Originally published 1908.
Chapter 5. The "Lord's Supper"
Chapter 6. The Trinity
Chapter 7. The Devil and Atonement
Chapter 8. Divine Incarnations
Chapter 9. "Original Sin" and Perfection
Chapter 10. The Seat of Authority
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About no point, not even about baptism, has the conflict been waged more fiercely than over the meaning of the Eucharist. The four places in the New Testament where the institution of the Lord's Supper is mentioned are Matt. 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, and 1 Cor. 11, and they substantially agree. The account is, that after a meal with his disciples on the night before the betrayal, Jesus instituted an ordinance which the disciples were to observe in his memory. It is said that in doing so,
as they were eating, Jesus took a loaf, and blessed, and brake it; and he gave to the disciples, and said, Take, eat, this is my body. And he took the cup and gave thanks [hence the term Eucharist], and gave to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the covenant which is shed for many unto remission of sins. -- Matt. 26
St. Paul, whose account may be the earliest, mentions only one giving of thanks, that before breaking the bread. The phrase, "unto remission of sins," is peculiar to the gospel of Matthew. From the four accounts it is evident that Jesus used the bread and wine to represent himself, his body and blood, and that the disciples were to keep the rite in his memory. Out of this simple ordinance the most astounding dogmas have grown. What was intended by Jesus to help towards a real unity, or communion or brotherhood, has become "a stone of stumbling" and an occasion of foolish pretension and uncharitableness. St. Paul, too, dwelt on the idea that the Christ-spirit should be realized as the One Life in all disciples; just as in a family all partake of the same physical food and have bodily nourishment. Very soon, however, something of a magical influence was ascribed to the bread and wine after having been blessed by the priest. And, in an early canon (18, Nicaea) we find that deacons must not give the bread and wine to priests, but receive it from them; also the deacons must not sit on the same row of seats with the priests! Alas for the true spirit of communion or brotherhood! This striving for front seats has had much to do with the delay of the coming of the Christos. How different this from the spirit of Christ! How different is this canon of the council of bishops from the teaching of theosophy, "Step out from sunlight into shade to make more room for others."
The doctrine of transubstantiation is the name given to the dogma promulgated by the Roman Catholic church concerning the Lord's Supper. According to this dogma, after the priest blesses the bread and wine they are changed into the "body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ," and they have a magical effect upon the recipient. It is not maintained that the qualities of the bread and wine are changed, but it is held that their essence is changed. That is to say, no priest would take the bread and wine if he knew that some person had put poison in them. Though the priest declares that his blessing changes the essence of the bread and wine into the essence of Christ he does not pretend that it alters the qualities or phenomena -- for it could be too easily proved that it does not.
Luther held that while there was no change of essence, yet there was a real presence of Christ together with the bread and wine. This dogma is called consubstantiation, and it is the view held by the Lutheran church. Zwingli regarded the Eucharist as mainly a commemorative act. Calvin held something of a middle position between Luther and Zwingli. The "Confession of Faith" made at Westminster, and established by acts of Parliament in 1649 and 1690, declared very clearly that the Lord's Supper was not to be regarded as a "sacrifice," but only commemorative of Christ and what he had done. It also declared that in this sacrament there was no change either in essence (substance) or qualities; and that the true partaking of it was a spiritual realizing of Christ in the heart of the believer. The teachings regarding the Eucharist because it is a very vital question in connection with the Reformation in England. In a recent  work on the History of Ritualism it is maintained that while the struggle between Henry VIII and the Pope was mainly over the question as to who was ruler in England, yet the deeper cause of division between the Reformers and the Romanists was the so-called "Sacrifice of the Mass." In an extant letter from Pole, the Pope's Legate, this is clearly stated. Latimer declared that he had "read the New Testament over seven times, yet could not find the mass in it." The word "mass," by the way, had no essential connection with the Eucharist, but is a (presumed) contraction of "Ite, missa est," the words of dismissal to the congregation. It is a term entirely inappropriate as applied to the ceremony of the Eucharist and it cannot be traced back beyond the time of Ambrose.
