Jesus, the Last Great Initiate, by Edouard Schuré, , at sacred-texts.com
This Galilean springtime, during which the dawn of the Kingdom of Heaven seemed to rise upon the attentive multitudes, lasted two years. Now, however, the sky darkened, sinister flashes appeared, forerunners of catastrophe. The storm burst upon the small family at Galilee like one of those tempests which sweep the lake of Gennesareth, and in their wild fury engulf the fishermen's frail barques. Jesus was in no way surprised at the consternation and terror of his disciples, he fully expected it. It was impossible that his preaching and increasing popularity should not stir the religious authorities of the Jews, and just as impossible that the struggle should not be a complete one between these authorities and himself. On the contrary, from this conflict alone could light flash forth.
At the time of Jesus the Pharisees formed a compact body of six thousand men. Their name Perishin means "separate" or "distinguished." Of a lofty and often heroic though narrow and haughty patriotism, they represented the party of national restoration; their existence dating back from the Maccabees. They acknowledged both an oral and a written tradition. They believed in angels, a future life and resurrection, but the glimpses of esoterism which came to them from Persia
they buried beneath the darkness of a gross material interpretation. Strict observers of the law, though quite opposed to the spirit of the prophets who placed religion in the love of God and of men, they made piety consist of rites and ceremonies, fasts and public penance. On great occasions they were to be seen in the open streets, their faces covered with soot, praying aloud with contrite mien, and ostentatiously distributing alms. In contradistinction to all this they lived in luxury, eagerly intriguing after authority and power. None the less were they the chiefs of the democratic party, holding the people under their control.
The Sadducees, on the other hand, represented the sacerdotal and aristocratic party. They were composed of families whose pretension it was to have exercised priesthood by hereditary right ever since the time of David. Extreme in their conservatism they rejected oral tradition, accepted nothing but the letter of the law, and denied the existence of the soul and a future life. They ridiculed alike the stormy practices of the Pharisees and their extravagant beliefs. For them, religion consisted entirely in sacerdotal ceremonies. Under the Seleucides they had deprived the pontificate of power, as they were in complete accord with the pagans, and were even imbued with Greek sophistry and refined Epicurism. Under the Maccabees the Pharisees had been ejected from the pontificate, though, under Herod and the Romans, they had apparently regained this position. The Sadducees were stern and hard-hearted as men, and lovers of good cheer as priests, possessed of one faith, that of their own superiority, and of one idea, the determination to maintain the power tradition had handed down to them.
In such a religion what could Jesus find, Jesus the initiate, inheritor of the prophets, the Seer of Engaddi, seeking in social order the image of the divine, in which justice reigns over life, science over justice, and love and wisdom over all three? In the temple, instead of supreme science and initiation, he found materialistic and agnostic ignorance, playing on religion as on a power-giving instrument, in other words, priestly imposture. In schools and synagogues, instead of the bread of life, and the dew from heaven falling upon men's hearts, he saw an interested morality under the veneer of formal worship, i. e. hypocrisy. Far above, enthroned in a nimbus of glory, sat almighty Cæsar, the apotheosis of evil and the deification of matter, the sole god of the then world, only possible master of the Sadducees and Pharisees, whether they wished it so or not. In adopting the idea from Persian esoterism as did the prophets, was Jesus wrong in naming this reign the dominion of Satan or Ahrimanes, i. e. the rule of matter over spirit, in place of which he wished to substitute that of spirit over matter? Like all great reformers, he attacked not men, who as exceptions, might be excellent, but doctrines and institutions which mold the majority of mankind. The challenge must be delivered, and war declared against the existing powers.
