Another thing has to be taken into consideration. Renan, in his Life of Jesus, has pointed out that the raising of Lazarus undoubtedly had a decisive influence on the end of the life of Jesus. Such a thought appears impossible from the point of view which Renan takes. For why should the fact that the belief was being circulated amongst the populace that Jesus had raised a man from the dead appear to his opponents so dangerous that they asked the question, "Can Jesus and Judaism exist side by side?" It does not do to assert with Renan: "The other miracles of Jesus were passing events, repeated in good faith and exaggerated by popular report, and they were thought no more of after they had happened. But this one was a real event, publicly known, and by means of which it was sought to silence the Pharisees. All the enemies of Jesus were exasperated by the sensation it caused. It is related that they sought to kill Lazarus." It is incomprehensible why this should be if Renan were right in his opinion that all that happened at Bethany was the getting up of a mock scene, intended to strengthen belief in Jesus. "Perhaps Lazarus, still pale from his illness, had himself wrapped in a shroud and laid in the family grave. These tombs were large rooms hewn out of the rock, and entered by a square opening which was closed by an immense slab. Martha and Mary hastened to meet Jesus, and brought him to the grave before he had entered Bethany. The painful emotion felt by Jesus at the grave of the friend whom he believed to be dead (John xi. 33, 38) might be taken by those present for the agitation and tremors which were wont to accompany miracles. According to popular belief, divine power in a man was like an epileptic and convulsive element. Continuing the above hypothesis, Jesus wished to see once more the man he had loved, and the stone having been rolled away, Lazarus came forth in his grave-clothes, his head bound with a napkin. This apparition naturally was looked upon by every one as a resurrection. Faith knows no other law than the interest of what it holds to be true." Does not such an explanation appear absolutely naive, when Renan adds the following opinion: "Everything seems to suggest that the miracle of Bethany materially contributed to hasten the death of Jesus"? Yet there is undoubtedly an accurate perception underlying this last assertion of Renan. But with the means at his disposal he is not able to interpret or justify his opinion.
Something of quite special importance must have been accomplished by Jesus at Bethany, in order that such words as the following may be accounted for: "Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, 'What do we? for this man doeth many miracles'" (John xi. 47). Renan, too, conjectures something special: "It must be acknowledged," he says, "that John's narrative is of an essentially different kind from the accounts of miracles of which the Synoptists are full, and which are the outcome of the popular imagination. Let us add that John is the only Evangelist with accurate knowledge of the relations of Jesus with the family at Bethany, and that it would be incomprehensible how a creation of the popular mind could have been inserted in the frame of such personal reminiscences. It is, therefore, probable that the miracle in question was not amongst the wholly legendary ones, for which no one is responsible. In other words, I think that something took place at Bethany which was looked upon as a resurrection." Does not this really mean that Renan surmises that something happened at Bethany which he cannot explain? He entrenches himself behind the words: "At this distance of time, and with only one text bearing obvious traces of subsequent additions, it is impossible to decide whether, in the present case, all is fiction, or whether a real fact which happened at Bethany served as the basis of the report that was spread abroad." Might it not be that we have to do here with something of which we might arrive at a true understanding merely by reading the text in the right way? In that case, we should perhaps no longer speak of "fiction."
It must be admitted that the whole narrative of this event in St. John's Gospel is wrapped in a mysterious veil. To show this, we need only mention one point. If the narrative is to be taken in the literal, physical sense, what meaning have these words of Jesus: "This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby." This is the usual translation of the words, but the actual state of the case is better arrived at, if they are translated, "for the vision (or manifestation) of God, that the Son of God might be manifested thereby." This translation is also correct according to the Greek original. And what do these other words mean, "Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live"? (John xi. 4, 25). It would be a triviality to think that Jesus meant to say that Lazarus had only become ill in order that Jesus might manifest His skill through him. And it would again be a triviality to think that Jesus meant to assert that faith in Him brings to life again one who in the ordinary sense is dead. What would there be remarkable about a person who has risen from the dead, if after his resurrection he were the same as he was before dying? Indeed what would be the meaning of describing the life of such a person in the words, "I am the resurrection and the life"? Life and meaning at once come into the words of Jesus if we understand them to be the expression of a spiritual occurrence and then, in a certain sense, literally as they stand in the text. Jesus actually says that He is the resurrection that has happened to Lazarus, and that He is the life that Lazarus is living. Let us take literally what Jesus is in St. John's Gospel.
He is "the Word that was made flesh." He is the Eternal that existed in the beginning. If he is really the resurrection, then the Eternal, Primordial has risen again in Lazarus. We have, therefore, to do with a resurrection of the eternal "Word," and this "Word" is the life to which Lazarus has been raised. It is a case of illness, not one leading to death, but to the glory, i.e., the manifestation of God. If the eternal Word has reawakened in Lazarus, the whole event conduces to manifest God in Lazarus. For by means of the event Lazarus has become a different man. Before it, the Word, or spirit did not live in him, now it does. The spirit has been born within him. It is true that every birth is accompanied by illness, that of the mother, but the illness leads to new life, not to death. In Lazarus that part of him becomes ill from which the "new man," permeated by the "Word," is born.
* * * * *
Where is the grave from which the "Word" is born? To answer this question we have only to remember Plato, who calls man's body the tomb of the soul. And we have only to recall Plato's speaking of a kind of resurrection when he alludes to the coming to life of the spiritual world in the body. What Plato calls the spiritual soul, St. John denominates the "Word." And for him, Christ is the "Word." Plato might have said, "One who becomes spiritual has caused something divine to rise out of the grave of his body." For St. John, that which took place through the life of Jesus was that resurrection. It is not surprising, therefore, if he makes Jesus say, "I am the resurrection."
There can be no doubt that the occurrence at Bethany was an awakening in the spiritual sense. Lazarus became something different from what he was before. He was raised to a life of which the Eternal Word could say, "I am that life." What then took place in Lazarus? The spirit came to life within him. He became a partaker of the life which is eternal. We have only to express his experience in the words of those who were initiated into the Mysteries, and the meaning at once becomes clear. What does Plutarch (vide supra p. 26 et seq.) say about the object of the Mysteries? They were to serve to withdraw the soul from bodily life and to unite it with the gods. Schelling thus describes the feelings of an initiate:
"The initiate through his initiation became a link in the magic chain, he himself became a Kabir. He was admitted into an indestructible association and, as ancient inscriptions express it, joined to the army of the higher gods" (Schelling, Philosophie der Offenbarung). And the revolution that took place in the life of one who received initiation cannot be more significantly described than in the words spoken by Aedesius to his disciple, the Emperor Constantine: "If one day thou shouldst take part in the Mysteries, thou wilt feel ashamed of having been born merely as a man."
If we fill our souls with such feelings as these, we shall gain the right attitude towards the event that took place at Bethany, and have a peculiarly characteristic experience through St. John's narrative. A certainty will dawn upon us which cannot be obtained by any logical interpretation or by any attempt at rationalistic explanation. A mystery in the true sense of the word is before us. The "Eternal Word" entered into Lazarus. In the language of the Mysteries, he became an initiate (vide p. 132 et seq.), and the event narrated to us must be the process of initiation.
