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Christian mysticism

Category: Mystic groups and systems

Michelangelo

Christianity (from the Ancient Greek word Χριστός, Christos, a translation of the Hebrew מָשִׁיחַ, Māšîăḥ,) is a religion based on the life and oral teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.  It is one of the world's largest religions, with nearly 2.4 billion adherents, known as Christians. 

The generally accepted source of these teachings is the New Testament of the Bible and only four ‘gospels’ within the Bible, actually describe what Jesus said – the gospels of Mathew, Mark, Luke and John.  The term gospel refers to written accounts of Jesus's life and teaching. Christianity is actually one of the easier religions to follow, possibly even the easiest, as each gospel is only an alternative version of the others and the gospels do not differ much in their content.  As such you need only read one gospel to get all the teachings of Jesus; each of the gospels is very short, capable of being printed in one slim book and indeed this is how it is taught in many schools, usually amply illustrated to make the stories more memorable.

Gospel of Luke for children

The gospels, without any of the trappings added by anyone else, provide a very simple framework on which to base your everyday life.  If we wish to sum up the teachings of Jesus it was based on love, and his teachings simply elaborated the various forms that love could take – compassion, kindness, honesty, empathy, and truthfulness.  His teachings match almost perfectly with those of the Buddha, with those of Jainism and great men like Mahavira, with Confucius and Lao Tzu, with the many great Greek philosophers and Hindu sants.

Christian Beliefs

It is pointless elucidating what Christians ‘believe’.  About the only thing Christians have in common is a deep and abiding respect for Jesus and his teachings.  The vast majority also believe that Jesus’s teachings, taken as they stand without pointless elaboration, have the potential to produce a happier and more peaceful and loving society. 

 

There are millions of people who quite happily say they are Christians – meaning they try to follow what is in the gospels, but they rarely, if ever go to Church.  For the majority, the Church is a place for ‘hatches, matches and dispatches’ – births, marriages and deaths – a useful place to gather for key events in your life.

There are an increasingly large number of people that have become greatly hostile to the Church, whilst again being still happy to call themselves Christian. 

The brutality of the Inquisition and the missionaries, the wars undertaken in the name of Christianity, the hypocrisy of its leaders over the centuries, have led to increasing numbers who will have nothing to do with the Church as an institution, but who practise what Jesus taught.

 

History

When Christianity first started to take root 2000 years ago, it was little more than a tiny Jewish sect operating in the Levant region of the Middle East. It spread to Europe, Syria, Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, and Egypt. Adherents were brutally persecuted initially, but it grew in size and influence over the next three centuries.  What changed the course of history was its adoption in the 4th century by the Romans.  It became the official state religion of the Roman Empire, replacing other forms of religion practiced under Roman rule.  The adoption was entirely political.  There was a need to unite disparate groups across what was a very large empire and religion provided the moral framework for the Empire.  A completely new religion was an attractive option, as it favoured no one group over another.  Furthermore, at the time it was extremely simple to follow.

The effect of politicisation

This politicisation of Christianity has been both a curse and a blessing.  On the one hand the spread of Christianity via its politicians – the bishops, the cardinals and the heads of the Church - was greatly accelerated, on the other hand, most of Jesus’s teachings were conveniently forgotten as the Church as an institution became a money making and power seeking venture.  The Christian Churches are businesses and many are very powerful and wealthy ones. 

 

On the plus side, as businesses, the various mendicant movements such as the Franciscans and the Dominicans founded by St. Francis and St. Dominic respectively, made significant contributions to the development of the great universities of Europe, as well as helping with education in general. The Cistercians’ large isolated monasteries spearheaded and aided the settlement of former wilderness areas. Often the monasteries provided safe havens in seas of strife. But the motive for this was not altruistic.

The major income earning methods used by the Church are to own land and thus rent it, to own buildings and rent them, and to charge fees for services – education, baptisms, marriages, funerals, etc etc.  Monasteries and churches were early colonisers of land for a reason – income; even the lords and kings had to pay a fixed rent annually to the church or monastery for the land.  The Church of England, for example, is still a massive land owner, charges very high rents and is – unbelievably – still classified as a charity and not a business.

