The Christian Creed

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The Christian Creed

By C. W. Leadbeater

Their Origin


HAVING thus very briefly epitomized what is generally accepted by orthodox scholars with regard to the history of the Creeds, I will now proceed to recount what was discovered in relation to them in the course of the investiga­tions to which I have already referred.

The first point to bear in mind is that all the Creeds as we have them now are essentially  composite productions, and that the only one of them which in any way represents a single  original document is the latest of all - the Athanasian. I am perfectly aware that even this opening statement flies directly in the face of the ideas ordinarily received upon this subject, but I cannot help that; I am simply stating the facts as the investigators found them.

These Creeds, then, embody statements which are derived from three quite separate sources,  and we shall find it of great interest to endeavour to disentangle these three elements from one [11] another, and to assign to each of them re­spectively those clauses of the Creed (as we have it now) which have flowed from them. These are: ­

(a) An ancient formula of cosmogenesis, resting on very high authority indeed.

(b) The rubric for the guidance of the hiero­phant in the Egyptian form of the Sohan or Sotapatti initiation.

(c) The materializing tendency which mis­takenly sought to interpret these two documents (a) and (b) as relating the biography of an individual.

Let us consider each of these sources a little more in detail.



It is not my intention here to enter at length into the extremely interesting information which clairvoyant investigation has given to us with regard to the true life-story of the great teacher Christ. That will be a work to be done here­after, but it will assuredly not be undertaken  unless and until it is possible for us to adduce in support of our statements evidence entirely apart from that of clairvoyance - evidence such as will appeal to the minds of the scholar and the antiquarian. It will, however, be necessary for a comprehension of the purpose of the ancient formula above mentioned that just a few words [12] upon that subject should be introduced into this treatise.

When the Churchman ends his prayer with the words "through Jesus Christ our Lord," he is confusing together three entirely separate ideas - (a) the disciple Jesus; (b) the great Master whom men call the Christ, though he is known by another and far grander name among the Initiates; and (c) the Second Aspect or Person of the Logos. With regard to the first of these, Mrs. Besant writes in that wonderful book, Esoteric Christianity: ­

"The child whose Jewish name has been turned into that of Jesus was born in Pales­tine B.C. 105, during the consulate of Publius Rutilius Rufus and Gnaeus Mallius Maximus. His parents were well-born though poor, and he was educated in a knowledge of the Hebrew scriptures. His fervent devotion and a gravity beyond his years led his parents to dedicate him to the religious and ascetic life, and soon after a visit to Jerusalem, in which the extraordinary intelligence and eagerness for knowledge of the youth were shown in his seeking of the doctors in the temple, he was sent to be trained in an Essene community in the southern Judaean desert. When he had reached the age of nine­teen he went on to the Essene monastery near Mount Serbal, a monastery which was much [13] visited by learned men travelling from Persia and India to Egypt, and where a magnificent library of occult works - many of them Indian of the trans-Himalayan regions - had been estab­lished. From this seat of mystic learning he proceeded later to Egypt. He had been fully instructed in the secret teachings which were the real fount of life among the Essenes, and was initiated in Egypt as a disciple of that one sublime Lodge from which every great religion has its Founder. For Egypt has remained one of the world-centres of the true Mysteries, whereof all semi-public Mysteries are the fain and far-off reflections. The Mysteries spoken of in history as the Egyptian were the shadow of the true things ‘in the Mount,’ and there the young Hebrew received the solemn consecration which prepared him for the royal priesthood he was later to attain" (p. 129).

Indeed, this was a young man of such wondrous devotion and such surpassing purity that he was found worthy of the highest honour that can come to man - he was permitted to yield up his body for the use of a mighty Teacher sent out by the Great Brotherhood to found a new religion, to present in yet another form the wonderful truth, many-sided because divine, which now we are studying under the name of Theosophy. This Great One took [14] possession of the body when it was twenty-nine years old, and used it for three years, two of which were occupied in instructing the heads of the Essene community in the Mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, and one in preaching to the general public among the hills and fields of Palestine. It is of this last year's work only that some traditions are preserved in the gospel story, though even those traditions are so cor­rupted and overlaid that it is all but impossible to sift the truth from the falsehood in them. Both the disciple Jesus and the great Master Christ are men of our own humanity, however far in advance of us they are along the path of evolution. It is therefore incorrect to speak of either of them as a direct manifestation or in­carnation of the Second Person of the Trinity, though it is true that there is a certain mystical connection here which is fully understood only by the advanced student.



