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Esoteric Christianity

By Annie Besant

The Mystic Christ Concluded

WE now approach that deeper side of the Christ story that gives it its real hold upon the hearts of men. We approach that perennial life which bubbles up from an unseen source, and so baptises its representative with its lucent flood that human hearts cling round the Christ, and feel that they could almost more readily reject the apparent facts of history than deny that which they intuitively feel to be a vital, an essential truth of the higher life. We draw near the sacred portal of the Mysteries, and lift a corner of the veil that hides the sanctuary.

We have seen that, go back as far as we may into antiquity, we find everywhere recognised the existence of a hidden teaching, a secret doctrine, given under strict and exacting conditions [Page 148] to approved candidates by the Masters of Wisdom. Such candidates were initiated into "The Mysteries" — a name that covers in antiquity, as we have seen, all that was most spiritual in religion, all that was most profound in philosophy, all that was most valuable in science. Every great Teacher of antiquity passed through the Mysteries and the greatest were the Hierophants of the Mysteries; each who came forth into the world to speak of the invisible worlds had passed through the portal of Initiation and had learned the secret of the Holy Ones from Their own lips: each who came forth came forth with the same story, and the solar myths are all versions of this story, identical in their essential features, varying only in their local colour. 

This story is primarily that of the descent of the Logos into matter, and the Sun-God is aptly His symbol, since the Sun is His body, and He is often described as "He that dwelleth in the Sun". In one aspect, the Christ of the Mysteries is the Logos descending into matter, and the great Sun-Myth is the popular teaching of this sublime truth. As in previous cases, the Divine Teacher, who brought the Ancient Wisdom and republished it in the world, was regarded as a special manifestation of the Logos, and the Jesus [Page 149] of the Churches was gradually draped with the stories which belonged to this great One; thus He became identified, in Christian nomenclature, with the Second Person in the Trinity, the Logos, or Word of God,[See on this the opening of the Johannine Gospel, i, 1-5. The name Logos, ascribed to the manifested God, shaping matter — "all things were made by Him" — is Platonic, and is hence directly derived from the Mysteries; ages before Plato, Vâk, Voice, derived from the same source, was used among Hindus, ] and the salient events recounted in the myth of the Sun-God became the salient events of the story of Jesus, regarded as the incarnate Deity, the "mythic Christ". As in the macrocosm, the kosmos, the Christ of the Mysteries represents the Logos, the Second Person in the Trinity, so in the microcosm, man, does He represent the second aspect of the Divine Spirit in man — hence called in man "the Christ".[See Ante, pp. 106-107] The second aspect of the Christ of the Mysteries is then the life of the Initiate, the life which is entered on at the first great Initiation, at which the Christ is born in man, and after which He develops in man. To make this quite intelligible, we must consider the conditions imposed on the candidate for Initiation, and the nature of the Spirit in man. [Page 150]

Only those could be recognised as candidates for Initiation who were already good as men count goodness, according to the strict measure of the law. Pure, holy, without defilement, clean from sin, living without transgression — such were some of the descriptive phrases used of them.[See Ante, p. 80. 3 ] Intelligent also must they be, of well-developed and well-trained minds.[See Ante, p. 73. ] The evolution carried on in the world life after life, developing and mastering the powers of the mind, the emotions, and the moral sense, learning through exoteric religions, practising the discharge of duties, seeking to help and lift others — all this belongs to the ordinary life of an evolving man. When all this is done, the man has become "a good man", the Chrêstos of the Greeks, and this he must be ere he can become the Christos, the Anointed. Having accomplished the exoteric good life, he becomes a candidate for the esoteric life, and enters on the preparation for Initiation, which consists in the fulfilment of certain conditions.

