Paul Of Tarsus

Great Teacher Series @ Theosophy Trust


PAUL OF TARSUS


There are celestial bodies and there are terrestrial bodies but the glory of the celestial is one and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.

What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust let us also hear the image of the man of heaven.

Lo! I tell you a mystery. This perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is thy victory?
O death, where is thy sting?

PAUL OF TARSUS


The scriptures constituting the Qur'an were fixed within twenty years of the death of Muhammad, the founder of the Islamic faith. The Tao te ching, surviving in an ancient form of Chinese difficult to comprehend, testifies to the authorship of Lao Tzu, the supreme sage of the Taoist tradition. The Upanishads are too ancient to date by means of conventional scholarship, and yet they explicate the primordial mysteries of the ageless Rig Veda. In sharp contrast to these established lineages, the books ascribed to Moses were supposedly lost during the Babylonian Captivity, only to be 'found' again by Hilkiah upon his return to the destroyed Jerusalem. Internal evidence strongly suggests that older documents were reworked into what would become the Pentateuch. The exact contents of the Torah as a whole were not settled until the latter part of the first century, when rabbis had become concerned with abuses of Judaic scripture by Christian apologists. The synoptic Gospels of the New Testament were composed – by hands other then their reputed authors – from earlier sources. Since none of these primary records survive, biblical scholars identify their influence by letters. Q, standing for the German Queue or 'source', marks the most famous of these hypothesized manuscripts. Perhaps they disappeared because they did not give the impression of Jesus and his mission desired by the early Church. Since the orthodox Church possessed only the Greek version of the gospel of Matthew, Jerome was commissioned by Bishop Chromatius and Bishop Heliodorus to search for and translate the original Hebrew. He eventually found it preserved in the library of the Nazarenes at Caesarea: "I received permission from the Nazaraeans who at Beroea of Syria used this gospel to translate it." Jerome wrote that Matthew had intended to keep his gospel secret and that it contained much material "not for edification but for destruction". The Nazarenes held that Jesus had been a wise man who had brought the teaching of the Christos principle and firmly rejected as an abomination the notion that Jesus had been uniquely Christos. The Ebionites, early followers of both John the Baptist and Jesus, maintained the same view and, according to Epiphanius, refused to heed any gospel save the Hebrew Matthew.

Ironically, the original documents of the Christian tradition were even more successfully obliterated than the teachings of Simon Magus. The writings of Paul of Tarsus, comprising half of the New Testament, did not escape the extensive editorial alteration required to bring them into conformity with later Church doctrine. Nevertheless, within the disfigured Pauline epistles can be found the inner teachings of the great Initiate. The life of Paul is given in the Acts of the Apostles, a continuation of the so-called Gospel According to Luke. Acts is now believed by many scholars to be a late document which is, in the words of Paul Johnson, "a bland, quasi-official report of a dispute in the Church and its satisfactory resolution". Even with interpolation and disfigurement, Paul's own writings give a startlingly different impression in both spirit and detail of the events of those times. Despite the 'embarrassment' of Paul's gnostic Christology, the orthodox Church claimed to be established upon the rock of Peter while appropriating the theology of Paul. Though the Reformation churches openly embraced Paul, they were only a little less brazen in twisting his teachings to serve sectarian ends. Thus his life is best understood in the context of early Christian history.

Jehoshua, later known as Jesus, lived about a century before the dates traditionally assigned him. He was a Nazarene and Essene, educated in early Pharisee teaching, which reflected the cosmogony and eschatology of the Zoroastrian (Parsi) tradition. He was a magician and therefore a master of magnetism and a healer. His teachings, originally preserved in logia, sayings, were secret. There are a number of ancient traditions about his death – that he was stoned and hanged, that he lived until the age of fifty or even eighty, that he simply disappeared from exoteric history. His closest followers recorded his teachings in secret books and oral texts, but the vast and loose network of Essene, Nazarene, Samaritan and pre-Christian Gnostic groups were not able to preserve their integrity amidst the upsurge of messianic expectations interwoven within apocalyptic anticipations and suppressed nationalism. Some of those originally attracted to the teachings of Jesus succumbed to the tendency to make exaggerated claims purporting to establish their understanding as unique among all teachings and teachers. By the time of Paul in the middle of the first century of what would later be called the Christian era, matters had taken a serious turn: the sect was rapidly being reabsorbed into a tolerant but conventional Judaic tradition on the one hand, and it was already engaged in rewriting history on the other.

