Esoteric Christianity

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Esoteric Christianity

By Annie Besant

The Trinity

ALL fruitful study of the Divine Existence must start from the affirmation that it is One. All the Sages have thus proclaimed It; every religion has thus affirmed It; every philosophy thus posits It — "One only without a second".[Chhãndogyopanishat, VI, ii, 1]"Hear, O Israel!" cried Moses, "The Lord our God is one Lord". [Deut., vi, 4. ] "To us there is but one God", [I Cor., viii, 6. ] declares S. Paul. "There is no God but God", affirms the founder of Islam, and makes the phrase the symbol of his faith. One Existence unbounded, known in Its fullness only to Itself — the word It seems more reverent and inclusive than He, and is therefore used. That is the Eternal Darkness, out of which is born the Light. [Page 219]

But as the Manifested God, the One appears as Three. A Trinity of Divine Beings, One as God, Three as manifested Powers. This also has ever been declared, and the truth is so vital in its relation to man and his evolution that it is one which ever forms an essential part of the Lesser Mysteries.

Among the Hebrews, in consequence of their anthropomorphising tendencies, the doctrine was kept secret, but the Rabbis studied and worshipped the Ancient of Days, from whom came forth the Wisdom, from whom the Understanding — Kether, Chochmah, Binah, these formed the Supreme Trinity, the shining forth in time of the One beyond time. The Book of the Wisdom of Solomon refers to this teaching, making Wisdom a Being. " According to Maurice, ' The first Sephira, who is denominated Kether the Crown, Kadrnon the pure Light, and En Soph the Infinite, [ An error: En, or Ain, Soph is not one of the Trinity, but the One Existence, manifested in the Three; nor is Kadrnon, or Adam Kadmon, one Sephira, but their totality. ] is the omnipotent Father of the universe. . . . The second is the Chochmah, whom we have sufficiently proved, both from sacred and Rabbinical writings, to be the creative Wisdom. The third is the Binah, or heavenly Intelligence, [Page 220] whence the Egyptians had their Cneph, and Plato his Nous Demiurgos. He is the Holy Spirit who . . . pervades, animates, and governs this boundless universe'.[Quoted in Williamson's The Great Law, pp. 201, 202.]

The bearing of this doctrine on Christian teaching is indicated by Dean Milman in his History of Christianity. He says: "This Being [the Word or the Wisdom] was more or less distinctly impersonated, according to the more popular or more philosophic, the more material or the more abstract, notions of the age or people. This was the doctrine from the Ganges, or even the shores of the Yellow Sea, to the Ilissus; it was the fundamental principle of the Indian religion and the Indian philosophy; it was the basis of Zoroastrianism; it was pure Platonism ; it was the Platonic Judaism of the Alexandrian school. Many fine passages might be quoted from Philo on the impossibility that the first self-existing Being should become cognisable to the sense of man; and even in Palestine, no doubt, John the Baptist and our Lord Himself spoke no new doctrine, but rather the common sentiment of the more enlightened, when they declared ' that no man had seen God at any time. In conformity with this principle the Jews, in the [Page 221] interpretation of the older Scriptures, instead of direct and sensible communication from the one great Deity, had interposed either one or more intermediate beings as the channels of communication. According to one accredited tradition alluded to by S. Stephen, the law was delivered ' by the disposition of angels'; according to another this office was delegated to a single angel, sometimes called the Angel of the Law (see Gal., iii, 19); at others the Metatron. But the more ordinary representative, as it were, of God, to the sense and mind of man, was the Memra, or the Divine Word; and it is remarkable that the same appellation is found in the Indian, the Persian, the Platonic, and the Alexandrian systems. By the Targumists, the earliest Jewish commentators on the Scriptures, this term had been already applied to the Messiah; nor is it necessary to observe the manner in which it has been sanctified by its introduction into the Christian scheme".[H. H. Milman. The History of Christianity, 1867, pp. 10-1-2.]