The struggle began in the synagogues of Galilee and continued beneath the porticos of the temple at Jerusalem, to which Jesus made lengthened visits, preaching and replying to his opponents. In this as throughout his whole career, he acted with that mixture of prudence and boldness, meditative reserve and impetuous action, which characterized his wonderfully well-balanced
nature. He did not take the offensive against his opponents, but waited and replied to their attack, which never tarried, for, from the very beginning of his ministry, the Pharisees had been jealous of him by reason of his popularity and his healing of the sick. They quickly suspected him to be their most dangerous enemy. Accosting him with that mocking urbanity, that cunning malevolence, veiled beneath a mask of hypocritical gentleness, in which they were past-masters, in their rôle as learned doctors and men of importance and authority, they asked what reasons he had for having dealings with publicans and sinners? Why did his disciples dare to pluck ears of corn on the Sabbath day? Such conduct constituted a grave violation of their regulations. With magnanimous gentleness, Jesus replied in words at once tender and courteous. He tried on them his gospel of love, spoke of the love of God, who rejoice) more over one repentant sinner than over many just persons. He related to them the parables of the lost sheep and of the prodigal son. In embarrassed astonishment they held their peace. Uniting again, they returned to the charge, reproaching him for healing the sick on the Sabbath day. "Hypocrites!" replied Jesus, a flash of indignation illumining his eyes, "do not you on the Sabbath day remove the chain from your own oxen's neck and lead them away to the watering-trough? May not therefore the daughter of Abraham be delivered this same day from the chains of Satan?" No longer knowing what to reply, the Pharisees accused him of casting out devils in the name of Beelzebub. With quite as much wit as logical acumen, Jesus replied that the devil does not cast himself out, adding that sin against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but not sin against the
[paragraph continues] Holy Ghost, signifying thereby that he attached slight importance to insults against himself personally, but that a denial of the Good and the True, when once established, constitutes intellectual perversity the supreme vice and an irremediable evil. This was a declaration of war. He was called Blasphemer! Agent of Beelzebub! which accusations he answered by the expressions: Hypocrites! Generation of vipers! From this time the struggle continually increased in bitterness. Jesus gave evidence of a close incisive logic, his words lashed like whips and pierced like arrows. He had changed tactics; instead of defending himself, he attacked and replied to charges by other charges more vigorous still, showing no pity for hypocrisy, the one vice at the root of all others. "Why transgress ye the law of God by reason of your traditions? God commanded, Honor thy father and thy mother; you dispense with honoring parents, if, as alternative, money flows into the temple. With your lips you serve Isaiah, but your devotion is devoid of heart."
Jesus ever kept perfect control over himself, though the enthusiasm and greatness of the struggle daily increased. The more he was attacked, the more emphatically did he proclaim himself as the Messiah. He began to utter threats against the temple, to foretell the misfortunes that Israel would undergo, to appeal to the heathen, and to say that the Lord would send other laborers into his vineyard. Thereupon the Pharisees of Jerusalem became anxious. Seeing they could neither impose silence on him nor find any effective retort, they too changed tactics. Their idea now was to ensnare him, so they sent deputations whose object it was to induce him to utter heretical sayings which would warrant the Sanhedrim in laying hands on him as a blasphemer,
in the name of the law of Moses, or of having him condemned as a rebel by the Roman governor. Hence the insidious question concerning the woman taken in adultery, and the coin stamped with Cæsar's image. Ever penetrating the designs of his enemies, Jesus, with profound psychology and skilful strategy, disarmed them by his replies. Finding it impossible to effect their object by these means, the Pharisees attempted to intimidate him by annoying him at every turn. Worked upon and excited by them, the majority of the people began to turn away from Jesus when they saw that he was not restoring the kingdom of Israel. Everywhere, even in the smallest of hamlets, he met suspicious and wily countenances, spies, and treacherous emissaries to track and dishearten him. Some came and said to him, "Depart from here, for Herod (Antipas) is bent on killing thee." He replied proudly, "Go tell that fox; it cannot be that a prophet die out of Jerusalem!" Nevertheless, he was often obliged to cross the sea of Tiberias and take refuge on the eastern bank in order to escape these snares. Nowhere was he now free from danger. Meanwhile John the Baptist was put to death by order of Antipas in the fortress of Makerous. It is said that Hannibal, on seeing the head of his brother Hasdrubal, killed by the Romans, exclaimed: "Now I recognize the fate of Carthage." Jesus could recognize his own fate in the death of his precursor. He had had no doubt of this ever since his vision at Engaddi; had begun his work, knowing the inevitable end, and yet this news, when brought by the sorrow-stricken disciples of the prophet of the wilderness, struck Jesus as a death-warning. He exclaimed: "They did not recognize him, but have done with him
as they wished, thus shall the Son of Man stiffer at their hands."
The twelve were troubled and anxious; Jesus was hesitating on his pathway. He did not wish to let himself be taken, but rather, once his work finished, to offer himself of his own free will, and die as a prophet at the hour he himself should choose. Already hunted down during the whole of the past year, accustomed to escape from the enemy by making marches and countermarches, disheartened with the people, whose apathy, after days of enthusiasm, he was keenly conscious of, Jesus determined once more to escape with his disciples. Reaching the summit of a mountain, he turned around to cast one final lingering look on his beloved lake, on whose banks he had wished the dawn of the Kingdom of Heaven to shine. His eyes wandered over those towns lying by the water-side, or rising tier upon tier along the mountain-side, half buried in their verdant oases, and now glittering with white beneath the golden veil of twilight; those beloved towns in which he had sown the words of life, and which now abandoned him. A presentiment of the future came over him. With prophetic vision he saw this splendid country changed into a wilderness beneath the vengeful hand of Ishmael, and those words, devoid of anger, though full of sorrow and bitterness, fell from his lips: "Woe unto thee, Capernaum; woe unto thee, Chorazin; woe unto thee, Bethsaida!" Then turning towards the heathen world, accompanied by his disciples, he took the path leading along the Jordan valley from Gadara to Cæsarea Philippi.
