where any man who professed knowledge was in danger of his life, and coming to the enlightened year of 1870, we find Pope Pius IX making this assertion:
“We therefore pronounce false every assertion which is contrary to the enlightened rule of faith. Moreover, the Church holds likewise from God the right and the duty to condemn knowledge falsely so-called, lest any man be cheated by philosophy and vain deceit.”
This hostile attitude toward knowledge seems to have been confined entirely to the Christians. Before the days of the first Christian Emperor, we can search in vain for any enactment against the acquisition of knowledge, or for any persecution of those who possessed it. Every one was allowed intellectual freedom, and men like Galen, Lucian and Plotinus, who in the Middle Ages would have been burned at the stake, lived in perfect peace and security under the Roman standard, fully protected by the Roman law.
Perhaps it was this denunciation of knowledge and this criticism of those who possessed it which kept men like Seneca, the older and the younger Pliny, Tacitus, Plutarch, Dion Cassius, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius from evincing any interest in Christianity. For, as Gibbon says in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:
“All these men overlooked or rejected the perfection of the Christian system. Those among them who condescend to mention the Christians consider them only as obstinate and perverse enthusiasts, who exacted an implicit submission to their mysterious doctrines, without being able to produce a single argument that could engage the attention of men of sense and learning.”
It must be remembered that this period of history was particularly brilliant. The Roman Empire of that day was filled with minds well-schooled in the philosophy of Plato, Pythagoras, Aristotle and Zeno. The religious and philosophical systems of Egypt, Chaldea, Persia and India were known to many scholars. The work of Apollonius had greatly augmented the already existing interest in the philosophies of the Far Fast. Thousands of students were pouring out of the great Schools of Alexandria and Ephesus each year, and all of them were armed with knowledge.
How could men like these accept the idea that the Jews were the only nation to whom God had revealed Himself? Knowing the Scriptures of other nations, how could they acknowledge the Jewish Bible as the only revelation of God? Being fully acquainted with the lives of other great Teachers, how could they accept Jesus as the only one? But some of them could, and did, accept Jesus as the last of a long line of teachers. They recognized that his teachings were only repetitions of ancient ethical precepts, and that the legends surrounding his life were identical with those of his predecessors. Knowing that Truth is universal, and that expressions of Truth had appeared in different lands at different times, they took those universal truths, wove them into the Christian tradition, and presented them to the world as the true spirit of Christianity.
These men tried to show the philosophical basis of Jesus’ teachings. They tried to prove that there is a science of the soul as well as a science of the body. They tried to present Christianity in a form which would appeal not only to the untutored mind, but at the same time give the greatest minds their fullest scope. These men were known by many names. The world today calls them the “Christian” Gnostics, but the Church of that day called them Heretics, and the whole history of the second and third centuries of Christianity revolves around the attempts of the Church to refute and destroy their teachings.
The original source from which the Gnostics drew their teachings is known as the Gnosis. The word means knowledge, and refers to the ancient Wisdom-Religion, the secret science of sciences from which all true systems of religion and philosophy have sprung. The Gnosis has always existed, and there have always been the knowers of it: the true Gnostics. These are the great Adepts of history, the Mahatmas, the spiritual Teachers of the race.
The true Gnosis was never written down, but was always passed orally from Teacher to pupil. The disciple obtained his knowledge through initiation into the Spiritual Mysteries, of which the ceremonial “Mysteries” were but a type. The teachings were presented to him in the form of symbols, and his knowledge of religion and philosophy depended upon his understanding of symbolism. With this understanding of the symbolical meaning of every religious tenet, no one calling himself a Gnostic was in any danger of accepting the dead-letter text of any religion — Christian or otherwise.
The Christian Gnostics came into existence during the second century. They were the offshoots and products of the three great Gnostic Schools of that day, Schools which had been in existence for centuries, and which had an important part to play in the Christian religion. The first of these Schools, located in Alexandria, was one of those in which Jesus Himself had studied during his residence in Egypt. The second, the great School of Ephesus, may have been the one in which Paul obtained his initiation into the Gnosis. The third, also situated in Alexandria, was the one which most powerfully influenced the thought of two of the great Gnostic Fathers of the second century — Basilides and Valentinus.
Just south of the city of Alexandria, perched high upon a lofty plateau overlooking the blue waters of Lake Mareotis, there had lived for centuries before the Christian era, a group of men and women who passed their lives in study and meditation. They were a branch of the Pythagorean Essenes, and were known as the Therapeutae. Philo Judaeus has written a lengthy description of them in his essay, On the Contemplative Life. He says:
“These Essenes are called Therapeutae, either because they profess the art of healing superior to that in use in cities (for that only heals bodies, whereas the latter heals our souls as well), or else because they have been schooled by the sacred laws to serve that which is better than the Good, purer than the One and more ancient than the Monad.”
A distinction must be made, however, between the Essenes and the Therapeutae. For the former were particularly concerned with the practical side of life, while the latter gave themselves over to a life of contemplation and concerned themselves only with the higher problems of religion and philosophy. Another difference between them is found in the fact that the Essenes often adopted their novices as young boys, while the Therapeutae were composed entirely of men and women who had passed the prime of life, and were ready to withdraw from the world. The Therapeutae, however, must not be considered as a “sect” of the Essenes. They were a School of Esotericists, an inner group within Alexandrian Judaism, as their doctrines plainly show.
The dwellings they occupied were very simple, merely providing shelter against heat and cold. But within every dwelling there was an inner sanctuary where they spent their days in meditation and study. The manuscripts they studied were those which had been left to them by the Initiates who at different times had been the heads of their School. As Philo Judaeus says:
“They have the works of ancient authors who were once heads of their School. Taking these as patterns, they imitate the practice of their predecessors.”