While the Eucharist is said to be traced back to Jesus, like many other Christian rites and dogmas it finds close parallels in the religious customs of ancient times. In Isis Unveiled, vol. ii, pp. 43, 44, we read:
Nor does the Mystery of the Eucharist pertain to Christians alone. Godfrey Higgins proves that it was instituted many hundreds of years before the "Paschal Supper," and says that "the sacrifice of bread and wine was common to many ancient nations." Cicero mentions it in his works and wonders at the strangeness of the rite. There had been an esoteric meaning attached to it from the first establishment of the Mysteries, and the Eucharistia is one of the oldest rites of antiquity. With the hierophants it had nearly the same significance as with the Christians. Ceres was bread, and Bacchus was wine; the former meaning regeneration of life from the seed, and the latter -- the grape -- the emblem of wisdom and knowledge; the accumulation of the spirit of things, and the fermentation and subsequent strength of that esoteric knowledge being justly symbolized by wine. -- Isis Unveiled 2:43, 44
Froude is said to have written in 1891 to Professor Johnson, author of Antiqua Mater, saying: "I have long been convinced that the Christian Eucharist is but a continuation of the Eleusinian Mysteries. St. Paul, in using the word teleiois (1 Cor. 2:6) confirms this." And Froude refers to the words in Cicero, De Natura Deorum (16): "although bread is called Ceres and wine Liber, no one can be so foolish as to imagine he eats and drinks God." Bonwick (Egyptian Belief, p. 417 et seq.) says that the Egyptians declared the bread after the sacerdotal rites to be mystically the body of Isis and Osiris. The cakes were round and were placed on the altar. He quotes Gliddon and Melville as saying that they were "identical in shape with the consecrated cake of the Roman Catholic and Eastern churches," and that "the Egyptians marked the holy bread with St. Andrew's cross." Bonwick adds, that
The Presence bread was broken before being distributed by the priests to the people, and was supposed to become the flesh and blood of the Deity. The miracle was wrought by the hand of the officiating priest, who blessed the food. Singularly enough, the mark of that action is still to be seen in specimens remaining in Egypt; for Rouge tells us, "The bread offerings bear the imprint of the fingers, the mark of consecration."
In Egypt, as in Rome, the bread was given to the people, but not the wine. In this the difference between the words of Jesus in the New Testament, and the Egypto-Romanist rite is very marked. The Persians had a similar rite in which a solid and a liquid were used. In the Dionysiac cult wine was used to represent the life of the world. Justin Martyr speaking of the Eucharist says:
In imitation of which the Devil did the like in the Mysteries of Mithras, for you either know or may know that they take bread and a cup of water in the sacrifices of those that are initiated, and pronounce certain words over it. -- Ibid.
In regard to the rites of Mithras it may not be out of place to quote the words of such a learned Orientalist as Renan, who says:
In the second and third centuries Mithraic worship attained an extraordinary prevalence. I sometimes permit myself to say that if Christianity had not carried the day, Mithraicism would have become the religion of the world. It had its mysterious meetings; its chapels, which bore a strong resemblance to little churches. It forged a very lasting bond of brotherhood between its initiates: it had a Eucharist, a Supper so like the Christian Mysteries, that good Justin Martyr, the Apologist, can find only one explanation of the apparent identity, namely, that Satan, in order to deceive the human race, determined to imitate the Christian ceremonies, and so stole them. A Mithraic sepulcher in the Roman Catacombs is as edifying, and presents as elevated a mysticism as the Christian tombs. -- Hibbert Lecture 1880, p. 35 et seq.
King, in his work on The Gnostics and Their Remains, says:
The worship of Mithras long kept its ground under Christian Emperors in the capital itself, and doubtless survived its overthrow there for many generations longer in the remote and then semi-independent provinces. -- p. 126
The point of chief interest in comparing Roman Catholic ritual and dogma with those of pre-Christian times is not simply the fact that the primitive simplicity of Jesus is lost in the picture composed of colors borrowed from ancient religions; but the chief interest is found in the fact that in the course of time those ancient rites and symbols became darkened with superstition and enthrallment. Liberation can only come through men waking to the light of truth; in that light they can, if they will, walk forth as freed men. As the light of the new age, upon which we have now entered, becomes greater and greater it will be impossible for humanity to sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. It will feel shame for having crouched so long beneath the reign of dogmatic forms. The study of comparative religion, and the gradual turning over by archaeology of the leaves of a forgotten past; the general advance of thought on many lines; and last but not least, the fuller revelation of the ancient wisdom-religion given in theosophy, is making it impossible for the old dogmas to retain their dogmatic influence much longer. The sunlight still floods the land, though we may shut our windows. We do not change things by hiding our heads in the sand.
