The Theosophical Society in America

Theosophy and Christianity

Originally printed in the November - December  2002 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Algeo, John. "Theosophy and Christianity." Quest  90.5 (NOVEMBER - DECEMBER  2002): 203.

Christianity-Theosophy Conference

By John Algeo

[This is a final summary report of the November 2000 invitational Christianity-Theosophy Conference. John Algeo was National President of the Theosophical Society in America at the time and the convener of the conference.]

ON NOVEMBER 10–12, 2000, an invitational conference on Theosophy and Christianity was held at Olcott, the national center of the Theosophical Society in America. The conferees in attendance were John Algeo, David Bland, Richard Brooks, Ruben Cabigting, John De Hoff, Gracia Fay Ellwood, Robert Ellwood, Jenny Gresko, Stephan Hoeller, Brant Jackson, John Kern, Anton Lysy, and Jay Williams, with Edward James, Leslie Price, and Joseph Tisch as corresponding participants. The Christian denominations with which the conferees were affiliated included Baptist, Episcopalian, Gnostic, Greek Orthodox, Liberal Catholic, Mennonite, and Presbyterian. Although those seven do not represent the whole of the Christian community, they are certainly a diverse sample. Seven conferees were ordained ministers, and seven were or had been teachers in higher education.

The purpose of the conference was to consider ways of presenting the principles of Theosophy to Americans reared in a primarily Judeo-Christian culture. As the invitation put it:

It is often said that Theosophy is Eastern in focus (particularly emphasizing Buddhism and Hinduism), and that remark is often a criticism, implying that we neglect the spiritual tradition most dominant in Western culture around us. Historically within or alongside or outside the Society there have been attempts to Westernize/Christianize the presentation of the Wisdom Tradition (Anna Kingsford’s Hermetic Society, Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophy, Wedgwood and Leadbeater’s Liberal Catholic Church, G. R. S. Mead’s Quest Society, etc.), but they do not necessarily speak to the concerns of persons at the beginning of the new millennium who come out of the Judeo-Christian tradition and who are not comfortable in the Eastern traditions that we are pretty good at presenting in a Theosophical light.

We are currently making efforts in such presentation in the Quest magazine and in Quest Books. . . . But it would be useful to have a group of knowledgeable people review the options and brainstorm on how to present Theosophy in other ways that seem relevant to our Western contemporaries and on how to reach those persons.

Background papers circulated in advance or distributed at the conference included several by conferees: “Jesus in Isis Unveiled” by Robert Ellwood, “Theosis: The Eastern Christian Vision of the Homeward Journey” by Edward James, “Theosophy and Esoteric Christianity” by Joseph Tisch, and “Translating the Ancient Wisdom into a Christian Perspective: A Recall to the Theosophical Society’s Original Purpose” by Brant Jackson. A bibliography was compiled of some 50 works, older and recent, Theosophical and ecumenical, ranging from H. P. Blavatsky’s “The Esoteric Character of the Gospels” to C. V. Agarwal’s The Buddhist and the Theosophical Movements 1873–1992 (a second edition of which brings its story up to 2001), as an example of bridging the gap between Theosophy and an Eastern religion.

Reflections on issues raised by the conference were published in each issue of the Quest during 2001 and in the issue of 2002 just before this one. They covered such topics as “Compatible Worldviews?” by Robert Ellwood, “Christian Exclusiveness and Theosophical Truth” by Jay Williams, “The Imperative of Love” by David Bland, “What Is a Christian” and “What Is a Christian Scripture” by Stephan Hoeller, “Christmas” by Ruben Cabigting, and “The Turning Point within Christianity” by Brant Jackson.

The Christianity-Theosophy Conference of 2000 pointed the way to meeting two needs. One is the development of practical means of communication between the Wisdom Tradition of Theosophy and the Christian frame of thought. The other, highlighted by recent events, is for attention to be paid to increased understanding between Theosophy and all religious traditions. The former is an ongoing effort on many fronts. The latter will be particularly addressed by Robert Ellwood’s new study for the National Lodge, “Theosophy in the World Religions.”