Let us look upon the whole occurrence as though it were an initiation. Lazarus is loved by Jesus (John xi. 36). No ordinary affection can be meant by this, for it would be contrary to the spirit of St. John's Gospel, in which Jesus is "The Word." Jesus loved Lazarus because he found him ripe for the awakening of "the Word" within him. Jesus had relations with the family at Bethany. This only means that Jesus had made everything ready in that family for the final act of the drama, the raising of Lazarus. The latter was a disciple of Jesus, such an one that Jesus could be quite sure that in him the awakening would be consummated. The final act in a drama of awakening consisted in a symbolical action. The person involved in it had not only to understand the words, "Die and become!" He had to fulfil them himself by a real, spiritual action. His earthly part, of which his higher being in the Spirit of the Mysteries must be ashamed, had to be put away. The earthly must die a symbolic-real death. The putting of his body into a somnambulic sleep for three days can only be denoted an outer event in comparison with the greatness of the transformation which was taking place in him. An incomparably more momentous spiritual event corresponded to it. But this very process was the experience which divides the life of the Mystic into two parts. One who does not know from experience the inner significance of such acts cannot understand them. They can only be suggested by means of a comparison.
The substance of Shakespeare's Hamlet may be compressed into a few words. Any one who learns these words may say that in a certain sense he knows the contents of Hamlet; and logically he does. But one who has let all the wealth of the Shakespearian drama stream in upon him knows Hamlet in a different way. A life-current has passed through his soul which cannot be replaced by any mere description. The idea of Hamlet has become an artistic, personal experience within him.
On a higher plane of consciousness, a similar process takes place in man when he experiences the magically significant event which is bound up with initiation. What he attains spiritually, he lives through symbolically. The word "symbolically" is used here in the sense that an outer event is really enacted on the physical plane, but that as such, it is nevertheless a symbol. It is not a case of an unreal, but of a real symbol. The earthly body has really been dead for three days. New life comes forth from death. This life has outlived death. Man has gained confidence in the new life.
It happened thus with Lazarus. Jesus had prepared him for resurrection. His illness was at once symbolic and real, an illness which was an initiation (cf. p. 132 et seq.), and which leads, after three days, to a really new life.
Lazarus was ripe for undergoing this experience. He wrapped himself in the garment of the Mystic, and fell into a condition of lifelessness which was symbolic death. And when Jesus came, the three days had elapsed. "Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, 'Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me'" (John xi. 41). The Father had heard Jesus, for Lazarus had come to the final act in the great drama of knowledge. He had learned how resurrection is attained. An initiation into the Mysteries had been consummated. It was a case of such an initiation as had been understood as such during the whole of antiquity. It had taken place through Jesus, as the initiator. Union with the divine had always been conceived of in this way.
In Lazarus Jesus accomplished the great miracle of the transmutation of life in the sense of immemorial tradition. Through this event, Christianity is connected with the Mysteries. Lazarus had become an initiate through Christ Jesus Himself, and had thereby become able to enter the higher worlds. He was at once the first Christian initiate and the first to be initiated by Christ Jesus Himself. Through his initiation he had become capable of recognising that the "Word" which had been awakened within him had become a person in Christ Jesus, and that consequently there stood before him in the personality of his awakener, the same force which had been spiritually manifested within him. From this point of view, these words of Jesus are significant, "And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me." This means that the point is to make evident this fact: in Jesus lives the "Son of the Father" in such a way that when he awakens his own nature in man, man becomes a Mystic. In this way Jesus made it plain that the meaning of life was hidden in the Mysteries and that they were the path to this understanding. He is the living Word; in Him was personified what had been immemorial tradition. And therefore the Evangelist is justified in expressing this in the sentence, "in Him the Word was made flesh." He rightly sees in Jesus himself an incarnated Mystery. On this account, St. John's Gospel is a Mystery. In order to read it rightly, we must bear in mind that the facts are spiritual facts. If a priest of the old order had written it, he would have described traditional rites. These for St. John took the form of a person, and became the life of Jesus.
An eminent modern investigator of the Mysteries, Burkhardt in Die Zeit Konstantins, says that they "will never be cleared up." This is because he has not found out how to explain them. If we take the Gospel of St. John and see in it the working out in symbolic-corporeal reality the drama of knowledge presented by the ancients, we are really gazing upon the Mystery itself.
In the words, "Lazarus, come forth," we can recognise the call with which the Egyptian priestly initiators summoned back to every-day life those who, temporarily removed from the world by the processes of initiation, had undergone them in order to die to earthly things and to gain a conviction of the reality of the eternal. Jesus in this way revealed the secret of the Mysteries. It is easy to understand that the Jews could not let such an act go unpunished, any more than the Greeks could have refrained from punishing AEschylus, if he had betrayed the secrets of the Mysteries.
The main point for Jesus was to represent in the initiation of Lazarus before all "the people which stood by," an event which in the old days of priestly wisdom could only be enacted in the recesses of the mystery-temples. The initiation of Lazarus was to prepare the way to the understanding of the "Mystery of Golgotha." Previously only those who "saw," that is to say, who were initiated, were able to know something of what was achieved by initiation, but now a conviction of the Mysteries of higher worlds could also be gained by those who "had not seen, and yet had believed."
 This and other circumstances connected with the so-called raising of Lazarus from the dead are to be understood in the light of the fact, that Lazarus' death-sleep was at the same time symbolic and real—it was in other words a symbolic reality, a reality symbolising other realities, and but for the action of Christ, Lazarus would have remained dead.
THE APOCALYPSE OF ST. JOHN
At the end of the New Testament stands a remarkable document, the Apocalypse, the secret Revelation of St. John. We have only to read the opening words to feel the deep mystic character of this book. "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants how the necessary things are shortly going to happen; and this is sent in signs by the angel of God unto his servant John." What is here revealed is "sent in signs." Therefore we must not take the literal meaning of the words as they stand, but seek for a deeper meaning of which the words are only signs. But there are other things also which point to a hidden meaning. St. John addresses himself to the seven churches in Asia. Not actual, material churches are meant; the number seven is the sacred number, chosen on account of its symbolic meaning. The actual number of the Asiatic churches was different. And the manner in which St. John arrived at the revelation also points to something mysterious. "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, saying, 'What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches.'" Thus, we have to do with a revelation received by St. John in the spirit. And it is the revelation of Jesus Christ. Wrapped in a hidden meaning there appears what Christ Jesus manifested to the world. Therefore we must also look for this hidden meaning in the teachings of Christ. This revelation bears the same relation to ordinary Christianity as was borne by the revelation of the Mysteries, in pre-Christian times, to the people's religion. On this account the attempt to treat the Apocalypse as a mystery appears to be justified.
The Apocalypse is addressed to seven churches. For the reason of this we have only to single out one of the seven messages sent. In the first of these it is said, "Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; these things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: and hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy highest love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the best works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent. But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; to him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God." This is the message addressed to the angel of the first community. The angel, who represents the spirit of this community, has entered upon the path pointed out by Christianity. He is able to distinguish between the false adherents of Christianity and the true. He wishes to be Christian, and has founded his work on the name of Christ. But it is required of him that he should not bar his own way to the highest love by any kind of mistakes. He is shown the possibility of taking a wrong course through such errors. Through Christ Jesus the way for attaining to the divine has been pointed out. Perseverance is needed for advancing further in the spirit in which the first impulse was given. It is possible to believe too soon that one has the right spirit. This happens when the disciple lets himself be led a short way by Christ and then leaves his leadership, giving way to false ideas about it. The disciple thereby falls back again into the lower self. He has left his "highest love." The knowledge which is attached to the senses and intellect may be raised into a higher sphere, becoming wisdom, by being spiritualised and made divine. If it does not reach this height, it remains amongst perishable things. Christ Jesus has pointed out the path to the Eternal, and knowledge must with unwearied perseverance follow the path which leads to its becoming divine. Lovingly must it trace out the methods which transmute it into wisdom. The Nicolaitanes were a sect who took Christianity too lightly. They saw one thing only, that Christ is the Divine Word, the Eternal Wisdom which is born in man. Therefore they concluded that human wisdom was the Divine Word, and that it was enough to pursue human knowledge in order to realise the divine in the world. But the meaning of Christian wisdom cannot be construed thus. The knowledge which in the first instance is human wisdom is as perishable as anything else, unless it is first transmuted into divine wisdom. "Thou art not thus," says the "Spirit" to the angel of Ephesus; "thou hast 'not relied' merely upon human wisdom. Thou hast patiently trodden the Christian path. But thou must not think that the 'highest' love is not needed to attain to the goal. Such a love is necessary which far surpasses all love to other things. Only such can be the 'highest' love. The path to the divine is an infinite one, and it is to be understood that when the first step has been gained, it can only be the preparation for ascending higher and higher." Such is the first of these messages, as they are to be interpreted. The meaning of the others may be found in a similar way.
