Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Easter: The Death of a God and Its Fruits in Humanity
Rudolf Steiner, May 5, 1912:
I shall speak today of certain matters in a way that could not be used in public lectures but is possible when I am speaking to those who have been studying spiritual science for some considerable time.
The importance of the subject of which we shall speak first will be evident to all serious students of spiritual science. Reference has frequently been made to this subject, but one cannot speak too often of spiritual-scientific concepts, for they must become actual forces, actual impulses, in men of the present and immediate future. I shall lay emphasis today upon one aspect of what spiritual science must signify in the world, namely, the need to impart soul to our “world-body,” as we may call it.
A comparatively short time ago in the evolution of humanity it would not have been possible to speak, as we can speak today, of a “world-body.” Looking back only a little into the historical development of mankind, we shall find that in the comparatively recent past the idea of a world-body peopled by a humanity forming one whole had not yet come into the consciousness of men. We find self-contained civilizations, enclosed within strict boundaries. Guided by the several Folk-Spirits, the Old Indian civilization, the Old Persian civilization, and so on, embraced peoples living a self-contained existence, separated from one another by mountains, seas, or rivers.
Needless to say, such civilizations still exist. We speak, and rightly so, of Italian, Russian, French, Spanish, German culture, but as well as this, when we look over the Earth today we perceive a certain unity extending over the globe — something by which peoples separated by vast distances are formed as it were into a single whole. We need think only of industry, of railways, of telegraphs, of recent inventions. Railways are built, telegraph systems installed, cheques made out and cashed, all over the globe, and the same will hold good for discoveries and inventions yet to be made.
Now let us ask: What is the peculiarity of this element that extends over the globe and is the same in Tokyo, Rome, Berlin, London, and everywhere else? It is all a means of providing humanity with food and clothing, as well as with ever-increasing luxury goods. During the last few centuries a material civilization has spread over the Earth, without distinction between nation and nation, race and race. Greek culture flourished in a tiny region of the Earth and little was known of it outside that region. But nowadays, news flashes around the whole globe in a few hours — and nobody would doubt the justification of calling this material culture an earthly culture! Moreover it will become increasingly material and our Earth-body more and more deeply entangled in it.
But those who realize the need for spiritual science will understand with greater clarity that no body can subsist without a soul. Just as material culture encompasses the whole body of the Earth, so must knowledge of the spirit be the soul that extends over the whole Earth, without distinction of nation, color, race, or people. And just as identical methods are employed wherever railways and telegraph systems are constructed, so will mutual understanding over the whole Earth be necessary in regard to questions concerning the human soul. The longings and questionings that will arise increasingly in the souls of men demand answers. Hence the need for a movement dedicated to the cultivation of spiritual knowledge. Something comparable with cultural relations between individual peoples will then take effect on a wide scale, weaving threads between soul and soul over the whole Earth. And what will weave from soul to soul may be called a deep and intimate understanding in regard to something that is sacred to individual souls everywhere, namely, how they are related to the spiritual world.
In a future not far distant, intimate understanding will take the place of what led in past times to bitterest conflict and disharmony as long as humanity was divided into regional civilizations which knew nothing of each other. But what will operate on a universal scale over the globe as a spiritual movement embracing all earthly humanity must operate also between soul and soul. What a distance still separates the Buddhists and the Christians, how little do they understand and how insistently do they turn away from each other on the circumscribed ground of their particular creeds! But the time will come when their own religion will lead more and more Buddhists to Anthroposophy, and Christianity itself will lead more and more Christians to Anthroposophy. And then complete understanding will reign between them.
That humanity is coming a little nearer to this intimate understanding can be discerned today in the fact that the science of comparative religion is also finding its place in the domain of scholarship. The value of this science of comparative religion should not be underrated, for it has splendid achievements to its credit. But what is really brought to light when the different teachings of the religions are set forth? Although it is not acknowledged, the basis of this science of comparative religion amounts to no more than the most elementary beliefs, long since outgrown by those who have grasped the essence of the religions. The science of comparative religion confines itself to these elementary beliefs.
But what is the aim of spiritual science in regard to the various religions? It seeks for something that lies beyond the reach of the scientific investigators, namely for the essential truths contained in the religions.
