Inner Christianity: A Guide to the Esoteric Tradition
(Boston: Shambhala, 2002, 292pp.) (Book)
At this time of transition from the Piscean Period to the Age of Aquarius, there is an evaluation going on within all systems of belief to sort out those aspects of value for the New Age and to let dry up those thought forms and processes which were appropriate only for the passing Piscean period. Such an evaluation is particularly complex in Christianity which has been the dominant faith of the Piscean Period. The Piscean Period’s start was marked by the birth of Jesus and the coming of the Magi from Persia as a sign of recognition of the birth of the Piscean Period. The heartland of the Piscean Period is the Mediterranean world, a crossroads of ideas – Zoroastrian teachings from Persia, Hindu and Buddhist ideas from India, the Jewish legal and mystical traditions, Hermetic texts from Hellenistic Egypt, and Greek philosophy. The Mediterranean area was home to a flow of ideas, influencing and being influenced in their turn.
Christianity took on the dominant forms of the Mediterranean world, especially the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire, always menaced on its frontiers, became the image of “the world”, always in danger of disintegrating. Originally, the teaching of Jesus was that the framework of the world was one of order, balance, beauty, and synergy with all things working together for the common good. However, the individual is always in need of restoration so that the person can manifest order, balance, beauty, and synergy. In the face of constant dangers the Christian doctrine became harsher. Man was in need not of restoration but of a more radical “salvation”, and the myth of the Fall of Adam came to dominate as the official doctrine. It is true that for the Gnostics of the time, what was most important was not deliverance from sin but an awakening to the “hidden wisdom”. However, the Gnostic view of “the world” was also largely negative.
With time, the Christian faith moved north to the rest of Europe and east to Russia, but the Mediterranean remained the heartland, and the Pope in Rome was a symbol of the continuing legacy of the Roman Empire, St Peter’s cathedral in Rome being the key example of the power and glory of the Church. The Piscean Period was one which stressed outer growth, the “taming of nature”, and the building of cities. The Piscean Period began with Rome as the master Empire and ended with the USA as the only remaining Superpower. From Roman roads to American communications, the Piscean Period has been one of external growth and of linking the world through outer structures. Christianity, in order to reflect and to be meaningful to the Piscean Period also stressed growth – “winning the whole world for Christ” – the control of nature by humans, and the strength of external symbols such as the great cathedrals of Europe.
Now, the energy which was contained in the visible Church is diminishing because the agent for spiritual growth moves from the institution to individual practice. The mark of the new Aquarian Age is that of synthesis or integration within each person of the body, the psyche, and the spirit. Integration can only be done by each person for himself. A group can be helpful, but a group is no substitute for work upon oneself. The Kingdom of God is within.
Richard Smoley, an editor of the former Gnosis magazine, traces the teaching of Jesus concerning inner growth and integration. This is a growth which follows ever higher levels of consciousness and awareness leading to a Christ-consciousness and the embodiment of Sophia-wisdom. It is this Christ-consciousness which is the Kingdom, the Path, and the Light of which Jesus speaks. With the development of awareness comes love, kindness, and compassion which are the manifestations of Christ-consciousness in outer life.
However, inner growth and the integration of the person, which was the heart of Jesus’ teaching, could never become central to the work of the Church. As the Roman Empire disintegrated, the Church took over the Empire’s task as lawgiver. Much of the Church’s teachings have been commentaries on moral and legal issues which were necessary in a world where people from different societies and cultures were coming into contact. There had to be minimum rules of behaviour which would be followed by all even if they could not be enforced by a police. Thus sins (the breaking of these minimum rules of social behaviour) became a chief concern of churchmen. The rules were given divine sanction, and since the rules could not always be enforced in the world, sanctions were thought to be sure to come in the afterlife. The churches were the gatekeepers to the world beyond death. Thus the death and resurrection of Jesus became a central aspect of the doctrine. The “last judgement” was seen as a trial during which all of one’s sins were weighed and appropriate punishment given out, mitigated by the good one had done.
The inner growth and integration aspects of Jesus’ teaching never became central to the doctrine of the churches, but it co-existed, taught by small groups in an esoteric way or tolerated as forms of devotion, especially among the Orthodox in Greece and Russia.
Today, the lawmaking function of the churches has been largely replaced by the role of the State. The State is the lawmaker for all citizens regardless of their religious faith. International law has become the basis of rules for contacts among societies. Thus, the personal growth, Christ-consciousness aspect of Christianity can come to the fore. Richard Smoley has provided a clear guide to the literature, both devotional and esoteric. There is a useful bibliography, and the notes are an indication of his wide reading. This is a welcome contribution to the needed re-evaluation of religious traditions.