St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City, the largest church in the world

Also on the plus side, the Church as a business financed some of the most glorious buildings in Europe as well as some of the most beautiful artwork and paintings.  Architectural knowledge and engineering skills flourished via ecclesiastical architecture and reached new heights, culminating in the orders of Romanesque and Gothic architecture and the building of the great European cathedrals.  But again, the reasons were not altruistic.  The Church is also a massive investor in works of art, it sponsors art, but it also deals in art, art as investment.  The Vatican is absolutely stuffed full of investments, which are often sold and bought  under alternative names to the Church itself, to provide income.  In a sense therefore one of the many sub-businesses of the Church is art dealing.

 

On the minus side, the same power and wealth resulted in wars whose atrocity was appalling.  From 1095, for example, under the pontificate of Urban II, the Crusades were launched.  These were a series of military campaigns in the Holy Land and elsewhere, initiated in response to pleas from the Byzantine Emperor Alexios I for aid against Turkish expansion. The Crusades failed and culminated with the sacking of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade. But again, the motives were not anything to do with ‘religion’ or Jesus.

Another way of gaining land is war.  The Church gained an army by accepting the youngest boys in any wealthy or aristocratic family, to ensure there was no conflict in inheritances of wealth and titles.  The rules of the Church ensured that all boys had to remain celibate.  Celibacy or repression is able to engender a great deal of aggression in certain men – or as Gerald Heard once beautifully expressed it – cannon fodder.  The Church is and was thus an alternative state in many countries able to obtain land by aggression.

The 7th-century Khor Virap monastery in the shadow of Mount Ararat.

The final method of acquiring territory is by overseas colonisation, so called missionary work and overseas exploration.  Much of the early expansion of Europeans into Africa, America, and Australasia was financed by the Church as a form of investment – expansion of territory meant new sources of revenue.

Islam works exactly the same way, incidentally.

Political groups

The potential for power, influence and money making resulted in the formation of an absolute plethora of different groups with different ideas, interpretations, additions, myths, creeds and inventions of their own.  It is possible to read a gospel in an evening and understand most of what was said – although it helps to have some of the symbolism used at the time at hand.  Many theologians have made a life’s work of interpreting all the additions to the gospels.  They have also made a life’s work of inventing rules and dogma to add to this pile, which people are supposed to learn and believe.

Concise doctrinal statements about all these different religious beliefs are known as creeds (from Latin credo, meaning "I believe").  There are more creeds than most people have had hot dinners and only the seriously fanatical or deranged know any of them.  

 

A creed is a differentiator of your business from others, it is a marketing statement and has absolutely nothing to do with Jesus.

Enter any Church and it is rare to hear a single word from the gospels.  Most of the time you get the opinion of the priest or vicar or some later theologian.  As such Christianity has become a label on which people who have a desperate wish to get their ideas across, or impose their will on others, or to simply carve out a money making sector for themselves can do so – political or otherwise.  A saint in the Church is anyone who by virtue of their exploits has been a good marketing investment.

If you do not believe in the marketing statements of that sector, two words are used to describe the disbelief – heresy and blasphemy. The Catholic Church, for example, beginning around 1184, instituted various institutions, broadly referred to as the Inquisition, with the aim of suppressing ‘heresy’ and securing religious and doctrinal unity within Christianity through torture, murder, terror, and imprisonment.  Islam is still using this approach.

Politics and power divides and indeed, all that has happened since the founding of the Church has been constant division.

Worldwide, the three largest groups of Christianity are the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the various denominations of Protestantism. The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox patriarchates split from one another in the schism of the 11th century, and Protestantism came into existence during the Reformation of the 16th century, splitting from the Roman Catholic Church.

The Protestant groups include the many evangelical Protestant groups, the Baptists, the Restoration Movement, Lutherans, Anglicans, Mormons, and Western Rite Orthodoxy. Then we have the Presbyterians, Methodists, Congregationalists, Adventists, Anabaptists, Calvinists, Pentecostal. And so it could go on – division after division after division.  The Mormons, as is well known, virtually own most of Las Vegas.

The loss of mysticism

 

So we may think we need to go back to the Gospels and only the gospels to get the teachings of Jesus.  But by the time Christianity was adopted by Emperor Constantine, the original records of Jesus’s teachings had been pared down to an absolute essence of what had originally been taught.  Furthermore all the mystical teachings had been removed. 