These conditions mark out the attributes he is to acquire, and while he is labouring to create these, he is sometimes said to be treading the Probationary Path, the Path which leads up to [Page 151] the "Strait Gate", beyond which is the "Narrow Way", or the "Path of Holiness", the " Way of the Cross". He is not expected to develop these attributes perfectly, but he must have made some progress in all of them, ere the Christ can be born in him. He must prepare a pure home for that Divine Child who is to develop within him.

The first of these attributes — they are all mental and moral — is Discrimination; this means that the aspirant must begin to separate in his mind the Eternal from the Temporary, the Real from the Unreal, the True from the False, the Heavenly from the Earthly. "The things which are seen are temporal", says the Apostle; "but the things which are not seen are eternal". [II. Cor., IV, 18.] Men are constantly living under the glamour of the seen, and are blinded by it to the unseen. The aspirant must learn to discriminate between them, so that what is unreal to the world may become real to him, and that which is real to the world may to him become unreal, for thus only is it possible to "walk by faith, not by sight". [Ibid., v, 7. ] And thus also must a man become one of those of whom the Apostle says that they "are of full age, even those who by reason [Page 152] of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil". [Heb., v, 14. ] Next, this sense of unreality must breed in him Disgust with the unreal and the fleeting, the mere husks of life, unfit to satisfy hunger, save the hunger of swine.[S. Luke, xv, 16. ] This stage is described in the emphatic language of Jesus: "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple".[Ibid., xiv, 26 ] Truly a "hard saying", and yet out of this hatred will spring a deeper, truer, love, and the stage may not be escaped on the way to the Strait Gate. Then the aspirant must learn Control of thoughts, and this will lead to Control of actions, the thought being, to the inner eye, the same as the action: "Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart".[ S. Matt., v, 28.] He must acquire Endurance, for they who aspire to tread "the Way of the Cross" will have to brave long and bitter sufferings, and they must be able to endure, "as seeing Him who is invisible". [Heb., xi, 27. ] He must add to these Tolerance, if he would be the child of Him who "maketh His sun to rise on the evil, and on the good, and [Page 153] sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust",[S. Matt., v, 45. ] the disciple of Him who bade His apostles not to forbid a man to use His name because he did not follow with them.[S. Luke, ix, 49, 60.] Further, he must acquire the Faith to which nothing is impossible,[S. Matt., xvii, 20. ] and the Balance which is described by the Apostle.[II. Cor., vi, 8-10.] Lastly, he must seek only "those things which are above",[Col., iii, 1. ] and long to reach the beatitude of the vision of and union with God.[S. Matt., v, 8; and S. John, xvii, 21 ] When a man has wrought these qualities into his character he is regarded as fit for Initiation, and the Guardians of the Mysteries will open for him the Strait Gate. Thus, but thus only, he becomes the prepared candidate.

Now, the Spirit in man is the gift of the Supreme God, and contains within itself the three aspects of the Divine Life — Intelligence, Love, Will — being the Image of God. As it evolves, it first develops the aspect of Intelligence, develops the intellect, and this evolution is effected in the ordinary life in the world. To have done this to a high point, accompanying it with moral development, brings the evolving man to the condition of the candidate. The second aspect [Page 154] of the Spirit is that of Love, and the evolution of that is the evolution of the Christ. In the true Mysteries this evolution is undergone — the disciple's life is the Mystery Drama, and the Great Initiations mark its stages. In the Mysteries performed on the physical plane these used to be dramatically represented, and the ceremonies followed in many respects "the pattern" ever shown forth "on the Mount", for they were the shadows in a deteriorating age of the mighty Realities in the spiritual world.

The Mystic Christ, then, is twofold — the Logos, the Second Person of the Trinity, descending into matter, and the Love, or second, aspect of the unfolding Divine Spirit in man. The one represents kosmic processes carried on in the past and is the root of the Solar Myth; the other represents a process carried on in the individual, the concluding stage of his human evolution, and added many details in the Myth. Both of these have contributed to the Gospel story, and together form the Image of the "Mystic Christ".