St. John turned, and saw "seven golden candlesticks," and "in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire." We are told (i. 20) that "the seven candlesticks are the seven churches." This means that the candlesticks are seven different ways of attaining to the divine. They are all more or less imperfect. And the Son of Man "had in his right hand seven stars" (v. 16). The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches (v. 20). The guiding spirits, or daimons (cf. p. 87), of the wisdom of the Mysteries have here become the guiding angels of the churches. The churches are represented as bodies for spiritual beings, and the angels are the souls of those bodies, just as human souls are the guiding powers of human bodies. The churches are the imperfect ways to the divine, and the souls of the churches were to become guides along those paths. For this purpose they must themselves have for their leader the being who has in his right hand seven stars. "And out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength." This sword is also found in the Mysteries. The candidate for initiation was terrified by a flashing sword (cf. p. 18). This indicates the situation of one who wishes to know the divine by experience, so that the face of wisdom may shine upon him like the sun. St. John also goes through this experience. It is to be a test of his strength (cf. p. 18). "And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not" (v. 17). The candidate for initiation must pass through the experiences which otherwise man only undergoes at the gate of death. His guide must lead him beyond the region in which birth and death have a meaning. The initiate enters upon a new life. "And I was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death."
Thus prepared, St. John is led on to learn the secrets of existence. "After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter." The messages to the seven spirits of the churches make known to St. John what is to take place in the physical world in order to prepare the way for Christianity. What he now sees "in the Spirit" takes him to the spiritual fountain-head of things, hidden behind physical evolution, but which will be realised, in a spiritualised age, in the near future, by means of physical evolution. The initiate experiences now in the spirit what is to happen in the future,—"And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne. And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald." In this way is described the source of things in the world of sense, in the pictures in which it appears to the seer. "And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold" (iv. 2-4). The beings far advanced on the path of wisdom thus surround the fountain-head of existence, to gaze on its infinite essence and bear testimony to it. "And in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind. And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle. And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come." It is not difficult to see that the four beasts represent the supersensible life underlying physical forms of life. Afterwards, when the trumpets sound, they lift up their voices, i.e., when the life expressed in sense-forms has been transmuted into spiritual life.
In the right hand of him who sits on the throne is the book in which the path to the highest wisdom is traced out (v. 1). There is only one worthy to open the book. "Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book and to loose the seven seals thereof." The seven seals of the book denote that human wisdom is sevenfold. That this is so is again connected with the sacred character of the number seven. The mystic wisdom of Philo designates as seals the eternal cosmic thoughts which come to expression in things. Human wisdom seeks for those creative thoughts; but only in the book, which is sealed with them, is divine truth to be found. The fundamental thoughts of creation must first be unveiled, the seals must be opened, before what is in the book can be revealed. Jesus, the Lion, has power to open the seals. He has given a direction to the great creative thoughts which, through them, leads to wisdom. The Lamb that was slain and that has bought its divinity with its blood, Jesus, who drew down the Christ into Himself and who thus, in the supreme sense, passed through the Life-Death-Mystery, opens the book (v. 9, 10). And as each seal is opened (vi), the four beasts declare what they know.
At the opening of the first seal, St. John sees a white horse, on which sits a rider with a bow. The first universal power, an embodiment of Creative Thought, becomes visible. It is put into the right direction by the new rider, Christianity. Strife is allayed by the new faith. At the opening of the second seal a red horse appears, ridden by one who takes away from the earth Peace,—the second universal power, so that humanity may not neglect, through sloth, to cultivate divine things. The opening of the third seal shows the universal power of Justice, guided by Christianity. The fourth brings the power of Religion which, through Christianity, has received new dignity.
The meaning of the four beasts thus becomes plain. They are the four chief universal powers, to which Christianity gives a new direction: War (the lion); Peaceful Work (the bull); Justice (the being with the human face); and Religious Enthusiasm (the eagle). The meaning of the third being becomes clear when it is said, at the opening of the third seal, "A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny," and that the rider holds "a pair of balances." And at the opening of the fourth seal a rider becomes visible whose name "was Death, and Hell followed with him." This rider is Religious Justice (vi. 6, 8). When the fifth seal is opened there appear the souls of those who have already acted in the spirit of Christianity. Creative thought itself, embodied in Christianity, shows itself here; but by this Christianity is at first meant only the first Christian community, which was transitory like other forms of creation. The sixth seal is opened (vi.); it is made evident that the spiritual world of Christianity is an eternal world. The people at large seem to be permeated by that spiritual world out of which Christianity itself proceeded. What it has itself created becomes sanctified. "And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel" (vii. 4). They are those who prepared for the Eternal before the coming of Christianity, and who were transformed by the Christ-impulse.
The opening of the seventh seal follows. It becomes evident what true Christianity is to be in the evolution of the world. The seven angels, "which stood before God," appear (Rev. viii. 2). Again these angels are spirits from the ancient Mysteries transferred to Christianity. They are the spirits who lead to the vision of God in a really Christian way. Therefore what is next accomplished is a leading to God: it is an "initiation" which is bestowed upon St. John. The proclamations of the angels are accompanied by the necessary signs during initiations. "The first angel sounded and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up." And similar things take place when the other angels sound their trumpets.
At this point we see that this was not merely an initiation in the old sense, but that a new one was taking the place of the old. Christianity was not to be confined, like the ancient Mysteries, to a few elect ones. It was to belong to the whole of humanity. It was to be a religion of the people; the truth was to be ready for each one who "has ears to hear." The old Mystics were singled out from a great number; the trumpets of Christianity sound for every one who is willing to hear them. Whether he draws near or not depends on himself. This is the reason why the terrors accompanying this initiation of humanity are so enormously enhanced. What is to become of the earth and its inhabitants in a far distant future is revealed to St. John at his initiation. Underlying this is the thought that initiates are able to foresee in higher worlds what is realised in the lower world only in the future. The seven messages present the meaning of Christianity to that age, the seven seals represent what was then being prepared through Christianity for future accomplishment. The future is veiled and sealed to the uninitiated; it is unsealed in initiation. When the earthly period is over during which the seven messages hold good, a more spiritual time will begin. Then life will no more flow on as it appears in physical forms, but even outwardly it will be a copy of its supersensible forms. These latter are represented by the four animals and the other seal-pictures. In a still later future appears that form of the earth which the initiate experiences through the trumpets.
Thus the initiate prophetically goes through what is to happen. And the Christian initiate learns how the Christ-impulse interposes and works on in earthly evolution. After it has been shown how all that is too much attached to perishable things perishes to attain true Christianity, there appears the mighty angel with a little book open in his hand, which he gives to St. John. "And he said unto me, Take it, and eat it up; and it shall make thy belly bitter, but it shall be in thy mouth sweet as honey" (x. 9). St. John was not only to read the little book, he was to absorb it and let its contents permeate him. What avails any knowledge unless man is vitally and thoroughly imbued with it? Wisdom has to become life, man must not merely recognise the divine, but become divine himself. Such wisdom as is written in the book no doubt causes pain to the perishable part of man, "it shall make thy belly bitter," but so much the more does it make happy the eternal part, "but it shall be in thy mouth sweet as honey."
