Christianity: Historical Function & Spirit

(from "Revolt Against the Modern World")




[…] If, on the one hand, we should not ignore the complexity and the heterogeneity of the elements that were found in primitive Christianity, on the other hand, we should not minimize the existing antithesis between the dominating forces and the pathos found in these elements and the original Roman spirit. At this point I do not purport to focus on the traditional elements found in this or that historical civilization; I rather intend to assess in what function and according to what spirit the historical currents have acted as a whole. Thus the presence of some traditional elements within Christianity, and more specifically within Catholicism, should not prevent us from recognizing the subversive character of these two currents.


We already know what kind of equivocal spirituality is associated with Judaism, from which Christianity grew, and with the Asiatic cults of decadence that facilitated the expansion of the new faith beyond its birthplace.


The immediate antecedent of Christianity was not traditional Judaism, but rather prophetism and analogous currents in which the notions of sin and of expiation prevailed; in which a desperate form of spirituality emerged; and in which the type of the warrior Messiah as an emanation of the "Lord of Hosts" was replaced with the type of the Messiah as "Son of Man" predestined to be the sacrificial victim, the persecuted one, the hope of the afflicted and the rejected, as well as the object of a confused and ecstatic cult. It is a well-known fact that the mystical figure of Jesus Christ originally derived his power and inspiration from an environment impregnated with this messianic pathos, the size of which grew with time as a result of prophetic preaching and various apocalyptic expectations. By regarding Jesus as Savior and by breaking away from the "Law," that is, from Jewish orthodoxy, primitive Christianity took up several themes typical of the Semitic soul at large. These themes were those proper to an innerly divided human type and constituted fertile ground for the growth of an antitraditional virus, especially vis-à-vis a tradition like the Roman one. Through Paul's theology these elements were universalized and activated without a direct relationship to their Jewish origins.


As far as Orphism is concerned, it facilitated the acceptance of Christianity in several areas of the ancient world, not so much as an initiatory doctrine of the Mysteries, but as its profanation paralleling the onslaught of the cults of Mediterranean decadence. These cults were characterized by the idea of "salvation" in a merely religious sense and by the ideal of a religion open to everyone and therefore alien to any notion of race, tradition, and caste; in other words, this ideal welcomed all those who had no race, tradition, or caste. A confused need started to grow among these masses, in concert with the parallel action of the universalist cults of Eastern origins, until the figure of the founder of Christianity became the precipitating catalyst and the crystallization of what had been saturating the spiritual "atmosphere." When this happened, it was no longer a matter of a state of mind or a widespread influence, but of a well-defined force opposing the world of tradition.


