Esoteric Christianity

I use "Esoteric" to mean the broader group of those who teach a wider view of reality, including the Gnostic, Neo-Platonic and Qabalistic threads in Christianity

They tend to share these themes:

Divine world(s)
Pneumatic world (spiritual)
Psychic world (formal, mental)
Astral world (hylic, sidereal, etheric)
Physical world (choic, material)

Key writers:


Simon Magus - What we know him comes from some tiny references in Acts, and from his enemies the later Church Fathers - Irenaeus, Epiphanius, Justin and the Philosphumena (attributed to Hippolytus) and the Clementine Recognitions, in which he is portrayed as the enemy of Paul and/or Peter. He is one of the most problematic characters historically, he is remembered as an Arch-Gnostic heretic - his doctrine is purely Emanationist and Qabalistic: "For, he says, he is in the habit of considering that all these portions of the fire, both visible and invisible, are possessed of perception and a share of intelligence. The world, therefore, that which is generated, was produced from the unbegotten fire. It began, however, to exist, he says, according to the following manner. He who was begotten from the principle of that fire took six roots, and those primary ones, of the originating principle of generation. And, he says that the roots were made from the fire in pairs, which roots he terms "Mind" and "Intelligence," "Voice" and "Name," "Ratiocination" and "Reflection." And that in these six roots resides simultaneously the entire indefinite power potentially, (however) not actually. And this indefinite power, he says, is he who stood, stands, and will stand. Wherefore, whensoever he may be made into an image, inasmuch as he exists in the six powers, he will exist ... And of those six powers, and of the seventh which co-exists with them, the first pair, Mind and Intelligence, he calls Heaven and Earth. And that one of these, being of male sex, beholds from above and takes care of his partner. but that the earth receives below the rational fruits, akin to the earth, which are borne down from the heaven."


Hebrews - "a Son.. appointed the heir of all things... though whom he created the world... He reflects the Doxas of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by the word of his power". Teaches two ways - refers to Christ (ch.5) as a "priest for ever after the Order of Melchizidek. In the days of the physical, he offered up prayers...". This passage is exoteric, physical teaching and the writer explicitly goes on to say so it "is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.. you need milk not meat." He then explicitly introduces the higher teaching "but meat is for the mature, for those who have their faculties trained... let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christos and go on to maturity", for there is no going back for those who have "been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the Powers of the Aions" Chapter 9 is esoteric teaching - the text gives an example "the outer tent is still standing, (which is symbolic for the present age)", then in. Ch.10 the writer swings back to exoteric - "the new and living way which he opened for us through the curtain, that is physically (sarkos autou)" and praises faith. Emphasizes the Son is above the Angels - the first emanation of God, but who is for "a little while" made lower than the Angels.

Cerinthus : "...disciplined in the teaching of the Egyptians, asserted that the world was not made by the primal Deity, but by some virtue which was an offshoot from that Power which is above all things, and which (yet) is ignorant of the God that is above all. And he supposed that Jesus was not generated from a virgin, but that he was born son of Joseph and Mary, just in a manner similar with the rest of men, and that (Jesus) was more just and more wise (than all the human race). And (Cerinthus alleges) that, after the baptism (of our Lord), Christ in form of a dove came down upon him, from that absolute sovereignty which is above all things. And then, (according to this heretic,) Jesus proceeded to preach the unknown Father, and in attestation (of his mission) to work miracles. It was, however, (the opinion of Cerinthus,) that ultimately Christ departed from Jesus, and that Jesus suffered and rose again; whereas that Christ, being spiritual, remained beyond the possibility of suffering."

The Docetae of this period have a deeply esoteric view of the baptism in the Jordan: "He washed in Jordan, and when He was baptized He received a figure and a seal in the water of (a higher body beside) the physical body. So, when the Ruler condemned his own body to death, to the cross, that that soul which had been nourished in the physical body might strip off that body and nail it to the tree. (In this way the soul) would triumph by means of this (higher body) over principalities and powers, and would not be found naked, but would, instead of that flesh, assume the (higher) body, which had been  represented in the water when he was being baptized."

Basilides - "But the father without birth and without name, sent his own first-begotten Nous (he it is who is called Christ) to bestow deliverance on them that believe in him, from the power of those who made the world...Christ sent, not by this maker of the world, but by the above-named Abraxas; and to have come in a phantasm, and been destitute of the substance of flesh: that it was not He who suffered among the Jews, but that Simon was crucified in His stead: whence, again, there must be no believing on him who was crucified, lest one confess to having believed on Simon. Martyrdoms are not to be endured. The resurrection of the flesh he strenuously impugns, affirming that salvation has not been promised to bodies". Abraxas was a name with value 365 - the number of days in a year was only then becoming openly known. His system was classic Emanationist.

