Jesus, the Last Great Initiate, by Edouard Schuré, , at sacred-texts.com
Hitherto I have endeavored to illuminate with its own light that portion of the life of Jesus which the Gospels have left in comparative obscurity, or wrapped around with the veil of legend. I have related by what kind of initiation and development of soul and thought the great Nazarean attained to the Messianic consciousness. In a word, I have endeavored to reconstruct the inner genesis of the Christ. The rest of my task will be all the easier if this genesis be once acknowledged. The public life of Jesus has been related in the Gospels. These narratives contain divergences and contradictions as well as additions. The legend which overlies or exaggerates certain mysteries may still be traced here and there, but from the whole there is set free such a unity of thought and action, so powerful and original a character, that we invincibly feel ourselves in the presence of reality and of life. These inimitable stories cannot be reconstructed; their childlike simplicity and symbolical beauty tell us more than any amplifications can do. But what is needed nowadays is the illumination of the rôle of Jesus by esoteric traditions and truths, showing the signification and bearing of his double teaching.
What were these good tidings of which he was the
bearer, this already famous Essene who had now returned from the shores of the Dead Sea to his native Galilee to preach there the Gospel of the Kingdom? How was he to change the face of the world? The thoughts of the prophets had just found their realization in him. Strong in the entire gift of his very being, he now came to share with men this kingdom of heaven which he had won in meditation and strife, in torments of pain and boundless joy. He came to rend asunder the veil which the ancient religion of Moses had cast over the future beyond the tomb. He came to say: "Believe, love, act, and let hope be the soul of your deeds. Beyond this earth there is a world of souls, a more perfect life. This I know, for I come therefrom; thither will I lead you. But mere aspiration for that world will not suffice. To attain it you must begin by realizing it here below, first in yourselves, afterwards in humanity. By what means? By Love and active Charity."
So the young prophet came to Galilee. He did not say he was the Messiah, but discussed in the synagogues concerning the laws and the prophets. He preached on the banks of the lake of Gennesareth, in fishermen's boats, by the fountains, in the oases of verdure abounding between Capernaum, Bethsaida, and Korazin. He healed the sick by laying-on of hands, a mere look or command, often by his presence alone. Multitudes followed him, and already numerous disciples attached themselves to him. These he recruited from among the fishermen, tax-collectors, from the common people, in a word. Those of upright, unsullied nature, possessed of an ardent faith, were the ones he wanted, and these he irresistibly attracted to himself. He was guided in
his choice by that gift of second sight, which has ever been the peculiarity of men of action, but especially of religious initiators. A single look enabled him to fathom the depths of a soul. He needed no other test, and when he said: "Follow me!" he was obeyed. A single gesture summoned to his side the timid and hesitating, to whom he said: "Come unto me, ye that are heavy-laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." 1 He divined the innate thoughts of men, who in trouble and confusion recognized the Master. At times, he recognized in unbelief uprightness of heart. When Nathaniel said, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Jesus replied: "Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!" 2 From his adepts he required neither oaths nor profession of faith; simply love and belief in himself. He put into practice the common possession of goods as a principle of fraternity among his own.
Jesus thus began to realize, within his small group of followers, the Kingdom of Heaven he wished to establish on earth. The Sermon on the Mount offers us an image of this kingdom already formed in germ, along with a résumé of the popular teaching of Jesus. He is seated on the top of a hill; the future initiates are grouped at his feet; farther down the slope the eager crowd drinks in the words which fall from his mouth. What is the doctrine of the new teacher? Fasting or maceration or public penance? No; he says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of
heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted." Then he unrolls in ascending order the four final beatitudes, the marvellous power of humility, of sorrow for others, of the inner goodness of the heart and of hunger and thirst after righteousness. Then, in glowing colors he depicts the active and triumphant virtues, compassion, purity of heart, militant kindness, and finally martyrdom for righteousness sake. "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God." Like the sound of a golden bell, this promise gives his listeners a faint glimpse of the starry heavens above the Master's head. Then they see the humble virtues, no longer in the guise of poor emaciated women in grey penitents robes, but transformed into beatitudes, into virgins of light whose brightness effaces the splendor of the lilies and the glory of Solomon. With the gentle breath of their palm leaves they scatter over these thirsting souls the fragrant perfumes of the heavenly kingdom.
