Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, September 5, 1924:
My dear friends, to begin by replying to your kind words, I would like to say that it is fully justifiable that you should have spoken them just now in the name of the circle of priests. One cannot always call something spoken with the best intentions by human beings fully justifiable, but in this instance one can do so. I say this because the inner spiritual impulse that is intended to flow from the Goetheanum through the anthroposophical movement always contains an aspect that goes far beyond any theoretical understanding, indeed beyond any understanding altogether. A way of expressing approximately what is meant would be to say: The tasks human beings must undertake today are growing great again. They are growing great because the forces once available in the times when humanity was able to turn away more or less from the impulses of the ancient Mysteries are now exhausted.
The ancient Mysteries unfolded actual divine substances and divine forces on the earth in full reality. Humanity had to develop sufficiently for there to be a time when people were left more or less to their own devices, a time when the divine substances and forces were unable to work directly on the Earth through human beings. The forces that held sway in earthly humanity during that intermediate period of human evolution are now exhausted. Though not the most lofty, it is perhaps a significant, important, and far-reaching occult truth that the forces which were able to become effective in human evolution without the help of the Mysteries are now exhausted, so that human evolution cannot proceed further unless forces from the Mysteries enter into evolution once again.
Under the influence of this truth it must be sensed that today something other than understanding alone is necessary for someone who wants to work out of genuine spirituality in any branch of the anthroposophical movement. Something must come about anew that resembles the working of the old Mysteries, something that is described as an offering and devotion of the whole human being, an opening out of the whole human being within his or her task.
The words you have spoken would not be profoundly true if it were not entirely obvious—and it is entirely obvious—that in your circle of priests this impulse is at work in pure inwardness, the impulse to give one's whole humanity as an offering to the work that you have recognized as being holy. Before all the divine powers who shine their light to lead our work I am able to say: The words you have said about your enthusiasm and devotion to the task express the truth fully, genuinely, and honestly. It has been abundantly obvious that the whole circle of priests is filled with the most noble and inward effort—with all the inner spirituality human beings have—to render the sacrifices that need to be made today fully fruitful. Even now it is possible to say that what you have done is the beginning of something that can bring satisfaction to the divine being of the cosmos. By saying this I am making an important statement.
Your work has remained within Germany, certainly. But the reasons for this will in all probability be overcome in the not too distant future. Interest in the religious renewal that was burning in your hearts when you came to me here for the founding of your priestly work is taking hold of souls in widespread regions outside Germany. How far it will be possible to go beyond Germany's borders will depend on the inner strength you can have within you.
We cannot help being deeply moved in our hearts when we think of how your movement was inaugurated and initiated here two years ago with the holy Act of Consecration of Man in the very hall where the flames were first seen which then destroyed our beloved Goetheanum. As you see, that is the spot where the Earth is now most deeply scarred. But through your fine devotion a beginning has been made towards transforming what took place in that room—the first to be devoured by by the flames—into what is surely a holy deed for the Earth. If you continue with the sacred zeal that first took hold of you, the impulses within your circle of priests will continue to develop in the right way.
Having gathered once again at this place, we shall have important matters to address in the light and in the warmth that have come to us through the Christmas Foundation Conference like a kind of compensation for our earthly losses. We shall consider what could be a genuine help to you in taking further your impulses of soul.
This time we shall endeavor to allow ourselves to be approached by the profound content of the Book of Revelation. Taking the Book of Revelation as our point of departure, we shall endeavor to bring before our souls all that at this moment in time is especially important for your priesthood. By looking at the Book of Revelation in particular, we shall be able to center all our work here on the Act of Consecration of Man, which is what gives your priestly work its meaning and purpose. We shall have before us on the one hand the Act of Consecration of Man and on the other the Book of Revelation.
Today already we shall give a brief hint about how we want to inaugurate this, how we want to inaugurate the work of your priestly movement. We shall save what arises in direct connection with the needs of your work as priests, what needs to be said about the practicalities of your priestly work, or about a review of the past and a prospect for the future—we shall save all these things for moments when they fit naturally with the inner aspect of our considerations. Today I will begin by telling you how we shall take our work forward over the next few days.
Let me first greet all of you wholeheartedly in the name of all those powers who have brought you together here—who, as you know, are the multitudes of powers who follow Christ. May they give the right religious impulses, the right theological insight, and the right impulses for today in working with a cultus that you want to adopt religiously, theologically, and ceremonially in the deepest Christian sense. This is the sense in which we want to be together and this is the sense in which the work we are about to undertake together is to be shaped.
