Sunday, November 1, 2015

Epilogue to "Mysticism at the Dawn of the Modern Age"

Rudolf Steiner, from Mysticism at the Dawn of the Modern Age [aka Eleven Modern Mystics, aka Mystics after Modernism]

Almost two and a half centuries have passed since Angelus Silesius gathered together the profound wisdom of his precursors in his Cherubinic Wanderer. These centuries have brought rich insights into nature. Goethe opened a great perspective into natural science. He sought to pursue the eternal, iron laws of nature's action up to that peak where they bring forth man with the same inevitability with which, on a lower level, they produce a stone (cf. my book Goethes Weltanschauung [Goethe's Conception of the World]). Lamarck, Darwin, Haeckel and others have continued to work in the spirit of this way of thinking. The “question of all questions,” that concerning the natural origin of man, was answered in the nineteenth century. Other problems in the realm of natural processes connected with this question have been solved. Today one knows that one need not step outside the realm of the factual and sensory in order to understand, in a purely natural fashion, the sequence of beings in its development up to man. — And the nature of the human “I” too has been illuminated by the discernment of J. G. Fichte, which has shown the human soul where it should seek itself and what it is (cf. above, and the section on Fichte in my book Welt-und Lebensanschauungen im neunzehnten Jahrhundert [Conceptions of the World and of Life in the Nineteenth Century], published in a new edition as Rätsel der Philosophie [Riddles of Philosophy]). Hegel has extended the domain of thought over all fields of being, and has endeavored to grasp in thought the external, sensory existence of nature as well as the highest creations of the human spirit, together with the laws by which they are governed (cf. my presentation of Hegel in Rätsel der Philosophie, v. 1) — How do the spirits whose thoughts have been traced in this work appear in the light of a conception of the world which takes into account the scientific achievements of the periods succeeding theirs? They still believe in a “supernatural” history of creation. How do their thoughts appear when confronted by the “natural” one which the science of the nineteenth century has developed? — This science has not given anything to nature which does not belong to it; it has only taken from it what does not belong to it. It has banished from it everything which is not to be sought in it but is to be found only within man. It no longer sees something in nature that resembles the human soul and that acts in the same way as man. It no longer lets the forms of organisms be created by a manlike God; it traces their development in the world of the senses in accordance with purely natural laws. Meister Eckhart as well as Tauler, and Jacob Boehme as well as Angelus Silesius, would needs feel the most profound satisfaction in the contemplation of this natural science. The spirit in which they wished to regard the world has passed in the fullest sense into this conception of nature when it is properly understood. What they could not yet do  that is, to place the facts of nature into that light which had arisen in them  would no doubt have become their desire if this natural science had been accessible to them. They could not do this, for no geology, no “natural history of creation” told them of the processes of nature. The Bible alone, in its own way, told them of such processes. Therefore, as well as they could, they sought the spiritual where alone it is to be found: within the human being. Today they would employ quite different resources than at their time in order to show that, in a form accessible to the senses, the spirit is only to be found in man. Today they would entirely agree with those who seek the spirit as fact not at the root of nature, but in its fruit. They would admit that the spirit in the sensory body is the result of development, and that such a spirit cannot be sought on lower levels of development. They would understand that no “creative thought” was active in the formation of the spirit in the organism, any more than such a “creative thought” made the ape develop out of the marsupials. — Our present time cannot speak about the facts of nature in the same way as Jacob Boehme spoke about them. But today also there is a point of view which brings the way of thinking of Jacob Boehme close to a conception of the world that takes account of modern science. One need not lose the spirit when one finds in nature only what is natural. It is true that today there are many who think that one must slip into a shallow, dry materialism if one accepts the “facts” discovered by natural science without further ado. I myself stand completely upon the ground of this natural science. I have the definite conviction that with a conception of nature such as that of Ernst Haeckel, only he can become shallow who approaches it with a world of ideas that is already shallow. I feel something higher and more glorious when I let the revelations of the “natural history of creation” act upon me than when I am confronted with the stories of supernatural miracles of the Creed. I know of nothing in any “holy” book that reveals to me anything as sublime as the “dry” fact that, in the womb, every human fetus rapidly goes through a succession of all those forms through which its animal ancestors have evolved. Let us fill our mind with the magnificence of the facts our senses perceive, and we shall care little for the “miracles” which do not lie within the course of nature. If we experience the spirit within ourselves we do not require one in external nature. In my Philosophie der Freiheit I have described my conception of the world, which does not think that it is driving out the spirit because it regards nature in the same way as do Darwin and Haeckel. A plant, an animal, do not gain anything for me if I people them with souls of which my senses tell me nothing. I do not seek a “deeper,” “spiritual” nature of things in the external world, I do not even assume it, because I believe that the cognition which illuminates my inner self preserves me from doing so. I believe that the things of the sensory world are what they appear to us to be, for I see that a true self-knowledge leads us to seek in nature nothing but natural processes. I seek no divine spirit in nature, because I believe that I perceive the essence of the human spirit in myself. I calmly acknowledge my animal ancestors, because I believe I understand that where these animal ancestors have their origin, no soul-like spirit can be active. I can only agree with Ernst Haeckel when he prefers “the eternal stillness of the grave” to such an immortality as many a religion teaches (cf. Haeckel's Welträtsel [The Riddle of the Universe], p. 239). For I find a degradation of the spirit, a repugnant sin against the spirit, in the conception of a soul which continues to exist after the fashion of a sensory being. — I hear a shrill dissonance when the facts of natural science in Haeckel's presentation encounter the “piety” of the creeds of many contemporaries. But in creeds which are in but poor harmony with natural facts, there resounds for me nothing of the spirit of the higher piety which I find in Jacob Boehme and Angelus Silesius. This higher piety is rather in full harmony with the action of the natural. There is no contradiction in becoming penetrated with the insights of modern science and at the same time in entering upon the road which Jacob Boehme and Angelus Silesius pursued in their search for the spirit. One who enters upon this road in the spirit of these thinkers need not fear that he will slip into shallow materialism if he lets the secrets of nature be described to him by a “natural history of creation.” One who interprets my ideas in this sense will understand in the same way as I the last saying of the Cherubinic Wanderer, which shall also sound the last note of this work: “Friend, it is enough now. If you wish to read more, go and become yourself the writing and the essence.”

[Footnote added to the 1923 edition: The last sentences above must not be misinterpreted as expressing an unspiritual conception of nature. Through them I only wanted to emphasize strongly that the spirit which lies at the root of nature must be found in it, and is not to be brought into it from the outside. The rejection of “creative thoughts” refers to an activity which is similar to human activity and proceeds according to ideas of usefulness. What is to be said about evolutionary history one may find in my book Erkenntnistheorie der Goetheschen Weltanschauung, The Theory of Knowledge in Goethe's Conception of the World, preface to the new edition.]

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