These works were not read literally, but allegorically; for the Therapeutae knew that all spiritual teachings are written in symbols and that, as Carlyle expresses it,
“A symbol is ever, to him who has eyes for it, some dimmer or clearer revelation of the God-like.”
For six days in the week they studied and meditated, each in his own dwelling. But on the seventh day they all came together in a general assembly, each taking his place according to his length of membership in the community. There they listened silently to an address from “the oldest and most experienced in their doctrines.” The observance of the seventh day is an ancient and sacred custom, as H.P.B. points out:
“On this day of the seventh and most powerful of the prismatic days, the adepts of the ‘Secret Science’ meet as they met thousands of years ago, to become the agents of the occult powers of nature and commune with the invisible world.” Isis Unveiled II:419.
Being Pythagoreans, the Therapeutae were well aware of the occult significance of the number seven and observed it, not only on the seventh day, but also in the seventh week. As Philo says:
“They not only come together every seventh day, but also at the end of the seventh week, for they reverence not only the period of seven days, but also the square of seven, since they know that the seven is pure and ever-virgin.”
The similarity, or rather identity, between the Essenes and the Christian Gnostics is an undisputed fact, and is admitted by many early Christian writers. Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis, writing in the second century, says:
“They who believe on Christ were called Iessaei (or Essenes) before they were called Christians. These derived their constitution from the significance of the name Iesus (Jesus), which in Hebrew signifies the same as Therapeutae, that is, saviour or physician.”
In this same century, Eusebius of Caesarea, the “father of ecclesiastical history,” came across the treatise of Philo Judaeus, On the Contemplative Life, which gave an obviously trustworthy account of a group of men and women who had divested themselves of all worldly possessions and lived a life of austerity and contemplation. Eusebius promptly seized upon Philo’s story and declared it to be a description of the first Christian Church in Alexandria. He says:
“The ancient Therapeutae were Christians, and their ancient writings were Gospels and Epistles.”
Had these early Church Fathers been better students of history, they would have known that the ancient writings of the Therapeutae were not the Christian Gospels and Epistles but, on the contrary, that the Christian Gospels and Epistles were copied from these more ancient works. A study of the Essene doctrines shows the source of many statements found in the New Testament.
The Essenes urged their disciples to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” They exhorted their followers not to lay up treasures upon earth, but to go and sell all that they possessed, and give the money to the poor. They commended those who thirst after righteousness, and laid great stress upon humility of spirit. “Blessed are the pure in heart, the peacemaker and the merciful,” they said. When they started out on a journey, they provided themselves with neither gold nor silver, but relied upon hospitality, as do the Buddhist monks today. They swore not at all, but made their communications consist of “Yea, yea; Nay, nay.” Their aim was to lead such a life of purity that their bodies would become fitting Temples for the God within.
All of these statements, which today are considered as the original teachings of Jesus, were borrowed from the ancient writings of the Essenes. There was one thing, however, which the Church failed to borrow. That was the observance of the seventh day, which was such a strict ritual with the Therapeutae, but which was not considered as a matter of great importance by the early Christians. When Justin Martyr was reproached by the Jew Trypho for the laxity of the Christians in this matter, Justin replied:
“There was no need for the observance of the Sabbath before Moses, neither is there now any need of it after Jesus Christ.”
The Jewish converts to Christianity continued to observe the Jewish Sabbath (Saturday) for many centuries. The Gentile Christians preferred to observe Sunday because, as Justin Martyr told them,
“It is the day on which God created the world; and Jesus Christ on the same day arose from the dead.”
But in the fourth century, after the first Christian Emperor had ascended the throne, the pagan tradition entered the Church, and Sunday was formally adopted by the Christians as their Holy Day. Constantine, the first Christian Emperor, had belonged to some solar cult. On his coins the words appear: “To the Invincible Sun, my companion and guardian.” After his conversion to Christianity he brought his “companion and guardian” into the Church, and decreed that “the venerable day of the Sun should be set aside for the worship of Jesus Christ as Sun-day.”
The Christians evidently made no objection to this pagan decree, for Eusebius, writing in the same century, says:
“On this day, which is the first of the Light and the True Sun, we assemble after an interval of six days, and celebrate Holy and Spiritual Sabbath. All things which it was our duty to do on the Sabbath, these have we transferred to the Lord’s Day.”
The enforced observance of the Sabbath, however, dates only from the year 1678, when Charles II. prohibited “any tradesman, artificer, workman, laborer, or other person to do any exercise on the Lord’s Day.”
The second great Gnostic School of the second century was located in the city of Ephesus in Syria. It concerned itself mainly with what is now known as the second object of the Theosophical Society: the comparative study of religion and philosophy. In this School the philosophies of ancient India, Chaldea and Persia were taught side by side with those of Plato and Pythagoras, and the teachings of the Buddha were compared with those of the Jewish Kabalists. In the preceding century Apollonius of Tyana had established his own esoteric School in this city, adding its strength to the exoteric work of the College.
The great College of Ephesus was a focus of the universal secret doctrines, and it was from this School that spread much of the Gnosis which clashed so fiercely with the orthodox Church. The men who came out of this School were equipped with knowledge, and therefore were considered as deadly enemies by those who were attempting to rear their religious structure on the foundation of faith.
