The astonishing book known now as Theologia Germanica was originally called simply The Frankforter [Der Franckforter], the author being a priest and a member of the Teutonic Order living in Frankfurt, Germany in the later fourteenth century. And that is all we know about him.
The book is astonishing because of its uncompromising Christian non-duality. In India, except for the Christian terminology and references, the book would be considered the norm. But it is a true wonder that nearly two hundred editions of the book were published in the Christian West between the sixteenth and twentieth centuries. John Calvin wrote to his followers in Frankfort that it is “conceived by Satan’s cunning… it contains a hidden poison which can poison the church.” In 1612, Pope Paul V placed it on the Catholic Church’s Index Librorum Prohibitorum where it remained. But Catholic mystics continued to read the book anyway.
Considering that there was no contact with India or Indian philosophy at the time Theologia Germanica was written, it is proof that the non-dual view of God and man can arise within an exclusively Christian environment such as that when Christianity in Europe was undivided and experiencing the spiritual character of the Age of Faith.
This book needs a careful, very careful, reading more than it does a commentary, but since it has a Christian context it is helpful to have those elements pointed out that are true Christian principles that have been forgotten, yet reveal that true Christianity is an Oriental religion based on the same fundamental views.
Certainly the Frankforter could say with Christ: “Behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it” (Revelation 3:8).
The Perfect and Perfection
St. Paul saith, “When that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away” (I Corinthians 13:10). Now mark what is “that which is perfect,” and “that which is in part.”
The author is going to define “perfect” for us, but first a look at the Biblical text is appropriate.
The Greek word translated “perfect” is teleios, which means something that is complete, lacking nothing, with the implication of being beyond improvement, the state of ultimate completion. Beyond it there is nothing. It is the end, the pinnacle of a journey or a process such as evolution.
“That which is perfect” is a Being, who has comprehended and included all things in Himself and His own Substance, and without whom, and beside whom, there is no true Substance, and in whom all things have their Substance.
God is absolutely perfect and is the perfection of all that (truly) exists, just as God alone is the absolute good, and the goodness of all that exists according to the Lord Jesus Himself. “There is none good but one, that is, God” (Matthew 19:17). But we must not take this in the usual superficial and unthinking manner of most popular religious principles that are parroted throughout the world. It is necessary to consider what is implied as well as what is directly stated. This is especially true in Eastern texts, and the Frankforter is centered in the same non-dual vision as the sages of India.
This sentence sets forth the following fundamental truths about God and existence itself:
- God encompasses and includes all things in Himself–in His very being.
- Everything that exists consists of the very substance of God. (These two statements can be restated as: God is everything and everything is God.)
- Nothing exists beside God.
- Nothing exists outside God.
- God is self-existent.
- Everything draws its existence from God.
- God is eternal.
- All things are eternal in their essence or substance which is God.
- The manifested form of all things is non-eternal, having a beginning and an end.
For he is the Substance of all things, and is in himself unchangeable and immoveable, and changes and moves all things else.
Therefore everything that takes place is the action of God, either directly or through power borrowed or drawn from him. Consequently God is the sole Actor in the final analysis. This is why the Bhagavad Gita teaches that the man of wisdom knows that he never does anything of himself.
The true nature of creation–of all things and actions
But “that which is in part,” or the Imperfect, is that which has its source in, or springs from the Perfect; just as a brightness or a visible appearance flows out from the sun or a candle, and appears to be somewhat, this or that. And it is called a creature; and of all these “things which are in part,” none is the Perfect. So also the Perfect is none of the things which are in part.
God is the Absolute, all else is only relative. The Frankforter therefore always refers to relativity as “the Imperfect,” because of itself it is nothing. Nevertheless all things are sacred because they draw their existence (even if only momentarily) from Him Who is the Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal….
