Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Wisdom's Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition

I'm reading Wisdom's Children by Arthur Versluis at the moment. It traces the obscure history of "theosophy" - not Madam Blavatsky's theosophy, but the Protestant mystical tradition of that name - starting from Jacob Boehme, though acknowledging the older tradition of which he was a part. I'm up to Part 2, which is about the foundational doctrines of theosophy, and here's my summary of Chapters 8-11 (with some of my own insights and speculations added).

There are three worlds, corresponding to the three persons of the Trinity. There is the "wrath world", the world of dark fire, or Hell. There is the elemental world, the one we see around us. And there is the world of love and light, or Paradise.

Initially these three worlds were in balance. The wrath world, which is a world of separation and finitude, was necessary to bring creation into being (basically the Kabbalistic idea of tzimtzum). It arose from God's desire to have an other. Out of the separation of the darkness (the wrath world) from the light (the love world) came the creation of the elemental world. Unlike the early Gnostics, the theosophers did not see the elemental world as an evil creation of a demiurge but the good creation of God.

But Lucifer fell from the love world into the wrath world through his pride and self-will, and through the temptation of Adam and Eve brought wrath and darkness, separation and death, up into the elemental world. (All of this is seen as "spiritual symbolism for events with real consequences, not history".)

Christ's incarnation into the elemental world, however, brought love into that world just as the Fall had brought wrath, and by his death and resurrection he showed the way to Paradise: the transformation of wrath into love, darkness into light, separation into union, death into eternal life. Eventually, the separation of the three worlds will again be complete, redeeming the whole universe, and shutting away wrath, death and darkness forever from the elemental world.

We, however, participate in this process all the time; we are a microcosm of this macrocosm. If we are actively transforming wrath into love, and passively receiving the grace of God for this purpose and aligning ourselves with God's will (which are different ways of phrasing the same thing), we are fitting ourselves for the light world of union, Paradise. On the other hand, if we are abiding in wrath, or worse still transforming love into wrath, we are fitting ourselves for the dark world of separation.

Salvation, then, is not the acceptance of an historical atonement at one point in the past, but the enacting of an eternal atonement in the continuous present - a view which drew much wrath on the theosophers from the conventional religious authorities.

Versluis is casting out fascinating hints on how this works in practice, which are sounding like centering prayer. I'm looking forward to reading more.

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