This is a personal exploration post on Christianity and may not interest some folk. Thanks for your patience until next post. Oh, by the way – if you read just a little and think you have me pegged as ‘converting to Christianity’, you’re wrong. Read on. 🙂
I have never particularly settled into any single religious or spiritual designation. There might be a Golden Dawn ritual on Friday, Tibetan Buddhist teaching on Saturday and Anglican Mass on Sunday. Really, my practice is either very catholic or very promiscuous – depending on your point of view 🙂
However, I maintain that I am not partaking of some new age homogenization of traditions into a bland milk-water me focused ‘spirituality’. Rather, I am practically applying the verity taught in the esoteric traditions that at root there is only truth, though applied many ways. Some folk have found my esoteric approach too slippery by far and think I am up to no good practicing all these things at once. I have been called ‘Christian’ by Pagans and ‘pagan’ by Christians. Ho hum.
This does not of course mean ‘all religions are one’, which they patently are not, but it does mean we share a common origin, internal makeup and are motivated by the same deeper forces, both temporal and spiritual. I think taken as a whole MOTO describes my esoteric approach well. Specifically of course, I practice the Three Fold Way of the west (described in this post) which gives me ample room for esoteric practice of many sorts.
Soon I will be undertaking Confirmation in the Anglican Church. Now, from my esoteric perspective – which over the last 25+ years has been planted very deep – this should cause no more emotional distress than my taking Refuge with Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Membership of the Church will allow me to unfold and serve the One with more truth, harmony and beauty. I know that, which is why I am being confirmed. However, I cannot deny that there are Christian voices that assert Christianity is not as other religions and which reject the view that all authentic traditions stem from and lead to the same eternal truth. In the words of Fr Gregory Tillett:
Christianity makes a number of exclusive claims: it does not represent itself as one religion among many, as simply a better alternative, let alone an equal option. Jesus declared: No man comes to the Father except by me. One can accept or reject that claim, but the claim is clear and unambiguous.
Prior to the late 1800s virtually all western esoteric and occult groups were created by and for Christians who accepted orthodox theology where Christ and the Incarnation are seen as something different than myths of other deities. Since the spread of Theosophical monism from 1875 onwards most occultists now use and embrace Christian symbolism but not the Christian religion. There is a big difference.
It would be easy for me to do the same, simply say ‘all is One’ and utilize the wonderful and compassionate strength of the Christian tradition. But I simply cannot do this. The core Christian message is not one of utility but one of love and obedience. I need to approach my esoteric Christian unfolding from a traditional perspective, not a mish-mashed modernized monist slop with a dash of Leadbeater on the side. I know internally at the deepest level all is reconciled, but I need to hold that knowledge within my mind and emotions too.
Mercifully, the Anglican Church has few doctrinal accretions to ‘believe’ – it would be far harder being a Catholic magician. But as part of my upcoming Confirmation I will be affirming the Nicene Creed, something I do each Sunday already (when not engaged in pagan sex magic :)). The creed of course provides the essential elements of orthodox Christian belief and is therefore a great yardstick for me to ensure I am not wandering off on my own esoteric Christian trip.
When I affirm the creed on Sundays I am already in an altered state and engage at a several deeper levels. It then becomes a spiritual vehicle by which I touch upon the eternal verities the words refer to, hopefully aligning me to that sacred truth and beauty. However, as preparation for my Confirmation I feel the need not only to engage with the Creed inwardly but to explain outwardly how I reconcile its tenants with esoteric understanding and practice.
I am hoping what follows will not be a typical modern ‘esoteric Christian’ interpretation which is really a tabula rasa upon which to foist all sorts of unrelated theologies and speculations. Rather, I am honestly trying some form of literary reconciliation between the creed and esoteric thought (see this post), and I seek feedback on how I do. Thanks a bunch 🙂
The Nicene Creed
We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became truly human.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen
We believe …
As Karen Armstrong and many others have pointed out the modern understanding of belief has atrophied into a surface level intellectual assertion of doctrines or theological statements. However, the word ‘belief’, stemming from the Latin credo shows where we commit our heart, our beings, our energy, our selves. Our own personal credo and our engaged and deep assent to other creeds define us, inspire us and move us towards what we hold sacred. So when I say ‘We believe’ I am collecting myself and committing myself to the truths within the creed and how they can hold, change and bless me into service.
