Friday, 28 August 2015

Thomas Taylor on Paul's Letter to the Hebrews

Thomas Taylor (1758-1835) was an amazingly knowledgeable Neoplatonic scholar and had a strong grasp of the spiritual sense of this philosophy, which Blavatsky appreciated. In his Collectiana (1806),

he has an article (pp. 19-23) on a gnostic/platonic aspect of Paul's letters. Today, the authorship of the Letter to the Hebrews is in doubt, although the Platonic and Gnostic elements in Paul's writings are widely recognized and were pointed out in Blavatsky's writings. I think Taylor's interpretation still holds up today.

It has lately occurred to me, that the 3d verse of Hebrews xi. is not only erroneously translated in all the modern versions of the New Testament, but that, in its true meaning, it strongly favours one of the leading dogmas of those ancient Christian heretics, the Valentinians, and shows St. Paul to have entertained opinions somewhat analogous to the Platonic theory of ideas. The passage in the original is as follows:

Πίστει νοοῦμεν κατηρτίσθαι τοὺς αἰῶνας ῥήματι θεοῦ, εἰς τὸ μὴ ἐκ φαινομένων τὸ βλεπόμενον γεγονέναι.

This, in the English version, is rendered:“Through faith we understand, that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen, were not made of things which do appear.”
In the first place, the worlds is evidently a forced interpretation of αἰῶνας (aeonas); and, even admitting it was not, leaves the passage very ambiguous, from the uncertainty to what worlds St. Paul alludes. If we adopt ages, which is the general sense of the word in the New Testament, we shall indeed avoid a forced and ambiguous interpretation, but we shall render the meaning of the Apostle trifling in the extreme: for as he has elsewhere told us, “that all things were framed by the word of God,” what particular faith does it require to believe, that by the same word he framed the ages?

I observe, in the second place, that according to the definition of faith, given in the first verse of this chapter, that it is “the evidence of things not seen,” it is clear, that St. Paul is speaking in this passage of something invisible. Since then αἰῶνας (aeonas) is neither worlds nor ages, what shall we say it is ? I answer, the aeones of the Valentinians: and, agreeably to this, the whole passage should be translated as follows: “By faith we understand, that the aeones were framed by the word of God, in order that things which are seen, might be gene rated from such as do not appear (i. e. from things invisible).”  Every one who is much conversant with Greek authors, must certainly be convinced, that εἰς τὸ (eis to) means in order that: and I was glad to find, that Bishop Pearson translates as I have done, the latter part of this verse.
Now we learn from the second book of Irenaeus against the Heretics, that according to the Valentinians, all created things are the images of the aeones, resident in the pleroma, or fullness of deity.And does it not clearly follow, from the above version, that according to St. Paul too, the aeones are the exemplars of visible, or created things? To which we may add, that this sense of the passage wonderfully accords with the assertion, that “faith is the evidence of things not seen.” For here the things which do not appear are the aeones; these, according to the Valentinians, subsisting in deity. So that from our version, St. Paul mightsay, with great propriety, that “we understand by faith, that the aeones were framed by the word of God, in order that things which are seen, might be generated from such as do not appear:” for this naturally follows from his definition of faith.

It appears likewise, that St. Paul mentions these aeones, Heb. i. ver. 2, where he asserts, “that they were produced by God through Christ.”
I farther add, that among these aeones of the Valentinians were nous, buthos, sige, aletheia,sophia i.e. intellect, a profundity, silence, truth, and wisdom, which, as the learned Gale well observes in his notes on Jamblichus de Mysteriis, &c. prove theirdogmas to be of Chaldaic origin. For these words perpetually occur in the fragments of the Chaldaic oracles; not to mention that the middle of the Chaldean intelligible triad, is denominated αἰῶν, aeon.
It will be said, perhaps, that these oracles were forged by certain heretical Christians; but this may be easily confuted by considering, that they were largely commented on by Porphyry, Jamblichus, and Proclus, who are well known to have been great enemies to the Christian religion; and that it is very unlikely, men of such uncommon learning and sagacity should have been so grossly deluded *. Besides, though these oracles were the fountains of the Valentinian dogmas, yet it will be found, by a diligent inspection, that they are repugnant in most particulars to the leading tenets of Christians of all denominations. Hence Proclus has largely shewn, in his books on Plato's Theology, that the several orders of gods men tioned in these oracles, are perfectly conformable to those delivered by Plato in various parts of his works.

I only add, that as these aeones of St. Paul, and the Valentinians, are the exemplars of the visible universe, it is evident that in this respect they are analogous to the ideas of Plato.

* That some of these oracles may be confidently ascribed to Zoroaster, and that others of them are of much less antiquity, is, I think, evident from the following considerations: in the first place, Johannes Picus, earl of Mirandula, in a letter to Ficinus, informs him, that he was in possession of the oracles of Zoroaster, in the Chaldean tongue, with a commentary on them, by certain Chaldean wise men. And that he did not speak this from mere conjecture (as Fabricius thinks, and many other learned men have thought he did) is evident, from his expressly asserting, in a letter to Urbinatus (Op. p. 256) that, after much labour, he had at length learned the Chaldean language.And still farther, he has inserted in his works, fifteen conclusions, founded on this very Chaldean manuscript, though they appear to have escaped the notice of all the critics.

