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Entries from the Theosophical Glossary
or the “Old Akadéme”, in contrast with the later or Neo-Platonic School of Alexandria (See “Philalethean”).
Lit.,“The new Platonism” or Platonic School. An eclectic pantheistic school of philosophy founded in Alexandria by Ammonius Saccas, of which his disciple Plotinus was the head (A.D. 189-270). It sought to reconcile Platonic teachings and the Aristotelean system with oriental Theosophy. Its chief occupation was pure spiritual philosophy, metaphysics and mysticism. Theurgy was introduced towards its later years. It was the ultimate effort of high intelligences to check the ever-increasing ignorant superstition and blind faith of the times; the last product of Greek philosophy, which was finally crushed and put to death by brute force.
Alexadrian School (of Philosophers)
This famous school arose in Alexandria (Egypt) which was for several centuries the great seat of learning and philosophy. Famous for its library, which bears the name of “Alexandrian”, founded by Ptolemy Soter, who died in 283 B.C., at the very beginning of his reign ; that library which once boasted of 700,000 rolls or volumes (Aulus Gellius); for its museum, the first real academy of sciences and arts ; for its world-famous scholars, such as Euclid (the father of scientific geometry), Apollonius of Perga (the author of the still extant work on conic sections), Nicomachus (the arithmetician); astronomers, natural philosophers, anatomists such as Herophilus and Erasistratus, physicians, musicians, artists, etc., etc. ; it became still more famous for its Eclectic, or the New Platonic school, founded in 193 A.D., by Ammonius Saccas, whose disciples were Origen, Plotinus, and many others now famous in history. The most celebrated schools of Gnostics had their origin in Alexandria. Philo Judæus Josephus, lamblichus, Porphyry, Clement of Alexandria, Eratosthenes the astronomer, Hypatia the virgin philosopher, and numberless other stars of second magnitude, all belonged at various times to these great schools, and helped to make Alexandria one of the most justly renowned seats of learning that the world has ever produced.
One of the names given to the Neo-Platonic school of Alexandria.
Lit., “the lovers of truth”; the name is given to the Alexandrian Neo-Platonists, also called Analogeticists and Theosophists. (See Key to Theosophy, p. 1, et seq.) The school was founded by Ammonius Saccas early in the third century, and lasted until the fifth. The greatest philosophers and sages of the day belonged to it.
The disciples of Ammonius Saccas (q.v.), so called because of their practice of interpreting all sacred legends, myths and mysteries by a principle of analogy and correspondence, which is now found in the Kabbalistic system, and pre-eminently so in the Schools of Esoteric Philosophy, in the East. (See “ The Twelve Signs of the Zodiac,” by T. Subba Row in Five Years of Theosophy.)
A great and good philosopher who lived in Alexandria between the second and third centuries of our era, and who was the founder of the Neo-Platonic School of Philaletheians or “lovers of truth”. He was of poor birth and born of Christian parents, but endowed with such prominent, almost divine, goodness as to he called Theodidaktos, the “god-taught”. He honoured that which was good in Christianity, but broke with it and the churches very early, being unable to find in it any superiority over the older religions.
Lit., “God-taught”. Used of Ammonius Saccas, the founder of the Neo-Platonic Eclectic School of the Philalethæ in the fourth century at Alexandria.
The noblest, highest and grandest of all the Neo-Platonists after the founder of the school, Ammonius Saccas. He was the most enthusiastic of the Philaletheans or “lovers of truth”, whose aim was to found a religion on a system of intellectual abstraction, which is true Theosophy, or the whole substance of Neo-Platonism. If we are to believe Porphyry, Plotinus has never disclosed either his birth-place or connexions, his native land or his race. Till the age of twenty-eight he had never found teacher or teaching which would suit him or answer his aspirations. Then he happened to hear Ammonius Saccas, from which day he continued to attend his school. At thirty-nine he accompanied the Emperor Gordian to Persia and India with the object of learning their philosophy. He died at the age of sixty-six after writing fifty-four books on philosophy. So modest was he that it is said he “blushed to think he had a body”. He reached Samâdhi (highest ecstasy or “re-union with God” the divine Ego) several times during his life. As said by a biographer, “so far did his contempt for his bodily organs go, that he refused to use a remedy, regarding it as unworthy of a man to use means of this kind”. Again we read, “as he died, a dragon (or serpent) that had been under his bed, glided through a hole in the wall and disappeared”—a fact suggestive for the student of symbolism. He taught a doctrine identical with that of the Vedantins, namely, that the Spirit-Soul emanating from the One deific principle was, after its pilgrimage, re-united to It.
Porphyry, or Porphyrius
A Neo-Platonist and a most distinguished writer, only second to Plotinus as a teacher and philosopher. He was born before the middle of the third century A.D., at Tyre, since he called himself a Tyrian and is supposed to have belonged to a Jewish family. Though himself thoroughly Hellenized and a Pagan, his name Melek (a king) does seem to indicate that he had Semitic blood in his veins. Modern critics very justly consider him the most practically philosophical, and the soberest, of all the Neo-Platonists. A distinguished writer, he was specially famous for his controversy with Iamblichus regarding the evils attendant upon the practice of Theurgy. He was, however, finally converted to the views of his opponent. A natural-born mystic, he followed, as did his master Plotinus, the pure Indian Râj-Yoga training, which leads to the union of the Soul with the Over-Soul or Higher Self (Buddhi-Manas). He complains, however, that, all his efforts notwithstanding, he did not reach this state of ecstacy before he was sixty, while Plotinus was a proficient in it. This was so, probably because while his teacher held physical life and body in the greatest contempt, limiting philosophical research to those regions where life and thought become eternal and divine, Porphyry devoted his whole time to considerations of the hearing of philosophy on practical life. “The end of philosophy is with him morality”, says a biographer, “we might almost say, holiness—the healing of man’s infirmities, the imparting to him a purer and more vigorous life. Mere knowledge, however true, is not of itself sufficient ; knowledge has for its object life in accordance with Nous”—“reason”, translates the biographer. As we interpret Nous, however, not as Reason, but mind (Manas) or the divine eternal Ego in man, we would translate the idea esoterically, and make it read “the occult or secret knowledge has for its object terrestrial life in accordance with Nous, or our everlasting reincarnating Ego”, which would be more consonant with Porphyry’s idea, as it is with esoteric philosophy. (See Porphyry’s De Abstinentia ., 29.) Of all the Neo-Platonists, Porphyry approached the nearest to real Theosophy as now taught by the Eastern secret school. This is shown by all our modern critics and writers on the Alexandrian school, for “he held that the Soul should be as far as possible freed from the bonds of matter, . . . be ready . . . to cut off the whole body”. (Ad Marcellam, 34.) He recommends the practice of abstinence, saying that “we should be like the gods if we could abstain from vegetable as well as animal food”. He accepts with reluctance theurgy and mystic incantation as those are “powerless to purify the noëtic (manasic) principle of the soul”: theurgy can “but cleanse the lower or psychic portion, and make it capable of perceiving lower beings, such as spirits, angels and gods” (Aug. De Civ. Dei. X., 9), just as Theosophy teaches. “Do not defile the divinity”, he adds, with the vain imaginings of men you will not injure that which is for ever blessed (Buddhi-Manas) but you will blind yourself to the perception of the greatest and most vital truths”. (Ad Marcellam,18.) “If we would he free from the assaults of evil spirits, we must keep ourselves clear of those things over which evil spirits have power, for they attack not the pure soul which has no affinity with them”. (De Abstin. ii., 43.) This is again our teaching. The Church Fathers held Porphyry as the bitterest enemy, the most irreconcilable to Christianity. Finally, and once more as in modern Theosophy, Porphyry—as all the Neo-Platonists, according to St. Augustine—“praised Christ while they disparaged Christianity”; Jesus, they contended, as we contend, “said nothing himself against the pagan deities, but wrought wonders by their help”. “They could not call him as his disciples did, God, but they honoured him as one of the best and wisest of men”. (De Civ. Dei., X1X., 23.) Yet, “even in the storm of controversy, scarcely a word seems to have been uttered against the private life of Porphyry. His system prescribed purity and . . . he practised it”.
(See A Dict. of Christian Biography, Vol. IV., “Porphyry”.)
A great Theurgist, mystic, and writer of the third and fourth centuries, a Neo-Platonist and philosopher, born at Chalcis in Cœle-Syria. Correct biographies of him have never existed because of the hatred of the Christians; but that which has been gathered of his life in isolated fragments from works by impartial pagan and independent writers shows how excellent and holy was his moral character, and how great his learning. He may be called the founder of theurgic magic among the Neo-Platonists and the reviver of the practical mysteries outside of temple or fane. His school was at first distinct from that of Plotinus and Porphyry, who were strongly against ceremonial magic and practical theurgy as dangerous, though later he convinced Porphyry of its. advisability on some occasions, and both master and pupil firmly believed in theurgy and magic, of which the former is principally the highest and most efficient mode of communication with one’s Higher Ego, through the medium of one’s astral body. Theurgic is benevolent magic, and it becomes goetic, or dark and evil, only when it is used for necromancy or selfish purposes; but such dark magic has never been practised by any theurgist or philosopher, whose name has descended to us unspotted by any evil deed. So much was Porphyry (who became the teacher of Iamblichus in Neo-Platonic philosophy) convinced of this, that though he himself never practised theurgy, yet he gave instructions for the acquirement of this sacred science. Thus he says in one of his writings, “Whosoever is acquainted with the nature of divinely luminous appearances fasmata ( knows also on what account it is requisite to abstain from all birds (and animal food) and especially for him who hastens to be liberated from terrestrial concerns and to be established with the celestial gods”. (See Select Works by T. Taylor, p. 159.) Moreover, the same Porphyry mentions in his Life of Plotinus a priest of Egypt, who, “at the request of a certain friend of Plotinus, exhibited to him, in the temple of Isis at Rome, the familiar daimon of that philosopher “. In other words, he produced the theurgic invocation (see “Theurgist”) by which Egyptian Hierophant or Indian Mahâtma, of old, could clothe their own or any other person’s astral double with the appearance of its Higher EGO, or what Bulwer Lytton terms the “ Luminous Self”, the Augoeides, and confabulate with It. This it is which Iamblichus and many others, including the mediæval Rosicrucans, meant by union with Deity. Iamblichus wrote many books but only a few of his works are extant, such as his “Egyptian Mysteries” and a treatise “On Dæmons”, in which he speaks very severely against any intercourse with them. He was a biographer of Pythagoras and deeply versed in the system of the latter, and was also learned in the Chaldean Mysteries. He taught that the One, or universal MONAD, was the principle of all unity as well as diversity, or of Homogeneity and Heterogeneity; that the Duad, or two (“ Principles”), was the intellect, or that which we call Buddhi-Manas; three, was the Soul (the lower Manas), etc. etc. There is much of the theosophical in his teachings, and his works on the various kinds of dæmons (Elementals) are a well of esoteric knowledge for the student. His austerities, purity of life and earnestness were great. Iamblichus is credited with having been once levitated ten cubits high from the ground, as are some of the modern Yogis, and even great mediums.
The first school of practical theurgy (from qeod, god, and ergon work,) in the Christian period, was founded by Iamblichus among certain Alexandrian Platonists. The priests, however, who were attached to the temples of Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia and Greece, and whose business it was to evoke the gods during the celebration of the Mysteries, were known by this name, or its equivalent in other tongues, from the earliest archaic period. Spirits (but not those of the dead, the evocation of which was called Necromancy) were made visible to the eyes of mortals. Thus a theurgist had to be a hierophant and an expert in the esoteric learning of the Sanctuaries of all great countries. The Neo-platonists of the school of Iamblichus were called theurgists, for they performed the so-called “ceremonial magic”, and evoked the simulacra or the images of the ancient heroes, “gods”, and daimonia (daimovia, divine, spiritual entities). In the rare cases when the presence of a tangible and visible “ spirit ” was required, the theurgist had to furnish the weird apparition with a portion of his own flesh and blood—he had to perform the thepœa or the “creation of gods”, by a mysterious process well known to the old, and perhaps some of the modern, Tântrikas and initiated Brahmans of India. Such is what is said in the Book of Evocations of the pagodas. It shows the perfect identity of rites and ceremonial between the oldest Brahmanic theurgy and that of the Alexandrian Platonists.
The following is from Isis Unveiled: “The Brahman Grihasta (the evocator) must be in a state of complete purity before he ventures to call forth the Pitris. After having prepared a lamp, some sandal-incense, etc., and having traced the magic circles taught him by the superior Guru, in order to keep away bad spirits, he ceases to breathe, and calls the fire (Kundalini) to his help to disperse his body.” He pronounces a certain number of times the sacred word, and “ his soul (astral body) escapes from its prison, his body disappears, and the soul (image) of the evoked spirit descends into the double body and animates it”. Then “his (the theurgist’s) soul (astral) re-enters its body, whose subtile particles have again been aggregating (to the objective sense), after having formed from themselves an aerial body for the deva (god or spirit) he evoked And then, the operator propounds to the latter questions “on the mysteries of Being and the transformation of the imperishable ”. The popular prevailing idea is that the theurgists, as well as the magicians, worked wonders, such as evoking the souls or shadows of the heroes and gods, and other thaumaturgic works, by super natural powers. But this never was the fact. They did it simply by the liberation of their own astral body, which, taking the form of a god or hero, served as a medium or vehicle through which the special current preserving the ideas and knowledge of that hero or god could be reached and manifested. (See “Iamblichus”.)
The girl-philosopher, who lived at Alexandria during the fifth century, and taught many a famous man—among others Bishop Synesius. She was the daughter of the mathematician Theon, and became famous for her learning. Falling a martyr to the fiendish conspiracy of Theophilos, Bishop of Alexandria, and his nephew Cyril, she was foully murdered by their order. With her death fell the Neo Platonic School.
