Esoteric Christianity (linked with the Hermetic Corpus since the Renaissance) is an ensemble of Christian theology which proposes that some spiritual doctrines of Christianity can only be understood by those who have undergone certain rites (such as baptism) within the religion. In mainstream Christianity, there is a similar idea that faith is the only means by which a true understanding of God can be gained. The term esoteric was coined in the 17th century and derives from the Greek ἐσωτερικός (esôterikos, “inner”).
These spiritual currents share some common denominators, such as heterodox or heretical Christian theology; the canonical gospels, various apocalyptic literature, and some New Testament apocrypha as sacred texts; and disciplina arcani, a supposed oral tradition from the Twelve Apostles containing esoteric teachings of Jesus the Christ.
See also: Mysticism
The word “mysticism” is derived from the Greek μυω, meaning “to conceal”, and its derivative μυστικός, mystikos, meaning ‘an initiate’. In the Hellenistic world, ‘mystical’ referred to “secret” religious rituals. The use of the word lacked any direct references to the transcendental. A “mystikos” was an initiate of a mystery religion.
Theologians give the name mystery to revealed truths that surpass the powers of natural reason, so, in a narrow sense, the Mystery is a truth that transcends the created intellect.
Some modern scholars believe that in the early stages of non-Gnostic Christianity, a nucleus of oral teachings were inherited from Palestinian and Hellenistic Judaism. In the 4th century, it was believed to form the basis of a secret oral tradition which came to be called disciplina arcani. The mainstream theologians, however, believe that it contained only liturgical details and certain other traditions which remain a part of some branches of mainstream Christianity. Important influences on Esoteric Christianity are the Christian theologians Clement of Alexandria and Origen, the leading figures of the Catechetical School of Alexandria.
Reincarnation was accepted by most of Gnostic Christian sects such as Valentinianism and Basilidians, but denied by the proto-orthodox one. While hypothetically considering a complex multiple-world transmigration scheme in De Principiis, Origen denies reincarnation in unmistakable terms in his work Against Celsus and elsewhere.
Despite this apparent contradiction, most modern Esoteric Christian movements refer to Origen’s writings (along with other Church Fathers and biblical passages) to validate these ideas as part of the Esoteric Christian tradition outside of the Gnostic schools, who were later considered heretical in the 3rd century.
Scholar Jan Shipps describes The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as having esoteric elements.
- Astrological age
- Book of the 24 Philosophers
- Charismatic Christianity
- Christianity and Neopaganism
- Christianity and Paganism
- Christianity and Theosophy
- Christian Kabbalah
- Christian meditation
- Christian mysticism
- Christian mythology
- Christian theosophy
- Christian views on astrology
- Christian views on magic