Esoteric Christianity is a term which refers to an ensemble of spiritual currents which regard Christianity as a mystery religion, and profess the existence and possession of certain esoteric doctrines or practices, hidden from the public but accessible only to a narrow circle of "enlightened", "initiated", or highly educated people.
These spiritual currents share some common denominators, such as:
- heterodox or heretical Christian theology;
- the four canonical gospels, various apocalyptic literature, and some New Testament apocrypha as sacred texts; and
- disciplina arcani, a supposed oral tradition from the Twelve Apostles containing esoteric teachings of Jesus the Christ.
Christianity as a mystery religion
The word used by Early Christians to indicate the Christian Mystery is μυστήριον (mysterion). The Old Testament versions use the word mysterion as an equivalent for the Hebrew sôd, "secret" (Proverbs 20:19; Judith 2:2; Sirach 22:27; 2 Maccabees 13:21). In the New Testament the word mystery is applied ordinarily to the sublime revelation of the Gospel (Matthew 13:11; Colossians 2:2; 1 Timothy 3:9; 1 Corinthians 15:51), and to the Incarnation and life of the Saviour and His manifestation by the preaching of the Apostles (Romans 16:25; Ephesians 3:4; 6:19; Colossians 1:26; 4:3). Theologians give the name mystery to revealed truths that surpass the powers of natural reason, so, in a narrow sense, the Mystery is a truth that transcends the created intellect. The impossibility of obtaining a rational comprehension of the Mystery leads to an inner or hidden way of comprehension of the Christian Mystery which is indicated by the term esoteric in Esoteric Christianity.
Even though revealed and believed, the Mystery remains nevertheless obscure and veiled during the mortal life, if the deciphering of the mysteries, made possible by esotericism, does not intervene.
This esoteric knowledge would allow a deep comprehension of the Christian mysteries which otherwise would remain obscure.
Some modern scholars believe that in the early stages of Christianity a nucleus of oral teachings were inherited from Palestinian and Hellenistic Judaism which formed the basis of a secret oral tradition, which in the 4th century came to be called the disciplina arcani. Important influences on Esoteric Christianity are the Christian theologians Clement of Alexandria and Origen, the main figures of the Catechetical School of Alexandria.
Origen was a most prolific writer - according to Epiphanius, he wrote about 6,000 books - making it a difficult task to define the central core of his teachings. The original Greek text of his main theological work De Principiis only survives in fragments, while a 5th century Latin translation was cleared of controversial teachings by the translator Rufinus, making it hard for modern scholars to rebuild Origen's original thoughts. Thus, it is unclear whether reincarnation and the pre-existence of souls formed part of Origen's beliefs.
Despite this apparent contradiction, most modern Esoteric Christian movements refer to Origen's writings (along, with other Church Fathers and biblical passages) to validate these ideas as part of the Esoteric Christian tradition.
Early modern esotericism
In the later Middle Ages forms of Western esotericism, for example alchemy and astrology, were constructed on Christian foundations, combining Christian theology and doctrines with esoteric concepts.
Giovanni Pico della Mirandola's Apologia ("Apologia J. Pici Mirandolani, Concordiae comitis" published in 1489) states that there are two types of "magic", which are theurgy (divine magic), and goetia (demonic magic). These disciplines were explained as the "Operation of the Stars", just as alchemy was the "Operation of the Sun", and astrology the "Operation of the Moon." Kabbalah was also an active discipline. Esoteric Christian practitioners might practice these forms or traditions, which made them adepts, alchemists, astrologists, and Hermetic Qabalists, while still being Esoteric Christian practitioners of a passive discipline which helped them better use the "mystery knowledge" they gained from the elite, or Higher Beings.
Modern forms of Esoteric Christianity
Many modern Esoteric Christian movements admit reincarnation among their beliefs, as well as a complex energetic structure for the human being (such as etheric body, astral body, mental body and causal body). These movements point out the need of an inner spiritual work which will lead to the renewal of the human person according to the Pauline sense. Max Heindel and Rudolf Steiner gave several spiritual exercises in their writings to help the evolution of the follower. In the same direction are Tommaso Palamidessi's writings, which aim at developing ascetic techniques and meditations. According to all of these esoteric scholars, the ensemble of these techniques (often related with Eastern meditation practices such as chakra meditation or visualization) will lead to salvation and to the total renewal of the human being. This process usually implies the constitution of a spiritual body apt to the experience of resurrection (and therefore called, in Christian terms, resurrection body). Some Esoteric Christians today also incorporate New Age and traditional "magical" practices in their beliefs, such as Qabalah, theurgy, goetia, alchemy, astrology, and hermetism.
- Esoteric Buddhism
- Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite (18th Degree) of Freemasonry
- "There can be no question of the intimate Christian character and design of the Degree (...) In the Rites and Ceremonies of this Degree, we have presented a Third Temple, successor to both the Temple of King Solomon and to the Temple of Zerubbabel -- the spiritual Temple, the building of which is the ultimate objective of Freemasonry. The Wisdom, Strength, Beauty which supported the ancient Temple are replaced by the Christian pillars of Faith, Hope and Charity; the great Lights remain, for they are not only the essence of Freemasonry, but also fundamentals in their symbolic truths and in the realities of some in the building of true character; the three lesser lights give way to thirty-three, which to most interpreters represent the thirty-three years of the Messiah's sojourn on the earth."