The third Gnostic group which exerted a powerful influence upon budding Christianity was the sect known as the Ophites, or the Brotherhood of the Serpent. The symbol of the Serpent is an ancient and a sacred one. All through the literature of the past are found records of the veneration in which this symbol was held. Every Scripture of antiquity tells the same story, the visible proof of its universality being found in the serpentine monuments scattered over the face of the globe. The meaning of the Serpent-symbol was threefold: it represented, first, Supreme Wisdom; second, those Perfected Men who are the embodiments of Wisdom; third, the Christos-principle within each man himself: the divine Ego made one with Buddhi.
Many statements in the New Testament show the influence of the Ophite system. For instance: “As Moses lifted up the Serpent in the wilderness, so shall the Son of Man be lifted up.” Translating these words according to their symbolical meaning, the sentence would read: “As Moses lifted up Supreme Wisdom in the wilderness of false beliefs, so must the Christos-principle be lifted up to the place of Supreme Ruler if man is to fulfil his real destiny.” And again: “Be ye therefore wise as Serpents (the Mahatmas) and as harmless as doves.” (The dove is the symbol of the Holy Spirit among all nations of antiquity.)
The Ophite system was introduced into Christianity by the Gnostic Fathers, Basilides and Valentinus. But it was soon stamped out, and the Serpent, which in the early days represented the highest Wisdom and the flower of civilization, finally became the symbol of the Devil, or personified evil. When the Gnostics were excommunicated, persecuted and driven out of their native land, they took the esoteric philosophy of the Ophites with them, and it finally became the property of the Druzes of Mount Lebanon.
During the early centuries of the Christian era, the persecuted Gnostics built a monastery in the Syrian hills, which was used by them as a place of refuge. The ruins of this old monastery still stand. But the traveller who visits the remains of this once grand edifice seldom realizes that underneath the crumbling walls there are subterranean chapels, halls and cells which cover an area of ground far greater than that occupied by the building above. According to the testimony of one who has seen them, the beauty of the ancient sculptures, the richness of ornamentation and the magnificence of the gold and silver vessels in this sacred resort are like a “dream of glory.” On certain stated occasions, a group of Druzes, consisting of the elders and the initiates of the two highest degrees, make a pilgrimage to this spot. And there, within these subterranean halls, a ceremony takes place. Not a sound, not a glimmer of light betrays to the outside world what is going on within the bosom of the earth. But there, nevertheless, is being enacted one of the ancient Mysteries, and there, among the Druzes of Mount Lebanon, is found one of the last surviving relics of the archaic Wisdom-Religion.
— THEOSOPHY, Vol. 24, No. 11, September, 1936, Pages 481-490
In the second century of the Christian era, the Roman Empire comprehended some of the fairest and most cultured portions of the globe. Between 96 and 180 A.D., the gentle but powerful influence of the five Emperors — Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian and the two Antonines — had cemented the Empire into a unified whole and brought peace and prosperity to its inhabitants.
The love of letters, which naturally accompanies such periods of history, prevailed among the subjects of these five Emperors, who themselves were men of culture and learning. Even the most northern tribes of Britain had acquired a taste for rhetoric. Homer and Virgil were being transcribed and studied on the banks of the Rhine and the Danube. During the reign of the two Antonines (Pius and Marcus Aurelius) schools had been established in many cities of the Empire. Professors of rhetoric, science, philosophy and politics were maintained at public expense, the salary of the ordinary professor being ten thousand drachmae (about $2,000) a year. So high was the value placed upon education that the sophist Polemo is said to have received the equivalent of $40,000 for three declamations.
In addition to its love of learning, the Roman Empire of the second century was noted for its religious tolerance. All the faiths of the world received equal protection under the Roman standards, and all the gods of mankind were accorded equal rights. Every man was left free to pursue his own form of worship, and encouraged to maintain the purity of his own religious ceremonies. This religious tolerance on the part of their rulers produced an equal tolerance among the people themselves. Every man worshipped as he saw fit, but allowed the same freedom to his neighbors and expressed an equal respect for their gods. The Greek, the Roman and the barbarian, as they met in front of their respective altars, easily persuaded themselves that they were all worshipping the same deities, although under different names.
The only exception to this general prevalence of tolerance was found among the orthodox Jews and the orthodox Christians. The Jews, considering themselves the “chosen people,” made no attempt to conceal their disdain for any god other than Jehovah. The orthodox Christians not only classed all other religions under the heading of “idolatry,” but denounced all forms of education which were not based upon the “rule of faith.” Going still further, they condemned all forms of art, and any artist who attempted to follow his profession after his conversion to Christianity was promptly excommunicated from the Church.
This “dire heresy of separateness,” which isolated Christianity from all other religions, also separated orthodox Christianity from philosophical Christianity. The orthodox Fathers began to cover the Gnostic doctrines with a thick slime of vituperation and ridicule. The Gnostic Fathers made no reply to these attacks, knowing that their doctrines were only for those who could understand them, and refusing to make things of the inner life a matter of public debate. The three Gnostic Fathers whose teachings were particularly attacked during the second century were Basilides, Marcion and Valentinus. The three orthodox Fathers who devoted their lives to refutation and denunciation of their “heresies” were Justin Martyr, Irenaeus and Tertullian.
