The Mystery of the Virgin Birth
[This is taken from Mystic Christianity.]
By Yogi Ramacharaka
One of the points of conflict between Established Theology on the one hand and what is known as Rationalism, the Higher Criticism, and Comparative Mythology, on the other hand, is what is known as “the Virgin Birth” of Jesus. Perhaps we may show the points of difference more clearly by simply stating the opposing views and, afterwards, giving the traditions of the Occult Brotherhoods and Societies on the subject. We are enabled to state the opposing views without prejudice, because we rest upon the Occult Teachings with a feeling of being above and outside of the theological strife raging between the two schools of Christian theologians. We trust that the reader will reserve his decision until the consideration of the matter in this lesson is completed. We think that it will be found that the Occult Teachings give the Key to the Mystery and furnish the Reconciliation between the opposing theological views which threaten to divide the churches into two camps, i.e., (1) the adherents of the established orthodox theology, and (2) the adherents of the views of the Rationalists and the Higher Critics.
The school of theology which clings to the old orthodox teachings regarding the Virgin Birth and which teachings are commonly accepted without question by the mass of church-goers, hold as follows:
Mary, a young Jewish maiden, or virgin, was betrothed to Joseph, a carpenter of Nazareth in Galilee. Before her marriage, she was informed by an angelic vision that she would miraculously conceive a son, to whom she would give birth, and who would reign on the Throne of David and be called the Son of the Highest. This teaching is based solely upon certain statements contained in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Matthew’s account is as follows:
“Now, the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with the child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph, her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS, for he shall save his people from their sins. And now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold a virgin shall be with a child and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not until she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus.” (Matt. 1:18-25.)
Luke’s account is as follows:
“And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her and said, Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. And when she saw him she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David. And he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:26-33.)
And so, this then is the commonly accepted, orthodox teachings of Christian theology. It is embodied in the two best-known creeds of the church and is made an essential article of belief by the majority of the orthodox churches.
In the Apostle’s Creed, which has been traced back to about the year A.D. 500, and which is claimed to have been based on an older creed, the doctrine is stated thusly: “… and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary,” etc. In the Nicene Creed, which dates from A.D. 325, the doctrine is stated thusly: “… and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of his Father … and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary,” etc.
And so, the doctrine is plainly stated and firmly insisted upon by the orthodox churches of today, although such was not always the case for the matter was one which gave rise to much conflict and difference of opinion in the early centuries of the Church, the present view, however, overcoming those who opposed it, and finally becoming accepted as beyond doubt or question by the orthodox, believing Christian.
But the present time finds many leading minds in the churches, who refuse to accept the doctrine as usually taught, and the voice of the Higher Criticism is heard in the land in increasing volume and many doctrines unquestioningly held by the pews are being abandoned by the pulpits, usually in the way of “discreet silence” being maintained. But here and there courageous voices are heard stating plainly that which their reason and conscience impels. We shall now consider these dissenting opinions.
We have to say here, at this point, that we have no sympathy for the so-called “infidel” opinion, which holds that the whole tale of the Virgin Birth was invented to conceal the illegitimate birth of Jesus. Such a view is based neither on intelligent investigation or criticism, or upon the occult teachings. It was merely “invented” itself, by those who were unable to accept current theology and who, when driven from the churches, built up a crude system of reconstructed Biblical History of their own. And so we shall not stop to even consider this view of the matter, but shall pass on to the scholarly objectors and their views and thence to the Occult Teachings.