Paul was born in Tarsus in Cilicia, at once a Jew and a Roman citizen. Given the name Saul, from an early age he evinced a strong ethical sense, an unusually penetrating intellect and a conscientious devotion to study. As a pupil of Gamaliel, he received instruction in every point of the Law. While aware that many of his co-religionists lacked both the heart quality and philosophical understanding that became his, he was more alarmed by the hydra-headed messianism which invited escape from authentic spiritual effort. These salvationistic byways promised a fantastic return either to some never-existing pure Judaic theocracy on the one hand or to an imminent miraculous end of the world on the other. Tarsus and all Asia Minor had been deeply influenced by Hellenistic culture, and Saul found himself in the forefront of disputations which aimed at purifying religious thought and practice of psychic excesses. He was naturally drawn towards Jerusalem, the sacred centre of the Judaic faith and the site of the great Second Temple. To his surprise, the Jews of Palestine were considerably more provincial and naive in their views and were thus even more vulnerable to idiosyncracies of thought and practice. Here Jewish law could be used to prosecute a range of religious aberrations which were of little interest to Roman legal practice. Soon Saul emerged as a major force in the purification of traditional religion, winning the unanimous respect of the high priest of the Temple and the governing Council of Elders.

Saul's ability to apply Judaic law, which had over centuries become incredibly complex, and his refined powers of philosophical reasoning made him the obvious choice for the task of reforming extra-Palestinian Judaic communities. Saul, however, was no slavish agent of a temple ritual that he never respected nor an advocate of a political priesthood devoid of spiritual aspiration. His own writings show that he was an Initiate who knew the Mysteries and was interested in the esoteric Kabbalistic school associated with the Temple precinct. Its traditions were strictly oral until after the destruction of the Second Temple in 67 A.D. Thus Saul never saw his mission as limited to those who identified themselves in terms of one particular orthodoxy. When Saul saw Stephen, a follower of Jesus who was openly critical of both Judaic literalism and apostasy, stoned by an angry mob, he realized that his efforts at genuine reform were almost useless in Jerusalem itself. He accepted the letters of introduction gladly offered by the priest and departed for Damascus to examine practices there.

Saul's profound spiritual striving culminated on the road near Damascus. Suddenly, to his eyes alone, the whole earth was filled with a blazing light and the Voice of the Christos filled his inner ear. Saul received the great Initiation into self-conscious immortality and absorption into the universally divine. Biblical texts tell the story of this sacred moment symbolically in language reminiscent of the initiation of Hermes Trismegistus by Pymander, "the mind of the sovereignty". Saul was 'blind' for three days, just as the Egyptian candidate for highest initiation who lay in a trance oblivious to the world for three days in the Great Pyramid, and Jesus, who was said to have lain in the tomb for three days before his resurrection. At the end of that time, he was visited by the mysterious Ananias, who restored his sight. Saul was filled with hagion pneuma, the holy Spirit, and immediately changed his name to Paul, a new human being living a life no longer his own but wholly dedicated to the service of humanity. Those who first met him were suspicious and a little afraid, first in Damascus and even more in Jerusalem. Yet his teaching was so impressed with the authority of inner illumination that even those who had long professed adherence to the path taught by Jesus recognized the mark of gnosis, spiritual wisdom.

Paul called himself an idiotes, one who was filled with gnosis. "We speak wisdom among the perfect or initiated," he wrote, "not the wisdom of this world but divine wisdom, in a mystery, secret, which none of the Archons of this world knew." His knowledge was not that of the lower powers of the world, but of the supercelestial Spirit within each human being. He shaved his head at the Nazarene city of Cenchrea because "he had a vow". The Nazarenes did not cut their hair except when offering it at the altar of initiation. Soon he travelled throughout Asia Minor, Macedonia and Greece teaching the gospel, the good news, to gentiles – those of non-Judaic birth. He taught that the old nature is destroyed by faith – inner illumination – and the new nature emerges in purity.

Those who live on the level of our lower nature have their outlook formed by it, and that spells death; but those who live on the level of the spirit have the spiritual outlook, and that is life and peace. . . . If the Christos is dwelling within you, then although the body is a dead thing because you sinned, yet the spirit is life itself so that you may live rightly.

Paul's emphasis on the primacy of illumination and the necessity of "baptism in the Spirit" rather than ritual practices disturbed those in Jerusalem who wished to tie the teachings of Jesus to traditional Judaic religious custom. Eventually Paul confronted the issue in Jerusalem itself. There he found individuals calling themselves disciples and apostles who insisted that gentiles should be circumcised and compelled to follow old dietary law. According to Acts, Peter came to Paul's view that such details were utterly irrelevant to the work at hand and were best left to individual conscience; but Paul's own writings show a failure to resolve the issue. Paul left Jerusalem realizing that the gospel was threatened from within by a tendency to reduce it to just another Judaic sect. He returned to diaspora Jews and gentiles and insisted on fundamentals – unity in the Christos, human solidarity and the spiritual life fired by universal love.

