A method of therapy
What we can say, at this point, is that in studying the inner life of man, this material constitutes a true psychological science - and an effective system of therapy - that is older by many centuries than anything that passes today by that name. More to the point, as I hope I shall show in this book, once adapted to the different conditions of modern life, it is also a very precise and workable science, despite certain basic differences from modern psychology.
This early Christian psychology said, for example:
"They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." Mark 2:17
This uses a different and essentially Christian definition of sickness - or sin - for Christ was concerned with the spiritually sick: with man in his fallen state. Directly because of this difference, its social aspect aimed not manipulation but liberation, and although both forms of social psychology produced ethical conclusions, they differed in that the early psychology dealt primarily in ethics that emerge naturally from within the individual , whereas the modern equivalent frequently views ethical activity as having to be imposed on individuals from outside.
It was P.D.Ouspensky who pointed out that modern psychology is primarily a tool of a medicine which studies pathologies, so that it sometimes calls itself 'abnormal psychology,' or of the social sciences, which study psychology as a means of controlling individuals or solving purely social problems - which all to often comes to the same thing.
More than this, it is consistent with the texts studied that they were intended to be read by those who would put the inner doctrines into practice. This discipline - although different from modern scientific method - led in fact to a kind of scientific precision. To begin with, in this type of study, it is good method for the investigator to remain aware of the aims, intentions and assumptions of the author: to respect the way in which the text was originally formed and interpret it accordingly. In both the texts and the unwritten teachings on which this book is based ... still without putting certain of them into writing ... persistent practical work has generated a stream of results, sometimes unexpected, which have conditioned and changed the initial conclusions and led to certain specific interpretations. These interpretations have been interesting particularly in that frequently they show a single underlying meaning to many different aspects of doctrine.
These interpretations have been developed at some length, and might be regarded as the primary conclusions of this study - although its more obvious conclusions may seem significant enough. More to the point, it is these interpretive conclusions which support some of the apparently open statements such as the historical conclusions. It is also these statements that will answer certain other questions, such as the question of the lack of saints today. But here, I should warn the reader, only the use of the same method will lead to any real measure of agreement, so that this work is likely to remain controversial in the general arena for some time to come. As Saint Paul said:
"Unless you believe, you will not understand."
This ancient pscyhological method, then, has different rules for verification from those of modern psychological science, but they are genuine working rules. In its time it had its own consensus, and this evolved over time as does any modern scientific consensus, but was very different from that of contemporary psychology because it had very different goals.
This whole concept leads to a practical way of presenting these ideas. This can be put in modern terms by utilizing the word recognition. The goal of texts in this tradition, and the characteristic by which texts which genuinly belong to this tradition can be identified, is that they write for recognition. This meaning of this idea itself must be understood and recognized. We are not using the word recognition here in the sense of public recognition. Usually nothing was further from the minds of practitioners of this ancient science. They taught a traditional knowledge, and in it, their scientific method depended on the student accepting the truth of what they taught, by discovering for himself and then recognizing what it was they were describing. The fact that they had in general a consensus about what was true makes it clear that they all in fact - although step by step, not immediately - came to recognize the same things. Experience will enable the present-day student who strives for such a level of accuracty to recognise that this situation, carried out rigorously, eliminates all possibility of doubt
Saints are always somewhere else
For Western man, the visible sign of the loss of the early kind of Christianity, of the loss of metanoia as a way of spiritual life, is that, for us, Saints always seem to live somewhere else, or to have lived in some other time. Many of us, indeed, see this fact simply as a sign that we have outgrown such ideas as religion and sanctity. But this tells more about the person who believes it than about any wider reality. In this, young children often know better than their elders, for this mystery of the missing sanctity is really a most serious question for us all, and the sophistication that hides the question is no more than a tissue of self-deception.
But to go back to that question with which I began, if you answer no, you have never met a saint, my next question for you would be: Why not? If you honestly believe you can answer 'yes' ... not 'almost', or 'there's someone I think is a saint,' but an unequivocal 'yes' to this question, my next is instead to ask you how many saints you have met? The point of all this is to take a serious look at this question. Many of us will already realize that, whatever their own answer, many people now believe that the time of saints is past; that they do not occur any more, and have not occurred for many centuries. This is almost but not entirely true.
...... ..... .....