Basilides was an Alexandrian who taught in that city around the year 120. He was a man of great culture and learning, and is described by Clement of Alexandria as “a pious, godlike, theosophic philosopher, who sought to express old truths under new forms, and perhaps to combine them with the new faith, the truth of which he could admit without renouncing the old.” Basilides was a student of the esoteric side of Christianity, and claimed that he had been instructed by Matthew himself. Perhaps it was his knowledge of the real teachings of Jesus that made his position in the orthodox Church so insecure. Perhaps it was his knowledge of the philosophical basis of Christianity that made him so dangerous. Whatever the cause of his unpopularity, no effort was spared to destroy both him and his teachings. Irenaeus reviled him. Tertullian stormed at him, and the other orthodox Church Fathers could not find enough obloquy to express their contempt for this “heretic.” His twenty-four volumes of Interpretations of the Gospels (the first commentaries written by a Christian philosopher) were burned and Basilides himself was excommunicated and driven out of his native land. But in the fragmentary remains of his works, found in the Refutations of Hippolytus, one sees that Basilides was a true Theosophist, and that he taught the three fundamental propositions of Theosophy, and the doctrines of Reincarnation and Karma.
Marcion was a rich ship-owner who lived on the southern slope of the Black Sea before he came to Rome in the middle of the second century. All historians agree as to his pure religious aspirations, his irreproachable character and his exalted views on life. But, in spite of his reputation for piety and learning, Tertullian calls him the “beast” and speaks of him as “that impious and sacrilegious Marcion.” His sacrilege, from Tertullian’s point of view, is easily understood. For one thing, Marcion denied the alleged historical facts of Jesus’ birth, life and crucifixion, maintaining that such statements were but carnalizations of metaphysical allegories and a degradation of the true spiritual ideas that lay behind them. He recognized none of the so-called Scriptures of the day with the exception of a few of Paul’s Epistles. He declared that Paul was the only apostle who understood Jesus’ teachings, and accused the disciples of “depraving the pure form of the gospel doctrines.” He drew a distinct line of demarcation between Judaism and Christianity, claiming that Jesus had taught a universal doctrine which could not be confined within the narrow limits of Judaism. He declared that the mission of Jesus was to abrogate the Jewish concept of God, “which was as opposed to the God and Father of Jesus as matter is to spirit, as impurity is to purity.”
Marcion brought Jehovah before the tribunal of justice and fearlessly questioned:
“How can a God break His own commandments? How could He consistently prohibit idolatry and image worship, and still cause Moses to set up the brazen serpent? How command: ‘Thou shalt not steal’ and then order the Israelites to despoil the Egyptians of their gold and silver?”
Was Marcion wrong? In what respect does the jealous, wrathful, revengeful God of Israel resemble the God of Jesus? Did Jesus ever mention the name of Jehovah? From that memorable day when Jesus preached his Sermon on the Mount, an immeasurable chasm opened up between the God of that Mount and the God of Mount Sinai. The language of Jesus is unequivocal. It implies not only rebellion against the Mosaic Law, but an actual defiance of it. “Ye have heard,” he says, “that it hath been said: An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say unto you: that ye resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” And again: “Ye have heard that it hath been said: Thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you: Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you.”
Who then was the real Christian, Tertullian or Marcion? Tertullian’s Deity was the God of wrath and vengeance who condemned the whole non-Christian world to eternal damnation. Marcion’s God was a universal and impersonal Principle. Tertullian’s God showed neither mercy nor justice to His creation. Marcion taught the Law of Karma, in which effect follows cause as night follows day.
Marcion was a brave man. He recognized the necessity of promulgating Theosophical principles. He saw how those principles were being perverted by the orthodox Church, and charged the Church Fathers with
. . . “framing their doctrines according to the capacity of their hearers, fabling blind things for the blind, according to their blindness; for the dull according to their dulness; for those in error, according to their errors.”
Justice has been waiting eighteen centuries for intelligent commentators to appreciate the difference between the orthodox Tertullian and the Gnostic Marcion. The brutal violence, unfairness and bigotry of the “great African” would repulse any true Christian. But Tertullian and his views were upheld by the orthodox Church, and it was owing to his Refutations that Marcion, who was a Bishop and the son of a Bishop, was finally excommunicated and all his works destroyed.
Valentinus, who has been called the “profoundest Doctor of the Gnosis,” was educated in Alexandria in all that Egypt and Greece had to offer. His unusual learning and eloquence are admitted even by his bitterest enemies, and no word has ever been uttered against his moral character. While Valentinus was living in Alexandria, he came in contact with those communities which have already been described: the Therapeutae and the Ophites. From them he learned of the existence of the Gnosis, that original Source from which all true systems of religion and philosophy have sprung. Realizing that the various Gnostic Schools were presenting but aspects of the Gnosis, Valentinus resolved to synthesize these different aspects, and from this synthesis to formulate a universal system which would include them all, even Christianity. But the exclusive policy of the orthodox Church was definitely opposed to anything which denied the uniqueness of the Christian religion. And so Valentinus, like Basilides and Marcion, was excommunicated and his works destroyed. Another “heretic” was removed from the ranks of Christianity, and another door to knowledge closed. Again the work of the Theosophical Movement was frustrated by those who failed to realize its importance.
Against these three men, whose work seems to have formed part of the work of the Theosophical Movement, were ranged the three orthodox Church Fathers whose aim it was to refute their “heresies” and establish in their stead a narrow system of dogmas, the acceptance of which depended entirely upon faith.
Justin Martyr, the earliest Church Father after the Apostolic Age, was born of Greek parents, around the year 105. Before entering the Church, Justin had attempted to gain admission into the Pythagorean School, but was rejected on account of his ignorance of Arithmetic, Geometry, Astronomy and Music, a knowledge of which was required of every candidate for admission. In the year 135 Justin entered the Church and became, according to Catholic History, “a most valuable witness to the Faith, and a philosophical, if not logical defender of Christianity.” But to the impartial observer, his lack of logic is not always apparent. For one thing, Justin declared the miracles of Jesus and Apollonius to be identical. He admitted that Jesus’ miracles were matters of tradition alone, while those of Apollonius were matters of common knowledge. His lack of logic appears when, after admitting the Gnostic teaching that all religions had sprung from a common source, he still insisted that Christianity was unique.
