February 25, 2024

Understanding esoterism

by Interfaith

Christianity – indeed any religion – is essentially a discernment between God and the world, between the Real and the unreal, the Absolute and the relative, the Eternal and the contingent. Following from this, religion is the union of the two.

Religions are exoteric to the degree that they are shaped by their sitz in leben (‘setting in life’), the environment in which they appear and the conditions under which they take form.

They are esoteric in the sense that it is through these external forms – primarily scripture and its tradition – that is communicated the vivifying essence of that to which it attains. The esoteric is such to the degree that it is discreet, nevertheless implicit, in the forms. Thus Jesus said “To you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but to them that are without, all things are done in parables” (Mark 4:11) – this is not to say the knowledge of the kingdom remains hidden to the ‘without’, as He also said “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” (Mark 4:9, 4:23 & 7:16).

In that regard, the ‘esoteric’ is always and necessarily a complement to the exoteric, you cannot have one without the other; you cannot apprehend or make sense of the esoteric other than by its complementary exoteric form – it is the esoteric that makes sense of the form, and it is the form that transmits the sense of the esoteric. It is precisely through the forms that the formless makes itself known. The esoteric is like a fluid, itself shapeless, but which adopts the shape of the form into which it is poured – the shapes vary across the religions, the fluid is the same.

All authentic religions are, eventually and inevitably, apophatic, because they transcend the world of forms, the scope of knowledge. Thus we can speak of confessional esoterisms, as a constituent part of the expression of a tradition in all its forms, in its symbologies, for example, or its rites and liturgies – each religion giving rise to its own, to a greater or lesser degree ‘transparent’ from the standpoint of metaphysics.


When one speaks of a confessional esoterism, this speaks of the loftiest, subtlest, most interior part of a doctrine (esoteric derives from the Greek ἐσωτέρω (esōtérō, ‘further inside’), the ‘spirit’ with regard to the exoteric ‘letter’. One is speaking of an integral doctrine in respect of its nature, leaving aside the necessary requirements of pastoral care (cf 1 Corinthians 3:1-3).


Thus there is a distinction between ‘Esoteric Christianity’ and ‘Christian esoterism’ – the latter is talks of the distinction between the God and the world as such, according to the Revealed data of its extrinsic forms – scripture and tradition.

‘Esoteric Christianity’ has come to infer an absolute and formal distinction – a dualism and a dichotomy – commonly spoken of in ‘esoteric circles’ as a Johannine (esoteric) Christianity as other to and distinct from a Petrine (exoteric) Christianity. Nothing could be further from the two, as in fact Peter and John are one in Christ, as is clear from the mention of them both together no less than seven times in Acts, and Paul speaks of them (with James), as the ‘pillars’ of the Christian community (Galatians 2:9).

This distinction undermines the very essence of the Revelation in Christ – of the unity of spirit and matter (which itself can be traced back to Genesis) – and the nature of the Incarnation, with its consequent implication for humanity. Too often, and too easily, a syncretic grafting of various extraneous teachings and ideas are attempted to ‘explain’ Christianity whereas all this does is demonstrate a failure to properly comprehend and understand the true nature of the Revelation – something which the metaphysician recognises – for what it is, a Path unlike others in material detail, but alike and akin to them in essence.



Thomas Jan 26, 2024

Visit Thread: https://www.interfaith.org/community/threads/21003/


FEATURE: Apocrypha

Which early Christian scriptures were left out of the New Testament? Find out in our comprehensive index of New Testament Apocrypha, the largest such collection on the internet.