Sunday, February 20, 2011
A Book with Seven Seals. The Book of Revelation and the Work of the Priest: Lecture 16 of 18
Dornach, September 20, 1924
Rudolf Steiner: You have asked for something to be discussed before the lecture.
(Johannes Werner Klein spoke.) [Not recorded]
Rudolf Steiner: Well you see, I wanted to formulate my answer to your question to fit in with the way the question was asked, and there was certainly an intimate connection with what you wrote about the deterioration of physical and soul forces which you seemed to be tying in with whether you should do more on the outreach work or work more extensively with the inner aspect. It would have been difficult for me to reach a conclusion other than that your awareness of the deterioration of forces was leading—in the way you put the question—to the suggestion that you might work less with outreach this winter and instead withdraw into more inward work. I had understood the question to be suggesting the choice between whether the outreach work should continue as inaugurated or whether, in consideration of the physical and soul forces, the work should continue for a while among the priests themselves. Perhaps I misunderstood the question?
(Johannes Werner Klein spoke about this.) [Not recorded]
Rudolf Steiner: Well, you will have gathered from my reply that the outreach work is necessary for the present. But this does not mean that, if things are as you say, we cannot also speak about the deterioration of soul forces. The deterioration of physical forces is a medical matter, but the deterioration of soul forces is of course something that should be discussed in the way in which it is understood. Before we continue, would anyone else like to speak about it?
(Emil Bock asked about karmic connections. Then Friedrich Doldinger spoke.) [Neither contribution was recorded]
Rudolf Steiner: The only problem for me personally is that you are speaking at all about difficulties at the soul level. One does not speak about difficulties at the soul level if one is convinced that they do not exist. There is one thing that we must include in our considerations, and that is this: The way in which the movement for religious renewal has been developing since the first Act of Consecration of Man two years ago should surely fill everyone with satisfaction—taking into account all the factors that have a bearing on this development. Naturally there are always failures or else inhibitions coming from outside, or perhaps arising from the fact that not everyone is immediately equal to his task in an absolutely ideal way. But if we leave these details out of account—most of which can anyway be overcome if the development of the work continues, and which the main direction in the development of the movement for religious renewal certainly promises will be overcome—and consider the broader picture, then we have to say: The inhibitions at the soul level, if they are regarded as inhibitions of the movement itself, are something of an illusion, for within the movement these inhibitions do not manifest as such. The movement is developing quite well, to put it plainly. So the existing inhibitions are, in fact, more or less the private concern of individuals. At least this is how they appear. It is not as though anything in the movement itself might be influenced by them. However, there are some points within the movement itself which might perhaps still be regarded as inhibiting factors, and these should probably he discussed. The question is how to shape this discussion. Perhaps it will be possible for me to speak about some points, one in particular, with the Lenkers first before embarking on a general discussion. Or perhaps it is not feasible to extend the discussion beyond the Lenkers’ circle; in that case it would be up to them ... to decide how to share it with the circle of priests. These are questions that simply lie along the way of development. But if there are psychological inhibitions that are taken to be inhibitions of the movement itself, there is really no need to regard them as such if you look at the whole way in which The Christian Community has been developing. Or, put differently, there is no need to regard them as a reality, for a certain amount of illusion is playing a part in the matter.
I must say that the point in your question about working inwardly or with outreach is not important just now. In many ways, what your question contains simply does not exist, especially if you look at the facts, for what is essential for the movement is the intensity in its substance, indeed the very fact that the movement exists. I must say that with regard to the intensity in its substance I consider the movement to be essentially oriented in the right direction and I also think that at present it has the characteristic of going with the spiritual. I could give you various external examples for this that I found when looking through the recent issue of your journal, where you discussed certain points in the Book of Revelation showing how it can be applied to today. It is not a matter of whether this is correct or not, but the very fact that the question is brought up and dealt with in the way it is—basing what is written on substance that can be linked to the spiritual—shows that the movement really is moving in the right direction.