As above said by the learned Dean, the idea of the Word, the Logos, was universal, and it formed part of the idea of a Trinity. Among the Hindus, the philosophers speak of the manifested Brahman [Page 222] as Sat-Chit-Ananda — Existence, Intelligence, and Bliss. Popularly, the Manifested God is a Trinity; Shiva, the Beginning and the End; Vishnu, the Preserver; Brahmã, the Creator of the Universe. The Zoroastrian faith presents a similar Trinity; Ahuramazdao, the Great One, the First; then "the twins", the dual Second Person — for the Second Person in a Trinity is ever dual, deteriorated in modern days into an opposing God and Devil — and the Universal Wisdom, Armaiti. In Northern Buddhism we find Ami-tabhã, the boundless Light; Avalokiteshvara, the source of incarnations, and the Universal Mind, Mandjusri. In Southern Buddhism the idea of God has faded away, but with significant tenacity the triplicity re-appears as that in which the Southern Buddhist takes his refuge — the Buddha, the Dharma (the Doctrine), the Sangha (the Order). But the Buddha Himself is sometimes worshipped as a Trinity; on a stone in Buddha Gaya is inscribed a salutation to Him as an incarnation of the Eternal One, and it is said: "Om! Thou art Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesha (Shiva) .... I adore Thee, who art celebrated by a thousand names and under various forms, in the shape of Buddha, the God of Mercy". [ Asiatic Researches, i, 285.] [Page 223]

In extinct religions the same idea of a Trinity is found. In Egypt it dominated all religious worship. "We have a hieoroglyphical inscription in the British Museum as early as the reign of Senechus of the eighth century before the Christian era, showing that the doctrine of Trinity in Unity already formed part of their religion". [S. Sharpe. Egyptian Mythology and Egyptian Christology, p. 14. ] This is true of a far earlier date. Râ, Osiris, and Horus formed one widely worshipped Trinity; Osiris, Isis, and Horus were worshipped at Abydos; other names are given in different cities, and the triangle is the frequently used symbol of the Triune God. The idea which underlay these Trinities, however named, is shown in a passage quoted from Marutho, in which an oracle, rebuking the pride of Alexander the Great, speaks of: "First God, then the Word, and with Them the Spirit". [See Williamson's The Great Law, p. 196. ]

In Chaldea, Anu, Ea, and Bel were the Supreme Trinity, Anu being the Origin of all, Ea the Wisdom, and Bel the creative Spirit. Of China Williamson remarks: "In ancient China the emperors used to sacrifice every third year to ' Him who is one and three.' There was a Chinese [Page 224] saying,' Fo is one person but has three forms.' . . . In the lofty philosophical system known in China as Taoism, a trinity also figures : ' Eternal Reason produced One, One produced Two, Two produced Three, and Three produced all things,' which, as Le Compte goes on to say, seems to show as if they had some knowledge of the Trinity' ".[Loc. Git., pp. 208, 209. ]

In the Christian doctrine of the Trinity we find a complete agreement with other faiths as to the functions of the three Divine Persons, the word Person coming from persona, a mask, that which covers something, the mask of the One Existence, Its Self-revelation under a form. The Father is the Origin and End of all; the Son is dual in His nature, and is the Word, or the Wisdom; the Holy Spirit is the creative Intelligence, that brooding over the chaos of primeval matter organises it into the materials out of which forms can be constructed.

It is this identity of functions under so many varying names which shows that we have here not a mere outer likeness, but an expression of an inner truth. There is something of which this triplicity is a manifestation, something that can be traced in nature and in evolution, and which, [Page 225] being recognised, will render intelligible the growth of man, the stages of his evolving life. Further, we find that in the universal language of symbolism the Persons are distinguished by certain emblems, and may be recognised by these under diversity of forms and names. 

outer likeness, but an expression of an inner truth. There is something of which this triplicity is a manifestation, something that can be traced in nature and in evolution, and which, [Page 225] being recognised, will render intelligible the growth of man, the stages of his evolving life. Further, we find that in the universal language of symbolism the Persons are distinguished by certain emblems, and may be recognised by these under diversity of forms and names. 

Let us now see the inner truth.

