Today is the Feast of Saint John the Divine, author of the Fourth Gospel and of the Book of Revelation. In the Book of Revelation it is written, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. He who conquers, I will grant to sit with me on my throne, as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne” (3:20, 21). At the end of the Gospel of John, we read that one morning, after His resurrection from the dead and before his ascension into heaven, after they finished breakfast, Christ said to Simon Peter:
“Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:15-19)
Feed My lambs – tend My sheep – feed My sheep: Thus is Peter given his task from the Master, which has everything to do with preparing the human personality (“My sheep”) to hear the knock at the door – the door of Christian initiation. In the last post, in affirming the hierarchy of the Church, we implicitly affirmed Peter in his traditional leading role in the hierarchy as its temporal head. For, in Matthew 16:17-19, the office of head of the Church is solemnly promised to the Apostle in response to his profession of faith in the divine nature of his Master. Thus Christ addresses him:
“Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven.”
If it sounds strange that a non-Roman Catholic affirms on this blog the traditional office of the Pope, consider what Christ asked his disciples before he made Peter head of the Church: “Who do they [the five thousand] say that I am?” Who do you [the twelve] say that I am?” Consider that only Peter gave the right answer: You are the Christ, the son of the living God. If the people had been able to answer correctly, the Church would have been founded on the Protestant principle, namely on the authority of “the priesthood of all believers”. If the twelve had been able to answer correctly, the Church would have been founded on the Eastern Orthodox principle, namely on the authority of “the seven ecumenical councils”. It was Peter only, however, who was able give the right answer. Therefore the Church was founded on the rock of his recognition – on behalf of all – of the Master being the Christ, the Son of the living God, rather than on the lack of recognition from the others. Following the Risen One’s instructions to Peter as head of the Church in the Gospel of John, we have however these words following:
Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had lain close to his breast at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!” So the rumor spread in the community* that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” (John 21:20-23)
So what of John? If Peter’s task has to do with “feeding the lambs” in Christ’s flock, with “tending and feeding the sheep” in His flock, what then does John’s task have to do with? What does it mean for John to remain until Christ comes? In answer to this question, we can read the following words of the anonymous author of Meditations on the Tarot – A Journey into Christian Hermeticism from Letter I (pp. 6, 7) of that book:
You know without doubt, dear Unknown Friend, that many – and several of them are writers – in France, Germany, England, and elsewhere, promulgate the doctrine of the so-called “two churches”: the church of Peter and the church of John, or of “two epochs” – the epoch of Peter and the epoch of John. You know also that this doctrine teaches the end – more or less at hand – of the church of Peter, or above all of the papacy which is its visible symbol, and that the spirit of John, the disciple loved by the Master, he who leaned on his breast and heard the beating of his heart, will replace it. In this way it teaches that the “exoteric” church of Peter will make way for the “esoteric” church of John, which will be that of perfect freedom.
Now, John, who submitted himself voluntarily to Peter as leader of prince of the apostles, did not become his successor after his death, although he outlived Peter by many years. The beloved disciple who listened to the beating of the Master’s heart was, is, and always will be the representative and guardian of this heart – and as such he was not, is not, and never will be the leader or head of the Church. Because just as the heart is not called upon to replace the head, so is John not called upon to succeed Peter. The heart certainly guards the life of the body and the soul, but it is the head which makes decisions, directs, and chooses the means for the accomplishment of the tasks of the entire organism – head, heart and limbs. The mission of John is to keep the life and soul of the Church alive until the Second Coming of the Lord. This is why John has never claimed and never will claim the office of directing the body of the Church. He vivifies this body, but he does not direct its actions.
Now Hermeticism, the living Hermetic tradition, guards the communal soul of all true culture. I must add: Hermeticists listen to – and now and then hear – the beating of the heart of the spiritual life of humanity. They cannot do otherwise than live as guardians of the life and communal soul of religion, science and art. They do not have any privilege in any of these domains; saints, true scientists, and artists of genius are their superiors. But they live for the mystery of the communal heart which beats within all religions, all philosophies, all arts and all sciences – past, present and future. And inspired by the example of John, the beloved disciple, they do not pretend, and never will pretend, to play a directing role in religion, science, art, in social or political life; but they are constantly attentive so as not to miss any occasion to serve religion, philosophy, science, art, the social and political life of humanity, and to this infuse the breath of life of their communal soul – analogous to the administration of the sacrament of Holy Communion. Hermeticism is – and is only – a stimulant, a “ferment”, or an “enzyme” in the organism of the spiritual life of humanity. In this sense it is itself an arcanum – that is to say the antecedent of the Mystery of the Second Birth or Great Initiation.