The dogma of the Trinity is another of those dogmas which is older than Christianity. But here, perhaps, less than anywhere else can Christianity be said to spring from ordinary Judaism. The Divine Unity -- "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is One" -- sounds from every synagogue. The Jews before the Captivity were given to various forms of idolatry, but their conception of the Most High as a Unity, not as a Trinity, marks Jewish thought from first to last. In other words, they kept the First Commandment, even when they did not keep the Second. And yet the esoteric teaching with them was wonderfully like the esoteric teaching of other ancient peoples. Franck, writing of the Sepher Jetzirah, says:
The last word of this system is the substitution of absolute divine Unity for every idea of Dualism, for that pagan philosophy which saw in matter an eternal substance whose laws were not in accord with the Divine Will . . . in fact, in the Sepher Jetzirah, God, considered as the Infinite, and consequently indefinable Being extended throughout all things by his power and existence, is while above, yet not outside of numbers, sounds, and letters the principles and general laws which we recognize.
In the Kabbalah we have unity as the highest conception of the Illimitable One:
In Him is an illimitable abyss of glory, and from it there goeth forth one little spark which maketh the glory of the sun, and of the moon, and of the stars. -- Mathers, Kabbalah Unveiled, p. 19
The Illimitable One exists as a Trinity in the veils of the first three Sephiroth. From this proceeds the intellectual world, considered as a trinity: Kether, the crown; Binah, intelligence; and Hochmah, wisdom. In fact the esoteric teaching in the Kabbalah and that found in Eastern philosophy very closely correspond. This may be seen at a glance in Isis Unveiled (2:264). But for the ordinary Jewish thinker the Divine Unity, or Monotheism, has been the chief if not the only teaching.
The success of Mohammedanism is due in no small degree to its theological definiteness, and its simplicity: "There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet." We might sum up Judaism in similar words: God is One and Moses is his prophet.
The Divine Unity and the Divine manifested as a Trinity are equally true, and both may be traced to the ancient wisdom-religion. But the modern anthropomorphic Trinity is a very degenerate fiction which later ages have fashioned and worshiped. Some theologians have tried, without much success, to show that there is a great difference between a triad and a trinity; the former, of course, being the oriental, and the later the ecclesiastical term and concept. The ordinary dogma concerning the Trinity is to this effect: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are not three Gods, but only one God, yet each is God. They are three, and yet only one. They exist as three persons. It should be noted that the term person as employed here is claimed to be not the persona from which the word was originally derived. The ordinary conception of personality implies limitation, but the theologian does not admit that the Persons of the Trinity are finite. Nor are they merely aspects, though that certainly comes nearer it than any other term that can be employed. In truth, when we try to describe, in words of human language, the infinite, we must very soon become aware of their inadequacy. Our words are born of finite ideas, and are often closely allied to material things, therefore it is impossible that they should suffice to define, describe, or denote the Illimitable, the Absolute. Even our word spirit refers originally to the "breath," and the terms Infinite and Absolute are simply negative terms. "Most High" carries with it the conception of higher and lower, and we know that such ideas cannot apply to Deity. Every term in language must be more or less anthropomorphic; but there is a very low form of anthropomorphic conception popularly in use in regard to the Trinity. The first person of the Trinity is stern, and is looked upon as a judge; the Son is merciful; the third person of the Trinity is less capable of being expressed in human language, therefore ordinary conceptions are much more vague, much less definite about the Holy Ghost than about the Father and the Son.
These very narrow and imperfect conceptions of God might be regarded as comparatively harmless, were it not that such frightful dogmas have been built upon them. The common orthodox theology is fabricated out of misunderstood esoteric teaching. Indeed all metaphysical teachings must be more or less misunderstood by the mass of mankind. Few now regard Adam and Eve as the progenitors of humanity 6000 years ago. The idea of a garden in which trees of knowledge, and of life, grow, is seen to be allegorical. The "Fall," as taught by orthodoxy, never existed except in theological imagination, and it is only a travesty of the true, ancient teaching. The fall was the descent of spirit, of the Sons of Light, into matter; and it was part of the great evolutionary process, leading from good to better, best.
