• The Gospels and the Gospel. G.R.S. Mead. Inicialmente publicado na Inglaterra. Reimpressão mais recente pela Kessinger Pub Co, 1992. 215 pp.
Informação: Os textos que compõem esta obra forma originalmente publicados na revista mensal The Theosophical Review (circa 1901).
A seguir temos a página de título e a Sinopse dos Conteúdos, com os links para os três últimos capítulos da obra:
Gospels and the Gospel
G. R. S. Mead
A STUDY IN THE MOST RECENT RESULTS OF
THE LOWER AND THE HIGHER CRITICISM
G. R. S. Mead
“Press not the breast of the Holy Writ too hard,
lest they yield blood rather than milk.”
– Bishop Ulrich of
SINOPSE DOS CONTEÚDOS
1. Preamble (p.1)
2. A Glimpse at the History of the Evolution of Biblical Criticism (p. 9)
3. The “Word of God” and the “Lower Criticism” (p. 36)
4. The Nature and the Tradition of the Gospel Autographs (p. 55)
5. Autobiographical Traces in the Existing Documents (p. 78)
6. An Examination of the Earliest Outer Evidence (p. 101)
7. The Present Position of the Synoptical Problem (p. 124)
8. The Credibility of the Synoptists (p. 138)
9. The Johannine Problem (p. 149)
IN what has preceded, the general reader who is not familiar with the intricacies of the subject may have gleaned only a blurred impression of the main points at issue. It will therefore be of service to recapitulate a little, and to set forth the writer’s own view – what, in his opinion, is the judgment most in keeping with the general facts of criticism.
In the first place, too much stress cannot be laid on the importance of textual criticism. We have seen that we do not know the original writing of the autographs of our four documents; whatever it may have been, it certainly differed widely from our present “received text,” and therefore arguments based on this text, or even on Westcott and Hort’s “neutral text,” must be always received with caution. A knowledge of the original text might entirely invalidate such arguments, and raise a host of new problems.
In the second place, we should keep clearly in mind that our investigations as to date and authorship are solely with regard to these autographs; when the question of date and authorship is raised, it is solely in regard to the original forms of our present Mt., Mk., Lk. and Jn. There is here no question as to the date or authorship of their sources.
In this connection it may be pointed out with regard to the principal Synoptical source, that if Dr. Abbott’s contention (that this document was originally written in Hebrew) is correct, we have, for this source at any rate, a distinct stage between the original Aramaic Sayings material and the Greek of our Synoptics. Hebrew was the classical scriptural language of the Jews, and it had to be translated and interpreted in the synagogues for the benefit of the: unlearned. The writer of this Hebrew document, then, must have been a learned man, and not an illiterate, as the original disciples are represented to have been in canonical scripture. The only one of the traditional apostles who may possibly be supposed to have been capable of writing classical Hebrew is the “publican” Matthew; but one who was a ‘tax-gatherer,’ and therefore who belonged to the lowest and most despised class, can hardly be supposed to have had a rabbinical training. If this contention
of Dr. Abbott’s is correct, we see in it the means of widely extending the opinion of Professor Nestle that the Sayings and Parables (perhaps even some of the narratives also) were set down in the autographs of our Gospels in a far more graphic fashion than in our present test. Already in one source they had most probably been transformed from the graphic Aramaic original into the classical Biblical style, and perhaps also in other sources; there are therefore two stages of transformation to be taken into account.
From this it follows that, even if we could get back to the original writing of the autographs, we should still be a stage, and in some cases two stages, removed from the actual Sayings. But behind the autographs lie sources not only for the Sayings, but also for the Acts; and not only for these but also for the legends. The Synoptists were compilers and editors; they probably added nothing of themselves. But they were not editors as we are editors in this unemotional age; they wrote with immense enthusiasm and deep conviction, and I for my part can well conceive they were helped in their efforts.
With the Fourth Gospel it is otherwise. Here the question of written sources is not so definitely established; the writer uses far more freedom,
his sources (other than those which also lay before the Synoptics) are remembrances of another line of tradition; he writes down all as he thinks it must have been, with far greater love and much greater beauty of expression. The Synoptists seem persuaded that they are writing pure physical history. Jn. seems inspired to pour forth the scenes of a mystic drama; tradition must give way before the overpowering emotion of the present inner light. Read the oldest collection of the sermons of Hermes the Thrice-Greatest, and there you will find in fullness the Light and Life doctrine which filled the imagination of the writer of the Fourth Gospel. And if you say it is copied from our Gospel, study the whole question of these early communities, and then perhaps you may be able to believe that there need have been no copying among the mystics, though there may have been an identity of source.
But to return to the historical problem. When and by whom were our four Gospels written? and further, where were they composed? It is evident that from the documents themselves we can get no very direct information on any of these points.
First, as to date, there is the strong presumption from internal evidence that they were all four written after at least 70 A.D.; moreover,
the elaborate work done on the borrowing hypothesis, as we have seen, points steadily to the fact that the Synoptic writers were contemporaries. Was the writer of the Fourth Gospel also a contemporary? Judging by the “drastic freedom” with which he has treated the same materials as the Synoptists, he could not have regarded their expositions as authoritative. In every probability this is because he knew who they were, even if he did not know them personally.
When we review the external evidences as to date and are confronted with the ceaseless battle concerning them, one thing only seems certain, namely, that there is no unassailable fact to guide us. If there were one single proved fact, there would be no controversy. Taking, then, all things into consideration, remembering that the Tübingen school fifty years ago argued with great acumen for as late as about 170 A.D., and not forgetting that latterly several distinguished scholars have given their suffrages to dates within the first century, we are of opinion that the time which most conveniently suits all the phenomena is the period of Hadrian, 117-138 A.D.