Only by such an initiation can Christianity become actual on the earth. It kills everything belonging to the lower nature. "And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified." By this is meant the followers of Christ, who are ill-treated by the temporal powers. But what is ill-treated is only the mortal part of human nature, which they will afterwards have conquered. Thereby their fate is a copy of the prefiguring fate of Christ Jesus. "Spiritually Sodom and Egypt" is the symbol of a life which cleaves to the outer and is not changed by the Christ-impulse. Christ is everywhere crucified in the lower nature. When the lower nature conquers, all remains dead. The dead bodies of men lie about in the public places of cities. Those who overcome the lower nature and awaken the crucified Christ hear the trumpet of the seventh angel, "the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever" (xi. 15). "And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of his testament" (xi. 19).
In the vision of these events, the initiate sees renewed the old struggle between the lower and the higher natures. For everything which the candidate for initiation formerly had to go through must be repeated in one who follows the Christian path. Just as Osiris was threatened by the evil Typhon so now "the great dragon, that old serpent" (xii. 9) must be overcome. The woman, the human soul, gives birth to lower knowledge, which is an adverse power if it is not raised to wisdom. Man must pass through that lower knowledge. In the Apocalypse it appears as the "old serpent." From the remotest times the serpent had been the symbol of knowledge in all mystic wisdom. Man may be led astray by this serpent,—knowledge,—if he does not bring to life in him the Son of God, who crushes the serpent's head. "And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him" (xii. 9). In these words we can see what it was that Christianity wished to be:—a new kind of initiation. What had been attained in the Mysteries was to be attained in a new form. For in them too the serpent had to be overcome, but this was no longer to take place in the old way. The one, primeval mystery, the Christian mystery, was to replace the many mysteries of antiquity. Jesus, in whom the Logos had been made flesh, was to become the initiator of the whole of humanity, and humanity was to be his own community of Mystics.
What was to take place was not a separation of the elect, but a linking together of all. As each grows up to it so does he become a Mystic. The good tidings are announced to all, he who has an ear to hear hastens to learn the secrets. The voice of the heart is to decide in each individual case. It is not that one person at a time is introduced into the Mystery-temples, but that the word is to be spoken to all, to one it will then appeal more strongly than to another. It will be left to the daimon, the angel within each individual, to decide how far the latter may be initiated. The whole world is a Mystery-temple. Not only is salvation to come to those who see the wonderful processes in the special temples for initiation,—processes which give them a guarantee of eternal life, but "Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." Even if at first they grope in the dark, the light may nevertheless come to them later. Nothing is to be withheld from any one; the way is to be open to all.
The latter part of the Apocalypse describes clearly the dangers threatening Christianity through anti-Christian powers, and the final triumph of Christianity. All other gods are merged in the one Christian divinity: "And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof" (xxi. 23). The secret of the Revelation of St. John is that the Mysteries are no longer to be kept under lock and key. "And he saith unto me, Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand."
The author of the Apocalypse has set forth what he believes to be the relation of his church to the churches of antiquity. He wished to express in a spiritual mystery what he thought about the Mysteries themselves. He wrote his mystery on the isle of Patmos, and he is said to have received the "Revelation" in a grotto. These details indicate that the revelation was of a mystery character.
Thus Christianity arose out of the Mysteries. Its wisdom is born as a mystery in the Apocalypse, but a mystery which transcends the limits of the old mystery world. The separate Mysteries were to become one universal one.
It may appear to be a contradiction to say that the secrets of the Mysteries became manifest through Christianity, and that nevertheless a Christian mystery is to be seen again in the spiritual visions of the writer of the Apocalypse. The contradiction disappears directly we reflect that the secrets of the ancient Mysteries were revealed by the events in Palestine. Through these there became manifest what had previously been veiled in the Mysteries. There is now a new secret, namely what has been introduced into the evolution of the world by the appearance of the Christ. The initiate of ancient times, when in the spiritual world, saw how evolution points the way to the as yet hidden Christ. The Christian initiate experiences the unseen effects of the manifested Christ.
JESUS AND HIS HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
In the wisdom of the Mysteries is to be sought the soil out of which grew the spirit of Christianity. All that was needed was the gaining ground of the fundamental conviction that this spirit must be introduced into life in greater measure than had been the case with the Mysteries. But such a conviction was widely spread, as may be seen from the manner of life of the Essenes and Therapeutae, who existed long before Christianity arose.
The Essenes were a secluded sect, living in Palestine, whose numbers at the time of Christ were estimated at four thousand. They formed a community which required that its members should lead a life which developed a higher life within the soul, and brought about a new birth. The aspirant for admission was subjected to a severe test, in order to ascertain whether he were ripe for preparing himself for a higher life. If he was admitted, he had to undergo a period of probation, and to take a solemn oath that he would not betray to strangers the secrets of the Essenian discipline. The object of this life was the conquest of the lower nature in man, so that the spirit latent within him might be awakened ever more and more. One who had experienced up to a certain point the spirit within him was raised to a higher grade, and enjoyed a corresponding degree of authority, not forced from without, but conditioned by the nature of things.
Akin to the Essenes were the Therapeutae, who dwelt in Egypt. We get all desirable details of their mode of life in a treatise by the philosopher Philo, On the Contemplative Life. (The dispute as to the authenticity of this work must now be regarded as settled, and it may be rightly assumed that Philo really described the life of a community existing long before Christianity, and well known to him. Cf. on the subject, G.R. Mead's Fragments of a Faith Forgotten.) A few passages from Philo's treatise will give an idea of the main tenets of the Therapeutae. "The dwellings of the members of the community are extremely simple, only affording necessary shelter from extreme heat and cold. The dwellings are not built close together, as in towns, for contiguity has no attraction for one who wishes for solitude; nor are they at a great distance one from another, in order that the social relations, so dear to them, may not be made difficult, and that they may easily be able to assist each other in case of an attack by brigands. In each house is a consecrated room called a temple or monasterion, a small room or cell in which the mysteries of the higher life are cultivated.... They also possess works by ancient authors who once directed their school, and left behind many explanations about the customary method used in allegorical writings.... Their interpretation of sacred writings is directed to the deeper meaning of allegorical narratives."
We thus see that what had been striven after in the narrower circle of the Mysteries was being made general. But such a generalisation naturally weakened their severe character. The Essene and Therapeutic communities form a natural transition from the Mysteries to Christianity. But Christianity wished to extend to humanity in general what with the Essenes and Therapeutae was an affair of a sect. This of course prepared the way for a still further weakening of the old severe forms.
The existence of such sects makes it possible to understand how far the time was ripe for the comprehension of the mystery of Christ. In the Mysteries, a man was artificially prepared for the dawning upon his consciousness, at the appropriate time, of the spiritual world. Within the Essene or Therapeutic community the soul sought, by a certain mode of life, to become ripe for the awakening of the higher man. A further step forward is that man struggles through to a feeling that a human individuality may have evolved to higher and higher stages of perfection in repeated earth lives. One who had arrived at a glimpse of this truth would also be able to feel that in Jesus a being of lofty spirituality had appeared. The loftier the spirituality, the greater the possibility of accomplishing something of importance. Thus the individuality of Jesus could become capable of accomplishing the deed which the Evangelists so mysteriously indicate in the Baptism by John, and which, by the way in which they speak of it, they so clearly point out as of the utmost importance. The personality of Jesus became able to receive into its own soul Christ, the Logos, who was made flesh in that soul. Thenceforward the Ego of Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, and the outer personality was the vehicle of the Logos. The event of the Ego of Jesus becoming the Christ is enacted in the Baptism by St. John. During the period of the Mysteries, "union with the Spirit" was only for those who were initiated. Amongst the Essenes, a whole community cultivated a life by means of which all its members were able to arrive at the mystical union. In the coming of Christ, something, i.e., the deeds of Christ, was placed before the whole of humanity, so that all might share in the mystical union.