But even theologians themselves have not always been of the same mind in explaining the functions of the Trinity. For about 1000 years it was the orthodox teaching that Christ by his death paid the Devil in order that man might be thus redeemed, or bought back. Man, it was held, had sold himself to the Devil; and even the Devil must not be cheated! From the time of Anselm onward the "improved" explanation was that Christ paid the penalty to God the Father, seeing that man by his sin had become the prisoner of divine justice. It was the old Roman law (lex) idea of God as a judge, again becoming prominent. Justice had to be satisfied. Man had sinned against the Infinite, and that was held to be an infinite transgression -- therefore no amount of suffering on man's part could exhaust it, man being finite. Karmic retribution was held to be inadequate. Spurgeon and others held that sin could not exhaust itself: "Man sinned while he suffered, therefore by the very nature and necessity of the case, sin was an eternal evil; eternity could not exhaust it." Man could only be saved by an infinite sufferer in his stead, i. e., by Christ. Against this, many of the more liberal theologians held that a finite creature (man) could not commit an infinite sin.
The whole theological conception is a miserable nightmare of ages of darkness. Truly man makes his God in his own image; and the supposed relationship of the persons of the Trinity to each other, and to man, is very much on the level of the ordinary law court. It is often said that Christ came to reveal God to man as the heavenly Father; but in a very few centuries the churches, saturated with the legal and materialistic spirit of Rome, made a trinity in which the first person is an implacable judge who must have full payment even though the innocent should suffer for the guilty.
Now, this dogma of the Trinity, this unworthy conception of the Eternal, truly belongs to the outer court. What then is the truth, the inner teaching, of which the ordinary theological dogma is such a perversion? It is a fact that on the great stairway of the universe the higher helps the lower. The soul must descend into matter to fulfill the great cycle of evolution, of the Great Breath. The great Helpers may be truly said to lay their lives down as a pathway for weaker lives. As the sun gives light and life to the planets, so in like manner does the divine principle run through all from the highest down to man and beyond. It is in a sense suffering for others; but it is that of the mother for her child, that of the teacher for his pupil; not that of a guilty person going free by casting his sins on someone else.
The Eastern conception of the one life manifesting itself under the threefold aspects of Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva, has probably become nearly as much materialized in India as the corresponding dogma has in Western lands. The right conception can be reached only by seeking the primitive teaching, the shrine not the pronaos. To study the septenary constitution of man is the best way to get a true conception of what is above man -- above, and yet in man; for we are even now temples of God, and the Holy Ghost dwells in us, as the Christian scripture says.
This is the ancient teaching which is needed to give wisdom to man. To realize that there is in us the potency of all the planes of the universe, while at the same time we feel, "not as though we had already attained," this is to have true humility and sublime hope." For now are we the Sons of God, but it doth not yet appear what we shall be." Man has within him the Holy of Holies, the spark of the One Flame. To lift the lower nature into closer and closer union or harmony with this central Shrine is to live in harmony with the soul and movement of the universe. Nothing can prevent the perfect justice, or karma, of the man of sin within us reaping what he has sown; but by the union of the lower nature with the Christ in us a mighty change of relation is brought about. As this is studied and realized by men generally the crudities of ecclesiasticism, and all the ecclesiastical fabrication and manipulation of sacraments to secure heaven, will vanish like the shapes of darkness before the rising sun. Much of it has already vanished. And every few years the world of thinking people is bursting through dogma after dogma, as the growing tree casts its bark.
Next to the Trinity the most important dogma to be found in ecclesiasticism is concerning the Devil. Many have maintained that without the Devil the church could not exist. It is one of the saddest aspects of our lower human nature that in the East and West alike such horrible pictures of devils and hells should have been invented. Happily this dogma is no longer accepted by intelligent men; though not a few among the ignorant and superstitious are still in the bondage of fear. No doubt there may be a certain loosening of restraint as the old terrors pass away, and the lower selfish nature has not yet come under the control and impulse of the soul within. No doubt men who have been terrorized into morality by fear of the Devil or hell, will not all at once learn to hate evil in itself and avoid it, and to do good for the love of it; but true morality is in the motive, and fear is an infinitely lower motive than love.
