Monday, 14 November 2011

Is Christianity Esoteric?

“For He was sent not only to be known but also to remain hidden” – Origen.

The term “esotericism” dates from the nineteenth century (along with “mysticism” and “occultism”). In his book Guenonian Esoterism and Christian MysteryJean Borella describes it as a form of hermeneutic “apt for the opening of our consciousness to the presence of the Spirit hidden in revealed forms and sometimes under the appearance of the most baffling symbols,” developed for an age in which the sense for symbolism and tradition has long been in retreat – relating this also to Saint Paul’s contrast between the letter and the spirit, and the mystagogical catechesis of the Alexandrian Church Fathers.

Strictly speaking, there is no Esoteric Christianity, in the sense of a secret teaching different from that which you will find in the Catechism and known only by a inner ring or elite, because Christianity by its nature dissolves boundaries like that. It is itself a kind of Esoteric Judaism turned inside out and offered to the world. There is something bizarre about this. It is pearls cast before swine, riches trampled in the mire. Jesus talks of this in the parable of the Wedding Banquet, where the Lord in the story drags the hedgerows and street corners for riff-raff to fill his table, the honoured guests having declined to attend.

There is no Esoteric Christianity; there is, however, a Christian Esoterism. (See longer article.) Anyone can pick up a pearl, but only a few know what to do with it. "Even so truly a ‘church of the people’ as the Catholic Church does not abolish genuine esotericism. The secret path of the saints is never denied to one who is really willing to follow it. But who in the crowd troubles himself over such a path?" – Hans Urs von Balthasar.


  1. Well said. I also like the idea of esoteric meaning "inner" knowledge and experience rather than "secret" knowledge. Good post.


  2. Pope Benedict writes on Cement of Alexandria: "We were created in the image and likeness of God, but this is also a challenge, a journey: indeed, life's purpose, its ultimate destination, is truly to become similar to God. This is possible through the co-naturality with him which man received at the moment of creation, which is why, already in himself - already in himself - he is an image of God. This co-naturality makes it possible to know the divine realities to which man adheres, first of all out of faith, and through a lived faith the practice of virtue can grow until one contemplates God.... Two virtues above all embellish the soul of the "true gnostic". The first is freedom from the passions (apátheia); the other is love, the true passion that assures intimate union with God. Love gives perfect peace and enables "the true gnostic" to face the greatest sacrifices, even the supreme sacrifice in following Christ, and makes him climb from step to step to the peak of virtue."