Jesus, the Last Great Initiate, by Edouard Schuré, , at sacred-texts.com
Jehoshoua, whom we call Jesus, from the Greek form of his name, was probably born in Nazareth. 1 It was certainly in this abandoned corner of Galilee that his childhood was passed, and the first, the greatest, of the Christian mysteries accomplished: the appearance of the soul of the Christ. He was the son of Miriam, or Mary, wife of the carpenter Joseph, a Galilean woman of noble origin, affiliated to the Essenes.
Legend has woven a tissue of marvels around the birth of Jesus. If legend gives refuge to numerous superstitions, it also at times conceals psychic truths but little known, for they are above the perception of the mass of mankind. One fact may be learned from the legendary history of Mary, that Jesus was a child consecrated before his birth to a prophetic mission, by the wish of his mother. The same thing is related of several heroes and prophets of the Old Testament. These sons thus dedicated to God were called Nazarenes. Touching this point, it is interesting to refer to the histories of Samson and of Samuel. An angel announces to Samson's mother that she will soon be with child, and will give birth to a
son, whose head the razor shall not touch. In the case of Samuel, it is the mother who herself requests a child from God (Conf. Judges xiii. 3-5; and Samuel i. 11-20).
Now Sam-u-el, in its original root signification, means, Inner glory of God. The mother, feeling herself, as it were, illumined by the one she incarnated, considered him as the ethereal essence of the Lord.
These passages are extremely important, as they introduce us to the esoteric, the constant and living tradition in Israel, and, along this channel, into the real signification of the Christian legend. Elkana, the husband, is indeed the earthly father of Samuel in the flesh, but the Eternal is his heavenly Father in the Spirit. The figurative language of Judaic monotheism here masks the doctrine of the pre-existence of the soul. The woman initiate appeals to a superior soul, demanding to receive it in her womb, and bring to birth a prophet. This doctrine, considerably veiled by the Jews, and completely absent from their official worship, formed part of the secret tradition of the initiates. It appears in the prophets. Jeremiah affirms it in the following terms: "The word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Before I formed thee in the belly, I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb, I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations." 1
Jesus will say the same to the scandalized Pharisees, "Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, before Abraham was, I am." 2
How much of this can we apply in the case of -Mary, the mother of Jesus? It appears that, in the first Christian communities, Jesus had been regarded as a son of
[paragraph continues] Mary and Joseph, since Matthew gives us the genealogical tree of Joseph to prove that Jesus can trace his descent from David. At a later date, legend, anxious to show the supernatural origin of the Christ, wove her web of gold and azure; the history of Joseph and Mary, the Annunciation and even the infancy of Mary in the temple. 1
An attempt to discover the esoteric signification of Jewish tradition and Christian legend would lead one to say that the action of Providence, or the influx of the spiritual world which co-operates in the birth of any man, whoever he be, is more powerful and evident at the birth of all men of genius, whose appearance can in no way be explained by the sole law of physical atavism. This influx reaches its greatest intensity in the case of one of those divine prophets destined to change the face of the world. The soul, chosen for a divine mission, comes from a divine world; it cones freely and consciously, but that it may enter upon an earthly life a chosen vessel is needed, and the appeal of a highly gifted mother, who by the attitude of her moral being, the desire of her soul, and the purity of her life, has a presentiment, attracts and incarnates into her very blood and flesh the soul of the Redeemer, destined in the eyes of men to become a son of God. Such is the profound truth beneath the ancient idea of the Virgin-Mother. The Hindu genius had already given expression to this idea in the legend of Krishna. The Gospels of Matthew and of Luke have rendered it with an even more admirable simplicity and poetic instinct.
"To the soul which comes from heaven, birth is a
death," Empedocles had said 500 years B. C. However sublime the spirit be, once imprisoned in flesh, it temporarily loses the remembrance of all its past; once engaged in corporal life, the development of its earthly consciousness is subjected to the laws of the world in which it incarnates. It falls under the force of the elements. The higher its origin, the greater will be the effort to regain its dormant powers, its celestial innatenesses, and to become conscious of its mission.
