Sunday, 20 March 2011

Lost Christianity?

Prof. Jacob Needleman once wrote a book called Lost Christianity. The thesis was that Christianity tells us a great deal about what we should become, but no longer gives us the means to change. How do we get there from here? How can we be expected to live a faith and a morality that is so difficult, so demanding? Most of the Christians you meet are no better than anyone else, and many are worse. There must be some secret teachings, passed on by Jesus to his closest disciples, which the official Church has forgotten or suppressed. Maybe these are still preserved in some remote monastery. Needleman claimed to have discovered these lost teachings, the missing “intermediate Christianity”, with the help of Father Sylvan, a Christian monk. As he puts it in the new Introduction to to the book, what is missing is the “experience of oneself” or “presence to oneself” without which true contrition and purity are impossible.

There is something deeply true about this, and we need to get to the bottom of it. The reader should know, however, that behind the fictional Father Sylvan lies Needleman’s own teacher, G.I. Gurdjieff, whose teachings revolve around the need to acquire an immortal soul (not all of us have one) through conscious work on oneself. The key is “self-remembering”. There is a wonderful phrase of P.D. Ouspensky, one of G.’s disciples: “Suddenly I remembered that I had forgotten to remember myself.” But the intensification of self-consciousness (if that is what this is – and perhaps it isn’t: we’ll come back to that question another time) is almost the opposite of Christianity, and in some of G.’s followers (not all) it can lead to an immense arrogance. There is another answer, and in the next posts I intend to speak of it.


  1. hi. would you know the whereabouts of the "Fr. Vincent" in Jacob Needleman's "Lost Christianity"? I think he is a real person. thank you vry much for the help.


  2. I am not so sure Fr Vincent is real. I think he is an idealized monk based on the teachings of Gurdjieff. Sorry to disappoint you! You'll have to ask Prof. Needleman.