Inner Christianity: A Guide to the Esoteric Tradition

Inner Christianity: A Guide to the Esoteric Tradition

by Richard Smoley
     
 

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Inner
Christianity

is the first introduction to mystical and esoteric Christianity for the general
reader. It speaks from a nonsectarian point of view, unearthing insights from
the whole of the Christian tradition, orthodox and heretical, famous and
obscure. The esoteric tradition has traditionally searched for meanings that
would yield

Overview

Inner
Christianity

is the first introduction to mystical and esoteric Christianity for the general
reader. It speaks from a nonsectarian point of view, unearthing insights from
the whole of the Christian tradition, orthodox and heretical, famous and
obscure. The esoteric tradition has traditionally searched for meanings that
would yield a deeper inner knowledge of the divine. While traditional
Christianity draws a timeline from Adam's Fall to the Day of Judgment, the
esoteric often sees time as folding in on itself, bringing every point to the
here and now. While the Church fought bitterly over dogma, the esoteric
borrowed freely from other traditions—Kabbalah, astrology, and alchemy—in
their search for metaphors of inner truth.

Rather
than basing his book around exponents of esoteric doctrine, scholar Richard
Smoley concentrates on the questions that are of interest to every searching
Christian. How can one attain direct spiritual experience? What does "the
Fall" really tell us about coming to terms with the world we live in? Can
we find salvation in everyday life? How can we ascend, spiritually, through the
various levels of existence? What was Christ's true message to humankind? From
the Gospel of Thomas to
A
Course in Miracles,

from the Jesus Prayer to alchemy and Tarot, from Origen to Dante to Jung,
Richard Smoley sheds the light of an alternative Christianity on these issues
and more.


Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
While the institutional church has frequently set boundaries limiting what ideas, beliefs, and practices could be considered Christian, Smoley, a former editor of Gnosis magazine, reminds readers that adventurous seekers have always borrowed freely from many sources to enhance their inner spiritual knowledge. Smoley collectively labels these disparate voices "inner" (or "esoteric") Christianity. The writings used to construct this tradition are diverse, ranging from Gnostic gospels and kabbalistic cosmologies, through late medieval alchemical theory, right up to Swedenborgian and New Age teachings. An initial chapter spells out the historical breadth of these traditions, but the bulk of the book offers a contemporary synthesis, providing insight into the deeper, mystical meaning of traditional Christian doctrines. Quotations from the sources are usually more engaging than the synthesis itself, but the author makes the case for listening more closely to an eclectic Christianity's own esoteric voices. Many readers will filter much of the material through a selective sieve of skepticism, but the book overviews a wide range of material and provides a solid introduction to esoteric Christianity for the general reader. Recommended for all libraries.-Steve Young, McHenry Cty. Coll., Crystal Lake, IL
From the Publisher
"A wide range of material . . . provides a solid introduction to esoteric Christianity."— Library Journal

"Smoley traverses a vast continent of belief and practice in this lively guide to Christian esotericism, and he does so with great intelligence and style."—Philip Zaleski, editor of the Best Spiritual Writing series

"We overlook the very heart and soul of Christianity when we reduce it to rules, dogmas, and rigid moral directives. Inner Christianity helps correct that mistake by spelling out, clearly and thoughtfully, the subtle interior mysteries of this religion. This book could help many, Christians and others, find a new level of intelligence in Christian thought and practice. It could change the direction of your spiritual life."—Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul and The Soul's Religion

"In this deeply wise and important work, Richard Smoley restores the realm of inner space to the Christian tradition. Drawing upon a wide range of mystical and esoteric literature and practice, he shows how multidimensional is the Christian message, and how profound its understanding of the nature and purpose of the psyche. In a time of so much change and confusion, this potent book serves as a source of profound guidance and gnosis."—Jean Houston, Ph.D., author of A Mythic Life and Jump Time

"Richard Smoley has rolled away the rock of symbol, myth, metaphor, and obscuration and resurrected the radiant light of an inner Christianity. In clear and vibrant language, he makes the deepest wisdom of the Christian tradition available and accessible to everyone. This book is an empowerment of faith and spirit and will, I predict, become a classic for all who walk the path of Christ in the midst of their everyday lives."—David Spangler, author of Everyday Miracles, Blessing: The Art and the Practice, and Apprenticed to Spirit

