Originally published 1908.
Chapter 1. Human Veils of Truth
Chapter 2. The Wisdom-Religion
Chapter 3. The Source and Rise of Dogma
Chapter 4. Different Dogmas of Baptism
Part II (47K)
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
Theosophical Manuals Menu
World Spiritual Traditions Menu
Religion and dogma -- are they both necessary to us? Are they in the grand design of things, as are spirit and matter, substance and form? And if so, what should be their relation or proportion to each other? Some philosophers have thought that "good" and "evil," "light" and "darkness," are necessary to each other, and these philosophers might equally well maintain that a proper admixture of religion and dogma, with a little ritual added, is as necessary for man's well-being as are the various elements in the air we breathe. Certainly the admixture extends throughout history, and it is probably prehistoric. It is also common to all lands and peoples, and might claim to be accepted "quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus" -- always, everywhere, and by all. But old age and universality do not make a thing right, else many vices might claim to occupy high positions, higher even than the dogmas.
Some words, and dogma is one of them, have a very innocent colorless youth, but in their old age they become sadly degenerate. It would have saved the world much sorrow and bloodshed if dogma had retained its original meaning of "opinion." But it did not do so. It became, says the New English Dictionary:
a belief, principle, tenet; especially a tenet or doctrine authoritatively laid down by a particular church, sect, or school of thought; sometimes, depreciatingly, an imperious or arrogant declaration of opinion.
From the same authority we learn that one of the earliest instances of the use of the word in English is in 1638, where we have the expression, "The grosse fanatick Dogmataes of the Alcoran."
To speak of the "rise and fall of dogma" covers a wide field. And it may seem rather strange to talk of the fall of dogma when there are still so many millions in all parts of the world whose religious systems contain so many dogmas. Nevertheless, we are witnessing, as the nineteenth century also in some degree witnessed, the declining power of dogma: for, as true religion becomes stronger the influence of dogmas must decrease and in the end disappear. By this it is not meant that the time is near when opinions or beliefs will cease. People must always have opinions and see things somewhat differently until the light of perfect knowledge is reached. But dogmatism, or the domination of certain dogmas over human minds and lives, will weaken and vanish. The freedom in which we now rejoice is possible because the dogmatic spirit has lost the power it once had to crush out freedom of thought; though in many quarters the attempt is still made to shackle human minds, not only in the domain of religion, but in other fields also.
The history of all religions presents very much the same phenomena in regard to the growth and influence of dogma. Very soon after the good seed is sown the enemy comes by night and scatters tares; and not infrequently the tares outgrow the wheat. But the worst of it all is that with many foolish people the tares are mistaken for the wheat -- dogma is prized more than, or instead of, true religion. Strange as this may seem, it nevertheless has had a clear illustration in regard to the great founder of Christianity himself. It is well known that his teaching is not only devoid of dogmatism, but is of such a character that dogma could not easily be built up upon it. For who could build a dogma on, "Blessed are the peacemakers"; " Blessed are the pure in heart"; "Be ye therefore perfect as your Father who is in heaven is perfect"? Consequently, two sets of men have fallen into a similar error in regard to the Sermon on the Mount, and other teachings of Christ. The unspiritual man says it is morality only, and that is the whole of religion; while certain orthodox teachers declare that the teaching of Christ is morality only, and not the real heart of religion, to get which, they say, we have to go to the epistles and the full development of dogmas. And in harmony with this is the fact that a much larger number of sermons are based on the epistles than upon the words of Jesus himself. But is it not strange, as a prophet of the nineteenth century remarked, that he who himself came to be the gospel, should have failed in his longest and fullest discourse to preach the gospel and should have left this to be done by his disciples! This attitude, which for many centuries was the prevailing spirit of Christianity, shows how prone men are to prefer dogma to the true spirit of religion. Moreover, it helps us to see how dogma has grown up; and the origin of dogma or its relation to true religion, is indicated by the first words of the title to this essay: "From Crypt to Pronaos." This phrase is used to indicate a literal and historical fact; and it is also used figuratively to represent the process of thought as it proceeds from within outwards, and becomes more and more externalized and materialized.
Man, in his threefold nature of spirit, soul, and body, is not only a type of the universe, but is also a symbol in which we see the process of unfoldment from within outwards. If the term crypt be regarded as the hidden center, the inmost of things, or the spirit of things, and pronaos the last, or outermost court of the temple, we shall have a picture of religious history in most cases. The dogmatic stage will correspond to the last, or outermost sheath of the soul, the outer court of the temple.