What did I know when I began my researches? I knew that some genuine saints have been recognized within the last century, more since 1800, particularly in Russia, but also in Greece. But many of the list below were only canonized in 1988, with the Millennium celebrations of the Russian church. In fact, in this world the list of recent saints is actually considerably longer than one might expect ... it is not the reality, but our view of it, that I am questioning. An incomplete list of recent saints includes:
Saint Theophan the Recluse, born 1815, d1894, canonized 1988 as part of the Millennium celebrations of the Russian Church. As a young man he became a monk, then hieromonk (priest-monk), bishop, abbot and finally anchorite. He guided thousands by mail, and edited two of the world's greatest books on the life of prayer, as well as writing several other important works. His teachings help to clarify the inner tradition in modern terms, and are referred to frequently in this book.
Saint Theresa of Lisieux, who was called to the life of prayer as a child and became Her teachings are referred to in this book.
Saint Seraphim of Sarov, whose teachings help to clarify one important factor of the inner tradition, so that they too are referred to in this book.
Saint John of Kronstadt, a priest in the Russian naval town of Kronstadt, whose ability to help people reached so many that a series of guest houses had to be built to accommodate those who came to him.
Saint Nektarios, whose shrine on the Greek island of Aegina has in the past few years been the scene of many miracles, including miraculous conversions.
Saint Arsenios of Cappadocia, a Saint who said very little, but who, over many years, worked a great number of miracles to assist those living around him.
Saint Silouan of Athos, a massive Russian peasant who nearly murdered someone in Russia, became desperate about has lack of self-control, and went to see John of Kronstadt. From there he went to Athos on the advice of Saint John, and became a man of impressive abilities and very great spirituality. His teachings are referred to in this book in order to clarify one inner aspect of Christian tradition that is difficult to understand by drawing only on earlier sources.
Several Saints have also been canonized by the Romanian church, but as my comment is only to do with the absence of saints in the West, we have listed enough examples of recent Eastern saints.
In particular, you will notice that in this list there are no Protestant saints. It would be interesting to ask the Protestant churches whether, indeed, they believe that saints are created today or, more specifically, whether they have under consideration the canonization of any of their recent members? One might even ask what they imagine the significance of saints to be, beyond the obvious; that they are often very good role models, if only they weren't so impossible to follow. Certainly the Protestant churches have some very splendid people, but in the early church, that was not quite what the word 'saint' meant; to the early Christians, a Saint was 'something else?'
In fact, all the individuals listed above were in some sense direct followers of the early fathers of the church. Nearly all of them, (as well as certain others who will appear later,) referred at some time to something known as the Royal Road or Royal Way. The significance of both these facts will become increasingly apparent the further we read into this book.
Saints are made, not bornSaints are made, not bornSaints are made, not bornSaints are made, not born
When I asked my original question, I turned the question towards the audience as individuals, asking them another question which every sincere seeker should ask himself. I asked them then as I ask you now, which of you who think of yourselves as Christians has not asked the catch question: how can I be more Christian than I am now?
Or to put it another way:
How can I free myself from my own bad habits?
How can I learn to live to my own highest principles?
How might I feel growing in my own heart the qualities described in the Sermon on the Mount?
How can I learn to turn the other cheek?
How can I love my enemies?
Behind this is a basic answer given by my researches. If people understood what my researches have confirmed - that saints are made holy, not born holy - then it would be possible at least to begin to answer these other questions, and that in such a way that we could understand how we ourselves could change if we want to.
Saints are made: with the help of our Lord, certainly, but made, not born holy. Never forget that. Never let your children forget it. A generation forgot it, and where are they now?
All the great religions of the world have a tradition that exists just to answer this question, a therapeutic tradition; a means of making saints. Hinduism has its Yoga. Islam has Sufism. Buddhism has a number of meditation traditions including Zen. Only Christianity, at first sight, lacks such an 'organ'.
But that is not so, Christianity has its ways, an almost forgotten mystical science, the science of metanoia, sometimes called the Royal Road, akin to psychological means of therapy yet more than merely psychological in character; and this ancient and forgotten science is not only a process parallel to these eastern traditions, but it is entirely Christian in character. As the Abbot of an Athos monastery wrote recently:
"When the monk possesses the grace of repentance he knows the true God, not some idea of God."
In actual fact, as my researches have confirmed time and again, the Christian esoteric or inner tradition is in every respect a true tradition that is the equal of the great inner traditions of the East but, due to certain accidents of history, to the fact that this idea appears to conflict with humanist and scientific world-views and with the intellectualism of modern man, this tradition has been largely forgotten and partially lost. Finally, having been diluted to the point where it lost is power to produce results, it has proved an embarrassment to churches who wanted to appear 'scientific', wanted to be accepted in circles that also appeared scientific, and so it was 'swept under the carpet when no-one was looking.'