Of supreme importance here is the type of truth the creed holds. I do not believe it is plain simple, ‘literal truth’. We are not being asked to assert a series of postulations, which of course we cannot know, but must instead trust imperfect and heavily redacted scripture open to many interpretations. What would be the point in that? Mature followers of any religion know better. Rather, I think the creed refers not to literal truth but mythic and religious truth. It invites us to give our hearts and souls to the mystic truths and relationships to which it points. So, I am not concerned with whether I ‘believe in’ what the creed says, but rather how the mysteries it points to cohere with esoteric thought, or not.
In one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.
The unity expressed here inspires me deeply – ‘there is none but the One!’. There is no conflict with esoteric understanding at all. However, the rest of this line, the positioning of the One as Creator forming a Creation appears in direct contrast to much modern esoteric thought which is essentially monist and emanationist. This has problems, not the least of which is pointed out by Gareth Knight:
To believe that all things unfold of their own accord from nothing is to assume that man is capable of expanding his consciousness until he eventually becomes as God, comprehending all… Experience of the Inner Worlds, p15.
We all now where such thoughts can lead…
However, one can reject monism and not be bound by the theistic-Creator paradigm the creed seems to imply to so many people. The wording here implies a theistic God to theistic minds but is not insistent upon it. Obviously words such as ‘father’, ‘almighty’ and ‘heaven’ are not denotative but rather connotative. God does not ‘father’ the universe like a man fathers a child. While the creed is clear that ‘God’ creates all, it does not reject the possibility that God could also be all. This is the difference between theism, pantheism (a form of monism) and panentheism. Whilst pantheism and a demiurge are specifically not included in the creed, panentheism is not excluded.
Panentheism means God is in all things, all creation, but is not identical to or exhausted by creation. ‘He’ remains transcendent to ‘his’ creation as well as immanent within it. The ‘making’ the creed refers to is for me an emanation of the One into material form rather than the ex nihilo creation of the universe as separate to God (but overseen by His omniscience) as most people seem to take it to mean.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father; through him all things were made.
If any passage in the creed shows its struggle to express the inexpressible, this is the passage 🙂 Anyway… The crux here is Christ. My credo, my commitment of my heart, mind and soul to Him is of course an ongoing unfoldment. Without getting all exclusive and righteously Christian, I do accept something brilliant and unprecedented happened in the Incarnation. We can speculate and theologise about this but all our words, theories and theologies do really is to help us approach, not define, this mystery. The fact that the Christ event produced hundreds of different early Jesus Movements, all trying in different ways to make sense of what happened means something impossible to grasp did happen.
From an outside and exoteric perspective the creedal assertion of Christ as the only Son of God seems to be a theological straitjacket. We either accept this claim or not. However, lifting from an earlier MOTO post:
My own way out of this impasse was found years back when reading about a guy visiting William Blake (don’t ask me for a reference, this was when I was 17 or so, and I remember only this). This guy, a committed Christian, tried to ‘trap’ William by asking straight out if he accepted Jesus Christ as the only Son of God. To which William replied, “Oh, definitely He is. But, then so are you, and so am I”.
This reality, this eternal truth, can only be experienced not discussed. The best and most direct way I know of is extensive meditation on this phrase from St Bonaventure, used in Christian based Golden Dawn Orders the world over:
“God is the circle whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere”.
This meditation also holds the key, along with the Holy Qabalah for the reconciliation of Theistic esotericism such as esoteric Christianity, monist esoteric schools and non-theistic esoteric Buddhism like the Vajrayana.
