Esoteric Christianity

RR et AC Rose Cross

RR et AC Rose Cross

Occasionally within the Golden Dawn community there are discussions about Christianity and its relationship with the tradition and the Inner Order in particular. I have often reaffirmed the simple truth: the Rosae Rubeae et Aureae Crucis is a Rosicrucian Christian Order. This fact is undeniable though unpalatable to some people, particularly those influenced by Uncle Alick’s view of the Golden Dawn but unable to swallow his doctrine of Thelema.

It is often asserted that the RR et AC practiced esoteric Christianity. So when I recently came across an interesting little table highlighting the difference between esoteric and exoteric Christianity I was interested. The author of this table freely acknowledges that it is necessarily simplified and there are bound to be variations. However, any attempt at such a comparison, given the myriad forms of both inner and outer Christianity, is to be lauded.

What I think it does do well is compare the differences between a certain flavour of esoteric Christianity and what most people think western (and dare I say ‘white’) Christianity is about. For want of a better term I will label this flavour of esoteric Christianity “Besant-Leadbeater” since it really stems from the popularisation of such matters by Annie Besant and C.W. Leadbeater . Here I want to highlight a couple of sections of this very useful table and tell a somewhat different esoteric Christian story (a full critique is beyond this blog).

C.W. Leadbeater

C.W. Leadbeater

Besant-Leadbeater Christianity is not traditional and esoteric Christianity varies almost as much as its exoteric counterpart – just read Leadbeater and Steiner side by side to see. In fact many traditional esoteric Christians were mightily peeved with Leadbeater and his ilk wandering around conflating Christianity with Theosophy through the Liberal Catholic Church. But, hey what can you do? Even multiple sex scandals, accusations of fraud and downright bad gamesmanship couldn’t deter ‘the Bishop’ from doing anything (and some scurrilous folk might say any boy) he was determined to do. The best (and really only) biographical study of this highly colourful character (an expanded version of The Elder Brother by Greg Tillett) can now be found free on the web.

But I digress… Esoteric Christianity is often, as in the case of this table, seen to be synonymous with Mystical Christianity. However, the fit is not quite exact. Esotericism is characterised by two main features: (1) an inner body of knowledge or interpretation of exoteric religious forms that were (2) taught to an inner group of students or practitioners. Mysticism, the practice of conscious personal communion with the Divine, can and is practiced by Christians who are not esoteric in the traditional understanding of that word and whom are not part of any inner tradition. Moreover, the majority of Christian mystics have never heard of Leadbeater and would be disturbed by much of his Christology which is reproduced in this table.

For example, the table asserts esoteric Christianity is more focused on finding God or Christ ‘within’ rather than ‘without’ unlike exoteric Christianity, equating these two states to the conceptual frameworks of immanence and transcendence. A traditional esoteric Christian approach recognises both a limitation and a dynamic relationship to the experience of God.

jesus-smallWhile we might experience God within that does not mean He is everywhere and can be found everywhere. This is a monist position and is not traditionally part of esoteric Christianity but became fused with it following the rise of the Theosophical movement and the popularisation of eastern thought in the west. This is the first limit. The second limit is that of transcendence which states that no matter how we experience God we are incapable of experiencing Him fully, that He is beyond all. A dynamic then is set up between finding God or Christ within us – fully accessible, right here, right now – but never fully being able to experience Him. This dynamic is a polarity that finds expression in our individual life and connection with Christ, within our personal relationship with Him and is what creates a flowing of love and ultimately the Holy Spirit.

On a Golden Dawn front, monist esoteric Christian thought is evident in the RR et AC, but so too is traditional Christian dualism, and this reflects the time of the Order’s foundation when the Theosophical Society was still in its infancy and Besant-Leadbeater Christianity yet to emerge.

Esoteric Christianity, to quote from the table, sees:

Jesus and the Christ are seen as two separate entities. The Christ refers to the living flame of love that guides all life and evolution on our planet. Jesus was a man who was able to perfect himself enough to hold the high energy of the Christ, and thus become Jesus, the Christ.

However, traditional esoteric Christianity does not teach this idea at all. Christ, like orthodox theology teaches, is the Second Person of the Trinity, the Transcendence of God the Father made flesh and immanent through taking the form of a man. There is no metaphysical construct that sees the body of Jesus becoming possessed by the separate spirit of the Christ.

In Besant-Leadbeater Christianity the Jesus/the Christ split and the doctrine of spiritual advancement through reincarnation has appeal and resonance – for Jesus was once a human being (now a Master) like us, and we can therefore potentially develop like him to be a vehicle for a Being like the Christ. In traditional esoteric Christianity however, Jesus Christ taking the form of a human being sanctifies and redeems our earthy lives and incarnation. Through resonance and remembrance of His Incarnation we are ourselves blessed.

There are other examples in the table which represent only Besant-Leadbeater Christianity. I cannot cover them all but wish to focus on this one:

(In esoteric Christianity) there is greater emphasis on resurrection rather than crucifixion, not just of the physical body, but of self to Self. Jesus didn’t save us from our sins (die for our sins) because our sins are for us to deal with ourselves. He showed us how we can become our own saviors – by raising our consciousness through love and the path of initiation. All people have the capability to become fully human / fully divine.

Sounds good, eh? Nicely laid out and very modern, hitting all the right liberal, self actualisation parts of our ego. 🙂 Well, the traditional esoteric Christian perspective however is that Christ did die for us, that we have been given an immense gift, right under our noses. ‘All’ we have to do is accept it and come into full relationship with Him and the Fire of His Love will remove our sins, our separateness from Him, and change us utterly and completely. The esoteric Christian works with the inner knowledge and teachings entrusted to her only to deepen her love and relationship with Christ.

