Author/Artist: Richard Temple
Publisher: Luzac Oriental Limited
First published: 1990
Republished in 2001 by Luzac, this searching work uses the imagery of icons and the basis for an exploration of the true mystic source of the Christian faith.
Richard Temple points out that icons themselves are essentially mystical at heart, for they are the key to an underground stream of knowledge aimed at the civilisation of the whole person - body, soul and spirit – which developed from Platonic thought, the school of Alexandria and the Orphic mysteries.
Icons and the Mystical Origins of Christianity finds evidence for this universal knowledge in the writings of pre-Christian and very early Christian philosophy, and shows how the imagery and composition of icons provide a graphic record of this tradition. As the author discusses the meaning of the icons depicted in this volume, the richness and profundity of a lost tradition is gradually and hauntingly revealed.
Mr. Temple's book, now in its revised edition, starts with an introduction to the origins of Christianity. The subject of this section, which covers nearly half of the contents, is not the history of things that might have happened or not happened. His subject is based on the writings, philosophies and ideas from ancient Egypt, Pythagoras, the Hellenic period all the way to Neo-Platonism and the beginnigs of Hesychasm, the practice of silence and the Prayer of the Heart in the 4th century. As a short introduction to the origins of Christianity it is the best I have so far come across.
The second part of the book centers on the interpretation of icons. This section starts from the Egyptian Fayum portraits, which were paintings discovered in the graves in Egypt, and goes through examples of the interpretation ending up with the Iconostasis, which is separating the nave of the Orthodox churches from the sanctuary and on which many icons are displayed.
The red thread through the book is its emphasis on the inner, esoteric, teaching in and around Christianity, which Mr. Temple refers to as the Perennial Philosophy. Gods are not places nor individuals, but states of being realizable within ourselves.
In a similar way icons are not picturing historic events. They are presentations of the inner state of the icon painter, who has, with the help of self-knowledge, been able to come in contact with the higher reality and the subject of his painting and through this relationship has been in a position to express it in the icon.
This kind of contact within ourselves is also necessary for the full appreciation of the icons. To experience an icon we need to approach it not just with our eyes. When that takes place the icon may take on the communication.
Reijo Elsner, Finland