Esoteric Christianity

Esoteric Christianity is an approach to Christianity which features “secret traditions” that require an initiation to learn or understand.[1] The term esoteric was coined in the 17th century and derives from the Greek ἐσωτερικός (esôterikos, “inner”).[2]

These spiritual currents share some common features, such as heterodox or heretical Christian theology; the canonical gospels, various apocalyptic literature, and some New Testament apocrypha as sacred texts;[citation needed] and disciplina arcani, a supposed oral tradition from the Twelve Apostles containing esoteric teachings of Jesus the Christ.[1]

Esoteric Christianity was closely related to gnosticism, and survives in a few modern churches.[1]

Ancient roots

Greek mysticism influenced many early church theologians such as Clement of Alexandria and Origen.

Some modern scholars believe that in the early stages of proto-orthodox Christianity, a nucleus of oral teachings were inherited from Palestinian and Hellenistic Judaism.[1] In the 4th century, it was believed to form the basis of a secret oral tradition which came to be called disciplina arcani.[1] Mainstream theologians, however, believe that it contained only liturgical details and certain other traditions which remain a part of some branches of mainstream Christianity.[1][3][4] Important influences on esoteric Christianity are the Christian theologians Clement of Alexandria and Origen, the leading figures of the Catechetical School of Alexandria.[5][need quotation to verify]

Reincarnation was accepted by most Gnostic Christian sects such as Valentinianism and the Basilidians, but denied by the proto-orthodox one.[citation needed] While hypothetically considering a complex multiple-world transmigration scheme in De Principiis, Origen denies reincarnation in unmistakable terms in his work Against Celsus and elsewhere.[6][7]

Despite this apparent contradiction, most modern esoteric Christian movements refer to Origen’s writings (along with other Church Fathers and biblical passages[8]) to validate these ideas as part of the esoteric Christian tradition outside of the Gnostic schools, who were later considered heretical in the 3rd century.[9]

Present-day denominations

A denomination of esoteric Christianity is The Christian Community.[10] It focuses on the experiential aspect of sacraments, with the Eucharist serving as “the Rite of the Consecration of Man”.[10]

Scholar Jan Shipps describes The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as having esoteric elements.[11]

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