Most truths are so naked that people feel sorry for them and cover them up, at least a little bit.
In speaking of S. Paul as an occultist, it may be well first of all to define the word "occultism," which otherwise may easily lead to controversy. By "occultist" I do not mean a magician; but, in the sense that S. Paul was initiated into the Mysteries, he was an occultist, and his teaching is undoubtedly founded upon the mystery-religions which, in his day, existed all over the world.
One great basic idea is at the back of all his teaching: It is that of Christhood. And if we analyse this teaching in its entirety we find that what he really taught was a great hope for humanity. In his Christology we see clearly outlined the two aspects of the Universal Christ, and the Historic Christ, or Jesus, the Personal Master of S. Paul. In his conception the Universal Christ is focussed in the Person of Jesus, and so, to understand this conception, it is necessary to study both these aspects, always remembering that although S. Paul expressed a very definite theology he had no definite system, and hardly ever attempted to define his terms. His teaching is contained in a series of letters mostly circular, written to Churches which he could not always visit personally; and these messages were passed on. This absence of definition creates a real difficulty from a theological point of view, for often an interpretation has been given to his teaching which certainly he himself never dreamt of.
If we examine the schools called "heretical" - the works of the great doctors of the Gnosis - we find that S. Paul uses all their technical terms; but whether he gives them the same meaning it is not always possible to say. A characteristic feature of his theology is the use of the pairs of opposites: He never speaks of one thing without at the same time mentioning its opposite. These opposites can be classified under the two broad divisions of Universal and Particular. Under the Universal, we find the Flesh opposed to the Spirit, Sin to Grace, Death to Life, Wrath to Glory. Under the Particular, we find "the Old Man," Adam, opposed to the "New Man," Jesus; the Old Law opposed to the Gospel or New Law, the "natural body" to the "spiritual body," and "works" to "faith."
In some of these sayings he may possibly refer to some previous teachings orally given.
We must remember that, although S. Paul was a Jew, he could not wholly escape from the Eastern influences prevalent in his day: and his native city of Tarsus was itself probably a meeting-place for Eastern and Western philosophies. Thus we find in him a mixture of the Gnostic and of the Pharisee, a strain of Hellenistic mysticism grafted on to the Rabbinical teaching. But superadded to this is his probable initiation into the Mysteries of Jesus.
S. Paul followed very closely upon Jesus. That in such a brief space of time S. Paul's Christology could have been so elaborated and so matured is one of the problems of History.
Let us now consider his doctrine of the Old and the New Adam.
To S. Paul, Christ was the raison d'etre of all this teaching; and when he speaks of "the fullness" of Christ - a word which is a mystery-term - he means by it the contents of the highest plane in the universe, the plane of the Pleroma, or highest archetypal plane, on which dwells the Universal Christ. The Individual Christ is the expression, in physical manifestation, of the Christ of the Pleroma. Thus we may say that the conception of Man, the Microcosm - microcosm of the spiritual Macrocosm - is the keynote of S. Paul's teaching: the highest is reflected in the lowest; the Universal Christ is revealed in the New Adam, Jesus-Christ. In Him is therefore the promise of spiritual enfoldment for all the children of men.
This idea of a spiritual evolution is not Jewish, but distinctly Hellenistic. In the original Greek text the word "old" has the meaning obsolete; S. Paul adjures his disciples to "put off the obsolete man," or that personality which they had outgrown, and to put on the "new man," the new personality in Jesus-Christ. In dealing with this subject he often quotes the Kabbalah, to some of the passages of which - notably in I Cor. xv, 45 - he gives a mystical interpretation. Yet while the Kabbalah speaks of four Adams, S. Paul only mentions two, the two who stand at the opposite poles, the "new" and the "old", the regenerated man and the man of sin. The Kabbalah may be said to describe the involution of man, while S. Paul describes his evolution. The Kabbalah speaks of the first Adam as the Heavenly Man, the Archetype, who is collectively the Crown, Kepher, the Highest Three of the Ten Sephiroth or Elohim.
The second Adam is collectively the Lowest Seven of the Ten, or the Hierarchy that fashion Man on the lower levels.
The third Adam is dual - Adam-Eve - and the fourth Adam is Physical Man, clothed in skin. The "Garden of Eden" is not on earth, but on the plane of noumena - a fact we should bear in mind when we attempt to square the Book of Genesis with modern science.
Thus the Kabbalah is concerned with the downward arc, or the descent of Spirit in Matter, while S. Paul attempts to complete the circle, and deals with the upward arc, the return of Spirit to the Godhead whence it came forth.
With regard to the vestments, or vehicles, assumed by the Spirit, S. Paul considers only three - the "natural body," or body of the resurrection, the psychic or soul-body acting as a link between the two. In II Corinthians, v, 1-5, he uses the metaphor of putting one garment over another, the spiritual over the physical; he evidently does not, in this passage, mean a physical death and resurrection, but a transmutation of the physical into the spiritual, the earthly into the heavenly. For him "the resurrection" is a spiritual state, and - he almost apologizes for not yet having himself "attained to the resurrection," (Phil. iii, 10-15). Thus his "resurrection from the dead" is actually a change in consciousness, the transformation of the carnal man into the spiritual, in other words, the attainment of Christhood, the "Christ within" that is "our hope of glory."
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