In the first place, the theologians who favor the views of the Higher Criticism object to the idea of the Virgin Birth upon several general grounds, among which the following are the principal ones:
(1) That the story of the Divine Conception, that is the conception by a woman of a child without a human father, and by means of a miraculous act on the part of Deity, is one found among the traditions, legends and beliefs of many heathen and pagan nations. Nearly all of the old Oriental religions, antedating Christianity by many centuries, contain stories of this kind concerning their gods, prophets and great leaders. The critics hold that the story of the Virgin Birth and Divine Conception were borrowed outright from these pagan legends and incorporated into the Christian Writings after the death of Christ;
(2) that the idea of the Virgin Birth was not an original Christian Doctrine, but was injected into the Teachings at a date about one hundred years, or nearly so, after the beginning of the Christian Era; this view being corroborated by the fact that the New Testament Writings themselves contain very little mention of the idea, the only mention of it being in two of the Gospels, those of St. Matthew and St. Luke—St. Mark and St. John containing no mention of the matter, which would not likely be the case had it been an accepted belief in the early days of Christianity—and no mention being made of it in the Epistles, even Paul being utterly silent on the question. They claim that the Virgin Birth was unknown to the primitive Christians and was not heard of until its “borrowing” from pagan beliefs many years after. In support of their idea, as above stated, they call attention to the fact that the New Testament writings, known to Biblical students as the oldest and earliest, make no mention of the idea; and that Paul ignores it completely, as well as the other writers;
(3) that the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke bear internal evidences of the introduction of the story at a later date. This matter we shall now consider, from the point of view of the Higher Criticism within the body of the Church.
In the first place, let us consider the Gospel of St. Matthew. The majority of people accept this as having been written by St. Matthew, with his own hand, during his ministry; and that the Gospel, word for word, is the work of this great apostle. This idea, however, is not held for a moment by the educated clergy, as may be seen by a reference to any prominent theological work of late years, or even in the pages of a good encyclopedia. The investigators have made diligent researches concerning the probable authorship of the New Testament books and their reports would surprise many faithful church-goers who are not acquainted with the facts of the case. There is no warrant, outside of tradition and custom, for the belief that Matthew wrote the Gospel accredited to him, at least in its present shape. Without going deeply into the argument of the investigators (which may be found in any recent work on the History of the Gospels) we would say that the generally accepted conclusion now held by the authorities is that the Gospel commonly accredited to St. Matthew is the work of some unknown hand or hands, which was produced during the latter part of the first century A.D., written in Greek, and most likely an enlargement or elaboration of certain Aramaic writings entitled, “Sayings of Jesus,” which are thought to have been written by Matthew himself. In other words, even the most conservative of the critics do not claim that the Gospel of St. Matthew is anything more than an enlargement, elaboration or development of Matthew’s earlier writings, written many years before the elaboration of the present “Gospel.” The more radical critics take an even less respectful view. This being the fact, it may be readily seen how easy it would have been for the latter-day “elaborator” to introduce the then current legend of the Virgin Birth, borrowed from pagan sources.
As a further internal evidence of such interpolation of outside matter, the critics point to the fact that while the Gospel of Matthew is made to claim that Joseph was merely the reputed father of the child of Mary, the same Gospel, in its very first chapter (Matt. 1) gives the genealogy of Jesus from David to Joseph the husband of Mary, in order to prove that Jesus came from the “House of David,” in accordance with the Messianic tradition. The chapter begins with the words, “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matt. 1), and then goes on to name fourteen generations from Abraham to David; fourteen generations from David to the days of the carrying away into Babylon; and fourteen generations from the Babylonian days until the birth of Jesus. The critics call attention to this recital of Jesus’s descent, through Joseph, from the House of David, which is but one of the many indications that the original Matthew inclined quite strongly to the view that Jesus was the Hebrew Messiah, come to reign upon the throne of David, rather than a Divine Avatar or Incarnation.
The critics point to the fact that if Joseph were not the real father of Jesus, where would be the sense and purpose of proving his descent from David through Joseph? It is pertinently asked, ”Why the necessity or purpose of the recital of Joseph’s genealogy, as applied to Jesus, if indeed Jesus were not truly the son of Joseph?” The explanation of the critics is that the earlier writings of Matthew contained nothing regarding the Virgin Birth, Matthew having heard nothing of this pagan legend, and that naturally he gave the genealogy of Jesus from David and Abraham. If one omits the verses 18-25 from Matthew’s Gospel, he will see the logical relation of the genealogy to the rest of the account—otherwise it is paradoxical, contradictory and ridiculous, and shows the joints and seams where it has been fitted into the older account.