Closely connected with the dogmas of the Trinity and of the Devil is that of the atonement, which we have touched upon already. The true at-one-ment is the transforming of the lower nature into the image of the Christos within. This is the real alchemy, the change of the lead of the lower man into the pure gold of the higher. Of all miracles or wonders, this is the greatest; compared with it the transmutation of physical substances would be trivial. But dogmatic teaching has completely changed this great fact of nature into a legal or mercantile transaction. By the "propitiatory sacrifice" of Christ, as it is called, God is said to be reconciled to man, or as others put it, man is reconciled unto God. The ancient and true teaching is that a great vital change takes place in man, in harmony with cosmic law or the life of the universe. The inmost of man is indeed the secret place of the Most High. The lower nature of man corresponds to the pronaos of the temple. Instead of this, orthodox dogma makes God a something outside of man, who must be propitiated for Adam's offense in the Garden of Eden. Instead of the return of the prodigal son which Christ pictures; instead of the great cosmic process of return to the Divine of which the change in man is a clear type and illustration, dogmatic theology gives us the noisy machinery of a law court. For the heavenly Father revealed by Jesus we have the Roman magistrate. And man, instead of being a Son of God, as the Bible says, is declared by the church to be the child of the Devil. Salvation is made a legal or mechanical thing, for the supposed magical power of the properly ordained priest is said to drive out the Devil and introduce the Divine Spirit. There is still need for Jesus to say, "the flesh profiteth nothing; the words that I speak unto you they are spirit, and they are life."
It may easily be seen that the whole vast structure of dogma is like an inverted pyramid. For if the story of Adam and Eve be allegorical teaching about primitive man before he had a coat of skin (that is, a physical body) then how baseless are all the dogmas which have been reared upon this allegory read as a literal fact! History is the great drama of the soul. There is no such thing as profane history; all is the shadow of the Divine. The Incarnation is the very life of the universe, and true on all planes. It is the in-dwelling of the Christ or Christos, "Christ in you the hope of glory," as the apostle says.
As part of the great "Redemption" or " Return," it has been the ancient teaching that in times of great need in the life of humanity, at certain cyclic periods, a lofty embodiment of the Divine takes place. Thus, in the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna says:
I produce myself among creatures, O son of Bharata, whenever there is a decline of virtue and an insurrection of vice and injustice in the world: and thus I incarnate from age to age for the preservation of the just, the destruction of the wicked, and the establishment of righteousness. -- ch. 4
It is this great world-fact that helps us to understand the wonderful resemblances recorded concerning the great Teachers throughout the ages. It is well known that the idea of the Logos was common to Egyptians, Hindus, Persians, Chaldeans, and other nations. From what source except the great wisdom-religion could these different nations have obtained it? Among the Egyptians Thoth is called the Word or Logos. "I know the mystery of the Divine Word," is the translation of the characters found on a stele in the Louvre. Lenormant speaks of the doctrine of the Logos as being almost universal. Bonwick says: "The Incarnation idea is well illustrated in Egyptian theology. It is not the vulgar, coarse and sensual story as in Greek mythology, but refined, moral, and spiritual." (op. cit. p. 406.) And in this connection the author of the Tract Society's work on Egypt writes:
This most ancient theology, taught to the initiated and concealed from the vulgar, that God created all things at first by the primary emanation from Himself, his first-born, who was the author and giver of all wisdom and all knowledge in heaven and in earth, being at the same time the Wisdom and the Word of God.
According to Mr. Sharpe, the Egyptologist, the whole idea of the incarnation and birth by a virgin is depicted on the wall of a temple at Thebes. Gerald Massey in his Egyptian Exodus, has these words:
We shall see the good Osiris, and his Son the Word made true,
Who died and rose -- the Karast! -- in the Aah-en-Ru.
He who daily dies to save us, passing Earth and Hades through;
Lays his life down for a pathway to the Aah-en-Ru.
Among the Assyrians the Logos was known as the Marduk. He was the eldest son of Hea, and was named the merciful one. In Kitto's Biblical Cyclopaedia we read concerning the Logos:
This mysterious doctrine of Emanation is at once the most universal and the most memorable of traditions; so universal, that traces of it may be found throughout the whole world; so ancient, that its source is hidden in the grey mists of antiquity.
