Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil. ~ Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
In the Paradisio of Dante’s Divine Comedy, that great mystical work, the coming of the soul into the Presence of the Divine Light is a gradual process. One cannot come into the Divine fullness all at once; it is too intense to be perceived. Preparation is needed. It has to be a slow process of knowing, a seeing of more and more, a progressive revelation to the soul of God’s ineffable Light. The soul then comes to a point where she sees everything in a flash, but the distance to this point, not in spatial terms but spiritual, is great. In this understanding, Dante is following his own experience. ~ Wayne Teasdale, Essays in Mysticism
The Lord Jesus Christ … will judge the living and the dead ~ 2 Tim. 4:1
Man must recognize his complicity in the act of evil. ~ Carl Jung, The Red Book
Die before you Die
The Initiate is one who strives to become a jivan-mukti, someone initiated while still in the body. Or in other words, the goal is the Beatific Vision while still in the body. That requires the three-fold Christian path of purgation, illumination, and union. The Saint and the Initiate therefore die to this life in order to experience a spiritual birth.
Christianity is not religion of Jesus, but rather religion of Christ. The modernists prefer to focus entirely on the “historical Jesus”, the end result of which is the religion of this-worldly humanitarianism. But Jesus is the first coming of the Logos. St. Augustine’s realization that this Logos was tied also to Platonism led to his conversion. The exoteric teaching is that there will be future comings of Christ.
However, the second coming is not just an event in linear time, but in eternity. Hence, the second coming of Christ is the birth of the Logos in the soul. When the soul is still and purified, the Logos is born as the rebirth of the soul.
John Ruysbroeck, among others, also writes about the, third coming of Christ, this time as Judge. The point is not to condemn, but rather to offer healing through forgiveness.
The General Judgment, or Last Judgment, occurs at the end of the world. At that point, all humanity will be judged. Everyone will be made aware of each other’s judgments. Moreover, the effects of one’s acts and omissions have consequences beyond the span of the individual life, usually for many generations. For example, a man who beat his son in the 15th century may have set off a chain of events that persist into current times. For the purposes of this note, nothing more needs be said about this now.
Justification and Self-Justification
Justification is to make just. This is more than the mere “imputation” of justification as taught by the Reformation. That false belief gained credence during a period of the loss of spiritual vision, which led to nominalism. So “imputed justification” is justification in name only. What the Christ brings is real justification, that is, a change in consciousness initiating the purgative stage of the spiritual path.
Such as we are, the human condition is committed to self-justification. This is remained mired in subjectivity, and hence it is ineffective as a means of justification. E.g., a man commits adultery, but tells his wife, “But it didn’t mean anything.” Or else, we blame a “moment of weakness”, or ignorance of the facts of the situation. We blame the circumstances of our birth, bad genes, an addictive habit. These and various other excuses for self-justification seem limitless, although we seldom accept them from anyone else. True judgment is to see oneself objectively. Without facing the truth, it is impossible to change and healing can’t occur.
After spiritual rebirth, i.e., the birth of the Logos in the soul, one puts on the “mind of Christ”. This means our identify is recentered on a higher level. Christ will then reveal our true motives and we will view our lives objectively. We will understand how our acts and omissions have affected other people and events. The unrepentant will resist that, but the repentant will welcome it.
A physician will tell you the precise state of your health, not to condemn you, but rather to cure you. He might suggest a change in diet, an exercise regimen, surgery, or a medication. It is obvious that deceiving you about the state of your health will not be of benefit. Nevertheless, it is up to the patient to follow the doctor’s orders.
The situation is similar for sin, which is objectively harmful to the soul. Christ is the physician of the soul. When unaware, or dimly aware, of the true motivations of our actions, these motivations are experienced as compulsions. And “commandments” are experienced as unwelcome external checks on our unfulfilled desires. But the light of the Logos in the soul illuminates one’s actions. It is the means to self-observation which turns compulsions into free acts.
The Esoteric Path
To understand the esoteric path from Hell to Heaven, we turn to the initiates. Esoteric teachings are usually buried in other structures, both to preserve them as well as to protect them from those who don’t understand. Obviously, the great exoteric Traditions contain an esoteric element. The exoteric rites, symbols, etc. conceal – or reveal – a deeper content. They also can provide cover for small groups to peacefully pursue their own yearnings (although there have been many exceptions.)