The Gnostic Gospels are the remnants of what was once the real teachings of Jesus and I have added these gospels as a source.  The word gnostic comes from the Greek word gnosis, which generally gets translated as "knowledge", but which is more consistent with the English word wisdom. 

The records are sadly very incomplete.

The letters of Clement of Alexandria to Theodore 

During Peter’s stay in Rome, he wrote an account of the Lord’s doings, not however, declaring all of them nor yet hinting at the secret ones, but selecting what he thought most useful for increasing the faith of those who were being instructed.  But when Peter died a martyr, Mark came over to Alexandria bringing both his own notes and those of Peter from which he transferred to his former book the things suitable to whatever makes for progress toward knowledge.  Thus he composed a more spiritual Gospel for use of those who were being perfected.  Nevertheless, he yet did not divulge the things not to be uttered nor did he write down the hierophantic teaching of the Lord, but to the stories already written he added yet others and moreover brought in certain sayings of which he knew the interpretation would, as a mystic, lead the hearers into the innermost sanctuary of the truth hidden by seven veils.  Thus, in sum, he prepared matters neither grudgingly nor incautiously in my opinion and dying, he left his composition to the church in Alexandria, where it even yet is most carefully guarded, being read only to those who are being initiated into the great mysteries.

 

 

And this version disappeared or was destroyed.

Thus the Christian gospels taught to all those billions of adherents now in Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, Ethiopia, the Americas, Australasia, sub-Saharan Africa and the rest of the world and spread by missionary work and colonization is not in its true sense Jesus’s teachings, as it is missing all the spiritual and mystical content. 

The Pistis Sophia is a Gnostic Gospel, here is what it says about Jesus after he was ‘resurrected’

[THE FIRST BOOK OF] PISTIS SOPHIA CHAPTER 1.

1. It came to pass, when Jesus had risen from the dead, that he passed eleven years discoursing with his disciples, and instructing them ….. up to the regions of the First Mystery, … within the Veil, … …. And Jesus said to his disciples: "I am come forth out of that First Mystery, which is the last mystery, that is the four-and-twentieth mystery." And his disciples have not known nor understood that anything existeth within that mystery; but they thought of that mystery, that it is the head of the universe and the head of all existence; and they thought it is the completion of all completions, ….And moreover Jesus had not told his disciples [about] the total expansion of all the regions of the great Invisible and of the three triple-powers and of the four-and-twenty invisibles, and all their regions and their æons and their orders, how they are extended--those which are the emanations of the great Invisible--and their ungenerated and their self-generated and their generated and their light-givers and their unpaired and their rulers and their authorities and their lords and their archangels and their angels and their decans and their servitors and all the houses of their spheres and all the orders of every one of them.

 

So these extra teachings explained more fully what heaven was - all its realms all its Intelligences, the Intelligence hierarchy, and all its levels and layers.  Furthermore, this Gnostic Gospel almost implies that Jesus’s crucifixion was symbolic – a rebirth experience followed by further initiation into the Mysteries until he did indeed become a ‘god’ and was able to teach the Mysteries in his turn.

Recreating the mystic content

 

There are only two areas where the mystic content of Jesus’s teaching can be recreated.  One is in the overall layout of the spiritual world, which appears – if we take the Gnostic gospels as our source – to be identical to that of all the other major mystic groups and people.  There are also tantalising hints in these gospels that the Universal symbol system was also adopted.

The other aspect which deserves mention is that early Christians believed in reincarnation.  There is quite an extensive discussion on reincarnation in the Pistis Sophia – a Gnostic gospel, but this extract gives you a flavour for what was said.

Pistis Sophia Book II Mead’s translation
The saviour answered and said unto his disciples – Preach ye unto the whole world saying unto men ‘strive together that ye may receive the mysteries of Light at this time of stress and enter into the kingdom of Light.  Put not off from day to day and from cycle to cycle in the belief that ye will succeed in obtaining the mysteries when ye return to the world in another cycle.