From what does spiritual science take its start? From the fact that mankind has originated from a common Godhead and that a primeval wisdom belonging to mankind as one whole and springing from one Divine source has only for a time been partitioned, as it were, in a number of rays among the different peoples and groups of human beings on the Earth. The aim and ideal of spiritual science is to rediscover this primeval truth, this primeval wisdom, uncolored by this or that particular creed, and to give it again to humanity. Spiritual science is able to penetrate to the essence of the various religions because its attention is focused not upon external rites and ceremonies but upon the kernel of primeval wisdom contained in each one of them. Spiritual science regards the religions as so many channels for the rays of what once streamed without differentiation over the whole of mankind.
When a professed Christian, knowing nothing beyond the external tenets of belief that have been instilled into the hearts of men through the centuries, says to a Buddhist: ‘If you would reach the truth you must believe what I believe’ ... and the Buddhist rejoins by declaring what he holds sacred, then no understanding is possible between them. But spiritual science approaches these questions in an entirely different way.
Those who can penetrate to the essence of Buddhism as well as to that of Christianity through the methods leading to the development of the new clairvoyance come to know of sublime Beings who have risen from the realm of man and are called Bodhisattvas. Herein lies the central nerve of Buddhism. And the Christian, too, hears of a Bodhisattva who arises from mankind and works within humanity. He hears that one of these Bodhisattvas — born 600 years before our era as Siddartha, the son of King Suddhodana — attained the rank of Buddha in the twenty-ninth year of his life. A Christian who is an anthroposophist also knows that a Being who has risen from the rank of Bodhisattva to that of Buddha need not appear again on Earth in a body of flesh.
True, such teachings are also communicated to us by the scientific investigators of religions, but they can make nothing of a Being such as a Bodhisattva or a Buddha; the nature of such a Being is beyond their comprehension; neither can they realize how such a Being continues to guide humanity from the spiritual worlds without living in a body of flesh.
But as anthroposophical Christians, our attitude to the Bodhisattva can be as full of reverence as that of a Buddhist. In spiritual science we say exactly the same about Buddha as a Buddhist says. The Christian who is an anthroposophist says to the Buddhist: I understand and believe what you understand and believe. No one who has come to spiritual science from the ground of Christianity would ever dream, as a Christian, of saying that the Buddha returns in the flesh. He knows that this would wound the deepest, most intimate feelings of the Buddhist and that such a statement would be utterly at variance with the true character of those Beings who have risen from the rank of Bodhisattva to that of Buddha. Christianity itself has brought him knowledge and understanding of these Beings.
And what will be the attitude of the Buddhist who has become an anthroposophist? He will understand the particular basis of Christianity. He will realize that as in the case of the other religions, Christianity has a Founder — Jesus of Nazareth — but that another Being united with him. A great deal could be said about all that has been associated with the personality of Jesus of Nazareth through the centuries. But the Christian's view of the personality of Jesus of Nazareth differs from the Buddhist's view of the founder of his religion. In the East it would be said: “One who is a great founder of religion has achieved the complete harmonization of all passions and desires, of all human, personal attributes. Is such complete harmonization manifest in Jesus of Nazareth? We read that he was seized with anger, that he overthrew the tables of the money-changers, drove them out of the temple, that he uttered words of impassioned wrath. This is evidence to us that he does not possess the qualities to be expected of a founder of religion.” Such is the attitude of the East.
We ourselves, of course, could point to many other aspects of this question, but that is not what concerns us at the moment. The really significant fact is that Christianity differs from all other religions inasmuch as they all point to a founder who was a great teacher. But to believe that the same is true of Christianity would denote a fundamental misunderstanding. The essence of Christianity is not that it looks back to Jesus of Nazareth as a great teacher. Christianity originates in a deed, takes its start from a super-personal deed — from the Mystery of Golgotha.