The wonder is that this kingdom expands, not in the distant heavens, but in the hearts of the listeners. They exchange looks of astonishment with one another; these poor in spirit have, of a sudden, become so rich. Mightier than Moses, the soul's magician has struck their hearts, from which rushes up an immortal spring of life. His teaching to the people may be summed up in the sentence: The kingdom of heaven is within you! Now that he lays before them the means necessary to attain to this unheard-of happiness, they are no longer astonished at the extraordinary things he asks of them: to kill even the desire for evil, to forgive offences, to love their enemies. So powerful is the stream of love with which his heart overflows. that he carries them away
along the current. In his presence they find everything easy. Mighty the novelty, singular the boldness of such teaching. The Galilean prophet sets the inner life of the soul above all outer practices, the invisible above the visible, the Kingdom of Heaven above the benefits of earth. He commands that the choice be made between God and man. Then, summing up his doctrine, he says, "Love your neighbor as yourself! Be ye perfect even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect!" Thus, in popular form, he afforded a glimpse of the whole profundity of science and morals. For the supreme commandment of the initiation is to reproduce divine perfection in the perfecting of the soul, and the secret of science lies in the chain of analogy and correspondences, uniting in ever-enlarging circles the particular to the universal, the finite to the infinite.
If such was the public and purely moral teaching of Jesus, it is evident that in addition he gave private instruction to his disciples, parallel with and explanatory of the former, showing its inner meaning and penetrating to the very depths of the spiritual truth he held of the esoteric traditions of the Essenes and of his own existence. As this tradition was violently crushed by the Church from the second century onwards, the majority of theologians no longer knew the real bearing of the Christ's words, with their sometimes double and triple meanings, and saw none but the primary and literal signification. For those who deeply studied the doctrine of the mysteries in India, Egypt, and Greece, the esoteric thought of the Christ animates not merely his slightest word, but every act of his life. Dimly perceptible in the three Synoptics, it springs into complete evidence
in the Gospel of John. Here may be stated an instance touching an essential point of the doctrine:
Jesus happens to be passing by Jerusalem. He is not yet preaching in the temple, though he heals the sick and gives instruction to his friends. The work of love must prepare the ground into which the fruitful seed shall fall. Nicodemus, a learned Pharisee, has heard of the new prophet. Filled with curiosity, though unwilling to compromise himself in the eyes of his sect, he requests with the Galilean a secret interview, which is granted. The Pharisee calls at his dwelling by night and says to him: "Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him." Jesus replied: "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus asks if it is possible for a man to enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born. Jesus answered: "Verily I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." 1
Under this evidently symbolical form, Jesus sums up the ancient doctrine of regeneration already known in the mysteries of Egypt. To be born again of water and of the Spirit, to be baptized by water and by fire, mark two degrees of initiation, two stages of the inner and spiritual development of man. Water here represents truth perceived intellectually, i. e. in an abstract and general manner. It purifies the soul and develops its spiritual germ.
A new birth by the Spirit, or baptism by (heavenly) fire, signifies the assimilation of the truth by the will in
such a way that it may become the blood and life, the very soul of every action. From this results the complete victory of spirit over matter, the absolute mastery of the spiritualized soul over the body transformed into a docile instrument; a mastery which awakens its dormant faculties, opens its inner sense, and gives it an intuitive insight into truth, and a direct action of soul on soul. This state is equivalent to the heavenly one which Jesus Christ called the kingdom of God. Baptism by water, or intellectual initiation, is accordingly the first step in rebirth; baptism by the spirit is total rebirth, a transformation of the soul by the fire of intelligence and will, and consequently, to a certain extent, of the elements of the bodyin a word, a radical regeneration. From this come the exceptional powers it gives to man.
This is the earthly signification of the eminently theosophical conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus. There is also a special signification which might briefly be called the esoteric doctrine concerning the constitution of man. According to this doctrine, man is threefold: body, soul, and spirit. He has an immortal and indivisible part, the spirit; a perishable and divisible part, the body. The soul which unites the two shares in the nature of both. Living organism as it is, it possesses an ethereal and fluidic body, similar to the material body, which, but for this invisible double, would have neither life, movement, nor unity. According as man obeys the suggestions of the spirit or the impulses of the body, according as he attaches himself to the one or the other, the fluidic body becomes etherealized or dulled; unifies or becomes disaggregated. Accordingly, it happens that, after physical death, the majority of men have to submit to a second death of the soul, which
consists of cleansing itself from the impure elements of their astral body, sometimes even undergoing its slow decomposition; while the completely regenerated man, having formed on this earth his spiritual body, possesses his heaven in himself and enters the region to which his affinity attracts him. Now water, in ancient esoterism, symbolizes fluidic matter which is infinitely transformable, as fire symbolizes the one spirit. In speaking of rebirth by water and spirit, the Christ makes allusion to that double transformation of his spiritual body, his fluidic envelope which awaits man after death, and without which he cannot enter the kingdom of lofty souls and purified spirits. For "that which is born of the flesh is flesh (i. e. chained down and perishable), and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (i. e. free and immortal). "Marvel not that I say unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but can not tell whence it cometh and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit." 1
Thus spoke Jesus to Nicodemus in the silence of the night at Jerusalem. A small lamp, placed between the two, dimly lights their vague, uncertain forms. But the eyes of the Galilean Master shine with mysterious brilliancy through the darkness. How could one help believing in the soul, when looking into those eyes, now gently beaming, now flashing forth the glory of heaven? The learned Pharisee has seen his knowledge of Scripture texts crumble away, but then he obtains a glimpse of a new world. He has seen a divine light in the face of the prophet, whose long auburn hair is falling over his shoulders. He has felt the powerful warmth emanating
from his being draw him to the Master. He has seen small white flames like a magnetic halo appear and disappear around his brow and temples. And then he imagined he felt the breath of the Spirit pass over his heart. Moved to his inmost soul, Nicodemus returned secretly in the silence of the night to his home. He will continue to live among the Pharisees, but in the secrecy of his heart he will remain faithful to Jesus.