For the purposes of our present inquiry, however, we need not consider that side of the question at all, but may simply think of the Christ as a teacher within the bosom of the Essene community, living amongst them and instructing them for some time before his public ministry commenced. The heads of this [15] community were already in possession of fragments of more or less accurate information - possibly obtained from Buddhist sources - with regard to the origin of all things. These the Christ put together and rendered coherent, casting them for the purpose of ready memorization into the shape of a formula of belief which may be regarded as the first source of the Christian Creed.

The original of this formula may perhaps some day be exactly translated into English; but such an undertaking would need the co-operation of several persons, and very minute care as to the niceties of meaning and choice of words. The attempt will therefore not be made here; yet, since many have inquired what clauses were included in it, it may be well to give a rough idea of it in the words which follow - it being of course understood that this is a paraphrase of its meaning as enshrined in the hearts of those to whom it had been taught, rather than an attempt at an accurate rendering of it.

"We believe in God the Father, from whom comes the system - yea, our world and all things therein, whether seen or unseen;

"And in God the Son, most holy, alone-born from His Father before all the aeons, not made but emanated, being of the very substance of [16] the Father, true God from the true God, true Light from the true Light, by whom all forms were made; who for us men came down from heaven and entered the dense sea, yet riseth thence again in ever greater glory to a kingdom without end;

"And in God the Holy Ghost, the Lifegiver, emanating also from the Father, equal with Him and with the Son in glory; who manifesteth through His Angels;

"We recognize one brotherhood of holy men as leading to the Greater Brotherhood above, one initiation for emancipation from the fetters of sin and for escape from the wheel of birth and death into eternal life."

The purpose for which this symbol was con­structed was to condense into a form easily remembered the teaching as to the origin of the cosmos which the Christ had been giving to the heads of the Essene community. Each phrase of it would recall to their minds much more than the mere words in which it was expressed; in fact, it was a mnemonic such as the Buddha used when he gave to his hearers the Four Noble Truths, and no doubt each clause was taken as a text for explanation and expansion, much in the same way as Madame Blavatsky wrote the whole of The Secret Doctrine upon the basis of the Stanzas of Dzyan. [17]



In considering the second source, which we have decided to mark as (b), we have to remember that the Egyptian religion expressed itself principally through a multiplicity of forms and ceremonies, and that even in its Mysteries the same tendency repeatedly showed itself. The highest step of these Mysteries placed a man definitely upon the Path, as we should now call it; that is to say, it corresponded with what in Buddhist terminology is called the Sotapatti initiation. An elaborate symbolical ritual was performed in connection with this step, and part of our Creed is a direct reproduction of the instructions laid down by that ritual for the officiating hierophant, the only difference being that what there stood as a series of directions has been recast into the form of a historical narrative describing that descent of the Logos into matter which the original ritual was in­tended to symbolize.

This rubric of initiation, in the new form which we have described, was inserted in the formula (a) by the leaders of the Essene com­munity shortly after the Christ's departure from among them, in order that the details as to the descent of the Logos (which he had so often illustrated for them by reference to the ritual of [18] this initiation) might be commemorated in the same symbol which gave the great outline of the doctrine.

Teaching similar in character and similarly illustrated by symbol was given by him with regard to the work of the Logos in His First and Third Aspects, though comparatively little of it has been preserved to us; but there seems no doubt that special importance was attached by the Christ to the accurate comprehension by his disciples of the descent into matter of the monadic essence which is outpoured by the Logos in His Second Aspect.

