THEOSOPHY, Vol. 53, No. 12, October, 1965
(Pages 357-364; Size: 23K)
HERETICS AND THE RENAISSANCE
IX--IN THE LIGHT OF THEOSOPHY(1)
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[Part 9 of a 10-part series]
HISTORY finds the first Christian sects to have been either Nazarenes like John the Baptist; or Ebionites, among whom were many of the relatives of Jesus; or Essenes (Iessaens) the Therapeutæ, healers, of which the Nazaria were a branch. All these sects, which only in the days of Irenæus began to be considered heretical, were more or less kabalistic (p. 127). So hopelessly entangled seems Irenæus in his fruitless endeavors to describe, to all outward appearance at least, the true doctrines of the many Gnostic sects of which he treats and to present them at the same time as abominable "heresies," that he either deliberately, or through ignorance, confounds all of them in such a way that few metaphysicians would be able to disentangle them, without the Kabala and the Codex as the true keys (p. 176).
Later, when all these extraordinary blunders, contradictions, dissensions and inventions were forcibly crammed into a frame elaborately executed by the episcopal caste of the new religion, and called Christianity; and the chaotic picture itself cunningly preserved from too close scrutiny by a wide array of formidable Church penances and anathemas, which kept the curious back under the false pretense of sacrilege and profanation of divine mysteries; and millions of people had been butchered in the name of the God of mercy -- then came the Reformation. It certainly deserves its name in its fullest paradoxical sense. It abandoned Peter and alleges to have chosen Paul for its only leader. And the apostle who thundered against the old law of bondage; who left full liberty to Christians to either observe the Sabbath or set it aside; who rejects everything anterior to John the Baptist, is now the professed standard bearer of Protestantism, which holds to the old law more than the Jews, imprisons those who view the Sabbath as Jesus and Paul did, and outvies the synagogue of the first century in dogmatic intolerance!
But who then were the first Christians, may still be asked? Doubtless the Ebionites; and in this we follow the authority of the best critics. "There can be little doubt that the author (of the Clementine Homilies) was a representative of Ebionitic Gnosticism, which had once been the purest form of primitive Christianity ..." And who were the Ebionites? The pupils and followers of the early Nazarenes, the kabalistic Gnostics. Renan shows the Ebionites numbering among their sect all the surviving relatives of Jesus. John the Baptist, his cousin and precursor, was the accepted Saviour of the Nazarenes, and their prophet. His disciples dwelt on the other side of the Jordan, and the scene of the baptism of the Jordan is clearly and beyond any question proved by the author of Sod, the Son of the Man, to have been the site of the Adonis-worship. "Having been united (conjunctus) to the Nazarenes, each (Ebionite) imparted to the other out of his own wickedness, and decided that Christ was of the seed of a man," writes Epiphanius. And if they did, we must suppose they knew more about their contemporary prophet than Epiphanius 400 years later. Theodoret, as shown elsewhere, describes the Nazarenes as Jews who "honor the Anointed as a just man," and use the evangel called "According to Peter." Jerome finds the authentic and original evangel, written in Hebrew, by Matthew the apostle-publican, in the library collected at Cæsarea, by the martyr Pamphilius. "I received permission from the Nazarenes, who at Beroea of Syria used this (gospel) to translate it," he writes toward the end of the fourth century. "In the evangel which the Nazarenes and Ebionites use," adds Jerome, "which recently I translated from Hebrew into Greek, and which is called by most persons the genuine Gospel of Matthew," etc.
Jerome adds that it was written in the Chaldaic language, but with Hebrew letters. The Ebionites, the genuine primitive Christians, rejecting the rest of the apostolic writings, made use only of this Gospel, and the Ebionites, as Epiphanius declares, firmly believed, with the Nazarenes, that Jesus was but a man "of the seed of a man." Jerome knew that this original Gospel of Matthew was the expounder of the only true doctrine of Christ; and that it was the work of an evangelist who had been a friend and companion of Jesus. He knew that if of the two Gospels, the Hebrew in question and the Greek belonging to our present Scripture, one was spurious, hence heretical, it was not that of the Nazarenes; and yet, knowing all this, Jerome becomes more zealous than ever in his persecutions of the "Hæretics." Why? Because to accept it was equivalent to reading the death-sentence of the established Church. The Gospel according to the Hebrews was but too well known to have been the only one accepted for four centuries by the Jewish Christians, the Nazarenes and the Ebionites. (Pp. 180-83.)