Valentinus - "Then, out of gratitude for the great benefit which had been conferred on them, the whole Pleroma of the Aeons, with one design and desire, and with the concurrence of Christ and the Holy Spirit, their Father also setting the seal of His approval on their conduct, brought together whatever each one had in himself of the greatest beauty and preciousness; and uniting all these contributions so as skilfully to blend the whole, they produced, to the honour and glory of Bythus, a being of most perfect beauty, the very star of the Pleroma, and the perfect fruit [of it], namely Jesus. Him they also speak of under the name of Saviour, and Christ, and patronymically, Logos, and Everything"

Marcus - "When she (the Tetrad) had spoken these things, Aletheia looked at him, opened her mouth, and uttered a word. That word was a name, and the name was this one which we do know and speak of, viz., Christ Jesus. When she had uttered this name, she at once relapsed into silence. And as Marcus waited in the expectation that she would say something more, the Tetrad again came forward and said, "Thou hast reckoned as contemptible that word which thou hast heard from the mouth of Aletheia. This which thou knowest and seemest to possess, is not an ancient name. For thou possessest the sound of it merely, whilst thou art ignorant of its power. For Jesus (Ihsous) is a name arithmetically symbolical, consisting of six letters, and is known by all those that belong to the called"

Bardesanes - "assert that the body of the Saviour was spiritual; for there came upon Mary the Holy Spirit--that is, Sophia and the power of the highest. This is the creative art, (and was vouchsafed) in order that what was given to Mary by the Spirit might be fashioned."

Tatian - Address to the Greeks - neither Christ nor Jesus not Son is mentioned anywhere - the Logos is the emphasis - this a fundamentally Qabalistic work and shows wide reading and understanding of Greek mythology and philosophic and legal writings and schools, and also of the Gnosis and Neo-Platonic doctrines and much of the religio-spiritual background of his milieu. Tatian uses key phrases found in Paul and wrote that he was an Initiate in the Mysteries, and had experienced Roman Rites and considered the Roman Statue cults, had studied and travelled widely, before he received the ancient wisdom founded upon direct personal revelation allowing him to grasp what he previously could not. This is what he considers the basis of Gnostic Christian belief - which he calls : "barbaric writings... divine... declaring the government of the universe as centred in one being...a philosophy older than the Greeks..." - as old as Moses from whom even the Greeks drew as from a fountain. He does not give any details from the OT for any of this, rather it seems Tatian received the Oral Tradition of Judaism and also the Qabalah or Tree of Life sometime in his 40s - yet he considered the deeper understanding it gave him into the various esoteric schools of his times to be an essentially Christian quality. To Tatian, Christianity was a tributary of the Ancient Pure Stream flowing from Staff of Moses. He seems to be aware of the Jesus Christ Stories and contrasts Greek myth to Christian legends and memorials, admitting that while Christians deal in legends they yet have the deeper spiritual connection. This man wrote as a mature writer and thinker and seeker, who was received into the Jewish esoteric tradition at the time of great fertility in the development of the Qabalah and other esoteric schools. 

Theophilus - describes being a Christian as being an Anointed One, anointed with the oil (wisdom) of God, he derides the Greek systems as run dry of spiritual flow, and says he was converted to Christianity through direct personal experience of the prediction powers of the teachings he received. He quotes much Greek mythology to criticise them and establish the antiquity of Christianity by basing it in Moses, and much OT scriptures to support his Gnostic Christian way being true because their prophets had been possessed by the Holy Spirit - he refers to 'the Gospels' in an informal sense, but shows no knowledge of Jesus or the passion narrative, even when asked about being raised from the dead.