However, it was the strength of psyche this part of Christian tradition gave to many individuals that explains the way the early martyrs of the church made such an impression on those who saw them, so that the Christian church in its early centuries - before it became divided - almost entirely supplanted competing faiths.
The outer effects of the early church were the direct result of its inner power to transform the individual.
From investigation of the past, a new vision From investigation of the past, a new vision From investigation of the past, a new vision From investigation of the past, a new vision
In a world that judges most things in an intellectual way, and expects to verify its standards for judging against what can be weighed, measured or in some way perceived by the senses, it would be foolish to expect everyone to see, behind the troubles of our times, the need for a new spiritual vision. But this book is written for the many that have become aware of that need: for them it attempts to explore what was understood in the past and could be understood again to day; not to invent or re-invent a new religion, nor to explore the religions of other civilizations, as so many have already done; to take another look at the Christian religion, but not just at the same old things that everyone has looked at - at least since the time of Wesley and Luther - but at some other aspects of Christianity that are little known today.
After ten years of investigation, there is little doubt in my mind that, in its early days, Christianity had answers to questions that today take people to other lands, other times, other faiths for their answers. As this book will show, there is also little doubt that most of those answers still exist - within Christendom, but tucked away in its inaccessible corners - and I have slowly become certain that with sufficient effort these answers can be rediscovered and restored to use for modern man, as part of a spiritual reawakening which has already begun, but has not yet taken definite form.
Whether we believe that, as I shall suggest later in the book, a spiritual reawakening is now taking place, or believe only that it should do so, with either of these viewpoints we will see the value of recovering a lost Christian tradition of knowledge about the inner experience that some of the most valued members of the church - among them saints, bishops, abbots, monks, hermits and 'learned doctors' - have accumulated over nearly twenty centuries, but particularly what they learned in the early days of the church, when the initial energy given by gospel and resurrection was still at its most intense..
The background to the loss of this great reservoir of truth, is that, in two thousand years, Christianity has built up an enormous corpus of knowledge and ideas. Nobody can know all of this, and so everybody has had to be selective. More than this, there are both historical and psychological reasons why this selective process has developed a particular bias over the centuries, so that some of the knowledge acquired by the church during its early years has for long been forgotten - either it has been totally forgotten, or in other cases the words are remembered, but part of their meaning, their significance, has been forgotten, so that they are effectively misunderstood. The criteria for interpretation have changed with the times - until what is believed now as a result of reading the Gospel is entirely different from that believed in the early days of Christianity. Now, if the early meanings are made available again, we find them difficult to understand, and if we do get close to them, we discover that it is even more difficult for us to see their value to us, their relevance to our personal questions and to the main questions of the civilization of which we are part.
The connections have worn thin with time, although the problem of the misunderstanding of inner knowledge is not a new one. We no longer have the intellectual tools to recover that early knowledge; we have replaced them with a 'newer model'. It is clear that as long ago as the third century, one form of misinterpretation of Biblical texts was rife. It was then that Origen, head of the Alexandrian school previously led by Clement of Alexandria, wrote that the Bible should be interpreted in ways other than historical, because, in the historical interpretation, the inconsistencies of the text make it look foolish. But not only is this kind of historicism still with us today, but at the present time it forms perhaps the dominant view of Biblical exegesis. Vast numbers of scholars now study the Bible simply as a history text and, trying to maintain 'scientific objectivity,' regard it is misleading to study it against any other criteria.
But nobody asks the question; 'if this is only history, why is it studied so much more than other historical texts?'
A commentator in the most recent issue of Bible Review, (early 1993,) claims that to follow the historical interpretation conscientiously it is necessary to disbelieve in basic tenets of Christianity such as the resurrection.
One can only say of such people that they may believe in something, but they have no Christian faith, for Christian faith is not belief in all or everything, but only in the objects of faith, objects outlined if not exhaustively defined in the Creed and, for inner Christianity, particularly in the Nicene Creed. More than this, as long as they maintain such standards, they will never have Christian faith.
