Roman Christianity that became the official Roman religion in the fourth century was the
Greek Orthodox tradition and brought in some of the mysticism and image worship of the
Greeks and related Gnostic traditions.
The Roman Catholic
religion only became prominent through Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire in the ninth
century. Roman Catholic Christianity with its popes was a sidelight to Greek Orthodox
Christianity that only came to dominate over the Greek tradition after the Crusades
that sacked the Greek capital of Byzantium in the thirteenth century. In Jerusalem I could see a decline in spirituality from the Greek
Orthodox to the Roman Catholic Churches and Protestant Churches. The Greek Orthodox
churches had much mysticism in them. The Roman Catholic had some mysticism but a sense of
regimentation. The recently built Protestant Churches had no spirituality at all and
were little better than tombs for the soul!
Scholars are now discovering a similar historical
development in the Koran. Versions of the Koran from Yemen have been found dating from the
eighth century that differ from the Koran as we know it today. Scholars are now proposing
that the Koran was a document that developed over time to fulfill not only religious needs
but also the social needs of a new and rapidly growing empire. The new Arab rulers needed
a religious teaching to sanctify their position and maintain their hold over the older and
more complex cultures that they had just come to rule. Their religion was rigid and
intolerant in order to sustain their supremacy over older civilizations that could easily
assimilate their much simpler culture.
No doubt many mystical traditions existed in the ancient
Near East before the two orthodox religions of the book eliminated them. This included
Greek, Celtic, Egyptian, Persian and Babylonian traditions with probable links to India
and to Vedanta. Probably there were many great mystics in these traditions that we have
forgotten who were as great as any produced by Christianity and Islam.