The new-found statement that the story of the Magi was a Persian legend translated into Greek in 119 A.D. suits our date admirably. We can, of course, reject this statement as utterly apocryphal, though why a so damaging piece of
evidence for traditional views should be invented in orthodox circles is hard to understand; or we can accept it and try to save tradition by supposing that chap. of Mt. is a later addition, and that original Mt. began, as did Mk., with the ministry of the Baptist; or we can accept it, holding to the unity of Mt.’s introduction, and draw the logical deduction from the premisses.
Next as to authorship. By whom were our documents written? To this criticism can as yet give no positive answer. The traditional names of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John must be rejected if they are taken as referring to the traditional apostles Matthew and John, and the traditional followers of Peter and Paul, Mark and Luke. But all four names were common enough, and it may be possible that a Matthew, a Mark, a Luke or a John may have been actually the scribes of the famous documents under discussion. Can we, however, derive any further information from infernal evidence as to their nationality? Were they Jews of Palestine or Jews of the Dispersion, or Gentiles? If our date holds good it may safely be said that in all probability they could not have been Jews of Palestine. The writers of Mt. and Mk. may very probably have been Jews of the Dispersion, the writers of Lk. and Jn. may also have been Jews of the Diaspora, but more probably they were Gentiles.
As to how these writings were composed, it may be conjectured that the common phenomena of the Synoptic documents point rather to concerted effort than to individual attempts of a casual nature. It is more difficult to believe that three separate attempts were made by three writers unacquainted with each other, in three different countries, than that there was some common understanding. Such a coincidence, on the former supposition, would be very extraordinary. It may, then, be permissible to conjecture that a common effort was made by several to produce a single Gospel for general circulation, and that it was found impossible to decide on which had the better claim to be the most suitable. This attempt was based mainly on a document that appeared to all three writers to provide the most suitable main outline. If this document was written in Hebrew, as is not improbable, they would have to translate it each in his own fashion, or there was a translation and each corrected it in his own way by the original. This would mean that the writers knew both Greek and Hebrew and were therefore not unlearned.
For the genesis of the Fourth Gospel we are strongly inclined to take the Muratorian account as containing some germ of history. The writer was “of the disciples” – that is to say, one who
had direct inspiration, who was still directly taught from within by vision. He was a practical mystic, and had doubtless been trained in those mystic circles whose nomenclature he uses.
Can we, however, venture to say where these documents were written? Twelve months ago the matter would have been purely conjectural, except with regard to Jn., to which many from internal evidence have assigned an Alexandrian, or at any rate an Egyptian origin. We are, however, now in possession of a translation of the very valuable Demotic papyrus purchased at Aswãn in 1895 by the Trustees of the British Museum. (See Stories of the High Priest of Memphis: The Sethon of Herodotus and the Demotic Tales of Khamuas. By F. Ll. Griffith, M.A., Oxford. Clarendon Press: 1900.) The papyrus is to be dated, in all probability, somewhere about 75 A.D., and is a copy from an older MS.
This papyrus contains a strange story, some of the details of which are paralleled by incidents in the Gospel narratives. Our story belongs to the tales of the Khamuas-cycle, the first of which was made known to us by the labours of Brugsch in 1865-67. Khamuas was in every probability the most notable of the sons of Rameses II.; he was high priest of Ptah at Memphis, and
head of the hierarchy of the time (about 1250 B.C.). But above all he was famed for his wisdom and mighty powers of magic, and became the hero of innumerable folk-tales.
Our new story opens with the miraculous birth of the son of Setme Khamuas and his wife. Before his conception the mother is told in a dream to eat of the seeds of a certain plant, and at the same time it is revealed to Setme that “the child that shall be born shall be named Si-Osiri [Son of Osiris, i.e., Son of God]; and many are the marvels which he shall do in the land of Egypt.”
And the child grew marvellously in stature. “It came to pass that when the child Si-Osiri was in his first year, one would have said that ‘he is two years old,’ and when he was in his second year, one would have said, ‘he is three years old.’” And his parents loved him exceedingly.
“The child grew big, he grew strong, he was sent to school . . . He rivalled the scribe that had been appointed to teach him. The child began to speak . . . with the scribes of the House of Life in the Temple of Ptah; all who heard him were lost in wonder at him.”
Now on a certain day Setme looked out from his house and saw the corpse of a rich man being carried out for burial in great pomp; he also
saw the body of a poor man being carried to the cemetery wrapped in a mat. And he was thinking how much better it would be in the other world for one who was honoured with so much mourning, than for the poor man who had none to bewail him. And Si-Osiri said to him: “There shall be done unto thee in Amenti like that which shall be done unto this poor man.”
Hereupon he took his father with him to Amenti (the invisible world), and showed him its seven halls and what was done there to men after death, and said to him “My father Setme, dost thou not see this great man clothed in raiment of royal linen, standing near to the place in which Osiris is? He is that poor man whom thou sawest being carried out from Memphis, with no man following him, and wrapped in a mat. He was brought to the Të and his evil deeds were weighed against his good deeds that he did upon earth: and it was found that his good deeds were more numerous than his evil deeds, considering the life destiny which Thoth had written for him . . . considering his magnanimity upon earth. And it was commanded before Osiris that the burial outfit of that rich man, whom thou sawest carried forth from Memphis with great laudation, should be given to this same poor man, and that he should be taken among the noble spirits as a man of
God that follows Sokaris Osiris, his place being near to the person of Osiris. But the great man whom thou didst see, he was taken to the Të: his evil deeds were weighed against his good deeds, and his evil deeds were found more numerous than his good deeds that he did upon the earth. It was commanded that he should be requited in Amenti, and he is that man whom thou didst see . . . and whose mouth was open in great lamentation.”
After this incident we are again told: “Now when the boy Si-Osiri had attained twelve years it came to pass that there was no good scribe or learned man that rivalled him in Memphis in reading writing that compels.” And thereupon follows a long recital of a curious battle of magic between Si-Osiri and a wizard of Ethiopia.