There are many successes that could be mentioned, and I mean genuine, intensely inward successes. Let me put it like this: Surely it can be counted as a success that you are indeed able to discuss these points—with the seriousness that obviously emanates from this community—especially when you know that your journal already has a circulation of 6,000. You must include positive things in your reckoning, and surely this is a very positive outcome. When I look at all the things that go in this direction I cannot help telling myself how remarkable it is that so much has become possible in religion in a way that is so different from what was there before. Where, until now, has it been possible to speak to 6,000 people about such things through a journal? And of course there are more readers than that. It was possible in sects, large or small ones, which no one actually takes seriously; and if the most modern theology did so, the subject was treated in a very unbelieving, rationalizing sense. The very tone in which the Book of Revelation is discussed in your journal is an achievement when you consider that it has a circulation of 6,000. These are things that must be included on the positive side of your reckoning. The value I accord them is entirely objective. In the light of these things you cannot talk of the movement having any inhibitions worthy of that name. You must also consider how immensely powerfully the cultus works whenever it takes place. If progress continues as hitherto, then in ten years’ time the movement will truly be what it is intended to be for humanity. So if you are asking whether the direction you have followed hitherto should be maintained—and I cannot interpret your question to mean anything else—then all I can say is: There is not the slightest reason to consider doing things in a different way. This is what I think as regards the movement for religious renewal.
It is true, though, that in some respects some individuals have not been functioning at the level of the movement as a whole. Please forgive me for putting this so bluntly. But this should be a reason for considerable satisfaction, not dissatisfaction, since it offers the guarantee that individuals will increasingly grow into the movement that is so filled with spiritual substance. These are things that strengthen souls. And there is another positive thing worth mentioning, which is the way various aspects of the Book of Revelation are now being unveiled together with you here. I am afraid there is a good deal of illusion involved in the way private inhibitions that exist are being transferred on to the movement. These things that are being transferred on to the movement are personal, and they will quite definitely be removed again by and by. This is how I see it, but I am not sure whether it fits the direction of your question.
You must also not recoil from asking yourselves how you can remove from your soul any remnants of Protestant theology that may still be lurking there. This must be rooted out, for it represents one extreme, just as Catholic practice is another extreme in the opposite direction. The Catholic church says: We need not concern ourselves with the individual priest; the individual priest is entirely insignificant, for what matters is the substance represented by the church. As soon as he wears the stole the individual priest is regarded as a representative of the church, and I have never known anyone in authority to be upset by depressions assailing individual priests, let alone by quite other things than depressions. They never mind these things because they count on the spiritual leadership which—although it is rather questionable these days—does after all point towards the spirit.
Protestantism, on the other hand, having put the whole emphasis on the personality, has separated itself off from the spirit almost entirely. That was the opposite extreme, and this is what must be removed from your hearts and souls. You really must look towards the reality of spiritual life, for this reality exists. Whatever might be the matter with the individual, whatever might be churning about in his own soul, he must realize that spiritual life proceeds in objective reality. If you take into account that certain Protestant attitudes might well still remain in some souls in consequence of their university studies or their education and so on, then you will be able to heal yourselves of difficulties you may be having in connection with the movement. I am not referring to individual souls with their own private feelings, for this belongs elsewhere. This is the same in the Catholic church, for of course someone in trouble can always go to a colleague for advice and so on. But towards the lay congregation and believers the church presents a united front. The added factor with the Catholic church is that it has gradually succumbed to a spiritual leadership that is ahrimanic. It can be proved that this is so.
At the beginning of this century the Pope at the time published an Encyclical against modernism. You know that these things are always couched in phrases such as: We prohibit, or we forbid such and such. And then the positive assertions are made. This is the way the Syllabus of the 1860s is written, and so is the Bull on modernism. I have made some investigations about this and discovered that the papal Encyclical was in fact a spiritual revelation, only when the revelation was put into writing every positive assertion in the spiritual original was turned into a negative assertion, so that the Bull said the exact opposite of what had been spiritually revealed. This shows that the Catholic church receives its spiritual revelations falsified by Ahriman. Nevertheless, this does not mean that there is nothing spiritual about it. This spiritual element is present in The Christian Community in the most appropriate way for the stage of evolution humanity has reached today. The Christian Community is established on spiritual soil by spiritual beings in reality. When this is accepted in full seriousness it will heal every faintness of soul. We now have several other things to speak about.
Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, September 20, 1924:
I shall begin by returning to something mentioned earlier, which we shall then use as our point of departure. I drew your attention to the notable fact that in people’s subconscious longings there is a strong need for spirituality and also that what happens superficially in experiences of the physical plane is something fundamentally different from what is actually going on in human souls today. There is an astonishing fact that goes to prove this. A few days ago I mentioned the remarkable way in which the content of my lectures to the Goetheanum workmen takes shape through the questions asked by the workers themselves. This reveals something of the longings that are developing. I also pointed out how one can speak to people out of the spirit of the Book of Revelation if only one finds the right tone. Without mentioning the Book of Revelation as such one can speak in the spirit of this Book precisely as we are doing among ourselves now.