The history of these terms, crypt and pronaos, is itself full of interest and instruction. In tracing historically the English use of the word crypt, the Oxford English Dictionary gives the earliest appearance of the word as being in 1432: "The cripte of Seynte Michael in the mounte Gargan." This use of the word is rare, the Latin form being the one commonly employed. Historically, the word is used (a) "as a grotto or cavern; (b) as an underground cell, chamber, or vault, especially one beneath the floor of a church used as a burial place, and sometimes as a chapel or oratory." In 1563 a writer says: "Christians had caves under the ground called cryptae, where they for fear of persecution assembled secretly together." In 1789 Brand writes: "The chancel of the church stood upon a large vault or crypt."
Of course the use of the word in its Latin form is much older. The term crypta was applied to a vaulted building partly or wholly beneath the level of the ground. Juvenal speaks of the crypta Saburae, Seneca calls the tunnel north of Naples crypta Neapolitana, and Jerome uses the same term in speaking of the Catacombs.
According to the learned venerables in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the crypt, as part of a church, had its origin in the subterranean chapel erected on the tomb of a martyr. When the tomb was not wholly below the ground the part of the church floor over it would be raised. This fashion of raising the chancel or altar end of a church, to indicate the crypt underneath, was widely imitated even where the reason for it did not exist. In nearly every country in Europe the remains of ancient crypts exist, some of them being of Roman workmanship.
H. P. Blavatsky, in her Theosophical Glossary, tells us that some crypts were for initiation, others for burial purposes:
There were crypts under every temple of antiquity. There was one on the Mount of Olives lined with red stucco and built before the advent of the Jews.
And in The Secret Doctrine we read:
There were numerous catacombs in Egypt and Chaldaea. some of them of a very vast extent. The most renowned of them were the subterranean crypts of Thebes and Memphis. The former, beginning on the western side of the Nile, extended towards the Libyan Desert, and were known as the Serpent's catacombs, or passages. It was there that were performed the sacred mysteries of the kuklos anagkes, the "Unavoidable Cycle," more generally known as the "circle of necessity." --2:379
Again, the same writer says that there are "crypts in cis-Himalayan regions where Initiates live, and where their ashes are placed for seven lunar years." (op. cit. 2:588n) From various sources we have statements to the effect that there are vast crypts in the East in connection with Gonpas. One of these is referred to in The Secret Doctrine:
In all the large and wealthy lamaseries there are subterranean crypts and cave-libraries, cut in the rock, wherever the gonpa and lhakhang are situated ill the mountains. . . . Along the ridge of Altyntagh, whose soil no European foot has ever trodden so far, there exists a certain hamlet, lost in a deep gorge. It is a small cluster of houses, a hamlet rather than a monastery, with a poor-looking temple in it, and one old lama, a hermit, living near by to, watch it. Pilgrims say that the subterranean galleries and halls under it contain a collection of books, the number of which, according to the accounts given, is too large to find room even in the British Museum. -- 1:xxiv
That the wisdom-religion existed during pre-historic ages, and that there are proofs of this in a "complete chain of documents," H. P. Blavatsky confidently affirms. It is only by the aid of such documents, hidden in "secret caves and crypts," that much of the ancient writings, such as the Vedas, can be made intelligible. The initiates do not keep these books from the world through any policy of selfishness, but because to give out some of the things which they contain to a race of men steeped in selfishness would be like "giving a child a lighted candle in a powder magazine." The fact is not sufficiently kept in mind by some would-be teachers that after all, there is a power behind the visible course of events that makes real progress in all ages and lands depend on moral and spiritual growth.