In the above passages it is hardly necessary to draw the attention of the reader to the striking parallels between the incidents here related and those in the Gospel stories. As the reviewer in The Times (Jan. 8, 1901), says: “The birth of the child, the revelation of his name and future greatness to the father in a dream (Mt. i. 20, 21), his rapid growth in wisdom and stature (Lk. ii. 40), and in questioning the doctors in the temple (Lk. ii. 46, 47), are all in correspondence.” The far more striking parallel, however, is between the tale of the rich and poor man and the
Gospel story of Dives and Lazarus (Lk. xvi. 19-31). The going to school and rivalling the scribe appointed to teach him is also paralleled in the Gospel of the Infancy and elsewhere.
Now, as we have seen, the Mt. and Lk. documents were composed, in the highest probability, somewhere in the reign of Hadrian (117-138 A.D.), and the parallels are found in those parts of these documents which are independent either of the common material used by these writers and Mk. (the Triple Tradition), or the second source used by them but not by Mk. (the Double Tradition). Here, then, we seem to be on the track of yet another “double tradition.”
For our papyrus is to be dated in all probability about 75 A.D.; moreover, it is the copy of an older document. Its autograph form, then, must be dated still earlier, while as for its contents they may mount to a high antiquity for anything we know to the contrary. These contents are part and parcel of the most favourite cycle of folk-tales in ancient Egypt, and were presumably in everybody’s mouth. It is not likely that new tales of so famous a person as Setme Khamuas could be easily circulated without comment. Again., if we take the tale of the rich man and poor man in Amenti, it has all the appearance of being original. It is far more detailed than the Dives and Lazarus story in Lk., and contains
a far more ample description of the other world.
Of course every effort will be made by apologists of the traditional view to break down this new piece of evidence; we cannot but think, however, that as the matter stands at present the probabilities are all in favour of the priority of the Setme Khamuas account.
If this be so, we are now in a position to answer the question, Where were our Gospels written? – with far greater precision than would otherwise be possible. It is now highly probable that the writers of Mt. and Lk. composed their documents in Egypt; and if in Egypt, most probably at Alexandria. Jn., as we have already seen, most probably arose in the same environment, and Mk. alone remains to be speculated upon. If, as we conjecture, the three Synoptics were the outcome of some concerted effort, and Mt. and Lk. are traced with great probability to Egypt, Mk. also must be placed in the same region.
We thus conclude that the autographs of our four Gospels were most probably written in Egypt, in the reign of Hadrian.
IN things religious, as we have seen, the only field of research with which at present official science is competent to deal is bounded by her own presumed limits of the possibilities of happening on the plane of this outer physical world. Within there limits she is, for the most part, on safe ground, and especially is this the case when dealing with the literary criticism of documents and estimating the general historicity of the statements of their writers. But this boundary of science is marked out for her by the self-limitations of her officials and not by nature, for they ignore, when they do not reject with contempt, the possibility of a mass of abnormal objective phenomena studied by investigators of so-called “spiritualism” and “occultism” – for instance, all that large class of phenomena belonging to what is called “exteriorisation” or “materialisation,” where there is no question of subjectivity, or vision, or clear-seeing (which
fewer and fewer as time goes on are prepared to deny), but simply added possibilities of happening in the outer physical world. Allowing for even 99 per cent of fraud and self-deception, there still remains enough of evidence to put a universal negative out of court.
Here it is evident that with the official recognition of the possibility of such purely physical phenomena, the area of presumable historicity of writers who deal with such subjects would be considerably widened; and this is especially the case with the writers of the Gospel documents and of their sources. In this it is evident that the present standpoint of the critic is in all cases defined by his personal experience, or, rather, limited by his lack of experience; for once he has had definite experience of any of such phenomena, purely objective though abnormal, he will never be able to deny their possibility, and he will feel himself bound to allow for it in judging the question of historicity of the statements of the evangelists and all other writers of this class; in brief, he can no longer deny a priori the possibility of so-called “miracles.”
At the same time it does not follow that because he admits this possibility, he therefore accepts such statements without further investigation. On the contrary, he knows that it is just such abnormal happenings which are most
liable to exaggeration, and that though he is bound to admit the possibility, he has most carefully to consider the probability of such a statement being an accurate description of the occurrence.
For instance, we are told that the Christ appeared to His disciples walking on the lake, and are told, with pleasing naïveté, of the ill-success of one of them who attempted to leave the boat and go to Him. Of a disciple of the Buddha also a precisely similar story is related; nay, further, if our memory does not deceive us, of the Buddha it is further recorded that he not only walked across a river, but that he took with him ten thousand of his Bhikshus. By those who believe in the possibility of such a happening at all, it will be at once conceded that in this instance what is recorded of the Christ in the former case is ten thousand times more probable than what is recorded of the Buddha in the latter. Indeed, this particular Buddhist legend may be safely classed as an instance of historicised metaphor, for it is easier to conceive of the myth as having its origin in a belief in the attainment of Arhatship by this number of the Buddha’s disciples – “the crossing over the river” of birth and death, and reaching the “further shore” or the Nirvãnic state of enlightenment – than to think it due entirely to the
unaided but gorgeous exaggeration of the Oriental imagination. In fact, in this instance, the Buddhist sculptures themselves have fortunately preserved for us the original form of the marvel. The Buddha and his disciples come to a river in flood, and the Master uses the opportunity to expound the difficulty of crossing the turbulent stream of Samsãra or re-birth. Such is the simple form of the original incident.
Of course it may be that some allegorical meaning may also be found in the statement concerning the Christ; but at the same time it is not only possible but very probable that He was “seen of them” on many occasions. Whether, in this instance, it was a collective, subjective seeing, or they saw Him with their physical eyes, His subtle body being made temporarily objective to them, matters little. There, however, remains the further question: But may it not have been His actual physical body? This of course must depend, in its possibilities and probabilities, upon .the further belief that such a physical happening can actually take place. In little things the phenomena of levitation create a presumption that so great a Master of nature could, had He wished, have done greater things. But the further question would still arise: Would He have thought it necessary to do so great a thing when a less would have amply sufficed? And to
this question the most probable answer is, No.