Sad and long was the route of the fugitive band across the mighty plain of reeds and the marshes of the
upper Jordan under the burning Syrian sun. The nights were passed beneath the tents of shepherds, or with such Essenes as were living in the small hamlets of this abandoned country. The anxious disciples proceeded with downcast eyes; the master, filled with sorrow, remained plunged in silent meditation. He was reflecting on the impossibility of the triumph of his doctrine by preaching to the people, and on the unremitting plottings of his enemies. The final struggle was becoming imminent, he had reached a terrible difficulty; how was he to escape? On the other hand, his thoughts dwelt with anxiety on his spiritual family now scattered abroad, and especially on the twelve apostles, who, in faith and trust, had left everythingfamily, profession, and fortuneto follow him, and who, in spite of all, would soon be heartbroken and deceived in their mighty hope of a triumphant Messiah. Could he leave them to themselves? Had the truth sufficiently penetrated their souls? Would they believe in him, and in his doctrine, at all events? Did they know who he was? Dominated by this thought, he one day asked them: "Whom say men that I, the Son of Man, am?" They replied: "Some say that thou art John the Baptist, some Elias, and other Jeremias, or one of the prophets." Then Jesus said unto them, "But whom say ye that I am?" Simon Peter answered and said, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." 1
In the mouth of Peter, and the thought of Jesus, these words have not the signification the Church at a later date wished to give them: "Thou art the Elect of Israel announced by the prophets." In the Hindoo, the Egyptian, and the Greek initiation, the term "Son of
[paragraph continues] God" signified "a consciousness identified with divine truth, a will capable of manifesting it." According to the prophets, this Messiah must be the greatest of these manifestations. He would be the Son of Man, i. e., the Elect of earthly Humanity; the Son of God, i. e., the Envoy of heavenly Humanity, and as such having in himself the Father or Spirit, who, by Humanity, reigns over the universe.
At this affirmation of the faith of the apostles Jesus felt an immense joy. So his disciples had understood him; he would live in them, and the bond between heaven and earth would be re-established. Jesus said to Peter, "Happy art thou, Simon Barjona, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven." By this reply Jesus gives Peter to understand that he considers him as an initiate, as he himself was, and also possessed of a deep insight into truth. This is the true, the only revelation, this is "the stone on which the Christ wishes to build his Church, and against which the gates of hell shall not prevail." Jesus relies on the Apostle Peter only in so far as he shall have this intuition. A moment later, the apostle reverting to the ordinary, fear-stricken Peter, the Master treats him in quite a different fashion. Jesus had announced to his disciples that he was about to be put to death at Jerusalem, and Peter protested with the words, "Be it far from thee, Lord, this shall not be unto thee!" But Jesus, as though seeing a temptation of the flesh in this impulse of sympathy, attempting to shake his mighty resolution, turned sharply round to the apostle and said: "Get thee behind me, Satan, thou art an offense unto me, for thou savorest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men" (Matt. xvi. 21-23).
[paragraph continues] And the Master's imperious gesture seemed to say, "Forward through the desert!" Intimidated by his solemn voice and stern look, the apostles bowed their heads in silence, and resumed their journey over the stone hills of the Gaulonitide. This flight, by which Jesus brought his disciples out of Israel, resembled a march towards the problem of his Messianic destiny, the key to which he was seeking.