THE NATURE OF CHRISTIANITY
The deepest effect must have been produced upon believers in Christianity by the fact that the Divine, the Word, the eternal Logos, no longer came to them in the dim twilight of the Mysteries, as Spirit only, but that when they spoke of the Logos, they were made to think of the historical, human personality of Jesus. Formerly the Logos had only been seen in different degrees of human perfection. The delicate, subtle differences in the spiritual life of personalities could be observed, and the manner and degree in which the Logos became living within those seeking initiation. A higher degree of maturity was to be interpreted as a higher stage of evolution of spiritual life. The preparatory steps had to be sought in a spiritual life already passed through, and the present life was to be regarded as the preparatory stage for future degrees of spiritual evolution. The conservation of the spiritual power of the soul and the eternity of that force might be stated in the words of the Jewish occult teaching in the book of Sohar, "Nothing in the world is lost, nothing falls into the void, not even the words and voice of man: everything has its place and purport." Personality was but a metamorphosis of the soul, which develops from one personality to another. The single life of the personality was only considered as a link in the chain of development stretching backwards and forwards.
This Logos metamorphosing itself in the many separate human personalities has through Christianity been directed away from these to the one unique personality of Jesus. What had previously been distributed throughout the world was now united in a single personality. Jesus became the unique God-Man. In Jesus something was present once which must appear to man as the greatest of ideals, and with which, in the course of man's repeated earthly lives, he ought to be more and more united. Jesus took upon Himself the divinisation of the whole of humanity. In Him was sought what formerly could only be sought in a man's own particular soul. One did not any more behold the divine and eternal within the personality of a man; all that was now beheld in Jesus. It is not the eternal part of the soul that conquers death and is raised through its own power as divine, but it is that which was in Jesus, the one God that will appear and raise the souls.
It follows from this that an entirely new meaning was given to personality. The eternal, immortal part had been taken from it. Only the personality, as such, was left. If immortality be not denied, it has to be admitted as pertaining to the personality itself. Out of the belief in the soul's eternal metamorphosis came the belief in personal immortality. The personality acquired infinite importance, because it was the only thing which was left to man.
Henceforth there is nothing between the personality and the infinite God. A direct relation with Him must be established. Man was no longer capable of himself becoming divine, in a greater or less degree. He was simply man, standing in a direct but outward relation to God. This brought quite a new note into the conception of the world for those who knew the point of view held in the ancient Mysteries. There were many people in this position during the first centuries of Christianity. They knew the nature of the Mysteries. If they wished to become Christians, they were obliged to come to an understanding with the older conceptions. This brought them most difficult conflicts within their souls. They sought in most various ways to effect a settlement between the two tendencies in the conception of the world. This conflict is reflected in the writings of early Christian times: in those of heathens attracted by the sublimity of Christianity, as well as in the writings of those Christians who found it hard to give up the conceptions of the Mysteries. Slowly did Christianity grow out of these Mysteries. On the one hand Christian convictions were presented in the form of the Mystery truths, and on the other, the Mystery wisdom was clothed in Christian words.
Clement of Alexandria (ob. 217 A.D.), a Christian writer whose education had been pagan, is an instance of this, "God has not forbidden us to rest from good deeds when keeping the sabbath. He permits those who can grasp them to share in the divine mysteries and in the sacred light. He has not revealed to the crowd what is not suitable for them. He judged it fitting to reveal it only to a few, who are able to grasp it and to work out in themselves the unspeakable mystery which God confided to the Logos, not to the written word. And God hath set some in the Church as apostles; and some prophets; and some evangelists; and some pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ." Individual souls in those days sought by very different paths to find the way from the ancient views to the Christian ones. And the one who thought he was on the right path called others heretics. In the meanwhile, the Church grew stronger and stronger as an outward institution. The more power it gained, the more did the path, recognised as the right one by the decisions of councils, take the place of personal investigation. It was for the Church to decide who deviated too far from the divine truth which she guarded. The idea of a "heretic" took firmer and firmer shape. During the first centuries of Christianity, the search for the divine path was a much more personal matter than it afterwards became. A long distance had been travelled before Augustine's conviction became possible: "I should not believe in the truth of the Gospels unless the authority of the Catholic Church forced me to do so" (cf. p. 143).
The conflict between the method of the Mysteries and that of the Christian religion acquired a special stamp through the various Gnostic sects and writers. We may class as Gnostics all the writers of the first Christian centuries who sought for a deep, spiritual meaning in Christian teachings. (A brilliant account of the development of the Gnosis is given in G.R.S. Mead's book mentioned above, Fragments of a Faith Forgotten.) We understand the Gnostics when we look upon them as saturated with the ancient wisdom of the Mysteries, and striving to understand Christianity from that point of view. For them, Christ was the Logos, and as such of a spiritual nature. In His primal essence, He cannot approach man from without. He must be awakened in the soul. But the historical Jesus must bear some relation to the spiritual Logos. This was the crucial point for the Gnostics. Some settled it in one way, some in another. The essential point common to them all was that to arrive at a true understanding of the Christ-idea, mere historical tradition was not enough, but that it must be sought either in the wisdom of the Mysteries, or in the Neo-Platonic philosophy which was derived from the same source. The Gnostics had confidence in human wisdom, and believed it capable of bringing forth a Christ by whom the historical Christ could be measured: in fact, through whom alone the latter could be understood and beheld in the right light.
Of special interest from this point of view is the doctrine given in the books of Dionysius the Areopagite. It is true that there is no mention of these writings till the sixth century; it matters little when and where they were written, the point is that they give an account of Christianity which is clothed in the language of the Neo-Platonic philosophy and presented in the form of a spiritual contemplation of the higher world. At all events this is a form of delineation which belongs to the first Christian centuries. In older times the truth was handed on in the form of oral tradition; the most important things were not entrusted to writing. The Christianity described in the writings of Dionysius is set forth in the mirror of the Neo-Platonic conception of the world. Sense-perception troubles man's spiritual vision. He must reach out beyond the senses. But all human ideas are primarily derived from observation by the senses. What man perceives with his senses, he calls existence; what he does not so perceive, he calls non-existence. Therefore if he wishes to open up an actual view of the Divine, he must rise above existence and non-existence, for these also, as he conceives them, have their origin in the sphere of the senses. In this sense God is neither existent nor non-existent; he is super-existent. Consequently he cannot be attained by means of ordinary cognition, which has to do with existing things. We have to be raised above ourselves, above our sense-observation, above our reasoning logic, if we are to find the way to spiritual vision. Thence we are able to get a glimpse into the perspectives of the Divine.
But this super-existent Divinity has brought forth the Logos, the basis of the universe, filled with wisdom. To him man's lower powers are able to attain. He is present in the cosmos as the spiritual Son of God, he is the Mediator between God and man. He may be present in man in various degrees. He may for instance be realised in an external institution, in which those diversely imbued with his spirit are grouped into a hierarchy. A "church" of this kind is the outer reality of the Logos, and the power which lives in it lived in a personal way in the Christ become flesh, in Jesus. Thus the Church is through Jesus united to God: Jesus is its meaning and crowning-point.