Let us consider first the kosmic Christ, Deity becoming enveloped in matter, the becoming incarnate of the Logos, the clothing of God in "flesh".

When the matter which is to form our solar system is separated off from the infinite ocean [Page 155] of matter which fills space, the Third Person of the Trinity — the Holy Spirit — pours His Life into this matter to vivify it, that it may presently take form. It is then drawn together, and form is given to it by the life of the Logos, the Second Person of the Trinity, who sacrifices Himself by putting on the limitations of matter, becoming the "Heavenly Man", in whose Body all forms exist, of whose Body all forms are part. This was the kosmic story, dramatically shown in the Mysteries — in the true Mysteries seen as it occurred in space, in the physical plane Mysteries represented by magical or other means, and in some parts by actors.

These processes are very distinctly stated in the Bible; when the "Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters" in the darkness that was "upon the face of the deep", [Gen., i, 2. 3 ] the great deep of matter showed no forms, it was void, inchoate. Form was given by the Logos, the Word, of whom it is written that "all things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made".[S. John, i, 3. ] C. W. Leadbeater has well put it: "The result of this first great outpouring [the 'moving' of the Spirit] is the [Page 156] quickening of that wonderful and glorious vitality which pervades all matter (inert though it may seem to our dim physical eyes), so that the atoms of the various planes develop, when electrified by it, all sorts of previously latent attractions and repulsions, and enter into combinations of all kinds". [The Christian Creed, p. 29. This is a most valuable and fascinating little book, on the mystical meaning of the creeds.]

Only when this work of the Spirit has been done can the Logos, the kosmic Mystic Christ, take on Himself the clothing of matter, entering in very truth the Virgin's womb, the womb of Matter as yet virgin, unproductive. This matter had been vivified by the Holy Spirit, who, overshadowing the Virgin, poured into it His life, thus preparing it to receive the life of the Second Logos, who took this matter as the vehicle for His energies. This is the becoming incarnate of the Christ, the taking flesh — "Thou did'st not despise the Virgin's womb".

In the Latin and English translations of the original Greek text of the Nicene Creed, the phrase which describes this phase of the descent has changed the prepositions and so changed the sense. The original ran: "and was incarnate of the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary", whereas [Page 157] he translation reads : " and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary." [The Christian Creed, p. 42] The Christ "takes form not of the ' Virgin' matter alone, but of matter which is already instinct and pulsating with the life of the Third Logos,[A name of the Holy Ghost ] so that both the life and the matter surround Him as a vesture".[Ibid., p. 43]

This is the descent of the Logos into matter, described as the birth of the Christ of a Virgin, and this, in the Solar Myth, becomes the birth of the Sun-God as the sign Virgo rises.

Then come the early workings of the Logos in matter, aptly typified by the infancy of the myth. To all the feebleness of infancy His majestic powers bow themselves, letting but little play forth on the tender forms they ensoul. Matter imprisons, seems as though threatening to slay, its infant King, whose glory is veiled by the limitations He has assumed. Slowly He shapes it towards high ends, and lifts it into manhood, and then stretches Himself on the cross of matter that He may pour forth from that cross alt the powers of His surrendered life. This is the Logos of whom Plato said that He was in the figure of a cross on the universe ; this is the [Page 158] Heavenly Man, standing in space, with arms outstretched in blessing; this is the Christ crucified, whose death on the cross of matter fills all matter with His life. Dead He seems and buried out of sight, but He rises again clothed in the very matter in which He seemed to perish, and carries up His body of now radiant matter into heaven, where it receives the downpouring life of the Father, and becomes the vehicle of man's immortal life. For it is the life of the Logos which forms the garment of the Soul in man, and He gives it that men may live through the ages and grow to the measure of His own stature. Truly are we clothed in Him, first materially and then spiritually. He sacrificed Himself to bring many sons into glory, and He is with us always, even to the end of the age.

