Thursday, June 4, 2015
Awakening to Community: The origin and evolution of science, art, and religion
Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, February 22, 1923
Today I want to point once again to an ideal associated with the Goetheanum, which we have just had the great misfortune of losing. My purpose in referring to it again is to make sure that correct thinking prevails on the score of a step about to be taken in Stuttgart in the next few days, a step in the direction of making a new life in the Anthroposophical Society. Whatever anthroposophy brings forth must be built on a solid foundation of enthusiasm, and we can create the right enthusiasm only by keeping oriented to that ideal that every anthroposophical heart should be cherishing and that is great enough to unite all the Society's members in its warmth.
It cannot be denied that enthusiasm for this ideal of anthroposophical cooperation has dwindled somewhat during the three successive phases of anthroposophical development, though the ideal itself remains. As we stand grieving beside the ruins of the building that brought that anthroposophical ideal to eloquent external expression, it becomes the more important that we join forces in the right common feeling toward it. Shared feeling will lead to shared thoughts and beget a strength much needed in view of the constantly increasing enmity that confronts us. Therefore, instead of continuing to discuss matters that have been the focus of my lectures of the past several weeks, you will perhaps allow me to recall an outstanding memory that has a connection with the Goetheanum and is well-suited to restoring the kind of relationships between members that we need in the Anthroposophical Society. For to hold common ideals enkindles the love that every single anthroposophist should be feeling for his fellow members and that can be relied on to dissipate any hard feelings that members of the Society could be harboring against any others, even if only in their thoughts about them.
You may remember that when we started the first High School course at the Goetheanum, I gave a short introductory talk stressing the fact that what people were accomplishing there represented a new kind of striving whereby art, science, and religion were to be united in a truly universal sense.
What was being striven for at the Goetheanum, what its forms and colors were meant to convey, was an ideal, a scientific, artistic, and religious ideal. It should be the more deeply graven on our hearts now that it can no longer speak to us through outer forms and colors. That will perhaps be brought about if we continue to do as we have been doing these past few weeks in regard to other subjects under study and enquire how earlier periods of human evolution went about pursuing a scientific, artistic, and religious ideal.
If we look back at the tremendous, lofty spiritual life of the ancient Orient, we come to a time when the spiritual content of everything revered by these Oriental peoples was immediate revelation to them — a time when they had no doubt whatsoever that the things their senses perceived were mere tracings in matter of divine realities that had been revealed to a visionary capacity none the less real to them for its dreamlike quality.
That way of beholding, instinctive though it was, was at one time such that people in certain specific states of consciousness could perceive spiritual beings in the universe in all their immediate reality, just as with their bodily senses they perceived things and creatures of the three natural kingdoms. The Oriental of an older time was just as convinced by immediate perception of the existence of the divine-spiritual beings connected with the human race as he was of the existence of his fellow humans.
This was the source of his inner religious certainty, which differed in no way from his certainty concerning things in nature round about him. He saw his god, and could therefore believe in his existence just as firmly as he believed in the existence of a stone, a plant, clouds, or rivers. What modern science dubs animism, picturing the ancients relying on poetic fantasy to endow nature with a living spiritual element, is an invention of childish dilettantism. The fact is that people beheld spiritual beings in the same way they beheld the world of nature and the senses.
This was, as I said, the source of the certainty in their religious life. But it was equally the source they drew on for artistic creation. The spiritual appeared to them in concrete form. They were familiar with the shapes and colors assumed by spiritual elements. They could bring their perception of the spiritual to material expression. They took such building materials as were available, the materials of sculpture and of the other arts, and applied such techniques as they had to express what was spiritually revealed to them.
The reverence they felt in inner soul relationships to their gods was the content of their religious life. When they imprinted on matter what they had beheld in the spirit, that was felt to be their art. But the techniques and the physical materials at their disposal for expressing what they thus beheld fell far short of their actual visions.