One thing was clear to all Gnosis, that one must come to an understanding about the personality of Jesus. Christ and Jesus must be brought into connection with one another. Divinity was taken away from human personality and must, in one way or another, be recovered. It must be possible to find it again in Jesus. The Mystic had to do with a degree of divinity within himself, and with his earthly personality. The Christian had to do with the latter, and also with a perfect God, far above all that is attainable by humanity. If we hold firmly to this point of view, a fundamental mystic attitude of the soul is only possible when the soul's spiritual eyes are opened; when, through finding higher spiritual possibilities within itself, the soul throws itself open to the light which issues from Christ in Jesus. The union of the soul with its highest powers is at the same time union with the historical Christ. For mysticism is an immediate consciousness and feeling of the divine within the soul. But a God far transcending everything human can never dwell in the soul in the real sense of the word. The Gnosis and all subsequent Christian mysticism represent the effort, in some way or other, to lay hold of that God, and to apprehend Him directly in the soul.
A conflict in this case was inevitable. It was really only possible for a man to find his own divine part, but this is both human and divine,—the divine at a certain stage of development. Yet the Christian God is a definite one, perfect in himself. It was possible for a person to find in himself the power to strive upwards to this God, but he could not say that what he experienced in his own soul, at any stage of development, was one with God. A great gulf was fixed between what it was possible to find in the soul, and what Christianity called divine. It is the gulf between science and faith, between knowledge and religious feeling.
This gulf does not exist for the Mystic in the old sense of the word. For he knows for a certainty that he can only comprehend the divine by degrees, and he also knows why this is so. It is clear to him that this gradual attainment is a real attainment of real divine life, and he finds it difficult to speak of a perfect, isolated divine principle. A Mystic of this kind does not seek a perfect God, but he wishes to experience the divine life. He seeks to be made divine, not to gain an external relation to the Godhead.
It is of the essence of Christianity that its mysticism in this sense starts with an assumption. The Christian Mystic seeks to behold divinity within him, but at the same time he looks up to the historical Christ as his physical eyes do to the sun. Just as the sun is the means by which physical eyes behold physical objects, so does the Christian Mystic intensify his inner nature that it may behold the divine, and the light which makes such vision possible for him is the fact of the appearance of Christ. It is He who enables man to attain his highest possibilities. It is in this way that the Christian Mystics of the Middle Ages differ from the Mystics of the ancient Mysteries (cf. my book, Mystics of the Renaissance).
CHRISTIANITY AND HEATHEN WISDOM
At the time of the first beginnings of Christianity, there appear in heathen civilisation conceptions of the universe which seem to be a continuation of the Platonic philosophy, and which may also be taken as a deepening and spiritualisation of the wisdom of the Mysteries. The beginning of such conceptions is to be dated from Philo of Alexandria (B.C. 25-A.D. 50). From his point of view the processes which lead to the divine take place in the innermost part of the human soul. We might say that the temple in which Philo seeks initiation is wholly within him, and his higher experiences are the Mysteries. In his case processes of a purely spiritual nature replace the initiatory ceremonies of the sanctuary.
According to Philo, sense-observation and knowledge gained through the logical intellect do not lead to the divine. They have merely to do with what is perishable. But there is a way by which the soul may rise above these methods. It must come out of what it calls its ordinary self: from this it must withdraw. Then it enters a state of spiritual exaltation and illumination, in which it no longer knows, thinks, and judges in the ordinary sense of the words; for it has become merged, identified with the divine, which is experienced in its essence, and cannot be imparted in thought-concepts or abstract ideas. It is experienced, and one who goes through this experience knows that no one can impart it, for the only way of reaching it is to live it. The visible world is an image of this mystic reality which is experienced in the inmost recesses of the soul. The world has come forth from the invisible, inconceivable God. The harmony of the cosmos, which is steeped in wisdom, and to which sense-phenomena are subject, is a direct reflection of the Godhead, its spiritual image. It is divine spirit poured out into the world,—cosmic reason, the Logos, the offspring or Son of God. The Logos is the mediator between the world of sense and the unimaginable God. When man steeps himself in knowledge, he becomes united with the Logos, which is embodied in him. The person who has developed spirituality is the vehicle of the Logos. Above the Logos is God; beneath is the perishable world. It is man's vocation to form the link between the two. What he experiences in his inmost being, as spirit, is the universal Spirit. Such ideas are directly reminiscent of the Pythagorean manner of thinking (cf. p. 57 et seq.).
The centre of existence is sought in the inner life, but this life is conscious of its cosmic value. St. Augustine was thinking in virtually the same way as Philo, when he said: "We see all created things because they are; but they are, because God sees them." And he adds, concerning what and how we see: "And because they are, we see them outwardly; because they are perfect, we see them inwardly."
Plato has the same fundamental idea (cf. p. 63 et seq.). Like Plato, Philo sees in the destiny of the human soul the closing act of the great cosmic drama, the awakening of the divinity that is under a spell. He thus describes the inner actions of the soul: the wisdom in man's inner being walks along, "tracing the paths of the Father, and shapes the forms while beholding the archetypes." It is no personal matter for man to create forms in his inner being; they are the eternal wisdom, they are the cosmic life.
This is in harmony with the interpretation of the myths of the people in the light of the Mysteries. The Mystic searches for the deeper truth in the myths (cf. p. 94 et seq.). And as the Mystic treats the myths of paganism, Philo handles Moses' story of the creation. The Old Testament accounts are for him images of inner soul-processes. The Bible relates the creation of the world. One who merely takes it as a description of outer events only half knows it. It is certainly written, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form and void, and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved on the face of the waters." But the real inner meaning of the words must be lived in the depths of the soul. God must be found within, then He appears as the "Primal Splendour, who sends out innumerable rays, not perceptible by the senses, but collectively thinkable." This is Philo's expression. In the Timaeus of Plato, the words are almost identical with the Bible ones, "Now when the Father, who had created the universe, saw how it had become living and animated, and an image of the eternal gods, he felt pleasure therein." In the Bible we read, "And God saw that it was good."
The recognition of the divine is for Philo, as well as for Plato and in the wisdom of the Mysteries, to live through the process of creation in one's own soul. The history of creation and the history of the soul which is becoming divine, in this way flow into one. Philo is convinced that Moses' account of the creation may be used for writing the history of the soul which is seeking God. Everything in the Bible thereby acquires a profoundly symbolical meaning, of which Philo becomes the interpreter. He reads the Bible as a history of the soul.
We may say that Philo's manner of reading the Bible corresponds to a feature of his age which originated in the wisdom of the Mysteries. He indeed relates that the Therapeutae interpreted ancient writings in the same way. "They also possess works by ancient authors who once directed their school and left behind many explanations about the customary method pursued in allegorical writings.... The interpretation of such writings is directed to the deeper meaning of the allegorical narratives" (cf. p. 200). Thus Philo's aim was to discover the deeper meaning of the "allegorical" narratives in the Old Testament.
Let us try to realise whither such an interpretation could lead. We read the account of creation and find in it not only a narrative of outward events, but an indication of the way which the soul has to take in order to attain to the divine. Thus the soul must reproduce in itself, as a microcosm, the ways of God, and in this alone can its efforts after wisdom consist. The drama of the universe must be enacted in each individual soul. The inner life of the mystical sage is the realisation of the image given in the account of creation. Moses wrote not only to relate historical facts, but to represent pictorially the paths which the soul must travel if it would find God.
