The tenth century is an important milestone in the history of Europe, as it marked the end of the first thousand years of Christianity. For many centuries the Catholic Church had claimed to be the sole repository of Jesus’ teachings, with the Popes as His living representatives. How were these self-assumed responsibilities being discharged at the end of a thousand years?
The Gospel of Matthew states that on a certain occasion—
Jesus went into the Temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the Temple, and overthrew the tables of the money-changers . . . and said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the House of Prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.” (Matthew xvi:12-13.)
A thousand years later the House of Prayer had become an institution of money-changers. Benefices, dispensations, licenses, absolutions and privileges were now being bought and sold like so much merchandise, and the entire time of “Christ’s Representatives” was occupied with politics, litigations and processes. Every stroke of the pen had its price, and a system of bribery prevailed which extended from the doorkeeper to the Pope himself.
The Gospel of Matthew records another of Jesus’ statements:
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery. But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” (Matthew v:27-28.)
A thousand years later practically every “Representative of Christ” had his mistresses and his concubines. This custom extended straight down the clerical line, and the support of the illegitimate children resulting from these illicit unions had now become a serious matter to the Church.
The mistress of Sergius III, the first Pope of the tenth century, was a notorious prostitute who finally deposed Sergius and placed her new lover in the Papal Chair. Fourteen years later her daughter (also a prostitute) had the Pope smothered and secured his position for her own illegitimate son, and later for her grandson. The Lateran Palace at this time was a veritable brothel. The life of Pope Benedict IX was so foul that his successor “shuddered to describe it.” His adulteries, murders and other abominations were of such common occurrence that at last the people revolted. In despair of maintaining his position, Pope Benedict finally put up the Papal Chair at auction. It was bought by John Gratian, who became Pope Gregory Vl.
The Gospel of Matthew also records these words of Jesus:
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you. (Matthew v:43-44.)
One thousand years later Pope Urban II started the First Crusade. It was preceded by a vanguard having as its mascot a goose in which the Holy Ghost was said to be enshrined. The capture of Jerusalem was attended by atrocities almost beyond belief. The brains of young children were dashed out against the walls. Infants were thrown over the battlements. Every woman who could be seized was violated. Men were roasted alive after being ripped open to see if they had swallowed gold. During the final massacre of 70,000 persons, the Pope’s legate was seen “partaking in the triumph.”
In the eleventh century the first protestant appeared. He was a young Frenchman, Gerbert, who had studied in one of the Arab Universities in Spain. After returning to his native city of Rheims, Gerbert tried to establish a school in which the sphericity of the earth would be taught. When the Bishop of Orleans rebuked him for trying to bring Mohammedan ideas into a Christian country, suggesting that Rome, and not Cordova, was the world’s center of learning, Gerbert replied: “There is not one at Rome who knows enough of letters to qualify him for a door-keeper. With what face shall he presume to teach who has never learned?” When Gerbert protested against the sale of indulgences, the Bishop admitted the charge but asked, “Did not the Saviour Himself take gifts from the Wise Men?” When Gerbert spoke of the gross immoralities of the Roman Pontiffs, he was warned to let such matters alone and reminded that “Ham was accursed for uncovering his father’s nakedness.” But — so strange are the workings of Karma — Gerbert eventually became Pope Sylvester II, although his career was cut short by a dish of poisoned figs. The name of Pope Sylvester does not appear in the Catholic catalogue of “Saints.” Perhaps his name is inscribed in other, and more important records.
The contrast between Christian and Mohammedan Europe in the tenth century is worthy of consideration. Spain had been conquered by the Mohammedans in the eighth century, and two hundred years later it had become a veritable Paradise. Every street in the city of Cordova was lighted by public lamps. Seven hundred years later there was not a single street lamp in the city of London. The streets of Cordova were well paved and immaculately clean. Hundreds of years later the streets of Paris became sloughs on rainy days. The sanitary conditions were appalling. Until the beginning of the seventeenth century the streets of Berlin were never swept, and there was a law that every countryman who came to town should take away a load of dirt when he departed from the city.