“But,” you may ask, “what of the Messianic Prophecy mentioned by Matthew (1:23)? Surely this is a direct reference to the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14.” Let us examine this so-called “prophecy,” of which so much has been said and see just what reference it has to the birth of Jesus.
Turning back to Isaiah 7, we find these words, just a little before the “prophecy”:
“Moreover the Lord spake again unto Ahaz, saying, Ask thee a sign of the Lord thy God; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord. And he said, Hear ye now, O house of David; is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also?” (Isaiah 6:13.)
Then comes the “prophecy”: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Immanuel.” This is the “prophecy” quoted by the writer of the Gospel of Matthew, and which has been quoted for centuries in Christian churches, as a foretelling of the miraculous birth of Jesus.
As a matter of fact, intelligent theologians know that it has no reference to Jesus at all, in any way, but belongs to another occurrence, as we shall see presently, and was injected into the Gospel narrative merely to support the views of the writer thereof.
It may be well to add here that many of the best authorities hold that the Greek translation of the Hebrew word “almah” into the equivalent of “virgin” in the usual sense of the word is incorrect. The Hebrew word “almah” used in the original Hebrew text of Isaiah, does not mean “virgin” as the term is usually employed, but rather “a young woman of marriageable age—a maiden,” the Hebrews having an entirely different word for the idea of “virginity,” as the term is generally used. The word “almah” is used in other parts of the Old Testament to indicate a “young woman—a maiden,” notably in Proverbs 30:19, in the reference to “the way of a man with a maid.”
But we need not enter into discussions of this kind, say the Higher Critics, for the so-called “prophecy” refers to an entirely different matter. It appears, say they, that Ahaz, a weakling king of Judea, was in sore distress because Rezin the Syrian king, and Pekah the ruler of Northern Israel, had formed an offensive alliance against him and were moving their combined forces toward Jerusalem. In his fear he sought an alliance with Assyria, which alliance was disapproved of by Isaiah who remonstrated with Ahaz about the proposed move. The king was too much unnerved by fear to listen to Isaiah’s arguments and so the latter dropped into prophecy. He prophesied, after the manner of the Oriental seer, that the land would be laid waste and misery entailed upon Israel, should the suicidal policy be adopted. But he held out a hope for a brighter future after the clouds of adversity had rolled by. A new and wise prince would arise who would bring Israel to her former glory. That prince would be born of a young mother and his name would be Immanuel, which means “God with us.” All this had reference to things of a reasonably near future and had no reference to the birth of Jesus some seven hundred years after, who was not a prince sitting upon the throne of Israel, and who did not bring national glory and renown to Israel, for such was not his mission. Hebrew scholars and churchmen have often claimed that Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled by the birth of Hezekiah.
There is no evidence whatever in the Jewish history of the seven hundred years between Isaiah and Jesus, that the Hebrews regarded Isaiah’s prophecy as relating to the expected Messiah, but on the contrary it was thought to relate to a minor event in their history. As a Jewish writer has truly said, “Throughout the wide extent of Jewish literature there is not a single passage which can bear the construction that the Messiah should be miraculously conceived.” Other writers along this line have stated the same thing, showing that the idea of a Virgin Birth was foreign to the Jewish mind, the Hebrews having always respected and highly honored married life and human parentage, regarding their children as blessings and gifts from God.