How could this be? It was because for three years there dwelt in Jesus of Nazareth a Being, Whom — if we are to give Him a name — we call Christ. But a name cannot encompass the Divine Spirit we recognize in Christ. No human name, no human word, can define a Divinity. In Christ we have to do with a Divine Impulse spreading through the world: the Christ Impulse which at the Baptism in the Jordan entered in Him, into Jesus of Nazareth. The very essence of Christianity lies in the Christ Impulse which came to the Earth through a physical personality, the physical personality of Jesus of Nazareth into whose sheaths it entered. The Christ took these sheaths upon Himself because the course of world-evolution is, first, a descent, and then again an ascent. At the deepest point of descent the Mystery of Golgotha takes place, because from it alone could spring the power to lead humanity upwards.
After the Atlantean catastrophe came the ancient Indian epoch of civilization. The spirituality of that epoch will not again be reached until the end of the seventh epoch. The ancient Indian epoch was followed by that of ancient Persia, that again by the Egypto-Chaldean epoch. When we survey evolution, even in its external aspect, the decline of spirituality is evident. Then we come to Greco-Latin civilization with its firm footing in the earthly realm. The works of art created by the Greeks are the most wonderful expression of the marriage of spirit with form. And in Roman culture, in Roman civic life, man becomes master on the physical plane. But the spirituality in Greek culture is characterized by the saying: ‘Better it is to be a beggar in the upper world than a king in the realm of the Shades.’ Dread of the world lying behind the physical plane, dread of the world into which man will pass after death, is expressed in this saying. Spirituality has here descended to the deepest point.
From then onwards, mankind needed an impulse for the return to the spiritual worlds, and this impulse was given in the Fourth Post-Atlantean epoch through an Event at a level far transcending the physical plane.
The Mystery of Golgotha was enacted in a remote comer of the Earth, for the sake of no particular race or denomination. It took place in seclusion, in concealment. Neither outer civilization nor the Romans who governed the little territory of Palestine knew anything of the Event. The Romans were no followers of Christ — the Jews still less!
Who were present when the Mystery of Golgotha took place? Whom had he gathered around him who in his thirtieth year had received the Christ into himself? Had pupils gathered around this Being as they had gathered around Confucius, Laotse, or Buddha? If we look closely we see that this is not so. For were those who until the Event of Golgotha had been His disciples, already His apostles? No! They had scattered, they had gone away when the One Whom they had followed hitherto entered upon the path of His Passion. Only when having passed through death He gave them the certain knowledge of the power that had conquered death — only then did they become true Apostles and carried His impulse to the peoples of the Earth. Before then they had not even understood Him. Even Paul, the one who after the Mystery of Golgotha achieved most of all for the spread of Christianity, understood Him only when He had appeared to him in the spirit!
So we see that, unlike the other religions, Christianity was not, in essence, founded by a great teacher whose pupils then promulgate his teachings. The essential, basic truth of Christianity is that a Divine Impulse came down to the Earth, passed through death, and became the source of the impulse which leads humanity upwards. When the individual personal element had passed through death, had departed from the Earth — then and only then did the power which came upon the Earth through Christ begin to work. It is not a merely personal teaching that works on, but the actual Event that Christ was within Jesus and passed through the Mystery of Golgotha, and that from the Mystery of Golgotha a power streamed forth over the whole subsequent evolution of mankind.
That is the difference between what Christianity sees as the starting-point of its development and what the other religions see as theirs. When, therefore, we turn our attention to the beginning of Christianity, it is a matter of realizing what actually came to pass through the Mystery of Golgotha. Paul says, in effect: The descending line of evolution was caused through Adam, even before the Fall, before he was man, before he was a personality in the real sense. The impulse for the ascent was given by Christ.
To feel this as a reality we must go deeply into the occult truths available to mankind. To grasp this stupendous fact, man's understanding must be quickened by the deepest, most intimate occult truths. It will then be comprehensible to him that, to begin with, even in Christendom itself the loftiest thoughts and deepest truths could not immediately be understood. To grasp the full meaning of this Divine Death and the Impulse proceeding from it, to realize that such an Event cannot be repeated, that it occurred at the deepest point of the evolutionary process and radiates the power which enables mankind henceforward to tread the path of ascent — to conceive this was possible only to a few. And so in the centuries that followed, men clung to Jesus of Nazareth — for understanding of the Christ was as yet beyond their reach. Moreover it was through Jesus that the Christ Impulse also made its way into works of art. Men yearned for Jesus, not for Christ.