The palaces of the Mohammedan princes represented the height of luxury and comfort. Six hundred years later the audience chamber of Queen Elizabeth was “covered with hay, after the English fashion,” as one of her chroniclers informs us. The Mohammedan palaces had air-conditioning systems while the Christian Princes warmed themselves with huge fires, the smoke of which escaped through a hole in the roof. The religion of Islam demanded exquisite personal cleanliness while the Christians wore leather garments often remaining unchanged until they fell to pieces. The luxury of a bath was practically unknown. The bodies of great officers of state, like the Archbishop of Canterbury, swarmed with vermin. Certainly no Mohammedan Minister of State would have presented such a condition on the day of his death as did the corpse of Thomas á Becket. Cleanliness was not associated with godliness in those days. As Dr. Andrew D. White, one time President of Cornell University, and later American Ambassador to St. Petersburg and Berlin, writes:
Living in filth was considered by great numbers of holy men as an evidence of sanctity. St. Jerome and the Breviary of the Roman Church dwell with unction on the fact that St. Hilarion lived his whole life long in utter physical uncleanliness. St. Anthony never washed his feet; St. Euphraxia belonged to a convent in which the nuns religiously abstained from bathing. St. Simeon Stylites was in this respect unspeakable. The least that can be said is, that he lived in ordure and stench intolerable to his visitors. (History of Warfare of Science and Theology II, 69.)
The religion of Islam prohibited the use of all intoxicating liquors, while the famous Christian slogan of that day was: As drunk as a Pope!
Although Europe is indebted to its Mohammedan conquerors for many of its physical comforts, its real debt to Islam is intellectual. From the seventh to the thirteenth centuries it was the Arabs and the Jews, and they alone, who kept the torch of knowledge burning. The Mohammedans encouraged intellectual pursuits, allowed freedom of thought and religious liberty, and welcomed all scholars into their midst, irrespective of their religion, color or race.
Theosophists feel particularly grateful to one Mohammedan and one Jew whose efforts in the tenth and eleventh centuries resuscitated the Hermetic and Neoplatonic philosophies in Europe and brought the Kabala to the attention of the Western world. The Hermetic philosophy and Alchemy were re-introduced into Europe by Avicenna, the famous pupil of Al-Ferabi. He was born in Bokhara in 937 and at the age of ten he had memorized the entire Koran. At eighteen he was an accomplished physician and philosopher, and at twenty-one he wrote an encyclopedia of all sciences except mathematics. He was equally famed as a geologist and a poet, some of his biographers claiming that it was Avicenna who was the real author of the quatrains of Omar Khayyam. He founded the Graeco-Arabian School of Medicine and his works were still being studied in the European Universities as late as 1650. To this day his portrait adorns the diploma of the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain. Like many other Arab physicians, Avicenna used his knowledge of correspondences (which forms the basis of the Hermetic philosophy) in his treatment of disease. He traced many diseases back to the inner principles, and made a special study of the influences of the mother’s imagination upon the unborn child. He is also said to have possessed the knowledge which allowed him to retain his physical body long beyond the average term of years. The Theosophical Glossary repeats the legend that “owing to his knowledge of the Elixir of Life he still lives as an Adept who will disclose himself to the profane at the end of a certain cycle.”
Ibn Gebirol, known to the Medieval Scholastics as Avicebron, formed an important link in the Neoplatonic succession, since it was through him that Neoplatonism, long exiled, returned to Europe. His parents were Spanish Jews and Ibn Gebirol spoke Arabic and Hebrew with equal facility from his earliest youth. In a poem written in his sixteenth year he declares: “From my youth have I labored in the cause of wisdom, for her goal is joy-engendering.” His writings fall into two classes: (1) his poems, always written in Hebrew for the purpose of expounding Kabalistic doctrines, and (2) his prose, always written in Arabic, containing expressions of Neoplatonic philosophy. He wrote over three hundred poems, some of which have been incorporated into the Liturgy of the Spanish Jews. Of his twenty philosophical works only two remain, the most important being his Fons Vitae, or Fountain of Life. This is written in the form of a dialogue between Master and disciple, and the influence of Plotinus can be traced throughout its pages. In regard to the First Principle, Avicebron wrote: “To ascend to the First Supreme Substance is impossible, but it is possible, though difficult, to ascend to That Which is nearest to this Substance.” (v:55.) The Universe, he says, is an emanation of this First Supreme Substance, which becomes more perceptible to sense as it descends the ladder of being. “The nearer the form is to the First Supreme Substance the more intangible and unapparent it is; while the nearer it is to the corporeal form, the more dense and visible it is.” (v:26.) Like all true philosophers, Avicebron declares that the first object of man’s search should be knowledge: “The knowledge which should above all be sought is the knowledge of himself. At the same time he should seek to know the Final Cause through Which he is, because the existence of man has a Final Cause.” (v:1.)
