C. W. (Charles Webster) Leadbeater.

The Christian creed : its origin and signification online

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Online LibraryC. W. (Charles Webster) LeadbeaterThe Christian creed : its origin and signification → online text (page 1 of 10)
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1924 095 631 291


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Reprinted 1909





I. The Earlier Creeds 1

II. Their Origin 11

III. The Descent into Matter .... 33

IV. The Exposition op the Creeds ... 64
V. The Athanasian Creed . . , . .141

Index ........ 170


Chapter I.


Theee are many students of Theosophy who

have been, and indeed still are, earnest Christians ;

and though their faith has gradually broadened

out into unorthodoxy, they have retained a

strong affection for the forms and ceremonials

of the religion into which they were born. It

is a pleasure to them to hear the recitation of the

ancient prayers and creeds, the time-honoured

psalms and canticles, though they try to read

into them a hicfher and wider meanina; than

the ordinary orthodox interpretation.

I have thought that it might be of interest

to such students to have some flight account

of the real meaning and origin of those very

remarkable basic formulae of the Church which

are c;\lled the Creeds, so that when they hear

them or ioin in their recital the ideas brought



into their minds thereby may be the grander
and nobler ones originally connected with them,
rather than the misleading materialism of modern

I have spoken of the ideas originally connected
with them ; I ought perhaps rather to say the
ideas connected with the ancient formula upon
which all the most valuable portion of them is
based. For I do not mean to say for a moment
that any large number of the members, or even
of the leaders, of the Church which now recites
these Creeds have for many a century known
their true meaning. I do not even claim that
the ecclesiastical councils which edited and
authorized them ever realized the full and
glorious signification of the rolling phrases
which they used ; for much of the true
meaning had already been lost, much of the
materializing corruption had been introduced,
long before those unfortunate assemblies were

But this at least does seem certain — that
narrowed, degraded and materialized as the
Christian faith has been, corrupt almost beyond
recognition as its scriptures have become, an
attempt has at least been made by some of the
higher powers to guide those who have com-
piled for it these great symbols called the
Creeds, so that, whatever they may themselves


have known, their language still clearly conveys
the grand truths of the ancient wisdom to all
who have ears to hear ; and much that in these
formulae seems false and incomprehensible when
the endeavour is made to read them in accord-
ance with modern misconceptions, becomes at
once luminous and full of meaning when under-
stood in that inner sense which exalts it from a
fragment of unreliable biography into a declara-
tion of eternal truth.

It is with the elucidation of this inner sense
of the Creeds that I am concerned ; and although
in writing of this it will be necessary for me to
make some reference to their real history, I need
hardly say that I am not in any way attempting
to approach the subject from the ordinary
scholarly standpoint. Such information as I
have to give about the Creeds is obtained
neither from the comparison of ancient manu-
scripts nor from the study of the voluminous
works of theological writers, but is simply the
result of an investigation into the records of
Nature made by a few students of occultism.
Their notice was incidentally attracted to the
question while following up quite another line
of research, and it was then seen that the
matter was of sufficient interest to repay further
and more detailed examination.

It will perhaps be a new idea to some of my


readers that there is such a thing as a record of
Nature — that there are methods by which it is
possible to recover with absolute certainty the
true story of the past. The fact that this can
be done is well known to those who have studied
the subject, and much ancient history of most
vivid interest has already been examined in this
way. To explain the process would be outside
the scope of this treatise, and I would refer
those who desire further information upon this
matter to my little book on Clairvoyance.

■ The Christian Church at present uses three
formulations of belief, called respectively the
Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the
Athanasian Creed. The first and second of
these have many points in common, and may
easily be examined together ; the third is so
much longer and so difi'erent in character, that
it will be more convenient to devote a separate
chapter to its consideration later. As at present
found in the Prayer-book of the Church of
England, these Creeds are as follows : —

The Apostles' Creed.