To understand this a bit more: I have work friend who is a wonderfully committed and passionate Christian full of the qualities that Christ inspires. He is very clear: once we have found Christ, we do not have to ‘do’ any more – Christ, freely and openly does this for us, if we let Him.

More beautifully, from Symeon the New Theologian:

“…I move my foot, and at once
He appears like a flash of lightning.
Do my words seem blasphemous? — Then
open your heart to Him

and let yourself receive the one
who is opening to you so deeply.
For if we genuinely love Him,
we wake up inside Christ’s body

where all our body, all over,
every most hidden part of it,
is realized in joy as Him,
and He makes us, utterly, real,

and everything that is hurt, everything
that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
maimed, ugly, irreparably
damaged, is in Him transformed

and recognized as whole, as lovely,
and radiant in His light
he awakens as the Beloved
in every last part of our body.”

Love and relationship are the keys here. We all know how difficult it can be to relate intimately, fully, authentically to another person. And the deeper the relationship is, the harder it can be. We can all recall moments when we have not done so well. Trying to relate fully to God – the One Being – Incarnated as a human being? Well, no wonder esoteric Christianity developed to help us widen our relationship with Christ and remove our barriers to His love. For Christ is Love and Love is Christ.

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14 comments

  1. Super Trooper · March 23, 2009

    I don’t normally comment on blogs but I just wanted to say that this I really liked this post. I would love to see you explore the christology of the early GD, based on the writings of its founders and compared to the cultural context and time in which they lived. I believe a lot could come out of a discussion on this topic.

    On a side note: We sometimes forget just how indebted the GD was to the Theosophical Society. The TS made esotericism very popular in England at the time and played an important role as recruiting grounds for the GD. I also believe many in the GD read, adapted and modified TS teachings as a way to define themselves and stand out in the esoteric community of the day.

    Thanks for a great blog!

  2. Peregrin · March 24, 2009

    Hi,

    yes the study you outline would be very interesting, but I do not have the time or academic background to do it full justice. Maybe when I am less busy 🙂 On a tangential note, Al Billings has generously posted his Thesis The nature, structure, and role of the soul in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn with a free download. If you have not seen it you may find it interesting.

    Matt – thanks. I love your Blog. For those following these comments, please have a look at Matt’s Blog, particularly this article on Incarnational Christianity.

    Thanks 🙂

  3. Bruce · April 12, 2009

    Greetings Peregrin,
    Did you consider that much of what Dr. Steiner wrote at the time, was in reply to Leadbeater’s work?

    Yes, the mystic, occultist and esotericist all have different approaches.

    One must not confuse doctrine with Truth.

  4. Peregrin · April 12, 2009

    Hi Bruce,

    It’s been a while since i read the source texts, so I am afraid I cannot form a clear opinion. My hazy memory would say that some of what Steiner wrote was to counter the Leadbeater/Besant material. However, Steiner obviously had a vocation far, far wider than this.

  5. Bruce · April 13, 2009

    Hello Peregrin,
    Annie Besant was, by all accounts, a great orator. But she was not clairvoyant. She could have chosen Dr. Steiner to help her on that front but instead chose Leadbeater.
    Leadbeater’s books are interesting. His Science of the Sacraments gives a good history of the Mass- then he adds in some of his own doctrines.

    I have a few disagreements with the chart by Jan Skogstrom. Really there is no such “palaver” as an exoteric Christianity. All Christianity is esoteric in nature.

    God’s transcendence must certainly hold equal importance for the esotericist.

    Christ is more of an individual than we are.

    We definitely reconcile the differences between Original Sin and Grace, and the concept of Karma.

    We can come to the concept of reincarnation, not as a doctrine but as a fact of straight knowledge. Valentin Tomberg, though a Catholic, could not deny his experience.

    Meditation is the feminine aspect, prayer the masculine.

    Freedom of the individual to make up their own mind, must always be respected.

  6. Peregrin · April 14, 2009

    Thanks for this Bruce. You give some interesting ideas here and some references I will follow up. 🙂

  7. Spiritual Girl · February 21, 2010

    Just found this post on Google – interesting site you have, I’ll be checking some more posts out too. Hope to see more like this.

  8. Pingback: Confirmation, the Dweller and lessons in love « Magic of the Ordinary
  9. grekland · May 1, 2012

    Great site! Thanks for posting.

  10. Joshua Tilghman · September 19, 2012

    I would think still have to link Christian mysticism and esoteric Christianity under the same umbrella. They both see scripture as nonliteral.

    Great post, great info. Thanks.

    http://www.spiritofthescripture.com/blog

  11. Peregrin · September 19, 2012

    Hi Joshua – thanks for the comments. 🙂 Yes, they do both see scripture as non-literal. So do many exoteric Anglicans I know. So I am not sure that is a workable factor for me in placing them under the same umbrella. I see your point though. Thanks 🙂

  12. Amber · January 4

    Thank you for writing this. This sort of thing is the exact problem I’m having with finding my way in the Esoteric Christian community. My views align more with what Besant wrote. I haven’t read any of Leadbetter’s books yet, but will make it a point to. I’ve been working on defining the differences within Esoteric Christianity and may link back to this. If I do I will let you know. Your blog is very helpful 🙂

  13. Peregrin · January 4

    Thanks, Amber … 🙂

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