Why wonder at the unfathomable mysteries of the Christian religion, since it is perfectly human? Have we not a letter written by one of the most respected Fathers of the Church to this same Jerome, which shows better than whole volumes their traditionary policy? This is what Saint Gregory of Nazianzen wrote to his friend and confidant Saint Jerome: "Nothing can impose better on a people than verbiage; the less they understand the more they admire. Our fathers and doctors have often said, not what they thought, but what circumstances and necessity forced them to." (p. 183.)
If we now recall the fact that a portion of the Mysteries of the "Pagans" consisted of the aporrheta, or secret discourses; that the secret Logia or discourses of Jesus contained in the original Gospel according to Matthew, the meaning and interpretation of which St. Jerome confessed to be "a difficult task" for him to achieve, were of the same nature; and if we remember, further, that to some of the interior or final Mysteries only a very select few were admitted; and that finally it was from the number of the latter that were taken all the ministers of the holy "Pagan" rites, we will then clearly understand this expression of Jesus quoted by Peter: "Guard the Mysteries for me and the sons of my house," i.e., of my doctrine. And, if we understand it rightly, we cannot avoid thinking that this "secret" doctrine of Jesus, even the technical expressions of which are but so many duplications of the Gnostic and Neoplatonic mystic phraseology -- that this doctrine, we say, was based on the same transcendental philosophy of Oriental Gnosis as the rest of the religions of those and earliest days. That none of the later Christian sects, despite their boasting, were the inheritors of it, is evident from the contradictions, blunders, and clumsy repatching of the mistakes of every preceding century by the discoveries of the succeeding one. (Pp. 191-2).
Eusebius states that before the siege of Jerusalem the small Christian community -- comprising members of whom many, if not all, knew Jesus and his apostles personally -- took refuge in the little town of Pella, on the opposite shore of the Jordan. Surely these simple people, separated for centuries from the rest of the world, ought to have preserved their traditions fresher than any other nations! It is in Palestine that we have to search for the clearest waters of Christianity, let alone its source. The first Christians, after the death of Jesus, all joined together for a time, whether they were Ebionites, Nazarenes, Gnostics or others. They had no Christian dogmas in those days, and their Christianity consisted in believing Jesus to be a prophet, this belief varying from seeing in him simply a "just man," or a holy, inspired prophet, a vehicle used by Christos and Sophia to manifest themselves through. These all united together in opposition to the synagogue and the tyrannical technicalities of the Pharisees, until the primitive group separated in two distinct branches -- which, we may correctly term the Christian kabalists of the Jewish Tanaïm school, and the Christian kabalists of the Platonic Gnosis. The former were represented by the party composed of the followers of Peter, and John, the author of the Apocalypse; the latter ranged with the Pauline Christianity, blending itself, at the end of the second century, with the Platonic philosophy, and engulfing, still later, the Gnostic sects, whose symbols and misunderstood mysticism overflowed the Church of Rome. (Pp. 197-8.)
The oldest Nazarenes, who were the descendants of the Scripture nazars, and whose last prominent leader was John the Baptist, although never very orthodox in the sight of the scribes and Pharisees of Jerusalem were, nevertheless, respected and left unmolested. Even Herod "feared the multitude" because they regarded John as a prophet (Matthew xiv. 5). But the followers of Jesus evidently adhered to a sect which became a still more exasperating thorn in their side. It appeared as a heresy within another heresy; for while the nazars of the olden times, the "Sons of the Prophets," were Chaldean kabalists, the adepts of the new dissenting sect showed themselves reformers and innovators from the first. The great similitude traced by some critics between the rites and observances of the earliest Christians and those of the Essenes may be accounted for without the slightest difficulty. The Essenes, as we remarked just now, were the converts of Buddhist missionaries who had overrun Egypt, Greece, and even Judea at one time, since the reign of Asoka the zealous propagandist; and while it is evidently to the Essenes that belongs the honor of having had the Nazarene reformer, Jesus, as a pupil, still the latter is found disagreeing with his early teachers on several questions of formal observance. He cannot strictly be called an Essene, for reasons which we will indicate further on, neither was he a nazar, or Nazaria of the older sect. He is the founder of the sect of the new nazars, a follower of the Buddhist doctrine. The Nazarene reformer had undoubtedly belonged to one of these sects; though, perhaps, it would be next to impossible to decide absolutely which. But what is self-evident is that he preached the philosophy of Buddha-Sakyamûni. The motive of Jesus was evidently like that of Gautama-Buddha, to benefit humanity at large by producing a religious reform which should give it a religion of pure ethics; the true knowledge of God and nature having remained until then solely in the hands of the esoteric sects, and their adepts. (Pp. 132-3.)