Profound and tender souls need silence and peace to spring into manifestation. Jesus passed his early years amid the calm of Galilee. His first impressions were gentle, austere, and serene. His birthplace resembled a corner of heaven, dropped on the side of a mountain. The village of Nazareth has changed but little with the flight of time. 1 Its houses rising in tiers under the rock, resembledso travellers saywhite cubes scattered about in a forest of pomegranate, vine, and fig trees, while myriads of doves filled the heavens. Around this nest of verdant freshness floats the pure mountain air, while on the heights may be seen the open, clear horizon of Galilee. Add to this imposing background the quiet, solemn home-life of a pious, patriarchal family. The strength of Jewish education lay always in the unity of law and faith, as well as in the powerful organization of the family dominated by the national and religious idea. The paternal home was a kind of temple for the child. Instead of the grinning frescoes, the nymphs and fauns which adorned the atrium of the Greek houses, such as could be seen at Sephoris and Tiberias, there could be
found in the Jewish houses only passages from the laws and the prophets, the stern, rigid texts standing out in Chaldean characters above the doors and upon the walls. But the union of father and mother in mutual love of their children illumined and warmed the house with a distinctly spiritual life. It was there Jesus received his early instruction, and first became acquainted with the Scriptures under the teaching of his parents. From his earliest childhood the long strange destiny of the people of God appeared before him in the periodic feasts and holy days celebrated in family life by reading, song, and prayer. At the Feast of Tabernacles, a shed, made of myrtle and olive branches, was erected in the court or on the roof of the house in memory of the nomad patriarchs of bygone ages. The seven-branched candlestick was lit, and there were produced the rolls of papyrus from which the secret history was read aloud. To the child's mind, the Eternal was present, not merely in the starry sky, but even in this candlestick the reflex of his glory, in the speech of the father and the silent love of the mother. Thus Jesus was made acquainted with the great days in Israel's history, days of joy and sorrow, of triumph and exile, of numberless afflictions and eternal hope. The father gave no reply to the child's eager and direct questions. But the mother, raising those dreamy eyes from beneath their long dark lashes, and catching her son's questioning look, said to him, "The Word of God lives in his prophets alone. Some day the wise Essenes, solitary wanderers by Mount Carmel and the Dead Sea, will give thee an answer."
We may also imagine the child Jesus among his young companions, exercising over them the strange prestige given by a precocious intelligence joined to his
active sympathy and the feeling of justice. We follow him to the synagogue, where he heard the Scribes and Pharisees discuss together, and where he himself was to exercise his dialectical powers. We see him quickly repelled by the arid teaching of these doctors of the law, who tortured the letter to such an extent as to do away with the spirit. And again, we see him brought into contact with pagan life as he visited the wealthy Sephoris, capital of Galilee, residence of Antipas, guarded by Herod's mercenaries, Gauls, Thracians, and barbarians of every kind. In one of those frequent journeys to visit Jewish families, he might well have pushed on to a Phoenician town, one of those veritable hives of human beings, swarming with life, by the seaside. He would see from afar the low temples, with their thick sturdy columns, surrounded with dark groves, whence issued the songs of the priestesses of Astarte, to the doleful accompaniment of the flute; their voluptuous shrieks, piercing as a cry of pain, would awaken in his heart a deep groan of anguish and pity. Then Mary's son returned to his beloved mountains with a feeling of deliverance. He mounted the steeps of Nazareth, gazing around on the vast horizon towards Galilee and Samaria, and cast lingering eyes on Carmel, Gilboa, Tabor, and Sichem, old-standing witnesses of the patriarchs and prophets.
However powerful might have been the impressions of the outer world on the soul of Jesus, they all grew pale before the sovereign and inexpressible truth in his inner world. This truth was expanding in the depths of his nature, like some lovely flower emerging from a dark pool. It resembled a growing light which appeared to him when alone in silent meditation. At such times men and things, whether near or far away, appeared as
though transparent in their essence. He read thoughts and saw souls; then, in memory, he caught glimpses, as though through a thin veil, of divinely beautiful and shining beings bending over him, or assembled in adoration of a dazzling light. Wonderful visions came in his sleep, or interposed themselves between himself and reality by a veritable duplication of his consciousness. In these transports of rapture which carried him from zone to zone as though towards other skies, he at times felt himself attracted by a mighty dazzling light, and then plunged into an incandescent sun. These ravishing experiences left behind in him a spring of ineffable tenderness, a source of wonderful strength. How perfect was the reconciliation he felt with all beings, in what sublime harmony was he with the universe! But what was this mysterious lightthough even more familiar and living than the otherwhich sprang forth from the depths of his nature, carrying him away to the most distant tracts of space, and yet uniting him by secret vibrations with all souls? Was it not the source of souls and worlds?
He named it: His Father in Heaven. 1
This primitive feeling of unity with God in the light of Love, is the first, the great revelation of Jesus. An inner voice told him to hide it deep in his heart; all the same, it was to give light to his whole life. It gave him
an invincible feeling of certainty, made him at once gentle and indomitable; converted his thought into a diamond shield, and his speech into a sword of flame.
Besides, this profoundly secret, mystical life was united with a perfect clearness on matters of every-day life. Luke shows him at the age of twelve years as "increasing in strength, grace, and wisdom." The religious consciousness was, in Jesus, innate, absolutely independent of the outer world. His prophetic and Messianic consciousness could only be awakened by outer circumstances, by the life of his age, in short, by special initiation and long inner elaboration. Traces of this are found in the Gospels and elsewhere.