They reached the gates of Cæsarea. That town, which had become pagan since the time of Antiochus the Great, was sheltered within a verdant oasis near the Jordan's source, at the foot of Hermon's snowy peaks. It had its amphitheater, and was resplendent with costly palaces and Grecian temples. Jesus crossed it, and continued to the spot at which the Jordan in a clear bubbling stream issues from a mountain cavern, like the stream of life springing from the profound bosom of nature. There was erected a small temple dedicated to Pan; and in the grotto, on the banks of the stream, numerous columns, marble nymphs, and pagan divinities. The Jews held in horror these tokens of idolatrous worship; Jesus contemplated them with an indulgent smile. In them lie recognized the imperfect effigies of the divine beauty, whose radiant models he bore within his own soul. He had not come to utter maledictions against paganism, hut to transform it; not to scatter anathema on earth and its mysterious powers, but to point out to it the way to heaven. His heart was large enough, and his doctrine sufficiently vast, to embrace all people, and to say to men of every religion: "Raise your heads, and learn that you all have one same father." And yet, there he was at the extreme limit of Israel, hunted like a wild beast, stifled between two peoples who rejected him
alike. In front, the heathens who did not yet understand him, and on whom his words fell powerless; behind, the Jews, a people which stoned his prophets, and stopped its ears, so as not to hear its Messiah; while all the time the Pharisees and Sadducees were watching their prey. What superhuman courage, what unprecedented power of action would be needed to crush all these obstacles, to penetrate beyond heathen idolatry and Jewish harshness right to the heart of that suffering humanity he loved with every fiber of his being, and induce it to listen to his resurrection message! Then suddenly his mind went back to bygone times, descending once again the stream of the Jordan, Israel's sacred river, passing from the temple of Pan to that of Jerusalem, measuring the distance which separated ancient paganism from the universal prophetic thought, and, regaining its source, as an eagle its nest, returned from the anguish of Cæsarea to the vision of Engaddi! And now, from the depths of the Dead Sea, he sees this terrible phantom of the cross once more spring forth! Had the hour of the great sacrifice at length come? Jesus, like all men, possessed two consciousnesses; the earthly one lulled him with illusions, saying: "Who knows? Perhaps I shall escape this destiny." The other, the divine one, repeated implacably: "The path of victory passes through the gate of anguish." Must he choose this latter voice?
At all important epochs in his life we see Jesus withdraw to the mountain to pray. Had not the Vedic sage said, "Prayer upholds heaven and rules the Gods?" Jesus knew this greatest of all forces. Usually he admitted of no companion in this mountain solitude when he descended into the inmost elements of his being.
This time, however, he took with him Peter, and the two sons of Zebedee, James and John, to spend the night on the summit of a lofty mountain. Legend states this to have been Mount Tabor. There, between the Master and three of the greatest initiates among the disciples, the mysterious scene related in the Gospels under the name of the Transfiguration took place! According to Matthew, the apostles saw the Master's form, luminous and apparently diaphanous, appear in the transparent penumbra of the Eastern night. His face shone like the sun, and his garments became brilliant as the light; at his side appeared two figures, which they took for those of Moses and Elijah. As, trembling, they emerged from their strange prostration, which seemed to them at once a profounder sleep and a more intense waking state, they saw the Master alone by their side, restoring them to full consciousness by his touch. The transfigured Christ they had contemplated in this dream was never effaced from their memory (Matt. xvii. 1-8).
But what had Jesus himself seen and passed through during that night which preceded the most decisive act of his prophetic career? A gradual effacing of earthly things, beneath the ardor of prayer, a rapturous ascent from sphere to sphere, he seemed by degrees to be returning along the depths of his consciousness into some previous existence, an altogether spiritual and divine one. Far in the distance were suns, worlds, earths, vortices of suffering incarnations; now he was conscious of one homogeneous atmosphere, one fluid substance, one intelligent light. Within this radiance legions of celestial beings form a moving vault, a firmament of ethereal bodies, white as snow, whence beam
forth gentle flashes of light. On the shining cloud where he was standing six men in priestly robes, and mighty of stature, raise aloft, with joined hands, a dazzling Chalice. These are the six Messiahs who have already appeared on earth; the seventh is himself, and this Cup signifies the Sacrifice he must undergo, by incarnating himself on earth in his turn. Beneath the cloud is heard the roar of thunder; there yawns a black abyss; the circle of generations, the pit of life and death, the terrestrial hell. The Sons of God with suppliant gesture raise the Cup, the very firmament of heaven is silent, as Jesus, in token of assent, extends his arms in the form of a cross as though he wished to embrace the whole universe. Then the Sons of God bow down their faces to the earth, a band of female angels, with outspread wings and downcast eyes, carry off the incandescent Chalice towards the vault of light. The hosanna resounds, with ineffably melodious strains, throughout the heavens. But he, without even listening to it, plunges into the pit.
This is what had taken place long ago among the Essenes, in the bosom of the Father, where the mysterious rites of Eternal Love are celebrated and the revolutions of the constellations pass, light as waves. This is what he had sworn to accomplish, this is the reason of his birth and the purpose of his past struggles. And now, once more this mighty oath bound him down at the end of his task.
Terrible oath, dreaded chalice! Still, it must be drained to the dregs. After all this rapturous bliss he awoke in the depths of the pit, on the brink of martyrdom. No further doubt was possible; the time was at
hand. Heaven had spoken and Earth cried aloud for help.
Retracing his steps, Jesus once again descended the valley of the Jordan, and proceeded by slow stages along the road to Jerusalem.
81:1 Matt. xvi. 13-16.