We ourselves are still living at the dawn of true Christianity; Christianity is only beginning to come into its own. And when men plead today: ‘Do not take from us the individual, personal Jesus who comforts and uplifts our hearts, on whom we lean; do not give us, instead of him, a super-personal event’ ... they must realize that this is nothing but an expression of egoism. Not until they transcend this personal egoism and realize that they have no right to call themselves Christians until they recognize as the source of their Christianity the Event that was fulfilled in majestic isolation on Golgotha, will they be able to draw near to Christ. But this realization belongs to future time.
There may be some who say: Surely the Crucifixion should have been avoided! But this is simply a human opinion — no more than that. These people do not know the difference between an utter impossibility and what is merely a mistaken idea. For what came into the evolution of humanity through the Mystery of Golgotha could proceed only from the impulse of a god Who had endured all the sufferings and agonies of mankind, all the sorrows, the mockery and scorn, the contempt and the shame that were the lot of Christ. And these sufferings were infinitely harder for a god than for an ordinary human being.
That the Mystery of Golgotha actually took place cannot be authenticated in the same way as other historical events. There is no authentic, documentary evidence even of the Crucifixion. But there is good reason why no proof exists, for this is an Event which lies outside the sphere of the general evolution of mankind. The Mystery of Golgotha — and this is its very essence — is an Event transcending that which has merely to do with the evolution of humanity.
The Mystery of Golgotha was concerned with the descending path which men have taken and with what must lead them upwards again — with the Luciferic influence upon mankind! Lucifer, together with everything belonging to him, is verily not a human being. Lucifer and his hosts are superhuman beings. Nor did Lucifer desire that through his deeds men should be set upon a downward path; his purpose was to rebel against the upper gods. He wanted to vanquish his opponents, not to set men upon a downward path. The progressive gods, the upper gods, and Lucifer with his hosts of the lower gods of hindrance, waged war against each other, and from the very beginning of earthly evolution, man was dragged into this warfare among gods. It was an issue that the gods in the higher worlds had to settle among themselves, but as a result of the conflict, men were drawn more deeply into the material world than was originally intended. And now the gods had to create the balance; humanity had to be lifted upwards again, the deed of Lucifer made of no avail. And this could not be achieved through a man but only through a Divine Deed, the deed of a god. This deed of a god must be understood in all its truth and reality.
If we ponder deeply about earthly existence, we find as its greatest riddle: birth and death.The fact that beings can die is the fundamental problem confronting humanity. Death is something that occurs only on the Earth. In the higher worlds there is transformation, metamorphosis — no death. Death is the consequence of what came into human beings through Lucifer, and if something had not taken place from the side of the gods, the whole of mankind would have been more and more entangled in the forces which lead to death. And so a sacrifice had to be made from the side of the gods: it was necessary that One from among them should descend and suffer the death that can be undergone only by the children of Earth. This was a deed which created the balance for the deed of Lucifer. And from this death of a god streams the power which also radiates into the souls of men and can raise them again out of the darkness in which Lucifer's deed has ensnared them. A god had to die on the physical plane.
This is not a direct concern of men ... they were here spectators of an affair of the gods. No wonder that physical means are incapable of portraying an Event which is an affair of the higher worlds, for it falls outside the sphere of the physical world.
But the fruits of this deed of a god which had perforce to be wrought on the Earth became the heritage of humanity, and the Christian Initiation gives men the power to understand it. And just as mankind could come forth only once from the bosom of the Godhead, so could the overcoming of what was then instilled into the human soul be achieved only once.
If the Christian who has become an anthroposophist were to speak of the nature of Christ to a Buddhist who has become an anthroposophist, the Buddhist would say: ‘I should therefore misunderstand you were I to believe that the Being Whom you call Christ is subject to reincarnation. He is not subject to reincarnation — any more than you would say that the Buddha can return to earthly existence!’
Yet there is one fundamental difference. The Buddhist points to the great teacher who was the originator of his religion; but the true Christian points to a deed of the spiritual worlds, enacted in seclusion on the Earth; he points to something entirely non-personal, having nothing to do with any specific creed or denomination. No single human being, to begin with, recognized this deed; it had nothing to do with any particular locality on the Earth. In majestic seclusion the Divine Power poured from this deed into the whole subsequent evolution of mankind.