From a doctrinal point of view, Christianity appears as a desperate version of Dionysism. Modeling itself after a broken human type, it appealed to the irrational part of being and instead of the paths of heroic, sapiential, and initiatory spiritual growth posited faith as its fundamental instrument, the élan of a restless and perturbed soul that is attracted to the supernatural in a confused way. Through its suggestions concerning the imminent advent of the Kingdom of God and its vivid portrayals of either eternal salvation or eternal damnation, primitive Christianity exasperated the crisis of such a human type and strengthened the force of faith, thus opening a problematic path of liberation through the symbol of salvation and redemption found in the crucified Christ. If in the symbolism of Christ there are traces of a mysteric pattern (through new references to Orphism and to analogous currents), nevertheless the proprium or typical feature of the new religion was the employment of such a pattern on a plane that was no longer based on initiation, but rather on feelings and on a confused mysticism; therefore it can rightly be said that with Christianity, God became a human being. In Christianity we no longer find the pure religion of the Law, as in traditional Judaism, nor a true initiatory Mystery, but rather an intermediate form, a surrogate of the latter in a formulation proper to the abovementioned broken human type; this type felt relieved from his abjection, redeemed through the feeling of "grace," animated by a new hope, justified and rescued from the world, the flesh, and from death. (1) All of this represented something fundamentally alien to the Roman and classical spirit, better yet, to the Indo-European spirit as a whole. Historically, this signified the predominance of pathos over ethos and of that equivocal, deficient soteriology that had always been opposed by the noble demeanor of the sacred Roman patriciate, by the strict style of the jurists, the leaders, and the pagan sages. God was no longer conceived of as the symbol of an essence not liable to passion and change, which establishes an unbridgeable distance between itself and all that is merely human; nor was he the God of the patricians who is invoked in an erect position, who is carried in front of the legions and who becomes embodied in the winner. The God who came to be worshiped was a figure who in his "passion" took up and affirmed in an exclusivist fashion ("I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me." John 14:6-7) the Pelasgic-Dionysian motif of the sacrificed gods and the gods who die and rise again in the shadow of the Great Mothers. Even the myth of the virginal birth reflects an analogous influence, since it reminds us of the goddesses who generate without a mate (like Hesiod's Gaea); in this regard the relevant role that the cult of the "Mother of God," or the "Divine Virgin" was destined to play in the development of Christianity is significant. In Catholicism Mary, the "Mother of God," is the queen of angels and of all the saints; she is also thought of as the adoptive mother of mankind, as the "Queen of the world," and as the "bestower of all favors." These expressions, which are exaggerated in comparison to the effective role played by Mary in the myth of the Synoptic Gospels, echo the attributes of the sovereign divine Mothers of the pre-Indo-European Southern Hemisphere. Although Christianity is essentially a religion of the Christ, more so than of the Father, its representations of both the infant Jesus and the body of the crucified Christ in the arms of the deified Mother show definite similarities with the representations of the eastern Mediterranean cults, thereby giving new emphasis to the antithesis that exists between itself and the ideal of the purely Olympian deities who are exempt from passions and free of the telluric, maternal element. The symbol that the Church herself eventually adopted was that of the Mother (Mother Church). The epitome of true religiosity became that of the imploring and prayerful soul, that is aware of its unworthiness, sinfulness, and powerlessness before the Crucified One. (2) The hatred early Christianity felt toward any form of virile spirituality, and its stigmatization as folly and sin of pride anything that may promote an active overcoming of the human condition express in a clear fashion its lack of understanding of the "heroic" symbol. The potential that the new faith was able to generate among those who felt the live mystery of the Christ, or of the Savior, and who drew from it the inner strength to pursue martyrdom frantically, does not prevent the advent of Christianity from representing a fall; its advent characterized a special form of that spiritual emasculation typical of the cycles of a lunar and priestly type.


(1) Thus, in comparison with historical Judaism, primitive Christianity may be credited with a mystical character along the same lines of prophetism, but not with an initiatory character, contrary to what F. Schuon claimed (The Transcendent Unity of Religions [Paris, 1937]) on the basis of sporadic elements found mostly in Eastern Orthodoxy. We should never forget though that if Christianity developed from the ancient Jewish tradition, orthodox Judaism developed in an independent fashion through the Talmud and the Kabbalah, which represents an initiatory tradition that was always missing in Christianity. This is how, later on, true esotericism developed in the West, that is, outside Christianity and with the help of non-Christian currents such as the Jewish Kabbalah, Hermeticism, or movements of a remote Nordic origin.


(2) In pre-Christian Rome the libri sibillini, which introduced the cult of the Great Goddess, also introduced the supplicatio, the ritual abasement before the divine statue, whose knees were hugged and whose hands and feet were kissed.


Even in Christian morality, the role played by Southern and non-Aryan influences is rather visible. It does not really make much of a difference that it was in the name of a god instead of a goddess that equality among human beings was spiritually proclaimed and that love was adopted as the supreme principle. This belief in human equality essentially belongs to a general worldview, a version of which is that "natural law" that crept into the Roman law during decadent times; it exercised an antithetical function to the heroic ideal of personality and to the value bestowed on anything that a being, by becoming differentiated, by giving itself a form, is able to claim for itself within a hierarchical social order. And so it happened that Christian egalitarianism, based on the principles of brotherhood, love, and community, became the mystical and religious foundation of a social ideal radically opposed to the pure Roman idea. Instead of universality, which is authentic only in its function as a hierarchical peak that does not abolish but presupposes and sanctions the differences among human beings, what arose was the ideal of collectivity reaffirmed in the symbol of the mystical body of Christ; this latter ideal contained in embryonic form a further regressive and involutive influence that Catholicism itself, despite its Romanization, was neither able nor entirely willing to overcome.