In the course of modern progress we stumble onwards over the ruins of empires, frequently deaf to their voice of warning and instruction. It is possible to advance to a certain length in knowledge, or in power, but unless the moral and spiritual elements of our nature develop in harmony with the intellectual powers harm is sure to result; and in the end there will be a withdrawing of those powers which by their selfish exercise produced injury in the world. The earth is strewn with the wrecks of great nations, and great civilizations, because they were not built on the true foundation of the development and rule of the higher self in man. The custodians of wisdom have seen great material developments again and again crumble into dust. They have watched the new growths rise upon the dust and ashes of the past; and they know that the real progress of the race is always menaced by the giving of light before the eyes are ready for it; by the giving of power before the divine man within has sufficient control of the lower man to prevent the power from being used selfishly. Knowledge leads to power, and knowledge used selfishly injures humanity. Therefore it is the duty of the custodians of the secret wisdom to keep knowledge for those who are ready or fit for it, and for them only. A theosophical book says:
Desire power ardently. Desire peace fervently. Desire possessions above all. But those possessions must belong to the pure soul only, and be possessed therefore by all pure souls equally, and thus be the especial property of the whole only when united. Hunger for such possessions as can be held by the pure soul, that you may accumulate wealth for that united spirit of life which is your only true self. -- Light on the Path, p. 6
The fact that civilizations have grown up and perished, and that others have slowly and painfully risen upon their ruins has led many learned authors to find the beginnings of religious life and worship in the rudest and simplest forms existing among some semi-savage races. The secret wisdom points us to many cycles of progress and decay before that age began which our wise men believe to be the first, and from which they trace existing forms of religion. The learned editor of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Professor Robertson Smith, in his work on the Religion of the Semites, says that
the great natural marks of a place of worship are the fountain, the tree, and grottos and caves in the earth. At the present day almost every sacred site in Palestine has its grotto, and that this is no new thing is plain from the numerous symbols of Astarte worship found on the walls of caves in Phoenicia. There can be little doubt that the oldest Phoenician temples were natural or artificial grottoes, and that the sacred as well as the profane monuments of Phoenicia, with their marked preference for monolithic forms, point to the rock-hewn cavern as the original type that dominated the architecture of the region. (cf. Renan, Phenicie, p. 822)
But if this be so, the use of grottoes as temples in later times does not prove that caverns as such had any primitive religious significance. Religious practice is always conservative, and rock-hewn temples would naturally be used after men had ceased to live like troglodytes in caves and holes of the earth. -- p. 180
Closely connected with this theory about caves or crypts is the fact that recent archaeological investigation has shown a tendency to find a chthonic or earth-origin for many deities, even some which were supposed to be wholly celestial. Mr. Farnell, in vol. 4 of his great work on the Cults of the Greek States, holds that Apollo was not at first a sun-god, but a god connected with the earth, for in the early Greek cults there is little to connect him with the sun. Afterwards he became a war-god; and still later a sun-god, resigning the war-lordship to Mars.
The cave or crypt may have been in some places early associated with a sacred shrine, especially if it happened to be a rent in the earth which sent forth hot air, or steam, or warm water, or peculiar vapors; but these facts carry us only a short distance into the past, and they do not explain the vast underground passages connected with ancient temples in Egypt, India, and elsewhere, in which occult teachings were given. Robertson Smith regards the altar, the place of offerings, as the real origin of the sanctuary. Now this was in the outer court or pronaos, and may have been the symbol of exoteric religion; but it was not the true center or heart of the temple. Yet even this may have had an inner meaning; it may have spoken, to those whose ears were open, of the necessity for offering up the lower nature on the altar of sacrifice in the pronaos before the inner shrine could be approached. However, no doubt, to many it was the beginning and end of religion; just as to very many people today externals are the sum total of religion. It must be borne in mind that ancient temples were regarded as the homes of the Gods, and not as places of worship in the sense of modern churches. In most countries the temple was comparatively small, though there were some large ones, as the temple of Artemis at Ephesus, that of Hera at Samos, and some others. Dr. Seyffart says that
Only temples like that at Eleusis, in which the celebration of the Mysteries took place, were intended to accommodate a large number of people. The great sacrifices and banquets shared by all the people were celebrated in the court of the temple (peribolos) which included the altars for sacrifice, and was itself surrounded by a wall with only one place of entrance.
From the description given of the Jewish Tabernacle, and afterwards of the Temple, no one can fail to perceive that a perfect system of symbolism existed throughout. The outer court, the holy place, and the most holy place, roughly corresponded to the three-fold character of some Greek temples, viz. the pronaos, the naos, and the inner chamber (opisthodomos), which was behind the image, and where valuables were kept. The pronaos, or outer court, was the place of offerings.