This is readily comprehensible if we reflect that it is this monadic essence which ensouls all the forms around us, and that it is only through its study that the great principle of evolution can be grasped, and the law of love which sways the universe at all understood. For though undoubtedly evolution is also taking place in the case of the life which ensouls atoms and molecules, its progress is entirely beyond our ken; and assuredly the same may be said, at any rate as regards the vast majority of men, with reference to that far higher evolution which we must suppose to be in operation in connec­tion with that third great outpouring which comes from the First of the great Divine mani­festations. [19]

Thus it is evident that it is only through the study of the method of this second outpouring that a comprehension of the whole system may be approached, and this would account for the emphasis which the Christ seems to have laid upon this part of his teaching. Knowing as  they did the necessity for this emphasis, it is not wonderful that those who felt themselves  responsible for handing on the teaching should have incorporated this symbolical outline of it  into the special formula which was intended to epitomize their faith. No doubt in doing so  they were actuated by the highest and purest motives, and it was not possible for them to  foresee that this very insertion would presently open the way for the degrading and destructive action of tendency (c), of which in their time  there was as yet no sign.

It may perhaps be asked why the Christ should have chosen the somewhat complicated and material symbolism of this Egyptian rite to illustrate his teaching on such a subject. We are in no position to presume to criticize the methods adopted by one who knows; but perhaps we may venture to suggest that a possible reason may be found in the close connection of the Essenes with the Egyptian tradition, and in the fact that Jesus himself had in earlier life spent some considerable time in [20] Egypt and passed through at least one initiation according to its methods.



(c) At a very early period in the history of the movement which afterwards became known as Christianity we find two rival schools or tendencies asserting themselves, which are in reality the outcome of two phases of the life­work of the Christ. As has been said, the greater portion of his time was devoted to giving definite instruction within the boundaries of the Essene community; but in addition to this, and in opposition to the views of the official leaders of that community, he also passed beyond these comparatively narrow limits, and devoted a short period at the close of his life to public preaching.

It was obviously impossible for him to put before the ignorant multitude those deeper teachings of the Ancient Wisdom which he had imparted to the few who by special educa­tion and a long life of ascetic training had fitted themselves, at least to some extent, for their reception. We find, therefore, that his public addresses may be divided into two classes, the  first consisting of the logia or proverbs, a series of short sentences each containing either an  important truth or a rule of conduct, and the [21] second being composed of the paraklhthria or "words of comfort" - those eloquent discourses which were called forth by the deep compas­sion he felt for the profound misery almost universal at that time among the lower classes, and the terrible atmosphere of despair, depres­sion and degradation by which they were over­whelmed.

Some traditional fragments of the Logia have been incorporated here and there in what are now called the gospels; and what seems to be a genuine leaf from a collection of them was discovered some time ago in Egypt by Messrs. Grenfell and Hunt. Christ himself appears to have written nothing, or at any rate nothing that he wrote is now known to us; but during the first two centuries after his death (which, be it remembered, took place considerably before what we now call the Christian era) many of his disciples seem to have made and written down collections of the sayings which were ascribed to him by the current oral tradition. In such collections, however, no attempt was made to give a biography of the Christ; though sometimes a few words of introduction described the occasion upon which certain sayings were uttered, just as in the Buddhist books we con­stantly find a sermon of the Buddha's introduced by the statement, "On a certain occasion the [22] Blessed One was dwelling in the bamboo garden at Rajagriha," etc.



Though some of his Logia have been distorted, and many sayings have been attributed to him  which he certainly never uttered, yet he has been still more seriously misrepresented with  reference to the "words of comfort " or Para­kleteria, and with even more disastrous consequences. The general tenour of these addresses was an endeavour to inspire fresh hope in the hearts of the despairing, by ex­plaining to them that if they followed the teaching which he put before them they would assuredly find themselves in better case in the future than in the present, and that though now they were poor and suffering they might yet so live as to ensure for themselves an existence after death and conditions of life upon their next return to earth far more desirable than the fate of those who now so cruelly oppressed them.

