Esoteric and Exoteric Christianity
Esoteric and Exoteric Christianity Recently, someone asked, “Did Judas leave the Last Supper early? ” She was repeating a question that she heard from people who criticize Christianity. There are two major types knowledge that is used to evaluate Christianity. She had probably heard this question from someone who depended on exoteric knowledge. To bear fruit within the church, we need to know about exoteric knowledge and esoteric knowledge. Exoteric knowledge is knowledge that is publicly available. Esoteric knowledge is kept from everyone except the initiated. Among educated people, the word “esoteric” is widely known and used frequently.
On the other hand, the word “exoteric” is known only to few people. Thus, the word “exoteric” is esoteric, and the word “esoteric” is exoteric. The word exoteric traces to Greek roots meaning “outer. ” The cross is an outer or exoteric symbol. The dove is an exoteric symbol. The inner emotional meaning of these two symbols is esoteric knowledge. Some people look at a cross and see metal and perhaps history. Those are people who depend on exoteric knowledge. Other people see a cross and feel the presence of Christ even to the extent of having an ecstatic experience.
For example, there are people in this room who speak in tongues. A person in this room has seen a vision of the Virgin Mary. There are people who publicly weep when they pray. Those are people with contemplative, mystical or meditative transpersonal perspectives who have told me this and have asked that I never reveal this side of them to anyone else, because people who depend on exoteric knowledge would publicly say mean and cruel and hurtful things to their faces and behind their backs. As an example, I base part of my faith experience on esoteric Christianity found through exoteric symbols found through Freemasonry.
Last week, I heard a member of our church talking to someone, saying mean spirited, hateful things about my esoteric experiences with Freemasonry, and I was hurt deeply. Some esoteric knowledge can be impossible for other people to understand. A person who depends on exoteric knowledge may not even know that they have hurt someone who has esoteric knowledge because people who depend on exoteric knowledge may not recognize emotions, or understand that a person with esoteric knowledge is unable to explain esoteric knowledge to someone who uses exoteric knowledge.
As a further example, in music, to some, Mozart’s The Magic Flute includes a simply describable study in coloratura aria that reaches high F6. To others, that section of The Magic Flute is an analogy to the zeitgeist of enlightened absolutism where the Queen of the Night represents the irrational-diabolic obscurantism, and that is an example of esotericism that I can not explain to someone who is not a student of esotericism. Discussions over whether Judas completed the Last Supper can be examples of these problems between exoteric and esoteric knowledge.
For example, Father Roger J. Landry writes that: Through Moses, God gave the Jews in generations subsequent to the exodus a rite by which they could enter into the dramatic event of the Passover of their forefathers. The celebrated it each year with great attention to detail: what they were to wear, what they were to say, how they were to clean their houses, prepare and cook the food were all prescribed by God. It was within that rite of that old covenant that Jesus instituted the new.
Scripture scholars, in looking at the Gospel narratives from the point of view of the Jewish seder, however, have noted with curiosity and a certain astonishment that Jesus did not finish the rite. There are supposed to be four cups of wine, consumed at different times. Jesus and his disciples only drank three before they went out toward the Garden of Gethsemane. The question is: What happened to the fourth cup? Most believe the fourth cup was the “cup of suffering” foretold by the prophets that Christ would drink on the Cross.
That the fourth cup was consumed on the Cross seems likely, because of what Jesus himself did immediately before pronouncing that “it is finished. ” Jesus first said, “I thirst. ” St. John tells us what happened next: “A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When he had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished. ’” (Jn 19:28-30). Jesus had said during the Last Supper, “Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God” (Mk 14:25).
If Jesus were drinking wine now, it must be that he was fully inaugurating that kingdom, which was the culmination of his work. It was his “it. ” Looking at this passage by Father Landry requires recognizing the distinction between Esoteric and Exoteric is that of states of consciousness. An esoteric person might never consider Father Landry’s points, because that person might be weeping over Christ’s passion. And in the opposite is an Exoteric philosophy or religion as one which is based on the normal waking state of consciousness, or a modified state of consciousness which is still pretty close to the normal waking state.
Any aspiration beyond the ordinary state of existence is discouraged. For example, according to the religious person, “God created/loves you just as you are”, so who are you to question what God has ordained for you by striving for some higher state of consciousness? While according to someone who depends on exoteric knowldge, there is no higher state beyond the rational mind anyway (all non-rational states of consciousness being delusionary). In contrast, all true Esotericism is based on Higher Knowledge, or Gnosis, to use the Greek term. Gnosis is a much superior way of understanding than Reason.