"If you do not believe," Nor will you understand the writings of men of faith: this kind of modern interpretation ignores the intentions of the authors of works such as the books of the Bible. In fact, whether they are aware of the fact or no, they must assume that you can interpret a passage in the same way whatever were the intentions of those who originally wrote it. Such an approach is only credible to those who are completely ignorant of the process of writing any real text, or who imagine that the authors were such fools that the content even of the great books of the Bible, is accidental, and that no specific purpose existed for them other than the today fashionable objective of 'self-expression'. Those with experience of intentional writing, writing for a specific aim, will realize that in such work the aim determines the method of expression, and that only an awareness of that original aim can accurately reveal the intended meanings of certain words whose interpretation is determined by their context.
In particular, very great care is needed when interpreting even the most open text about inner teachings. Worse than this, even Biblical texts which originally appear to have had a purely outer meaning have been used by the early fathers as parables to illustrate inner truths, and we must also realize that when the inner teaching went underground, those texts which use historical analogies, or which illustrate the meaning with examples from the lives of those who had passed through the same process in the past - as in Gregory of Nyssa's Life of Moses, and other works on the same theme - had, since the second century, been actually intended to be misinterpreted by anyone who had insufficient inner experience to understand their deeper meaning.
One problem group of Greek words used throughout the history of the early church - in the gospels, (particularly Saint Mark), in the epistles of Paul, and in the early fathers of the church - was that whose common modern form is gnosis. We can find records of the use of this word not remotely linked to what is now popularly called Gnosticism, as Gnosis was originally simply a term for a special kind of knowledge that is not obtained through the senses.
This idea, which will be discussed further in Chapter Eleven, was summarized by the translator of Clement's Stromata thus:
'By "gnosis", Clement understood the perfect knowledge of all that relates to God, His nature, and dispensations. He speaks of a twofold knowledge, - one, common to all men, and born of sense; the other, the genuine "gnosis" ... This latter is not born with men, but must be gained and by practice formed into a habit. The initiated find its perfection in a loving mysticism, which this never-failing love makes lasting."
And Clement himself wrote:
"And the gnosis itself is that which has descended by transmission to a few, having been imparted unwritten by the apostles. Hence, then, knowledge or wisdom ought to be exercised up to the eternal and unchangeable habit of contemplation." (Clement of Alexandria, the Stromata, Book VI, Chap. 7.)
But then, this book exists to help us recreate those old interpretive tools and with them again to make connection with that ancient knowledge, through just those channels used by those holy men of old, through three processes:
to draw on personal observation and direct experience, related to the comments of others, so as to discover certain current concerns, personal as well as those concerning our whole civilization, to take cognizance of the experiences that give rise to them, to give an idea of why they have been forgotten or ignored for so many centuries, and finally to show how they are at root concerns that have lasted as long as Christendom, and are often rooted in inner and often mystical experiences that have recurred since the earliest days of the Christian era.
to illuminate this by study of the esoteric tradition, so as to show how the early Christian tradition of inner knowledge relates to both personal and social concerns and experiences that have become important in our contemporary life.
finally, to comment as necessary on the relation of the two, in keeping with the methods of that early tradition, and analyze them with tools of contemporary but not purely intellectual understanding.
It should be noted in this latter that this kind of understanding must include a full intellectual content, and it is clear that with this there is always a danger that to the untrained mind such a text will look as if it is pure intellectualism.
Like Saint Nilus of Sora,(see Page XREF??), I must ask pardon of my reader if anything appears in this work that is "inconsistent with the sense of truth." If you do not recognize something , do not accept it blindly, but hold it, classify it untested, until experience makes its accuracy - or inaccuracy - clear to you.
But this is a good point to introduce an ancient practise sometimes described in odd corners of the tradition, known as pondering. To understand this book, certain parts of it - and there may be many of them - need to be pondered. Today, we are so used to ‘speed-reading’ and other methods of reading superficially, that we need to know a technique that most people perhaps once knew - what it means to ponder a statement.
To ponder a passage of a book we should first read it with great care, making sure that we have clearly dealt with each of its statements separately. Then we should ponder each statement on its own, comparing it with our own experience, until we recognize what it describes. When we have recognized what is described in each statement, we may reconsider the passage as a whole. At this point a characteristic sign is that it will seem less interesting. After all, it is not ‘news’, it is telling only things we already know. This sensation is a sign of success in our pondering.
Without learning to ponder, one should not read serious esoteric texts.
If you do learn to ponder, you will understand for yourself the idea, expressed by P.D.Ouspensky and quoted earlier, that:
“You cannot understand and disagree.”
This, of course, is an unusual and more forceful rendering of the earlier quotation from Saint Paul (XREF??):
"Unless you believe, you will not understand."