Saturday, October 15, 2016
When conscience speaks, no other voice may intrude
Rudolf Steiner, the conclusion to a lecture given May 5, 1910:
It was the Christ-impulse that first made it possible for humanity to realize that God, the Creator of things and of the external sheaths of man, can be recognized in our inward life. Only by understanding the divine humanity of Christ Jesus were men enabled to understand that the voice of God could be heard within the soul. In order that men should be able to find something of the divine nature in their own inner life, it was necessary for Christ to enter into the evolution of humanity as an external historical event. If the Christ, a divine being, had not been present in the body of Jesus of Nazareth — if he had not shown once and for all that God can be discerned in our inner life, because he had once been present in a human body — if he had not appeared as the conqueror of death through the Mystery of Golgotha, men would never have been able to comprehend the indwelling of Divinity in the human soul.
If anyone claims that this indwelling could be discerned even if there had been no historical Christ Jesus, he could equally well say that we should have eyes even if there were no Sun. As against this one-sided view of some philosophers that, since without eyes we could not see the light, the origin of light must be traced to the eyes, we must always set Goethe's aphorism: 'The eye is created by light for light.' If there were no Sun to fill space with light, no eyes would ever have developed in the human organism. The eyes are created by light, and without the Sun there would be no eyes. No eye is capable of perceiving the Sun without having first received from the Sun the power to do so. In the same way, there could be no power to grasp and recognize the Christ-nature if the Christ-impulse had not entered into external history. What the Sun out there in the cosmos does for human sight, so the historical Christ Jesus makes possible what we call the entry of the divine nature into our inner life.
The elements necessary for understanding this were present in the stream of thought that came over from the East; they needed only to be raised to a higher level. It was in the West that souls were ripe to grasp and accept this impulse — the West, where experiences which had belonged to the outer world were transferred to the inner life most intensively, and in the form of conscience watched over a generally weak ego. In this way souls were strengthened, and prepared to hear the voice of conscience now saying within them: The Divinity who appeared in the East to those able to look clairvoyantly into the world — this Divinity now lives in us!
However, what was thus being prepared could not have become conscious experience if the inward Divinity had not spoken in advance in the dawning of conscience. So we see that external understanding for the Divinity of Christ Jesus was born in the East, and the emergence of conscience came to meet it from the West. For example, we find that conscience is more and more often spoken of in the Roman world, at the beginning of the Christian era, and the further westward we go, the clearer is the evidence for the recognized existence of conscience or for its presence in embryonic form.
Thus East and West played into each other's hands. We see the Sun of the Christ-nature rising in the East, while in the West the development of conscience is preparing the way for understanding the Christ. Hence the victorious advance of Christianity is toward the West, not the East. In the East we see the spread of a religion which represents the final consequence — though on the highest level — of the eastern outlook: Buddhism takes hold of the eastern world. Christianity takes hold of the western world, because Christianity had first created the organ for receiving it. Here we see Christianity brought into relation with the deepened element in western culture: the concept of conscience embodied in Christianity.
Not through the study of external history, but only through an inward contemplation of the facts, shall we come to knowledge of these developments. What I am saying today will be met with disbelief by many people. But a demand of the times is that we should recognize the spirit in external phenomena. This, however, is possible only if we are at least able initially to discern the spirit where it speaks to us in the form of a clear message. Popular consciousness says: When conscience speaks, it is God speaking in the soul. The highest spiritual consciousness says that when conscience speaks, it is truly the cosmic Spirit speaking. And spiritual science brings out the connection between conscience and the greatest event in the evolution of mankind, the Christ-event. Hence it is not surprising that conscience has thereby been ennobled and raised to a higher sphere. When we hear that something has been done for reasons of conscience, we feel that conscience is regarded as one of the most important possessions of mankind.
Thus we can see how natural and right it is for the human heart to speak of conscience as “God in man.” And when Goethe says that the highest experience for man is when “God-Nature reveals itself to him,” we must realize that God can reveal himself in the spirit to man only if Nature is seen in the light of its spiritual background. This has been provided for in human evolution, on the one hand by the light of Christ, shining from outside, and on the other by the divine light within us: the light of conscience. Hence a philosopher such as Fichte, who studies human character, is justified in saying that conscience is the highest voice in our inward life. On this account, also, we are aware that our dignity as human beings is inseparable from conscience. We are human beings because we have an ego-consciousness; and the conscience we have at our side is also at the side of our ego. Thus we look on conscience as a most sacred individual possession, inviolable by the external world, whose voice enables us to determine our direction and our goal. When conscience speaks, no other voice may intrude.
So it is that on one side conscience ensures our connection with the primordial power of the world and on the other guarantees the fact that in our inmost self we have something like a drop flowing from the Godhead. And man can know: When conscience speaks in him, it is a God speaking.