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Esoteric teaching and rituals in the Early Church - Take 2


mpschmitt

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The first time I posted this topic, the discussion began to turn toward what Anti-Mormons specifically say about us rather than the theme of the OP, and I really didn't want to go that way, so I retracted my thread. It seemed that there was still a great deal of interest in the thread though, so I will present them in a more neutral manner in the hopes that this second attempt will not find itself mired in a rat hole...

The question at hand is:

Is there historical evidence that early Christians had esoteric teachings and rituals, and that these rituals and teachings were viewed as necessary to be a complete Christian?

The answer to which I keep returning is a resounding: Yes, without a doubt.

I will mention in passing (but please don't make this the focus of the thread because it will get incredibly dull), that there are a number of Anti-Mormon writers who disagree with my conclusion. I believe the facts are self evident support this assertion and feel no need to defend that statement, for in so doing I would have to direct people to sources that are very antagonistic to the Church and don't have much respect for things we regard to be sacred. 'nuff said on that... I'm not in the business of advertising for people who seek to tear down my faith...

It has also been noted a number of times that Joseph Smith may or may not have had access to contemporary sources that would also explain in part some of the content of our higher more esoteric teaching and worship (though it does not in my view begin to explain all of it, nor does it explain how neatly everything is woven together). I don't think we need to rehash that, so I'm acknowledging that up front.

Now to the meat of the issue...

Were there esoteric teachings and rituals in the early Christian Church?

Here are a few gems I've run across that some of you will find interesting. It is my hope that this will spur others to share things they have discovered in other ancient sources in this thread. If you have a contrary view, feel free to share your evidence to the contrary as well, but let's stay out of the realm of discussing modern day critiques of the Church in this thread. In sharing these things, I also want to add a caution to please refrain in your replies from sharing sacred details of any LDS ordinances...

The first is one that I've shared before, it comes from a mid 4th century author St. Cyril, who served as Bishop of Jerusalem. He describes in this document an anointing ceremony that I found interesting for a number of reasons (particularly verses 4 and 5):

http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf207.ii.xxv.html

So here we have one example of an ordinance (the details of which are not insignificant), that Cyril seems to feel is necessary for the true Christian to progress in his spiritual development. Note that this ordinance could only be provided to those who had already entered the waters of baptism and was in addition to their initial conversion to Christ.

I was recently perusing Karen Armstrong's "A History of God" and came across this second interesting description of Basil the Great's (one of the three Capadocians instrumental in the formulation of Trinitarian doctrine) view on the difference between kerygma and dogma:

Basil expressed the same insight in a Christian sense [as Aristotle's distinction between mathein (learning something) and pathein (experiencing something)] when he distinguished between dogma and kerygma. Both kinds of Christian teaching were essential to religion. Kerygma was the public teaching of the Church, based on the scriptures. Dogma, however, represented the deeper meaning of biblical truth, which could only be apprehended through religious experience and expressed in symbolic form. Besides the clear message of the Gospels, a secret or esoteric tradition had been handed down "in a mystery" from the apostles; this had been a "private and secret teaching,"
which our holy fathers have preserved in a silence that prevents anxiety and curiosity...so as to safeguard by this silence the sacred character of the mystery. The uninitiated are not permitted to behold these things: their meaning is not to be divulged by writing it down.

A History of God, pp 114

Additionally Barry Bickmore and Jeff Lindsay have both provided interesting resources pertaining to this topic, that outline a number of other interesting writings from the early Church fathers:

See Barry's chapter on the Temple here: http://www.fairlds.org/Restoring_the_Ancient_Church/

And Jeff's page on esoteric teaching in the Early Church: http://www.jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/FQ_practices.shtml#secret

And Jeff's page on Mormonism and Masonry: http://www.jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/FQ_masons.shtml

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This was my initial response on the earlier thread.

The evidence is mountainous. Anyone wishing to go over the 1st Book of Jeu can do so online at the Gnostic Society Homepage. The original MacDermot book is extremely hard to find, and has been out of print for sometime. Then, go back and read again the Nag Hammadi library (I've got the vast majority of it on my hard disk), look at the ancient Mandean funerary and resurrection texts, and Bishop Cyprian's text on the Mysteries. The early Church in its various incarnations was awash in ceremonies, motifs, and ritual symbolism closely allied to the modern Endowment. One might want to consult The Gospel of Philip for a Christian gnostic interpretation of the importance of marriage and the "mirrored bridal chamber" to personal exaltation.

Nibley has written a great deal on this issue, and Bickmore's book is an excellent introduction. The primary sources are the best, however.

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The first is one that I've shared before, it comes from a mid 4th century author St. Cyril, who served as Bishop of Jerusalem. He describes in this document an anointing ceremony that I found interesting for a number of reasons (particularly verses 4 and 5):

http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf207.ii.xxv.html

So here we have one example of an ordinance (the details of which are not insignificant), that Cyril seems to feel is necessary for the true Christian to progress in his spiritual development. Note that this ordinance could only be provided to those who had already entered the waters of baptism and was in addition to their initial conversion to Christ.

I find it interesting that you point to an ancient ordinance (or chrism I think as Cyril refers to it) and he points even further back to Aaron and to Solomon (vs 6)Which raises the question then is there even further back something that this points to? Reminding me of something Prof JF Mc Conkie said about having the old time religion in a BYU TV scripture discussion on the PoGP.

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