Justin Martyr was a bold man, and flung his gauntlet in the face of the orthodox Church Fathers whenever he disagreed with them. When Tertullian declared that all pagan philosophers were burning in Hell, Justin Martyr took issue with him and refused to admit that men like Socrates were being punished because they had happened to be born before the Christian era. But, in spite of the frequent rebukes tendered to him by the Church, Justin has come down in history as a “Saint,” and his Refutations against the Heresies are considered to be a most valuable addition to the literature of the early Church.
Irenaeus, who later became the Bishop of Lyons, was born in Asia in the year 135. He was a pupil of Papias, Bishop of Hieropolis, and through this association became acquainted with the original Gospel of Matthew, which contained the real, esoteric teachings of Jesus. But, unlike Basilides, Irenaeus refused to accept these teachings, and in the year 181 he published his five volumes of Refutations against the Heresies, which are considered to be the most valuable relic of early patristic literature which has come down to us.
It is to Irenaeus that the Church owes its doctrine of Apostolic Succession. Justin Martyr, who preceded Irenaeus, makes no reference to Peter’s connection with the Church of Rome. When we inquire carefully into the matter, we find that we have to take the word of Irenaeus alone. We also discover that Irenaeus himself did not furnish one single valid proof of the claim which he so audaciously put forward. He offers no authority either for his dates or his assertions. Twitted and cornered at every step by his equally astute and learned adversaries, the Gnostics, he falls back upon imaginary tradition invented by himself and padded up with endless forgeries. But in one point, at least, the Gnostics had the better of him. For they drove him, through mere fear of inconsistency, to the recognition of the kabalistic doctrine of atonement. Unable to grasp it in its allegorical sense, Irenaeus presented it to the world in a form which would have filled Peter with pious horror if he had still been alive.
While the Church is indebted to Irenaeus for its doctrine of vicarious atonement and its dogma of apostolic succession, it was Tertullian who first introduced the idea of eternal damnation and the custom of anathema into the Church. These two ideas are entirely original with the Christians. The Pagans rejected both with horror. But the early Christian Church, under the influence of Tertullian, delivered over to eternal torture the greater portion of mankind. Tertullian affirmed that all persons who had been born before Jesus, or who persisted in their pagan beliefs after hearing of Christianity, could expect no forgiveness from the enraged Deity. According to Tertullian, when God created the world He ordained punishment for men in Hell, the greater portion of which was specially reserved for the pagan philosophers. Tertullian took great pleasure in anticipating his own condition after death when, from his own reserved seat in Heaven, he would be able to witness the suffering of these philosophers:
“How I shall admire, how I shall laugh, how rejoice, how exult, when I behold so many proud monarchs groaning in the lowest abyss of darkness! So many magistrates liquefying in fierce fires! So many sages and philosophers burning in red hot flames with their deluded scholars! So many celebrated poets trembling before the tribunal of Christ! So many tragedians, more tuneful in the expressions of their own sufferings, . . .”
and so on, ad infinitum, in a steady crescendo of unfeeling witticism.
Tertullian was the son of a Roman Centurion, and was born in Carthage around the year 150. Forty years later he became a Christian priest. Just why he became a Christian it is difficult to understand. His adoption of the Christian faith was certainly not dictated by his reason, since he wrote:
“I maintain that the Son of God was born. Why am I not ashamed of maintaining such a thing? Why? Because it itself is a shameful thing. I maintain that the Son of God died. Well, that is wholly credible, because it is monstrously absurd. I maintain that after being buried he rose again. And that I take to be absolutely true, because it was manifestly impossible!”
After becoming a priest of the religion which he had already defined as “monstrously absurd,” Tertullian devoted the rest of his life to the abuse of everybody and everything not agreeing with his personal views. Most of his works begin with the word against. “Against the Jews,” “Against the Christians,” “Against Hermogenes” (in which he declares that matter is not eternal but was created by God), “Against the Valentinians,” “Against Marcion,” “Against Praxeas,” and so on. Tertullian’s works are written in a rude Punic Latin interspersed with African or old Latin idioms and phrases of Latinized Greek, the most important of his writings being his Apologies of the Christians against the Accusation of the Gentiles. In this work, Tertullian clearly states that Christianity is founded upon the Jewish Bible, which he claims to be the most ancient book in the world:
“The Books of Moses, in which God has inclosed, as in a treasure, all the religion of the Jews, and consequently of the Christians, reach far beyond the oldest books that you have.”
Tertullian’s claim that Christianity is founded upon the Old Testament is still accepted by the Catholic Church. For in the Ecumenical Council of 1870 Pope Pius IX wrote:
“The Holy Mother Church affirms that it has pleased God to reveal Himself and the eternal decrees of His will in a supernatural way. This supernatural revelation, as decreed by the Holy Council of Trent, is contained in the books of the Old and New Testament. These are sacred because they were written under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. They have God for their author, and as such have been delivered to the Church.”
Having asserted the antiquity and the sacredness of the Jewish Scriptures, Tertullian then proceeds to outline the teachings of the Christian Church as derived from them. These Holy Scriptures, he says, teach that there is one God, who made the world out of nothing. This teaching is still accepted by the Catholic Church. For Pope Pius IX issued the following anathema:
“Let him be anathema
Who does not acknowledge that the world and all things which it contains were made by God out of nothing.”