But surely, we may very well want to say, however much Hermeticists might serve the Church, whatever their inspirations, there is this bare fact of the rigid hierarchy in the Church. Surely hierarchy has had its day, never mind the views of Dionysius the Areopagite (Pseudo-Dionysius we might want to add, along with the majority of scholars since the Reformation). Surely from what we witness within the Petrine Church of the effects of hierarchy – the silencing of theologians, the centuries of abuse – both sexual and otherwise – the shadowy institutional cover-ups, the authoritarian outlook in dogma and morals, we can look forward to the appearance of the Church of John with unqualified relief – of which Christian Hermeticism is an important manifestation – and therefore the impending dismantlement of that hierarchy.
“It is a terrible thing,” writes Helen Keller, “to see and have no vision.” For clearer vision then, let us read what the author of Meditations on the Tarot has to say on the Hermetic view of the “law” of hierarchy and its transformation. In Letter IX, page 208, we read:
Christian Hermeticism itself can only be knowledge of the universal which is revealed in the particular. For Hermeticism there are no “principles”, “laws” and “ideas” which exist outside of individual beings, not as structural traits of their nature, but as entities separated and independent from it. For Hermeticism there is neither a “law of gravitation” nor a “law of reincarnation”; there is only the attraction and repulsion of beings (atoms are beings also) in so far as gravitation is concerned, and only the attraction of beings to earthly life, with its joys and sorrows, in so far as reincarnation is concerned. But on the other hand, if there were no such entities in the world as the laws of gravitation and reincarnation, there is certainly the universal desire of beings – great and small – to associate with one another, to form together molecules, organisms, families, communities, nations. . . . It is a desire or universal structural need which manifests itself as “law”. “Laws” are immanent in beings, as logic is immanent in thought, being part of the process of being gradually replaced by the law of forgiveness. It is thus again that the law “the weak serve the strong, the people serve the king, the disciple serves the master” will one day give way to the law shown by the Master through the act of the Washing of the Feet. According to this higher law, it is the strong who serve the weak, the king who serves the people, the master who serves the disciple – just as it is in heaven, where Angels serve human beings, Archangels serve Angels and men, Principalities serve Archangels, Angels and human beings and so on. And God? He serves all beings without exception.
There is a “law” of the hierarchy of values, as we touched upon in the last post, but this “law” is not to be found apart from the beings in whom this “law” is immanent. So too there is an ancient “law” of hierarchical service which is in process of being transformed through the Washing of the Feet, i.e., into those of higher consciousness serving those of lower consciousness for the overall advancement of human evolution. Denial of hierarchy will in all cases only do violence to this cause of peaceful, orderly evolution. Liberation theologians with their vision of the Church becoming the Church of the poor for the poor by the poor must not lose sight of the essential role of hierarchy in bringing about the wondrous sea-change they envision, which can never come about through any sort of “bottom-up” movement – neither in the sense of the hierarchy of values nor to be sure in the sense of the Washing of the Feet. Like the Pelican feeding its young from the blood of its own breast, like Saint Francis both kissing the sores of the leper and receiving the episcopal blessing, they must be last who would in purest poverty be first in the kingdom of heaven.
Hermeticists, writes the anonymous author of Meditations on the Tarot, “recognize without reserve the superiority of a Francis of Assisi – and of many others – who was a man of the so-called “exoteric ” faith. They know also that each sincere believer is potentially a Francis of Assisi.” That every sincere believer might become a poverello: is not this the highest aim — and truest — of liberation theology and Christian Hermeticism both? So might the Church of Peter and the Church of John become one and the same in perfect freedom.
Pax et Bonum,