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780834824409
Publisher:
Shambhala Publications, Inc.
Publication date:
01/08/2013
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Sales rank:
408,712
File size:
2 MB

Read an Excerpt

From
the Introduction

If
one single theme has dominated the history of the past century, it is loss of
faith. The implacable course of events has cast doubt upon progress,
civilization, political and economic systems, even the essential decency of
human nature. Christianity has not been spared. Starting in the nineteenth
century, science began to show that the earth had been born not six thousand
years in the past, as the Bible seemed to suggest, but billions of years ago.
Even the Gospels themselves no longer seemed like Gospel truth, as historical
and critical methods revealed that much in the life of Christ was not
historical fact but myths and legends that attached themselves to him after his
time.

These
developments have drawn forth a complex array of reactions from clergy and
laity alike. Some have actively rejected this knowledge, taking refuge in
traditionalism and fundamentalism. Others have tried to integrate the new
perspectives into their religious life, only to be left with a vague and
unsatisfying liberal faith. Still others are disaffected from religion in
general or simply bewildered.

Whatever
course we choose, one thing becomes obvious: it is now next to impossible to
take faith unreflectively. We no longer live in a conceptual world framed by
the comforting certainties of church doctrine and the literal truth of the
Bible. And yet, as disorienting and disillusioning as the process of modern
inquiry has been, it has not destroyed the religious search but has invigorated
it. Rather than contenting themselves with secondhand truths, people have begun
to ask how they themselves can know the presence of the divine.

This
impulse has fed the explosion of New Age religions, alternative spiritualities,
and traditions brought over from the East that we have seen in recent decades.
Many of these religions, both new and newly imported, stress enlightenment as a
goal. They say that our ordinary state of consciousness is not the highest one
of which we are capable, but a low-grade, delusory state. Spiritual disciplines
such as meditation can free us from this oblivion and restore us to our full
birthright as human beings.

On
a parallel course, the perennial interest in Christian origins has led scholars
to reexamine many ancient texts and to unearth new ones: the Dead Sea Scrolls
and the Nag Hammadi Library are the most famous examples. Some of these works
suggest that early Christians not only reached insights similar to those of the
Eastern religions but also had a sophisticated understanding of human
consciousness in their own right. Many were concerned with what they called
gnosis,
a
word that means "knowledge" in Greek. This is knowledge of a very
specific kind—direct, intuitive knowing that surpasses ordinary reason and
confers spiritual liberation. Gnosis strongly resembles enlightenment as
portrayed in Hinduism and Buddhism.

Although
interest in these ancient teachings is considerable, many people assume the
teachings were lost long ago, the victims of official suppression and popular
neglect. But in fact careful investigation shows that these truths have always
been kept alive in the Christian tradition and indeed have fed the life of
Western civilization like a great underground stream that only rarely rises to
the surface. There have always been teachers and groups that have managed to
reach these states of higher consciousness and have passed their knowledge on
to the present.

Knowledge
that liberates consciousness is often described as
esoteric.
The
word "esoteric" is somewhat forbidding, usually connoting something
obscure, exotic, and irrelevant to daily life—in short, something "far
out." But etymologically the word means exactly the opposite: it comes
from the Greek
esotero,
which
means "further in." You have to go "further in" yourself to
understand what this knowledge is about. In this book I will use the terms
"inner Christianity" and "esoteric Christianity"
interchangeably.

Esotericism
teaches that this world within us is as rich and diverse as the outer world and
consists of many different levels of being. Furthermore, these levels exist in
a more or less objective way: those familiar with them can discuss them
intelligibly with each other and will find that their experiences are
essentially similar, much as everyone will say a ball is round. Although these
levels stand between us and God, they do so not as obstacles but as way
stations. Christ said, "In my Father's house are many mansions" (John
14:2).

The
Greek word here translated as "mansions" literally means "way
stations."

Some
thinkers differentiate the
esoteric
from
the
mystical,
a
distinction that can be useful as long as one is not too rigid about it.
Esotericism is characterized by an interest in these different levels of
consciousness and being. Mysticism is not quite so concerned with these
intermediate states; it focuses on reaching God in the most direct and
immediate way. The mystic wants to reach his destination as quickly as
possible; the esotericist wants to learn something about the landscape on the
way. Moreover, mysticism tends more toward passivity: a quiet "waiting
upon God" rather than active investigation.