Another writer in the Church has said, “Such a fable as the birth of the Messiah from a virgin could have arisen anywhere else easier than among the Jews; their doctrine of the divine unity placed an impassable gulf between God and the world; their high regard for the marriage relation,” etc., would have rendered the idea obnoxious. Other authorities agree with this idea, and insist that the idea of the Virgin Birth never originated in Hebrew prophecy, but was injected into the Christian Doctrine from pagan sources, toward the end of the first century, and received credence owing to the influx of converts from the “heathen” peoples who found in the idea a correspondence with their former beliefs. As Rev. R.J. Campbell, minister of the City Temple, London, says in his “New Theology,” “No New Testament passage whatever is directly or indirectly a prophecy of the virgin birth of Jesus. To insist upon this may seem to many like beating a man of straw, but if so, the man of straw still retains a good deal of vitality.”
Let us now turn to the second account of the Virgin Birth, in the Gospels—the only other place that it is mentioned, outside of the story in Matthew, above considered. We find this second mention in Luke 1:26-35, the verses having been quoted in the first part of this lesson.
There has been much dispute regarding the real authorship of the Gospel commonly accredited to Luke, but it is generally agreed upon by Biblical scholars that it was the latest of the first three Gospels (generally known as “the Synoptic Gospels”). It is also generally agreed upon, by such scholars, that the author, whoever he may have been, was not an eye witness of the events in the Life of Christ. Some of the best authorities hold that he was a Gentile (non-Hebrew), probably a Greek, for his Greek literary style is far above the average, his vocabulary being very rich and his diction admirable. It is also generally believed that the same hand wrote the Book of Acts. Tradition holds that the author was one Luke, a Christian convert after the death of Jesus, who was one of Paul’s missionary band which traveled from Troas to Macedonia, and who shared Paul’s imprisonment in Caesarea; and who shared Paul’s shipwreck experiences on the voyage to Rome. He is thought to have written his Gospel long after the death of Paul, for the benefit and instruction of one Theophilus, a man of rank residing in Antioch.
It is held by writers of the Higher Criticism that the account of the Virgin Birth was either injected in Luke’s narrative, by some later writer, or else that Luke in his old age adopted this view which was beginning to gain credence among the converted Christians of pagan origin, Luke himself being of this class. It is pointed out that as Paul, who was Luke’s close friend and teacher, made no mention of the Virgin Birth, and taught nothing of the kind, Luke must have acquired the legend later, if, indeed, the narrative was written by him at all in his Gospel.
It is likewise noted that Luke also gives a genealogy of Jesus, from Adam, through Abraham, and David, and Joseph. The words in parenthesis “as was supposed,” in Luke 3:23, are supposed to have been inserted in the text by a later writer, as there would be no sense or reason in tracing the genealogy of Jesus through a “supposed” father. The verse in question reads thusly: “And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli,” etc. Students, of course, notice that the line of descent given by Luke differs very materially from that given by Matthew, showing a lack of knowledge on the part of one or the other writer.
On the whole, scholars consider it most remarkable that this account of the Virgin Birth should be given by Luke, who was a most ardent Pauline student and follower, in view of the fact that Paul ignored the whole legend, if, indeed, he had ever heard of it. Surely a man like Paul would have laid great stress upon this wonderful event had he believed in it, or had it formed a part of the Christian Doctrine of his time. That Luke should have written this account is a great mystery—and many feel that it is much easier to accept the theory of the later interpolation of the story into Luke’s Gospel, particularly in view of the corroborative indications.
Summing up the views of the Higher Criticism, we may say that the general position taken by the opponents and deniers of the Virgin Birth of Jesus is about as follows:
- The story of the Virgin Birth is found only in the introductory portion of two of the four Gospels—Matthew and Luke—and even in these the story bears the appearance of having been “fitted in” by later writers.
- Even Matthew and Luke are silent about the matter after the statements in the introductory part of their Gospels, which could scarcely occur had the story been written by and believed in by the writers, such action on their part being contrary to human custom and probability.
- The Gospels of Mark and John are absolutely silent on the subject; the oldest of the Gospels—that of Mark—bears no trace of the legend; and the latest Gospel—that of John—being equally free from its mention.