Not only did the Buddhist missionaries make their way to the Mesopotamian Valley, but they even went so far west as Ireland. Mr. Charles Sotheran remarked, in a lecture before the American Philological Society, that both legends and archæological remains unite in proving beyond question "that Ireland, like every other nation, once listened to the propagandists of Siddhârtha-Buddha." Buddhist missionaries, Pliny tells us, established themselves on the shores of the Dead Sea, ages before his time, "per soeculorum millia." (Fn. 290-91; p. 130.)
Buddhism is but the primitive source of Brahmanism. We need not be surprised, therefore, to find again, in all the fundamental dogmas of the Gnostics, the metaphysical tenets of both Brahmanism and Buddhism. They held that the Old Testament was the revelation of an inferior being, a subordinate divinity, and did not contain a single sentence of their Sophia, the Divine Wisdom. As to the New Testament, it had lost its purity when the compilers became guilty of interpolations. The revelation of divine truth was sacrificed by them to promote selfish ends and maintain quarrels. (p. 169.)
By Buddhism we mean that religion signifying literally the doctrine of wisdom, and which by many ages antedates the metaphysical philosophy of Siddhârtha Sakyamuni (p. 143).
We can assert, with entire plausibility, that there is not one of all these sects -- Kabalism, Judaism, and our present Christianity included -- but sprung from the two main branches of that one mother-trunk, the once universal religion, which antedated the Vedic ages -- we speak of that prehistoric Buddhism which later merged into Brahmanism (p. 123).
We do not mean to take upon ourselves to defend the sects which inundated Europe at the eleventh century, and which brought to light the most wonderful creeds; we limit our defense merely to those Christian sects whose theories were usually grouped under the generic name of Gnosticism. These are those which appeared immediately after the alleged crucifixion, and lasted till they were nearly exterminated under the rigorous execution of the Constantinian law (p. 326).
One by one the tide of time engulfed the sects of the early centuries until of the whole number only one survived in its primitive integrity. That one still exists, still teaches the doctrine of its founder, still exemplifies its faith in works of power. Driven from their native land, its members found refuge in Persia, and today the anxious traveller may converse with the direct descendants of the "Disciples of John," who listened, on the Jordan's shore, to the "man sent from God," and were baptized and believed. This curious people, numbering 30,000 or more, are miscalled "Christians of St. John," but in fact should be known by their old name of Nazareans or their new one of Mendæans. To term them Christians, is wholly unwarranted. They neither believe in Jesus as Christ, nor accept his atonement, nor adhere to his Church, nor revere its "Holy Scriptures." Neither do they worship the Jehovah-God of the Jews and Christians. (p. 289-90.) The true, original Christianity, such as was preached by Jesus, is to be found only in the so-called Syrian heresies. Only from them can we extract any clear notions about what was primitive Christianity (p. 137).
The question is likely to be asked: "In the view of so much evidence to show that Christian theology is only a pot-pourri of Pagan mythologies, how can it be connected with the religion of Moses?" The early Christians, Paul and his disciples, the Gnostics and their successors generally, regarded Christianity and Judaism as essentially distinct. The latter, in their view, was an antagonistic system, and from a lower origin. "Ye received the law," said Stephen, "from the ministration of angels," or æons, and not from the Most High Himself. The Gnostics taught that Jehovah, the Deity of the Jews, was Ilda Baoth, the son of the ancient Bohu, or Chaos, the adversary of Divine Wisdom. The question may be more than easily answered. The law of Moses, and the so-called monotheism of the Jews, can hardly be said to have been more than two or three centuries older than Christianity. The Pentateuch itself, we are able to show, was written and revised upon this "new departure," at a period subsequent to the colonization of Judea under the authority of the kings of Persia. The Christian Fathers, in their eagerness to make their new system dovetail with Judaism, and so avoid Paganism, unconsciously shunned Scylla only to be caught in the whirlpool of Charybdis. Under the monotheistic stucco of Judaism was unearthed the same familiar mythology of Paganism. The Christian world has been in a state of convulsion from the first to the present century; it has been cleft into thousands of sects; but the Jews remain substantially united. Even their differences of opinion do not destroy their unity. The Christian virtues inculcated by Jesus in the sermon on the mount are nowhere exemplified in the Christian world. The Buddhist ascetics and Indian fakirs seem almost the only ones that inculcate and practice them. Meanwhile the vices which coarse-mouthed slanderers have attributed to Paganism, are current everywhere among Christian Fathers and Christian Churches.