A Church Father and a voluminous writer, who had been a Neo-Platonist and a disciple of Ammonius Saccas. He lived between the second and the third centuries of our era, at Alexandria.
A Platonic philosopher in the Alexandrian school of Philaletheans.
A Greek writer and mystic philosopher, known as a Commentator of Plato, and surnamed the Diadochus. He lived in the fifth century, and died, aged 75, at Athens A.D. 485. His last ardent disciple and follower and the translator of his works was Thomas Taylor of Norwich, who, says Brother Kenneth Mackenzie, “was a modern mystic who adopted the pagan faith as being the only veritable faith, and actually sacrificed doves to Venus, a goat to Bacchus and designed to immolate a bull to Jupiter” but was prevented by his landlady.
From Plato to the Neoplatonists
From Plato to the Neoplatonists
During the lifetime of Plato there was little if any dissension among his pupils. But after his death in 347 B.C. a decided breach occurred. Aristotle set up his own school in opposition to the Platonic Academy, his pupils recognizing him as Plato’s successor. Meanwhile the loyal pupils of Plato endeavored to carry on his teachings along the lines laid down. But in the course of time even in that school, which was known successively as the Old Academy, the Middle Academy and the New Academy, the spiritual ideals of the Teacher grew dim, until they were revived by the Neoplatonists.
The Laws of Plato, a work not made public until after his death, shows how Plato gravitated more and more toward the Pythagorean doctrines in his later years. The Old Academy, therefore, is distinguished by its interpretation of Plato’s theory of Ideas in accordance with the number theory of Pythagoras.
The guidance of the Platonic School passed from Plato to his nephew Speusippus, who, according to Diogenes Laertius, received his appointment directly from the Teacher. Speusippus developed the Pythagorean aspect of the Platonic teachings, and the world is indebted to him for defining and expounding many things which Plato had left obscure in his doctrine of the Sensible and the Ideal.
Speusippus was followed by Xenocrates, who continued the Pythagorean and Platonic line without a shadow of turning. The teachings of Xenocrates also show a strong Oriental influence, and many of his ideas may be traced directly to their Eastern origin. He taught that there are three degrees of knowledge — thought, perception and envisagement (knowledge by intuition). The source of these divisions is found in that part of the Mânava Dharma Shâstra which describes the creation of man. Brahmâ, or Mahat, the Universal Soul, draws from its own essence the Spirit, the imperishable immortal breath in every human being. To the lower soul Brahmâ gives Ahânkara, the consciousness of the Ego. To this is added “the intellect formed of the three qualities” — Intelligence, Conscience, and Will, answering to the Thought, Perception and Envisagement of Xenocrates.
The relation of numbers to Ideas was developed by Xenocrates still further than by Speusippus, and according to H.P.B. he surpassed even Plato in his definition of the doctrine of Invisible Magnitudes. Xenocrates regarded the soul as a “self-moving number” and maintained the doctrine of intuition and innate ideas. He revived the ancient Buddhistic and Hermetic teachings by declaring that, as the World-Soul permeates the entire Cosmos, even the beasts have something of divinity in them. Building his whole theory of cosmogony on the theory of the World-Soul, he taught that Space is filled with a successive and progressive series of animated and thinking beings. This is a faithful reflection of the doctrine of Manu, who endows even the tiniest blade of grass with a living soul.
Xenocrates forbade the eating of animal food, not solely because of the cruelty inflicted upon the animals, but also “lest the irrationality of animal souls might thereby obtain a certain influence over us.” This theory was elaborated 1800 years later by Paracelsus. It is a clear indication that Xenocrates, like Pythagoras, had the Hindu Sages for his Masters and Models. Cicero speaks of his stainless character and Zeller records his statement that “Purity, even in the secret longings of our heart, is the greatest duty, and only Philosophy and Initiation into the Mysteries help toward the attainment of this object.”
Herakleides, friend of Plato and member of the Academy, continued the Pythagorean and Platonic doctrines in all their purity. The unknown author of the Epinomis, a Platonic treatise, says that only knowledge of numbers can prove immortality, and that the soul must be understood before the Spirit can be comprehended. Iamblichus said the same thing five hundred years later, adding, however, that the mystery of immortality is a secret belonging to the highest initiation. The Epinomis considers the universe as a living organism, every star having a soul of its own. This, again, is merely a repetition of the ancient Hermetic doctrine that every atom in the universe, being impregnated with the divine influx of the World-Soul, is a living entity which feels, suffers and enjoys life in its own way.
With the passing of Athenian independence, a change took place in the attitude and emphasis of Greek philosophy. The social philosophy represented in Plato’s Republic gave way to the individualism which seems always to emerge in times of political disintegration. Whenever possible, the true philosopher strives to make his principles the basis of common constructive activity, but during a period of rapid social decline, often his only course is to demonstrate that there is no need for the individual to suffer moral and cultural death along with the community. He can be an exemplar as a single man when the temper of the day makes the application of social ideals impossible. Such an objective naturally produces an especial emphasis on conduct, as distinguished from the metaphysical doctrines which provide the rational basis for right action. Thus, we find the “practical” philosophies of the Stoics, Epicureans and Skeptics becoming the leading patterns of thought after Greece had succumbed to the Macedonian and Roman conquests.
Zeno, the founder of the Stoics, was at one time a pupil of Xenocrates. About 310 B.C. he founded a school in Athens. Because of his habit of teaching in the Painted Porch, or Stoa, it became known as the Stoic School. Basing his teachings on the Socratic axiom that knowledge is virtue, Zeno made the pursuit of knowledge synonymous with the cultivation of virtue. Combining that axiom with the Aristotelian idea that all knowledge comes from sense-perception, the Stoics have come down in history as the greatest materialists of ancient days.
Although the Stoics maintained that the material alone is real, distinguishing corporeal and incorporeal being as coarser and finer degrees of matter, an examination of Zeno’s doctrines reveals the fact that the Stoics were acquainted with the three fundamental propositions of Theosophy. They acknowledged the presence of an invisible Principle, or Divine Energy, which permeates nature, and spoke of matter as but the passive agent through which that Principle expresses itself. They taught the emanation of the visible world from the invisible, and the final absorption of the universe into its original source. Seneca, one of the later Stoics, asked: “What is God? The Mind of the Universe. Where is He? In everything you see and everything you do not see.” They likewise taught that all is governed by the Law of Cause and Effect and that nothing happens by chance. They considered the soul of man as a spark of Deity which at death is returned to its original essence. They therefore trained themselves to be indifferent to death, to pleasure and pain, and to exercise their philosophy in the form of altruism and compassion. “Nature bids me to be good to mankind,” Seneca wrote. “Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for benefit.” The Stoics also practiced the “nightly review” which formed part of the discipline of the Mysteries. Epictetus has left us the ethical standard adopted by the Stoic: “…that he censures no one, praises no one, blames no one, says nothing about himself as being anybody or knowing anything.” Seneca added that “the Stoic view of life is to be useful and helpful, and not to look after ourselves, but after the individual and common interests of mankind.”
The Epicureans differed sharply from the Stoics in their answer to the problems of life. The personality of Epicurus was almost worshipped by his pupils. His words were memorized down to the smallest detail and accepted without question. Pleasure, said Epicurus, is the highest virtue, and virtue is impossible without pleasure. Although he admitted that intellectual pleasures are the most satisfying, he did not direct the intellect toward any soul-disturbing search for fundamental truths. His message was, like that of Rousseau, a summons to return from the complexities of civilization to the natural pleasures of life. His philosophy appealed to the average man. It was, as Cicero says, at best a bourgeois philosophy, demanding neither heroism nor sacrifice, appealing primarily to a world-weary society whose ideals had already been dulled by indolence and corruption.
But despite these general tendencies, there were, as H.P.B. says, no Atheists in those days of old; no disbelievers or materialists, in the modern sense of the word, as there were no bigoted detractors. Writing in Isis Unveiled, she makes clear that even Pyrrho, the great skeptic, was not the extreme denier that he seems to modern scholars.
He who judges the ancient philosophies by their external phraseology, and quotes from ancient writings sentences seemingly atheistical, is unfit to be trusted as a critic, for he is unable to penetrate into the inner sense of their metaphysics. The views of Pyrrho, whose rationalism has become proverbial, can be interpreted only by the light of the oldest Hindu philosophy…. Notwithstanding that he and his followers are termed, from their state of constant suspense, “skeptics,” “doubters,” inquirers, and ephectics, only because they postponed their final judgment on dilemmas, with which our modern philosophers prefer dealing, Alexander-like, by cutting the Gordian knot, and then declaring the dilemma a superstition, such men as Pyrrho cannot be pronounced atheists. No more can Kapila, or Giordano Bruno, or again Spinoza, who were also treated as atheists; nor yet, the great Hindu poet, philosopher, and dialectician, Veda-Vyasa, whose principle that all is illusion — save the Great Unknown and His direct essence — Pyrrho has adopted in full. (II, 530-31.)
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
Alexandria and Her Schools
Alexandria and Her Schools
The little island of Samothrace in the Aegean Sea, today barren and sterile, was once the home of great Adepts, and the site of the oldest Mysteries known to Western history. These Mysteries originated in the night of time, thousands of years before the historical period. In them was taught, by dramatic representation, the whole story of cosmic evolution. Physical science, medicine and the laws of music were taught in the same manner. The nature of the human spirit, its relation to the body, and the method by which it could be purified and restored to its rightful position as Sovereign Lord of the body were all explained to the candidates for initiation and incorporated into philosophical and ethical doctrines. The Mysteries, therefore, were highly religious, scientific and philosophical in their nature, as well as being beneficent as a school of ethics. But, four hundred years before the Christian era, the Mysteries had already begun to decay. Materialistic ideas were slowly undermining the spiritual teachings, priestly speculations were being substituted for the real Gnosis, and the Adepts who had been the heads of the different Mystery Schools were gradually withdrawing into the more remote parts of the earth.
The death-knell of the Mystery School of Samothrace was first sounded by the Karma of a young novice, Olympias, the orphan daughter of the late King Neoptolemus. Mystic by nature, she was a special devotee of Zeus-Ammon, the Egyptian-Greek representation of the “ever-concealed Deity,” whose garment was Aether — the luminiferous substance which pervades the entire universe.
In the year 357 B.C., Philip, the young King of Macedonia, paid a visit to the island of Samothrace, then only a day’s sail from the mainland. Whether this visit was prompted by some mystical strain in Philip’s blood, or whether it had been made necessary by a vow taken in his youth which called for a return to the island, it, at any rate, sealed his own fate, and also the fate of the world for many centuries. There he met Olympias, who became his wife and the mother of Alexander the Great.
The legend runs that on the night before her wedding, Olympias dreamed that a thunderbolt had entered her side, and that the god Ammon, under the guise of a Serpent, had become the father of her child. During his whole life, and for centuries after his death, Alexander was considered as the son of Ammon. He accepted the fact of his divine paternity and dreamed, even as a youth, of the day when he would be able to visit the shrine of his “father” Ammon in the Siwa oasis in Egypt. It was this desire, rather than the political ambition with which he is generally credited, which eventually took Alexander to Egypt, and to this visit the city of Alexandria owes its existence.
The site that he chose for his city was situated on a long ribbon of land lying between the Mediterranean on the north and Lake Mereotis on the south. To the east lay the great delta of the Nile, and to the west the vast yellow desert where his “father” Ammon lay enshrined. In the year 331 B.C. he marked out the original walls of the city, tracing them with flour that was carried by his Macedonian veterans, and planned the city in the shape of a Cross, formed by the intersection of two grand boulevards.
Cut off by his early death from further participation in the building of the city, the task was left to his half-brother Ptolemy Soter, who, with the aid of his son Ptolemy Philadelphus, completed the work. By that time, Alexander’s dream-city had become a living reality. It was now a giant Cross of Calvary, its four natural divisions housing some of the greatest intellects of the world. In future centuries it was destined to become a Cross of Calvary indeed, upon which the Wisdom-Religion was to be crucified, and its last great exponent of that day, the immortal Hypatia, torn limb from limb by the Christian mob.
The city of Alexandria is interesting to the Theosophical student, for there, just fifteen hundred years ago, existed the last great Theosophical School in history — the School which was begun by Ammonius Saccas, and ended with the death of Hypatia. It is quite possible, considering the fifteen hundred year cycle of reincarnation, that many Theosophists of the present day were members of that old School, and so, not difficult for many to see in imagination the city of Alexandria as it was in 193 A.D., the year in which Ammonius founded his School.
Let us turn back the centuries and visit together that ancient metropolis. There we may envision together a scene which perhaps will make vivid the time and life of Ammonius Saccas.
Ammonius has gone down to the docks to meet Lycias, a young Greek student who is arriving that morning from Athens. As he steps from the ship, Ammonius welcomes him with open arms.
AMMONIUS: “Greetings to thee, Lycias, my friend and future pupil! How glad I am to see thee! And how grateful for thy help! We will need all the strength we can procure for our future work, and thy clear eyes tell me that thou, at least, seest the seriousness of our undertaking!”
LYCIAS: “I do, Ammonius, and already thy city interests me. What a babel of tongues on these docks! And sailors from every land on earth!”
AMMONIUS: “Thou hast chosen an interesting place to make thy entry into our city, friend Lycias. Perhaps the Harbor of Happy Return, through which thy ship came to this, its place of anchor, may have an inner meaning. Perhaps thou, my friend, art one of the old workers in this cause, and thine entry into the city of Alexandria marks a Happy Return to work already started in other lives. Look well at these docks before we leave them. Here I worked as a corn-porter when I was but a lad. Now people call me Ammonius Saccas, or Ammonius the sack-carrier. These docks are in the Egyptian quarter of our city, that quarter which is known as Rhakotis. Come, let us hasten from this noisy place. There are many interesting things that I would show thee!”
