In orthodox Christianity the mysteries have been so trivialized as to mean the mystery of how we can be saved from hell by the grace of God through the death burial and resurrection of Christ. I say trivialized because no real explanation of what Jesus and Paul were talking about when they referred to the mysteries or secrets is ever forthcoming.
Jesus said in Matthew 13:35, “I have come to reveal the secrets that have lain hidden from the foundation of the earth. In the same verse it says, “and he spake them in parables and without parables spake he not.” Clearly he revealed the mysteries in the parables but we treat them as little stories and Sunday school pabulum for children.
When the apostles asked why he taught in parables he said, “To you I have revealed the mysteries but this peoples heart is waxed gross.” Later Paul refers to the mysteries in Colossians 1:26-27 “Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory…
The “mysteries” was not a subject taken lightly in early Christianity. During the first and second century those who called themselves Christians were primarily Gnostics. They believed it was possible to know God through a process of initiation into these mysteries. The emphasis was not on “belief” but on “knowing”. During the second century there was a growing body of “literalists” and it was these “literalists” that the Emperor Constantine used to make a religion into what it was never meant to be.
The journey of the soul in the first century involved three stages. In the first stage the individual initiate was called a “hylic” and they moved to the next stage called “Psychics” and finally to “Pneumatics”. The influx of Jewish Gnostics, Pagan Gnostics and the converts of Paul known as Pauline Gnostic was directly related to the revelations of the secrets that had lain hidden from the foundations of the Earth and were revealed by Jesus in the parables. He was not offering a belief system based upon his death, burial and resurrection but the revelation of the secrets and the simple process of identifying and verifying the Universal Laws (the secrets) in our life experiences,
The “Literalists” disdained the “myths with meaning” created by the early Christians (who were almost totally Gnostics) and created narratives that we now call gospels. It was only in the later part of the second century that the “Literalists” began to grow in numbers and they were the ones the Emperor Constantine realized he could use to reach his objective of unifying his kingdom. No representative of the main body of Christianity was invited to the Nicene Council and all those who were invited were already on his payroll.
Once the power of the throne was behind the “Literalists” who referred to themselves as “Catholic”, they went after the Mithraians whose liturgy they had copied, razed their temples to the ground and buried their priest alive. Cathedrals were built on their ruins and then their attention turned to destroying the Christian body as it existed and re-creating it on their model. Gnostics were depicted as recent heretics when the fact is Gnosticism had long been existence. Long before the Christian Gnostics there were pagan and Jewish Gnostics. Pythagoras, Plato and Philo were all Gnostics. The concept of gnosis was that one could know God or the mysteries, but the “Literalists” stressed faith over knowledge. The “Literalists” were not into the mysteries but focused on organization, control and conversion.
Gnostics saw the coming of Jesus as a spiritual manifestation rather than an incarnation: his death was equally illusory. Like the Montanists, the Gnostics refused to believe that the age of revelations had ended with the apostles: They held that the resurrection of Jesus was not just a historical event but a continuing phenomenon which occurred within believers. Hidden Gospels, Philip Jenkins
Gnostics were concerned with the inner essence of their tradition. Literalists associate their faith with its outward manifestation, symbols, scriptures and rituals
Gnostics see themselves on a spiritual journey of personal transformation. Literalists see themselves as fulfilling a divinely ordained obligation to practice particular religious customs.
Gnostics are free spirits who question presuppositions of their own culture. Literalists believe their particular spiritual traditions are unique and have a unique claim on truth and they are prepared to enforce their opinions and silence those who descent.
Gnostics are focused on their own enlightenment. Literalists are focused on recruiting more adherents
Gnostics wanted to free themselves from limitations and experience the oneness of all. Literalists used their religion to sustain their personal and cultural identity by defining themselves in opposition to others.
Gnostics never had an organized hierarchy but had ministers, teachers and a lot of writers. Only Mani created a hierarchy that competed with the literalists.
Literalists were developing elite bishops but Constantine reorganized his new religion along the lines of the Roman Military.
With the triumph of orthodox Christianity after Constantine, the Gnostic tradition went underground. The final persecution directed by Spanish Bishop Priscillian of Avila was the final blow but its influence was profound. Gnosticism influenced the mystical school of Islam known as Sufism as well as later Christian leaders. New Thought Christianity is a resurrection of the best in Gnosticism.