Tertullian admitted that in former times God sent Prophets into the world. They were all Jews, and addressed their teachings entirely to the Jews. On their statements Christianity is founded. Therefore the Jewish Bible is the only source of wisdom in the world; the Jewish Scriptures are the standard of all truth, and whatever does not agree with them is false and should be destroyed.
Tertullian then turns his pen to the refutation of the heretical doctrines of the Gnostics, employing the same argument that holds good in the Catholic Church of today. He says:
“The Catholic Church is in possession in the full legal sense of the Word of God. Catholic doctrine existed from the beginning, and is therefore the only true one. Every heresy is an innovation, and therefore of necessity false.”
These are a few of the doctrines that were taught by the orthodox Christian Church of the second century. Against these teachings were pitted the impersonal and universal doctrines of the Gnostics, some of which will now be considered.
The First Fundamental Proposition: The Gnostics repudiated the idea of an anthropomorphic God who created the world out of nothing. The Deity of the Gnostics was an Omnipresent, Boundless and Immutable Principle which they called The Great First Cause. They gave no name to this first Principle, but symbolized it under two aspects. The Gnostic Ophites called these two aspects Abrasax, the male potency, and Bythos, the female potency. From their union sprang Ophis, the Son, or the Manifested Logos.
Like Theosophy, the Gnostics postulated one Absolute Reality which antecedes all manifested, conditioned existence. The state of non-being, which precedes manifestations, is described by Basilides (in words strangely similar to those found in an ancient Rig-Vedic Hymn):
“There was a time when naught was; even that naught was not aught of things that are. For that naught is not simply the Ineffable. It is beyond that. For that which is really Ineffable is not named Ineffable, but is superior to every name that is used. Naught was, neither matter, nor substance, nor voidness of substance; neither man, nor angel, nor god. Such was the state of non-being.”
This state of non-manifestation was followed by the appearance of the Logos, the manifested Deity with every nation and people; the outward expression, or the effect of the cause which is ever-concealed:
“This Universal Seed contained everything in itself potentially, in some such way as the grain of mustard seed contains the whole: roots, stems, branches, leaves and the innumerable germs that come from the seeds of the plant, and which in their turn produce still other plants in manifold series.”
From this point onward, the Gnostic system proceeded to outline the doctrine of Emanations, in which the One evolves the Many in gradual stages, each emanation in turn evolving and permeating its own creation. This doctrine of Emanations was opposed as vigorously in the nineteenth century as it was in the second. For Pope Pius IX issued the following anathema:
“Let him be anathema
Who says that the substance or essence of God, and of all things is one and the same.
Who says that finite things, both corporeal and spiritual, are emanations of the divine substance; or that the divine essence, by manifestation or development of itself, becomes all things.”
The Second Fundamental Proposition of the Gnostics postulated the universality of the Law of Periodicity. Their whole system revolved around the Law of Cycles, while Reincarnation and Karma were put forth as the two most important laws governing man. The present, wrote Basilides, is but the effect of the past. This offers the only solution to the problem of suffering:
“Men suffer from their deeds in a former life. The soul of the elect suffers honorably, while the souls of a lower nature are made to pay their debts through appropriate punishments.”
The Third Fundamental Proposition. The Soul, said Valentinus, is an Immortal Entity:
“From the beginning have ye been immortal and the Children of Light.”
They used the word Christos to describe this immortal principle, and declared that its presence in man made him a God. “Know ye not that ye are all Gods and Lords?” questions the Pistis Sophia.
The Gnostics recognized the sevenfold nature of both man and the universe, describing these seven principles as seven aspects of the One Principle. The Pistis Sophia, which is the most precious relic of Gnostic literature that we possess at the present day, speaks of the human entity as “the septenary Ray of the One.” The three higher principles were described as the God in man; the four lower principles were called appendages, which were said to be attached to the rational soul. The conquest of the lower principles by the God within made man the Lord of creation. Valentinus wrote:
“As ye dissolve the world and are not dissolved yourselves, ye are the Lords of creation and destruction.”
The doctrine of vicarious atonement was never taught by the Gnostics. They declared that man’s progress and final salvation depended entirely upon his own self-induced and self-devised efforts:
“It is the man himself who leads his desire towards evil, and refuses to battle with the appendages. Our duty is to show ourselves rulers over the inferior creation within us, gaining mastery by means of our rational principle.”
The Catholic Church is still as opposed to the idea that man himself is the maker of his own destiny as it was in the days of Tertullian. In those days the idea was merely refuted. Now it is anathematized, as in the further words of Pope Pius IX:
“Let him be anathema
Who says that man can and ought to, of his own efforts, by means of constant progress, arrive at last at the possession of all truth and goodness.”
These are only a few of the “heretical” doctrines which have always been bitterly fought by the orthodox Catholic Church. The original Gnostic documents were, of course, destroyed by the Church. The Refutations against these doctrines have been carefully preserved. But in preserving the Refutations, the Church has unwittingly preserved enough of the Gnostic teachings to show that they were the legitimate offspring of the ancient Wisdom-Religion, and that the movement known as Christian Gnosticism must have formed part of the work of the Theosophical Movement.
— THEOSOPHY, Vol. 24, No. 12, October, 1936, Pages 529-538
Theosophy in the Apocrypha
Theosophy in the Apocrypha I
The word Apocrypha means hidden, or secret, i. e., esoteric, and is applied to fourteen books originally published with the Old Testament, but now omitted, as they are not recognized as canonical by the English Church. The Roman Catholic Church admits most of them, the Greek Church admits them all. They are too little studied by theosophists, for they are full of wisdom and beauty, and rightly bear the name of the secret or esoteric teaching, and they need no endorsement of church or state to those who are familiar with them.