The phrase “eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God” expresses the eternal mystery of the infinite One emanating infinity from itself and still remaining infinite. ‘Eternally’ in this phrase clearly means beyond the temporal reality we know, not simply “going on forever”. Beyond space-time, as it was, is and ever shall be, the Trinity existed; the relationship between God the Father and God the Son has ‘always’ been. There is no conflict here with any esoteric principle I work with 🙂
Begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father; through him all things were made. An essential understanding of that relationship is there is a single God with three persons (not modes), hence the assertion that Christ is the ‘true God’, that He is the same (one Being) as God the father. Christ, unlike us created or emanated beings is therefore begotten, having the full ‘characteristics’ of God the Father. The creation of the universe, seen and unseen, takes place through the agency of the second person of the Trinity, Christ as the Word of God. Again, there is no conflict here with esoteric principles and thought as I partake in them.
For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human.
Here, if we view the creed as referring to literal space-time events we can come into problems. Really, I do not know if the mother of Jesus Christ was called ‘Mary’ or an Aramaic equivalent. I do not know if she was a physical virgin with hymen intact. However, the meaning behind this part of the story of the Incarnation is full and splendid, and it is that which I assent to, that to which I give my energy. Of course, there is always a danger we can as individuals impart whatever ‘meaning’ we want onto words and scripture and therefore create our own little hetereodox cult of one one that simply serves our illusions and ego. We therefore need guidance from tradition and common sense and honest companions on the way.
The point of course is that we always project our own meaning and interpretations onto all words, creed, newspapers and scripture alike. The phrase he came down from heaven is of course not literal; no one thinks Jesus was existing in space somewhere and then descended and somehow popped into Mary’s womb. We make sense of this phrase knowing heaven is not a physical place in the sky but some form of spiritual reality. Even the most literalistic of Christians would agree to this. Metaphor and meaning follow us wherever we go and it is with this awareness I approach the creed.
The Incarnation points to perfection (God) becoming truly human (imperfection) whilst still God (Christ) so that we can find a way (Salvation) to return to our origins in perfection (Heaven). As an esotericist I see this occurring through a life long process of theosis or divinization rather than repentance and personal acceptance of a relationship with Christ. I step outside the Canon a little;
“Those who say they will die first and then rise are in error. If they do not first receive the resurrection while they live, when they die they will receive nothing.” Gospel of Phillip.
Fnially, there are all sorts of esoteric interpretations of virginity, the Holy Spirit etc. For me though, none of these are necessary – I am happy to give my energy and faith to the mystery of perfection becoming human and imperfect via the presence of the One in action (Holy Spirit).
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried.
Again, the literal time-space events referred to here, if they happened as described, are only useful with meaning. The meaning is Christ as perfection (God) and imperfection (human) being willingly tortured and suffering death to show a way of redemption and salvation through brokenness and suffering, which is the natural state of fallen (i.e not perfected) humanity. A universal Way is therefore shown and made available to all humanity. There is no conflict with my esoteric principles here also.
On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
Once more I am moved by the meaning here, not the possibility of someone ‘coming back to life’. The ‘defeat of death’ is really far, far more than Jesus popping back to physical life. The mystery that from death comes life and from brokenness comes wholeness is what moves me during this part of the creed. To be honest, I am not fussed if the Jewish scriptures align with this mystery or not. The ascension to heaven and seating at the right hand is again full of meaning, being the return to unity/Oneness of the Word of God having fully Incarnated into perfection. The Ascension of Christ completes the Incarnation process and seals the Way, creating a spiritual cycle and template for us to emulate on a different arc.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
This phrase has always generated a bit of a confusion in me. Some Biblical scholars give plenty of evidence to suggest that the pre-Easter Jesus, the man (before the birth of the Jesus Movements and Churches) was more an apocalypticist than anything else. I am in no position to make a judgement call here, but I will admit I can find nothing directly relevant to my esoteric practice from an orthodox Christian understanding of this phrase. There are plenty of esoteric interpretations, but I really am only interested in reconciling broad esoteric principles with orthodox understanding of the creed. I therefore live with the question on this phrase, and will admit to mumbling it in church 🙂
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.