The One becomes manifest as the First. Being, the Self-Existent Lord, the Root of all, the Supreme Father; the word Will, or Power, seems best to express this primary Self-revealing, since until there is Will to manifest there can be no manifestation, and until there is Will manifested, impulse is lacking for further unfoldment. The universe may be said to be rooted in the [Page 226] divine Will. Then follows the second aspect of the One — Wisdom; Power is guided by Wisdom, and therefore it is written that "without Him was not anything made that is made";[S. John, i, 3. ] Wisdom is dual in its nature, as will presently be seen. When the aspects of Will and Wisdom are revealed, a third aspect must follow to make them effective — Creative Intelligence, the divine mind in Action. A Jewish prophet writes: " He hath made the earth by His Power, He hath established the world by His Wisdom; and hath stretched out the heaven by His Understanding," [Jer., li,15] the reference to the three functions being very clear.[See Ante, pp. 155, 156. ] These Three are inseparable, indivisible, three aspects of One. Their functions may be thought of separately, for the sake of clearness, but cannot be disjoined. Each is necessary to each, and each is present in each. In the First Being, Will, Power, is seen as predominant, as characteristic, but Wisdom and Creative Action are also present; in the Second Being, Wisdom is seen as predominant, but Power and Creative Action are none the less inherent in Him; in the Third Being, Creative Action is seen as predominant, but Power and Wisdom are [Page 227] ever also to be seen. And though the words First, Second, Third are used, because the Beings are thus manifested in Time, in the order of Self-unfolding, yet in Eternity they are known as interdependent and co-equal, "None is greater or less than Another". [Athanasian Creed. a Rev iv 8 ]

This Trinity is the divine Self, the divine Spirit, the Manifested God, He that "was and is and is to come", [Rev., iv,8] and He is the root of the fundamental triplicity in life, in consciousness. 

But we saw that there was a Fourth Person, or in some religions a second Trinity, feminine, the Mother. This is That which makes manifestation possible, That which eternally in the One is the root of limitation and division, and which, when manifested, is called Matter. This is the divine Not-Self, the divine Matter, the manifested Nature. Regarded as One, She is the Fourth, making possible the activity of the Three, the Field of Their operations by virtue of Her infinite divisibility, at once the "Handmaid of the Lord", [S. Luke, i,38. ] and also His Mother, yielding of Her substance to form His Body, the universe, when overshadowed by His power.[Ibid., 35 ] Regarded carefully She is seen to be triple also, existing in three [Page 228] inseparable aspects, without which She could not be. These are Stability- Inertia or Resistance-Motion, and Rhythm; the fundamental or essential qualities of Matter, these are called. They alone render Spirit effective, and have therefore been regarded as the manifested Powers of the Trinity. Stability or Inertia affords a basis, the fulcrum for the lever; Motion is then rendered manifest, but could make only chaos; then Rhythm is imposed, and there is Matter in vibration, capable of being shaped and moulded When the three qualities are in equilibrium there is the One, the Virgin Matter, unproductive. When the power of the Highest overshadows Her, and the breath of the Spirit comes upon Her, the qualities are thrown out of equilibrium and She becomes the divine Mother of the worlds.

The first interaction is between Her and the Third Person of the Trinity; by His action She becomes capable of giving birth to form. Then is revealed the Second Person, who clothes Himself in the material thus provided, and thus becomes the Mediator, linking in His own Person Spirit and Matter, the Archetype of all forms. Only through Him does the First Person become revealed, as the Father of all Spirits. [Page 229]

It is now possible to see why the Second Person of the Trinity of Spirit is ever dual; He is the One who clothes Himself in Matter, in whom the twin-halves of Deity appear in union, not as one. Hence also is He Wisdom; for Wisdom on the side of Spirit is the Pure Reason that knows itself as the One Self and knows all things in that Self, and on the side of Matter it is Love, drawing the infinite diversity of forms together, and making each form a unit, not a mere heap of particles — the principle of attraction which holds the worlds and all in them in a perfect order and balance. This is the Wisdom which is spoken of as "mightily and sweetly ordering all things", [Book of Wisdom, viii, 1 ] which sustains and preserves the universe.