The most important, to us at least, are the two books of Esdras (identified with Ezra and a continuation of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah in the Old Testament), the Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus. From the two latter Dante drank deep draughts of inspiration, and his descriptions of Beatrice are full of quotations from the Wisdom of Solomon. I shall not try to unravel the meanings of the seven wonderful visions of Esdras in this brief paper, but only endeavor to point out a few striking instances of the theosophical ideas in these books.
The Wisdom of Solomon was said by the Fathers to have been written by Philo, called Judaeus, but this point is much disputed. Philo was a Pythagorean and Platonist, and his teachings were those of Theosophy as to the doctrine of the Absolute; he wrote of the Logos as a synthesis of the creative forces of Nature, and taught the dual nature of man and reincarnation, and his writings are at least in accordance with the books above mentioned, even if he wrote none of them.
The first book of Esdras is chiefly historical, like Ezra and Nehemiah, but Esdras II. is apocalyptic and full of beautiful and significant passages. Not to mention the vision of Ch. II., the idea of primitive man as an unreasoning animal is distinctly set forth in v. 5 of Ch. III., which says:
“Thou gavest a body unto Adam without soul, which was the workmanship of thy hands, and didst breathe into him the breath of life, and he was made living before thee. And unto him thou gavest commandment to love thy way [nothing said here of anything more than an observance of natural law], which he transgressed, and immediately thou appointedst death in him and in his generations.”
In Ch. IV. we have the beautiful parable of the forests and the sea, and in v. 28-30, comes what might be a description of the Kali-Yuga.
“The evil is sown, but the destruction thereof is not yet come. If therefore that which is sown be not turned upside down, and if the place where the evil is sown pass not away, then cannot it come that is sown with good. For the grain of evil seed hath been sown in the heart of Adam from the beginning.”
We cannot have reconstruction without destruction, and the nature itself must suffer change before the better harvest can be planted. Here we have clearly suggested too, the dual nature of man, and the doctrine of Karma. Unless the grain be uprooted, the necessary harvest must follow the sowing, and in the first of men was implanted the capacity for sin, as well as the capacity for right-doing.
It would take too long to go through the whole book, but it is an interesting fact that Esdras refers to the gradual decrease of stature in the races.
“Ye are of less stature than those that were before you,” he says, “and so are they that come after you less than ye.” 1 And he refers in Ch. VII. to that primitive state of innocence when “the entrances of the elder world were wide and sure, and brought immortal fruit,” but when mankind had fallen into sin, “then were the entrances of this world made narrow, full of sorrow and travail: they are but few and evil, full of perils and very painful.”
In the same chapter the prophet refers to the pralaya of seven “days”:
“And the world shall be turned into the old silence, seven days, like as in the former judgments [indicating former periods of repose]. And after seven days, the world that yet awaketh not, shall be raised up, and that shall die that is corrupt. And the earth shall restore those that are asleep in her, and so shall the dust those that dwell in silence, and the secret places shall deliver those souls that were committed unto them.” So is it said in the Sacred Slokas: “The thread of radiance which is imperishable and dissolves only in Nirvana, reemerges from it in its integrity on the day when the Great Law calls all things back into action.” 2
Then Esdras, moved by the thought of all the sin and suffering that must be in the world, before the promised glory should return, asks the old question, “Why do we live at all?”
“It had been better not to have given the earth unto Adam, or else when it was given him, to have restrained him from sinning.”
And the Voice that was like “the sound of many waters,” that spoke to him in the visions of the night, answered him with the doctrine of the Cycle of Necessity.
“This is the condition of the battle, which man that is born upon the earth shall fight; that if he be overcome, he shall suffer as thou hast said; but if he get the victory, he shall receive the thing that I say.” “Therefore, O Arjuna, resolve to fight,” says Krishna.
When Esdras had prepared himself by prayer and fasting for spiritual illumination, a full cup was reached to him, “which was full as it were with water, but the color of it was like fire. And 1 took it and drank; and when I had drunk of it, my heart uttered understanding, and wisdom grew in my breast, for my spirit strengthened my memory.”
Of the two hundred and four books that the five swift scribes wrote at his dictation, he was told to publish the first openly, but to keep the seventy last, “that thou mayst deliver them only to such as be wise among the people. For in them is the spring of understanding, the fountain of wisdom, and the stream of knowledge.”
“I shall light a candle of understanding in thy heart,” said the Voice, “which shall not be put out till the things be performed which thou shalt begin to write.”
1. Esdras II., Ch. V., 54-55. The Wisdom of Solomon, Ch. XIV., v. 6, speaks of “the old time, when the proud giants perished.”
2. Secret Doctrine II., 80.
Theosophy in the Apocrypha II
II. The Wisdom of Solomon
The first verses of the Wisdom of Solomon suggest the occult law which teaches the necessity of a proper state of mind in the would-be recipient of divine truth, and shows that of all adverse conditions, the worst is doubt. “Seek the Lord in simplicity (or singleness) of heart,” says the writer, “for he showeth himself unto such as do not distrust him.” And then, after several chapters that remind one, sometimes of Proverbs and sometimes of the Pauline Epistles, King Solomon, the supposed writer, describes how, although of human birth and rearing, he called upon God, and how the spirit of wisdom came to him, and raised him to a higher plane. Having preferred her to sceptres and thrones, he found that all good things follow in her train.