We come upon a period in the evolution of the ancient Orient when the divine-spiritual — or, as Goethe called it, the sensible-super-sensible — that man beheld was exceedingly lofty and gloriously beautiful. People's feelings and fantasy were powerfully stirred by their perception of it. But because techniques for dealing with material media were still so rudimentary, artistic creations of the period were but primitive symbolical or allegorical expressions of the far greater beauty human beings perceived with spiritual eyes. An artist of those ancient times describing his work with the feeling-nuance we have today would have said: “What the spirit reveals to me is beautiful, but I can bring only a weak reflection of it to expression in my clay or wood or other media.”
Artists in those days were people who beheld the spiritual in all its beauty and passed on their vision in sense-perceptible form to others who could not behold it for themselves. These latter were convinced that when an artist embodied what he saw spiritually in his symbolical or allegorical forms, these forms enabled them, too, to find their way into the world beyond the Earth, a world that a person had to enter to experience his full dignity as a human being.
This relationship to the divine-spiritual was so immediate, so real, so concrete that people felt that the thoughts they had were a gift of the gods, who were as present to them as their fellow humans. They expressed it thus: “When I talk with human beings, we speak words that sound on the air. When I talk with the gods, they tell me thoughts that I hear only inside me. Words expressed in sounds are human words. Words expressed in thoughts are communications from the gods.”
When human beings had thoughts, they did not believe them to be products of their own soul activity. They believed that they were hearing thoughts whispered to them by divinities. When they perceived with their ears, they said they heard people. When they heard with their souls, when their perception was of thoughts, they said they heard spiritual beings. Knowledge that lived in idea form was thus communication from divine sources in the experiencing of ancient peoples, perception of the Logos as it spoke directly through the gods to men.
We can say, then, that men's beholding of the gods became the inner life of the religious ideal. Their symbolical-allegorical expression of divine forms through the various media was the life underlying the ideal of art. In their re-telling of what the gods had told them lived the ideal of science. These three ideals merged into one in ancient Oriental times, for they were at bottom one and the same.
In the first ideal, men looked up to divine revelation. Their whole soul life was completely suffused with religious feeling. Science and art were the two realms in which the gods shared mankind's life on Earth. The artist engaged in creative activity felt that his god was guiding his hand, poets felt their utterance being formed by gods. “Sing to me, Muse, of the anger of the great Peleid, Achilles.” It was not the poet speaking; it was, he felt, the Muse speaking in him, and that was the fact. The abstract modern view, which attributes such statements to poetic license, is a grotesque piece of the childish nonsense so rampant today. Those who adopt it do not know how truly Goethe spoke when he said, “What you call the spirit of the times is just your own spirit with the times reflected in it.”
If we now turn our attention from the way the threefold ideal of religion, art, and science lived in ancient Oriental man to consider how it was expressed by the Greeks — and the Romans, who were such a bare, prosaic copy of them — we find these three ideals in a further form of development. The divine-spiritual that had revealed itself to man from shining heights above was felt by the Greeks to be speaking directly through human beings. Religious life attached itself much more closely to the human, in the sense that a Greek not only experienced his inner life, but his very form, as god-permeated, god-suffused. He no longer looked up to shining heights above him; he looked at the marvelous shape of man. He no longer had the ancient Oriental's direct contemplation of divinity; his beholding was only a weak shadow of it. But anyone who can really enter into Greek poetry, art, and philosophy perceives the basic feeling the Greek had, which led him to say that earthly man was more than just a composite of the material elements that his senses perceived in the external world; he saw in him a proof of the existence of divinity. This man of Earth, whom the Greek could not regard as of earthly origin, was for him living proof that Zeus, that Athene ruled in spiritual worlds.
So we see the Greeks looking upon the human form and man's developing inner life as sublime proof of the gods' governance. They could picture their gods as human because they still had such a profound experience of the divine in man.
It was one thing for the Greek to picture his gods as human beings, and quite another for modern man to conceive a divine man under the influence of a degraded anthropomorphism. For to the Greek, man was still a living proof of his divine origin. The Greeks felt that no such thing as man could exist if the world were not permeated through and through by the divine.