In the next place, Proclus cites one of these oracles as prior, and another as posterior, to Plato. And what is still more, inwill be found, by a diligent inspection, that they are repugnant in most particulars to the leading tenets of Christians of all denominations. Hence Proclus has largely shewn, in his books on Plato's Theology, that the several orders of gods mentioned in these oracles, are perfectly conformable to those delivered by Plato in various parts of his works. I only add, that as these aeones of St. Paul, and the Valentinians, are the exemplars of the visible universe, it is evident that in this respect they are analogous to the ideas of Plato. his MSS. Scholia on the Cratylus, he says, that certain oracles respecting the intelligible and intellectual orders, were delivered by Theurgists, under the reign of Marcus Antoninus,

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Geoffrey Farthing on Reincarnation

Geoffrey Farthing's writings are accurate and well-researched; a recommend author. Here are two helpful charts from his book When We Die dealing with the Theosophical description of the reincarnation process (The term Etheric Double corresponds to the earlier terms, Astral Body or Linga Sarira):

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Book Review: The Secret Doctrine - abridged by Michael Gomes

In 2009, mainstream Tarcher /Penguin published theosophical historian Michael Gomes very short 237-page abridgment of H. P. Blavatsky’s magnum opus The Secret Doctrine, a sprawling 3-volume work of over 2000 pages. The first two volumes are divided into three sections, the first dealing with the stanzas of Dzyan and commentaries thereon, the second section is devoted to comparative myth symbolism, while the third section covers ancient and modern science.
Gomes effects an interesting structural simplification: about half the book is devoted to the cosmogonic and anthropogonic stanzas of Dzyan from vols. 1 & 2 and the other half covers 16 chapters of symbolism from both volumes. He boldly eschews the section on science altogether despite aptly stating that chapters 11, 15, and 17 contain much fundamental information. The science section tends to get neglected, so the absence is understandable although regrettable because I feel that this section is underrated. Even though the section is probably the most obsolete with much outdated scientific information, much of it deals with what can be called philosophy of science and is often still relevant, sometimes even more so. Moreover, notably absent from the text is the interesting introduction, the ‘misconceptions’ and ‘explanations’ sections from the first part, the five-part section on the symbolism of the number seven
The stanzas abridgement section is well-done. There is a kind of natural cleavage point to the stanzas if one considers that the original draft of this section was apparently quite short, with later explanations added, which tend to give general semantics explanations that, while helpful, are not essential. And Gomes’ seems aware of this potential for retrieving the original succinct commentary text.

Moreover, although the original sections and many chapters function as self-contained works the structure also has a complementary aspect in the sense that parts of the second and third sections tend to complete the exposition of section one and so one only gets a complete picture by working through the work in sequential order.

The introduction by Gomes is informative and interesting, including a very apt comparison with the neoplatonic Chaldean Oracles fragments, but could have benefitted from more didactic explanations of the technicalities of the theosophical concept of spiritual evolution that the Secret Doctrine develops. A glossary of the very copious terminology would also have been helpful, although he does include useful brief definitions of terms in the index.
Not the only way to go about abridging this difficult and complex work (other more straightforward abridgments have been published), the appeal of this edition is probably the maximum degree of simplification – it is probably the easiest and most reader-friendly edition available (by no means easy for all that), representing the most popular aspects of the work. It makes for a good introduction text for first-time readers (although there are other preliminary readings that would be helpful as well), it can also be useful for long-time readers as a quick-reference copy of the stanzas and the commentaries

Sunday, 2 August 2015

The Daily Initiation 3 & 4

For completion's sake, we present a third text by William Q Judge dealing with his concept of initiation as a daily life practice. This is again from his commentary on chapter 2 of the Baghavad Gita:                                                "Having so concluded, we know that this long life is in itself another initiation, wherein we succeed or fail just as we learn the lesson of life. Some, I know, will not hasten to adopt this view, for they desire the Law to work in the manner appointed by them; they wish to have a sign or a password or a parchment or some wonderful test propounded, to which they shall be ready to submit at a certain time and place. But this is not the manner of it, and all true students know that. Surely if the little circumstances of life are not understood, if they have yet power to light the torch of anger or blow up the smoldering fire of lust, no set time or tournament will be offered for you by the Masters of this Lodge. Those set times and larger tests are given and have in their place to be overcome, but they belong to the day when you have raised the arch of attainment all perfect but the keystone — that is found or lost in the appointed trial."

PS. This final paragraph of the previously posted second 'Musings on the True Theosophist's Path' is a fourth take on this concept:

"Know then, Disciples, that you only can lift yourselves by your own efforts. When this is done, you may have the knowledge that you will find many to accompany you on your heretofore lonely journey; but neither they or your Teacher will be permitted to push or pull you one step onward.

This is all a very essential part of your preparation and trial for Initiation.

You look and wait for some great and astounding occurrence, to show you that you are going to be permitted to enter behind the veil; that you are to be Initiated. It will never come. He only who studies all things and learns from them, as he finds them, will be permitted to enter, and for him there are no flashing lightnings or rolling thunder. He who enters the door, does so as gently and imperceptibly, as the tide rises in the nighttime.

Live well your life. Seek to realize the meaning of every event. Strive to find the Ever Living and wait for more light. The True Initiate does not fully realize what he is passing through, until his degree is received. If you are striving for light and Initiation, remember this, that your cares will increase, your trials thicken, your family make new demands upon you. He who can understand and pass through these patiently, wisely, placidly — may hope."
American Mystic - The Path – October 1886

Part 5