There can be no doubt that the triple nature of man as body, soul, and spirit was signified by this form of Tabernacle and Temple. The Holy of Holies corresponded to the atma-buddhi or divine spirit in man. Man was regarded as the little image of the universe; and the temple, with its three divisions, was a type of man, "the temple of God." A story is recorded of a celebrated Rabbi who was mocked by a heathen for supposing that the Most High could be regarded as present in the Jewish Holy of Holies. The Rabbi brought forth a very large mirror and a very small one, and held them before his antagonist, asking him what he saw. The man answered that he saw a very large image of himself in the one mirror, and a small image in the other. Thus, said the Rabbi, do we regard the universe and the Holy of Holies as both revealing the image of the Most High.
Nature herself continually reminds us that there is an inner aspect to all things. The molecule, the atom, the electron, or whatever name we may give the ultimate of matter on this plane, suggest an inner life and an inner meaning everywhere. Why should the pronaos of nature's great temple contain for us the whole of what is worshipful? There is no fear that we shall exhaust the marvels and teachings she has in store for us. When we reach the holy place in any department of truth, and veil after veil is removed -- as in the Tabernacle -- there will remain veil after veil behind.
The movement of light and life is from the center outwards. The development of wisdom has been from the most holy place to the outer court. The teaching is in parables that, as Swedenborg explains, men may see a certain measure of truth without the danger of profaning what as yet they are unable to appreciate fully. For, as Jesus taught, to cast pearls before swine is to be guilty of a double folly; they will trample them underfoot, and then they will turn and rend the giver.
Looking at history as theosophy presents it to us, not as having emerged from barbarism about ten thousand years ago, but as a vast succession of waves, with hollows between, we may at first imagine that the work of the great teachers of the past has been one continual failure. How puny the wisdom of today compared with that of the Sons of Light in the third root-race! How far short do we come of the material progress of the fourth root-race in its palmy days! How much has Egypt declined from the time of the early divine rulers! How much has India gone backward! The greatness of Chaldea is marked by shapeless ruins. Is this continual declination to mark forever the history of humanity? Why were the mighty Masters of Wisdom impotent to bequeath a growing light to future ages, and to prevent a corruption of the Mysteries? We may answer this when we understand why the shadows of evening lengthen, and why the sun gives less warmth in winter, and why all things have their springtime and their winter.
The process of creation or manifestation is from the spiritual towards the material, and then back again to the spiritual. This is the character which is stamped upon all things. Birth and youth, manhood and old age, are not accidental things in nature. And if the decline of the ancient wisdom were to be continuous we might well be pessimistic. If the process were to be always towards materiality the world would be a huge mistake. But it is not so. The darkness breaks, here and there it is shot through with shafts of light. When the lowest point of darkness or materiality is reached, then the sun of life and progress begins to turn, and there will again be springtime and summer. We know this is the way of nature in the smaller cycles of our common experience, and we may rest assured that the same great law extends throughout those realms of the manifested universe which as yet we can grasp by intuition rather than by scientific knowledge or intellectual sight.
No form of teaching, it would seem, can be guarded absolutely against the risk of misconception. Words often change their meanings, and can easily be misunderstood in the course of time. Teaching by actions which are symbolical or by pictorial representations, cannot secure to future ages a correct understanding of the meaning of those symbols, or of the suggestive actions. The Egyptian hieroglyphs in the Book of the Dead had already become extremely doubtful when later writers gave in the margin their explanation. And to the ordinary reader today the later explanation is often quite as enigmatical as the mystic characters which it attempts to elucidate. The same is true, though in a much smaller degree, in the case of the Hebrew Talmud, the ancient writing being in the middle of the page and the explanation around it. And in the case of the Bible, or even of Greek and Latin classics, who does not know that where a real obscurity occurs in the text the commentators not infrequently leave it more obscure? As to symbolical acts, the things done by Jesus the Christ at the Last Supper are regarded in very different ways by Roman Catholics from what they are regarded by other professing Christians.
Now creeds and dogmas must be viewed in this light. They are, first of all, the presentation in the outer court, so to speak, of deep spiritual truths. Then the process of materialization becomes more or less rapid until we have a crystallization into church dogmas. It is a process similar to the cosmic process from the fire-mist to earth or solid rocks. Thus the defect of all dogmatic systems is an incurable defect. Or, it can be cured only by the return to that from which the materializing process took its origin. But, besides this, there are other defects in the dogmatizing process which might be, in a great measure, prevented. The dogma-creating spirit is essentially the action of the lower manas or lower mind. It is not simply that it is an attempt to give form and materiality to the infinite, or the spiritual, it is the mind, as apart from feeling, giving things its own embodiment.