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker
of heaven and earth ; and in Jesus Christ his
only Son our Lord, who was conceived by the
Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, sufi^ered
under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and


buried ; he descended into hell ; the third day
he rose again from the dead ; he ascended into
heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God
the Father Almighty ; from thence he shall come
to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy catholic
Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness
of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the
life everlasting.

The Nicene Creed.

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth, and of all things
visible and invisible ; and in one Lord Jesus
Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten
of his Father before all worlds, God of
God, Light of Light, very God of very God,
begotten, not made, being of one substance with
the Father, by whom all things were made ; who
for us men and for our salvation came down
from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy
Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man,
and was crucified also for us under Pontius
Pilate ; he suffered and was buried, and the
third day he rose again according to the
scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth
on the right hand of the Father ; and he shall
come again with glory to judge both the quick
and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end.


And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord
and giver of life, who proceedeth from the
Father and the Son, who with the Father and
the Son together is worshipped and glorified,
who spake by the prophets ; and I believe one
catholic and apostolic Church; I acknowledge
one baptism for the remission of sins, and I
look for the resurrection of the dead and the
life of the world to come.

Since for the comprehension of the Nicene
Creed so much depends upon accurate translation
from the Greek original, I append here the re-
ceived text for comparison.

r[icrT€uo/;iev ets eva Qeov Harepa iravTOKpaTopa,
TTOLrjTrjv ovpavov kol yrj?, oparmv re vdvTcov Koi

Kal ets eua Kupioj' Irjcrovv l^pLcrrbv, tov vlov
Tov Qeov TOV piovoyevrj, tov Ik tov IlaT/aos yevvr)-
OevTa Trpo TTavTOiv Twv alcovcjv, 6ebv iK Oeov, (j)a)s
CK (fxiiTO?, Oeov aXrjdivov e/c deov akyjOwov, yevvrj-
devTa ov TTOVTjdivTa, op^oovcnov to) traTpL' St' ov ra
TTavTa iyevcTO' tov Sl rfp,a<i tous dvOpcJirovs Koi
Ota TTjv rj/xeTepav (roiTrjpiav KwrekOovTa iK TOiv
ovpavmv, koI crapKwOivTa e/c TTvevjxaTO'; dyCov /cat
Maptas Trjs Hapdevov, kol ivavdpcaTTrjcrdvTa'
CTTavprndevTa re vTzep rjiJ-Zv itTi Uovtlov UikaTov,
Kat iravovTa, /cat Ta(f>€VTa' /cat dvacrTavTa Ty Tpi.T'^


rjfjiepq,, Kara ras y/aa^as" Koi aveXOovTa eis rows
ovpavoii?, Koi Ka0e^6ij.euov Ik Be^toiv tov TlaTpb<;,
Kai TTokiv ip)(6ij.evov fiera 80^175 Kplvai ^aii/ras koI
vcKpov^' oil Trj'i ySacriXeias ovk Icrrat reXos.

Kal ets TO Xli/eCjaa to aytov, to Kvpiov, koi to

[fiJOTTOLOV, TO CK ToO IlaTpoS iKTropevOfieVOV, TO O'l'l'
riaTpi Kai YlW (TVp.TTpOCTKVVOVp.f.VOV KoL (Tvvho^-

atpjjLevov, TO \akrjcrav Sta Ta>v TTpocjiiQTCov' ets fitav
ayiav Kado\iKr)v koX aTTOcrTo\i,icrjv iKKXrjcrCav
ofio\.oyovjji.ev iv ^diTTicrpja eis a,^€(Tiv ajjiapTLCJV
TTpoar8oKci)fji.ev dvdcrTacnp v€Kpu)v, koX tfiyr]v tov
/iteWovTos aloivo?.

Their Date and History.

Before describing the true origin of these
Creeds, let me very briefly epitomize the current
ideas of orthodox theologians as to their date
and history. At one time the ecclesiastical
theory was that the Nicene and the Athanasian
formulae were merely amplifications of the
Apostles' Creed, but it is now universally recog-
nized that the Nicene Creed is historically the
oldest of the three. Let us take them one by
one, and glance at what is commonly known
of them.