It was perhaps not unnatural that many of the more ignorant of his hearers should appre­hend his meaning but dimly, and should go away with a general impression that he was vaguely prophesying a future in which what they considered injustice should be righted [23] according to their wishes - in which savage retribution should overtake the rich man, mainly for the crime of being rich, while they themselves should inherit all kinds of power and glory merely because they now were poor.

It will be readily understood that this was a doctrine which easily secured the adhesion of all the least desirable elements of the community, and among such classes in the ancient world it seems to have spread with marvellous rapidity. Nor is it wonderful that such men should have altogether eliminated from their doctrine the condition of good living, and simply banded themselves together, often in orgies of the most objectionable character, as believers in "a good time coming," when they should revenge them­selves upon all their personal enemies, and without effort of their own enter forthwith into possession of the wealth and luxury which had been accumulated by the labours of others.

As this tendency developed, it naturally assumed a more and more political and revolu­tionary character, until it came to be true of the leaders of this faction as of David of old, that "every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto them." It is little wonder, therefore, that the organiza­tion which gathered round such men, filled as [24] it was with jealous hatred of any knowledge superior to its own, should eventually come to regard ignorance as practically a qualification for salvation, and to look with uncomprehending contempt upon the Gnosis possessed by those who still retained some tradition of the real teaching of the Christ.



It must not, however, be supposed that this turbulent and covetous majority comprised the whole of the early Christian movement. Apart from the various bodies of Gnostic philosophers who had inherited a more or less accurate tradition from authentic sources of the secret teaching given by the Christ to the Essenes, there was also a steadily increasing body of comparatively quiet and respectable people who, though without any knowledge of the Gnosis, took what they knew of the Logia of the Christ as their guide in life, and this body eventually became the predominant force in what was after­wards called the orthodox party.

Thus we see that in the course of the develop­ment of the Christian movement three main  streams of tendency may be clearly recognised as resulting from the teaching of the Christ;  first, the vast congeries of Gnostic sects which, generally speaking, represented something of

[25] the inner teaching given to the Essenes, though in many cases tinged with ideas derived from various outside sources, such as Zoroastrianism, Sabaism, etc.; second, the moderate party who at first troubled themselves little about doctrine, but adopted the reputed sayings of the Christ as their rule of life; and third, the ignorant horde nicknamed "poor men," whose only real religion was a vague hope of revolution.

As Christianity gradually spread, its followers became sufficiently numerous to earn recognition as a political factor, and thus to gain a certain amount of social influence. By degrees the representatives of our second and third tenden­cies gradually drew together into a party which called itself orthodox. Being united in its distrust of the higher teachings of the Gnostics, it found itself compelled to develope some sort of doctrinal system to offer instead of theirs. By this time, however, the original Essene com­munity had been broken up, and the formula (which among them had never been written, but was handed down from mouth to mouth) had in various more or less imperfect forms become practically public property among all the sects; and of course the orthodox party found itself obliged to produce an interpretation of it to set up against the true one as propounded by the Gnostics. [26]



Then it was that there dawned upon their mental horizon one of the most colossal mis-understandings ever invented by the crass stupidity of man. It occurred to somebody probably

it had long before occurred to the  densely ignorant "poor men" - that the beauti­ful allegorical illustration of the descent into matter of the Second Person of the Trinity which is contained in the symbolic ritual of the Egyptian initiation was not an allegory at all, but the life-story of a physical human being whom they identified with Jesus the Nazarene. No idea could have been more degrading to the grandeur of the faith, or more misleading to the unfortunate people who accepted it, yet one can understand its welcome by the grossly ignorant, as being more nearly within the grasp of their very small mental calibre than the magnificent breadth of the true interpretation.

The slight additions necessary to engraft this unworthy theory upon the growing Creed were easily made, and not very long after this period fragmentary versions of it began to be committed to writing. So that the commonly accepted idea that the Creed is a conglomerate gradually gathered together is, though not quite in the sense usually supposed, partially true, but the [27] tradition which assigns its authorship to the  twelve apostles is entirely unworthy of credit. The true genesis of the greater part of it is indeed far higher than that, as we have seen, and the early fragments are imperfect recollec­tions of an oral tradition, out of which eventually a very fair representation of the original was compiled, and this was formally adopted by the Council of Nicaea, though that council showed its absolute miscomprehension of the whole thing by concluding it with a curse entirely foreign to its spirit.