- The rest of the New Testament breathes not a word of the story or doctrine. The Book of Acts, generally accepted as having also been written by Luke, ignores the subject completely. Paul, the teacher of Luke, and the great writer of the Early Church, seems to know nothing whatever about the Virgin Birth, or else purposely ignores it entirely, the latter being unbelievable in such a man. Peter, the First Apostle, makes no mention of the story or doctrine in his great Epistles, which fact is inconceivable if he knew of and believed in the legend. The Book of Revelation is likewise silent upon this doctrine which played so important a part in the later history of the Church. The great writings of the New Testament contain no mention of the story, outside of the brief mention in Matthew and Luke, alluded to above.
- There are many verses in the Gospels and Epistles which go to prove, either that the story was unknown to the writers, or else not accepted by them. The genealogies of Joseph are cited to prove the descent of Jesus from David, which depends entirely upon the fact of Joseph’s actual parentage. Jesus is repeatedly and freely mentioned as the son of Joseph. Paul and the other Apostles hold firmly to the doctrine of the necessity of the Death of Jesus; his Rising from the Dead; and his Ascension into Heaven, etc. But they had nothing to say regarding any necessity for his Virgin Birth, or the necessity for the acceptance of any such doctrine—they are absolutely silent on this point, although they were careful men, omitting no important detail of doctrine. Paul even speaks of Jesus as “of the seed of David.” (Rom. 1:3.)
- The Virgin Birth was not a part of the early traditions or doctrine of the Church, but was unknown to it. And it is not referred to in the preaching and teaching of the Apostles, as may have been seen by reference to the Book of Acts. This book, which relates the Acts and Teachings of the Apostles, could not have inadvertently omitted such an important doctrine or point of teaching. It is urged by careful and conscientious Christian scholars that the multitudes converted to Christianity in the early days must have been ignorant of, or uninformed on, this miraculous event, which would seem inexcusable on the part of the Apostles had they known of it and believed in its truth. This condition of affairs must have lasted until nearly the second century, when the pagan beliefs began to filter in by reason of the great influx of pagan converts.
- There is every reason for believing that the legend arose from other pagan legends, the religions of other peoples being filled with accounts of miraculous births of heroes, gods, and prophets, kings and sages.
- That acceptance of the legend is not, nor should it be, a proof of belief in Christ and Christianity. This view is well voiced by Rev. Dr. Campbell, in his “New Theology,” when he says “The credibility and significance of Christianity are in no way affected by the doctrine of the Virgin Birth, otherwise than that the belief tends to put a barrier between Jesus and the race, and to make him something that cannot properly be called human…. Like many others, I used to take the position that acceptance or non-acceptance of the doctrine of the Virgin Birth was immaterial because Christianity was quite independent of it; but later reflection has convinced me that in point of fact it operates as a hindrance to spiritual religion and a real living faith in Jesus. The simple and natural conclusion is that Jesus was the child of Joseph and Mary, and had an uneventful childhood.” The German theologian, Soltau, says, “Whoever makes the further demand that an evangelical Christian shall believe in the words ‘conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary,’ wittingly constitutes himself a sharer in a sin against the Holy Spirit and the true Gospel as transmitted to us by the Apostles and their school in the Apostolic Age.”
And this then is the summing up of the contention between the conservative school of Christian theologians on the one side and the liberal and radical schools on the other side. We have given you a statement of the positions, merely that you may understand the problem. But, before we pass to the consideration of the Occult Teachings, let us ask one question: How do the Higher Critics account for the undoubted doctrine of the Divine Fatherhood, as clearly stated all through the New Testament, in view of the proofs against the Virgin Birth? Why the frequent and repeated mention of Jesus as “the Son of God?” What was the Secret Doctrine underlying the Divine Parentage of Jesus, which the pagan legends corrupted into the story of the Virgin Birth of theology? We fear that the answer is not to be found in the books and preachments of the Higher Criticism, nor yet in those of the Conservative Theologians. Let us now see what light the Occult Teachings can throw on this dark subject! There is an Inner Doctrine which explains the mystery.