The first great shock came to him during a journey to Jerusalem with his parents, as related by Luke. This town, the pride of Israel, had become the center of Jewish aspirations. Its misfortunes had had no other effect than to exalt the minds of men. Under the Seleucides and Maccabees, first by Pompey and finally by Herod, Jerusalem had been subjected to the most terrible of sieges. Blood had been shed in torrents; the Roman legions had butchered the people in its streets, and innumerable crucifixions had polluted the surrounding heights. After such horrors, and the humiliation following on the Roman occupation, after decimating the Sanhedrim and reducing the pontiff to a mere trembling slave, Herod, as though in irony, had rebuilt the temple
with more magnificent pomp and glory than ever. Jeroushalaim remained, none the less, the holy city. Had not Isaiah, the favorite author of Jesus, named it "the bride, before whom the people shall bow down"? He had said "The Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. Violence shall no more be heard in thy land, wasting nor destruction within thy borders; but thou shalt call thy walls Salvation and thy gates Praise." 1 To see Jerusalem and the Temple of Jehovah was the dream of all Jews, especially since Judæa had become a Roman province. They journeyed hither from Perea, Galilee, Alexandria, and Babylon. On the way, whether in the wilderness under the waving palms, or near the wells, they cast longing eyes, as they sang their psalms, in the direction of the hill of Zion. A strange feeling of oppression must have come over the soul of Jesus, when, on his first pilgrimage, he saw the city girt around with lofty walls, standing there on the mountain. like a gloomy fortress, the Roman amphitheater of Herod at its gates, the Antonia tower dominating the temple, and Roman legionslance in handkeeping watch from the heights. He ascended the temple steps, and admired the beauty of those marble porticoes, along which walked the Pharisees in sumptuous flowing garments. After crossing the Gentiles, he proceeded to the women's court, and, mingling with the crowd of Israelites, drew near the Nicanor gate, and the three-cubit balustrade, behind which were to be seen priests in sacerdotal robes of purple and violet, shining with gold and precious stones, officiating there in front of the sanctuary, sacrificing bulls and goats, and sprinkling the blood over the people as
they pronounced a blessing. All this bore no resemblance to the temple of his dreams, or the heaven in his heart.
Then he descended again into the more populous quarters of the town, where he saw beggars pallid with hunger, and whose faces were torn with anguish; a veritable reflection of the tortures and crucifixions accompanying the late wars. Leaving the city by one of the gates, he wandered among those stony valleys and gloomy ravines forming the quarries, pools, and tombs of the kings, and converting Jerusalem into a veritable sepulchre. There he saw maniacs issue from the caves, shrieking out blasphemies against living and dead alike. Then, descending a broad flight of stones to the pool of Siloam, he saw stretched out at the water's brink lepers, paralytics, and wretches, covered with ulcers and sores in the most abject misery. An irresistible impulse compelled him to look deep into their eyes, and drink in all their grief and pain. Some asked him for help, others were gloomy and hopeless, others again, with senses numbed, seemed to have done with suffering. But then how long had they been there to have come to such a state?
Then Jesus said to himself: "Of what use are these priests, this temple and these sacrifices, since they can afford no relief to such terrible suffering?" And, of a sudden, like an overwhelming torrent, he felt pouring into his heart the grief and pains of this town and its inhabitantsof the whole of humanity. He understood now that a happiness he could not share with others was absolutely impossible. These looks of despair were never more to leave his memory. Human Suffering, a sad-faced bride, would henceforth accompany him everywhere,
whispering in his ear: "I will never leave thee more!"
His soul full of anguish, he left Jerusalem, and proceeded towards the open peaks of Galilee. A cry leapt forth from the depths of his heart: "Father in Heaven! Grant that I may know, and heal and save!"
28:1 It is by no means impossible that Jesus might chance to have been born in Bethlehem. But this tradition seems to form part of the cycle of posterior legends relating to the holy family and the infancy of the Christ.
29:1 Jeremiah i. 4.
29:2 John viii. 58.
30:1 "Apocryphal Gospel of Mary and of the Savior's Childhood, published by Tischendorff."
31:1 See the masterly description of M. Renan's Galilée in his Vie de Jésus, and the no less remarkable one of M. E. Melchior de Vogué in his Voyage en Syrie et en Palestine.
34:1 Mystical annals of all times show that moral or spiritual truths of a superior order have been perceived by certain highly endowed souls, without reasoning, simply by inner contemplation and under the form of a vision. This is a psychical phenomenon imperfectly known to modern science, but still an incontestable fact. Catherine de Sienne, daughter of a poor dyer, at the age of four years, saw visions of an extremely remarkable nature. Swedenborg, man of science, calm observer and reasoner, began p. 35 at the age of forty years, and in perfect health, to have visions which had no relation with his previous life. I do not pretend to place these phenomena on exactly the same plane as those which took place in the consciousness of Jesus, but simply to establish the universality of an inner perception, independent of the bodily senses.
36:1 Isaiah lx. 3, 18.