In the world-symbols, found in every religion, the Point — that which has position only — has been taken as a symbol of the First Person in the Trinity. On this symbol St. Clement of Alexandria remarks that we abstract from a body its properties, then depth, then breadth, then length; "the point which remains is a unit, so to speak, having position; from which if we abstract position, there is the conception of unity".[Vol. IV. Ante-Nicene Library. S. Clement of Alexandria. Stromata, bk. V, ch, ii.] He shines out, as it were, from the infinite Darkness, [Page 230] a Point of Light, the centre of a future universe, a Unit, in whom all exists inseparate; the matter which is to form the universe, the field of His work, is marked out by the backward and forward vibration of the Point in every direction, a vast sphere, limited by His Will, His Power. This is the making of "the earth by His Power", spoken of by Jeremiah.[See Ante, 226. ] Thus the full symbol is a Point within a sphere, represented usually as a Point within a circle. The Second Person is represented by a Line, a diameter of this circle, a single complete vibration of the Point, and this Line is equally in every direction within the sphere; this Line dividing the circle in twain signifies also His duality, that in Him Matter and Spirit — a unity in the First Person — are visibly two, though in union. The Third Person is represented by a Cross formed by two diameters at right angles to each other within the circle, the second line of the Cross separating the upper part of the circle from the lower. This is the Greek Cross. [See Ante, pp. 177, 178.. ]

When the Trinity is represented as a Unity, the Triangle is used, either inscribed within a circle, or free. The universe is symbolised by two [Page 231] triangles interlaced, the Trinity of Spirit with the apex of the triangle upward, the Trinity of Matter with the apex of the triangle downward, and if colours are used, the first is white, yellow, golden or flame-coloured, and the second black, or some dark shade.

The kosmic process can now be readily followed. The One has become Two, and the Two Three, and the Trinity is revealed. The Matter of the universe is marked out and awaits the action of Spirit. This is the "in the beginning" of Genesis, when "God created the heaven and the earth", [Gen., i, 1.] a statement further elucidated by the repeated phrases that He "laid the foundations of the earth"; [Job, xxxviii, 4; Zech., xii,1: etc ] we have here the marking out of the material, but a mere chaos, "without form and void". [Gen., i, 2. ]

On this begins the action of the Creative Intelligence, the Holy Spirit, who "moved upon the face of the waters", [Gen., i, 2. ]the vast ocean of matter. Thus His was the first activity, though He was the Third Person — a point of great importance.

In the Mysteries this work was shown in its detail as the preparation of the matter of the universe, the formation of atoms, the drawing of these together into aggregates, and the grouping [Page 232] of these together into elements, and of these again into gaseous, liquid, and solid compounds. This work includes not only the kind of matter called physical, but also all the subtle states of matter in the invisible worlds. He further as the "Spirit of Understanding" conceived the forms into which the prepared matter should be shaped, not building the forms, but by the action of the Creative Intelligence producing the ideas of them, the heavenly prototypes, as they are often called. This is the work referred to when it is written, He " stretched out the heaven by His Understanding".[ See Ante, p.226.]

The work of the Second Person follows that of the Third. He by virtue of His Wisdom "established the world", [Ibid. ] building all globes and all things upon them, "all things were made by Him".[S. John, i, 3. ] He is the organising Life of the worlds, and all beings are rooted in Him.[Bhagavad-Gita, ix, 4] The life of the Son thus manifested in the matter prepared by the Holy Spirit — again the great "Myth" of the Incarnation — is the life that builds up, preserves, and maintains all forms, for He is the Love, the attracting power, that gives cohesion to forms, enabling them to grow without falling [Page 233] apart, the Preserver, the Supporter, the Saviour. That is why all must be subject to the Son, [I Cor,, xr, 27, 28. ] all must be gathered up in Him, and why "no man cometh unto the Father but by" Him.[S. John, xiv, 6. See also the further meaning of this text on p. 234.]

