The Esoteric Tradition in Christianity
A Book Review
A Guide to the Esoteric Tradition
by Richard Smoley
In this profoundly thoughtful and insightful work, Richard Smoley reminds us that the esoteric tradition is not only found in eastern and other traditions but is found in Christianity as well.
In Part Two, titled “The Vision” I was hooked. Smoley does a masterful job of getting to the essence of inner Christianity. To get a glimpse of this essence, he guides us on a short meditation to take a break from the monkey mind and get a sense of the true “I”, the inner true self. On page 52 he writes:
Even conventional psychology teaches that many of our ideas and attitudes are not innate to us but are merely a matter of conditioning. Inner Christianity goes a step further and suggests that even what seems to be truly innate-the deepest instincts of the body itself-is also part of the world that is experienced, and that the “I” can detach itself-from these things. To be aware of this distinction is to begin to have inner freedom.
The irony is that people who say they have not experienced the spirit, the inner self; the “I” within them is actually doing the looking. As Christ said:
The kingdom of God cometh not with observation; Neither shall they say, Lo here! Or, lo there! for, behold the kingdom of God is within you”.
Luke 17: 20–21
I like the term he uses for the higher self, “the primordial principle of consciousness” or the “I”. He states there are other expressions we could use, “but they run the risk of suggesting that consciousness lies outside of ourselves rather than at the center.”
In Part Three, “Expressions”, Chapter 8 “Spiritual Practices”. Smoley points out one of the contrast between the Christian tradition and Eastern teachings. In the Christian tradition, “knowing God is ultimately a matter of cultivating a personal relationship”. In Eastern teachings they view God or the Absolute in “essentially impersonal terms. “Enlightenment comes through correct and assiduous practice.”
In Chapter 9 “Love, Evil, and Forgiveness” Smoley brings to light the inner Christianity understanding of the Book of Job. This was one of my favorite chapters. The sub chapter “Escaping Karma” he writes an esoteric exposition of the parable of the unjust steward in Luke 16: 1–9. He mentions the bane of Christianity, being its history of “accusing others of heresy, blasphemy, and other offenses in the pathetic belief they are defending God.” But from an esoteric or inner Christianity perspective:
“And this is the last and perhaps the most difficult lesson to learn in self-transcendence: the surrender of one’s own cherished image of God, nurtured and fostered, perhaps, by years of religious education.”
Inner Christianity, page 185
Another sub chapter on page 219, “The Transformation of the Eucharist” was one I found most poignant, probably because of my struggle when I was in the pastoral ministry with the celebration of holy communion. I always felt the central mystery of the Eucharist was lost to the semblance of getting your weekly vaccination. Smoley points out:
The symbolism of bread and wine and its transformation into flesh and blood is not only the central mystery of the Christian religion but provides a key to the esoteric symbolism of much of the Bible, and even to a certain degree of other traditions such as Sufism. It can be best understood by relating two sets of symbols to the four levels known to esoteric Christianity:
- Physical — Ground — Stone
- Psychological — Wheat — Water
- Spiritual — Bread — Wine
- Divine — Flesh — Blood
Smoley goes on to elucidate the esoteric or Inner Christian meaning in these symbols.
In Conclusion, I have only briefly highlighted some of the passages and chapters that spoke to me personally. There is so much depth to this book, that a book review doesn’t do justice. I can only underscore what a profound and brilliant manuscript he has written.
More about this book at my Bookstore…
Originally published at https://spiritualmasters.site on January 16, 2022.