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Gurdjieff and Christianity

[This is 'Paul of England' - his internet name I've given him, from an email exchange on Gurdjieff's relation to Christianity. G. I. Gurdjieff, along with P. D. Ouspensky, is associated with the body of teaching known as Fourth Way, or the Work; which has been appropriated by numerous cults and other groups and organizations. Those like Paul of England and myself who know Christian doctrine see the Work very differently than the common run of Work 'students', who are mainly new age types and so on.]

>>>The only thing that I didn't get - even after some googling - was the Essene reference re Gurdjieff. Since >>you said the reference was a subject that was perhaps central to this whole topic I thought I'd ask you >>to clarify for me some.

Let me head this up by saying Gurdjieff was a Christian. I'll also say that he is a complicated Christian, with many things going on. He wasn't ignorant of things either. Actually he wrote a lot on the subject and he even wrote prayers, so there is a reasonable amount of material in the primary sources and G's own writings and transcripts etc, as well third party statements. I should put in a caveat in defence of G because it may appear like I wholesale dismiss him, but on the contrary, his achievements are extraordinary and hardly imaginable.

This is a bunch of stuff off top of my head so it reads quite random, but it's all there.

The Work is something greater than the teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. I don't think that generally is an obvious belief. If you have not lived those teachings they must surely appear to belong to G. But in either case, G brought a lot of himself through the delivery. For instance, as a Christian he might have made a greater point about obedience to Christ, he might have made things purer by not introducing sufi teachings - in short he might have made more of the Christian heritage that was there. It's very odd that he didn't make any effort to lead people to Christ. However it isn't odd because as I have already said, his idea of Christian isn't exactly Biblical. He could have presented the Work as a Christian teaching (rather than just saying it was) but in many ways he excised all of that and went on to insert some distinctly non-Biblical elements. I think Mouravieff, as much as he frustrates and annoys, was right to be clear about the origins of this teaching. Although it may indeed be true that for G the teaching does go back to a pre-sand lost Egypt rather than a greek island. I think that is why G is more or less non Biblical.

So the question is why did G tell people that what he taught was the ABC's of Christianity and yet at the same time left it fairly devoid of core Biblical understanding? And certainly for me, he presented an absolutely explosive system. That's the point i began questioning G and beginning to understand this stuff. Out there in the darkness, spiritual warfare is SO real and G gets people into that territory and doesn't introduce Christ as in any way a necessity - when obviously one is doomed without. That may be regarded as irresponsible.

The reasoning is likely because G had a particular take on Christianity. This also explains why the Work is riddled with dubious unbiblical teachings and ideas. Many of these are in the wider body of G's approach. The very idea of the Harmonius Institute is an example, not heretical just it ignores some foundational facts about man's condition in a fallen state.

G's connection with Christianity is I believe real and yet mixed and more in the tradition of the Essene. It is this which allows for his peculiar position. G refers to Christ as a Divine Teacher for instance. He says that a lot. He refers to God as Our Common Father - that might be ok, but looking at his position generally I think it's probably not. He has this idea that a Christian is a perfected being, give or take, hence there are no true Christians because they can't live up to God's standards. He is off in so many directions. He believes in the idea of an original Christianity that belonged to Egypt and that what developed through the centuries was some sort of deviation so that by the middle ages it was entirely lost. He clearly despised the Catholic priesthood. There are reports of him shouting abuse in the street. Curiously he only mentions the Essene in passing, at least as far as I recall. There are two fairly clear indications that his leanings are towards the Essene. G had some fairly strong connections with the Orthodox tradition in his early years and clearly formed an important - as in deep - relationship with Bogachevsky, who later became Father Evlissi. This guy is a major influence on G. He went to Mt Athos but whatever he was after wasn't there, so he moved on to Egypt. He joined the Essene in Jerusalem. What did G say of Evlissi in Meetings with remarkable Men? "...one of the first persons on earth who has been able to live as our Divine Teacher Jesus Christ wished for us all." When admitting the Work to be Christian G was especially clear to put distance between 'his' Christianity and anything his listeners might be associating it with. So, most commonly it is 'esoteric' Christianity. Really such a terminology is meaningless if it implies some superior position to the exoteric. I think there is a danger there too that the esoteric christian is given a license that the exoteric don't have. That makes no sense. G also calls his Christianity pre-historic, originating in a different Egypt. More troubling G see's Christ as a Divine Messenger, a Sacred Messenger from our Endlessness - one of many such divines. Think about that. This is the influence of sufism seeping through because it's pretty clear that although he was a Christian he was well at ease with Islamic teachings, not just sufi (as the esoteric orders).