The crucifixion of Christ, then, is part of the great kosmic sacrifice, and the allegorical representation of this in the physical Mysteries, and the sacred symbol of the crucified man in space, became materialised into an actual death by crucifixion, and a crucifix bearing a dying human form; then this story, now the story of a man, was attached to the Divine Teacher, Jesus, and became the story of His physical death, while the birth from a Virgin, the danger-encircled [Page 159] infancy, the resurrection and ascension, became also incidents in His human life. The Mysteries disappeared, but their grandiose and graphic representations of the kosmic work of the Logos encircled and uplifted the beloved figure of the Teacher of Judaea, and the kosmic Christ of the Mysteries, with the lineaments of the Jesus of history, thus became the central Figure of the Christian Church.

But even this was not all; the last touch of fascination is added to the Christ-story by the fact that there is another Christ of the Mysteries, close and dear to the human heart — the Christ of the human Spirit, the Christ who is in every one of us, is born and lives, is crucified, rises from the dead, and ascends into heaven, in every suffering and triumphant "Son of Man".
The life-story of every Initiate into the true, the heavenly Mysteries, is told in its salient features in the Gospel biography. For this reason, S. Paul speaks as we have seen [Ante, p. 107. ] of the birth of the Christ in the disciple, and of His evolution and His full stature therein. Every man is a potential Christ, and the unfolding of the Christ-life in a man follows the outline of the Gospel [Page 160] story in its striking incidents, which we have seen to be universal, and not particular.

There are five great Initiations in the life of a Christ, each one marking a stage in the unfolding of the Life of Love. They are given now, as of old, and the last marks the final triumph of the Man who has developed into Divinity, who has transcended humanity, and has become a Saviour of the world. 

Let us trace this life-story, ever newly repeated in spiritual experience, and see the Initiate living out the life of the Christ. 

At the first great Initiation the Christ is born in the disciple; it is then that he realises for the first time in himself the outpouring of the divine Love, and experiences that marvellous change which makes him feel himself to be one with all that lives. This is the "Second Birth", and at that birth the heavenly ones rejoice, for he is born into " the kingdom of heaven", as one of the " little ones," as "a little child " — the names ever given to the new initiates. Such is the meaning of the words of Jesus, that a man must become a little child to enter into the Kingdom.[S. Matt., xviii, 3. ] It is significantly said in some of the early Christian writers that Jesus was "born in a cave" — the [Page 161] "stable" of the gospel narrative; the "Cave of Initiation" is a well-known ancient phrase, and the Initiate is ever born therein; over that cave "where the young child" is, burns the "Star of Initiation", the Star that ever shines forth in the East when a ChildChrist is born. Every such child is surrounded by perils and menaces, strange dangers that befall not other babes; for he is anointed with the chrism of the second birth and the Dark Powers of the unseen world ever seek his undoing. Despite all trials, however, he grows into manhood, for the Christ once born can never perish, the Christ once beginning to develop can never fail in his evolution; his fair life expands and grows, ever-increasing in wisdom and in spiritual stature, until the time comes for the second great Initiation, the Baptism of the Christ by Water and the Spirit, that gives him the powers necessary for the Teacher, who is to go forth and labour in the world as "the beloved Son".

Then there descends upon him in rich measure the divine Spirit, and the glory of the unseen Father pours down its pure radiance on him; but from that scene of blessing is he led by the Spirit into the wilderness and is once more exposed to the ordeal of fierce temptations. For now the powers of the Spirit are unfolding themselves in [Page 162] him, and the Dark Ones strive to lure him from his path by these very powers, bidding him use them for his own helping instead of resting on his Father in patient trust. In the swift, sudden transitions which test his strength and faith, the whisper of the embodied Tempter follows the voice of the Father, and the burning sands of the wilderness scorch the feet erstwhile laved in the cool waters of the holy river. Conqueror over these temptations he passes into the world of men to use for their helping the powers he would not put forth for his own needs, and he who would not turn one stone to bread for the stilling of his own cravings feeds "five thousand men, besides women and children", with a few loaves.