Here we complete the Trinity by giving our hearts, energy and trust to the Holy Spirit. As will be obvious to anyone who has tried, understanding the Trinity conceptually is impossible. It is really a meditation, a way of approaching the eternal relatedness of the One. We cannot know a single person of the Trinity alone, and we cannot know the Trinity as a static event or phenomena since it is eternally relating and becoming. This of course ties in fully with esoteric principles, even with simplistic attributions of God the Father to Kether on the Tree of Life, God the Son Incarnated in Malkuth and God the Holy Spirit as that which moves between all spheres in action and inspiration. The noted esoteric historian R.A. Gilbert also affirms that Rosicrucianism is necessarily Trinitarian, which makes sense to me.
I am also happy to affirm that the Spirit moved and moved through the prophets. And no where does the creed state the Spirit cannot move and move through us.
…who proceeds from the Father and the Son. Here we enter the world of religious politics as this famous Filioque clause was an addition to the original creed by the (Roman) Catholic church and was a contributory factor to the great schism between eastern and western Christendom in 1054 ce. There are lashings and lashings of pages written about it but essentially the addition of the words ‘and the Son’ seem to give a very different theological bent than saying the Spirit proceeds from the Father alone. I do not have time to go into all this, but my own interaction with the Trinity concept suggests to me the addition of the clause jars with the overall mystery. I am therefore very happy that, in a spirit of ecumenicalism the Anglican Lambeth Conference and other big bodies want to remove the clause in subsequent revisions of liturgy. I simply drop it in my own practice.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
Here we enter the final section of the creed where various concepts are assented to. The one holy church here is more a concept than a temporal reality. The Jesus Movements were never unified and as soon as the church was born schism and multiplication began. Many of St Paul’s letters are concerned with correcting errant doctrine and practice in the early church. However, the conceptual idea of one church is in some ways similar to the true and invisible Rosicrucian brotherhood Paul Foster Case writes about. It is an ideal, an overarching archetype presenting the truth that behind temporal difference there is internal agreement as all churches are instituted by Christ through the Great Commission. Honouring and affirming this vision and ‘belief’ we are moved to let go of theological and temporal difference and find deeper wells of unity. This is exactly what the esoteric traditions affirm also.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
‘Remission of sins’ is the more traditional and better English translation as forgiveness really can only be given by those offended, which often include a human party as well as God. However phrased, this line of the creed is a direct rebuttal to some early Christian practices of two or more baptisms. However, it also has a deeper meaning. When our sins are remitted we symbolically are the Body of Christ, each members of one another. Thus the practice of baptism, in its broadest context, as no directions or description is given, is affirmed as method of unifying Christians. It is for this reason the Anglican Church welcomes those baptised in other traditions to receive Communion, though the Catholic Church is yet to follow suit. I am happy to affirm and give my heart to such inward move to unity as really it is quite similar to esoteric principles in general. Of course we need to constantly through various religious means ‘renew’ our baptism and re-enter the remitted state, as it is part of our nature to separate ourselves from God.
We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
Again, resurrection is not described or defined and different Christians (and Anglicans) take this phrase to mean quite different things.Since a primary esoteric principle is that of transformation, I do look for the resurrection of the dead in some form or other. At root we are unborn, undying and unchanging. At some point we will manifest again. Despite many direct experiences over the years of dying, death and apparent rebirth, I cannot know exactly what will occur when I die until I die. But I do know I will, in some form, continue in a ‘world to come’. Therefore this is very easy for me to affirm and connect with my underlying esoteric principles. To this clause, and the entire creed then, I affirm on the bones of my ancestors, gone to the land of the dead (Amenti) – Amen, Amen, Amen.