He travelled in Ethiopia as well as Egypt, he wrote something about the Coptics and my guess is he probably connected their heritage with the christians of prehistoric egypt because he did say the Coptic had something the orthodox and catholic had lost.

What I find interesting is he says nothing of the European Reformation or the Protestant traditions which emerged out of the middle ages. It's kind of weird really because if one is truly Biblical, then the picture of redemptive history rises to the surface as a central element in the whole story. He doesn't connect with this. He is on a completely different track. doesn't he somewhere dismiss the 'Church Fathers' as having gotten their knowledge from these prehistory christians? Does he not see the hand of God in history? Providence.

I have to be careful here not to sound like I'm gunning G. He was in many ways remarkable. Not that I would hang out with him. I'm intolerant of gurus. Another point of note - many of the intellectuals he attracted were occultists and anti-Christians, which is also telling.

G knew enough of the tradition to pretty much reject it and propose something else which when you look at it, sits closer to the gnostic schools than any version of christianity that survived gnostic meddling.

So in the end, having put much water between Christianity and his brand of Christianity G was fairly much at ease to toss in a mish-mash of eastern teachings, sufi teachings, folk teachings and some lesser known Orthodox teaching and various other bits n pieces - all drawn from Seekers after the Truth. This more or less leaves the work where it is with the majority of 4th wayers outrightly denying any connections with Christianity, and where they can accept it, remaining distanced from Biblical Christianity - and the large body of Christians in the world - favouring more palatable and wooly aberrations. Most of course embrace the sufi leanings - anything but the Christian.

[Here is my response to Paul of England on what he's written above...]

I read what you've written and in just my way of taking in things with discernment I got a sense you were very on-the-mark throughout. I have never delved into Gurdjieff's side of things like you obviously have, so it's valuable to me to read that. Like, for instance, I've never read Meetings With Remarkable Men. I think I scanned it enough to be satisfied I wasn't missing anything important. But I never gave it a dedicated read-through. Same with Beelzebub's Tales. I did go through some of his other things. And I had that Gurdjieff anthology that I thumbed through quite a lot when I was getting a total sense of each Work idea and practice and so forth.

It's true - you didn't mention it, but I'm just saying - when I connect the Work and Christianity I don't make the effort to distinguish in a clear-cut way what I myself shut out from what I see as a *core* practice in the faith. That can leave things a bit confused. The effort to do that seems overwhelming though. Not to mention when you are dealing with Christian doctrine at the hardcore level you are not even sure your audience understands that part of what you are writing. You kind of just throw everything down into words and hope the basics get across.

Your mention of a Gnostic flavor overall to G.s approach rang a sound note to me as well. I still don't dismiss the cosmological teaching of the Work though because of it's metaphor for the psychological side, and also since it is so wrapped up in different perceptions of time it is far away from biblical revelation for that reason alone because the Bible avoids that subject, but maybe subtly just alludes to it here and there. But it's like recurrence, you don't have to know about it, and when you do your situation vis-a-vis awakening/salvation is *still the same.*

It sounds like G. had the "Jesus was a great teacher/master/guru" thing, but refused to see Him as Lord and King and Savior. That common divide. Like you allude throughout what you wrote, if we just go by what he actually said and did then this is the conclusion. I.e. we can't see into his heart, but there is a good body of evidence to make some kind of conclusion.