In order that we may have before us the exact form of Creed which was the outcome of this exceedingly turbulent council, I subjoin here a careful translation of it, given by Mr. Mead in Lucifer, vol. ix. p. 204:­

"We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things both visible and invisible;  and in one Lord, Jesus Christ; the Son of God, begotten of the Father, only-begotten, that is to  say, of the substance of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made, both things in heaven and things in earth - who for us men and for our salvation came down and [28] was made flesh, and was made man, suffered and rose again on the third day, went up into the heavens, and is to come again to judge the quick and the dead; and in the Holy Ghost. But those who say, ‘There was when he was not,’ and ‘before he was begotten he was not,’ and that ‘he came into existence from what was not,’ or who profess that the Son of God is of a different person or substance, or that he is created, or changeable, or variable, are anathematized by the Catholic Church."

It will be perceived that though this form is broadly similar to that which now occurs in the communion service of the Church of England, there are yet several not unimportant points of difference. Much of the materialistic quasi historical corruption has not yet found entrance,  though even already the fatal identification of the Christ with Jesus, and of both of them with  the Second Logos, shows itself all too plainly. But since all accounts agree that the members of this celebrated council were in the main ignorant and turbulent fanatics, drawn together largely by the hope of promoting their personal interests, it is small wonder that the narrower rather than the wider idea commended itself to them. Still it will be noted that the confusion of the conception by the Holy Ghost and the birth from the Virgin does not appear; the [29] symbol of the crucifixion is not degraded into a historical fact, nor has the clumsy attempt been made to give an air of verisimilitude to the story by importing into it an entirely inaccurate date in the shape of an unwarranted reference to that unfortunate and much-maligned man, Pontius Pilate.

All these missing clauses, however, appear in what is called "The Roman Confession," which is usually assigned to an earlier date; but we are in no way concerned in this discussion, since we recognize that most of these clauses are merely slight distortions of the Egyptian formula of initiation, which had certainly existed for many centuries.



Whatever may have been the date (and it was undoubtedly an early one) at which the degradation of allegory into pseudo-biography first took place, we see its influence working upon other documents as well as upon the Creed. The gospels also have suffered under an exactly similar materializing mania, for the beautiful parable of the original has again and again been corrupted by the addition of popular legends and the interspersion of some of the traditional Logia, until in what are now called the gospels we have a confused compilation - hopelessly [30] impossible, if regarded as history, and exceedingly difficult to sort out into its component parts.

The knowledge that the gospel is a parable shows itself occasionally among the earlier Christians. Origen, for example, speaks very plainly with regard to the difference between the ignorant faith of the undeveloped multitude, based only on the gospel history, and the higher and reasonable faith which was founded upon definite knowledge. He calls the former "the popular, irrational faith," and says of it "what better method could be devised to assist the masses?" In Inge's Christian Mysticism, p. 89, he is quoted as explaining that "the Gnostic or sage no longer needs the crucified Christ. The eternal or spiritual gospel which is his possession shows clearly all things concerning the Son of God himself, both the mysteries shown by his words and the things of which his acts were the symbols." We may not feel quite so sure as Mr. Inge does that "It is not that Origen denies or doubts truth of the gospel history''; but we can cordially agree when he says that "Origen feels that events which happened only once can be of no importance, and regards the life, death and resurrection of Christ as only one manifestation of a universal law, which was really enacted not in this fleeting world of shadows, but in the eternal counsels of the [31] Most High. He considers that those who are thoroughly convinced of the universal truths revealed by the incarnation and the atonement need trouble themselves no more about their particular manifestations in time."

This subject of the true meaning of the original allegory in the gospels is one of great interest; we must not, however, allow ourselves to be led away into its fascinating bye-paths, but must confine ourselves to the consideration of the Creed. [32]



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