In this direction, then, as it seems to us, future science may very probably, at no distant date, enlarge her hypotheses of possibility, and in such matters judge more leniently in some respects the historicity of the Gospel-writers; but in other ordinary objective matters the scientific critic is compelled to persist in his present attitude. The historical critic has no other concern than to ascertain what took place down here, or rather what is the most probable account of what took place externally down here, as far as can be gleaned from the contradictory, confused, and exaggerated statements of the records.
In this, unfortunately, we can get no help from any independent historian of the period; we are dependent entirely on writers who not only loved but who worshipped the Master. So far are they from being historians in the modern sense of the .term, that they were born and bred in a literary atmosphere and the heirs of literary methods which are demonstrated on all hands to be the very antipodes to our modern sense of history. It is, however, absolutely impossible for anyone fully to realise this state of affairs until he has familiarised himself with the criticism of the Jewish apocalyptic, apocryphal, and pseudepigraphic
literature of the times. When, moreover, we find a rev. writer going so far as to call his treatment of this subject Books which influenced our Lord and His Disciples, it is plain that there is good evidence that such books strongly influenced early Christian writers, and that such methods of literary composition were directly and naturally inherited by the scribes of the new religion.
On the other hand, we have to reckon with the fact that, in spite of this unhistorical literature (for we deny that it was precisely because of this, as some claim), Christianity grew and prospered, and has eventually taken its place not only as one of the great world-religions, but as the present religion of the most active and vigorous nations of the earth. In our opinion, it is very evident that a satisfactory explanation of this phenomenon can never be arrived at by the mere dissection of externals; we can no more account for the life, growth, and persistence of Christianity by an analysis of outer phenomena, then we can find the soul of a man by dissecting his body, or discover the secret of genius simply by a survey of its environment and heredity. To all these things there is also an inner side. And it is just the inner side of the origins of Christianity which has been so much neglected by those who have so far approached
them from the present limited view-point of scientific enquiry. The life-side of things is at present beyond its ken.
It is because of the stupendous power of this life-side, more than for any other reason, that the results of scientific biblical research, especially in the domain of the Gospel writings, have been and are so strenuously resisted by the mass of believers in the ever-present power of the Christ; they feel that the religion which has given them such comfort, cannot have its source in the mediocre elements left them after such a drastic analysis of what they consider to be their most authoritative documents.
Many of them have in themselves felt in some fashion the power of the life of their faith in emotions or subjective experiences, and the conviction of its truth brought about by such feelings and experiences leads them to resent the progress of criticism, and to deny the validity of the methods which seem to aim at depriving them of their security in this conviction.
This regrettable opposition to free enquiry into the objective truth of certain selected records is owing to their natural clinging to forms instead of centring themselves in the life. They are not yet convinced of the incontrovertible truth – the fundamental law of evolution – that forms must change. It is an amazing fact that not only the
mass of believers, but also to a large extent the majority of the critics themselves (in spite of their free enquiry into the documents), are still under the influence of a traditional orthodoxy of doctrinal form. No matter how freely critics may treat the documents, they seem still persuaded that the genuine teaching of the Christ is to be deduced from these selected documents alone; while as for the mass of believers they are horror-struck at the suggestion that the very selection of these documents involves the begging of the whole question. It is, they think, because they have not only believed with all their hearts in these writings, but have vehemently rejected all others as heretical and mischievous, that they or their fellows have experienced the life of their religion.
Now all this is, in the writer’s opinion, a most grievous misunderstanding of the universal love of the Christ, and founded on the error that He is a respecter not only of persons, but of the limitations which they establish; and these, not only for themselves, but, more strangely still, for Him. They do not yet know that a true Master of religion demands nothing but love of truth and a sincere endeavour to live rightly; He is ready to help all, even those who may deny any particular form He may have used on earth; much more then to help those who seek
to clear away from that form the misconceptions which His professed orthodox followers have woven round it, in a too great love of the form instead of a love of the Truth whose servant He is.
Now, there must ever be a great mystery connected with the work of such a Master – a great mystery, we say, for it would be foolish to avoid the use of the word, merely because it is out of fashion in the passing phase of arrogance of some who would measure all things by their own limited experience. We are surrounded by mysteries on all sides at every moment of our lives, and the mystery of the Christ is the mystery which, in its hypothesis, none but the perfected man can fully know.
His unity, “which hath many faces,” is not to be seen in greater fullness by shutting our eyes to all but an arbitrarily selected number of documents, and declaring that the rest contain mere counterfeit presentments of His presence. If the manifold literature of the early centuries teaches us anything, it is the truth of the ancient saying, “He hath faces on all sides, on all sides ears and eyes.” And, strangely enough, it is just in the arbitrarily excluded literature that we find most distinct traces of an effort to understand this spiritual side of His nature, and of unequivocal statements of the
nature of His appearances and continued help after the death of His body.
In much of it we are put in direct contact with the inner circles of those devoted to the spiritual life, who gave themselves up to contemplation and the developing of those inner faculties of the soul, whereby they might experience the life-side of things in moments of ecstasy, or visions of the night. These men were poets, and prophets, philosophers of religion, allegorists, mystical writers, for whom external history was of very minor importance. They were in contact with the inner side of things in many of its multitudinous phases; contact with this life gave them the feeling of certainty, and the truth of ideas became for them so vastly greater than the truth of physical facts, that they failed to discriminate in the way we now call upon men to discriminate in such matters. What they saw or experienced in the inner spaces was for them the truth, and things “down here” had to be made to fit in with things “up there”; if the prosaic facts of history did not fit the “revealed” truth, so much the worse for the facts. Not, however, that they definitely so argued to themselves; for we do not believe that the phenomena can be explained by the crude and impatient hypothesis of a widespread conspiracy of deliberate
falsification. They wrote looking at the things from within, where time and space are not as here, and in so doing, sometimes picked out scraps of outer history that might correspond to the inner happenings, but so transforming them and confusing the order and transposing the details, that no one could possibly disentangle it from outside, while the many believed without further question because of the piety and known or felt illumination of the writers.