Now, in the first place, there is no reference in the Occult Teaching to any miraculous features connected with the physical birth of Jesus.
It is not expressly denied, it is true, but the Teachings contain no reference to the matter, and all the references to the subject of Jesus’ parentage speak of Joseph as being His father, and Mary His mother. In other words, the family is treated as being composed of father, mother and child just as is the case with any family. The Occult Teachings go into great detail concerning the Spiritual Sonship of Jesus, as we shall see presently, but there is no mention of any miraculous physical conception and birth.
We can readily understand why the Virgin Birth legend would not appeal to the Occultists, if we will but consider the doctrines of the latter. The Occultists pay but little attention to the physical body, except as a Temple of the Spirit, and a habitation of the soul. The physical body, to the Occultist, is a mere material shell, constantly changing its constituent cells, serving to house the soul of the individual, and which when cast off and discarded is no more than any other bit of disintegrating material. They know of the existence of the soul separate from the body, both after the death of the latter and even during its life, in the case of Astral Travel, etc. And in many other ways it becomes natural for the Occultist to regard his body, and the bodies of others, as mere “shells,” to be treated well, used properly, and then willingly discarded or exchanged for another.
In view of the above facts, you may readily see that any theory or doctrine which made the Absolute—God—overshadow a human woman’s body and cause her to physically conceive a child, would appear crude, barbarous, unnecessary and in defiance of the natural laws established by the Cause of Causes. The Occultist sees in the conception of every child, the work of the Divine Will–every conception and birth a miracle. But he sees Natural Law underlying each, and he believes that the Divine Will always operates under Natural Laws—the seeming miracles and exceptions thereto, resulting from the mastery and operation of some law not generally known. But the Occultist knows of no law that will operate to produce conception by other than the physiological process.
In short, the Occultist does not regard the physical body of Jesus as Jesus Himself–he knows that the Real Jesus is something much greater than His body, and, consequently, he sees no more necessity for a miraculous conception of His body than he would for a miraculous creation of His robe. The body of Jesus was only material substance—the Real Jesus was Spirit. The Occultists do not regard Joseph as the father of the Real Jesus–no human being can produce or create a soul. And so, the Occultist sees no reason for accepting the old pagan doctrine of the physical Virgin Birth which has crept into Christianity from outside sources. To the Occultist, there is a real Virgin Birth of an entirely different nature, as we shall see presently.
But, not so with the people who flocked to the ranks of Christianity toward the close of the first century—coming from pagan people, and bringing with them their pagan legends and doctrines. These people believed that the Body was the Real Man, and consequently attached the greatest importance to it. These people were almost materialists as the result of their pagan views of life. They began to exert an influence on the small body of original Christians, and soon the original teachings were smothered by the weight of the pagan doctrines. For instance, they failed to grasp the beautiful ideas of Immortality held by the original Christians, which held that the soul survived the death and disintegration of the body. They could not grasp this transcendental truth—they did not know what was meant by the term “the soul,” and so they substituted their pagan doctrine of the resurrection of the physical body. They believed that at some future time there would come a great Day, in which the Dead would arise from their graves, and become again alive. The crudeness of this idea, when compared to the beautiful doctrine of the Immortality of the Soul of the original Christians, and by the advanced Christians to-day, is quite painful. And yet these pagan converts actually smothered out the true teachings by their crude doctrine of resurrection of the body.
These people could not understand how a man could live without his physical body, and to them future life meant a resurrection of their dead bodies which would again become alive. To them the dead bodies would remain dead, until the Great Day, when they would be made alive again. There is no teaching among these people regarding the soul which passes out of the body and lives again on higher planes. No, nothing of this kind was known to these people—they were incapable of such high ideas and ideals—they were materialists and were wedded to their beloved animal bodies, and believed that their dead bodies would in some miraculous way be made alive again at some time in the future, when they would again live on earth.