And so Ammonius and Lycias cross the Egyptian quarter of the city, soon ascending the rocky hill to the south, upon which is built the great Serapion. It consists of a vast group of buildings centered around the great Temple of Serapis. The Egyptian architecture of the place interests the young Athenian, for it is quite different from the Greek style to which he is accustomed. It is a great fort-like place, gloomy and severe, which they approach by a long flight of steps, bordered with innumerable Sphinxes.
LYCIAS: “What a magnificent place, Ammonius! The Capitol at Athens does not surpass it in grandeur! May we enter the Temple?”
AMMONIUS: “We may. And as we go through, I will tell thee something of a countryman of thine, Apollonius of Tyana, who taught in this Temple a little over a hundred years ago. It was here that the Emperor Vespasian first met him. On the day that Vespasian arrived in Alexandria, the whole city came down to the docks to greet him. He looked in vain for a sight of Apollonius, but Damis informed him that Apollonius was busy teaching in the Temple. Vespasian, brushing aside those who had come to pay him honor, hastened to the Temple, and after a short conversation with Apollonius, made him his friend and counsellor.”
LYCIAS: “Has Apollonius’ work prospered in Egypt, Ammonius? I hear from Rome that Justin is trying to belittle it.”
AMMONIUS: “That is true. The Christians are making a sad mistake by claiming that their religion is unique, when all the world knows otherwise. Here in Alexandria, Basilides and Valentinus have been working for years trying to prove that Jesus’ teachings are but re-statements of the ancient doctrines. But, as thou knowest, their work is being undermined by Justin and Irenaeus, who seem to have forgotten that Jesus himself was a student of the ancient Gnostic doctrines and that his purpose, therefore, was to bring them to light again. Why do not the Christians realize that all religions have sprung from a common source? That is our work, friend Lycias, and we will need all the help that thou canst render!”
By this time the two friends have descended the hill of the Serapion and are walking along the great Street of Canopus. The young Greek is astonished at the cosmopolitan character of the city. He sees many of his own countrymen, haughty and supercilious in their manner. Roman magistrates and military men greet one another, and Roman legionaries are busily patrolling the streets. They see a few Persians in the crowd, and some golden-brown people from far-off India. They see black Ethiopians, and many sunbrowned Arabs and native Egyptians. A procession of nuns passes. These belong to the Temple of Ceres. “Keep your eyes on the ground!” the white-robed priestesses cry. They pass a group of Essenes, and stop for a moment to greet an elderly man whose calm, peaceful gaze rests quietly upon the young Greek.
LYCIAS: “There are so many Jews in thy city, Ammonius! One sees not so many in Rome and Athens together!”
AMMONIUS: “The Jews have always been welcome in Alexandria, my son. Thousands of them were invited to settle here by the first two Ptolemies. There is a great College of Rabbis in the City, and on the hills to the south there dwells a group of Esotericists, known as the Therapeutae. The man I just greeted belongs to that order.”
LYCIAS: “Dost thou expect any help from the Jews, Ammonius?”
AMMONIUS: “Indeed we do, friend Lycias. There are many Jews who have already helped pave the way for our work. Dost know what Aristobulus did? Over two hundred years ago he showed the relationship between the ethics of Aristotle and the Laws of Moses. Dost thou know that great book, The Wisdom of Solomon? Here another attempt was made to reconcile the philosophy of Plato with the Hebrew Scriptures. Surely thou knowest the work of Philo Judaeus, who sought to reconcile the Pentateuch with the Platonic and Pythagorean philosophy. And only last century Josephus, the friend of Vespasian, tried to prove that the Essenes of Carmel were identical with our own Therapeutae. The work done by these eminent Jews was and is important. But it is not enough. Our task is to prove the common source of all religions, and to do that we must go back, as Apollonius did, to the ancient East.”
LYCIAS: “Look yonder, Ammonius! Why are those men screaming in such a fashion?”
AMMONIUS: “That, my friend, is the Temple of Neptune, now used as the Corn-Exchange. Those men who are screaming so boisterously are the speculators. Perhaps the price of corn has gone up today!”
LYCIAS: “I see that Alexandria is not completely absorbed by philosophy, Ammonius!”
AMMONIUS: “By no means, friend Lycias. Alexandria is a pleasure-loving city, passionately fond of the theatre and the horse-races. Come, we are already at the eastern gate. Let us pass through, and I will show thee the Hippodrome and some of the gay restaurants of Eleusis.”
And so they pass through the gate into the sun-baked plain where rich and fashionable Alexandria seeks its pleasures. The air is filled with the sound of rollicking songs, bits of venomous gossip and frivolous talk.
AMMONIUS: “This is one side of Alexandria, friend Lycias. Hearest thou those silly songs? Every time a statesman comes to office, or a new Emperor ascends the throne, the young wags of the city give him a nickname and immortalize it in a popular song. Thou must have heard them even in Athens, for such things travel fast! But come, let us not waste our time here. It is not from this class of people that our School will draw its students. Let us go back into the Museum gardens, and I will tell thee the history of that famous place.”
Wending their way back through the Street of Canopus, the two friends finally reach the great square where the two broad avenues intersect. Taking the street leading to the right, they find themselves in the aristocratic quarter of the city. The young Athenian is amazed at the beauty of the Royal Palace, from which a broad flight of steps leads down to the clear azure waters below. The Palace gardens are colorful echoes of Greece, filled with the same daisies, poppies, iris and asphodel that bloom upon the hills around Athens. Overlooking the Harbor stands a magnificent series of buildings. There the Theatre, whose highest seats afford a view of the Island of Antirrhodos and the great galleys riding upon the blue waters in the shadow of the lighthouse of Pharos. In the center of the square are the tombs of the Ptolemies grouped around the Mausoleum of Alexander the Great. On the other side of the Street of Canopus is the Temple of Pan, and beyond that the Gymnasium with its long porticos. But the building which interests the young Greek most of all is the great Museum which had been, for hundreds of years, the cultural center of the world.
AMMONIUS: “Let us seat ourselves in the garden, Lycias, and I will tell thee something of the history of this place. The first Museum was commenced by Ptolemy the First and finished by his son Ptolemy Philadelphus. The first Ptolemy, like his half-brother Alexander the Great, had been a pupil of Aristotle, and was determined to continue the work begun by his master. He founded the Museum with three objects in view. First, he intended to collect the great literature of every country in the world for the Museum Library, which was called the Bruckion. Next, he determined to increase the store of existing knowledge through the efforts of Greek scholars. Finally, he resolved to diffuse that knowledge as widely as possible. His intention was to make Alexandria the most important cultural center in the world, and to draw to it all the foremost thinkers of the day.
“Orders were given to purchase at the King’s expense all the manuscripts that could be found in every land. Letters were sent to all the reigning sovereigns, begging for the original works of their poets, scientists, historians, logicians and philosophers, and every captain who entered the port of Alexandria was commissioned to bring them back. In this way Alexandria became the owner of some of the most ancient Greek manuscripts: the works of Homer, Hesiod, Plato and Pythagoras, of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. Aristotle’s own library was soon resting in the Bruckion. But Greece was not the only country called upon to feed the Museum. Many manuscripts were brought from India and Persia, and some rare Chaldean works found their way into the Bruckion. The second Ptolemy procured a copy of the Pentateuch, and the Greek translation of that work, known as the Septuagint, dates from that period.
“But the collecting of manuscripts was only part of Ptolemy’s work. He maintained an army of scholars at the Museum, whose time was spent in studying and translating these ancient texts into Greek. And in addition to these, the Museum supported a staff of lecturers, whose classes were filled with students from every part of the world.
“The Bruckion at one time contained so many scrolls that it became necessary to establish another Library in the Serapion which we visited today. In those days the Bruckion contained 400,000 volumes and the Serapion 300,000. But later the Bruckion itself housed at least 700,000 scrolls.”
LYCIAS: “May we enter the Library, Ammonius? I fain would see those ancient scrolls!”
AMMONIUS: “Alas, my friend, that thou canst not do. For the great Library of the Bruckion came to an end in the days of Cleopatra. When Caesar’s fleet was burning in the harbor, the Museum caught fire and the Bruckion was destroyed. But fortunately the priceless manuscripts were not entirely lost. For at that time the Bruckion was undergoing repairs, and one of the Librarians had taken a number of the most precious rolls to his own home, where they were safely stored away. Many of the other rolls were rescued by the Librarians, aided by a number of slaves, attached to the Museum. Fortunately one of the scribes in the Museum, a youth named Theodas, wrote out all the details of the rescue, and some day the scrolls may come to light again.”
LYCIAS: “Tell me something about the great Schools of Alexandria, Ammonius! Even Rome and Athens are jealous of their supremacy!”
AMMONIUS: “Thou wilt remember my telling thee that Ptolemy the First was a pupil of Aristotle. The first School was founded to carry on the Aristotelian tradition. In that School the inductive method was used, which starts with particulars and rises to universals. In that way it was directly opposed to the method used by Plato, who started with universals and descended into particulars. This first School was also famous as an institute of Science. It was there, under Ptolemy the First, that Euclid founded his famous mathematical School and wrote his monumental works on Geometry. It was there that Archimedes laid his foundation for hydrostatics, discovered the theory of the lever and invented the Archimedian screw for raising the water of the Nile. The old scientists of Alexandria had correct ideas concerning the sphericity of the earth, its poles, axis, equator, arctic and antarctic circles. Ptolemy himself was the author of a great mathematical work, Syntaxis. In that School Ctesibius invented a fire-engine and his pupil Hero a steam-engine. Water-clocks were used in the Serapion, and Julius Caesar called on one of our Alexandrian astronomers, Sosigenes, to help him formulate the Julian calendar. There were botanical and zoological gardens attached to the Museum, as well as a great chemical laboratory.”
LYCIAS: “Thou hast spoken of the ancient scientists knowing of the sphericity of the earth. Dost know that the Christians are now teaching that the earth is flat?”
AMMONIUS: “So I have heard. And I have just received news that Tertullian is at this very minute condemning all our old philosophers to the eternal fire of the Christian Hell. But I have not entirely given up hope among the Christians. At this very moment there is an extraordinary young man who is head of the Catechitical School here in Alexandria. He is deeply interested in the philosophy of Plato. His name is Clement of Alexandria. Ah! There he is at this very moment! Greetings, Clement! I was just speaking of thee to our young friend who has only this morning arrived from Athens!”
CLEMENT: “Greetings to thee, Athenian! Hast thou come to our city to sit at the feet of Ammonius? Methinks he has something of value to offer thee. I wish that I, like thee, could spend all my time with him. But alas, I am a Christian priest, and dare not go too far afield in my search for knowledge!”
AMMONIUS: “Ah, Clement, my friend, thou hast already jeopardized thy safety! Take care that thou art not excommunicated for thy philosophical leanings!”
CLEMENT: “The trouble with me, friend Ammonius, is that I can find no beginning to the long line of Teachers which even thou admittest exists. Every science and philosophy must have had its teachers, and each teacher in his turn must have had his teacher. Where did it all begin?”
AMMONIUS: “Thy trouble, Clement, is in trying to find two lines of teachers, one connected with Christianity and the other with the old philosophies. We Theosophists have no such difficulty. We know who the Masters of Wisdom were and are. Beware, Clement, before it is too late, and thou art lost both to Christianity and to us!”
“But come, Lycias, the sun is getting low. We cannot tarry longer.”
LYCIAS: “Thou hast spoken, Ammonius, of the philosophical and scientific Schools of thy great city. Has nothing been done along moral and ethical lines during the last four centuries?”
AMMONIUS: “Much. Thou knowest the School that Zeno founded in thine own city of Athens four hundred years ago. We have a School of Stoics in Alexandria at the present day. Their philosophy is a practical one, directed to the living of the every-day life. Their founder, Zeno, had many things in common with Aristotle, but the Stoics have definite statements concerning the three fundamental propositions which, as thou knowest, underlie all true systems of philosophy. They acknowledge the presence of an invisible Principle, or Divine Energy, which permeates Nature, and of which matter is but the passive agent. They do not acknowledge the idea of chance, but claim that everything is the effect of some unknown cause. They consider the soul of man as a spark of the vital principle which the ignorant call “God.” At death, they say, the soul is not annihilated, but is merely absorbed into its original essence. Therefore they do not fear death, and show complete indifference toward pleasure and pain. They are materialists, if thou likest, but their great men, like Seneca, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, gave out moral precepts which any man could follow with good results.”
LYCIAS: And out of these different Schools, Ammonius, what wilt thou draw for thine own?”
AMMONIUS: “We will extract the truth from all of them, and discard whatever is false. We will be known as Philalethians, or lovers of Truth, and for us there will be no religion higher than Truth. We will not confine our study to the philosophies of Greece alone, but will draw upon every race, every country, every period of history for their spiritual, intellectual and moral contributions. In studying the different philosophies, we will use the method of analogy and correspondence, and try to understand the meaning of every ancient symbol. Our work will not be a continuation of the Aristotelian system. It will be based upon the ideals of Plato, and will be a resuscitation of the work of Pot-Amun, the Egyptian Priest who lived under the early Ptolemies and who taught the outlines of the Secret Wisdom-Religion to the uninitiated. Our philosophy will be based upon this same Wisdom-Religion, and will be known as Theo-Sophia, the ‘wisdom of the Gods’.”
— THEOSOPHY, Vol. 25, No. 1, November, 1936, Pages 5-13
The influence of the great Alexandrian Schools had not helped the early Christians in their work of propaganda. While the Church of Rome held up the Jewish Bible as the sole authority upon every subject, the Gnostic Schools of Alexandria and Ephesus had turned out thousands of students who recognized the absurdity of such a claim. The scattered communities of orthodox Christendom, echoing the church in Rome, were teaching that the Jewish Scriptures were the only revelation of God, and therefore not to be compared with the Scriptures of other nations. But three prominent Jewish scholars had already proved the similarity between the Laws of Moses and the philosophies of Plato, Aristotle and Pythagoras. Christians claimed that Jesus was a unique character, while the entire pagan world knew that the legends surrounding Jesus’ life were identical with those of the pagan gods. Students of comparative religion recognized their similarity to the traditions of great spiritual Teachers who had preceded Jesus.
