THE GOSPEL OF ST. JOHN
The rôle of Christianity in human history is unique. The coming of
Christianity represents, in a sense, the central moment, the turning
point between involution and evolution. That is why it radiates so
brilliant a light — a light that is nowhere so pregnant with life
as in the Gospel of St. John. Truth to tell it is only in this Gospel
that the full power of the light is made manifest.
It cannot be said that modern theology has this conception of the
Gospel. From the historical point of view it is considered inferior to
the three synoptic Gospels, as being, in a sense, apocryphal. The very
fact that its authorship is said by some to have taken place in the
second century after Christ has made certain theologians of the school
of Bible criticism regard it as a work of mystical poetry and
Occultism has quite another conception of the Gospel of St. John.
During the Middle Ages a number of Brotherhoods saw in this Gospel the
essential source of Christian truth. Such Brotherhoods were the
Brothers of St. John, the Albigenses, the Catharists, the Templars and
the Rosicrucians. All were engaged in practical occultism and looked
to this Gospel as to their Bible. It may be said in a sense that the
legend of the Grail, Parsifal and Lohengrin emanated from these
Brotherhoods and that it was the popular expression of the secret
All the members of these different parent Orders were considered to
possess the secret. They were the precursors of a Christianity which
should spread over the world in later times. In the Gospel of St. John
they found the secret, for its words contained eternal truth —
truth applicable to all times. Such truth as this regenerates the
souls of all who become aware of it in the depths of their being. The
Gospel was never regarded or read merely as a gem of literature. It
was used as an instrument for developing the mystic life of the soul.
Let us, to begin with, leave its purely historical value out of
The first fourteen verses of this Gospel were the subject of daily
meditation among the Rosicrucians. These verses were held to possess a
magical power — a fact well known to occultists. By repeating these
verses at the same hour, day by day without intermission, the
Rosicrucians began to see in dream-visions all the events recorded in
the Gospel and lived through them in inner experience.
Thus in spiritual vision the Rosicrucians saw the life of Christ — nay
indeed the Christ Himself being born in the depths of the soul. They
believed, of course, in the actual and historic existence of the
Christ, for to know the inner Christ is also to recognise the outer
A materialist of today might ask whether the fact that the
Rosicrucians had these visions is any proof of the actual existence of
Christ. To this the occultist will reply: ‘If there were no eye
to perceive the sun, there would be no sun; but if there were no sun
in the heavens, there would be no eye to perceive it. For it is the
sun which in the course of ages has formed and built the eye in order
that it may behold the light.’ In this sense the Rosicrucians
said: — ‘The Gospel of St. John awakens thine inner senses
but if there were no living Christ, He could not live within
The mission accomplished by Christ Jesus cannot be understood in all
its depths unless we realise the difference between the Ancient
Mysteries and the Christian Mystery.
The Ancient Mysteries were held in the temple-sanctuaries. The
Initiates were the awakened ones. They had learnt to work upon the
etheric body and were the ‘twice-born’ because they could
perceive truth in a two-fold sense: directly, through dream and astral
vision, indirectly, through sense-perception and logic. The initiation
through which they passed was accomplished, in three stages: life,
death and resurrection. The disciple spent three days in a sarcophagus
in a tomb of the temple. His Spirit was released from his body; but on
the third day, at the call of the hierophant, the Spirit came down
again into the body from the cosmic spaces of universal life. The man
was a transformed, new-born being. The greatest Greek writers have
spoken of these mysteries with great awe and inspiration.
goes so far as to say that the Initiate alone is worthy of the name of man.
This ancient initiation has its crowning-point ‘in Christ.’
Christ represents the crystallised initiation of the life of sense.
All that was supersensibly seen in the Ancient Mysteries becomes, in
Christ, historic fact on the physical plane. The death
undergone by the ancient Initiates was only a partial death in the
etheric world. The death of Christ was a full and complete death in
the physical world.
The Raising of Lazarus may be regarded as a moment of transition from
the ancient initiation to the Christian initiation. In the fourth
Gospel no mention is made of John himself until after the story of the
death of Lazarus. “The disciple whom Jesus loved” is he who
passed through the stages of death and resurrection in initiation and
who was called to new life by the voice of Christ Himself. John is
Lazarus who came forth from the tomb after his initiation; he lived
through the death undergone by Christ. Such is the mystic path
concealed in the depths of Christianity.
The marriage at Cana expresses one of the most profound mysteries of
the spiritual history of mankind. It is related to the saying of
Hermes: “The above is as the below.” In the marriage at
Cana, water is changed into wine. The symbolic meaning of this miracle
is that the sacrifice of water was to be replaced for a time by the
sacrifice of wine.
There were ages in the history of man when wine was not known. In the
days of the Vedas it was practically unknown. In the ages when there
was no drinking of alcohol, the idea of previous existences and of
many lives was universally held; nobody doubted its truth. As soon as
man began to drink wine, however, the knowledge of re-incarnation
rapidly faded away, ultimately to disappear entirely from the
consciousness of man. It existed only among the Initiates who took no
alcohol. Alcohol has a peculiarly potent effect on the human organism,
especially on the etheric body which is the seat of memory. Alcohol
obscures the intimate depths of memory. ‘Wine induces
forgetfulness’ — so the saying goes. The forgetfulness is
not only superficial or momentary, but deep and permanent and there is
a deadening of the power of memory in the etheric body. That is why,
little by little, men lost their instinctive knowledge of
reincarnation when they began to drink wine.
Belief in reincarnation and the law of Karma had a great
influence not only upon the individual but upon his social sentiment.
It helped him to bear with the inequalities of human life. When the
unhappy Egyptian labourer was working at the Pyramids, or the lowest
caste of Hindu building the gigantic Indian temples in the heart of
the mountains, he said to himself that another existence would
compensate him for labours patiently accomplished, that his master if
he were good had already undergone similar tests or that he would have
to undergo them in the future if he were unjust and cruel.
As the era of Christianity drew near, man was destined to enter upon
an epoch of concentration upon earthly efforts; he was to work towards
the amelioration of earthly existence, the development of intellect,
of logical and scientific understanding of Nature. The knowledge of
re-incarnation, therefore, was to be lost for two thousand years and
wine was the means to this end.
Such is the profound background of the cult of Bacchus, the God of
wine and intoxication. (Bacchus is the popular expression of the God
Dionysos of the Ancient Mysteries to whom quite a different
significance must be attached.) Such, too, is the symbolic meaning of
the Marriage at Cana. Water served the purpose of the ancient
sacrifice; wine was to serve the purpose of the new. The words of
Christ, “Happy are they who have not seen and yet have
believed,” refer to the new epoch when man — wholly given up to his
earthly tasks — was to live without remembrance of his incarnations and
without immediate vision of the divine world.
Christ has left us a testament in the scene on Mount Tabor, in the
Transfiguration before Peter, James and John. The disciples see Him
between Elias and Moses. Elias represents the Way of Truth; Moses, the
Truth itself; Christ, the Life that epitomises them. That is why
Christ can say of Himself: “I am the Way, the Truth and the
All life is thus concentrated, illumined, deepened and transfigured in
Christ. He epitomises the past of the human soul back to its primal
source and prefigures its future to the point of union with God.
Christianity is not only a power of the past but of the future. In
common with the Rosicrucians, the occultist of our day teaches of the
Christ in the inner being of each individual and of the Christ, in the
future, in all mankind.