In view of modern knowledge regarding the nature of matter, and the fact that what is one person’s body to-day, may be a part of another’s to-morrow—that matter is constantly being converted and reconverted—that the universal material is used to form bodies of animals, plants, men, or else dwell in chemical gases, or combinations in inorganic things—in view of these accepted truths the “resurrection of the body” seems a pitiful invention of the minds of a primitive and ignorant people, and not a high spiritual teaching. In fact, there may be many of you who would doubt that the Christians of that day so taught, were it not for the undisputed historical records, and the remnant of the doctrine itself embalmed in the “Apostle’s Creed,” in the passage ”I believe in the resurrection of the body” which is read in the Churches daily, but which doctrine is scarcely ever taught in these days, and is believed in by but few Christians—in fact, is ignored or even denied by the majority.
Dr. James Beattie has written, “Though mankind have at all times had a persuasion of the immortality of the soul, the resurrection of the body was a doctrine peculiar to early Christianity.” S.T. Coleridge has written, “Some of the most influential of the early Christian writers were materialists, holding the soul to be material—corporeal.
It appears that in those days some few held the soul to be incorporeal, according to the views of Plato and others, but that the orthodox Christian divines looked upon this as an impious, unscriptural opinion. Justin Martyr argued against the Platonic nature of the soul. And even some latter-day writers have not hesitated to express their views on the subject, agreeing with the earlier orthodox brethren. For instance, Dr. R.S. Candlish has said, “You live again in the body,–in the very body, as to all essential properties, and to all practical intents and purposes, in which you live now. I am not to live as a ghost, a spectre, a spirit, I am to live then as I live now, in the body.”
The reason that the early Church laid so much stress on this doctrine of the Resurrection of the Body, was because an inner sect, the Gnostics, held to the contrary, and the partisan spirit of the majority swung them to the other extreme, until they utterly denied any other idea, and insisted upon the resurrection and re-vitalizing of the physical body. But, in spite of the official fostering of this crude theory, it gradually sank into actual insignificance, although its shadow still persists in creed and word. Its spirit has retreated and passed away before the advancing idea of the Immortality of the Soul which returned again and again to Christianity until it won the victory. And as Prof. Nathaniel Schmidt has said, in his article on the subject in a leading encyclopaedia, “… The doctrine of the natural immortality of the human soul became so important a part of Christian thought that the resurrection naturally lost its vital significance, and it has practically held no place in the great systems of philosophy elaborated by the Christian thinkers in modern times.” And, yet, the Church continues to repeat the now meaningless words, “I believe in the Resurrection of the Body.” And while practically no one now believes it, still the recital of the words, and the statement of one’s belief in them, forms a necessary requisite for admission into the Christian Church to-day. Such is the persistent hold of dead forms, and thoughts, upon living people.
And, so you can readily see from what has been said, why the early Christians, about the close of the first century A.D., attached so much importance to the physical conception and birth of Jesus. To them the physical body of Jesus was Jesus Himself. The rest follows naturally, including the Virgin Birth and the Physical Resurrection. We trust that you now understand this part of the subject.
We have heard devout Christians shocked at the idea that Jesus was born of a human father and mother, in the natural way of the race. They seemed to think that it savored of impurity. Such a notion is the result of a perverted idea of the sacredness of natural functions—a seeing of impurity—where all is pure. What a perversion, this regarding the sacredness of human Fatherhood, and Motherhood, as impure! The man of true spirituality sees in the Divine Trinity of Father, Mother and Child, something most pure and sacred—something that brings man very close indeed to God. Is the beautiful babe, held close in its mother’s fond embrace, a symbol and type of impurity? Is the watchful care and love of the Father of the babe, an impure result of an impure cause? Does not one’s own heart tell him the contrary? Look at the well known picture of the Journey to Egypt, with Mary carrying the babe, and both guarded and protected by the husband and father—Joseph—is this not a beautiful symbol of the sacredness of Parenthood? We trust that the majority of those who read these pages have advanced spiritually beyond the point where The Family is a thing of impure suggestion and relationship.