It must be acknowledged by every impartial student of the history of comparative religion that the dogmas of all religions represent a very materialistic and a very inadequate conception of the One Life and its manifestations. But, notwithstanding the great changes and obscurations produced by dogmatic theology, there is generally some point or points which serve as a connecting link between the ancient wisdom-religion and the ecclesiastical dogmas of today. We have seen how unworthy are the modern anthropomorphic conceptions of the Eternal. Man has made his God in his own image truly, not according to the glory of the inner sanctuary, but after the likeness of the outer court, the lower human mind. And mankind as a whole must suffer on account of these false conceptions of the Highest.
There is another matter of vital importance -- man's idea of his own nature; and in regard to this the church dogmas have exerted a most baleful influence. The doctrine of innate human depravity or original sin has settled like a dark cloud over a large part of the human race. The true, celestial origin of the real self was lost sight of in the course of ages, and man's conception of himself became more and more confined to and identified with the body and the lower mind. Hence it is that in the Old Testament we find very little said about the real nature of man. The true knowledge was no doubt concealed in symbols and in ritual; but, for the mass of the people, the Old Testament scriptures teach little about the hereafter. In the New Testament the consciousness of immortality becomes clearer; but even in the writings of St. Paul we do not find a very distinct teaching as to the nature of man. So much is this the case that scholars maintain that the threefold nature of man as spirit, soul, and body cannot be very clearly deduced from the New Testament use of these words in one or two places, soul and spirit being often used interchangeably. So it came to be the common notion that man was a body possessing a soul, instead of man realizing that he is a soul, and that the body is only a temporary covering -- an outer coat -- and no part of the real man at all. It thus remained for the scientific materialists of the present day to discover that man is only a collection of atoms, some of whose functions are called mind! Who will deny that mankind has reached the lowest point of the arc of descent into matter? The materialist is a monist, but to him matter is the one and only thing, and not spirit. And yet St. Paul had said plainly that there is a natural body and that there is a spiritual body. And the image of the grain of wheat which he uses was a teaching which he either saw or might have seen in the Mysteries. The ancient oracle "Know Thyself" must ever be regarded as of supreme importance; and, what we know ourselves to be is the yardstick by which we measure all things else.
For popular teaching it is perhaps sufficient to speak of the higher mind and the lower mind; or the carnal man and the spiritual man of St. Paul. Everyone is at once conscious of two forces struggling within: a selfish power and an unselfish power. This struggle is the great war, the holy war. But for many thoughtful people the knowledge of man as septenary -- and his correspondence, therefore, with this septenary universe as taught by theosophy -- must prove to be a revelation of the greatest importance. It is not merely a speculative truth, it has many practical bearings also. As we study ourselves and get to understand better what we are, we see more clearly the path to deliverance. We understand better the tyranny of the lower nature, whose selfishness has caused so much misery in the world; and we are enabled to reach to the true and harmonious order and relationship of all the principles. This is that state when the Divine Will is done on earth as it is in heaven. This is the real meaning of the "coming of the Kingdom." We may be perfectly certain that nothing can be more hurtful to man than this low and erroneous idea of human nature which dogmatic teaching has foisted upon the world for nearly two thousand years. On the other hand, the true conception of man's sevenfold nature, and the realization of his inherent divinity, must prove a source of light, hope, and strength. Being conscious of the Christos as our real self within we must feel that "upward calling" of which the initiate apostle speaks.
Dogmatic theology as expressed in creeds may be likened to a hard shell which prevents the germ inside from expanding. There is a germ of truth which may be traced to very ancient times, but this germ, instead of being allowed to expand and become a tree of wisdom, is imprisoned through the ages. The whole system by which creeds have been made and perpetuated is entirely hurtful to man's inner nature. In the first place, from a very small beginning, a vast and complicated statement is concocted through much debate, passion, and conflict. The decision, of perhaps a bare majority of men, prompted in some instances by spite against some person, is the foundation of a creed or some part of a creed. And even were the elements of passion and prejudice absent, even if absolute unanimity existed among those making the creed, there is no reason why their opinions should become a binding law upon future generations, making progress difficult or impossible. In the very nature of things men's minds should expand, their views widen; therefore, there should be a revision of creeds periodically. Even the best statement of beliefs must be regarded as tentative. Instead of this, we find that by a majority vote of not very learned or impartial men, in a semi-barbarous age, a dogma is fastened round the neck of future ages of progress and enlightenment. It is then regarded as heresy to attempt to amend the creed; which, though it may be called the "subordinate standard," becomes virtually the only and infallible standard and authority.