Some people attempt to see a value in Christianity as a doctrine because of its idea of the supernatural and the dualism that it upheld. Here, however, we find a typical case of a different action that the same principle can exercise according to the function under which it is assumed. Christian dualism essentially derives from the dualism proper to the Semitic spirit; it acted in a totally opposite way from the spirit according to which the doctrine of the two natures constituted the basis of any achievement of traditional humanity. In early Christianity the rigid opposition of the natural and supernatural orders may have had a pragmatic justification motivated by a particular historical and existential situation of a given human type. Such dualism differs from the traditional dualism, however, in that it is not subordinated to a higher principle or to a higher truth, and that it claims for itself an absolute and ontological character rather than a relative and functional one. The two orders, the natural and the supernatural, as well as the distance between them, were hypostatized and thus any real and active contact was prevented from taking place. Thus, in regard to man (here too because of a parallel influence of a Jewish theme) what emerged were: (a) the notion of the "creature" separated by an essential distance from God as its "Creator" and as a personal, distinct being; and (b) the exasperation of this distance through the revival and the accentuation of the idea, of Jewish origins as well, of “original sin."


More particularly, this dualism generated the understanding of all manifestations of spiritual influence in the passive terms of “grace," "election," and "salvation," as well as the disavowal (at times accompanied by real animosity) of all "heroic" human possibilities; the counterpart of this disavowal consisted in humility, fear of God, mortification of the flesh, and prayer. Jesus' saying in Matthew (11: 12) concerning the violence suffered by the kingdom of Heaven and the revival of the Davidic saying: "You are gods" (John 10:34), belong to elements that exercised virtually no influence on the main pathos of early Christianity. But in Christianity in general it is evident that what has been universalized, rendered exclusive, and exalted are the way, the truth, and the attitude that pertain only to an inferior human type or to those lower strata of a society for whom the exoteric forms of Tradition have been devised; this was precisely one of the characteristic signs of the climate of the Dark Age, or Kali Yuga.


What has been said concerns the relationship of man with the divine. The second consequence of Christian dualism was the deconsecration of nature. Christian "supernaturalism" caused the natural myths of antiquity to be misunderstood once and for all. Nature ceased to be something living; that magical and symbolical perception of nature that formed the basis of priestly sciences was rejected and branded as "pagan." Following the triumph of Christianity, these sciences underwent a rapid process of degeneration, with the exception of a weakened residue represented by the later Catholic tradition of the rites. Thus, nature came to be perceived as something alien and even diabolical. Again, this constituted the basis for the development of an asceticism of a monastic and mortifying type, hostile to the world and to life (Christian asceticism), and radically antithetical to the classical and Roman sensibility.


The third consequence concerns the political domain. The principles: "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36) and "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's" (Matt. 22:21), represented a direct attack on the concept of traditional sovereignty and of that unity of the two powers that had formally been reestablished in imperial Rome. According to Gelasius I, after Christ, no man can simultaneously be king and priest; the unity of sacerdotium and regnum, when it is vindicated by a king, is a diabolical deception and a counterfeit of the true priestly regality that belongs to Christ alone. It was precisely at this point that the contrast between Christian and Roman ideas escalated into an open conflict. When Christianity developed the Roman pantheon was so inclusive that even the cult of the Christian Savior could have found its proper place within it, among other cults, as a particular cult derived from a schism in Judaism. As I have previously suggested, it was typical of the imperial universalism to exercise a higher unifying and organizing function over and above any particular cult, which it did not need to deny or to oppose. What was required though, was an act demonstrating a superordained fides in reference to the principle "from above" embodied in the representative of the empire, namely, in the "Augustus." The Christians refused to perform this very act, consisting of a ritual and sacrificial offering made before the imperial symbol, since they claimed that it was incompatible with their faith; this was the only reason why there was such an epidemic of martyrs, which may have appeared as pure folly in the eyes of the Roman Magistrates.