Some sort of brief and simple Creed seems to
have been in use from a very early period, not
only as a symbol of faith, but as a pass-word in
military style. But the wording of this formula


appears to have varied considerably in different
countries, and it was not until centuries later
that anything like uniformity was attained. An
example of the earlier form is the Creed given by
Irenseus in his work Against Heresies : "1
believe in One God almighty, of jvhom are all
things . . . and in the Son of God, by whom,
are all things."

The earliest mention of a Creed bearing the
name of the Apostles occurs in the fourth
century in the writings of Rufinus, who states
that it is so called because it consists of twelve
articles, one of which was contributed by each of
the twelve Apostles assembled in solemn
conclave for the purpose. But Rufinus is not
regarded as any great historical authority, and
even in the Roman Catholic encyclopaedia of
Wetzer and Welte his story is considered as a
mere pious legend.

The Apostles' Creed is not found in anything
like its present form till fully four centuries
after the composition of the Nicene symbol,
and the most authoritative writers on the
subject suppose it to be a mere conglomerate
slowly formed by the gradual collation of earlier
and simpler expressions of belief. Occult in-
vestigation negatives this idea, as will be
explained later, and, though quite admitting its
composite character, assigns to part of it at any


rate a far higher origin than even that claimed
by Rufinus.

Much more definite and satisfactory, from the
ordinary point of view, is the history of the
longer formula called the Nicene Creed, which
appears in the mass of the Roman Church and
the communion service of the Church of England.
Practically all writers seem agreed that with the
exception of two notable omissions it was drawn
up at the Council of Nicsea in the year 325.
As most readers will be aware, that council was
summoned in order to settle the controversies
then raging among ecclesiastical authorities as
to the exact nature of the Christ. The
Athanasian or materialistic party declared him
to be of the same substance as the Father, while
the followers of Arius preferred not to commit
themselves to anything stronger than the state-
ment that he was of like substance, nor were
they willing to admit that he also was without

The point seems a small one to have caused
so much excitement and ill-feeling ; but it
appears to be one of the characteristics of
theological controversy that the smaller the
difi'erence of opinion the more acrimonious is the
hatred between the disputants. Suggestions
have been made that Constantino himself
exercised a somewhat undue influence over the


deliberations of the council ; however that may
have been, its decision was in favour of the
Athanasian party, and the Nicene Creed was
accepted as the expression of the faith of the
majority. As then drawn up, it ended (if we
omit the awful anathema, which shows very
clearly the real spirit of the council) with the
words, " I believe in the Holy Ghost," and the
clauses with which it now concludes were added
at the Council of Constantinople in the year 381,
with the exception of the words " and the Son,"
which were inserted by the Western Church at
the Council of Toledo in the year 589.

Chapter II.


Having thus very briefly epitomized wliat is
generally accepted by orthodox scholars with
regard to the history of the Creeds, I will now
proceed to recount what was discovered in
relation to them in the course of the investiga-
tions to which I have already referred.

The first point to bear in mind is that all the
Creeds as we have them now are essentially
composite productions, and that the only one
of them which in any way represents a single
original document is the latest of all — the
4thanasian. I am perfectly aware that even
this opening statement flies directly in the face
of the ideas ordinarily received upon this subject,
but I cannot help that ; I am simply stating the
facts as the investigators found them.

These Creeds, then, embody statements which

are derived from three quite separate sources,

and we shall find it of great interest to endeavour

to disentangle these three elements from one



anotlier, and to assign to each of them re-
spectively those clauses of the Creed (as we have it
now) which have flowed from them. These are : —

(a) An ancient formula of cosmogenesis,
resting on very high authority indeed.

(b) The rubric for the guidance of the hiero-
phant in the Egyptian form of the Sohan or
Sot^patti initiation.

(c) The materializing tendency which mis-
takenly sought to interpret these two documents
(a) and (&) as relating the biography of an

Let us consider each of these sources a little
more in detail.