The Church now found herself in conflict not only with the religious ideas of her self-chosen adversaries, but with their scientific views as well. The orthodox Church Fathers declared that God made the world out of nothing. The Gnostic Fathers denied this unphilosophical assertion and held that the universe was the result of a gradual unfoldment from within without. Christianity asserted that the earth was flat, and against this theory was pitted that of Aristarchos of Samos, who had been a member of the Alexandrian School in 280 B.C., and had taught the sphericity of the earth as Pythagoras had taught it before him.
In the fourth century, Science and orthodox Christianity came to a deadlock, the bone of contention being the idea of the sphericity of the earth. Criticizing the ancient theory of the roundness of the earth, Lactantius, one of the most polished rhetoricians among the Christians, indignantly inquired:
“Is it possible that men can be so absurd as to believe that the crops and trees on the other side of the earth hang downward, and that men have their feet higher than their heads? If you ask them how they defend those monstrosities, how things do not fall away from the earth on that side, they reply that the nature of things is such that heavy bodies tend toward the center, like the spokes of a wheel, while light bodies tend from the center to the heavens on all sides. Now I am really at a loss what to say of those, who, when they have once gone wrong, steadily persevere in their folly and defend one absurd opinion by another.”
But this statement, although written by a prominent member of their own faith, was objected to by the Christians themselves. When had they ever claimed that there were people on the other side of the earth? The Bible stated that the only persons who survived the Flood were the three sons of Noah, and their work was clearly described. Shem had re-populated Asia, Ham had done the same thing for Africa, and Japhet was the ancestor of the European peoples. Therefore, to quote St. Augustine: “It is impossible that there should be inhabitants on the other side of the earth, since no such race is recorded in the Scriptures among the descendants of Adam.”
As if that were not enough of an argument to convince any thinking man, St. Augustine offered another which was certainly irrefutable! It would be impossible, he said, for men to be on the other side of the earth, for in that case “in the Day of Judgement, men on the other side of the earth would not be able to see the Lord descending through the air.”
By the sixth century, the flatness of the earth had been definitely established by the Christian Church. In his great work, Christian Topography, Cosmos Indicopleustes describes the earth as a quadrangular plane, extending four hundred day’s journey east and west and exactly half as much north and south. This quadrangular plane he said to be enclosed by mountains, upon which the sky rests. As the mountain on the north is larger than the others, it intercepts the sun’s rays and produces night. The plane of the earth is not exactly horizontal, but inclines slightly from the north. Therefore rivers like the Tigris and Euphrates, which run southward, have a rapid motion, while the Nile, which runs northward, naturally moves more slowly.
In addition to the pagan and idolatrous religions of the “heathen” and their absurd scientific views concerning the sphericity of the earth, there were the teachings of the great pagan philosophers which had to be refuted also if the Christian Church were to become the ruling force of the day. The orthodox Fathers devoted all their time and energy to this task. But in spite of their best efforts, the Pagans laughed quietly at Christian ignorance. The Church was in a quandary. How could she continue to refute the pagan doctrines unless she understood the theories she was trying to combat?
In self-defence, the Church decided to adopt new tactics. She would establish a School of her own in Alexandria, the city of Schools. This School would serve two purposes: first, it would enable her to introduce Christianity into this hotbed of heresy; second, it would give the Church Fathers an opportunity to study the pagan doctrines, and thus give a greater appearance of authority to their Refutations. As the Reverend Father Stebbing points out, this School
. . . aimed at using philosophy, especially the speculations of Plato, to serve the cause of the Church, and to answer the objections of pagan philosophers on their own grounds, demonstrating that true philosophy led the way to Christianity and not to Paganism.
Early in the second century, then, a Christian School was established in Alexandria. At first it was a school for children only, located almost at the doors of the Old Museum, from which the majority of Christians, owing to their ignorance of science, art, and philosophy, had hitherto been debarred. Out of this grew the famous Catechitical School. Its first director was Pantænus, a converted Stoic, who was deposed and sent to India as a missionary in the year 191. He was followed by Clement of Alexandria, whose study of Greek and Egyptian philosophy had convinced him that truth could be found even in the heathen systems. But Clement’s eclecticism met with no enthusiasm from his superiors, and in the year 203 he was deposed and replaced by his pupil Origen, who was only eighteen years old at the time.
Origen’s work for Christianity commenced with a deep and profound study of the Hebrew Scriptures. Dissatisfied with the translations which were then extant, Origen determined to make his own translation. He brought out what is known as the Hexapala, or six-fold edition of the Old Testament, in which he set forth, in parallel columns, the various versions of the Scriptures, including his own. In addition to this, he brought out three Greek versions of the Psalms. Some notion of the magnitude of Origen’s work (which occupied twenty-eight years of his life) is gained by an examination of some recently discovered manuscripts. One may be found in the Abrosian Library in Milan, and another in the collection of palimpsests discovered in Cairo.
Origen’s knowledge of the Jewish Scriptures convinced him that the orthodox Church was making a fatal mistake by denying the authenticity of certain documents. He openly rebuked the Church for rejecting the Book of Enoch, which contained the history of the early races of mankind and completely destroyed the Jewish chronology. He also called attention to the esoteric doctrines of Moses which the Church had failed to notice. He discovered that Moses, in addition to the teachings of the Covenant, had communicated some very important secrets to the seventy elders, enjoining them to disclose these facts only to the worthy.
Origen’s fearless attitude toward the accepted Scriptures of the Christians, as well as his openly-professed interest in Neoplatonism, aroused the wrath of the Patriarch of Alexandria. Origen was banished from the city in the year 232. But his thirty years of study had convinced him of the truth of Neoplatonism, and in the School which he subsequently founded in Caesarea, Origen openly taught the doctrines that he had learned from Ammonius Saccas.
Ammonius, who later became the teacher of both Clement and Origen, received his early education in the children’s school which preceded the Catechitical School. He was born in Alexandria about the middle of the second century. His parents were very poor, and the boy was obliged to add his share to the family earnings by working as a porter on the docks located in the Egyptian, or Rhakotis portion of the city. There he saw ships from far-off lands, heard queer dialects and met many strange people. Perhaps he gained his first acquaintance with the philosophies of the East from some Hindu sailor. The Song of Krishna is always on the lips of the son of Hindustan.
The parents of Ammonius were devout Christians, and Ammonius was sent to the Christian School, where he learned about the Christian Christ. He must have heard that Krishna, too, had been immaculately conceived, was persecuted by a wicked King, and had finally died upon a cross. Why were the stories of the two Christs so similar? Could it be possible that both were legends? If that was the case, there must be other legends of Christs in other lands. The priest told him there was only one Christ. All the others were impostors. The priest told him to believe, but he wanted to know. So he left the Christian School, and started out upon his journey of honest investigation.
When he grew older he attended some of the lectures in the pagan schools and eventually became acquainted with the basic ideas underlying all the great philosophies. He pondered over the profound statements that he heard, and often in the night their meaning, it is said, was revealed to him in dreams and visions. In the course of time people began to speak of him as theodidaktos, the “god-taught.” But Ammonius was a modest man, and called himself merely a Philalethian, or lover of truth. He started the Neoplatonic School in Alexandria in the year 193 A.D.
The objects which Ammonius Saccas had in view were the same as those of H. P. Blavatsky in founding the Theosophical Society in 1875. The first of these objects was to form the nucleus of a Universal Brotherhood without distinctions of any kind. Ammonius knew that Brotherhood means unity on every plane. He saw that without this idea of unity the entire manifested universe would be an expression of chaos. With unity as a basis, it would appear as an expression of law and order.
The second century of the Christian era was marked by tolerance, but not by unity. The ancient Wisdom-Religion, which is the only true basis of unity, was now forgotten. The Schools of the Mysteries were gradually dying, and with them the knowledge of the Wisdom-Religion. The various Schools of the Gnosis were presenting different aspects of the Wisdom-Religion, but their underlying unity was still unperceived, in spite of Valentinus’ efforts to disclose it. Ammonius recognized that religious tolerance was not enough. For even tolerance, without a philosophical basis, soon sinks into apathy. He saw that the only way to establish the brotherhood of religions was to show the identical source from which all of them had sprung; and from that point to explain the diversities. He began by postulating the existence of the ancient Wisdom-Religion, and showed how all religions sprang from that, as the branches of a tree from a common trunk.
Using that One Source as a basis of comparison, Ammonius proved the essential identity of all religions by making his students acquainted with all the different systems of thought. In his School the Vedantic, Zoroastrian and Buddhist systems were studied side by side with the philosophies of Greece. The doctrines of Plato and Pythagoras were compared with the philosophies of the ancient East, the teachings of the Jewish Kabala with those of the ancient Egyptians. This comparative study of the religions and philosophies of all nations accomplished the second of Ammonius’ objects, and gave to his School the name of Eclectic.
The third object that Ammonius had in view was to make the study of philosophy a living power in the lives of his students. In order to accomplish this he consistently used the method of correspondence and analogy, demonstrating to his students that the myths and legends found in the different systems were but symbolical representations of the experiences through which every soul must pass. Therefore the members of his School were known as Analogeticists.
The School of Ammonius Saccas was divided into two sections: exoteric and esoteric. This was merely the continuation of an ancient custom, for all the religious and philosophical schools of the past were divided in the same manner. The Mysteries of every nation consisted of the “lesser” and the “greater.” The “lesser” mysteries were given to the public and consisted mainly in ethical teachings. The “greater” mysteries were reserved for the few. All of the great Adepts of olden times gave out their secret teachings only to those who had pledged themselves to silence. Even the Jews had their Mercavah, or outer vehicle, which concealed their highest knowledge. Northern Buddhism has its “greater” and “lesser” vehicle, known as the Mahayana, or esoteric, and Hinayana, or exoteric School. Pythagoras called his Gnosis “the knowledge of things that are”, and revealed it only to his pledged disciples. Jesus spoke to the multitudes in parables and kept his secret teachings for the few. Therefore Ammonius, in dividing his own School into two sections, was following the lines of his predecessors.
The Alexandrian Theosophists were divided into three classes: neophytes, initiates and masters. Their Rules were copied from those which had been used in the ancient Mysteries of Orpheus, who, according to Herodotus, had brought them from India. These Rules had come down to the Neoplatonists as their natural inheritance: “What Orpheus delivered in hidden allegories, Pythagoras learned when he was initiated into the Orphic Mysteries, and Plato next received a perfect knowledge of them from Orphic and Pythagorean writings.” (Neoplatonism and Alchemy, Alexander Wilder.)
The Rules of Orpheus have again descended as a natural inheritance to the Theosophists of the present day. For Orpheus is no other than Arjuna, the disciple of Krishna who went around the world teaching the ancient Wisdom-Religion and establishing the Mysteries. Every time the modern Theosophist reads the Bhagavad-Gita he is acquainting himself with the ancient Orphic discipline. The system of Orpheus is one of the strictest morality, and the Orphic concept of duty one of the noblest known to mankind. The philosophical ideas of Orpheus are known to every student of The Secret Doctrine. In the Orphic system, the divine Essence is inseparable from whatever is in the manifested universe, all forms being concealed from all eternity in it. At determined periods these forms are manifested through the process known as Emanation. All things having proceeded from this divine Essence, all things must of necessity return to it. Innumerable transmigrations or reincarnations and purifications are needed before this final consummation can take place.
The philosophical system of Orpheus was revived in Egypt by Ammonius Saccas. The central idea of the Eclectic Theosophy was that of a single Supreme Essence, Unknown and Unknowable. The system was characterized by three distinct features: first, the theory of this Supreme Essence; second, the doctrine of the human soul, called an emanation of the Supreme Essence and therefore considered to be of the same nature; third, Theurgy, the art of using the divine powers of man to rule the blind forces of nature.
The aim and purpose of Ammonius was to reconcile all sects, peoples and nations under one common faith — a belief in one Supreme Eternal Unknown and Unnamed Power which governs the universe by immutable and eternal laws. His object was to prove a primitive system of Theosophy, which in the beginning was known alike in all countries; to induce men to lay aside their quarrels and strifes and unite in purpose and thought as the children of one common mother; to purify the ancient religions, now corrupted and obscured, from all dross of human element by expounding their philosophical principles. His chief object was to extract from the various religious teachings, as from a many-stringed instrument, one full and harmonious chord which would find response in every truth-loving heart.
Ammonius Saccas, like many other of the great sages, left nothing in writing. The records of his teachings have come down to us through the works of Plotinus, Porphyry and Iamblicus. In relation to the school founded by Ammonius Saccas, Alexander Wilder writes:
Their doctrines were adopted by pagans and Christians in Asia and Europe, and for a season everything seemed favorable for a general fusion of religious belief. The Emperors Alexander Severus and Julian embraced them. Their predominating influence upon religious ideas excited the jealousy of the Christians in Alexandria. The School was removed to Athens, and finally closed by the Emperor Justinian — The Eclectic Philosophy.
— THEOSOPHY, Vol. 25, No. 2, December, 1936, Pages 53-59
Ammonius Saccas, like many other great Teachers, never committed anything to writing. Following the custom of the ancient Hierophants, he transmitted his teachings orally, and bound his pupils by an oath not to divulge his most profound doctrines except to those who could be trusted not to disclose or misuse them. After the death of Ammonius, the work of recording the Neoplatonic teachings was taken up by his pupil Plotinus, and it is to him that we owe most of our knowledge of that system.