All this, in Philo's conception of the universe, is enacted within the human soul. Man experiences within himself what God has experienced in the universe. The word of God, the Logos, becomes an event in the soul. God brought the Jews from Egypt into Palestine; he let them go through distress and privation before giving them that Land of Promise. That is the outward event. Man must experience it inwardly. He goes from the land of Egypt, the perishable world, through the privations which lead to the suppression of the sense-nature, into the Promised Land of the soul, he attains the eternal. With Philo it is all an inward process. The God who poured Himself forth into the world consummates His resurrection in the soul when that soul understands His creative word and echoes it. Then man has spiritually given birth within himself to divinity, to the divine spirit which became man, to the Logos, Christ. In this sense knowledge was, for Philo and those who thought like him, the birth of Christ within the world of spirit. The Neo-Platonic philosophy, which developed contemporaneously with Christianity, was an elaboration of Philo's thought. Let us see how Plotinus (A.D. 204-269) describes his spiritual experiences:
"Often when I come to myself on awaking from bodily sleep and, turning from the outer world, enter into myself, I behold wondrous beauty. Then I am sure that I have been conscious of the better part of myself. I live my true life, I am one with the divine and, rooted in the divine, gain the power to transport myself beyond even the super-world. After thus resting in God, when I descend from spiritual vision and again form thoughts, I ask myself how it has happened that I now descend and that my soul ever entered the body at all, since, in its essence, it is what it has just revealed itself to me. What can the reason be for souls forgetting God the Father since they come from the beyond and belong to Him, and, when they forget Him, know nothing of Him or of themselves? The first false step they take is indulging in presumption, the desire to become, and in forgetfulness of their true self and in the pleasure of only belonging to themselves. They coveted self-glorification, they rushed about in pursuit of their desires and thus went astray and fell completely away. Thereupon they lost all knowledge of their origin in the beyond, just as children, early separated from their parents and brought up elsewhere, do not know who they themselves and their parents are." Plotinus delineates the kind of life which the soul should strive to develop. "The life of the body and its longings should be stilled, the soul should see calm in all that surrounds it: in earth, sea, air, and heaven itself no movement. It should learn to see how the soul pours itself from without into the serene cosmos, streaming into it from all sides; as the sun's rays illuminate a dark cloud and make it golden, so does the soul, on entering the body of the world encircled by the sky, give it life and immortality."
It is evident that this vision of the world is very similar to that of Christianity. Believers of the community of Jesus said: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life ... declare we unto you." In the same way it might be said in the spirit of Neo-Platonism, "That which was from the beginning, which cannot be heard and seen, must be spiritually experienced as the Word of life."
And so the old conception of the universe is developed and splits into two leading ideas. It leads in Neo-Platonism and similar systems to an idea of Christ which is purely spiritual; on the other hand, it leads to a fusion of the idea of Christ with a historical manifestation, the personality of Jesus. The writer of the Gospel of St. John may be said to unite these two conceptions. "In the beginning was the Word." He shares this conviction with the Neo-Platonists. The Word becomes spirit within the soul, thus do the Neo-Platonists conclude. The Word was made flesh in Jesus, thus does St. John conclude, and with him the whole Christian community. The inner meaning of the manner in which the Word was made flesh was given in all the ancient cosmogonies. Plato says of the macrocosm: "God has extended the body of the world on the soul of the world in the form of a cross." The soul of the world is the Logos. If the Logos is to be made flesh, he must recapitulate the cosmic process in fleshly existence. He must be nailed to the cross, and rise again. In spiritual form this most momentous thought of Christianity had long before been prefigured in the old cosmogonies. The Mystic went through it as a personal experience in initiation. The Logos become man had to go through it in a way that made this fact one that is true for or valid to the whole of humanity. Something which was present under the old dispensation as an incident in the Mysteries becomes a historical fact through Christianity. Hence Christianity was the fulfilment not only of what the Jewish prophets had predicted, but also of the truth which had been prefigured in the Mysteries.
The Cross of Golgotha gathers together in one fact the whole cult of the Mysteries of antiquity. We find the cross first in the ancient cosmogonies. At the starting-point of Christianity it confronts us in an unique event which has supreme value for the whole of mankind. It is from this point of view that it is possible for the reason to apprehend the mystical element in Christianity. Christianity as a mystical fact is a milestone in the process of human evolution; and the incidents in the Mysteries, with their attendant results, are the preparation for that mystical fact.
ST. AUGUSTINE AND THE CHURCH
The full force of the conflict which was enacted in the souls of Christian believers during the transition from paganism to the new religion is exhibited in the person of St. Augustine (A.D. 354-430). The spiritual struggles of Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Gregory Nazianzen, Jerome, and others are full of mysterious interest when we see them calmed and laid to rest in the mind of Augustine.
In Augustine's personality deep spiritual needs developed out of a passionate nature. He passed through pagan and semi-Christian ideas. He suffered deeply from the most appalling doubts of the land which attack one who has felt the impotence of many varieties of thought in the face of spiritual problems, and who has tasted the depressing effect of the question: "Can man know anything whatever?"
At the beginning of his struggles, Augustine's thoughts clung to the perishable things of sense. He could only picture the spiritual to himself in material images. It is a deliverance for him when he rises above this stage. He thus describes it in his Confessions: "When I wished to think of God, I could only imagine immense masses of bodies and believed that was the only kind of thing that could exist. This was the chief and almost the only cause of the errors which I could not avoid." He thus indicates the point at which a person must arrive who is seeking the true life of the spirit. There are thinkers, not a few, who maintain that it is impossible to arrive at pure thought, free from any material admixture. These thinkers confuse what they feel bound to say about their own inner life, with what is humanly possible. The truth rather is that it is only possible to arrive at higher knowledge when thought has been liberated from all material things, when an inner life has been developed in which images of reality do not cease when their demonstration in sense-impressions comes to an end. Augustine relates how he attained to spiritual vision. Everywhere he asked where the divine was to be found. "I asked the earth and she said 'I am not it' and all that was upon the earth said the same. I asked the ocean and the abysses and all that lives in them, which said, 'We are not thy God, seek beyond us.' I asked the winds, and the whole atmosphere and its inhabitants said, 'The philosophers who sought for the essence of things in us were under an illusion, we are not God.' I asked the sun, moon, and stars, which said, 'We are not God whom thou seekest.'" And it came home to St. Augustine that there is only one thing which can answer his question about the divine—his own soul. The soul said, "No eyes nor ears can impart to thee what is in me. For I alone can tell thee, and I tell thee in an unquestionable way." "Men may be doubtful whether vital force is situate in air or in fire, but who can doubt that he himself lives, remembers, understands, wills, thinks, knows, and judges? If he doubts, it is a proof that he is alive, he remembers why he doubts, he understands that he doubts, he will assure himself of things, he thinks, he knows that he knows nothing, he judges that he must not accept anything hastily." Outer things do not defend themselves when their essence and existence are denied, but the soul does defend itself. It could not be doubtful of itself unless it existed. By its doubt it confirms its own existence. "We are and we recognise our being, and we love our own being and knowledge. On these three points no illusion in the garb of truth can trouble us, for we do not apprehend them with our bodily senses like external things." Man learns about the divine by leading his soul to know itself as spiritual, so that it may find its way, as a spirit, into the spiritual world. Augustine had battled his way through to this knowledge. It was out of such an attitude of mind that there grew up in pagan nations the desire to knock at the gate of the Mysteries. In the age of Augustine, such convictions might lead to becoming a Christian. Jesus, the Logos become man had shown the path which must be followed by the soul if it would attain the goal which it sees when in communion with itself. In A.D. 385, at Milan, Augustine was instructed by St. Ambrose. All his doubts about the Old and New Testaments vanished when his teacher interpreted the most important passages, not merely in a literal sense, but "by lifting the mystic veil by force of the spirit."
What had been guarded in the Mysteries was embodied for Augustine in the historical tradition of the Evangelists and in the community where that tradition was preserved. He comes by degrees to the conviction that "the law of this tradition, which consists in believing what it has not proved, is moderate and without guile." He arrives at the idea, "Who could be so blind as to say that the Church of the Apostles deserves to have no faith placed in it, when it is so loyal and is supported by the conformity of so many brethren; when these have handed down their writings to posterity so conscientiously, and when the Church has so strictly maintained the succession of teachers, down to our present bishops?"