Religion played a vital part in conceiving man. A person was revered not for what he had made of himself, but just because he was a human being. It was not his everyday achievements or an ambitious earthly striving to excel that inspired reverence; it was what had come with him as his humanness into life on Earth. The reverence accorded him enlarged to reverence for the divine-spiritual world.
The artistic ideal entertained by the Greeks was, on the one hand, a product of their feeling for the divine-spiritual element they embodied and to which their presence on Earth testified. On the other hand, they had a strong sense — unknown to the ancient Oriental — of the laws governing the physical world of nature, the laws of consonance and dissonance, of volume, of inertia or the supporting capacity of various Earth materials. Where the Oriental handled his media awkwardly and was unable to go beyond a crudely symbolical-allegorical treatment of the spiritual reality that overwhelmed and overflowed him, so that the spiritual fact he was trying to give expression to in some work of art was always far more glorious and grand than the awkward representation of it, the Greek's striving was to embody all the fullness of his spiritual experience in the physical medium he had by this time learned to handle.
The Greeks never allowed a column to be any thicker than it had to be to carry the weight it was intended to support. They would not have permitted themselves to represent anything of a spiritual nature in the awkward manner characteristic of ancient Oriental art; the physical laws involved had to have been perfectly mastered. Spirit and matter had to be united in a balanced union. There is as much of spirit as of material lawfulness in a Greek temple, and a statue embodies as much of the spiritual element as the expressiveness of the material allows. Homer's verses flow in a way that directly manifests the flowing of divine speech in the human. The poet felt as he shaped his words that he had to let the laws of language itself be his guide to the achieving of perfect control over every aspect of his utterance. Nothing could be left in the awkward, stammering form typical of ancient Oriental hymns. It had to be expressed in a way that did full justice to the spirit. The goal, in other words, was so fully to master the physical laws inherent in the artistic medium employed that every last vestige of what the spirit had revealed was made manifest in sense-perceptible form.
The Greeks' feeling that man was evidence of divine creation was matched by their feeling that works of art, like temples and statues, also had to bear witness to divine governance, though that was now conceived as acting through the agency of human fantasy. Looking at a temple, one could see that its builder had so mastered all the laws of his medium that every least detail of their application reflected what he had experienced in his intercourse with the gods.
The earliest Greek tragedies were plays in which the dramatis personae represented spiritual beings such as Apollo and Dionysos, with the chorus an echo of sorts, an echo of the divine that ruled in nature. Tragedies were intended to bring to expression through human beings as an adequate medium events transpiring in the spiritual world. But this was not conceived as in ancient Oriental times, when man had, as it were, to look up into a higher realm than that where the work of art stood. Instead, it was thought of as taking place on the level on which the tragedy was being enacted, making it possible to experience in every gesture, every word, every recitativ of the chorus how a spiritual element was pouring itself into sense-perceptible forms beautifully adapted to it. This constituted the Greek ideal of art.
And the scientific ideal? The Greek no longer felt as livingly as the Oriental had that the gods were speaking to him in ideas and thoughts. He already had some inkling of the fact that effort was attached to thinking. But he still felt thoughts to be as real as sense perceptions, just as he felt earthly human beings with their human forms and inner life to be walking evidence of divinity. He perceived his thoughts in the same way that he perceived red or blue, C # or G, and he perceived them in the outer world in the same way that eyes and ears receive sense impressions. This meant that he no longer experienced the speaking of the Logos quite as concretely as the Oriental did. The Greeks did not compose Vedas, of which the Orientals had felt that the gods gave them the ideas they expressed. The Greek knew that he had to work out his thoughts, just as someone knows that he has to use his eyes and look about him if he wants to see the surrounding world. But he still knew that the thoughts he developed were divine thoughts impressed into nature. A thought was therefore earthly proof of the gods' speaking. Whereas the Oriental still heard that speaking, the Greek discerned the human quality of language, but saw in it direct earthly proof of the existence of divine speech.
To the Greeks, science was thus also like a divine gift, something obviously despatched to Earth by the spirit, exactly as man with his divine outer form and inner experiencing had been sent here. So we see how the religious, artistic, and scientific ideal changed in the course of humanity's evolution from the Oriental to the Greek culture.