This, no doubt, seems very reprehensible to minds trained in the exact observation of physical affairs; but from a more extended point of view, it may be doubted whether such a method is in reality any farther from the actual truth of things than that of those who would measure the possibilities of the inner world by the meagre standard of outward things alone, and who deny the validity of all inner experience other than the dim subjective imaginings of the normal brain. We are, however, not defending the shortcomings of the mystic, but are only pleading for an unbiased investigation of all the factors which enter into the problem of the origins of Christianity and its subsequent evolution. The truth can never be arrived at by consistently neglecting the most powerful factors in the whole investigation, or,
on the other hand, by assuming that these factors are to be classed solely as the outcome of mere hallucination, pious self-deception, ignorant superstition, or diseased imagination.
On the other hand, we do not deny that hallucination and the rest are to be duly allowed for in our investigations, for they are part and parcel of human nature; but we protest against the narrow-mindedness and egregious self-conceit of those extremists who presume to class the experiences of religion among the phenomena of criminological psychology.
As we have welcomed the light which scientific research can throw on the outer problems, so we still more warmly will welcome the application of the same method of accurate research into the subtler field of the inner nature of things. But here we are face to face with a different order of facts, or rather of facts of a nature far other than physical happenings; it further goes without saying that a scientist of these inner things must have some personal acquaintance with them, for the only instrument he can work with is himself.
On the other hand, there are many who have some acquaintance with the soul of things, but who have not the slightest notion of applying an accurate method of analysis to their experiences, or of checking them by the experiences of
others; least of all, of submitting themselves to any mental discipline, or devoting themselves to study. They consider their inner experiences sacrosanct, and refuse to mix them with earthly affairs, or submit them to the test of reason. They think that because the experience is from “within,” it necessarily is “higher” than things down here. They regard themselves as privileged recipients of spiritual truth; many hold themselves apart as blessed beyond their fellows, and some are so persuaded of their special “election” that they proceed to start some new sect of religion. They seem to think there is something new in all this, instead of it being as old as the world. They have, it is true, brought through to their physical brain some experience of their soul; but they do not remember that the mind also has to play its part. For the Mind of the universe is the Logos of God. It is the Light; while the life is the Soul of things, the spouse of the Light. The soul supplies the experience, the Mind orders it in harmony with the Wisdom which is its counterpart.
Therefore is it that writings based on the utterances of seers and prophets, or composed by them, should be submitted to the most searching light of the reason; and not only so, but the seer himself should more than all others use his reason. In saying this we do not beg the
question of the superiority of the mind to the soul; for it seems more reasonable to suppose that these are co-partners, or rather two aspects of one and the same thing – the reflection of the “Great Man” in the “little man” down here. Reason alone seems unable to add to our experience; we must seek our experience in life. When our reason finds itself at the end of its resources, some new experience may give it new material upon which to work; but when it has the new material presented to it, it is bound by the laves of its being to bring this into harmony with the rest of its cosmos, for if it refuses to do so, chaos is only increased the more for it.
It is just on the one hand this refusal of the modern reason to attempt to order the materials supplied by mystic experience, and on the other the rejection of reason by emotion, which leave the problem of the origins of Christianity in a so chaotic state.
Mysticism in all its phases is officially taboo. That way, official science thinks, madness alone must lie, and hates to hear the name; it hates because it fears this contact with the life within; but such timidity is foolish fear, for once in life’s embraces it would grow to its full stature, instead of staying in its present childish state of psychic ignorance.
Again, the true freedom of the life of the spirit
is manifestly unrealisable by any who limit the activity of their reason by the self-imposed bonds of formal dogma. For is it not self-evident that no form can fully manifest this life, not even the most subtle creation of the most lofty intelligence known to man; how much less the imperfect attempts of those who were more often engaged in polemical controversy than in striving for freedom?
Now Christianity can only be cut apart from its sister-faiths by those who shut themselves in their own theological prisons, and then claim that they are palaces large enough to contain the universe. The philosophic mind which cannot thus imprison its ideas in water-tight cells, on the other hand, is compelled to admit similar phenomena in all great religions. A study of these religions and their history enables it to recognise similar elements in Christianity; for a really independent mind absolutely refuses to have certain particularistic views selected for it, and labelled as Christian, when it finds that the early history of the religion records the existence of many other views which bring it into contact with the general thought of all great religious efforts.
But what is of more importance is, that one who has not only a philosophical mind, but also some appreciation of the inner nature of religion, can
sense behind these sister-faiths the working of some great plan for the helping of the common family of mankind. In all this apparent chaos there seems to be here and there manifested, especially in the innermost circles of the adherents of the greatest world-faiths, some intuition of an inner cosmos or order – an economy in which the Teacher plays a prominent part.
On the other hand, those who seem to have been most devoted to the personalities of the great Masters, are often found to claim that the working out of the plan is to be by means of their particular religion alone. This widespread persuasion in the minds of many disciples of the greatest religious Teachers is very remarkable, when we should rather have expected that a great Master of religion would have strongly impressed upon them the prime necessity of recognising the utility of other forms of religion for other times and races, and not have apparently preached that one mode only was sufficient for all men. Of course there are exceptions to this rule, but the exceptions are to be found only among the philosophers of religion, who apply the full force of their reason to a consideration of the problem.
