Historical Connection of Born-Again Christianity to 17th century Theosophers, Occultism and Alchemy
A couple steps away from Gnostic rebirth…
Theosophy and Mike A. Zuber on the Nature and Roots of “Born-Again” Christianity traced to the clandestine network of theosophers, Rosicrucians and alchemical Paracelsianism around 1600 are connected to the later spiritual movements of the American settlers. The beliefs of post-liberal Catholic conservatives that Gnosticism is creeping into church theology are mute, against a long inevitable current of suppressed knowledge breaking under it.
“Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God,” John 3:3 reads. This notion of born-again is directly related to the Mysteries, but Christianity has taken and appropriated such terms, expressions in the initiatory rites of the oracles, including hymns and prayers. In Matthew 3:11, the term “repentance” means a change of mind, or reformation of life. “Born-again” alludes to a notion of spiritual rebirth, a concept found throughout time.
Along with the Epistle of Titus, it was associated with attainment of salvation through Christ’s mercy, of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit through baptism, particularly infant baptism since the interpretations by the church fathers of John’s “born of water and the Spirit.” John is made to say, “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with Fire.”
I demonstrated the special significance of this passage in Baptized with Fire: Proclus and Simonian Theosophy on the Symbolism of Fire and Water. The New Testament is full of prose and poetry, not practical instructions as in a manual. In The Oracular Gnosis of Christianity, I explained how the New Testament Christianity is a syncretism of (1) the Sōd (Mysteries) of the Jews; and (2) the Teletai (mystery observances) of “the Greeks” and others, and it is through this we are able to grasp these meanings, where there are manuals, treatises, and more detail to concepts merely appropriated by the Christians, a term full of clues antedating them as well.
The exchange with Nicodemus references a twofold initiation of a candidate for high initiation. Spiritual rebirth as an inner process is mentioned in Indian traditions, in which the initiate becomes dvija (twice-born).
The notion that spiritual rebirth was intimately linked to baptismal rebirth changed in the conversion experience of born-again Evangelicals, creating sharp distinction between the two. Mike A. Zuber argues in his chapter “Surely born-again Christianity has nothing to do with occult stuff like alchemy” in pages 252-260 of Hermes Explains: Thirty Questions about Western Esotericism (2019) that spiritual rebirth became something distinct in the aftermath of the Reformation.
He brings up W.R. Ward’s Early Evangelicalism (2006), asserting that the distant intellectual ancestors of Billy Graham (1918-2018) “were found in the clandestine networks of alchemists, Paracelsians, Rosicrucians, and theosophers around 1600” (Zuber, 252). These groups responded to what church historians called “a crisis of piety,” a conflict between lay devotion and academic theology. “As German mysticism and alchemical Paracelsianism combined in underground circles, the art of philosophers’ stone played an important role for the development of spiritual rebirth as a distinct doctrine. The most famous representatives of these milieus, Johann Arndt (1555-1621) and Jacob Boehme (1575-1624), communicated their alchemical insights on the new birth to the later movements of Pietism, Methodism, and ultimately modern Evangelicalism. It appears that born-again Christianity is the unlikely twin of spiritual alchemy” (Zuber, 253). This is highly intriguing, given the fact such persons that condemn, ignore or never factor this history into their positive notions of Christianity, instead save it for their polemics. The cry against “creeping Gnosticism” into church theology does not have roots in the early third quarter of twentieth-century New Ageism, which still represents a development in alternative Christianities and religion in Western countries.
While most born-again Christians today, as Mike A. Zuber remarks, distance themselves from occultism and do not speak of alchemy, the historical origins of this notion of rebirth in the United States in the conversion experience has roots among the pre-Enlightenment era alchemists and theosophers.
Baptism was associated with the element of water, mysteries connected with the physical plane, whereby the sinners become reformed in their moral conscience and become more Christ-like, or a Chrestian (good). Although as mentioned, in the Mysteries, one must be born-again to become complete, or perfected in greater wisdom. The Fire symbolic with spirit John and Luke (3:16) allude to higher mysteries of the archeus, the fire of gnosis, of real spiritual enlightenment.
Such teaching is an aid against old prejudices, and is sure to liberate the minds of the most hardened of Evangelicals. I believe, Truth will come full-circle, one way or another, and it is simply a matter of time. I say, it is set to still spurn new historical and doctrinal developments that not only the broader-minded theologian appreciates, but from which the lay-person and theologian could include philosophy ignored, abandoned and unexamined directly and openly in their thinking.