In our epoch, which, as I have often explained, began in the first third of the fifteenth century, Western man's development has again reached a point where he is confronted with the necessity of bringing forth new forms of the venerable, sacred ideals of religion, art, and science. This development was what I had in mind when we were launching the first High School course at the Goetheanum. I wanted to make it clear that the Goetheanum stood there because the inner laws of human evolution require that the religious, artistic, and scientific ideals be clothed in magnificent new forms transcending even those of Greece.
That is why one feels so overwhelmed by grief as one's eye falls on ruins where a building should be standing and indicating in its every form and line and color the new shape that the three great ideals should be assuming as they emerge from the innermost soul of an evolving humanity. Grief and sorrow are the only emotions left to us as we contemplate the site that was meant to speak so eloquently of the renewal of man's three great ideals. Ruins occupy it, leaving us only one possibility: that of cherishing in our hearts everything we hoped to realize there. For while another building might conceivably be erected in its place, it would certainly not be the one we have lost. In other words, it will never again be possible for a building to express what the old Goetheanum expressed.
That is why everything the Goetheanum was intended to contribute to the three great ideals of the human race should be the more deeply engraved on our hearts. In our day we cannot say with the clairvoyant Oriental of an older time that the divine-spiritual confronts us in all its shining immediacy as do the creatures of the sense world, or that the deeds of the gods are as present to our soul perception as any sense-perceptible acts that may be performed in the external world in everyday living. But when we quicken our inquiry into man and nature with the living quality with which anthroposophical thinking and feeling endow such studies, we see the world, or the cosmos, or the universe clothed in a different form than that in which the Greeks beheld it.
When a Greek made nature the object of his study or contemplated human beings moving about in the world of the senses, he had the feeling that where a spring welled up or a mountain thrust its cloud-crowned peak into the sky, when the Sun came up in the rosy brilliance of the dawn or a rainbow spanned the heavens, there the spirit spoke in these phenomena. The Greeks beheld nature in a way that enabled them to feel the presence of the spirit in it. Their contemplation of nature really satisfied them; what they saw there satisfied every facet of their being.
I have often emphasized how justifiably people speak of an advance in natural science, and anthroposophy is in a unique position to recognize the real significance of the scientific progress of recent centuries. I have often stressed this. Anthroposophy is far from wanting to denigrate or to criticize science and scientific inquiry; it honors all truly sincere study. In the course of recent centuries, my dear friends, people have indeed learned an enormous amount about nature. If one goes more deeply into what has been learned, the study of nature leads, as I have often stated from this platform, to insight into man's repeated Earth lives, insight into the transformation of nature. One gets a preview of the future, when man will bring to new forms of life what his senses and his soul and spirit are experiencing in the present moment.
If one undertakes a suitably deeper study of nature, one's total outlook on it becomes different from that which the Greeks had. It might be said that they saw nature as a fully matured being from which the glory of the spiritual worlds shone out. Modern man is no longer able to look upon nature in this light. If we survey everything we have come to know and feel about nature's creations as a result of making use of our many excellent devices and instruments, we see nature rather as harboring seed forces, as bearing in its womb something that can come to maturity only in a distant future.
The Greek saw every plant as an organism that had already reached a perfect stage for the reason that the god of the species lived in each single specimen. Nowadays we regard plants as something that nature has to bring to still higher stages. Everywhere we look we see seed elements. Every phenomenon we encounter in this unfinished nature, so pregnant with future possibilities, causes us to feel that a divine element reigns over nature and must continue to do so to ensure its progressing from an embryonic to an eventually perfect stage.
We have learned to look much more precisely at nature. The Greek saw the bird where we see the egg. He saw the finished stage of things; we, their beginnings. The person who feels his whole heart and soul thrill to the seed aspects, the seed possibilities in nature, is the man who has the right outlook on it.
