There be dragons!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Writings of John and the Eleusinian Mysteries

I just finished a fine article on the writings of John (Possible Influence of the Mysteries on the Form and Interrelation of the Johannine Writings , 1932) wherein the author, Elbert Russell, claims that the three texts composed by Saint John bear striking resemblance to the three movements of the Eleusinian mysteries. The mysteries were composed of a preparation/purification period (called katharsis/prorresis) the acting out of the drama (called dromonen) and the explanation of the elements of the ritual (called the epopteia). Russell notes that "The First Epistle of John...was an introductory writing, corresponding to the preliminary purification and instruction, the katharsis and the prorresis; the Gospel formed the drama or dromenon; and the Apocalypse provided the opopteia with the symbolic assurance of future blessedness." Russell goes on to explain that the rites of Eleusis evolved originally from agricultural rites - a fact which I only mildly agree with. I think the Eleusinian cults didn't evolve but continued a vision which even the chthonic religions of the neolithic age saw; life works in patterns, even the cycles of the seasons, the planting, harvest, the motion of the stars and planets. The cult of Eleusis merely recast this understanding (which drew together the agricultural aspect with the mathematic and the metaphysical) in terms of a specific mythological atmosphere.

John's writings, as they do seem to conform with the pattern of the mystery cults, and even Christianity itself don't seem undermined by the conformity, rather Christianity seems to build upon an ancient vision of the world, offering new insight into the questions undoubtedly asked by the Psalmist and the initiates into the mysteries; "if all this is true than what am I? How do I fit in?" or to use the words of the Psalmist "when I look at the stars, the work of your hands, the sun and the moon, what is man that you should love him? mortal man that you should visit him?" Christianity suggests that in the midst of these very real patterns and structures of the world man is not just a cog; he isn't just a decimal point in the equation. Man is so vital that the Patterner himself came down, the Logos became incarnate as one of us; God so loved the world that he gave his only son.

Discussing whether this is only a message, or whether it really happened is a bootless discussion. This is what Christianity proclaims; and the energizing hope that such a message carries (as Benedict XVI discusses in Spes Salve) allows believers to live like no other people on the earth. That is very exciting indeed - and I think the early Church was right to adopt the signs and symbols of the cult which so closely proclaimed what it was proclaiming. Our modern Church is deadly wrong in stripping her alters bare and substituting the feel good Mass for the smells and bells of old. For if the message is to be believed then the katharsis and the prorresis have to be completed correctly, the dromenon must be completed with lights, props, incense and other time honored tools, and the epopteia must be accomplished such that people understand. Boy what a lot of work remains.

1 comment:

  1. Good afternoon!
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