When the Corinthian church began to show signs of sectarian dissension, Paul wrote: "When one says, 'I am Paul's man', and another, 'I am for Apollos', are you not all too human? After all, what is Apollos? What is Paul?" While teaching that "We are fellow-workers in God's service, and you are God's garden", he gave a clue to his own mission as an Initiate:

I am like a skilled master-builder who by God's grace laid the foundation, and someone else is putting up the building. Let each take care how he builds. There can be no other foundation beyond that which is already laid; I mean the Christos. . . . Surely you know that you are God's temple, where the Spirit of God dwells.

From this perspective Paul taught that it necessarily follows that "There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are varieties of service, but the same Lord." Hence each disciple must be tolerant of others and yet all must act as one harmonious unit. "A body is not one single organ, but many. .. . If one organ suffers, they all suffer together. If one flourishes, they all rejoice together. And you are the body of the Christos, and each of you a limb or organ of it."

There is one fundamental principle which is the highest expression of the Christos in any and every human being: love. This is the key that opens the floodgates of the waters of immortality.

I may speak in tongues of men or of angels, but if I am without love, I am a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal. I may have the gift of prophecy, and know every hidden truth; I may have faith strong enough to move mountains; but if I have no love, I am nothing. I may dole out all I possess, or even seek glory by self-sacrifice, but if I have no love, I am none the better.

Love is patient; love is kind and envies no one. Love is never boastful, nor conceited, nor rude; never selfish, not quick to take offence. Love keeps no score of wrongs; does not gloat over other men's sins, but delights in the truth. There is nothing love cannot face; there is no limit to its faith, its hope and its endurance.

Love will never come to an end. Are there prophets? Their work will be over. Are there tongues of ecstasy? They will cease. Is there knowledge? It will vanish away; for our knowledge and our prophecy alike are partial' and the partial vanishes when wholeness comes. When I was a child, my speech, my outlook and my thoughts were all childish. When I grew up, I had finished with childish things. Now we see only puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we shall see face to face. My knowledge now is partial; then it will be whole, like God's knowledge of me. In a word, there are three things that last forever: faith, hope and love; but the greatest of them all is love.

Those who would take the straight way towards the Christos must be courageous and mature. "Do not be childish, my friends. Be as innocent of evil as babes, but at least be grown-up in your thinking." For those who believe the path is too difficult to tread, Paul pointed to the power of the higher Self: "So far you have faced no trial beyond what man can bear. God keeps faith, and he will not allow you to be tested above your powers, but when the test comes he will at the same time provide a way out, by enabling you to sustain it."

When the Galatian community worried about ritual practice, Paul reminded them that his gospel had illumined them without the requirements of the law. Since illumination is direct, any other gospel is false if it looks to rite and external tradition. One can only know within if one has become a new human being, a traveller upon the path to the Christos; no outward sign can secure gnosis for oneself or guarantee one's nature to another. The test of truth is in consciousness of the Christos. As he similarly wrote the disciples in Rome:

He who loves his neighbour has satisfied every claim of the law. For the commandments 'Thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not covet' and any other commandment there may be, are all summed up in the one rule, Love your neighbour as yourself.' Love cannot wrong a neighbour; therefore the whole law is fulfilled by love.

Tradition holds that Paul was arrested in Jerusalem on the pretext of fomenting trouble. To avoid the possibility of assassination, the commandant Claudius Lysias sent Paul under escort to the Roman governor Felix in Caesarea. Felix bound him over until Festus had become governor. Paul exercised the right of his Roman citizenship by appealing to Caesar and was sent to Rome, where he was permitted to lodge on his own under guard. Some traditions hold that Peter renounced the Jerusalem church and came to Rome to embrace Paul's teaching; others, that they were executed together. Paul disappeared from recorded and rewritten history, leaving the teaching that would preserve the truth for those who see with the inner eye:

Let us then pursue the things that make for peace and build up the common life. . . . Remember how critical the moment is. It is time for you to wake out of sleep, for deliverance is nearer to us now than it was when first we believed. It is far on in the night; day is near. Let us therefore throw off the deeds of darkness and put on our armour as soldiers of the light . . . Let the Christos be the armour that you wear.


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