Into his life of ceaseless service conies another brief period of glory, when he ascends "a high mountain apart" — the sacred Mount of Initiation. There he is transfigured and there meets some of his great Forerunners, the Mighty Ones of old who trod where he now is treading. He passes thus the third great Initiation, and then the shadow of his coming Passion falls on him, and he steadfastly sets his face to go to Jerusalem — repelling the tempting words of one of his disciples — Jerusalem, where awaits him the baptism of the Holy Ghost and of Fire. After [Page 163] the Birth, the attack by Herod; after the Baptism, the temptation in the wilderness; after the Transfiguration, the setting forth towards the last stage of the Way of the Cross. Thus is triumph ever followed by ordeal, until the goal is reached. 

Still grows the life of love, ever fuller and more perfect, the Son of Man shining forth more clearly as the Son of God, until the time draws near for his final battle, and the fourth great Initiation leads him in triumph into Jerusalem, into sight of Gethsemane and Calvary. He is now the Christ ready to be offered, ready for the sacrifice on the cross- He is now to face the bitter agony in the Garden, where even his chosen ones sleep while he wrestles with his mortal anguish, and for a moment prays that the cup may pass from his lips; but the strong will triumphs and he stretches out his hand to take and drink, and in his loneliness an angel comes to him and strengthens him, as angels are wont to do when they see a Son of Man bending beneath his load of agony. The drinking of the bitter cup of betrayal, of desertion, of denial, meets him as he goes forth, and alone amid his jeering foes he passes to his last fierce trial. Scourged by physical pain, pierced by cruel thorns of suspicion, stripped of his fair garments of purity in the eyes of the world, left in the hands [Page 164] of his foes, deserted apparently by God and man, he endures patiently all that befalls him, wistfully looking in his last extremity for aid. Left still to suffer, crucified, to die to the life of form, to surrender all life that belongs to the lower world, surrounded by triumphant foes who mock him, the last horror of great darkness envelopes him, and in the darkness he meets all the forces of evil; his inner vision is blinded, he finds himself alone, utterly alone, till the strong heart, sinking in despair, cries out to the Father who seems to have abandoned him, and the human soul faces, in uttermost loneliness, the crushing agony of apparent defeat. Yet, summoning all the strength of the "unconquerable spirit", the lower life is yielded up, its death is willingly embraced, the body of desire is abandoned, and the Initiate "descends into hell", that no region of the universe he is to help may remain untrodden by him, that none may be too outcast to be reached by his all-embracing love. And then springing upwards from the darkness, he sees the light once more, feels himself again as the Son, inseparable from the Father whose he is, rises to the life that knows no ending, radiant in the consciousness of death faced and overcome, strong to help to the uttermost every child of man, able to [Page 165] pour out his life into every struggling soul. Among his disciples he remains awhile to teach, unveiling to them the mysteries of the spiritual worlds, preparing them also to tread the path he has trodden, until, the earth-life over, he ascends to the Father, and, in the fifth great Initiation, becomes the Master triumphant, the link between God and man.

Such was the story lived through in the true Mysteries of old and now, and dramatically portrayed in symbols in the physical plane Mysteries, half veiled, half shown. Such is the Christ of the Mysteries in His dual aspect, Logos and man, kosmic and individual. Is it any wonder that this story, dimly felt, even when unknown, by the mystic, has woven itself into the heart, and served as an inspiration to all noble living ? The Christ of the human heart is, for the most part, Jesus seen as the mystic human Christ, struggling, suffering, dying, finally triumphant, the Man in whom humanity is seen crucified and risen, whose victory is the promise of victory to every one who, like Him, is faithful through death and beyond — the Christ who can never be forgotten while He is born again and again in humanity, while the world needs Saviours, and Saviours give themselves for men. [Page 166] 



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