The decline and fall of the Roman Empire and the appearance on the scene of peoples from the East — the great migrations — are a phenomenon of history to which the attention of true research must again and again be turned. For the present day still contains many an after-effect of these catastrophic happenings.
A true understanding of these events is impossible to merely exoteric history. For we must look into the souls of the human beings who took part in these migrations and witnessed the downfall of the Roman Empire.
Ancient Greece and Rome flourished in the epoch of human evolution when the Intellectual or Mind-Soul was unfolding. Indeed the Greeks and Romans were most essentially the bearers of this unfolding process. But in the Greek and Roman peoples the evolving of this stage of the soul did not contain the seed from out of which the Spiritual Soul could truly have developed. All the contents of soul and spirit latent in the Intellectual or Mind-Soul blossomed forth luxuriantly in the life of ancient Greece and Rome. But Greece and Rome were unable, out of their own inherent powers, to pass on to the new stage of the Spiritual Soul.
The stage of the Spiritual Soul did, of course, appear nonetheless. But the Spiritual Soul was as something implanted from without into the character of the Greek or Roman — something that did really not proceed out of the personality.
The connection with and severance from the Divine Spiritual Beings, of which we have said so much in these studies, takes place with varying intensity in the course of succeeding ages. In olden times, it was a power entering into human evolution with the impulse of a mighty living process. In the Greek and Roman experience of the first Christian centuries it was a feebler power — but it still existed. While he was unfolding the fullness of the Intellectual or Mind Soul within him, the Greek or Roman felt — unconsciously, but with no less deep a meaning for his soul — a loosening or severance from the Divine-Spiritual nature and a growing independence of the human. But this ceased in the first Christian centuries. The early dawn of the Spiritual Soul was felt as a renewed union, a closer connection with the Divine-Spiritual. Men evolved back again, from a greater to a lesser degree of independence of soul. Nor could they receive the Christian content into the human Spiritual Soul, for they were unable to receive the Spiritual Soul itself into their human being.
Thus they came to regard the Christian content as something given to them from outside — from the spiritual outer world — not as something with which they could become united through their own faculties of knowledge.
But it was different with the peoples coming from the Northeast, who now entered on the scene of history. They had passed through the stage of the Intellectual or Mind Soul in a condition which, to them, conveyed a feeling of dependence on the spiritual world. They only began to feel something of human independence when, with the beginnings of Christianity, the earliest forces of the Spiritual Soul were dawning.
In them the Spiritual Soul appeared as something deeply bound up with the human being. They felt a glad sense of unfolding force within them when the Spiritual Soul was stirring into life.
It was into this new-springing life of the dawning Spiritual Soul that the Christian content entered in these peoples. They felt the Christian content as something springing to life within their souls, not as something given from outside.
Such was the mood in which these peoples approached the Roman Empire and all that was connected with it. Such was the mood of Arianism in contrast to Athanasianism. It was a deep inner conflict in world-historical evolution.
In the Spiritual Soul of the Greek and Roman, external as it was to man, there worked, to begin with, the Divine Spiritual essence, not uniting fully with the earthly life, but raying into it from without. And in the Spiritual Soul of the Franks, the Germanic tribes, etc., which was only just dawning into life, such of the Divine-Spiritual as was able to unite with mankind worked as yet but feebly.
To begin with, the Christian content living in the Spiritual Soul that hovered over man grew and expanded in outer life. On the other hand, that Christian content which was united with the human soul, remained as an inner urge, an impulse within the human being waiting for future development — for a development which can only take place when a certain stage has been attained in the unfolding of the Spiritual Soul.
In the time from the first Christian centuries until the evolutionary epoch of the Spiritual Soul, the dominant spiritual life was a Spirit-content hovering above mankind — a content with which man was quite unable to unite himself in knowledge. He therefore united with it in an outward way. He ‘explained’ it, and pondered on the question: how, and why, and to what degree the faculties of the soul were insufficient to bring about the full union with it in knowledge. Thus he distinguished the realm into which knowledge can penetrate, from that into which it cannot. It became the proper thing to renounce the exercise of those faculties of soul which rise with knowledge into the spiritual world. And at length the time approached — the turn of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries — in which the forces of the soul that inclined towards the Spirit were diverted from the Spiritual altogether, so far as active Knowledge was concerned. Men began to live their conscious life only in those forces of the soul which are directed to the sense-perceptible.
Blunt indeed became the powers of knowledge for spiritual things — most of all in the eighteenth century.
The thinkers of humanity now lost the spiritual content from their ideas. In the idealism of the first half of the nineteenth century, the Spirit-empty ideas themselves are represented as the creative substance of the world. Thus Fichte, Schelling, Hegel. Or again, they point to a supersensible which vanishes into thin air because it is bereft of Spirit. Thus Spencer, John Stuart Mill, and others. The ideas are dead when they no longer seek the living Spirit.
There is no escaping the fact, lost was the sense of spiritual vision for the things of the Spirit. A ‘continuation’ of the old life of spiritual knowledge is impossible. With the Spiritual Soul unfolding within him, man's faculties of soul must strive onward to reach their new union with the Spirit-world, a union elementary, immediate, and living. Anthroposophy would fain be such a striving.
In the spiritual life of this age, it is just the leading personalities who to begin with do not know what Anthroposophy intends. Wide circles of people who follow in their wake are thereby kept away from Anthroposophy. The leading people of today live in a soul-content which in the course of time has grown altogether unaccustomed to use the spiritual forces. For them, it is as though one would call upon a man having an organ paralyzed, to use it. Paralyzed were the higher faculties of knowledge from the sixteenth into the latter half of the nineteenth century. And mankind remained utterly unconscious of the fact; indeed, the one-sided application of knowledge-powers directed to the outer world of sense was regarded as a sign of special progress.
Further Leading Thoughts issued from the Goetheanum for the Anthroposophical Society (with reference to the foregoing study: Historic Cataclysms at the Dawn of the Spiritual Soul)
180. The Greeks and Romans were the peoples predestined by their very nature for the unfolding of the Intellectual or Mind-Soul. They developed this stage of the soul to perfection. But they did not bear within them the seeds of a direct, unbroken progress to the Spiritual Soul. Their soul-life went under in the Intellectual or Mind-Soul.
181. In the time from the origin of Christianity until the age of the unfolding of the Spiritual Soul, a world of the Spirit was holding sway which did not unite with the forces of the human soul. The latter contrived to ‘explain’ the world of the Spirit, but they could not experience it in living consciousness.
182. The peoples advancing from the Northeast in the great migrations, encroaching on the Roman Empire, took hold of the Intellectual or Mind-Soul more in the inner life of feeling. Meanwhile, imbedded in this element of feeling, the Spiritual Soul was evolving within their souls. The inner life of these peoples was waiting for the present time, when the re-union of the soul with the world of the Spirit is fully possible once more.