Thus God gave him certain knowledge of the things that are, to know how the world was made, and the operation of the elements; the beginning, ending, and midst of the times (the law of cycles); the alterations of the turning of the sun, and the change of seasons; the circuits of years, and the positions of stars; the natures of living creatures, and the furies of wild beasts; the violence of winds and the reasonings of men; the diversities of plants, and the virtues of roots; and all such things as are either secret or manifest.
“If a man desire much experience,” says Solomon, “wisdom knoweth things of old, and conjectureth what is to come; she knoweth the subtilties of speech, and can expound dark sentences; she foreseeth signs and wonders, and the events of seasons and times. Moreover by means of her I shall obtain immortality, and leave behind me an everlasting memorial to them that come after me.”
And lest we should mistake the true nature of this wisdom, and confound her with mere occult knowledge of material things, he gives us that magnificent description of her, as “the worker of all things, present with God when he made the world, having all power, overseeing all things, and going through all understanding, pure, and most subtle spirits. For wisdom is more moving than any motion; she passeth and goeth through all things by reason of her pureness. For she is the breath of the power of God, and a pure influence flowing from the glory of the Almighty; therefore can no defiled thing fall into her. For she is the brightness of the everlasting light, the unspotted mirror of the power of God, and the image of his goodness.”
“And being but one, she can do all things, and remaining in herself she maketh all things new; and in all ages, entering into holy souls, she maketh them friends of God, and prophets. For she is more beautiful than the sun, and above all the order of stars; being compared with the light, she is found before it.”
This Wisdom is that spiritual faculty which some have called Intuition, and some Buddhi, and her light is that spoken of by St. John, that glory which lit up the celestial city, so that there was no need there of the sun, neither of the moon.
It is at the end of the next chapter, the 8th, that Solomon makes such a clear statement, not only of the fact of reincarnation, but of the law which guides it, when he says: “Being good, I came into a body undefiled.” He seems to take the idea so much for granted, that he neither explains it nor dwells upon it, but simply mentions it as one would mention any recognized law of nature.
And in chapter 11th he asserts another fact of which no occultist could entertain a doubt: “Thou hast ordered all things in measure and number and weight.” Certainly the Divine Spirit as conceived by this writer was very different from the “jealous God” of the Hebrews, for he goes on to say:
“Thou lovest all the things that are, and abhorrest nothing which thou hast made; for never wouldst thou have made anything if thou hadst hated it. And how could anything have endured if it had not been thy will, or been preserved, if not called by thee? But thou sparest all: for they are thine, O Lord, thou lover of souls.” Surely here we have a foundation-stone for the rule of universal brotherhood.
In the 17th chapter there is a description of the sufferings of the Egyptians from the plague of darkness, which is as superb in its lofty and far-reaching imaginativeness, as the description of Wisdom herself, but it has nothing to do with the present subject, except as it represents the punishment of the guilty as entirely within themselves, and made heavy by their own remorse. “For the whole world shined with clear light, and none were hindered in their labor: Over them only was spread an heavy night, an image of that darkness which should afterwards receive them: but yet were they unto themselves more grievous than the darkness.”
Ecclesiasticus is also called “the Wisdom of Jesus the son of Sirach,” and purports to be a collection of wise sayings made by Jesus the father of Sirach and containing also many of his own, which was handed down to the grandson and by him “compiled all orderly into one volume.”
Those who wish to study the origin and character of all these books from an historical and critical point of view, will find much to interest them in the articles in the Encyclopedia Britannica on the “Apocrypha,” “Esdras,””Ecclesiasticus,” etc. These questions I have preferred not to go into here, but simply to quote a few passages from the text, which are of value as they stand, and appeal to that authority which is not of the scribes.
The book called Ecclesiasticus is by no means of as lofty a character as the Wisdom of Solomon, it is more like Proverbs, and is concerned largely with ordinary ethics, and even drops occasionally into questions of deportment and manners at table. Jesus the son of Sirach says that it also contains “dark sentences and parables,” and it certainly contains a caution as to humility in study, that may be useful to us all.
“Seek not out the things that are too hard for thee,” says the writer, “neither search the things that are above thy strength. But what is commanded thee, think thereupon,” (I omit inserted words) “for they are not needful for thee — the things that are in secret. Be not curious in unnecessary matters; for more things are showed unto thee than men understand.”
In these three verses what a sermon is preached to those theosophists who are ever seeking for the mysterious, who are constantly looking for signs and wonders, and yet neglect the study of the simple ethics of life, and the true nature of their own minds! More things are indeed shown unto them than most men understand, and still they put these aside, and strive after marvels.
Humility is one of the essentials in the acquirement of wisdom that are laid down in the Bhagavad-Gita, and Jesus the son of Sirach says: “Mysteries are revealed unto the meek.” And again he warns us of the endless nature of the search after wisdom: “The first man knew her not perfectly, no more shall the last find her out. For her thoughts are more than the sea, and her counsels profounder than the great deep.”
Neither should we pay any attention to light and idle dreams, says this wise man: “Whoso regardeth dreams is like him that catcheth at a shadow, and followeth after the wind.” He evidently understood the nature of ordinary dreams, for he compares them to reflections in a mirror, but he was able to distinguish between them and the voice of the Higher Self, for he continues: “If they be not sent from the Most High in thy visitation, set not thy heart upon them, for dreams have deceived many.”
One might make many more of these quotations, but the object of this paper was simply to direct attention to the many treasures hidden in these scriptures that are too seldom read, for in very truth, “more things are shown unto men than they understand.”
— Katharine Hillard, Theosophy, November 1896