Now, it is a strange but well-known fact that no perfect agreement is possible between men so long as truths are viewed from the standpoint of the intellect only, whereas all men instantly agree on matters of the heart. We can see the truth of this by supposing any good action done before men of the most dissimilar mental status. They will all at once recognize that it is a good thing to help those in distress, to save a person from drowning or from being burnt. But no two people, very likely, have quite the same idea of God, or would explain any great spiritual truths in quite the same way. Therefore the mischief of creeds and of men being dominated by them springs from a radical error. Unity, for ordinary men, can never be reached on the plane of the brain-mind. We agree as to what is good, but we cannot reach the same unanimity in regard to what is true, except, perhaps, in geometry or mathematics. And, still further, the creeds have nearly always changed natural ideas into ideas bounded by merely human-legal relations. Christianity has suffered in this way owing to the fact that a Latin spirit took the place of the Greek spirit. A well-known and even orthodox professor in Great Britain has said that the change from the Greek nomos to the Latin lex aptly indicates the change that came over the spirit of early Christianity. Truths, from being vital or natural principles, as the Greek conception favored, became legal in the sense of a Roman law-court. This vast and radical change of spirit runs through all the centuries, and it may be called the spirit of petrifaction that has changed the living tree into a stone. No wonder then that the professor just mentioned declares that Christ has been buried for over 1000 years in sacramentarian theories, dogmas, and even in the Bible itself.
No doubt Christianity has retained, though in a changed form, many Greek ideas, as it has borrowed many things from other sources; but the Latin spirit became the spirit of theology, of dogma and creeds; and the mystic, spiritual element, like the dove sent forth by Noah, found no resting place. Nor did the Reformation cure this lamentable condition of things. The hard dogmatic spirit sprang up in Protestantism as much as ever it had done in the Roman church. And, while there were great and good men, men with spiritual aspirations in many places, their voices were drowned in the general clamor for dogmatic teaching. And even yet the dogmatic spirit rules in the churches, though there have been many hopeful signs during the part of the nineteenth century of a return to the spirit of Jesus. But the creeds and dogmas will die hard, for they are entrenched in rich endowments and fortified by trust-deeds and all the machinery of ecclesiastical courts. The dying process is sure to come, however; indeed, it is already here. The knell of dogma has sounded, humanity is moving on the ascending cycle. The great Theosophical Movement, which has never ceased through the ages, is now moving like the birth of spring, both in the East and in the West. A brighter day is near for those who sat in darkness and in the shadow of death. The time for the prisoners to become free, and for the fetters of creeds and dogmas to fall from the souls of men that they may walk forth in a large liberty and do the works of righteousness, has now come.
Although the birth and decline of dogma in the Western world claim our attention chiefly, it must not be supposed that human nature and the history of religions have been very different in the East from what they have been in the West.
In Europe, church missionaries, for reasons of policy, incorporated native ideas in the new teaching. The old cults baptized with new names made the work of conversion much easier and quicker. Jesuit missionaries in the East, in more recent times, carried this principle of accommodation to such a length that even Rome thought they were going too far -- the line had to be drawn somewhere!