I had decided on the subject of today’s talk to you out of the whole context we have been discussing. Then, astonishingly, this morning in my lecture to the workmen a question was asked that made it necessary for me to explain the very same scientific matters to them that I was intending to talk to you about. You see what effects are going on beneath the surface; something truly spiritual is going on in that the lectures I am giving here call forth longings in that other group of people, longings which otherwise they would not have. I would never have been called on to give that lecture there if I were not speaking here about the Book of Revelation. Yet I gave that lecture in answer to a question that was asked but which I did not know about outwardly. Such a thing shows how our time is being touched by a spiritual life that is chiefly going on below the surface of consciousness, a spiritual life that is most strongly the concern of the priest who has to try and find out the degree to which souls are inclined to enter into spiritual matters.
Our considerations here will be carried out in a way that allows them to be guided by the spirit of the Book of Revelation. This is the given situation here, but this morning I had to touch on the same matter from quite another angle in answer to a question. Such things must be taken very seriously, for they are significant. We must now ask ourselves, dear friends, in which way the terminology of the apocalyptist is even more intimate. If you look at everything I have said, you will understand that when the apocalyptist is speaking about how the human being stands in the midst of the whole universe he has before him a oneness of the stellar world and the earthly world, so that he links the essence of the human being as much with the stellar world as with the earthly world. We must also point realistically to what he means when he speaks of beasts, of the seven-headed and the two-horned beast. (Rev. 13) So far we have only been speaking about what the human being can experience inwardly. You will find, however, that wherever the apocalyptist speaks of fixed stars he is speaking of the divine spirit in the way this was still spoken of throughout the Middle Ages. When he speaks of planets he is speaking of angelic Intelligences, of Intelligences that are angelic or hierarchical in character. And when he speaks of beasts he means something equally specific. In our inmost being he lets us participate both in the crystal heavens and in the heavens of the fixed stars and planets, but also in what is founded on the animal character in the whole way it has evolved, on these beasts that keep playing a part in the Book of Revelation. What are these when it comes to the external, physical reality of the world?
Wherever the apocalyptist is speaking of the beast he is actually referring to the powers and effects of comets. Only when you are familiar with this terminology will you also understand what the apocalyptist knew about the nature of comets, knowledge which subsequently became completely buried. So let us now look at the nature of comets in the light of what the Book of Revelation tells us. Take the Copernican system as it is taught in schools nowadays: Sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, then Jupiter and Saturn, and you might as well add Uranus and Neptune. (Plate 6)
The movements of all these are calculable so long as you avoid making big mistakes and if you take into account the adjustments that have always been necessary. You only have to point your telescope at the spot you have calculated and there you will find the planet. These are the calculable things. But within this planetary system we also have the paths of the comets. Many cometary paths are also calculable, and these calculations lead to quite remarkable results, which can give rise to a lot of excitement if they are simply taken in the way they appear according to today’s astronomical calculations. I will use just one of these as my starting point.
In Paris in 1773 it was announced that Lalande, the famous astronomer, was to lecture on comets at the Academy. Rumor had it that he was going to prove the imminence of a collision between a comet and the Earth in that very year, for calculations of the comet’s path were said to show that it would cross the Earth’s orbit and so cause the collision. Imagine the mood in the population at that time. The rumor caused the whole of Paris to panic, especially when it was announced that the police, who always act correctly, had had nothing better to do than forbid the lecture on account of it being dangerous. There were large numbers of miscarriages and premature births, seriously ill people died, and Catholic priests did a roaring trade selling absolutions because everyone rushed to confession and wanted to receive the sacraments before the end of the world! Since the lecture did not take place, quite a while passed before people found out what Lalande had actually intended to say. Lalande’s calculations were quite correct and did indeed show that a certain comet would cross the Earth’s orbit, and if it were to collide with the Earth this would most certainly cause great masses of ocean water from the equator to flood the land masses that lie between the North and the South Pole. This terrible thing did not happen, yet the calculation was correct.