In this way, the new belief imposed itself. Over and against a particular universalism, a new, opposite universalism based on a metaphysical dualism affirmed itself. The traditional hierarchical view, according to which loyalty enjoyed a supernatural sanction and a religious value, since every power descended from above, was undermined at its very foundation. In this sinful world there can only be room for a civitas diaboli, the civitas dei, or the divine state, was thought to belong to a separate plane and to consist in the unity of those who are drawn to the otherworld by a confused longing and who, as Christians, acknowledge only Christ as their leader as they await the Last Day. Wherever this idea did not result in a virus that proved to be a defeatist and subversive one, and wherever Caesar was still given "the things which are Caesar's," the fides remained deconsecrated and secularized; it merely had the value of a contingent obedience to a power that was merely temporal. The Pauline saying, "all authority comes from God" was destined to remain ineffectual and meaningless.


And thus, although Christianity upheld the spiritual and supernatural principle, historically speaking this principle was destined to act in a dissociative and even destructive fashion; it did not represent something capable of galvanizing whatever in the Roman world had become materialized and fragmented, but rather represented something heterogeneous, a different current drawn to what in Rome was no longer Roman and to forces that the Northern Light had successfully kept under control for the duration of an entire cycle. It helped to rescind the last contacts and to accelerate the end of a great tradition. It is not surprising that Rutilius Namatianus put Christians and Jews on the same level, insofar as both groups were hostile to Rome's authority; he also blamed the former for spreading a fatal disease (excisae pestis contagia) outside the boundaries of Judea, which was under the legions' yoke, and the latter for spreading a poison that altered both the race and the spirit (tunc mutabantur corpora, nunc animi).


When considering the enigmatic witnesses offered by ancient symbols, one cannot help noticing the role the motif of the ass played in the myth of Jesus. Not only was the ass present in the Nativity scene, but it was on an ass that the Virgin and the Divine Child escaped to Egypt; most of all, it was on an ass that Jesus rode during his triumphal entrance into Jerusalem. The ass was it traditional symbol of an infernal dissolutive "force." In Egypt it was the animal sacred to Set, who embodied this force, had an antisolar character, and was associated with the "children of the powerless rebellion." In India the ass was the mount of Mudevi, who represented the infernal aspect of the feminine deity. Also, in Greece the ass was the symbolic animal that in Lethe's plain continuously ate Ocnus's handiwork, and that had a relationship with the chthonic and infernal goddess Hecate. (3)


(3) In the Rg Veda the ass is often referred to as rasabha, a word that denotes turmoil, noise, and even inebriation. In the myth, Apollo turned King Midas's ears into ass's ears, since the latter had preferred Pan's music to his own - in other words, for preferring the Dionysian, pantheistic cult to the Hyperborean cult. The slaughter of asses was, among the Hyperboreans, the sacrifice that Apollo preferred. See Pindar, Pythian Odes, 10.33-56. Typhon-Set (who corresponds to Python, Apollo's nemesis), after being defeated by Horus, runs into the desert riding an ass (Plutarch, De Iside et Osiride, 29-32); Apep, the serpent that represents the principle of darkness, is often portrayed in the company of an ass or riding an ass. Dionysus too was believed to have been carried to Thebes by an ass, an animal that was always associated with him. Some of these elements must have been preserved underground, since they later reemerged in some medieval festivals in which the Virgin and Child, led by Joseph, were carried in a procession, in the course of which the highest honors were paid to the ass.


This is how this symbol could represent the secret sign of a force that was associated with primitive Christianity and to which it partially owed its success; it was the force that emerged and assumed an active part wherever what corresponded to the "cosmos" principle within a traditional structure vacillated and disintegrated. In reality, the advent of Christianity would not have been possible if the vital possibilities of the Roman heroic cycle had not been exhausted; if the "Roman race" had not been broken in its spirit and in its representatives (a proof of this was the failure of the attempted restoration promoted by Emperor Julian); if the ancient traditions had not been dimmed; and if, in the context of an ethnic chaos and a cosmopolitan disintegration, the imperial symbol had not been contaminated and reduced to merely surviving in a world of ruins.





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