On a more practical level, other devices have been used. For example, the Tarot cards have a hermetic interpretation. But they would most likely been lost if confined solely to small groups. Hence, their popular use as a means of soothsaying has preserved them over the centuries. Obviously, most people would prefer to be told their future through card layouts than to actually create their own future.
Poetry may also be used for the same purpose. Dante belong to the Fedeli d’Amore, an esoteric group which required each of its members to write a poem. A great poem, like the Divine Comedy, has been preserved and studied over several centuries, although few will use it as a guide on the esoteric path. On this point we differ from the “scholars”, who only see an allegory in the poem. This is unjustified, since Dante himself has given himself away. The allegorical is merely the second level of interpretation (above the literal). Ultimately, the fourth level is the anagogical or spiritual interpretation. The scholars want to understand it as an allegory describing the soul after death. Obviously, Dante could not have truly intended that. What is being described are the states of the soul in this life.
Heaven and Hell
The Orthodox have maintained a deep tradition of the experience of Heaven and Hell:
According to the saints, the “fire” that will consume sinners at the coming of the Kingdom of God is the same “fire” that will shine with splendor in the saints. It is the “fire” of God’s love; the “fire” of God Himself who is Love. “For our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12.29) who “dwells in unapproachable light” (1 Tim 6.16). For those who love God and who love all creation in Him, the “consuming fire” of God will be radiant bliss and unspeakable delight. For those who do not love God, and who do not love at all, this same “consuming fire” will be the cause of their “weeping” and their “gnashing of teeth.” Heaven and Hell.
Thus Heaven and Hell are understood as opposed responses to the Divine Light of Christ as Judge. The saved will experience the Light as glory, but it will be painful for the damned. So in a sense Hell is “empty”. God does not “send” people to Hell, rather it is their choice, that is, it corresponds to their particular state of being in a precise way.
The Initiate experiences Christ as the eternal Judge eternally, not as some abstract future event. Dante, in the Inferno, describes the experience of Hell in all its various manifestations. The sins that lead to Hell are based on malice, since there is never any intention to reform. Such men and women would repeat their acts over and over again. Hence, Hell is a repetition, Nietzsche’s “Eternal Return”, in which the same punishment is repeated ad infinitum. That state that is called the eternity of Hell.
Therefore, there is nothing unjust about it. If someone has no interest in God during life, why would that change after death? If the response is that, after death, the soul knows. Unfortunately, that “knowing” – the “seeing the light” – is experienced as painful, not as joy. As described in Nietzsche’s Eternal Return, the sinner repeats the sin over and over, with no intention to repent.
Why purgatory? Purgatory is not proved by recourse to ancient writings, official documents, or cherry-picked Bible passages. Instead we rely on the testimony of initiates. As per Dante, there is a slow process of revelation up the Mountain of Purgatory. If, in this life, we see through a “glass darkly”, the sudden infusion of the Divine Light typically requires a period of discomfort while getting accustomed to the Light. This is the stage of illumination: perhaps there are rare exceptions, but the passage from purgation to union requires this stage. Even the Orthodox have come to the same realization: the doctrine of the tollhouses serves the same purposes.
The sinner in Hell is devoid of Love, so his primary motive is malice. He is malicious for its own sake, and the false pleasure that results from that, then keeps him in bondage. The soul in Purgatory is motivated by Love, although it is deficient, disordered, or excessive. These are sins of weakness and ignorance. The sinner in purgatory has pursued love through an evil means, or his love pursues a disordered end, or else the love for a good end when moderate, but bad when excessive.
These sins can be rectified: the deficient can see the unintended harmful effects of their choices, the weak can grow stronger, the ignorant can learn from their mistakes. Thus Dante’s Purgatorio describes how the sins in Purgatory can be overcome.
The pain and suffering of purgatory is not experienced in a negative way. It is more like the way an athlete experiences pain during his training, or an ascetic during his self-discipline. Unlike the pains of Hell, the pain of purgatory serve a purpose. They lead to deliverance, while the pains of Hell lead nowhere.
- Accept responsibility for one’s actions and their consequences
- Eschew self-justification
- See yourself as others see you. (See, for example, Schumacher’s Four Fields of Knowledge)
- Recognize the consequences of your acts, including those unintended
- Engage in self-observation to develop awareness of all your motivations