Similar phenomena may be observed in the case of other religions. There is the growth of ecclesiastic power. There is the withholding of knowledge from the people --for knowledge leads to power -- in order that the people may be more pliant, and more easily ruled by the hierarchy. There is also the natural tendency of the lower human nature to drag down things spiritual to the material plane; and then, on the part of the teachers there is an insensible but constant giving way to this worldly tendency in order that ecclesiastical control may be more easily maintained. It has ever been the temptation to gain influence for religion by worldly means. This was part of the temptation of Jesus -- worship me and your laudable object of saving humanity will be gained in the shortest and easiest way, all the kingdoms of the earth shall be thine. This temptation has existed in all ages, and it is all the more powerful and dangerous, because, in its first stages at least, it is related to a true principle of conduct. When a reformer or teacher wishes to uplift or help any portion of humanity, he must, of course, put himself on the plane of those he wishes to teach or help. He must be born. He must come to them. He must not antagonize them. He must accommodate himself, and his teaching also, to their needs and capabilities. All this is very simple, and it is very easily seen, and it is most reasonable. But it is just on this matter of accommodation that the ground becomes slippery. As a matter of necessity truth is veiled to the finite comprehension. The danger is in keeping the same veil too long, instead of gradually withdrawing it in order that a more spiritual perception of the truth may be reached by the people generally. If this were done the process from the outer court to the holy place would be natural and continuous. But in most cases the symbol, or representation, has been allowed to degenerate or materialize the conceptions of the worshipers instead of becoming an avenue of more light. This is, in a word, the history of the growth of dogma. It is the growth of the material, the outward, instead of the spiritual. The history of religions is an illustration of this. Even in modern history we see it clearly presented. From the days of the Puritans, say, until now, what a change there has been in giving way to the pleasure-loving side of men's natures. No doubt the Puritan was wrong in supposing that joy was to be banished, and that sour looks and ways were virtuous. But consider now how the lower nature is petted and pleased. In how many cases do we not see the bribing of the lower nature to get people to attend church and become religious, or appear to be so! While it is not the part of wisdom to antagonize those whom we would uplift, it is not the part of wisdom to pander to the lower natures of those whose lower natures we wish to purify and transmute into perfect oneness with the higher self within.
This fundamental conception lies at the root of all religions. It has to be seen clearly if we would trace the working of truth and justice in the education of humanity. Every revelation veils while it reveals. The danger is when this is forgotten, and when the imperfect and impartial representation is taken for what is perfect. We read that in the Jewish tabernacle the ends of the staves which were in the rings of the Ark protruded so that the veil which concealed the most holy place was pressed outward. This was a continual reminder to all who saw it that the Ark was there behind the veil. In all religions the thought should be kept in mind that the symbol is only a symbol and not the thing itself; that the dogma or creed is only an imperfect, tentative presentation of deep spiritual truths as seen by imperfect minds; and that the creed or dogma is capable of revision, and should be revised from time to time. An old writer says, "Words are the wise man's counters, but they are the money of fools." The same may be said of all attempts to put in concrete form what is spiritual. To the wise man it is a symbol only, a reminder of the truth, but to the foolish it takes the place of reality. This limiting, materializing, or crystallizing tendency, this mistaking of the outer court for the holy place, is a great danger to which mankind has been liable through all the ages, and it is a danger still. The temptation to imagine that perfection has been reached, or that the complete truth has been attained is one which we need continually to guard against. It has always ministered to the feeling of self-content or self-sufficiency to think, "We have the only true religion, the only correct doctrine" and men in all lands and ages have thus been hindered from further progress. Closely related to this is the tendency to condemn others. We need the wider outlook and the larger heart to enable us to regard all men as our brothers, and learners in the same great school of life.
If we begin with the life of man in the flesh we shall see that from birth until death he has been encased in dogmas. Baptismal regeneration is first in order of time. With some churches baptism is said to make the child "an heir of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven." It was the strange fiction of the church that the child came into this world under the power of evil. Instead of thinking with Wordsworth that "heaven lies about us in our infancy," or that "trailing clouds of glory do we come from God, who is our home," the Council of Trent confirmed the dogma of centuries that "from the fall of man till his baptism, the Devil has full power over man, and possesses him by right." This gives the priesthood a very powerful control over the parents and also over the child from the very beginning of life. If the child is born with an evil spirit which has to be cast out, and the priest is the only person who can exorcise the evil spirit, then it goes without saying that the priest must be all-important, and baptism of the utmost necessity. If the dogma be true, no father or mother could wish to neglect such a miraculous rite as this. There is a double exorcism of the evil spirit, first when the priest says, "Come out of this child thou evil spirit, and make room for the Holy Ghost"; and afterwards at the font when the priest again exorcises the evil spirit, and rubs a little of his own spittle with the thumb of his right hand on ear and nostril, saying, "be thou opened" (ephphatha), in imitation of the action of Jesus (Mark 7:34). Then, after anointing with oil in the form of a cross between the shoulders, and calling on the child to renounce the Devil and all his works, the priest pours holy water thrice on the child's head in the name of the Trinity.