The reason for this we believe to be in a misunderstanding of the office of the Teacher, and of the standpoint from which He speaks. He is a
servant of the great economy, and speaks in its name and in the name of Him who directs the whole ordering. A Christ, or a Buddha, is one who has attained to perfect manhood, and has authority given Him to speak in the name of the Lord of the world. Looked at from below, and by the eyes of those who can see the Teacher only as He appears to them and not in His real nature, He is taken to be not only the representative of the Law, but also that Law itself, and the Lord of it. Through Him they have been brought into contact with the Truth, and rightly owe Him all their gratitude, and love, and reverence. But why because of this should they deny the right of others to show the same reverence, love and gratitude to another of like nature, who in His turn has brought the knowledge of the Way to the souls of their fellows?
Within the life of the world, we are told, there are degrees of consciousness where the exclusive nature of the individual self begins to yield to a higher phase of individuality; nothing is lost but much is gained, for in this way the “gate of heaven” swings open for a man, and he begins to perceive the still higher possibilities of the power of a Master of Wisdom who has entered into the “Fullness.” Some dim ides of the nature of those who have not yet attained
such lofty heights as those of perfect masterhood, but who have won their way to one of the intermediate summits of the Holy Mountain, may be gleaned from the following words of the philosopher-mystic Plotinus (Enn. v. 8, 4):
“They see themselves in others. For all things are transparent, and there is nothing dark or resisting, but everyone is manifest to everyone internally and all things are manifest; for light is manifest to light. For everyone has all things in himself and again sees in another all things, so that all things are everywhere, and all is all and each in all, and infinite the glory. For each of them is great, since the small also is great. And the sun there is all the stars [? planets], and again each and all are the sun. In each, one thing is pre-eminent above the rest, but it also shows forth all.”
What wonder, then, that anyone coming into contact with the influence of one whose consciousness embraced not only such possibilities, but even far higher (as we hold that of the Christ did and does), should have been so overwhelmed as to imagine that that consciousness was the end of all ends, and the source, of all sources? Moreover, when the Master, from within and with the authority of His office, declared, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life,” we can easily recognise the inner truth of the declaration
while perceiving how grievously the words could be misunderstood, if they were taken to apply to any individual man on earth. Equally so when Krishna declares, in the teaching preserved in the Bhagavad Gitâ, that whatever religious path men follow they all come to Him – we must take this not as applying to the mortal man, or even to the immortal Master, but to the One with whose authority the Master was clothed to carry out the plan of the Divine Economy.
We do not in this presume to do anything else than indicate in the crudest fashion some elements of the inner Me, which must be taken into consideration in this great problem of the mystery of the Christ and the evolution of Christianity; but without a consideration of this life-side there is, in the writer’s opinion, no solution of the problem.
THE idea of the intelligent ordering of the inner life of general religion (without distinction of sects) by the Servants of the Divine Economy, is a conception which as yet is very, little understood. To admit that all the great world-faiths owe their inner genesis to the carrying out of some great plan, and that their inner life is watched over and tended by Those who have in charge the husbandry of spiritual things, is possible only for one who endeavours to look round upon the whole religious world with equal eye.
It is very difficult for the adherent of one particular faith, or the devotee of one particular teacher, to embrace so wide a prospect, for in order to do so he has to change the focus of his gaze, and look beyond the present area which occupies his whole attention. To use a different mode of expression, and employ the language of meditation – so far he has been “one-pointed,”
with all his thought concentrated on his own particular faith-form or on the form of the teacher who is the object of his love and worship.
But, as we are told, there is a higher state than that of concentration on an object. When the power of concentration on an object has been mastered, the mind is ready for the practice of contemplation. The concentrated mind is no longer centred on a special form or object, but left in its own-form, unmodified by outer forms, attentive only to the reception of the spiritual ideas from within, and the limitless illumination of Him to whom it aspires by its love of the Good and Beautiful and True.
When this state of contemplation has once been realised, no longer can any special form be singled out as containing the whole truth of the inner life; on the contrary, the idea of a true catholicity is brought to birth, and it is possible to understand that forms even of apparently the greatest diversity are all in their several fashions partial representations of the living ideas behind them.
It is, however, not to be expected that the human mind can easily assent to the abandonment of forms to which it has been accustomed for centuries, and by concentration upon which it has experienced the intensity of many a fine enthusiasm. It can only by degrees learn the
nature of the grander enthusiasm for the Life within and the guiding wisdom of the Light from which the formless ideas are radiated – ideas formless in so far only that no form of human conception can contain them.
It is presumably the great difficulty of attaining to these wider views without falling into a state of pure indifference or merely contemptuous tolerance, which renders them distasteful to the religious enthusiast. He feels that what is most necessary in religion is a lifting force – something to uplift him; and because he finds that his belief in a certain form gives him the feeling of assurance, he imagines that this form will be equally efficacious for the rest of the world. He has not yet learnt the true secret of the power of the World-helpers – Their willingness to help all men in the way most suited to their existing beliefs and their present state of development. In spiritual things as in more mundane matters, to help a man (otherwise than by simply ministering to his material needs) we must speak his language and not address him in a foreign tongue. So is it that the spiritual helper does not impose some other form upon the devotee, but vivifies the highest form the devotee himself can think or feel. Even when a pupil is directly taught, he often still persists in thinking that the new form he has conceived is given and
consecrated by his Master, whereas, in reality, it is his own limitation of his Master’s power.
How long, then, will it be before the religious enthusiast will learn that the consummation devoutly to be wished is not the compression of all human souls into his own particular theological mould – a pitilessly mechanical process which would only result in the indefinite multiplication of the religionist’s own self-limitations! The purpose of life is to live and develop, and the ways of growth are not only as numerous as the souls of men, but each soul can evolve in an infinite number of forms. It follows, then, if we are enthusiasts for the wider life of religion, and are striving to gain a deeper understanding of the possibilities of our common human nature, that so far from falling into the error of being intolerant of the forms of the various religions, we should recognise that all serve their purpose each in its own way.