 

Two early Christians, Tertullian of Carthage (circa AD 160-240) and Origen of Alexandria (circa AD 185-254) appear to have also believed in reincarnation.  Tertullian in his De Anima discusses Jesus’s statement [long since expunged from any official version] that John the Baptist was Elias or Elijah, the old Jewish prophet, reincarnated:
And if ye are willing to receive it, this John the Baptist is Elijah, which is to come.  He that hath ears to hear, let him hear

Tertullian, being a theologian, was ambivalent and more cautious about stating categorically that this means reincarnation, but Origen, who was a mystic and had undergone the initiation of the Mysteries was far more certain.  Origen’s De Principalis discusses it as fact.  Among other early Christians, Synesius Bishop of Ptolemais (circa 375-414); Boethius; Psellus and many Gnostic sects including the Manichaeans (who comprised more than 70 sects connected with the early church) also all believed in reincarnation.

 

But the theologians who created the Greek canons of the Fifth Council overturned Origen calling such views ‘heresies’.  The declaration of the Council of Constantinople in 553 had this to say
Whosoever shall support the mythical doctrine of the pre-existence of the soul and the consequent wonderful opinion of its return, let him be anathema”.

And so, after centuries of controversy, the ancient doctrine ceased to be regarded as Christian, it lived on within the confines of the underground mystic groups and rather intriguingly in the teachings of some Celtic missionaries.

Why was it removed?

A sale of indulgences [pardons for sins] - called by one present day
commentator "the most effective scam ever invented by man"

The Church Councils were politicians and businessmen.  Their aim was power, influence and revenue earning.  One can earn revenue if one sells pardons for ‘sins’.  In order to sell pardons for sins one has to make the potential punishment for not buying truly horrendous, and increase the number of 'sins', preferably including as many natural acts as possible so that the rules were frequently transgressed.  And hell [the church invention] for eternity is pretty frightening.  If people thought they simply cycled round, life after life, the punishment was not for eternity and the need to buy less pressing. 

Mystic groups

Over the years various groups have been formed with a fundamental belief in Christianity but a wish to see the mystic element of the movement restored.  They have often arisen only to be brutally and viciously crushed by the established Church who saw each of these movements as a real threat to its power and money making ventures.

Some of these I have added to the site, but examples include

  • Cathars in the 11th through 13th centuries
  • Alchemy – some alchemists were Christian
  • Shakers -  a Protestant religious denomination who originated in Manchester [England] in 1747 and were a spin off from the Quakers
  • Quakers -  a Christian religious movement founded in England in mid-17th century England and Wales. Its aim was to enable every member of the organisation to have direct spiritual experience
  • Hesychastic mystics - the Byzantine contemplative movement known as Hesychasm (hesychia — state of quiet), a movement which held that it was possible in this life to behold a 'vision of God'
  • Knights Templar - The  Knights Templar, or the Order of the Temple  were among the most famous of the western Christian military orders, but they employed mystic methods and were thus 'knights' in the same sense that many Qigong practitioners are 'martial artists'.
  • Methodists - The Methodist movement is an offshoot of Protestant Christianity which derived its inspiration from the life and teachings of John Wesley, who made it into a more evangelical movement.
  • Welsh revivalists - a movement which was part of the religious revivals in Wales during the eighteenth century
  • Gnostic Christians - too complex to describe here or on the site, a whole series of groups sprang up and then died off all attempting to halt the tide of Christianity as a political movement.  Examples include the Sethians who used the term gnostikoi to describe themselves, Valentinians, followers of Basilides, and  Manicheanism. 
  • The Doukhobors or Dukhobors (Духоборы, Dukhobory, earlier Dukhobortsy, Russian: Духоборцы; literally "Spirit-Wаrriors of Christ") are a Spiritual Christian religious group of Russian origin.
  • Khlysts or Khlysty (Хлысты in Russian)  - was an underground sect from late 17th to early 20th century. Their name  was originally the  Христововеры (Khristovovery, "Christ-believers") or Христы (Khristy).  Secret Khlysty cells existed throughout pre-revolutionary Russia with approximately 40,000 followers in total.  They were often subject to persecution and perceived as a subversive element by the nineteenth century Russian authorities and ecclesiastical bodies.
  • Rosicrucians – although Rosicruceans are not exclusively Christian

Eleanor C Merry – The Flaming Door
Centuries later, the spiritual impulse of the old Celtic Mysteries, working in a more or less concealed manner and meeting, through the missionary work of the Irish monks in middle Europe, with the Johannine Gnostic Christians, gave rise, in the 14th century, to the foundation of the secret school of Christian Rosenkreunz, the Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross.

Thus the vast majority of observations on Mystic Christianity can be found by going to the pages for these groups.

 

 

Observations

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