The Life of the Christ.

It is not my intention here to enter at leng'Eh.
into the extremely interesting information which
clairvoyant investigation has given to us with
regard to the true life -story of the great teacher
Christ. That will be a work to be done here-
kfter, but it will assuredly not be undertaken
unless and until it is possible for us to adduce in
support of our statements evidence entirely apart
from that of clairvoyance — -evidence such as will

, appeal to the minds of the scholar and the
V.ntiquarian. It will, however, be necessary for

'^ comprehension of the purpose of the ancient
formula above mentioned that just a few words


upon that subject should be introduced into this

When the Churchman ends his prayer with
the words " through Jesus Christ our Lord," he
is confusing together three entirely separate
ideas — (a) the disciple Jesus ; {b) the great
Master whom men call the Christ, though he is
known by another and far grander name among
the Initiates ; and (c) the Second Aspect or
Person of the Logos. With regard to the first
of these, Mrs. Besant writes in that wonderful
book, Esoteric Christianity : —

" The child whose Jewish name has been
turned into that of Jesus was born in Pales-
tine B.C. 105, during the consulate of Publius
Eutilius Rufus and Gnseus Mallius Maximus.
His parents were well-born though poor, and he
was educated in a knowledge of the Hebrew
scriptures. His fervent devotion and a gravity
beyond his years led his parents to dedicate him
to the religious and ascetic life, and soon after a
visit to Jerusalem, in which the extraordinary
intelligence and eagerness for knowledge of the
youth were shown in his seeking of the doctors
in the temple, he was sent to be trained in an
Essene community in the southern Judsean
desert. When he had reached the age of nine-
teen he went on to the Essene monastery near
Mount Serbal, a monastery which was much


visited by learned men travelling from Persia
and India to Egypt, and where a magnificent
library of occult works — many of them Indian of
the trans-Himalayan regions — had been estab-
lished. From this seat of mystic learning he
proceeded later to Egypt. He had been fully
instructed in the secret teachings which were the
real fount of life among the Essenes, and was
initiated in Egypt as a disciple of that one
sublime Lodge from which every great religion
has its Founder. For Egypt has remained one
of the world -centres of the true Mysteries,
whereof all semi-public Mysteries are the faint
and far-off reflections. The Mysteries spoken of
in history as the Egyptian were the shadow of
the true things ' in the Mount,' and there the
young Hebrew received the solemn consecration
which prepared him for the royal priesthood he
was later to attain" (p. 129).

Indeed, this was a young man of such
wondrous devotion and such surpassing purity
that he was found worthy of the highest honour
that can come to man- — he was permitted to
yield up his body for the use of a mighty
Teacher sent out by the Great Brotherhood to
found a new religion, to present in yet another
form the wonderful truth, many-sided because
divine, which now we are studying under the
name of Theosophy. This Great One took pos-


session of tlie body when it was twenty-nine
years old, and used it for three years, two of
which were occupied in instructing the heads of
the Essene community in the Mysteries of the
Kingdom of Heaven, and one in preaching to
the general public among the hills and fields of
Palestine. It is of this last year's work only
that some traditions are preserved in the gospel
story, though even those traditions are so cor-
rupted and overlaid that it is all but impossible
to sift the truth from the falsehood in them.
Both the disciple Jesus and the great Master
Christ are men of our own humanity, however
far in advance of us they are along the path of
evolution. It is therefore incorrect to speak of
either of them as a direct manifestation or in-
carnation of the Second Person of the Trinity,
though it is true that there is a certain mystical
connection here which is fully understood only
by the advanced student.

The Formula which He Taught.