Let us note one more important point in this teaching. According to the materialistic doctrine, the soul is an ephemeral and accidental resultant of the forces of the body; in the ordinary spiritualist doctrine it is something abstract, without any conceivable bond with the body; in the esoteric doctrinethe only rational onethe physical body is a product of the incessant work of the soul, which acts upon it by the similar organism of the astral body, just as the visible universe is only a dynamism of the infinite Spirit. This is the reason Jesus gives this doctrine to Nicodemus as explanation of the miracles he works. It may indeed serve as a key to the occult healing art, practiced by him and by a small number of adepts and saints before as well as after Christ. Ordinary medicine combats the evils of the body by acting on the latter. The adept or saint being a centre of spiritual and fluidic force, acts directly on the soul of the patient, and by his astral on his physical body. It is the same in all magnetic cures; Jesus operates by means of forces existing in all men, but he operates in large closes by powerful and concentrated projections. He gives the Scribes and Pharisees his power of healing bodies as a proof of his power to pardon and heal the soul, his higher object. The physical cure thus becomes the counter proof of a moral cure which permits of his
saying to the man made whole, "Rise and walk!" Science of to-day tries to explain the phenomenon which the ancients and middle ages called "possession" as being a simple nervous disorder. The explanation is insufficient. Psychologists who attempt to penetrate more deeply into the mystery of the soul see therein a duplication of consciousness, an irruption of its latent part. This question touches that of the different planes of the human consciousness, which acts now on the one, now on the other, the changing play being studied in different somnambulistic conditions. It also touches the sensitive world. In any case, it is certain Jesus had the faculty of restoring equilibrium in troubled bodies, and restoring equilibrium in troubled bodies, and restoring souls to their purest consciousness. "Veritable magic," said Plotinus, "is love, with hate its contrary. It is by love and hate that magicians act, through their philters and enchantments." Love in its highest consciousness and supreme power constituted the magic of the Christ.
Numerous disciples took part in his inner teaching. Still, in order to give lasting power to the new religion, there was needed an active group of chosen ones who should become the pillars of the spiritual temple he wished to erect over against the other: hence the institution of the apostles. These he did not choose from among the Essenes, as he needed men whose natures were vigorous and fresh, to implant his religion in the very heart of the people. Two groups of brothers, Simon Peter and Andrew, the sons of Jonas, on the one hand; James and John, the sons of Zebedee, on the other, all four fishermen by occupation and belonging to respectable families, formed the first apostles. At the beginning of his career Jesus appears to them at Capernaum,
by the lake of Gennesareth, where they were engaged in their daily occupation. He takes up his abode with them and converts the whole family. Peter and John stand out as prominent figures among the twelve. Peter, straight-forward and narrow-minded, easily influenced by either hope or discouragement, but at the same time a man of action, capable, by reason of his energetic character and absolute faith, of leading the others. John, of a deep hidden nature, enthusiastic to such a degree that Jesus called him "the son of thunder," his ardent soul always concentrated on itself; by disposition melancholy, and given to reverie, though subject to formidable outbursts and apocalyptic visions. His tenderness of soul, spite of all this, was such as the rest never suspected and only the Master knew. John alone, silent and contemplative, will understand the inmost thought of the Christ. He will be the Evangelist of love and divine intelligence, the esoteric apostle par excellence.