The boasted wide gap between Christianity and Judaism, that is claimed on the authority of Paul, exists but in the imagination of the pious. We are nought but the inheritors of the intolerant Israelites of ancient days; not the Hebrews of the time of Herod and the Roman dominion, who, with all their faults, kept strictly orthodox and monotheistic, but the Jews who, under the name of Jehovah-Nissi, worshipped Bacchus-Osiris, Dio-Nysos, the multiform Jove of Nyssa, the Sinai of Moses. The kabalistic demons -- allegories of the profoundest meaning -- were adopted as objective entities, and a Satanic hierarchy carefully drawn by the orthodox demonologists. (Pp. 525-526.)
And so above, below, outside, and inside, the Christian Church, in the priestly garments, and the religious rites, we recognize the stamp of exoteric heathenism. On no subject within the wide range of human knowledge, has the world been more blinded or deceived with such persistent misrepresentation as on that of antiquity. Its hoary past and its religious faiths have been misrepresented and trampled under the feet of its successors. Its hierophants and prophets, mystæ and epoptæ, of the once sacred adyta of the temple shown as demoniacs and devil-worshippers. Donned in the despoiled garments of the victim, the Christian priest now anathematizes the latter with rites and ceremonies which he has learned from the theurgists themselves. The Mosaic Bible is used as a weapon against the people who furnished it. The heathen philosopher is cursed under the very roof which has witnessed his initiation; and the "monkey of God" (i.e., the devil of Tertullian), "the originator and founder of magical theurgy, the science of illusions and lies, whose father and author is the demon," is exorcised with holy water by the hand which holds the identical lituus (the augur's, and now bishop's, pastoral crook) with which the ancient augur, after a solemn prayer, used to determine the regions of heaven, and evoke, in the name of the HIGHEST, the minor god (now termed the Devil), who unveiled to his eyes futurity, and enabled him to prophesy! On the part of the Christians and the clergy it is nothing but shameful ignorance, prejudice, and that contemptible pride so boldly denounced by one of their own revered ministers, T. Gross, which rails against all investigation "as a useless or a criminal labor, when it must be feared that they will result in the overthrow of preëstablished systems of faith." On the part of the scholars it is the same apprehension of the possible necessity of having to modify some of their erroneously-established theories of science. "Nothing but such pitiable prejudice," says Gross, "can have thus misrepresented the theology of heathenism, and distorted -- nay, caricatured -- its forms of religious worship. It is time that posterity should raise its voice in vindication of violated truth, and that the present age should learn a little of that common sense of which it boasts with as much self-complacency as if the prerogative of reason was the birthright only of modern times." All this gives a sure clue to the real cause of the hatred felt by the early mediæval Christian toward his Pagan brother and dangerous rival. (Pp. 96-7.)
Had not the Christians burdened themselves with the Revelations of a little nation, and accepted the Jehovah of Moses, the Gnostic ideas would never have been termed heresies; once relieved of their dogmatic exaggerations the world would have had a religious system based on pure Platonic philosophy, and surely something would then have been gained. (p. 155.)
(To be continued)
COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:
TWO FORMS OF RELIGION
A religion which rests upon particular conclusions in astronomy, biology, and history may be fatally injured by the discovery of new truths. But the religion of the spirit does not depend upon creeds and cosmologies; it has no vested interest in any particular truth. It is concerned not with the organization of matter, but with the quality of human nature.
HERETICS AND THE RENAISSANCE
IN THE LIGHT OF THEOSOPHY
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(Part 10 of a 10-part series)
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(1) NOTE.--All material in this installment is from Isis Unveiled, Vol. II.
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