That is the other side of modern natural science. Anyone who starts looking through microscopes and telescopes with a religious attitude will find seed stages everywhere. The exactness characteristic of the modern way of studying nature allows us to see it as everywhere creative, everywhere hastening toward the future. That creates the new religious idea.
Of course only a person with a feeling for the seed potentialities that each individual will live out in other, quite different earthly and cosmic lives to come can develop the religious ideal I am describing.
The Greeks saw in man the composite of everything there was in the cosmos of his own period. The ancient Orientals saw in man the composite of the whole cosmic past. Today, we sense seeds of the future in human beings. That gives the new religious ideal its modern coloring.
Now let us go on to consider the new ideal of art. What do we find when we subject nature and its forms to a deeper, life-attuned study, refusing to call a halt at externalities and abstract ideas? My dear friends, you saw what we find before your very eyes in the capitals of our Goetheanum pillars and in the architrave motifs that crowned them. None of this was the result of observing nature; it was the product of experiencing with it. Nature brings forth forms, but these could just as well be others. Nature is always challenging us to change, to metamorphose its forms. A person who merely observes nature from the outside copies its forms and falls into naturalism. A person who experiences nature, who doesn't just look at the shapes and colors of plants, who really has an inner experience of them, finds a different form slipping out of every plant and stone and animal for him to embody in his medium. The Greek method, which aimed at completely expressing the spirit through a masterly handling of the medium, is not our method. Our way is to enter so deeply into nature's forms that one can bring them to further, independent metamorphosis. We do not resort to the symbolical-allegorical Oriental treatment or strive for the Greek's technical mastery of a medium. Our method is so to handle every line and color in the work of art that it strives toward the divine. The Oriental employed symbolism and allegory to express the divine, which rayed out like an aura from his works, rayed out and welled over and submerged them, speaking much more eloquently than the forms did. We moderns must create works wherein the form element speaks more eloquently than nature itself does, yet speaks in a manner so akin to it that every line and color becomes nature's prayer to the divine. In our coming to grips with nature we develop forms wherein nature itself worships divinity. We speak to nature in artistic terms.
In reality every plant, every tree has the desire to look up in prayer to the divine. This can be seen in a plant's or a tree's physiognomy. But plants and trees do not dispose over a sufficient capacity to express this. It is there as a potential, however, and if we bring it out, if we embody in our architectural and sculptural media the inner life of trees and plants and clouds and stones as that life lives in their lines and colors, then nature speaks to the gods through our works of art. We discover the Logos in the world of nature. A higher nature than that surrounding us reveals itself in art, a higher nature that, in its own entirely natural way, releases the Logos to stream upward to divine-spiritual worlds.
In Oriental works of art the Logos streamed downward, finding only stammering expression in human media. Our art forms must be true speech forms, voicing what nature itself would say if it could live out its potential. That is the new artistic ideal that comes to stand beside the religious ideal that looks at nature from the standpoint of its seed endowment.
The third is our scientific ideal. That is no longer based on the feeling the Orientals had that thoughts are something whispered straight into human souls by gods. Nor can it have kinship with the Greek ideal, which felt thoughts to be inner witnesses to the divine. Nowadays we have to exert purely human forces, work in a purely human way, to develop thoughts. But once we have made the effort and achieved thoughts free of any taint of egotism, self-seeking, subjective emotionality, or partisan spirit such as colors thoughts with prejudiced opinions, once we have exerted ourselves as human beings to experience thoughts in the form they themselves want to assume, we no longer regard ourselves as the creators and shapers of our thoughts, but merely as the inner scene of action where they live out their own nature. Then we feel the largeness of these sefless and unprejudiced thoughts that seem to be our own creations, and are surprised to find that they are worthy of depicting the divine; we discover afterwards that thoughts that take shape in our own hearts are worthy of depicting the divine. First, we discover the thought, and afterwards we find that the thought is nothing less than the Logos! While you were selflessly letting the thought form itself in you, your selflessness made it possible for a god to be the creator of that thought. Where the Oriental felt thought to be revelation, and where the Greek found it proof of divine reality, we feel it to be living discovery: we have the thought, and afterwards it tells us that it was permitted to express divinity. That is our scientific ideal.
