The Church

Not unexpectedly for a Christian iconoclast, Barfield exhibits great respect for the teachings of Christ while often criticizing, sometimes harshly, the institution of the church.

In general Barfield portrays the church as an exoteric popularizer of Christ’s more esoteric wisdom. “Very early in its career,” Barfield writes in History in English Words

the leaders of the infant Church must have realized two things—firstly, that those who, like the Gnostics, were passionately interested in philosophical and mystical interpretations of the life of Christ, not only differed very widely among themselves, but also paid little attention to that personal life of Jesus, as recorded in the Gospels, whose sweetness was beginning to bind men together with marvelous new ties; secondly, that the simple and ignorant people to whom, according to the Gospels, Jesus addressed Himself almost exclusively, would be quite incapable of grasping these interpretations. If Christianity was to spread, it must be simplified.

Their simplification was wonderfully successful. The teachings of Christ became the new common sense.

This historical process largely succeeded in masking its making. Christianity’s largely borrowed, cut and pasted, pastiched ideas became gospel and, eventually, dogma due to the ingenious work of the “incredibly industrious” fathers of the Church who

…busied themselves in editing and selecting from the literature and traditions of a hundred semi-Christian sects. Doctrines which had taken a very strong hold on many imaginations were accepted, given the orthodox stamp, and incorporated in the canon; others were rejected, and being pursued at first with a mixture of genuine logic, misrepresentation, and invective, and, as the Church grew stronger, with active persecution, gradually vanished away or dwindled down to obscure apocryphal manuscripts, some of which have only recently been partially translated within the last few decades. Thus, for more than ten centuries, creeds and dogmas, to the accompaniment of immense intellectual and physical struggles, were petrified into ever clearer and harder forms. Christianity became identified with Catholic doctrine, and soon after the Church’s authority was backed by that of the Roman Empire, any other form of it might be punished by death.
(History in English Words)

The church has thus not remained a friend to the evolution of consciousness, for reasons Barfield articulates in Saving the Appearances: “I suspect that for the Church,” he writes, acceptance of the evolution of consciousness “will not be easy. It will not be easy for the nursing mother to accept the possibility that her charge has grown to need additional nourishment; or that revelation of the mystery of the kingdom was not turned off at the tap when the New Testament canon was closed, but is the work of an earth-time” (218).

Copyright © 1997 — Owen Barfield Literary Estate.       Return to Top.