Both
the mystical and the esoteric paths are generously represented in the Christian
tradition. Examples of the former include the fourteenth-century English text
known as
The
Cloud of Unknowing,
which
emphasizes coming to God in the stillness of the heart; the Quietism of
seventeenth-century Spain; and Quaker spirituality, with its focus on the still
experience of the Inner Light. This book, on the other hand, is chiefly about
the esoteric strain: it attempts to discuss some of these different levels
between God and the physical realm and to show how you might experience them
for yourself.

These
brief points suggest what esoteric Christianity offers to the individual: a way
of self-knowledge—a way, perhaps, to the ultimate knowledge of Self. It also
offers a resolution of the age-old dilemma of faith. As even the most casual
reader of the New Testament can see, faith originally meant conviction or
certainty: "Thy faith has made thee whole" (Luke 17:19).

But
over the centuries the term has been watered down into connoting a blind trust
in secondhand dogma despite one's own better judgment. For the esoteric
Christian, faith is indeed vital, but it is not blind trust; rather, it is
"the evidence of things not seen" (Heb.

II:I).
Faith in this sense is the conviction, deeply felt and unshaken by whatever the
world may say, that something real and vital lies beyond the surface of
appearances. In this sense, faith too is a way station. It is the gateway to
knowledge.

To
Christianity collectively, esotericism offers an outlook that can revitalize
the tradition and cut through difficulties that now seem almost insurmountable.
One example is biblical interpretation, which now focuses almost exclusively on
the literal truth of Scripture. Fundamentalists hold to scriptural inerrancy:
the Old and New Testaments are literally true. Moderns, on the other hand,
claim that while the Bible is
meant
to
be literally true, it is a collection of legends and myths that often have
little to do with what really happened.

In
their pure form, both views are dead ends. Fundamentalism requires us to take
Genesis literally, believe that people used to live hundreds of years, and
accept various odd but miraculous interventions of God in history. The liberal
perspective makes no such requirements, but in writing off so much of the
central sacred texts of the tradition, it

tends
to weaken and even invalidate the Christian message. The endless debate about
the "historical Jesus" versus the "Christ of faith," which
has been going on for over two centuries without a satisfactory resolution, is
the most obvious example of this impasse.



What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"A wide range of material . . . provides a solid introduction to esoteric Christianity."— Library Journal

"Smoley traverses a vast continent of belief and practice in this lively guide to Christian esotericism, and he does so with great intelligence and style."—Philip Zaleski, editor of the Best Spiritual Writing series

"We overlook the very heart and soul of Christianity when we reduce it to rules, dogmas, and rigid moral directives. Inner Christianity helps correct that mistake by spelling out, clearly and thoughtfully, the subtle interior mysteries of this religion. This book could help many, Christians and others, find a new level of intelligence in Christian thought and practice. It could change the direction of your spiritual life."—Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul and The Soul's Religion

"In this deeply wise and important work, Richard Smoley restores the realm of inner space to the Christian tradition. Drawing upon a wide range of mystical and esoteric literature and practice, he shows how multidimensional is the Christian message, and how profound its understanding of the nature and purpose of the psyche. In a time of so much change and confusion, this potent book serves as a source of profound guidance and gnosis."—Jean Houston, Ph.D., author of A Mythic Life and Jump Time

"Richard Smoley has rolled away the rock of symbol, myth, metaphor, and obscuration and resurrected the radiant light of an inner Christianity. In clear and vibrant language, he makes the deepest wisdom of the Christian tradition available and accessible to everyone. This book is an empowerment of faith and spirit and will, I predict, become a classic for all who walk the path of Christ in the midst of their everyday lives."—David Spangler, author of Everyday Miracles, Blessing: The Art and the Practice, and Apprenticed to Spirit

Meet the Author

Richard Smoley is a graduate of Harvard College and Oxford University. He is the coauthor, with Jay Kinney, of Hidden Wisdom: A Guide to the Western Inner Traditions and the former editor of Gnosis magazine.

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