Here we stand, then, in the ongoing evolution of the human race, realizing what point we have reached in it. We know, as we look at the human head with the ears at the side, at the larynx and the distorted shoulder blades, that we must be able to do more than just contemplate them. If we succeed in transforming these shapes of nature, a single form emerges from a further development of the shoulder blades and a growing-together of the ears and larynx: a Luciferic form, composed of chest and head, wings, larynx and ears.
We reach the point of perceiving the artistic element in nature, the element that endows its forms with life, allowing a higher life of form to emerge than that found in nature itself.
But this also puts us in the position of being able to trace nature's own activity in the metamorphoses whereby it transforms the human being, and we are able to apply this same artistry in the pedagogical-didactic field. We bring this same creative artistry to pedagogical work with children, who are constantly changing. For we have learned it at hand of an art that we recognize to be the Logos-producing nature-beyond-nature. We learn it from springs that are more than springs, for they commune with the gods. We learn it from trees that are more than trees; for where the latter achieve only a stammering movement of their branches, the former disclose themselves to modern artistic fantasy in forms that point to the gods with gesturings of branch and crown. We learn it from the cosmos as we metamorphose its forms and reshape them, as we tried to do in our Goetheanum. All these studies teach us how to work from day to day with children to help support the process that daily reshapes, recreates, them. This enables us to bring artistry into the schooling of the human race; and the same holds true in other areas.
That is the light in which the three great ideals of humanity — the religious ideal, the artistic ideal, the scientific ideal — appear, re-enlivened, to the contemplating soul of the anthroposophist. The forms of the Goetheanum were intended to fill us with enthusiasm for experiencing these lofty ideals in their new aspect. Now we must quietly engrave them on our hearts. But they must be made a source of enthusiasm in us. As we acquire that enthusiasm and are lifted toward the divine in our experiencing of the three ideals, Earth's highest ideal develops in us. The Gospel says “Love thy neighbor as thyself, and God above all.” Another way of putting it is: “If one looks upon the divine in the light of the present-day aspect of the three ideals, as a modern human being must, one learns to love the divine.” For one feels that one's humanness depends on devoting oneself with all the love at one's command to the three ideals. But then one feels oneself united with every other individual who is able to do likewise and offer up the same love. One learns to love the divine above all else, and, in loving God, to love one's neighbor as oneself. That keeps any hard feelings from developing.
That is what can unite and make a single entity of the separate members of the Society. That is the present need. We have had the experience of going through a phase in the Society in which anthroposophy was poured into separate channels, such as pedagogy and other practical concerns, into artistic activities, and so on. Now we need to pull together. We have first-rate Waldorf School teachers and other professionals. Everyone who is giving of his best at a special post needs to find a way to bring the sources of anthroposophical life to ever fresh flowing. That is what is needed now.
Since that is our need, since the leading anthroposophists need to prove their awareness of the present necessity of re-enlivening the Anthroposophical Society, we have arranged a meeting on these matters. It is to take place in Stuttgart in the next few days. Those who mean well by the Society should be cherishing the warmest hopes for what will come of that occasion. For only if the individuals present there can develop the right tone, a tone ringing with true, energetic enthusiasm for the three great love-engendering ideals, only if the energy and content of the words they speak guarantee this, can there be hope of the Anthroposophical Society achieving its goal. For what eventuates there will set the tone for the turn things will take in wider circles of the Society.
I will know, too, what my own course must be after seeing what comes of the Stuttgart conference. Great expectations hang on it. I ask all of you who cannot make the journey to Stuttgart to be with us in supporting thoughts. It is a momentous occasion that calls for participation and wholesomely based, energetic effort on behalf of the great ideals so essential to modern humanity. We are informed of them not by any arbitrary account set down by human hand, but in that script graven by the whole course of evolution, the whole import of man's earthly development, which declares itself to us every bit as plainly as does the Sun to waking human beings.
Let us set about kindling this enthusiasm in our souls; then it will become deeds. And deeds are essential.