Persuaded by his words, convinced by his acts, dominated by his mighty intelligence, and encircled in his magnetic radiance, the apostles followed the Master from town to town. Preaching to the populace alternated with secret instruction as he gradually opened out to them his thoughts. All the same, he still maintained profound silence concerning himself, his own future. He had told them that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, that the Messiah would soon come. The apostles were already whispering to one another, "It is he!" and repeating it to others. But Jesus, with gentle dignity, simply called himself "The Son of Man," an expression the esoteric signification of which they did not yet understand, though, in his mouth, it seemed to mean "Messenger
of suffering humanity." For he added, "The foxes have their holes, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head." It was only in accordance with the popular Jewish idea that the apostles had hitherto considered the Messiah; their simple hopes conceived of the kingdom of heaven as being a political government, of which Jesus would be the crowned king and they the ministers. To combat this idea and radically transform it, revealing to the apostles the true Messiah, the spiritual royalty; to communicate to them this sublime truth he called the Father, the supreme force he called the Spirit, mysteriously uniting all souls with the invisible; to show them by his word, life, and death, a true Son of God; to leave them the conviction that they and all men were his brothers and could rejoin him if they wished; and finally to leave them, only after opening to their longing eyes the whole immensity of heaventhis was the mighty work Jesus had commenced on his apostles. "Will they believe or not?" is the question of the drama being played between them and himself. Another question far more poignant and terrible is being asked in the depths of his own consciousness. To this we shall soon give our attention.
For at this hour a wave of joy overwhelmed the tragic thought in the consciousness of the Christ. The tempest has not yet burst over the lake of Tiberias. It is the Galilean springtime of the Gospel, the dawn of the kingdom of God, the mystic union of the initiate with his spiritual family, which follows and travels with him as the procession of paranymphs follows the bridegroom in the parable. The believing crowd hurries along in the footsteps of the beloved Master on the banks of the azure lake enclosed in the glorious hills
as in a golden bowl. They go from the fragrant banks of Capernaum to Bethsaida's orange groves and the mountainous Chorazin, where the lake of Gennesareth is bordered by shady palms. In this procession the women have a place apart. The Master is everywhere surrounded by the mothers or sisters of his disciples, by timid virgins, or repentant Magdalenes. Attentive and faithful, impelled by passionate love, they scatter along his path eternal blossoms of sadness, and hope. They at any-rate need no proof that he is the Messiah: a single look into his face is sufficient for them. The wonderful felicity emanating from his aura, added to the note of divine unexpressed suffering they instinctively feel, persuades them that he is the Son of God. Jesus had early stifled in himself the cry of the flesh; during his stay among the Essenes he had tamed the might of the senses. This had given him an empire over souls and the divine power of pardon, a true angelic bliss. He says to the sinning woman now, with dishevelled hair, kneeling at the Master's feet, over which she pours the precious ointment: "Much shall be forgiven her, for she has loved much!" Sublime thought, containing an entire redemption, for pardon sets free.
The Christ is the liberator and restorer of women, in spite of St. Paul and the Fathers of the Church who, by lowering woman to the rôle of man's servant, have wrongly interpreted the Master's thought. She had been glorified in Vedic times; Buddha had mistrusted her the Christ has raised her by restoring her mission of love and divination. The initiate Woman represents the soul of Humanity; Aisha, as Moses had named it, i. e. the power of Intuition; the loving and seeing Faculty. The impetuous Mary Magdalene, out of whom, according to
the biblical expression, Jesus had driven seven devils, became the most ardent of his disciples. She it was who first, St. John tells us, saw the divine Master, the spiritual Christ risen from the tomb. Legend has been obstinately bent on seeing in the passionate believing woman the greatest worshipper of Jesus, the heart-initiate, and legend has not been mistaken, for her history represents the whole regeneration of woman as desired by the Christ.
It was in the farm of Bethany, near Martha and Mary Magdalene, that Jesus loved to rest from the labors of his mission, and prepare himself for supreme tests. There he lavished his tenderest words of comfort, and in sweet discourse spoke of the divine mysteries he dared not yet confide to his disciples. At times, as the sun was setting in the golden horizon of the west, half-hidden in the branches of the olive-groves, Jesus would become pensive, and a veil would overshadow his illumined countenance. He thought of the difficulties of his work, of the uncertain faith of the apostles, of the hostile powers of the world. The temple, Jerusalem, humanity itself, with its crime and ingratitude, seemed to overwhelm him beneath a living mountain.
Would his arms upraised to heaven be strong enough to grind this mountain to powder, or would he himself be crushed beneath its mighty bulk? Then he spoke vaguely of a terrible trial which awaited him, and also of his coming end. Awed by his solemn tones, the women dared not question him. However unchangeable the Master's serenity of soul might be, they understood that it was as though wrapped about with the shroud of an indescribable sadness, separating him from the joys of earth. They had a presentiment of the prophet's destiny,
they felt his invincible power of resolution. What was the meaning of those gloomy clouds which arose form the direction of Jerusalem? Wherefore this burning wind of fever and death, passing over their hearts as over the blighted hills of Judæa, with their violet cadaverous hues? One eveninga star of mysterya tear shone in Jesus eyes. A shudder passed through the frames of the women, their tears also flowed in silence. They were lamenting over him; he was lamenting over all mankind!
61:1 Matthew xi. 28.
61:2 John i. 47.
64:1 John iii. 5.
66:1 John iii. 6-8.