We can find out what was at the root of all this, dear friends, by looking at the situation with another comet, the famous Biela’s comet. In 1832 people quite rightly paid close attention to the path of Biela’s comet and everything that could be mathematically foreseen as resulting from that path. When the comet appeared it behaved exactly as the calculations had foretold. It came so close to the Earth that people said: It is getting closer to the Earth every time it appears, so a time will come when this will be dangerous. Since Biela’s comet approaches the Earth’s orbit every six to seven years, a huge amount of attention was focussed on it in the 1840s when calculations showed that it would come so close to the Earth’s orbit as to be thirteen times closer to it than the moon. Things were looking grim indeed! As the comet continued to come closer and closer to the Earth’s orbit, astronomers noticed that it was growing dimmer the closer it came. When it came dangerously close to the Earth again in 1846 they observed that it was not only dimmer but had split into two. In the 1860s conditions were unfavorable for observation, so people became very curious indeed about its next appearance due in 1872. If the calculations were as correct as Lalande’s had been for the comet in 1773, it was thought that disaster would be likely. I was only a small boy in 1872, but I clearly remember leaflets being distributed where I lived, and of course they were distributed elsewhere as well, stating: The world is going to end. Everyone was talking and writing about it. There was a lot of anxiety, although in this instance I cannot give you any statistics about miscarriages, deaths, or absolutions! I well remember the excited anticipation as the day approached; but what happened? The comet failed to appear. Instead there was the most wonderful, beautiful meteor shower, as though a fire were falling to the Earth from the night sky in myriads of tiny fading sparks. Having split into two, the comet then proceeded to disintegrate into nothing but tiny splinters that the Earth’s atmosphere was able to absorb and which became united with the being of the Earth. It chose the path of becoming absorbed by the Earth.
In 1832 a well-known astronomer, Littrow, published a treatise that was very interesting. I can still recommend studying it, even today; it is most interesting and its complicated calculations are entirely correct. Here was someone who knew what he was talking about. He made a calculation that took every possibility into account. He worked out that in 1832 there could not yet have been a calamity caused by a collision, but he said that if everything remained as it had been when the comet’s course was plotted when it was still a single body and not yet split, then a calamity would definitely occur in 1933; 1933 is what he said. So if the comet had remained as it was, then there would definitely be a catastrophe in 1933 in which all the oceans would spread over the Earth in huge floods, making life on Earth die out. Instead, the comet has disintegrated; in tiny particles it has been absorbed by the Earth; the Earth has nourished itself on this cosmic substance. So instead of a collision in 1933—that year is not far off now—what the Earth has absorbed is spiritualized by other substances, and the spiritual rises up. The Earth digests the comet and something spiritual rises up. Dear friends, spiritualized cometary substance does indeed rise up in the Earth in this way from time to time.
Let me tell you the purpose of this, for there is a profound cosmic purpose. I have often mentioned some rather grotesque things that happened when railways were first built. One of these was that when the building of a railway was mooted, the minister for post in Berlin retorted that he sent off two mail coaches each week and there were no passengers in them, so what would be the point in building a railway. Another thing that happened was that when asked for an expert opinion about the building of a railway from Nuremberg to Fürth, a panel of physicians at Nuremberg recommended desisting from doing such a thing since people’s nerves would suffer dreadfully in consequence; they ought not to be exposed to it for they would be damaged in body and soul; but if it was felt necessary to give in to this foolish urge, then it would be advisable at least to build high plank walls on either side of the railway to prevent the farmers from getting concussion. This was the scientific opinion given by the panel of physicians in Nuremberg. Today we deride the small-mindedness of such people. But as I have often said, I cannot quite laugh in the same way because they were right according to the scientific knowledge of their day. According to what was known at that time you had to say that people would ruin their nerves if they travelled by train, and to a certain degree this is indeed the case. If you compare people’s nerves today with the nerves of those living some time ago you will discover a small clue that exonerates the physicians of Nuremberg to some extent. What science was saying was, in effect, that human beings would not be able to tolerate the demands made on their physical body via the astral body if the astral body, the animal part of the human being, did not constantly receive a correction, a therapy, through that which rays back up to the surface of the Earth from the absorbed cometary substances, exercising a balancing effect on human capacities.
So here we have the human being placed into the universe in a remarkable way. Here is Biela’s comet in 1872. Fire falls from the sky; the Earth absorbs it in such a way that someone with spiritual vision can see how it returns and influences the human astral body either favorably or unfavorably. There are comets that influence human beings in the way I have described by therapeutically balancing their nervousness, and there are others that let loose wild astral forces when they make their way up to the Earth’s surface again after having been absorbed. This is how the apocalyptist regards the cometary appearances. When he describes the beasts he also describes the cometary appearances, he places them side by side because they can be seen as parallel phenomena; he draws a parallel with the seven-headed beast because at that time such things were much more closely linked with the whole physical world and because there was a comet then that had split into seven pieces, thus expressing in a heavenly way something that was happening on the Earth. Similarly the two-horned beast I mentioned is linked with a comet, a comet with two tails.