Plotinus was an Egyptian by birth, and a native of Lycopolis. The Keynote of Plotinus’ whole nature is summed up in the word impersonality. He was so resolved to keep his personality in the background that he refused to tell the place of his birth or the names of his parents. When he was asked to have his portrait painted he replied:
“Is it not enough to have to carry around this image? Must I transmit the image of this image as worthy of attention?”
Nothing is known of the early years of Plotinus’ life. We meet him for the first time in Alexandria when he was twenty-eight years old. At that time he was devoting himself to the study of philosophy, and was seeking among the different schools for a system which would satisfy him. Having failed in his search, he met a friend one day and told him of his predicament. His friend advised him to visit the school of Ammonius Saccas. As soon as Plotinus heard Ammonius speak he cried: “This is the man I have been seeking!” And from that day on he attended Ammonius’ classes, remaining with him for eleven years.
At the end of that time Plotinus determined to visit Persia and India so that he could study the Eastern philosophies at first hand. At the age of thirty-nine he joined the army of the Emperor Gordian and went with him to the Far East. After the destruction of Gordian’s army Plotinus returned to Antioch and finally went to Rome during the reign of the Emperor Philip. (A.D. 244-249.)
There he founded a school of philosophy which soon attracted many of the most brilliant minds of the day. He began to write when he was fifty years old and during the following ten years wrote twenty-one books which were circulated among his friends and pupils. When he was fifty-nine years old he met Porphyry, who was then a young man of thirty. Before his death, which occurred in his sixty-sixth year, Plotinus had written fifty-four books dealing with physics, ethics, psychology and philosophy. Plotinus was thoroughly conversant with the doctrines of the Stoics and Peripatetics, and found it useful to employ these familiar ideas in his writings. There was no geometrical, arithmetical, mechanical, optical or musical theorem with which he was not acquainted, although he does not seem to have applied these sciences to “practical” purposes.
After the death of Plotinus, his pupil Porphyry took the fifty-four books that he had written and divided them into the six Enneads, the present form of his works. As it is impossible here to discuss the Enneads in detail, the student who desires to go more deeply into the subject is referred to the original edition of the Works of Plotinus, translated from the Greek by Thomas Taylor and published in London in 1794 and 1817, and also to a later translation by Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie. The words spoken by Plotinus in the following dialogue are direct quotations from these works.
Let us go back in imagination to the year A.D. 260, when Porphyry first met Plotinus. Amelius, a pupil of Plotinus, has offered to take Porphyry to the home of his Teacher. On a warm afternoon in the late spring, as the two friends approach the house of Plotinus, they hear the happy sound of children’s voices.
PORPHYRY: “Is thy Teacher a married man, Amelius, or does he conduct a school for children?”
AMELIUS: “Neither, friend Porphyry. But Plotinus is a great lover of children and is always surrounded by them. So great is the admiration for Plotinus here in Rome that many wealthy families commit their children to his care. And so his house is always filled with children whom he educates with the greatest care and diligence.”
The two friends enter Plotinus’ house by means of a long narrow vestibule. On either side of the hall they see the bed-chambers and the room of the porter. In the center of the passage is a square shallow reservoir for rain water which pours from a hole in the roof. Passing through the vestibule they come into the atrium, a larger hall where visitors are received. In the corner they perceive a large wooden chest, ornamented and strengthened by strong bands of bronze and secured firmly to a stone pedestal, which is the money-box of the master of the house. The walls of the atrium are adorned with paintings, the colors of which are repeated in the mosaic floors. Passing through the atrium, the two friends find themselves in the peristyle. From the columns which surround it hang long festoons of garlands. In the center is the garden, where white marble vases holding rare flowers stand upon pedestals.
Plotinus rises from his seat as the two young men approach, sends away the small boy with whom he has been conversing and bids one of his servants bring some refreshment for his guests. In a moment they are regaled with delicious fresh figs served upon their own leaves, a delicious concoction of anchovies and eggs, and small cups of honey diluted and cooled with snow water. When they have finished their light repast a servant brings a silver basin of perfumed water and delicate linen napkins bordered with purple.
Porphyry is eager to begin his conversation with Plotinus. He knows that Plotinus is a Neoplatonist, and therefore realizes that he must start his inquiries with universal concepts. He seats himself before Plotinus.
PORPHYRY: “Amelius has told me, Plotinus, that I must gain my knowledge of philosophy through the understanding of universal principles. Therefore I ask thee: What is it that lies behind all manifested, conditioned existence? What is its nature? How can it be described?”
PLOTINUS: “Above all things there must be something which is simple. For if it be not completely simple, and be not really ONE, it cannot be Principle. The Principle of everything must therefore be the One and only.”
PORPHYRY: “But the manifested universe is multiple and complex! Dost mean to tell me that the complex springs from the simple?”
PLOTINUS: “It is not possible for the Many to exist unless the One exists from which, or in which, they subsist; or, in short, unless there is a One which is prior to other things. The One is the First Principle of things.”
PORPHYRY: “How, great Teacher, can the One be described? It seemeth to me that the One must transcend the power of human conception and could only be dwarfed by human expression or similitude!”
PLOTINUS: “How, indeed, can we speak of IT? We are indeed able to say something of It, but we cannot describe It. Nor have we any knowledge or intellectual perception of It. For we can say what It is not, but we cannot say what It is. We are not, however, prevented from possessing It, though we cannot say what It is.”
PORPHYRY: “Could we speak of the One as Being?”
PLOTINUS: “The One is not Being, but Being is the progeny of It, and, as it were, the first-born. For It is prior to any particular thing. Hence It is really ineffable. Properly speaking, there is no name for It, because nothing can be asserted of It.”
PORPHYRY: “Ah, I see! It is rather Be-ness than Be-ing. Has It then no relation to manifested, finite Being?”
PLOTINUS: “The One is all things, and yet no one of all. The One is all, because all things co-exist in It. But in It, they are not yet, but only will be.”
PORPHYRY: “I understand. The One really represents a condition of potentiality! What, then, is its relation to Life itself?”
PLOTINUS: “It subsists above Life, and is the Cause of Life, since the energy of Life is not the First, but emanates from this Principle as from an ineffable fountain.”
PORPHYRY: “Must I then conclude that this Principle, being above all, is not to be perceived in the manifested universe? Where is the One?”
PLOTINUS: “The One is everywhere. There is no space where It is not. Therefore It fills everything. It is by the One that everything exists. The One fills everything, and produces everything, without being that which It produces.”
PORPHYRY: “But, Plotinus, thou knowest as well as I that the whole manifested universe is characterized by motion! Is Motion the One? Or is the potentiality of Motion a condition of rest? What is the relation of the One to rest and motion?”
PLOTINUS: “The One is superior to both rest and motion. It is the potentiality of both rest and motion, and consequently it is superior to both.”
PORPHYRY: “Another thought occurs to me, great Teacher. The universe manifests intelligence. Can that which thou describest as the One be Intelligence itself? In other words, does the One think?”
PLOTINUS: “The One does not think, because it comprises both the thinker and the thought. The One is not Intelligence, but is superior to Intelligence. As it is superior to Intelligence, that which emanates must of necessity be intelligence.”
PORPHYRY: “This Principle which underlies thy philosophy is indeed profound. I clearly see that the One transcends the power of human conception. Wilt thou not bring me down into regions which can be comprehended by my finite mind? What follows this condition of potentiality? How does the manifested universe come into existence?”
PLOTINUS: “Everything that exists after the One is derived from the One. But this second stage is no longer the ONE, but the multiple One. We see that all things that reach perfection cannot remain in an unmanifest condition, but must produce themselves in manifestation. This is seen throughout the whole of nature. Not only do beings capable of choice, but even those lacking in soul perception have a tendency to impart to other beings what is in them. As, for instance, fire emits heat; snow emits cold. Therefore all things in nature seek to reach immortality by the manifestation of their qualities. The One manifests Itself. That which is manifested also manifests itself in its own way.”
PORPHYRY: “Ah, I see! Thou teachest the Doctrine of Emanations as the Gnostics do! But thou forgettest, Plotinus, that manifested things are made of matter. How can matter manifest itself?”
PLOTINUS: “Matter is not dead. Matter is not devoid of life or intelligence. One cannot exist without the other. Reciprocally, intelligible entities do not exist without the matter that makes them. Form and matter are principles that are necessary to the constitution of all things.”
PORPHYRY: “I See, Plotinus. Thy theory is that Spirit, or Consciousness, and Matter are not to be regarded as independent realities, but as the two facets, or aspects, of the One, which constitute the basis of conditioned being, whether subjective or objective. But what about man? Is there something in man that corresponds to the One?”
PLOTINUS: “There must be another nature, different from the body, which possesses existence from itself. It is necessary that there should be a certain nature primarily vital, which is also necessarily indestructible and immortal, as being the Principle of Life to other things. It is necessary that there should be something which is the supplier of life, the supplier being external to, and beyond corporeal nature.”
PORPHYRY: “Is that what men call the Soul? If so, what is the relation of the Soul to the One?”
PLOTINUS: “Soul is One, and in a certain respect the ONE. The soul which has more alliance with the One participates more abundantly in It.”
PORPHYRY: “What is the nature of the Soul?”
PLOTINUS: “The Soul is not corporeal, as the Stoics taught. No aggregation of atoms could produce the Soul. The Soul is an incorporeal and immortal essence. The Soul imparts movement to everything else. She imparts life to the body. She alone possesses real life.”
PORPHYRY: “What in thy opinion, is the relation of all Souls with the Universal World-Soul?”
PLOTINUS: “The Universe lies in the Soul that sustains it, and no part is destitute of Soul, being moistened with life like a net in water. If all souls be one in the Universal World-Soul, why should they not together form One? If both my soul and your soul proceed from the Universal World-Soul, then all Souls form but a single One.”
PORPHYRY: “How then, Plotinus, wouldst thou define man? Is he fundamentally a Soul or does he only possess a Soul?”
PLOTINUS: “Man is a Soul. He has a body. The nature and essence of these must be divided. Since the body is a composite, reason shows that it cannot remain perpetually the same. Sense likewise shows that it is dissolved at death and receives various destructions, since each of the things inherent in it tends to its own, or to the whole from which it was derived. Soul is separable from the body. Nor yet is the soul in the body, as part of the whole. For soul is not a part of the body.”
PORPHYRY: “But is the body not a part of us, Plotinus?”
PLOTINUS: “If the body is a part of us, we are not wholly immortal. But when we see correctly, we see that the body is only the instrument of the soul, and that the soul is the man himself.”
PORPHYRY: “But, Plotinus, even though the body is only the instrument of the soul, it is an important one. We could not function without it!”
PLOTINUS: “We are not the body, but we are not entirely separated from it. It is associated with us. It depends upon us. Therefore its sufferings and pleasures are not indifferent to us. The weaker we are, the more we occupy ourselves with it. In it is plunged a part of ourselves, which constitutes the essential personality.”
PORPHYRY: “Why then, Plotinus,do men speak of the soul as if it were the body?”
PLOTINUS: “The soul is said to be in the body because the body alone is visible. But if we could see the soul, and if we could see that she surrounds the body by the life she possesses, we would say that the soul is in no way in the body, but that on the contrary the body is the contained within the container, that which flows within the immovable.”
PORPHYRY: “Wouldst thou give an illustration, Plotinus, so that the matter will be clearer to my comprehension?”
PLOTINUS: “The soul is said to be in the body as a pilot in a ship. If it were there as a passenger, it would be there only by accident. But even this is not enough. For the pilot is not present in the whole of the ship, but only in a part of it at one time, while the soul is always present everywhere. A better illustration is that the soul is present in the body as light is present in air. Light is present in air without mingling with it. When the air, within which the light radiates, withdraws its light, the air keeps none of the light. But it is illuminated as long as the air remains subject to the light.”
PORPHYRY: “I thank thee, Plotinus, for thy illustrations. But there is another question I would like to ask thee. Thou saidst a few moments ago that a part of ourselves is plunged in the body. Must I understand that the whole soul is not present in the body?”
PLOTINUS: “The soul never enters completely into the body. By her higher part, she ever remains united to the intelligible world, as by her lower part she remains united to the sense world. The higher part of the soul is insensible to the attraction of these transitory pleasures and leads an undisturbed life. Every soul has a lower part turned toward the body, and a higher part turned toward the divine intelligence.”
PORPHYRY: “Ah, I see! The nature of the soul becomes dual as soon as it is attached to a body! That would necessarily give it a double action!”
PLOTINUS: “Exactly! The soul has a double action in her double relation to what is above and what is below. By her first action, she manages the body, and by her second action she contemplates the intelligible entities.”
PORPHYRY: “I understand. The soul is therefore an active entity. What are some of her activities?”
PLOTINUS: “The soul is a real being, with characteristic nature and activities. Among these is memory, whose exercise is only hindered by the body. When the soul unites with the body, she forgets. When she separates herself from the body, she remembers. The body is therefore only the stream of Lethe, or forgetfulness. To the soul alone belongs memory.”
PORPHYRY: “Thou hast said that the soul is the man himself. How can we arrive at this conclusion?”
PLOTINUS: “Consider the soul by taking away that which is extraneous. Or rather, let him who takes this away survey himself, and he will see himself as immortal when he beholds himself in the intelligible world, and situated in a pure abode. For he will perceive himself as intellect surveying not anything sensible, but an eternal power contemplating that which is eternal.”
PORPHYRY: “How then does the soul acquire a body? Is there a Law which causes her to incarnate in a body of flesh?”
PLOTINUS: “What is called inevitable necessity and divine justice consists in the sway of nature which causes each soul to proceed in an orderly manner into the bodily image which has become the object of her affection. Consequently the soul approaches the object toward which her interior disposition bears her. Thus she is led and introduced where she is to go. At a fixed moment she descends, as it were, spontaneously, where she ought to enter. Each soul has her own hour. When this hour arrives, the soul descends as if a herald had called her. Thus individuals come here below by virtue of the common law to which they are subjected.”