Augustine's mode of thought told him, that with the coming of Christ other conditions had set in for souls seeking after the spirit than those which had previously existed. For him it was firmly established that in Christ Jesus had been revealed in outer historical fact that which the Mystic had sought in the Mysteries through preparation. One of his most significant utterances is the following, "What is now called the Christian religion already existed amongst the ancients and was not lacking at the very beginnings of the human race. When Christ appeared in the flesh, the true religion already in existence received the name of Christian." There were two ways possible for such a method of thought. One way is that if the human soul develops within it the forces which lead it to the knowledge of its true self, it will, if it only goes far enough, come also to the knowledge of the Christ and of everything connected with him. This would have been a mystery-wisdom enriched through the Christ event. The other way is taken by Augustine and is that by which he became the great model for his successors. It consists in cutting off the development of the forces of the soul at a certain point, and in borrowing the ideas connected with the coming of Christ from written accounts and oral traditions. Augustine rejected the first way as springing from pride of the soul; he thought the second was the way of true humility. Thus he says to those who wished to follow the first way: "You may find peace in the truth, but for that humility is needed, which does not suit your proud neck." On the other hand, he was filled with boundless inward happiness by the fact that since the coming of Christ in the flesh, it was possible to say that every soul can come to spiritual experience which goes as far as it can in seeking within itself, and then, in order to attain to the highest, has confidence in what the written and oral traditions of the Christian Church tell us about the Christ and his revelation. He says on this point: "What bliss, what abiding enjoyment of supreme and true good is offered us, what serenity, what a breath of eternity! How shall I describe it? It has been expressed, as far as it could be, by those great incomparable souls who we admit have beheld and still behold.... We reach a point at which we acknowledge how true is what we have been commanded to believe and how well and beneficently we have been brought up by our mother, the Church, and of what benefit was the milk given by the Apostle Paul to the little ones...." (It is beyond the scope of this book to give an account of the alternative method which is evolved from the Mystery Wisdom, enriched through the Christ event. The description of this method will be found in An Outline of Occult Science, see advt., front page.) Whereas in pre-Christian times one who wished to seek the spiritual basis of existence was necessarily directed to the way of the Mysteries, Augustine was able to say, even to those souls who could find no such path within themselves, "Go as far as you can on the path of knowledge with your human powers, thence trust (faith) will carry you up into the higher spiritual regions." It was only going one step further to say, it is natural to the human soul only to be able to arrive at a certain stage of knowledge through its own powers: thence it can only advance further through trust, through faith in written and oral tradition. This step was taken by the spiritual movement which assigned to knowledge a certain sphere above which the soul could not rise by its own efforts, but everything which lay beyond this domain was made an object of faith which has to be supported by written and oral tradition and by confidence in its representatives. Thomas Aquinas, the greatest teacher within the Church (1224-1274), has set forth this doctrine in his writings in a variety of ways. His main point is that human knowledge can only attain to that which led Augustine to self-knowledge, to the certainty of the divine. The nature of the divine and its relation to the world is given by revealed theology, which is not accessible to man's own researches and is, as the substance of faith, superior to all knowledge.
The origin of this point of view may be studied in the theology of John Scotus Erigena, who lived in the ninth century at the court of Charles the Bald, and who represents a natural transition from the earliest ideas of Christianity to the ideas of Thomas Aquinas. His conception of the universe is couched in the spirit of Neo-Platonism. In his treatise De Divisione Naturae, Erigena has elaborated the teaching of Dionysius the Areopagite. This teaching started from a God far above the perishable things of sense, and it derived the world from Him (Cf. p. 208 et seq.). Man is involved in the transmutation of all beings into this God, Who finally becomes what He was from the beginning. Everything falls back again into the Godhead which has passed through the universal process and has finally become perfected. But in order to reach this goal man must find the way to the Logos who was made flesh. In Erigena this thought leads to another: that what is contained in the writings which give an account of the Logos leads, when received in faith, to salvation. Reason and the authority of the Scriptures, faith and knowledge stand on the same level. The one does not contradict the other, but faith must bring that to which knowledge never can attain by itself.
* * * * *
The knowledge of the eternal which the ancient Mysteries withheld from the multitude became, when presented in this way by Christian thought and feeling, the content of faith, which by its very nature had to do with something unattainable by mere knowledge. The conviction of the pre-Christian Mystic was that to him was given knowledge of the divine, while the people were obliged to have faith in its expression in images. Christianity came to the conviction that God has given his wisdom to mankind through revelation, and man attains through his knowledge an image of this divine revelation. The wisdom of the Mysteries is a hothouse plant, which is revealed to a few individuals ripe for it. Christian wisdom is a Mystery revealed as knowledge to none, but as a content of faith revealed to all. The standpoint of the Mysteries lived on in Christianity, but in a different form. All, not only the special individual, were to share in the truth, but the process was that at a certain point man owned his inability to penetrate farther by means of knowledge, and thence ascended to faith. Christianity brought the content of the Mysteries out of the obscurity of the temple into the clear light of day. The one Christian movement mentioned led to the idea that this content must necessarily be retained in the form of faith.
P. 5—To one who has true perception, the "Spirit of Nature" speaks powerfully in the facts currently expressed by the catchword, "struggle for existence," etc.; but not in the opinions which modern science deduces from them. In the first statement lies the reason why natural science is attracting more and more widespread attention. But it follows from the second statement that scientific opinions should not be taken as if they necessarily belonged to a knowledge of facts. The possibility of being led astray by mere opinion is, in these days, infinitely great.
P. 9—It should not be concluded from these remarks about the sources of St. Luke's Gospel, that purely historical research is undervalued by the writer of this book. This is not the case. Historical research is absolutely justified, but it should not be impatient with the method of presentation proceeding from a spiritual point of view. It is not considered of importance to make various kinds of quotations in this book; but one who is willing will be able to see that a really unprejudiced, broad-minded judgment will not find anything that is here stated to be contrary to what has been actually and historically proved. One who will not be broad-minded, but who holds this or that theory to be a firmly-established fact, may easily think that assertions made in this book are untenable from a scientific point of view, and are made without any objective foundation.
P. 15—It is said above that those whose spiritual eyes are opened are able to see into the spiritual world. The conclusion must not on this account be drawn that only one who possesses spiritual sight is able to form an intelligent opinion about the results arrived at by the initiate. Spiritual sight belongs only to the investigator. If he afterwards communicates what he has discovered, every one can understand it who gives fair play to his reason and preserves an unbiassed sense of truth. And such an one may also apply the results of research to life and derive satisfaction from them without himself having spiritual sight.
P. 20—"The sinking into the mire" spoken of by Plato must also be interpreted in the sense referred to in the last note.
P. 20—What is said about the impossibility of imparting the teaching of the Mysteries has reference to the fact that they could not be communicated to those unprepared in the same form in which the initiate experienced them; but they were always communicated to those outside in such a form as was possible for the uninitiated to understand. For instance the myths gave the old form, in order to communicate the content of the Mysteries in a way that was generally comprehensible.
P. 88—Everything that relates to knowledge gained through the "eyes of the spirit" is called by ancient mysticism "Mantik." "Telestik," on the other hand, is the indication of the ways which lead to initiation.
P. 168—"Kabirs," according to ancient mysticism, are beings with a consciousness far above the human consciousness of to-day. Schelling means that man through initiation ascends to a state of consciousness above his present one.
P. 186—An explanation of the meaning of the number seven may be obtained in An Outline of Occult Science (see advt., front page).
P. 187—The meanings of the Apocalyptic signs can only be given quite shortly here. Of course, all these things might be much more thoroughly explained, but of this the scope of this book does not allow.
* * * * *
- Typographical errors corrected in text: Page 140: "It can only be as is must be" replaced with "It can only be as it must be" -
* * * * *