Athenagoras - a late Gnostic Christian work which quotes much from OT and some sayings of Jesus several times, but in a long book shows no knowledge of Jesus or the Gospels or their events - he never once uses the word Jesus or Christ, even though he claims to "go minutely into the particulars of our doctrines". He bases authority of Christian teachings on the fact that their prophets were directly inspired by the Spirit of God who mouthed their mouths like musical instruments. His writings are a detailed and typical exposition of a Qabalistic or Neo-Platonic Christianity, with no room at all for a historical Jesus. He was considered one of the most cultured of early fathers, he also wrote a treatise on the Resurrection of the Dead in which he expressed distinctly Gnostic views. "we acknowledge one God, uncreated, eternal, invisible, impassible, incomprehensible, illimitable, who is apprehended by the understanding only and the reason, who is encompassed by light, and beauty, and spirit, and power ineffable, by whom the universe has been created through His Logos, and set in order, and is kept in being--I have sufficiently demonstrated. [I say "His Logos"], for we acknowledge also a Son of God. Nor let any one think it ridiculous that God should have a Son. For though the poets, in their fictions, represent the gods as no better than men, our mode of thinking is not the same as theirs, concerning either God the Father or the Son. But the Son of God is the Logos of the Father, in idea and in operation; for after the pattern of Him and by Him were all things made, the Father and the Son being one. And, the Son being in the Father and the Father in the Son, in oneness and power of spirit, the understanding and reason (nous kai logos) of the Father is the Son of God. But if, in your surpassing intelligence, it occurs to you to inquire what is meant by the Son, I will state briefly that He is the first product of the Father, not as having been brought into existence (for from the beginning, God, who is the eternal mind [nous], had the Logos in Himself, being from eternity instinct with Logos [logikos]; but inasmuch as He came forth to be the idea and energizing power of all material things, which lay like a nature without attributes, and an inactive earth, the grosser particles being mixed up with the lighter. The prophetic Spirit also agrees with our statements. "The Lord," it says, "made me, the beginning of His ways to His works." The Holy Spirit Himself also, which operates in the prophets, we assert to be an effluence of God, flowing from Him, and returning back again like a beam of the sun. Who, then, would not be astonished to hear men who speak of God the Father, and of God the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and who declare both their power in union and their distinction in order, called atheists? Nor is our teaching in what relates to the divine nature confined to these points; but we recognise also a multitude of angels and ministers, whom God the Maker and Framer of the world distributed and ap pointed to their several posts by His Logos, to occupy themselves about the elements, and the heavens, and the world, and the things in it, and the goodly ordering of them all."

Clement of Alexandria – In Exhortation to Conversion, he wrote of Christianity as mysteries: "Christ... will shed on thee a light brighter than the sun; night will flee from thee, fire will fear, death will be gone; thou... shalt see the heavens. O truly sacred mysteries! O stainless light! ...I become holy whilst I am initiated. The Lord is the hierophant, and seals while illuminating him who is initiated... Such are the reveries of my mysteries. If it is thy wish, be thou also initiated... raising the hymn with us.".

He wrote of the cross and crucifixion as esoteric principles:"Such patience will the Gnostic, as a Gnostic, possess... sharing the same hearth according to the Spirit; pure in the flesh, pure in heart, sanctified in word. "The world," it is said, "is crucified to him, and he to the world." He, bearing about the cross of the Saviour, will follow the Lord's footsteps, as God, having become holy of holies." Christ "being not Kosmic, he came to men as Kosmic"

In The Miscellanies he wrote : '"For the minds of those even who are deemed grave, pleasure makes waxen," according to Plato; since "each pleasure and pain nails to the body the soul" of the man, that does not sever and crucify himself from the passions. "He that loses his life," says the Lord, "shall save it;" either giving it up by exposing it to danger for the Lord's sake, as He did for us, or loosing it from fellowship with its habitual life. For if you would loose, and withdraw, and separate (for this is what the cross means) your soul from the delight and pleasure that is in this life, you will possess it, found and resting in the looked-for hope '

' "For the world is crucified to me, and I to the world," the [apostle] says; "and now I live, though in the flesh, as having my conversation in heaven. '

' ...bound to the wood of the cross, thou shalt be freed from destruction: the word of God will be thy pilot, and the Holy Spirit will bring thee to anchor in the haven of heaven. Then shalt thou see my God, and be initiated into the sacred mysteries, and come to the fruition of those things which are laid up in heaven reserved for me, which "ear hath not heard, nor have they entered into the heart of any." '

In The Tutor he agrees with Paul that Christ is within: '"Know ye not yourselves," says the apostle, "that Christ Jesus is in you?" Whom, had we known as dwelling in us, I know not how we could have dared to dishonour '

Heracleon - includes classic planar esoteric themes e.g. ' The “child” “in Capernaun” is one who is in the lower part of the Middle (i.e. of animate substance), which lies near the sea, that is, which is linked with matter. he child’s proper person was sick, that is, in a condition not in accordance with the child’s proper nature, in ignorance and sins. ' and ' The words, "After this he went down to Capernaum," indicate the beginning of a new dispensation, for "he went down" is not said idly. Capernaum, means these farthest-out parts of the world, the material realm into which he descended. '

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