PORPHYRY: “Ah, Plotinus, it seems that thou teachest of a power outside of man! The Law of which thou speakest, where is it? From whom is it derived?”
PLOTINUS: “Each one bears within himself this common Law, a Law which does not derive its power from outside, but which depends upon the nature of those who are subject to it, because it is innate in them.”
PORPHYRY: “What purpose, then, has the soul in incarnating?”
PLOTINUS: “The soul descends for the purpose of developing her own powers, and to adorn what is below her. Souls alternately changing their bodies pass to other forms, just as in the scenes of a play, where one of the actors apparently dies, but shortly after changes his dress, and, assuming the appearance of another person, returns to the scene.”
PORPHYRY: “What then, Plotinus, is death?”
PLOTINUS: “To die is only to change body, no otherwise than shifting a garment. Nevertheless he who departs will hereafter return to the play.”
PORPHYRY: “Give me another illustration of death, Plotinus! It is a subject that long has puzzled me!”
PLOTINUS: “Life is a partnership of soul and body; death its dissolution. In either life or death, the soul will feel herself at home.”
PORPHYRY: “In what state of consciousness is the soul after death?”
PLOTINUS: “There are two states after death. In the first, the soul which is attracted by body will recollect everything that the man did or suffered during the present life. In the course of time, however, the recollection of other things from former lives will arise. For the soul becoming in a greater degree purified from the body, she will recollect those things, the remembrance of which she had lost in the present life. A forgetfulness of such worldly pursuits is necessary. Hence he who says that the worthy soul is oblivious will speak rightly. For the soul will fly from the many and will collect multitude into one. Thus it will not associate with multitude, but, expelling it, will live by itself. ”
PORPHYRY: “And when the soul returns to earth-life, Plotinus, what happens then?”
PLOTINUS: “It meets the consequences of its former deeds. Those who, in a former life, were slave owners, if they abused their powers, will be enslaved. It is not by chance that a man becomes a slave, is made prisoner, or is dishonored. He must himself have committed the violence which he in turn undergoes. If you desire to discover the exercise of distributive justice, it is not sufficient to examine the present only; the past and future must also be considered. The orderly system here mentioned is really inescapable, truly a justice and an admirable wisdom. The order which reigns in the universe is eternal. It penetrates everywhere, even in the smallest thing.”
PORPHYRY: “Thou hast shown me, Plotinus, that man is the maker and fashioner of his own destiny, the only one who sets in motion the causes of his own happiness and misery. But how does that Law which is inherent in man determine the quantity and quality of the punishment the man has to suffer?”
PLOTINUS: “The Divine Law is inevitable, containing at once in itself the power of accomplishing what it has now judged to be fit. In the Law it is promulgated how much and how long it is necessary to suffer. The punishments which overtake the evil one must therefore be derived from that Order which rules all things with propriety. The unjust evils, accidents and misery which seem to overwhelm the good may all be said to be the consequences of anterior faults. This universal Order must not be accused of being unjust, but we should insist that distributive justice exercises itself with perfect propriety. If certain things seem worthy of blame, it is because they are due to secret causes which escape our knowledge.”
PORPHYRY: “Distributive Justice! I shall remember those words, Plotinus! They will clear up many points which have sorely puzzled me. But, Plotinus, do all men suffer the effects of distributive justice in the same manner?”
PLOTINUS: “There are three types of men. Since all men from their birth employ sense prior to reason, some, proceeding no further, pass through life considering these as the first and last of things. But others are in a small degree elevated from things subordinate, the more excellent parts of their soul recalling them from pleasure to a more worthy pursuit. In the third class is the race of Divine Men, who, through a more excellent power, and with piercing eyes, perceive supernal light.”
Plotinus died at the age of sixty-six. At the moment of his death a Dragon, or Serpent, is said to have glided through a hole in the wall and disappeared — a fact highly suggestive to the student of symbolism. In later years Porphyry, his devoted pupil, summed up Plotinus’ life in these words:
He left the orb of light solely for the benefit of mankind. He came as a guide to the few who are born with a divine destiny and are struggling to gain the lost region of light, but know not how to break the fetters by which they are detained; who are impatient to leave the obscure cavern of sense, where all is delusion and shadow, and to ascend to the realms of intellect, where all is substance and reality.
— THEOSOPHY, Vol. 25, No. 3, January, 1937, Pages 101-110
Iamblichus: The Egyptian Mysteries
Iamblichus: The Egyptian Mysteries
Neoplatonism, like modern Theosophy, may be considered under three aspects: (1) philosophical and scientific; (2) practical and ethical; and (3) mystical and occult. In modern times these three aspects are discussed and elaborated in full detail by one writer, H. P. Blavatsky. But in the third century there were three outstanding Neoplatonists, each of whom specialized in a particular aspect of the Theosophical teachings of those days. The philosophical and scientific aspects of Neoplatonism were first recorded by Plotinus, whose Enneads may in a way be compared with The Secret Doctrine. The practical and ethical teachings were stressed by Porphyry, whose writings were similar in character to The Key to Theosophy, while the mystical and occult side of Neoplatonism found its most complete expression in the works of Iamblichus. His two works, The Egyptian Mysteries and On Daemons, present many of the problems discussed by H.P.B. in Isis Unveiled, in The Voice of the Silence, and in her numerous articles dealing with Occultism and Magic.
Porphyry was a native of Tyre, and was born around the year 230. His real name was Melek (a king). This name was rendered by Longinus into Porphyrius (the royal purple), as its proper equivalent, and so he has come down through history under the name of Porphyry. While there is no doubt that Porphyry had Jewish blood in his veins, it is apparent that he never followed the Hebrew doctrines, but was thoroughly Hellenized and a true “pagan.”
Plotinus and Porphyry were not only great philosophers, but great occultists as well. Both of them studied the pure Indian system of Raja-Yoga, which leads to the eventual union of the Soul with the Over-Soul. This union, known as Samadhi, is the highest degree of Yoga. It is a state of abstract contemplation, a spiritual condition in which the individual becomes the ALL. In The Voice of the Silence the condition is thus described:
Where is thy individuality, Lanoo, where the Lanoo himself? It is the spark lost in the fire, the drop within the ocean, the ever-present ray become the All and the eternal radiance.
Plotinus reached this condition several times during his life; but Porphyry was unable to attain the state of ecstasy until he was sixty years old. He devoted his life to the consideration of the practical applications of philosophy and considered a teaching to be of little value unless it were made a living power in the life of the individual. For this reason Porphyry, of all the Neoplatonists, approached nearest to the practical Occultism of H. P. Blavatsky and W. Q. Judge.
Iamblichus, the third member of this great Neoplatonic triad, was born in Chalsis, in Coele-Syria, at about the middle of the third century. From the fragments of his life which have been collected by impartial historians, we find that he was a man of great culture and learning, and renowned for his charity and self-denial. His mind was deeply impregnated with Pythagorean doctrines, and in his famous biography of Pythagoras he has set forth the philosophical, ethical and scientific teachings of the Sage of Samos in full detail. He was also a profound student of the Egyptian Mysteries and expressed his determination to make public what hitherto had been taught only in the Mystery Schools under the greatest secrecy.
To accomplish this purpose Iamblichus founded a School of Theurgic Magic among the Neoplatonists. At first this School was distinct from those established by Plotinus and Porphyry, both of whom considered the knowledge of practical Theurgy as dangerous to the majority of men. But in the passage of time Porphyry came to adopt Iamblichus’ point of view and gave him both encouragement and support.
If we would understand the true purpose of Iamblichus’ School, we must first learn the real meaning of the word Magic, as it was understood by the ancients. Magic was for them true science, the sacred Science, indissolubly connected with Religion. In defining this Science, Plato said: “Magic consists of, and is acquired by the worship of the gods.” But when Plato spoke of “the gods,” he referred simply to the occult powers and potencies of Nature.
As all the powers and potencies of Nature subsist in a common Root, the ancient scientists knew that there were natural sympathies and attractions among all parts of Nature. As the Supreme Power in which they subsist is dual in its manifestations, they knew that there were natural antipathies as well as natural sympathies. From this knowledge they formulated the Science of Magic. As related by Proclus:
Ancient priests, when they considered that there is a certain alliance and sympathy in natural things to each other, and of things manifest to occult powers, and discovered that all things subsist in all, fabricated a Sacred Science from this mutual sympathy and similarity.
The Science of Magic includes a knowledge of the entire constitution of Nature and man. Both are triune. Both have their visible, physical side; their invisible, indwelling, energizing aspect; and above these Spirit, alone eternal and indestructible.
The Science of Magic also includes a knowledge of the means by which a man can gain control over Nature’s forces, and unite himself with the Self of all. When one studies the Science of Magic with the idea of helping Nature and working with her, then, as said in the Voice, Nature regards him as one of her creators and makes obeisance. She opens wide before him the portals of her secret chambers, lays bare before his eyes the treasures hidden in the very depths of her pure virgin bosom. She makes of him a Magician, in the truest sense of the word.
But, as “light and darkness are the world’s eternal ways,” the Art of Magic falls into two distinct divisions. When the adept uses his knowledge beneficently, with no other thought than to benefit Nature and man, the result is White Magic, or Theurgy. But when he applies his knowledge with a selfish or evil motive, it is Black Magic, or Goetia.
Iamblichus, instigated by a pure motive, taught White Magic. He had two objects in view: He wanted to uncover the invisible side of Nature, to warn men of the perils that lurk in the shadows of this “Hall of Learning,” and to show how the dangers there may be avoided. His second object was to give men who had not been initiated into the Mysteries the means by which they could effect the union of the divine spark in themselves with its parent-flame, the Divine All.
Porphyry’s objection to the revelations of Iamblichus was not based upon his ignorance of the invisible side of nature, nor upon his disagreement as to man’s power to unite himself with the Universal Self. It was rather that Porphyry was fully aware of the bad effects which might accrue to those who attempted to practice Theurgy without a thorough preliminary cleansing of the lower self. For, as he said:
To unite one’s soul to the Universal Soul requires a perfectly pure mind. Through self-contemplation, perfect chastity and purity of body, we may approach nearer to it, and receive in that state true knowledge and wonderful insight.
Therefore, when Iamblichus expressed his determination to make these things known to the world at large, Porphyry addressed a letter to an Egyptian Initiate known as Anebo, asking him to explain certain points in the Egyptian system with which he was unfamiliar. The letter was answered by Iamblichus himself, who hid his identity under the name of his teacher, Abammon. The discussion between Porphyry and Iamblichus makes up the book known as De Mysteriis Aegyptorum, or The Egyptian Mysteries. The quotations used in this article are taken from Alexander Wilder’s translation.
Before Iamblichus makes reply to Porphyry’s questions he tells him the sources from which his knowledge has been gained — that his answers are to be taken from many different sources, some of them from the Chaldean traditions, some from the Gnosis, some from the hereditary opinions of the Assyrian Sages, and that “the rest will be from the works upon the entire range of Divine Matters, which the old compilers have collected into a book of limited dimensions.” This “book of limited dimensions” suggests the work to which H.P.B. refers on page 272 of the first volume of The Secret Doctrine — wherein “the facts which have occupied countless generations of initiated seers and prophets, to marshal . . . are all recorded on a few pages of geometrical signs and glyphs.”
Having established the fact that the teachings which he is about to propound represent the accumulated wisdom of the ages, Iamblichus advises Porphyry to give his attention to the teachings themselves, without thought of the personality through whom they come. He tells Porphyry that he is at liberty to consider the person speaking as Anebo, to whom he addressed his letter, or as any other Egyptian Prophet — “or, as I think a still better way, let it pass unnoticed whether the person speaking is of inferior or superior rank, and direct the attention solely to the things that are uttered, thus arousing the understanding to eagerness simply as to whether that which is said be true or false.”
Porphyry, being a Neoplatonist, starts with universal principles, asking Iamblichus to define what the Egyptian Theosophers consider the First Cause to be. Is it Mind, or above Mind? Is it the ONE, or does it subsist with others? Is it embodied or unembodied? Is it the same as the Creator of the Universe (the Demi-urgos), or prior to that?
Before all things that really are, Iamblichus answers, is THAT which is self-begotten and self-produced, the ONE truly GOOD, which can be worshipped by Silence alone. This is the Source of all that exists, the Root of the first ideals subsisting in the Supreme Mind.
Then Porphyry asks about the ancient Egyptian teachings on evolution. Iamblichus’ answer shows how far in advance of modern science were the ancient Egyptian scientists. “It is not in the order of nature,” he says, “for superior things to be generated from those that are inferior.”
Then, turning to the constitution of man, Iamblichus advises Porphyry that he must begin with the first Principle if he would understand himself. “This divine irradiation,” he says, “shines upon all from the outside, just as the sun illuminates every object with its rays.” He compares this Principle to the light of the sun, which is present in the air without being combined with it. “Being firmly established in itself,” he says, “it makes its way through all existing things.”
The soul, he says, is an immortal entity, unbegotten and imperishable, indivisible and incorporeal. Therefore it could not have come into existence at birth, nor will it perish at death. Furthermore, “being indivisible, being essentially incorporeal, and having nothing in common with the body, it can be affected by nothing, nor has it any concern with change or condition.”
He then enters into a lengthy description of the soul, which he says is two-fold, the lower part being concerned with bodily existence, while the higher part is separable from everything corporeal. It is only as the higher part of the soul is awakened that man can bring about the union of the Self with the Universal Self. He describes the faculty in man which makes this union possible.
There is a faculty in man which is immeasurably superior to those which are grafted or engendered in us. By it we can attain to union with superior intelligences, finding ourselves raised above the scenes of this earthly life, and partaking of higher existence and superhuman powers of the inhabitants of the celestial spheres.
