The Church of John

John IconAt the end of his Gospel, John mentions that Peter was questioning Jesus’ relation with John. Jesus replied bluntly, “What’s it to you?”

In Meditations on the Tarot, Tomberg brings up the often-made distinction between the Church of Peter and the Church of John, the former structured and hierarchical, the latter free and mystical. Someone asked me the question: “Does the Roman Catholic Church need Hermetism?” To answer properly, the question needs to be adjusted: “Does the Church of Peter need Hermetism?” and the answer to this question is “certainly not”.

The real question is really about the Church of John, and there are several questions: “Does it even exist, has it existed continuously, is its core Hermetism?”

According to the theologian Hans Ur von Balthazar, it does exist (The von Balthazar Reader, #66), although he calls the two churches “Official Church” and “Church of Love”, and its source can be found in the Gospel of John. He says there is a two-peaked church in harmonious tension, although the Church of John respectfully gives precedence to the Church of Peter. There are no clear boundaries between the two. This interesting discussion concludes with this:

Between these two impossible ecclesiologies, the Gospel of John leaves and dismisses us in a suspended middle point whose foundation lies solely with the Lord. The last thing said to the servant Peter, the last word of the Lord in the gospel, is the admonition (for the church and theology of all times), “What’s it to you?”

So the Church of John exists and has existed continuously. The next question is about Hermetism. There have been many clues about this. Dionysius, Clement of Alexandria, Origen are close to Hermetism. There were the alchemists, Ramon Lull, Ficino, Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin … all clues that Hermetism has always existed in the Church and only occasionally makes a public appearance.

Rene Guenon claims that the Church used to have an esoteric teaching which he claims was Hermetism. He points to Dante as a member of an esoteric order, and even Thomas Aquinas. The Templars, the Grail Legend, the story of the Magi, Medieval Romances, St Bernard, Ramon Lull, Michael Scott, and so on, all point to the existence of a Christian esoterism. In Perspectives on Initiation, Guenon writes in a similar vein about a dual church:

Within a single organization, a kind of double hierarchy can exist, especially when the apparent leaders are themselves unaware of any link to a spiritual center. In such cases there may exist beside the visible hierarchy made up by those apparent leaders, an invisible hierarchy of which the members may not fulfill any ‘official’ function but who, by their presence alone, nonetheless assure an effective liaison with this center. In the more exterior organizations these representatives of the spiritual centers obviously need not reveal themselves as such …

Tomberg and van Balthazar agree on the Church of John. It is not separate from the Church of Peter on which it depends for structure and support. Rather it is a less formal entity, in parallel with, yet not opposed to, the official church. Historically, there have been times they got along, and other times in opposition. With the destruction of the Templars, came the Rosicrusians who found themselves opposed to the Church. Then other Hermetists, such as Cagliostro, Giordano Bruno, or Thomas Campanella were imprisoned and even executed.

Yet to create a visible Church of John with its own separate structure, clergy, doctrine, and so on is, in my opinion, a mistake; actually I believe it to be impossible. That is because it will eventually degenerate into a vacuous, undifferentiated and amorphous entity, not holding firm to anything in particular. As a witness to that, we need only point to the various so-called New Age and occult movements active today.

The Church of John is in your heart and mind, especially when you are joined with 2 or 3 others. So to any self-appointed guardians of orthodoxy, I ask “What’s it to you?”