For the work of the First Person follows that of the Second, as that of the Second follows that of the Third. He is spoken of as "the Father of Spirits", [Heb., xii, 9. ] the "God of the Spirits of all flesh",[Numb., xvi, 22. ] and His is the gift of the divine Spirit, the true Self in man. The human Spirit is the outpoured divine Life of the Father, poured into the vessel prepared by the Son, out of the materials vivified by the Spirit. And this Spirit in man, being from the Father — from whom came forth the Son and the Holy Spirit — is a Unity like Himself, with the three aspects in One, and man is thus truly made "in our image, after our likeness", [Gen., i, 26 ] and is able to become "perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect".[ S. Matt., v, 48.]

Such is the kosmic process, and in human evolution it is repeated; "as above, so below".

The Trinity of the Spirit in man, being in the divine likeness, must show out the divine [Page 234] characteristics, and thus we find in him Power, which, whether in its higher form of Will or its lower form of Desire, gives the impulse to his evolution. We find also in him Wisdom, the Pure Reason which has Love as its expression in the world of forms, and lastly Intelligence, or Mind, the active shaping energy. And in man also we find that the manifestation of these in his evolution is from the third to the second, and from the second to the first. The mass of humanity is unfolding the mind, evolving the intelligence, and we can see its separative action everywhere, isolating, as it were, the human atoms and developing each severally, so that they may be fit materials for building up a divine Humanity. To this point only has the race arrived, and here it is still working.

As we study a small minority of our race, we see that the second aspect of the divine Spirit in man is appearing, and we speak of it in Christendom as the Christ in man. Its evolution lies, as we have seen, beyond the first of the Great Initiations, and Wisdom and Love are the marks of the Initiate, shining out more and more as he develops this aspect of the Spirit. Here again is it true that "no man cometh to the Father but by Me", for only when the life of the Son is touching on completion can He pray: "Now, 0 Father, [Page 235] glorify Thou Me with Thine own Self, with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was". [S.John, xvii,5] Then the Son ascends to the Father and becomes one with Him in the divine glory; He manifests self-existence, the existence inherent in his divine nature, unfolded from seed to flower, for "as the Father hath life in Himself, so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself".[Ibid, v,26] He becomes a living self-conscious Centre in the Life of God, a Centre able to exist as such, no longer bound by the limitations of his earlier life, expanding to divine consciousness, while keeping the identity of his life unshaken, a living, fiery Centre in the divine Flame.

In this evolution now lies the possibility of divine Incarnations in the future, as this evolution in the past has rendered possible divine Incarnations in our own world. These living Centres do not lose Their identity, nor the memory of Their past, of aught that They have experienced in the long climb upwards; and such a Self-conscious Being can come forth from the Bosom of the Father, and reveal Himself for the helping of the world. He has maintained the union in Himself of Spirit and Matter, the duality of the [Page 236] Second Person — all divine Incarnations in all religions are therefore connected with the Second Person in the Trinity — and hence can readily re-clothe Himself for physical manifestation, and again become Man. This nature of the Mediator He has retained, and is thus a link between the celestial and terrestrial Trinities, "God with us". [S. Matt., i, 22 ] He has ever been called.

Such a Being, the glorious fruit of a past universe, can come into the present world with all the perfection of His divine Wisdom and Love, with all the memory of His past, able by virtue of that memory to be the perfect Helper of every living Being, knowing every stage because He has lived it, able to help at every point because He has experienced all. ''In that He Himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succour them that are tempted". [Heb., ii, 18. ]

It is in the humanity behind Him that lies this possibility of divine Incarnation; He comes down, having climbed up, in order to help others to climb the ladder. And as we understand these truths, and something of the meaning of the Trinity, above and below, what was once a mere hard unintelligible dogma becomes a living and [Page 237] vivifying truth. Only by the existence of the Trinity in man is human evolution intelligible, and we see how man evolves the life of the intellect and then the life of the Christ. On that fact mysticism is based, and our sure hope that we shall know God. Thus have the Sages taught, and as we tread the Path they show, we find that their testimony is true. [Page 238]



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