But this is not the whole of the mischief. Every charitable person who endows a church holding such-or-such a creed is making creed revision more and more impossible. It is a well-known fact that trust deeds have more than once tied the hands of reformers. The celebrated case of the Free Church of Scotland is a case in point. There almost the whole body of the church (1100 churches out of 1128), voted to join with a sister church, the United Presbyterian, holding the same creed; but the minority of 28 held out on some small points of church government, and eventually got a decision in its favor by the House of Lords. The result was worldwide consternation, for if the highest legal authority in England was right, the effects would be very far-reaching. It required a special Act of Parliament to settle matters on any sort of logical basis, and even then, so it is reported, the 28 ministers and churches of the minority got all they could reasonably use of the total property, which had amounted to many millions, in colleges, schools, etc. in Scotland, India, and elsewhere.
With the best of motives those endowing creeds, and the like, may be doing much mischief to posterity. And it is difficult to know how to improve matters permanently in this respect. For, it is clearly a good thing to assist with money, or the like, a form of teaching which a man believes to be true. In connection with this the general law should be kept in mind, the more particular the creed, the less is its extension. The shorter and more general the creed, then the greater its extension, or the greater number of minds that can accept it. But the radical difficulty arises out of the nature of the lower mind itself. It should be possible for men to unite on a love of what is good and true, rather than on the basis that they will all agree as to certain dogmas. As a step to this, the creeds should be laid on the shelf -- and kept there -- as historical documents; interesting relics of an out-lived past, along with the thumbscrews and other mementos of "the good old days." Religion should be a healer and unifier, but dogmatic religion has been a prolific source of strife in all lands and in all ages. And often, the smaller the points of dispute, the more fiercely has the war of sects raged.
In this age, the ancient wisdom-religion, theosophy, comes to point the disputants to the source, the one source, from which religions and philosophies as well as races and nations have sprung. The dogmatic teachings have obscured and perverted the truth, and produced lack of unity and then strife among men who should be living together as brethren. At first, many do not like this. Each person and each sect claims a higher position than others. The very name of comparative religion has been hateful to narrow-minded people. Nevertheless, the process of light-bringing goes on, and even those churches which are the last to progress have advanced a little; though, if one may judge by the public utterances of some, the tendency is to go backward rather than forward. A recent telegram states that the professor of a celebrated British University declared that the cure for the present unrest in religious matters would be a return to Calvinism! Many have not advanced much from that position, therefore the return would not be a long journey.
There are two other dogmas which deserve mention -- the plenary inspiration of the Bible, and Papal infallibility -- though neither can be said to spring from the ancient wisdom-religion.
As to the dogma of Papal Infallibility, while it does not directly concern any church except the Roman Catholic, yet we find in other denominations something of the same tendency to make someone or something a standard by which to measure right and wrong. It is an infallible book or an infallible creed, if not an infallible pope. The absurdity of regarding any person as infallible, even when speaking ex cathedra, is too evident, even from the history of the Roman church itself, to deserve serious attention. It finds its reason of existence only from the fact that very many people wish someone else to think for them, on religious matters at any rate. But however useful external helps may be, the primary authority is the conscience, the voice of the God within, as Dr. Martineau has clearly shown in his well-known work, The Seat of Authority in Religion. Indeed the most servile worshiper of external authority must, at least once in his life, exercise the privilege of judgment, when he abdicates to another his own right to judge in matters of religion. The true cure for this folly is to understand the real nature of man, as made known in theosophy, and to respond to the voice of the Christos within -- that voice which comes from the inner shrine of the human soul. The same applies to a book supposed to be infallible. The different parts composing this book had, at one time or other, to be examined and judged by men no better than ourselves, as to whether or not they should be made part of the canon of scripture. The judgment, the conscience, had to be used to decide in the first instance what writings should be regarded as the Bible. Sometimes one book was rejected, sometimes another was rejected. And as Reuss has shown in his history of the Canon, its formation has been the result of a gradual growth, and not accomplished in a little while, as many suppose.