In these few sentences the Teutonic Priest has completely presented the concept of Maya which thereby is shown to be an essential concept of authentic Christianity. What is authentic Christianity? It is not a religion, a philosophy, a spiritual movement or a group of individual beings. Authentic Christianity is the Mind of Christ. And an authentic Christian is one who possesses that Mind. (“We have the mind of Christ” I Corinthians 2:16. “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” Philippians 2:5).
But “that which is in part,” or the Imperfect, is that which has its source in, or springs from the Perfect; just as a brightness or a visible appearance flows out from the sun or a candle, and appears to be somewhat, this or that. The implication here is the classical principle that all things are mere appearances only, being the Real Itself under a momentary, false appearance. This may sound too abstract to unravel, but it is not. Fortunately for us, the great masters of India sent us Paramhansa Yogananda to live and teach in America for thirty years. Yogananda explained that all creation is but the “dream” of God, the Cosmic Dreamer, and that we are dreamers along with–within–Him. God is dreaming the cosmos and we are dreaming our little lives within His dream. The purpose of this dreaming is the development and evolution of our finite consciousness within His infinite consciousness. Our many lives are dreams within the dream, and in that sense definitely real–but not as they appear to be. We dream mortality but are always immortal; we dream materiality but are always spirit. It is a “pretend game” of the children of God so they can come to share in the life and consciousness of the Father. (See Robe of Light.)
And it is called a creature; and of all these “things which are in part,” none is the Perfect. So also the Perfect is none of the things which are in part. When we enter a motion picture theater before the program there is a large white screen in the front. But when the program starts, we do not see the screen at all but the moving pictures from the projector. When the program is over there is the screen just as before. Consciousness–spirit–is the screen on which creation is seen. Like the motion picture, the creation is light which appears and disappears. If the screen was not there, no matter how much the projection might run we would see nothing but vague patterns of light. In the same way creation exists only in relation to the Creator; yet the Creator is not the creation and the creation is not the Creator. The creation depends on the Creator; the Creator depends on nothing. Indeed, the creation hides the Creator on which it depends.
The Bhagavad Gita explains that everything is prakriti, energy which essentially is light. Just as certain kinds of color projection consist of three primary colors in innumerable combinations, so the creation (prakriti) consist of the modes of energy called “gunas.” There are three gunas: sattwa, rajas and tamas. So in the Gita God tells us: “You must know that whatever belongs to the states of sattwa, rajas and tamas, proceeds from me. They are contained in me, but I am not in them. The entire world is deluded by the moods and mental states which are the expression of these three gunas. That is why the world fails to recognize me as I really am. I stand apart from them all, supreme and deathless. (Bhagavad Gita 7:12, 13)
Just as we believe in the motion picture, reacting with emotions and momentarily feeling as though the figures and incidents are real, feeling fear, disgust, indignation, admiration and awe, laughing and crying–all according to the kind of movie we are witnessing–so we believe in the creation-movie, much more than we do in the Creator. In fact, those utterly absorbed in the creation movie often disbelieve and vigorously oppose the idea of the Creator. Only a fool would disbelieve in the existence of the screen while the motion picture is going on, but plenty of fools disbelieve in God when they are immersed and forgetful in the realm of relative existence, which is no permanent existence at all.
A dream exists as a psychic experience, but is not real. Yet it does exist at the moment. In the same way the creation exists, but only in the minds of God and sentient beings. Ultimately only God and the spirits within God are real, dreaming together for the development of the spirits. Just as in A Christmas Carol Scrooge’s heart is changed by his three dreams, so we are being changed by the dreams we call our lives.
Western people reading in Indian philosophy often assume that “unreal” means non-existent (and it often does mean that the way a thing is seen is not real but a misperception). For a while relativity exists, but only as a dream. You and I can sit and daydream and create a world and populate it with people whose appearance and action we imagine complete with color, sound and physical sensation. But it never at any times is real. We are what is real about it all.
Note: We will continue over the coming weeks with more of Abbot George’s commentary on Theologia Germanica.
- Esoteric Christian Beliefs
- The Gnosis of the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes
- The Esoteric Christian Creed