If a man finds greater comfort in one form than in another, it is surely because it is more suited to him for the time being. He will as surely grow out of it naturally as he evolves; but until he discovers for himself its limitations, it is unwise to try violently to uproot the form, lest haply the life should perish with its vehicle. It is not thus, we are told, wise husbandmen treat the man-plant.
The problem, however, which has now to be faced in the Western world, is that the mind of Christendom, by its own natural growth, is fast outwearing the forms in which it has been encased since the official establishment of the so-called Catholic Church. It is being gradually recognised by the most enlightened minds among both clergy and laity that the old forms are being rapidly outgrown, and that already many of the official dogmas of the Churches are found to be a burden which the fast-developing intellect of the present day can no longer tolerate, and this not only because of the extended knowledge of the laws underlying natural phenomena and the processes of thought, but also because of the conviction that the law of evolution should hold good in every department of life, and can only be banished from the domain of religion to its lasting detriment.
Already efforts are being made to expand the meaning of many of the dogmas of the Christian Faith; in other words, the life is bursting through the forms. New interpretations of old formulae are being sought; new definitions are being attempted. The time, however, is still far from ripe for a re-formulation of the dogmas of Christianity which would be acceptable to all the Churches of Christendom. Nor, in our opinion, is this to be regretted;
indeed in the present state of affairs, the longer such a re-formulation is delayed, the better will it be for the in-working life.
There is a potent idea which is endeavouring to impress itself upon the undogmatic conscience, and some few are beginning to understand, however dimly, that the future of harmonious growth is conditioned upon the law of unity in diversity; so long as there is a chance of making this idea live among the many, it would be inadvisable to attempt again to bind large masses of religionists in the shackles of new formula, which, though less galling to the intellect than the ancient forms, would nevertheless be limitations and boundary-marks of division, in so fax that they must in their nature consist of attempts to show how the supposed ultimate principles of Christianity differ from the supposed ultimate principles of other world-faiths.
On the other hand, without forms distinctive religions would cease to exist, and as yet few religionists can do without them. As we have already seen, forms are only hampering when they are outgrown, or nearly outgrown; till then, they are not only helpful, but necessary. The forms of popular religion, again, are not those which are helpful to the most advanced minds of the time, but those which are suited
to the average intelligence of the faith. Forms too subtle for the majority are beyond their understanding, and therefore of little immediate utility for the mass of believers.
As, then, there is a new spirit abroad, a new life stirring, it would be unwise to let it crystallise too rapidly, even though it should shape itself on limes of great intellectual beauty. The longer the formulation of the new life is delayed, the fairer will be the outer garment it will eventually assume, for the religious mind craves something more than a form of purely intellectual beauty.
As we have seen, many of the ancient forms of dogma and tradition are being cast into the critical melting-pot and much of their substance is being lost in the process. The cause of this, as we have endeavoured to point out, is the unskilful test-method of some of our most distinguished biblical alchemists. Too much of the precious metal is lost in the smelting; they must temper their intellectual fire, or they will before long reduce all to a caput mortuum.
Is it, we ask, their intention to eliminate entirely the mystical element from religion? Is it, further, really scientific to adopt a purely theological test, and reject a mass of early material which an unscientific past has decreed to be heretical? This brings us to a consideration
of that mass of early dogma, tradition and legend which is classed as Gnostic.
We have recently collected together the material in a volume entitled Fragments of a Faith Forgotten, hoping that some few at least might be interested in a subject which is usually considered so foreign to modern methods of thought. It has, therefore, been a pleasant surprise to find that the book has been warmly welcomed by many thinking men and women, who find in it evidence of the existence in Early Christianity of elements which they have learned to appreciate from their study of the other great religions of the world, but for which they had previously searched in vain in General Christianity.
The main purpose of the volume was to give the material and let the earliest philosophers and mystics of Christianity speak for themselves without angry interruption or contemptuous comment. It was, of course, to be expected that any writer who was bold enough to provide conditions in which the “arch-heretics” of Christendom could plead their own case, would meet with no approval from the adherents of “orthodoxy,” and it was also certain that purely rationalistic critics would make merry over the ideas of the Gnostics and lament the labour bestowed on a (in their opinion) so unprofitable subject. But the mistake
made by both these two extremes of belief is the assumption that in some way the writer desires to revive the ancient forms of Gnosticism. We have, however, no desire to put new wine into old bottles, even though the old bottles may have once contained some part of the original vintage of the “True Vine.”
We simply say: There is a neglected field of Early Christianity, fragments of a faith forgotten for all these centuries; you who talk of “primitive” Christianity – how do you explain the Gnosis? You who profess to be scientific and impartial investigators of evidence, who refuse to be bound by the uncritical opinions of Church Fathers and the prejudiced decisions of Councils, how do you explain one of the most important factors (if not the most important) in the birth and early development of Christian dogmatic theology? For our part, we have endeavoured to show that a full consideration of the factors which go to form the background of early Gnosticism modifies to an extraordinary extent the generally accepted view of the origins of Christianity.
But the question may be asked: What is the good of these Gnostic ideas to us to-day; what is the use of disinterring these relics from the lumber-room of a forgotten past?
There are of course certain minds who, when
they put the question cui bono, refuse to be mollified by any answer short of an explanation of the cosmic purpose of things; we ourselves are content with lesser “goods,” and reply that as the best of these Gnostics numbered among them the most philosophical and trained minds of Early Christendom, it is good to hear what they had to say about the Christ and to learn the nature of their faith in Him. If we can get a wider view of Early Christianity, we can take a wider view of the present state of affairs. The Gnosis, as we think, gives us this wider view of the faith and liberty of the first centuries.
But, some may say, no doubt a study of the Gnostics is useful from a historical point of view, and we may even take an antiquarian interest in the various elements incorporated into their systems, but what is the good of their strange speculations to us to-day?