What is this faculty? In modern Theosophy it is called Intuition — a faculty of the soul itself. Dormant in the majority of men, it can be awakened, and will grow in proportion to its use. The use of intuition arouses the spiritual senses. These can penetrate into the very core of matter and see any object as it really is, and not merely as a physical appearance.
Iamblichus describes this faculty in detail, claiming that it releases man from even the bonds of Karma.
By this faculty we find ourselves liberated from the dominion of destiny [Karma], and we become, as it were, the arbiters of our own fate. For when the most excellent parts of us find themselves filled with energy; when our soul is lifted up toward essences higher than science, it can separate itself from conditions which hold it in bondage of every-day life. It exchanges its ordinary existence for another one. It renounces the conventional habits which belong to the external order of things, to give itself up to and mix itself with another order of things which reign in that most elevated order of existence.
Porphyry is greatly interested in the subject of dreams. He knows that Ammonius Saccas was called the “god-taught” because he had received much of his knowledge in dreams and visions. He believes, as he confides to Iamblichus, that persons in the dream-state often have a fore-knowledge of things that are about to happen. Iamblichus then discusses the state of consciousness we call dreaming. In sleep, he says, the soul is set free from the fetters that bind it during the waking state, and entering life on its own plane puts forth energy according to its own nature. But, he continues, it is wrong to classify all dreams under a common heading. Things which have troubled the mind during the day cause dreams which are sometimes true and sometimes false.
The dreams, however, which are termed “god-sent” do not have their origin in the way thou describest. On the contrary, when sleep is leaving us and we are beginning to awake, it happens that we hear a brief expression in regard to things to be done. These are not like ordinary dreams. Some, however, who do not take cognizance of these proofs of dreams which are truly oracular, fall rarely upon those in which there is a foreknowing of the future.
These “god-sent” dreams, he continues, are often prophetic, and he cites the dream of Alexander the Great, whose whole army was saved by such a vision. He remarks that in dreams of this sort discoveries in the arts and sciences are often made, and sometimes the proper diagnosis of disease and the method of its cure This, he says, is explained by the fact that the soul, in this sleep condition, “not only takes a view of every period of time, and examines events that are to take place in the period, but it likewise participates in the arrangement, management and correcting of them.”
The works of Iamblichus deal primarily with the invisible side of nature and with the psychic and spiritual powers latent in man. His instructions, therefore, like those in The Voice of the Silence, are for those “ignorant of the dangers of the lower Iddhi.”
The ancients did not consider Aether as a great void but pictured it as a boundless Ocean peopled with living forces — entities known in modern Theosophy as Elementals and Elementaries.
The Elementals are the souls of the four elements of earth, air, fire and water. They are centers of force which may be shaped by the conscious or unconscious will of the human being who puts himself en rapport with them. Being subject to characterization by the human will, they may appear to us as either good or bad. Porphyry describes them in this way:
Daimons are invisible. But they know how to clothe themselves with forms and configurations subject to numerous variations, which can be explained by their nature having much of the corporeal in itself. When they can escape the vigilance of the good Daimons, there is no mischief they will not dare commit. One time they employ brute force; another time, cunning.
But there is another class of entities residing in the Astral Light of far greater danger to men than the Elementals. These are the Elementaries, the inhabitants of Kama-Loka. Elementaries may be roughly divided into three classes. First there are human souls who through utter depravity have severed connection with their Higher Self and therefore have lost their chance of immortality. To this class also belong the “Brothers of the Shadow,” the sorcerers and Black Magicians.
The second group of Elementaries includes those who, although not actually “lost souls,” have strongly attached themselves to earth life through concentration of their desires on things terrestrial rather than on things spiritual.
In the third group are the remains of those whose bodies have perished by violence: suicides and the victims of capital punishment. These are the living dead, with every principle present except the physical body. Their state in Kama-Loka is described by Porphyry.
The soul, having after death a certain affinity for the body, an affinity proportioned to the violence with which their union was broken, we see many spirits hovering in despair about their earthly remains. We see them eagerly seeking the putrid remains of other bodies, but above all, freshly spilt blood, which seems to impart to them for the moment some of the faculties of life.
It is with the direct help of these “bad daimons,” Porphyry continues, that every kind of sorcery is accomplished. It is their ambition to deceive those who try to get into communication with the dead. It is their desire to be accepted as oracles, and their wrath is kindled against those who neglect to offer them legitimate worship.
Iamblichus agrees fully with Porphyry in regard to the danger of coming in contact with these “bad daimons.” But there is a way, he says, in which a person can differentiate between the good spirits and the bad. The good spirits fear not the light, while the wicked ones require darkness. He then enters into a lengthy description of what today would be called a “seance,” describing in full detail how the figures that appear are produced. Man himself, he says, is the maker of them, using “inferior emanations” (astral matter) for that purpose.
By what art or skill is this spectral figure put into form? The thing does not have its existence in the way it is imagined. The creating of spectral figures attracts from the auras a portion of generative energy. The creator deals with the last and most inferior emanations. But these emanations being partially commingled with matter, they are capable of changing to it, and likewise of taking new form and being modelled differently at different times.
Therefore, he continues, the creator of these spectral figures puts his trust in entities destitute of soul, animated by only the outward appearance of life, and of ephemeral duration. Why, then, he asks, should such juggling be desired? He refuses to regard such things as worthy of consideration.
If they who make these specters know that these things about which they are engaged are structures formed of passive material, the evil would be a simple matter. But if they hold to these spectral figures as to gods, the absurdity will not be utterable in speech or endurable in act.
Iamblichus then draws a strong line of demarcation between the passive condition which develops mediumship and the active condition of the mind in that sublime state of ecstasy which leads to the union of the Soul with the Higher Self.
It is necessary from the beginning to make the distinction of the two species of ecstasies, of which one causes degeneration to an inferior condition, and fills with imbecility and insanity; but the other imparts benefits that are more precious than intelligence. The former species wanders to a discordant and worldly activity; but the latter gives itself to the Supreme Cause which directs the orderly arrangement of things in the world.
The mediumistic trance, he continues, leads to a deterioration of both mind and body. But the divine ecstasy imparts health to the body, virtue to the soul, purity to the mind. It removes the cold and destructive quality of the mind and brings the whole man into accord with the soul. The higher part of our nature is awakened, and begins to long vehemently for its Universal Source.
In closing his discussion with Porphyry, Iamblichus says:
After the theurgic discipline has conjoined the soul with the several departments of the universe, and with all the divine powers that pervade it, then it leads the Soul to the Creator of the World, uniting it with the Sole Eternal Reason. This, with the Egyptian Sages, is the end of the “Return” as taught in the Sacred Records.
— THEOSOPHY, Vol. 25, No. 4, February, 1937, Pages 149-157
Hypatia: The Last of the Neoplatonists
Hypatia: The Last of the Neoplatonists
The fourth century was the turning point in the history of the Western world, the period in which Christianity took the form of a strong political organization. Throttling the old religions, sciences and philosophies, “the Church” arose as a temporal power upon their remains.
Constantine, the first Christian Emperor, was the son of the Roman Emperor Constantius and of Helena, the daughter of an inn-keeper. He was a pagan by birth, a devotee of the sun-god Apollo, whose altars Constantine covered with votive offerings, and whose image appeared on the coins of the emperor as his “companion and guardian.”
Constantine’s conversion to Christianity, as the result of a psychic vision, is described by Eusebius, who was his close friend and companion as well as his famous biographer. On the night before his final battle with Maxentius, who had denounced him as a usurper to the throne, Constantine appealed to his own god for help. According to Eusebius,
While he was praying with fervent entreaty, a most marvelous sign appeared in the heavens, the account of which, related by any other person, would be difficult of belief. But since the victorious Emperor himself declared it to the writer of this history, and confirmed his statement with an oath, who could hesitate to credit it? He said that when the sun was beginning to decline, he saw with his own eyes the trophy of a Cross of blazing light, with this inscription: “I. H. S. In this sign thou shalt conquer.” (Vita Constantin.)
On the following night Constantine had another psychic vision. This time the figure of Christ himself appeared, wearing the same cross that Constantine had seen the night before. Constantine declared that on this occasion Christ spoke to him, telling him to place this cross on his battle flag and to march against Maxentius with full assurance of victory. Constantine obeyed, and Maxentius was defeated. In adopting this symbol — henceforth placed upon the Imperial banner and carried at the head of the army in its conquest for Christ and the Church — Constantine added two more pagan symbols to Christianity. For the long lance crossed at right angles by a staff was the ancient sign of Osiris, and the letters I. H. S. one of the names of Bacchus.
Constantine celebrated his victory over Maxentius by the murder of the two sons of his adversary. This was followed in orderly succession by the murder of five members of Constantine’s own household and later by the murder of his own wife and son. Eventually these crimes began to weigh upon his conscience. Although he had been fighting under the banner of Christ for twenty years, he turned to the pagan religions for absolution. He was told that no pagan religion offered absolution for such crimes as his. He then turned to the Christian Church, and was informed that Christian baptism would expiate any crime, irrespective of its magnitude. At the same time he was advised that baptism might he deferred to the day of his death without losing any of its efficacy. Thus, Eusebius relates that,
When he thought that he was near his death, he confessed his sins, desiring pardon for them from God, and was baptized. So that Constantine was the first of all the Emperors to be regenerated by the new birth of baptism, and signed with the sign of the Cross. (Vita Constantin.)
From the moment that Constantine realized that his crimes could be expiated by Christian baptism, he declared himself the protector of a religion which treats criminals with such lenience. Immediately he began to show his gratitude to the Church. He donated the Lateran Palace to the Bishops of Rome. He sent his mother Helena on a journey to Jerusalem and erected several basilicas in the Holy Land. Then he turned his attention to increasing the membership of the Church. He offered freedom to all slaves who would accept the Christian faith, and to those who were not slaves he offered a white robe and twenty pieces of gold. As a result of this propaganda, twelve thousand converts were added to Christianity in the city of Rome alone. Next, he determined to increase the wealth of the Church. He gave permission to his subjects to bequeath their fortunes to the Church. Soon the rent-roll from the houses, shops and gardens attached to three basilicas brought in an annual income of $60,000. He raised the Bishops’ salaries to $3,000 a year, and, in the Council of Nicea, assured the Bishops that if any of them were caught in the act of adultery the Imperial mantle would be thrown over them, so that the world at large might not learn of their offence. His next act was to issue an edict against all who refused to accept Christianity, commanding that their meeting places should be demolished or confiscated. According to his successor, the Emperor Julian,
Many were imprisoned and persecuted and driven into exile. Whole troops of those who were styled “heretics” were massacred. In many provinces, entire towns and villages were laid waste and utterly destroyed. (Julian: Epistol. lii.)
He then ordered the destruction of all writings adverse to the Christian faith. “For we would not suffer any of those things so much as to come to men’s ears which tend to provoke God to wrath and offend the minds of the pious.” And finally, in order to convince his subjects of his Christian piety,
Constantine caused his image to be engraven on his golden coins in the form of prayer, with his hands joined together, and looking up towards heaven. And over divers gates of his palace he was drawn praying and lifting up his hands and eyes to heaven. (Vita Constantin.)
The psychic vision of Constantine, which marked his conversion to Christianity, was the fore-runner of a great wave of psychism which engulfed the whole Christian world. The event marked the beginning of the “age of miracles,” characterized by relic-worship, which gradually gave way to necromancy and the worship of the dead. It is interesting to note that exactly fifteen hundred years later a similar psychic wave, known as Spiritualism, appeared in America.
While Constantine’s mother was in Jerusalem, the three crosses upon which Jesus and the two thieves were supposed to have been crucified “miraculously” came to light. Later the nails which were said to have attached Jesus to the cross were brought to Constantinople and formed into a crown of glory for Constantine’s statue. The skeletons of Mark and James were discovered in the same wonderful manner, and mysterious powers were attributed to them. Soon the worship of holy men’s bones was enlarged to include the worship of the lesser dead, and miracle-seeking Christians began to meet in cemeteries, where the shades of the dead were evoked and appeased with food and wine.
The culmination of the “age of miracles” was reached in the year 325 when, at the Council of Nicea, the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were chosen by “miraculous intervention.” It must be remembered that as Jesus himself had left nothing in writing, there was no standard with which later records of his life and teaching might be compared. In the 300 years which had elapsed since his death, a large number of manuscripts had come to light, all claiming to be authentic. In regard to those which were extant in the third century, Faustus, the Manichean, had written:
Every one knows that the Evangeliums were written neither by Jesus Christ, nor his apostles, but long after their time by some unknown persons, who, judging well that they would hardly be believed when telling things they had not seen themselves, headed their narratives with the names of the Apostles or of disciples contemporaneous with the latter.
By the fourth century it became necessary for the Church to decide which of the many Gospels then in circulation were to be accepted as authentic. The question came up in the Council of Nicea. Fortunately the testimonies of two eye-witnesses have been preserved, so there can be little doubt as to the method used in the selection of the Gospels. There were 318 Bishops present in this Council, and one of the two eye-witnesses, Sabinus, Bishop of Heraclea, left a description of their mental capacities. “With the exception of the Emperor (Constantine)” he said, “and Eusebius Pamphilus, these Bishops were a set of illiterate, simple creatures who understood nothing.” About forty Gospels were submitted to these Bishops. As they differed widely in their contents, the decision was difficult. At last it was determined to resort to “miraculous intervention.” The method used was known as the Sortes Sanctorum, or “the holy casting of lots for purposes of divination.” Its use in the Council of Nicea was described by another eye-witness, Pappus, in his Synodicon to that Council. He says:
Having promiscuously put all the books referred to the Council for determination under a communion table in a church, they (the Bishops) besought the Lord that the inspired writings might get upon the table, while the spurious ones remained underneath. And it happened accordingly.
When the Bishops returned to the Council room on the following morning, the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were resting on the communion table. Their presence in the New Testament is due to the art of divination, for practicing which the Church subsequently condemned men and women as sorcerers, enchanters and witches, and burned them by the thousands.