- "then as "PHREE MESSEN" or children of light they are instructed in methods of building a new temple without sound of hammer, and when the spirit realizes that it is far from its heavenly home, a prodigal, feeding upon the unsatisfactory husks of the material world, that apart from the Father it is "POOR, NAKED AND BLIND," when it knocks at the door of a mystic temple like that of the Rosicrucians and asks for light, when it receives the desired instruction after due qualification by building and ethereal soul-body, a temple or house eternal in the heavens, not made with hands, and without sound of hammer, when its nakedness is clothed with that house (see Cor. 4.5,) then the neophyte receives "THE WORD," the open sesame to the inner worlds and learns to travel in foreign parts in the invisible worlds. There he takes soul-flights into heavenly region and qualifies for higher degrees under more direct instruction from THE GRAND ARCHITECT OF THE UNIVERSE, who fashioned both heaven and earth. (...) There are 3x3 degrees in the lesser Mysteries; when the candidate has passed the 9th Arch [18/33], he is in the Holy of Holies, which forms the gate to greater fields beyond the scope of Masonry."
- Anthroposophical Society of Rudolf Steiner
- Archeosophical Society of Tommaso Palamidessi
- Lectorium Rosicrucianum of Jan van Rijckenborgh/Catharose de Petri
- Martinism of Louis Claude de Saint-Martin
- Societas Rosicruciana by Masons
- Theosophical Society of Madame Blavatsky
- The Rosicrucian Fellowship of Max Heindel
- Brethren of the Free Spirit
- Hermeticism, Hermetism
- Manichaeism, Neo-Manichaeism
- Western Mystery Tradition
- Alchemy, Philosopher's stone
- Kabbalah, Christian Kabbalah, Hermetic Qabalah
- Magic (see also Christian views on magic), Goetia, Theurgy
- Mysticism, Christian mysticism
- Western Esotericism, Western Esotericism (academia)
- Astrological age, Age of Aquarius
- Christ (concept), Second Coming
- God and the scheme of evolution
- Sophia (wisdom)
- Western Esotericism and the Science of Religion: Selected Papers Presented at the 17th Congress
- Besant, Annie (2001). Esoteric Christianity or the Lesser Mysteries. City: Adamant Media Corporation. ISBN 9781402100291.
- From the Greek ἐσωτερικός (esôterikos, "inner"). The term esotericism itself was coined in the 17th century. (Oxford English Dictionary Compact Edition, Volume 1,Oxford University Press, 1971, p. 894.)
- Wouter J. Hanegraaff, Antoine Faivre, Roelof van den Broek, Jean-Pierre Brach, Dictionary of Gnosis & Western Esotericism, Brill 2005.
- Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary: esotericism
- Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary: esoteric
- Cf. Matthew 16:16
- G.G. Stroumsa, Hidden Wisdom: Esoteric Traditions and the Roots of Christian Mysticism, 2005.
- The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume X. Published 1911
- Tommaso Palamidessi, Introduction to Major and Minor Mysteries, ed. Archeosofica, 1971
- Frommann, De Disciplina Arcani in vetere Ecclesia christiana obticuisse fertur, Jena 1833.
- E. Hatch, The Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages upon the Christian Church, London, 1890, Chapter 10.
- Jean Danielou, Origen, translated by Walter Mitchell, 1955.
- Haer., lxiv.63
- Catholic Answers, Quotes by Church Fathers Against Reincarnation, 2004.
- John S. Uebersax, Early Christianity and Reincarnation: Modern Misrepresentation of Quotes by Origen, 2006.
- See Reincarnation and Christianity
- Archeosofica, Articles on Esoteric Christianity (classical authors)
- Antoine Faivre, L'ésotérisme, Paris, PUF (« Que sais-je?»), 1992.
- Weber, Charles, Rosicrucianism and Christianity in Rays from the Rose Cross, 1995
- Rudolf Steiner, Christianity As Mystical Fact, Steinerbooks.
- Tommaso Palamidessi, The Guardians of the Thresholds and the Evolutionary Way, Archeosofica, 1978.
- Max Heindel, The Mystical Interpretation of Easter, Rosicrucian Fellowship.
- Secrets of the Magical Grimoires by Aaron Leitch, www.northernway.org
- Phoenix Masonry Scottish Rite Rose Croix 18th Degree Jewel, 2000s
- Heindel, Max, Freemasonry and Catholicism, ISBN 0-911274-04-9, 1910s
- Some Comparisons Between Exoteric & Esoteric Christianity a table comparing exoteric and esoteric Christian beliefs.
- Esoteric Christianity - What does it mean?
- Esoteric/Mystic/Experiential Christianity
- The Cornerstone of Esoteric Christianity
- The Focus of Esoteric Futures
- The Perennial Tradition, Esoteric Christianity
- Contemplative Christian Prayers
bg:Езотерично християнство pt:Cristianismo esotérico