Dear friends, wild superstitions have become attached to comets and these have prevented their significance from being considered in the right light; their paths have merely been plotted and people have been irritated by their whimsical behavior. At least once in a while some intelligent thinker such as Hegel has condescended to draw attention to different types of link between the nature of comets and the nature of the Earth. Hegel, who was not averse to the occasional glass of sparkling wine, made the entirely correct observation that good and bad years for wine are connected with comets.
Let us now look at this whole matter on a cosmic scale, dear friends. The Earth imbibes cometary substance and subsequently gives it off again in a spiritualized form; this then unites with the astral bodies of human beings either in a good or in a bad way. When we see a comet in the sky at a certain time, where is it after that time? In a lecture I gave in Paris in 1906 I drew attention to the fact that cometary substance contains cyanide, compounds of carbon and nitrogen. It was a good while before external science began to mention this, but later it was proved by spectral analysis. The fact that there is cyanide in comets is most important, for distributed over the Earth in tiny amounts this substance is needed for the purification of astral bodies. There is an immensely great cosmic physician at work in the cosmos who is more or less constantly busy administering therapies like this. Just think: What we see above us as a comet in the sky in one period then becomes atomized as I have described; it comes down from the sky in showers of fire; later it is in the soil and still later it moves from the soil into the plants, into their roots, stems, leaves, and flowers. We eat the cometary deposit, the cometary leaven, that is given to the Earth by the cosmos, we eat it with our very bread. When the apocalyptist contemplates this phenomenon he sees favorable effects from one comet and unfavorable effects from another rising up before his spiritual vision. The Beast will be let loose from its imprisonment in the Earth; that is what the comet is in the cosmic sense. That the Beast will be let loose is significant for the development of human beings. Such things are exceedingly powerful realities, great and significant points in the evolution of humanity and of the Earth.
In 1933, dear friends, there would be a possibility for the Earth and everything living on it to perish if there did not exist also that other, wise, arrangement that cannot be calculated. Once comets have taken on other forms calculations can no longer be accurate. What needs to be said in the sense meant by the apocalyptist is: Before the Etheric Christ can be comprehended by human beings in the right way, humanity must first cope with encountering the Beast who will rise up in 1933. This is what the apocalyptic language tells us. Here a view of the spirit unites with a view of nature. What is there in the cosmos becomes clear to us in its fundamental spiritual character. Take the way the peasants described what they saw in 1872 as they stood and watched the shower of light, and add to it what the spirit tells us as I have described it, and compare this with many of the descriptions in the Book of Revelation, and you will see that even the very words used match one another. You will see that the Book of Revelation is speaking of actual natural events.
These are things that justify calling the Book of Revelation a book with seven seals. They have to be unsealed in this way in order to discover what is actually meant. When people ask why the apocalyptist gives us a book that is sealed I do not find this question any more intelligent than when someone asks why we seal our letters when we send them off in closed envelopes. We seal them so that they will not be read by those for whom they are not intended. The same goes for the apocalyptist. He wanted the Book of Revelation to be read only by those called upon to do so. No one will know how to open the seal who has not first, you might say, received the appropriate paperknife from the spiritual powers.
Dear friends, in 1872, when that comet was supposed to be returning, there was a shower of light instead. This means that everything was already much more spiritual than when this comet made its earlier appearances. This comet will now only appear in the form of a shower of rays of light falling to Earth. What happened at the end of the 1870s was that the regency of Michael came down to the Earth in that shower of golden light.
Thus we have natural events that are actual spiritual events, and spiritual events that have the power to be natural events. Only when you can penetrate into the world with an intensity that makes all natural events into spiritual events and that gives all spiritual events the intensity of natural events will you truly gain insight into the formation of the world. Then the moral and the natural will join in a single evolution, and the inclination will arise to take knowledge as the content of religious life. Then there will no longer be any need to fall back on the excuse that only faith, but not knowledge, should provide the content of religious life.
This is what you can gain through a deeper approach to the Book of Revelation. I hope we shall be able to finish these considerations tomorrow or the day after.