Did the church get this elaborate rite from Jesus or the early apostolic practice, or did it concoct the thing partly out of its own fancy and partly out of scraps of ancient religions? Anyone can see from the New Testament what a simple thing baptism was. We read that great crowds went out to the baptism of John, "Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan, and they were baptized of him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins." (Matt. iii, 5.) In the days of the apostles, "repent and be baptized, every one of you," are the words which St. Peter is said to have used. From the former passage it is evident that baptism had been in use before the coming of Jesus. The Christian church did not invent it, but adopted it. Jesus was baptized, though it is not said that any of the apostles were ever baptized. At any rate the rite was a very simple one in the earliest days of Christianity. It had a very beautiful significance. As water cleanses the body, and keeps us in health, and without it we could not live, it was regarded as a fitting symbol of the action of truth in cleansing the mind and producing mental well-being. All must be familiar with such expressions as "Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth"; "Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you." But, in later times baptism became a very elaborate rite; and Professor Lindsay in the Encyclopedia Britannica, after describing some of these ceremonies, says: "It could easily be shown that a great deal of this complex ceremonial took its origin from the introduction of pagan ceremonies into the Christian worship." H. P. Blavatsky shows how the Roman church has borrowed extensively from paganism, without always making acknowledgment.
Among the ancients one form of purification was symbolized by the use of water, and another by fire. In Isis Unveiled, vol. I, p. 519, we read concerning the great pyramid:
Internally, it was a majestic fane, in whose somber recesses were performed the Mysteries, and whose walls had often witnessed the initiation scenes of members of the royal family. The porphyry sarcophagus, which Professor Piazzi Smyth, Astronomer Royal of Scotland, degrades into a corn-bin, was the baptismal font, upon emerging from which, the neophyte was "born again," and became an adept. -- 1:519
According to Apuleius, cleansing by water always preceded initiation into the Egyptian and Eleusinian Mysteries. Among the Jews, converts were admitted only after purification by water, to signify that they were cleansed of all their sins. Fire and water were sometimes combined. Ovid (Fasti 4, 727) says, "Often, in truth, have I leaped over the fires placed in three rows, and the dripping bough of laurel has flung the sprinkled waters." Dionysitis tells us that Romulus, while building the city of Rome, had fires kindled and made his people jump through them for purposes of purification or expiation. Payne Knight says that among the Hindus, Irish, and Phoenicians, passing through the fire was a well-known ceremony. In The Secret Doctrine we read that,
In the Cycle of Initiation, which was very long, water represented the first and lower steps toward purification, while trials connected with fire came last. Water could regenerate the body of matter; FIRE alone, that of the inner Spiritual man. -- 2:566n
In Isis Unveiled, vol. 2, pp. 134, 138, it is said that,
Baptism is one of the oldest rites and was practised by all the nations in their Mysteries, as sacred ablutions. . . . In the Mithraic sacrifices, during the initiation, a preliminary scene of death was simulated by the neophyte, and it preceded the scene showing him himself "being born again by the rite of baptism."
And again, we are told that the Brahman priest, in order to wash the sins of the people from the images of the gods, plunges them three times into the water in the name of the mystic trinity. This is very suggestive of the Roman Catholic ritual, in which, as we have seen, there is a threefold application of water in the name of the Trinity. In the time of Tertullian baptism was well known to be an ancient rite. In reference to the worship of Isis, he says: "In certain sacred rites of the heathen, the mode of initiation is by baptism." And in his day there were some who protested against water-baptism as being opposed to the spirituality of Jesus' religion and a revival of heathenish and Jewish customs. But these early Quakers were rebuked by the Fathers in the choice language often adopted by early religious controversialists, and were called serpents, for, says Tertullian: "vipers, asps, and king serpents themselves mostly look after places that are dry and without water." (Bonwick, Egyptian Belief and Modern Thought)
The rite of baptism seems to have been practiced in all the great countries of the world. The dogmatic teachings in regard to it are evidently not derived from the teaching or practice of Jesus, or his immediate disciples, but are in part a transference of ancient ceremonies used when adults were being admitted into the Mysteries. It is but fair to say that most of the Protestant Churches regard baptism as coming in the room of the Old Testament rite by which the children of the Jews were, on the eighth day, admitted into the Jewish Church; and, except for the use of water, they also abjure all forms and dogmas in connection with baptism. Among Protestants, baptism and the Eucharist or Lord's Supper, are the only recognized sacraments, because it is held that a Christian Sacrament must be an ordinance instituted by Christ himself. At the same time it is acknowledged that baptism existed before the time of Jesus, just as the Passover existed before the Lord's Supper. It is held, however, that Jesus gave a new significance and power by his command to observe these two rites.
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