Then, as to the question of inspiration, while it is a self-evident fact that certain scriptures carry with them the evidence of a lofty source, it is quite a different thing to declare that all the words of the Old and New Testaments are God-inspired. This is the doctrine of plenary inspiration -- an infallible book -- and it is based specially on II Timothy 3:16, "all scripture is given by inspiration of God," etc. The Revised Version more correctly renders it, "every scripture inspired of God is also profitable," etc., which conveys a very different meaning from that commonly given to it.
The question of what inspiration is cannot be discussed here; but the general principle may be noted, that every channel through which light comes has a modifying influence on it. This is true in the spiritual as it is in the material world. Human thought, human language, individual peculiarities -- all these stamp themselves on any message, even if given from the highest source. Then, as to the transmission of this scripture, all we can venture is to hope and believe that it is substantially as first given. Absolute infallibility cannot be entertained for a moment. And, after all, what better criterion can we apply to a writing than that it has met human needs and stood the test of time, that it has become a great classic? The more human the scripture is, the more it is divine. Jesus appealed to his hearers to accept or reject his words on the ground of their inherent truth. We cannot improve on that.
There are other dogmas, such as that of the resurrection of the physical body; the second Advent, the Last Judgment, which are but partial and therefore imperfect conceptions of certain truths, and as such do not occupy the place they once held. Here we are in the tomb of the flesh; at death we drop from us this mortal body, as we put off a garment, and rise into a higher state of existence. This is shown very graphically in an ancient Egyptian picture. Neith, the Divine Mother, is the firmament. The physical body, colored red, falls to the ground, but the real man, colored blue, rises up towards heaven. It reminds one of St. Paul where he speaks of the natural body being sown, the spiritual body being raised, in 1 Cor. 15. The only sense in which we can be said to have a physical resurrection is through reincarnation. We do stand again on earth in a physical body; and it may have been from this truth that the notion of a bodily resurrection sprang into existence.
H. P. Blavatsky tells us (The Secret Doctrine 2:459) that the sarcophagus or tomb in the shrine of the temple was regarded with the greatest veneration. It was "the symbol of resurrection cosmic, solar (or diurnal), and human." The sun was the great symbol of this in heaven, man was the symbol on earth. The materialization of this esoteric teaching well illustrates the change from the crypt or adytum to the pronaos.
The "Second Coming" was in the first instance a conception based on the words of Jesus, that some of the generation then living should not taste of death until the coming of the Son of Man. All through the centuries the idea has come to the surface again and again, sometimes producing very extraordinary popular delusions. But there is a real sense in which the Christos, the Christ in man, is coming with power and glory. As the Christos develops in each heart, the general manifestation of the Christos in humanity is drawing nearer, until at last "every eye shall see him." But, before this grand consummation there must be more than one Day of Judgment. Such days of sifting or separating come at the close of cycles. The Great Day, or the "Last Day" is when the manifested universe returns into the bosom of the infinite -- the Great Day "BE WITH US" mentioned in The Secret Doctrine. This part of the wisdom-religion has been narrowed and materialized in the Christian ages, not only by theologians, but even by poets and painters. The pronaos here, more than in most other cases, has degraded the teaching of the shrine.
We have now entered upon the new age. The ancient wisdom-religion is being restored. The horizon of the human mind is being extended, and the light of the Christos is shining. A natural result must be the passing away of dogmas and creeds, and everything else that fetters intellectual growth, and all that "hinders or impedes the action of the nobler will."
The best and surest way to remove false teachings is to show how they arose. The best way to remove animosities is to demonstrate that we are many members in one body, that we have had a common origin, and always have a common interest. This is the mission and aim of the wisdom-religion.
It has been the natural tendency of dogma to produce strife in the human family. It has often been the policy, even of those called Christians, to divide men and nations from each other, so as to rule them more easily. It is time for all this to cease. The command has come to us as it came to Moses: "Speak unto the Children of Israel, THAT THEY GO FORWARD." The bondage of dogmas, the slavery of creeds, and all the darkness of medieval theology we must leave behind us. A more glorious Land of Promise than ever poet dreamed of beckons us onward. The ancient wisdom and the ancient teachers are here again. Man is awakening to the consciousness that he is divine, and he hears a divine voice within him, a voice from the Holy of Holies, say: "Arise, shine, for thy Light is come!"
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