After the death of Constantine, his policy was continued by his two sons. Every indulgence was shown to the illegal behavior of the Christians, every doubt explained to the disadvantage of the pagans, and the further demolition of the pagan temples was celebrated as one of the auspicious events of their reign. Having perceived the efficacy of Christian baptism in the case of their own father, they determined to force baptism upon even the unwilling. As Gibbon says:
The rites of baptism were conferred on women and children, who, for that purpose, had been torn from the arms of their friends and parents. The mouths of the communicants were held open by a wooden engine, while the consecrated bread was forced down their throats. (Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.)
But when Constantine’s nephew, Julian, came to the throne, all of this was changed. Julian was a Neoplatonist, a pupil of Aedesius, who had in turn been taught by Iamblichus. Julian was initiated at Ephesus when he was only twenty years old, and later was initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries.
When Julian came to power the whole Christian world was thrown into a state of perturbation. How would this Neoplatonist, this Initiate, act toward Christianity? Would he retaliate with some new and still more cruel refinement of death and torture? Julian answered these questions in a truly Christlike manner. He at once extended free and equal rights to all the inhabitants of the Empire, irrespective of their religious beliefs. He invited all those Christian Bishops who had been excommunicated and exiled on account of their unorthodox views, to return to their posts. At the same time he urged the pagan teachers who had been driven out of Alexandria by Constantine to return to their philosophical pursuits. He invited the opposing Christian factions to meet in his palace, where he advised them to give up their differences and try to live in concord. But at the same time he gave his pagan subjects permission to re-open their temples and continue their own form of worship. Because of this fair and impartial treatment of his subjects, Julian has come down in Christian history under the ignominious title of “the Apostate.”
The knowledge that Julian had gained in his initiations made him a menace to orthodox Christianity. He was urged to make his knowledge public so that the Christian Church could refute his statements. To this Julian replied:
Were I to touch upon the initiation into the Sacred Mysteries respecting the “seven-rayed God” . . . I should say things unknown to the rabble, very unknown, but well known to the Blessed Theurgists.
This reply aroused a storm of protest among his Christian subjects. Catholic history informs us that this “greatest enemy of Christianity,” after a reign of only eighteen months, came to an untimely end through the “supernatural intervention” of a spear-thrust received in battle with the soldiers of the Persian King Sapor. As he lay dying, Julian summed up in a few words the aim and purpose of his life. “I have learned from philosophy,” he said, “how much more excellent the soul is than the body, and that the separation of the nobler substance should be the subject of joy rather than of affliction.” Then, turning to the two philosophers, Priscus and Maximus, who stood near his death-bed, he entered into a metaphysical discussion as to the nature of the soul, and assured them that he had always tried to lead his own life from the soul point of view.
And I can affirm with confidence that the emanation of the Divine Power has been preserved in my hands pure and immaculate. Detesting the corrupt and destructive maxims of despotism, I have considered the happiness of the people as the end of government. (Ammianus: xxv.)
With the death of Julian the Christian Church regained its power, and the doom of the old religions, sciences and philosophies was sealed. The Church had borrowed too much from them for her own safety. Every event in the life of Jesus, from his virgin birth to his final crucifixion and resurrection, had been copied from the stories of the pagan gods. Every dogma and ritual in the Christian Church had its pagan counterpart. These facts were known to the entire pagan world and as the Church continued to borrow from the pagans in an ever-increasing measure, it became more and more difficult for her to maintain her claim of uniqueness. So long as pagan schools existed, the Church could not without contradiction represent herself as the sole repository of knowledge. So long as pagan books existed, the Bible would not be accepted as the only revelation of God. So long as pagan philosophers lived and taught, the dogmatic assertions of the Church Fathers would be questioned. There was but one course for the Church — to destroy all the evidences of her plagiarisms by wiping out the pagan schools, the pagan records, even the pagan philosophers themselves.
About fifteen years after the death of Julian, the most Christian Emperor Theodosius ascended the throne. An ardent Catholic and a man of great power, he immediately turned his attention to the destruction of everything that stood in the way of the triumph of the orthodox Church. He instituted the Inquisitors of the Faith and exiled all Christians who declined to accept the doctrine of the Trinity as it was outlined in the Council of Nicea. He issued fifteen edicts prohibiting the meeting of “heretical” or unorthodox Christians and confiscated their property. Capital punishment was inflicted upon those who adhered to the Manichean “heresy” as well as upon those Christians who continued to observe Easter upon the same day as the Jews. Finally, in his bloody massacre of Thessalonica, he caused the death of 15,000 persons whom he had treacherously invited to witness the games of the circus.
Having assumed his position of dictator among the Christians themselves, he then turned his attention to the “enemies of Christianity” outside the Church. He refused to allow his pagan subjects to worship in their own way and confiscated their temples for the use of the Christians. Among others, the Temple of the Celestial Virgin at Carthage, whose sacred precincts formed a circumference of two miles, was converted into a Christian Church. A similar “consecration” has preserved inviolate the majestic dome of the Pantheon at Rome. As Gibbon says:
In almost every province of the Roman world, an army of fanatics invaded the peaceful inhabitants; and the ruins of the fairest structures of antiquity still display the ravages of those barbarians who alone had time and inclination to execute such laborious destruction.
Theodosius’ next move was directed against the Mystery Schools, and he soon accomplished their destruction. But there was one great School which was still strong enough to resist his ruthless hand. That was the School of the Eleusinian Mysteries, located in the little hamlet of Eleusis, near Athens. But even it was doomed to destruction, and in the year 396 Alaric and his barbarians were led through the famous Pass of Thermopylae by the Christian monks — the “black shirts,” or the “men in black,” as they were called — and the vast Temple of Eleusis, one of the most famous buildings in the world, the outer court of which alone could hold 300,000 worshippers, was reduced to a mass of ruins. So perished the Mysteries of Greece.
Theodosius then turned his eyes toward Alexandria, which for centuries had been the cultural center of the world. The great Museum had already been put under the control of Catholic priests during the reign of Constantine, but the vast group of buildings known as the Serapeum was still in the hands of the pagans. At that time the magnificent Temple of Serapis was being used as a University where the old religions and sciences were taught. The Library of the Serapion still housed a vast collection of books which had been brought from the four corners of the earth, and which represented the intellectual labor of many centuries. Both of these repositories of pagan knowledge were serious obstacles in the path of the Church, and Theodosius determined that his reign would witness their destruction.
At that time the great philosopher, Olympius, whom Suidas describes as “a man of wonderful attainments, noble character and incredible eloquence,” was conducting classes in the Temple of Serapis. Crowds of students flocked to him, eager to be instructed in the philosophy of the ancients. The head of the Christian Church in the city was Theophilus, Archbishop of Alexandria. Gibbon has pictured him as “the perpetual enemy of peace and virtue; a bold, bad man whose hands were alternately polluted with gold and with blood.” His character was so mercenary that he is said to have bribed the slaves of the Serapion to steal some of the books, which he sold to foreigners at exorbitant prices. During the process of demolition of an ancient Temple of Osiris which the Christians had confiscated to remodel into a Christian Church, certain pagan symbols were found, which Theophilus exhibited in the market-place as objects of derision.
The pagans naturally objected to this public desecration of their sacred symbols, and a riot ensued. With the assistance of the Imperial Governor and a large crowd of soldiers, Theophilus made an attack upon the pagans who, under the leadership of Olympius, had taken refuge in the Temple of Serapis. Unheard-of cruelties were perpetrated against the besieged. When the Emperor Theodosius learned of the affair he immediately sent a rescript for the total destruction of the place, and the Christians proceeded to carry out his orders. They sacked the Temple, broke the statue of Serapis in pieces, dragged it ignominiously through the streets of the city, and finally burned it. This was in the year 398. The building itself was reduced to a heap of rubbish, and later a Christian Church was erected upon its ruins in honor of the Christian “martyrs” who had suffered in the riot.
Next followed the destruction of the famous Serapion Library, every volume of which, according to popular tradition, was lost. But again, as in the burning of the Bruckion Library during the reign of Cleopatra, proper precautions had been taken to preserve these priceless manuscripts. From the moment that the Christians began to gain power in Alexandria these books were gradually withdrawn from the Serapion and hidden safe from Christian vandalism. There are Still many Copts scattered over Egypt and Asia Minor who declare that not a single volume was lost. In the neighborhood of Ishmonia, the “petrified city,” there are immense subterranean galleries in which numberless manuscripts are stored. Perhaps some future archaeologist may yet discover that Theodosius, after all, failed to accomplish his purpose.
With the destruction of the Mystery Schools and the Serapion two of the most serious obstacles in the path of the Christian Church were removed. But there still remained the third, and by far the most important obstacle — the Neoplatonic School. The “honor” of destroying this School belongs to Cyril, the nephew of Theophilus, who in 412 had succeeded him in his high position of Bishop of Alexandria. Cyril is remembered in Christian history for having promoted the Virgin Mary from the Mother of Jesus to the Mother of God! He also introduced the image of Isis into the Christian Church under the name of Mary. These “Black Virgins” may still be seen in the Cathedral of Moulins, in the Chapel of the Virgin at Loretto, in the Church of St. Stephen at Genoa and in the Church of St. Francis at Pisa.
Cyril celebrated his rise to power by a series of oppressions, directed first against the Novitians and then against the Jews. Although the Jews had been welcomed in Alexandria since the very founding of the city, Cyril led a seditious multitude in an attack against their synagogues. Unarmed and unprepared, the Jews were incapable of resistance. Their houses of prayer were levelled to the ground, all their goods plundered, and themselves driven from the city.
Cyril has come down in Christian history as one of the “Saints” of the Church, despite the well known fact that he was tried for stealing the gold and silver Church vessels and spending the money gained from their sale. But petty thievery has not earned for the name of Cyril of Alexandria its dark immortality in the annals of religious history. His real crime was much more serious — the crime of murder, deliberately perpetrated against one of the noblest characters in history: Hypatia, the last of the Neoplatonists.
Hypatia was the daughter of Theon, a celebrated philosopher and mathematician, the author of a commentary on Euclid, in which his daughter is said to have assisted him. An only child, she showed deep interest in philosophy and mathematics from her early youth. Her father instructed her in these subjects with care and diligence, and she soon became one of his most brilliant pupils. Her writings, according to Suidas, included commentaries on the Arithmetica of Diophantus of Alexandria, on the Conics of Apollonius of Perga, and on the Arithmetical Canon of Ptolemy, all of which are now lost.
While Hypatia was living in Athens she came in contact with the Neoplatonic Schools which had been founded by Plotinus, Porphyry and Iamblichus, and identified herself with the Neoplatonic Movement. Later, when she took up her residence in Alexandria, she began to hold lectures and classes in the famous Museum, where her eloquence and profound wisdom, her youth and extraordinary beauty soon attracted great crowds of students and admirers. She was admitted into the intimate circles of the great Alexandrian families, and numbered among her friends two of the most powerful men of the day: Orestes, the Prefect of Alexandria, and Synesius, the Bishop of Cyrene.
The Neoplatonic School reached its greatest heights in the days that immediately preceded its destruction. Hypatia brought Egypt nearer to an understanding of its ancient Mysteries than it had been for thousands of years. Her knowledge of Theurgy restored the practical value of the Mysteries and completed the work commenced by Iamblichus over a hundred years before. Following in the footsteps of Plotinus and Porphyry, she demonstrated the possibility of the union of the individual Self with the SELF of all. Continuing the work of Ammonius Saccas, she showed the similarity between all religions and the identity of their source.
The precarious foundations of Christian dogma were still more exposed when the Neoplatonic School began to adopt the inductive method of reasoning sponsored by Aristotle. Of all things on earth, logic and the reasonable explanation of things were most hateful to the new religion of mystery. When Hypatia explored the metaphysical allegories from which Christianity had borrowed its dogmas, and openly analyzed them in public meetings, she used a weapon which the Christians could meet only with violence. If her School had been allowed to continue the whole fraud perpetrated by the Church would have been laid bare. The light of Neoplatonism was shining much too brightly upon the patchwork of Christianity.
So, on an afternoon during Lent in the year 414, a crowd of Cyril’s monks led by Peter the Reader collected in front of the Museum, where Hypatia was just finishing one of her classes. Her chariot drew up to the door, and Hypatia appeared. A dark wave of monks, murder in their hearts, rushed out from their ambuscade, surged around Hypatia’s chariot and forced her to descend. They stripped her naked and dragged her into a nearby Church of God, pulling her body through the cool, dim shadows, lit by flickering candles and perfumed with incense, up the chancel steps to the very altar itself. Shaking herself free from her tormentors, she rose for one moment to her full height, snow-white against the dark horde of monks surrounding her. Her lips opened to speak, but no word came from them. For in that moment Peter the Reader struck her down, and the dark mass closed over her quivering flesh. Then they dragged her dead body into the streets, scraped the flesh from the bones with oyster shells, making a bonfire of what remained.
Thus Hypatia perished, and with her death the great Neoplatonic School came to an end. Some of the philosophers removed to Athens, but their School was closed by order of the Emperor Justinian. With the departure of the last seven philosophers of the great Neoplatonic Movement — Hermias, Priscianus, Diogenes, Eulalius, Damaskias, Simplicius and Isidorus, who fled to the Far East to escape the persecution of Justinian — the reign of wisdom closed.
The death of Hypatia occurred in the year 414. Exactly fifteen hundred years later, in 1914, the World War of the Christian nations began. Is there a connection between these two events? The death of Hypatia marked the beginning of the Dark Ages, in which the world was encompassed by the clouds of ignorance and superstition for a thousand years. We are now at a corresponding point in our cycle. Knowledge of what must be done to avoid the repetition of the horrors of the past rests with the theosophists of this era.
— THEOSOPHY, Vol. 25, No. 5, March, 1937, Pages 197-207