In the eleventh century an important movement arose in Syria which still remains as one of the last surviving relics of the ancient Wisdom-Religion. It was centered in the Druzes of Mount Lebanon, a people of much mystery. Many theories as to their origin have been suggested, and their religion is described as a mixture of Judaism, Christianity and Mohammedanism, strongly tinged with Gnosticism, Lamaism and the Magian system of Persia. In reality, the Druzes are the descendants of the persecuted mystics of all nations who found refuge in the mountains of Syria during the early years of the Christian era. The Gnostic strain in their religious philosophy came to them from the Gnostic Ophites who fled to Syria in the second century in order to escape the persecution of the Christian Church. Some of the Druzes trace their Order back to Hemsa, the uncle of Mohammed who, in the year 625, went to Tibet in search of the secret wisdom. He is said to have incarnated again in the eleventh century as H’amsa, the Founder of the Druzes. From that time on he is supposed to have reincarnated successively in the body of the chief Druze Hierophant (or Okhal) in the same way that the Buddha is said to reincarnate in the Tibetan Lamas, and Nanak in the Guru-Kings of the Sikhs. The Druzes are actually the Sikhs of Asia Minor, the similarity between them being the result of their mutual connection with a third, and still more mysterious community—that Fraternity of Tibetan Lamaists known as the Brotherhood of Khe-lang.
H. P. Blavatsky, who as a Druze Initiate spoke from personal knowledge, said that the Druzes are more Lamaistic in their beliefs and certain rites than any other people on the face of the globe. H’amsa, the Founder of their Order, came to Syria from the “Land of the Word of God,” which is a literal translation of Lhassa, the sacred city of Tibet. The spiritual titles given to H’amsa correspond perfectly with those of the Dalai-Lama. The five Druze “Messengers” occupy the same position as the five Hobilghans of Tibet. Both the Druze and the Tibetan Fraternities have their inner, esoteric schools which are unknown to the world at large. The period of probationary discipleship in both schools is long and severe, and the neophytes of both schools have pass-words and signs of recognition which are practically identical.
The Druzes claim that H’amsa, at the present day, is concealed in a secret retreat known only to their Initiates. Every seventh year some of these Initiates travel to a certain spot in the Western part of China, returning at the expiration of the eleventh year with fresh instructions from “El Hamma.”
The Druzes worship no personal God. Their Deity is the Essence of Life, ever-invisible, all-pervading and incomprehensible to the human mind. They divide man into soul, body and intelligence, or mind, and say that it is the latter which imparts and communicates to the soul the divine spark from its H’amsa (or Christos). Their ideas concerning reincarnation and transmigration are Pythagorean and Kabalistic. Seven commandments are given to the uninitiated, and the morality demanded of their humblest member is strict and uncompromising.
The Druzes at the present day number around 100,000 souls. They are a strong, stalwart race, distinguished and dignified in appearance, noted for their polished manners and their fine, keen intelligence. A Druze can always be recognized by his accurate pronunciation of the Arabic gutturals, which he never slurs or softens as many of the other Syrians do.
Any visitor to Syria who happens to come in contact with some of the Druzes will be welcome to attend one of their public meetings, which take place on Thursday evenings. If the visitor be a Christian, he will probably listen to a reading from his own Scriptures. If he be a Mohammedan, he will be equally sure to hear selections from the Koran. Probably neither will be aware of the fact that these Thursday meetings are merely blinds conducted for the benefit of the inquisitive stranger who might have heard of their secret meetings, which occur on occasional Friday nights, and to which no outsider has ever been invited. At certain stated intervals the elders and Initiates of the two highest degrees repair to a secret place in the mountains where there is an old monastery which was erected during the early years of the Christian era. Underneath the ruins are great subterranean chambers where their rites of initiation take place, rites which have never been witnessed by any outsider. Nor have the forty-five sacred Books of the Druzes ever been examined by any European scholar. Not one of the copies now in the possession of the Vatican and other European libraries is genuine, and the work presented to the French King by Nasr-Allah as a portion of the Druze Scriptures is nothing but a forgery.
And yet, in spite of their secret rites of initiation and their connection with the Brotherhood of Khe-lang, H.P.B. declared that
. . . the Druzes may be said to belong to one of the least esoteric of secret societies. There are others far more powerful and learned, the existence of which is not even suspected in Europe. There are many branches belonging to the great “Mother Lodge” which, mixed up with certain communities, may be termed secret sects within other sects. (Isis Unveiled II, 315.)