The task of the spiritual-scientific conception of the world is to seek for the truths contained in the different religions, and to seek for the kernel of truth in them all is the augury of peace. When an adherent of some creed truly understands his religion in the light of spiritual science, he will never force its particular ray of truth upon adherents of another religion. As little as the anthroposophical Christian will speak of the return of the Buddha — for then he would not have understood him — as little will the anthroposophical Buddhist speak of the return of Christ — for that too would be a misunderstanding. Provided personal bias is laid aside, the truth concerning Buddha and the truth concerning Christ never makes for discord and sectarianism, but for harmony and peace. This is a natural consequence of truth, for truth is the augury of peace in the world. At the highest level of truth, all nations and all religions on the Earth can belong to Buddha the great teacher; and at the same highest level of truth, all nations and all religions can belong to Christ, the Divine Power. Mutual understanding augurs peace in the world. This peace is the soul of the new world. And to this soul, which must reign all over the globe as the science of the Spirit belonging to all men in all earthly civilizations, Anthroposophy should lead the way.
From the 13th and 14th centuries onwards, such knowledge was cultivated in the Rosicrucian Schools. It was known there that together with such knowledge, peace draws into the souls of men. And in these Rosicrucian Schools it was known, too, that many a one who on Earth cannot experience this peace will experience it after death as the fulfilment of his most treasured ideals — when he looks down to the Earth and beholds peace reigning among the peoples and nations to the extent to which men open their hearts to receive such knowledge.
As I have spoken here today, so did the Rosicrucians speak in their small, enclosed circles. Today these things can be communicated to larger gatherings of men. Those to whom it has been entrusted to carry into effect through spiritual science what streams into humanity from the Mystery of Golgotha know that every year at Eastertide, Jesus, who bore the Christ within him, seeks out the places where the Mystery of Golgotha was fulfilled. Whether actually in incarnation or not, every year he visits these places, and there his pupils who have made themselves ready can be united with him.
A poet — Anastasius Grün — felt the reality of this. He describes five such meetings of the Master with his pupils. The first, after the destruction of Jerusalem; the second, after the capture of Jerusalem by the Crusaders; the third — Ahasver, the Wandering Jew, lingering on Golgotha; the fourth — a praying monk, yearning and pleading for deliverance from his conqueror. For while sects of different kinds scattered over the Earth are at strife among themselves, he through whom the greatest of all tidings of peace was brought to the Earth looks again at the places that were the scene of his earthly deeds.
These four pictures are given of past visits of Jesus to the scene of his work on Golgotha. Then, in the poem printed under the title of “Five Easters,” Anastasius Grün pictures another return to Golgotha, in the far future. In this far future of which he gives us a glimpse, the power of peace will then have prevailed on the Earth, a peace based not on denominational Christianity but on Christianity as it is understood in Rosicrucianism. He sees children who, while they are at play, dig up an object of iron and do not know what it is. They alone who still possess some remote information of the strife waged among men in what is for them the distant past — they alone know that this object is a sword. In that age of peace the purpose of a sword is no longer known — it has been replaced by the ploughshare. Then a farmer digging in the Earth finds an object made of stone ... Again it is not recognized. “For a time this was banished from the Earth,” say those who still have some knowledge, “for men no longer understood it! Once upon a time they used it as a symbol of strife.” It is a cross of stone — but now, when the impulse given by Christ Jesus for all future time gathers men together, now it has become something different!
How does this poet, writing in the year 1835, describe this symbol of the mission of the Christ Impulse, when rightly understood? He describes it as follows:
Though known to none, yet with its ancient blessing,
Eternal in their breast it stands upright;
There blooms its seed abroad on every pathway,
A Cross it was — this stranger to their sight.
The Cross of Stone now stands within a garden,
A strange and sacred relic from of old;
Flowers of all patterns lift their growth above it,
While roses, climbing high, the Cross enfold.
So stood the Cross, weighty with solemn meaning,
On Golgotha, amidst resplendent sheen
Long since 'tis hidden by its sheath of roses;
No more, for roses, can the Cross be seen.