To this we reply: The ideas of the Gnosis are not to be judged solely by the forms in which the Gnostics clothed them, any more than the general doctrines of Christianity are to be judged by the dogmatic formulae in which they have been encased by the Church Fathers and the decrees of the Councils. The forms of the Gnosis which have been preserved, are to-day, we admit, mainly of antiquarian interest, even as are also the dogmatic formularies of General Christianity
for many people. But even so, they are very interesting, for these Gnostic forms are found to preserve elements from the mystery-traditions of antiquity in greater fullness than we find elsewhere.
So far, however, from desiring to revive the ancient forms of the Gnosis or of any of the old mystery-traditions, we are strongly convinced that no good can come of any such attempt. It is as retrograde a process as that a human soul on reincarnating should try to revive some ancient personality of his instead of growing a new one. You cannot live again in a corpse; though, they say, you may do a little “black magic” by means of it.
We, therefore, look with little favour on the attempts of some people to found “Gnostic Churches” (as is being attempted in France), and of others who profess to revive the old mystery-forms. We might as well try to revive the form of some ancient civilisation, and so become mere monkeys of our past selves instead of endeavouring to perfect ourselves into some more beautiful semblance of the Divine order and its infinite possibilities. What is desirable is to study the past, not in order to copy without alteration, but in order that we may recover the memory of the lessons of experience it had to teach.
If, then, we find a form of beauty in antiquity,
the effort of an evolving humanity should be to fashion one of still greater beauty; if we find in the past the record of strenuous efforts to draw towards the heart of things, the endeavour of the present lovers of God in man should be still more strenuously to strive towards the inmost depths of the Divine Wisdom.
Now it is the doe trine of the Living Christ which is the most powerful incentive to strenuous effort in the life of Christendom to-day. But how few of those who believe that He lives and watches over them, can tolerate the idea that the Buddha lives and watches too, that Krishna, and Zoroaster, and all the great ones who have lived and worked on earth for human good, live on and watch! More difficult still to believe, – that not only does the Christ watch over Christendom, but that He pours out His help and blessing not only on all who love the Father of our common manhood, but also on all who strive for human betterment no matter what their religious belief or disbelief. And not only does the Christ do this, but all His brethren join with Him in the common task. They are not limited by our theological and racial differences. Theirs is the task to gather up the power set free by these differences and to garner it into the Divine treasure-houses to be used as opportunity affords for the common helping of humanity.
This spiritual alchemy whereby the apparently most antagonistic forces are transmuted for the common good, is a marvellous mystery to contemplate. To take a single instance from the past. It is well known that the philosophy of Greece summed itself up in the Later Platonic School and for three centuries strenuously resisted the victorious on-march of General Christianity. It was the last rampart walled round the ancient culture, and the gallant fight of its defenders against overpowering odds forms one of the most interesting pages of our Western records. Many no doubt will say that these men fought against the Christ and their efforts deservedly came to naught. Christianity triumphed and Paganism received its death blow. It was a moral victory for the world; ethics overcame metaphysics.
But such hasty generalisations will not satisfy the impartial student of history; for the philosophic life was based on high ethical endeavour, the Later Platonists were confessedly men of high morality. Their failure was owing to their inability to cater for the multitude and to foresee the needs of the new races which were to develop in the Western world.
On the other hand, we can hardly believe that the better interests of Christianity were served by those who fought so furiously against all culture and intellectual development, least of all
can we believe that they were in this the true servants of a Master of Wisdom. At this time the more tolerant elements of Christendom were themselves being fast swamped by popular clamour. They were rapidly sinking out of sight, to remain hidden till a brighter day when the flood should have subsided and the shining of the sun of tolerance should once more enable them to germinate.
But the most interesting phenomenon for the philosophic mind to contemplate in all this hurly-burly, is that on both sides we find men who were trying to live according to their best convictions, who were strenuously fighting for what they considered to be the highest truth, and for what they thought to be the best means for the general good. It is very evident, therefore, that the power that was working in them was the same power; the difference, the antagonism, was in the forms and opinions, not in the life and ideas. Not only so, but the strenuousness begotten by the conflict developed the individual combatants far more than they would have been developed if left to themselves.
And if the power in them was of the same nature, we can see that the good purpose of the struggle was the deeper self-realisation of those of the combatants who were absolutely honest in their endeavours.
The force that they thus expended was not lost; it was ingathered into the common storehouse, to be used again for their and our continued benefit.
Those who watch over this, who are the Servants of the Divine Economy, were called by some of the Gnostics “Receivers of Light,” and blessed is the man who is worthy to do such service.
Do we, then, really think that the Christ would reject the soul of a Plotinus, of a Porphyry, or a Proclus, merely because they rejected the forms which an Irenæus, a Cyril, or a Theodoret claimed as the only forms in which His wisdom could be expressed?
And if this be so, what of our own times? Do we imagine that the Christ looks with less favour on a Darwin, or a Huxley, or a Büchner, than on the modern champions of orthodoxy; or again, on the other hand, that He rejects the mystics of to-day in favour of the “advanced” critics? We think not; He is wise and knows the needs of our general human nature too well to wish that any part of us should starve.
But think of the infinite patience of it all; the unwearied watching that no opportunity should be missed for giving help in any possible way the human mind and heart should require! Surely we must not have a lower estimate of a
Master of Wisdom than we have of an ordinary noble soul! And who of us would not, if we could, give help to all without distinction of race or creed?
If it were possible that such ideas could permeate the general life of the world, what a marvellously glorious future would lie before us. No longer should we war with one another, but should unite together to overcome the common enemy – ignorance, so that we might enter into the true gnosis of our common nature, and set our feet together upon the lowest rung of the ladder of that expanding self-consciousness which mounts to Deity.
No longer should we be anxious to declare ourselves Christians or Buddhists, Vedãntins or Confucianists, Zoroastrians or Mohammedans, but we should strive to be lovers of truth wherever it is to be found, and candidates for baptism into that Holy Church of all races, climes and ages, that true Communion of Saints, whose members have been aiders and helpers of all religions, philosophies and sciences which the world may have from time to time required.