But back to the *basic core* of the Work teaching. That is where I see gold, and, indeed, as I've stated - boldly, admittedly - a language of the Holy Spirit. That is what I see as being above G. and O. A living language if you will. Certainly a lively language. When we go back to it we can see that. But as I've articulated recently: it is *method* not doctrine; and it is for the *progressive sanctification* effort that happens on an already set foundation of regeneration and conversion.

But the telling point is, and you stated it: we sure do learn that the Work practice *puts us on spiritual battleground*, and eventually, we learn that without prayer and God we are defenseless there. - C.

[A note: I should say that my own connection to Work teaching is derived from the books with Ouspensky's name on them. I call them the 'pure springs' of the Work teaching; the ideas, practices, and goals. Also, I met Work teaching *before* I was regenerated by the word and the Spirit, and I roundly rejected it. It was only *after* (strangely enough?) I was regenerated by the word and the Spirit that I was able to connect with Work teaching. After my main Work period of several years - more than ten - I gravitated in a serious way to apostolic biblical doctrine, what is known as Calvinism, or classical Covenant - Federal - Theology, and the connections to Work teaching were remarkable. I was, at the time, a bit battle fatigued. I'd been on the spiritual battlefield a bit naked of the armor of God, though I seemed to be protected nevertheless to a good extent. After a while you are called to get more serious though. You need the armor of God. The word and Doctrine is armor of God. I wanted the real thing. AV1611 and Reformation era pure doctrine.]


Anonymous Anonymous said...


Could you elaborate on your connections to the Work that you established after your conversion to Calvinism? I too was introduced to the Work as a non-believer (moralist), rejected it after completing two texts, and later was given eyes to see and ears to hear which led me to Christ. I have some dear family that are very sincere followers of the G teaching. -w.v.

December 23, 2012 at 9:12 PM  
Blogger c.t. said...

Hello. It's a good question. I've been writing about this lately. I'm just going to reproduce an email I just wrote on this very subject:

The Christian telos of the Work

A telos (from the Greek τέλος for "end", "purpose", or "goal")

The Christian telos of the Work is the mortifying of the features of our old nature, and the cultivating of the features of our new nature; to, by degree, recover the image of God in us that was distorted and buried at the fall of Adam. It is 'by degree' because ultimate glorification occurs after physical death and the consummation of the plan of redemption in history.

To see this in metaphor - i.e. to see this Christian and Work connection in metaphor - it is best to think of the body of literature called Grail Legend.

When I think of the Work the two things that strike me as very real are the development of Magnetic Center with B Influence, and the possibility of attaining the # 5 level of Man. These are real things. In Grail Legend they would pertain to the Grail knights themselves, who are set apart from the other knights. - C.

Me real time now... The thing that happens when you know the Work very well and have a history of doing it is you start to wonder what the goal is. The goal is hazy in the Work sources. 'Enlightenment'? Joining the 'Conscious Circle of Humanity'? (Whatever that means.) As a Christian you finally say to yourself: I don't want to be the most awake person in hell.

Gurdjieff himself, though, said the Work was the ABCs of Christianity. I think the only way you can see this is in the area of progressive sanctification which occurs on the already set foundation of regeneration, faith, and justification.

In practical and simple terms, the Work language gives you an ability to identify the *features* of your fallen nature. And it also gives you material to identify the features of your new nature. It gives you, in the least, the direction of those features.

I also see the two conscious shocks in a bit of a sacramental nature. That is not something - none of this is - that can be explained or defended to the church level or to academic theologians.

Implicit in all the above is a person have a real connection to and parts-in-relation-to-the-whole understanding of Work ideas, practices and goals. And also have an on-the-mark understanding of orthodox biblical doctrine. That's a high bar to meet. Not many people fall into that category. But any Christian that has been regenerated by the word and the Spirit will seek knowledge and practices to develop in the faith and in their level of being. There are many voices that try to dissuade a person from that. It's not legalism if you already have *definitive* sanctification (which is God's doing alone). Progressive sanctification is God-reliant effort though. Effort. Just as in Work environments there are many shallow voices intoning the mantra 'man cannot do' there are similar people in Christian environments saying 'no effort necessary.' Both groups have little understanding of what they are talking about.

December 24, 2012 at 1:03 PM  

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