And, now, what are the Occult Teachings—the Secret Doctrine—regarding the Real Virgin Birth of Jesus? Just this: that the Spirit of Jesus was fresh from the bosom of the Absolute—Spirit of SPIRIT—a Virgin Birth of Spirit. His Spirit had not traveled the weary upward path of Reincarnation and repeated Rebirth, but was Virgin Spirit fresh from the SPIRIT—a very Son of the Father—begotten not created. This Virgin Spirit was incarnated in His body, and there began the life of Man, not fully aware of His own nature, but gradually awakening into knowledge just as does every human soul, until at last the true nature of His Being burst upon him, and he saw that he indeed was God incarnate. In his short life of thirty-three years—thirty years of preparation, and three years of ministry, Jesus typified and symbolized the Life of the Race. Just as he awakened into a perception of his Divine Nature, so shall the race awaken in time. Every act in the Life of Jesus typified and symbolized the life of every individual soul, and of the race. We all have our Garden of Gethsemane—each is Crucified, and Ascends to Higher Planes. This is the Occult Doctrine of the Virgin Birth of Christ. Is it not a worthy one—is it not at least a higher conception of the human mind, than the physical Virgin Birth legend?
As we proceed with our lessons, we shall bring out the details of the Occult Teachings concerning the Divine Nature of Christ—the Spirit within the Human Form. And, in these references and instruction, you will see even more clearly that nature of the Spiritual Virgin Birth of Jesus.
The original Christians were instructed in the Truth concerning the Virgin Birth, that is, those who were sufficiently intelligent to grasp it. But after the great Teachers passed away, and their successors became overzealous in their desire to convert the outside peoples, the influx of the latter gradually overcame the original teachings, and the physical Virgin Birth and the Resurrection of the Body, became Doctrines and Articles of Faith, held of vital importance by the new orthodox leaders. It has taken centuries of mental struggle, and spiritual unfoldment to bring the Light of the Truth to bear upon this dark corner of the Faith, but the work is now fairly under way, and the great minds in the Church, as well as those out of the Church, are beginning to lay the old legend aside as a worn out relic of primitive days when the cloud of Ignorance overshadowed the Light of Truth.
In concluding this lesson, let us glance once more at the words of the eminent divine, Dr. Campbell, in his New Theology, in which he states:
“But why hesitate about the question? The greatness of Jesus and the value of his revelation to mankind are in no way either assisted or diminished by the manner of his entry into the world. Every birth is just as wonderful as a virgin birth could possibly be, and just as much a direct act of God. A supernatural conception bears no relation whatever to the moral and spiritual worth of the person who is supposed to enter the world in this abnormal way…. Those who insist on the doctrine will find themselves in danger of proving too much, for pressed to its logical conclusion, it removes Jesus altogether from the category of humanity in any real sense.”
Let us trust that these Higher Critics may become informed upon the truths of the Occult Teachings, which supply the Missing Key, and afford the Reconciliation, and which show how and why Jesus is, in all and very truth, THE SON OF GOD, begotten and not created, of one substance from the Father—a particle of Purest Spirit fresh from the Ocean of Spirit, and free from the Karma of past Incarnations—how He was human and yet more than human.
In our next lesson we shall take up the narrative of the secret life of Jesus from the time of his appearance, as a child at the Temple, among the Elders, until when at the age of thirty years he appeared at the scene of the ministry of John the Baptist, and began his own brief ministry of three years which was closed by the Crucifixion and Ascension. This is a phase of the subject of intense interest, and startling nature, because of the lack of knowledge of the occult traditions on the part of the general public.