For the purposes of our present inquiry,
however, we need not consider that side of the
question at all, but may simply think of the
Christ as a teacher within the bosom of the
Essene community, living amongst them and
instructing them for some time before his public
ministry commenced. The heads of this com-


munity were already in possession of fragments
of more or less accurate information — possibly
obtained from Buddhist sources — with regard to
the origin of all things. These the Christ put
together and rendered coherent, casting them
for the purpose of ready memorization into the
shape of a formula of belief which may be
regarded as the first source of the Christian

The original of this formula may perhaps some
day be exactly translated into English ; but such
an undertaking would need the co-operation of
several persons, and very minute care as to the
niceties of meaning and choice of words. The
attempt will therefore not be made here ; yet,
since many have inquired what clauses were
included in it, it may be well to give a rough
idea of it in the words which follow — it being
of course understood that this is a paraphrase
of its meaning as enshrined in the hearts of
those to whom it had been taught, rather
than an attempt at an accurate rendering
of it.

" We believe in God the Father, from whom
comes the system — yea, our world and all things
therein, whether seen or unseen ;

" And in God the Son, most holy, alone-born
from His Father before all the aeons, not made
but emanated, being of the very substance of


the Father, true God from the true God, true
Light from the true Light, by whom all forms
were made ; who for us men came down from
heaven and entered the dense sea, yet riseth
thence again in ever greater glory to a kingdom
without end ;

" And in God the Holy Ghost, the Lifegiver,
emanating also from the Father, equal with Him
and with the Son in glory ; who manifesteth
through His Angels ;

"We recognize one brotherhood of holy men
as leading to the Greater Brotherhood above,
one initiation for emancipation from the fetters
of sin and for escape from the wheel of birth and
death into eternal life."

The purpose for which this symbol was con-
structed was to condense into a form easily
remembered the teaching as to the origin of the
cosmos which the Christ had been giving to the
heads of the Essene community. Each phrase
of it would recall to their minds much more
than the mere words in which it was expressed ;
in fact, it was a mnemonic such as the Buddha
used when he gave to his hearers the Four Noble
Truths, and no doubt each clause was taken as
a text for explanation and expansion, much in
the same way as Madame Blavatsky wrote the
whole of The Secret Doctrine upon the basis of
the Stanzas of Dzyan.

18 the christian creed.

The Egyptian Rubric.

In considering the second source, whicli we
have decided to mark as (b), we have to re-
member that the Egyptian religion expressed
itself principally through a multiplicity of forms
and ceremonies, and that even in its Mysteries
the same tendency repeatedly showed itself.
The highest step of these Mysteries placed a man
definitely upon the Path, as we should now call
it ; that is to say, it corresponded with what in
Buddhist terminology is called the Sot&pafcti
initiation. An elaborate symbolical ritual was
performed in connection with this step, and part
of our Creed is a direct reproduction of the
instructions' laid down by that ritual for the
officiating hierophant, the only difference being
that what there stood as a series of directions
has been recast into the form of a historical
narrative describing that descent of the Logos
into matter which the original ritual was in-
tended to symbolize.

This rubric of initiation, in the new form
which we have described, was inserted in the
formula (a) by the leaders of the Essene com-
munity shortly after the Christ's departure from
among them, in order that the details as to the
descent of the Logos (which he had so often
illustrated for them by reference to the ritual of


this initiation) might be commemorated in the
same symbol which gave the great outline of the

Teaching similar in character and similarly
illustrated by symbol was given by him with
regard to the work of the Logos in His First
and Third Aspects, though comparatively little
of it has been preserved to us ; but there seems
no doubt that special importance was attached
by the Christ to the accurate comprehension by
his disciples of the descent into matter of the
monadic essence which is outpoured by the
Logos in His Second Aspect.

This is readily comprehensible if we reflect
that it is this monadic essence which ensouls all
the forms around us, and that it is only through
its study that the great principle of evolution
can be grasped, and the law of love which sways
the universe at all understood. For though
undoubtedly evolution is also taking place in
the case of the life which ensouls atoms and
molecules, its progress is entirely beyond our ken ;
and assuredly the same may be said, at any

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Online LibraryC. W. (Charles Webster) LeadbeaterThe Christian creed : its origin and signification → online text (page 1 of 10)