We begin by pointing out something great in our time, something great that consists in an entirely new attitude of the human soul towards that which comes about through a priestly action. What is present in the action of the priest when the Act of Consecration of Man is celebrated is something that human beings have always sought, for as long as there has been a humanity on the Earth.
If we want to understand the light in which the Act of Consecration of Man must appear today for the priest celebrating it and for the layperson receiving it, we must first consider what the Act of Consecration of Man has meant, means now, and will mean in human evolution on Earth as time moves on. But if there is to be an understanding of what the Act of Consecration of Man is today while it is being celebrated, we must, from another angle, also be filled with the true content of what John, initiated by Christ himself, wanted to give to Christian posterity through his Book of Revelation. Strictly speaking the two belong together—a fitting frame of mind in celebrating the Act of Consecration of Man, and a fitting frame of mind in imbuing oneself with the substance of the Book of Revelation.
For the moment, let us set aside the specific form of Apocalypse or revelation given to Christians in John's Book of Revelation. Let us use the term 'apocalypse' to mean all occult truths bestowed on humanity in order to give it a genuinely priestly impulse for its further evolution. A great deal can be encompassed by the concept of apocalypse, which appears in a concentrated summary in John's Book of Revelation in a form that is attuned to the Christ. Whenever apocalypse or revelation has been sought it has always been understood that comprehending apocalypse profoundly and fully was only possible when one was standing entirely within the act of consecration of man.
Much will become clearer if we begin by stating that there were, in the past, Mysteries which I shall call the ancient Mysteries. Rather than going into the matter of specific dates, I want in this introduction simply to describe the four successive stages of the Mysteries. There were ancient Mysteries, there were semi-ancient Mysteries, there were semi-new Mysteries, and we are now at the point at which new Mysteries will begin. We thus have four stages of evolution in the understanding human beings have for apocalypse or revelation and for an act of consecration of man.
Looking at the ancient Mysteries which existed among human beings in the distant dawn of human evolution on the Earth and which had the task of bringing to human beings everything that was holy, true, and beautiful, we can say: The essential aspect of the ancient Mysteries was the way the gods descended from their divine thrones and came down to human beings, and the way those human beings who bore the priestly office within the Mysteries associated face to face, being to being, with the gods. Just as human beings today associate with one another being to being, so in the Mysteries of those ancient times did the gods associate with human beings and human beings with the gods.
As there are natural laws that are valid in time, so are there also primeval, eternal laws that do not, however, infringe human freedom. Among these primeval, eternal laws there are some that relate to how the gods associate with human beings. These primeval, eternal laws came into play when in the ancient Mysteries of earliest human existence the gods themselves associated with human beings, and when all teachings received by human beings came about between the divine teachers and the human beings themselves. When the cultus brought the supersensibly powerful gods to be there amid the celebrants, this was when something was attained in the ancient Mysteries that has always given meaning to an act of consecration of man, namely the Transubstantiation. What, though, was Transubstantiation in the ancient Mysteries?
In the ancient Mysteries, Transubstantiation was what the gods regarded as the ultimate through which they entered into association with human beings. The ceremonies were determined in accordance with the primeval, eternal laws I mentioned just now. Out of certain stellar constellations that were known to genuine ancient astrology, and out of the coincidence of these constellations with conditions that can be determined by human beings, the way was opened from the gods to human beings and from human beings to the gods.
If you can get an overview of ancient chronology you will find that there are various chronologies, some, for example, that reckon with 354 days and others that reckon with 365 days. Leap days and leap weeks were inserted into these chronologies to compensate for the non-compatibility of human calculations with the progress of the cosmos. What human beings were able to calculate never quite conformed with the actual progress of the cosmos. Somewhere or other there was always a small remainder. The priests of the ancient Mysteries paid particular attention to those small remainders that occurred where human chronology did not conform to the progress of the cosmos. By dividing the year into months and weeks, they laid down certain periods when this non-conformity was particularly conspicuous, so that after several lunar months there were always a few days left before the new year began.
Someone who wants to gain an understanding of the progress of human evolution would do well to look closely at those periods when human beings, by inserting days or weeks like this, used this to express the non-conformity of human calculations with the progress of the cosmos—those periods which the priests then regarded as holy weeks. In those holy weeks which used to make it obvious that the thinking of the gods is different from the thinking of human beings, in those times that used to make this non-conformity obvious, it is possible, if the heart of the gods is in harmony with the heart of human beings, for the path to be found that leads from the gods to human beings and from human beings to the gods.
The moment when the gods entered into the Mysteries—this was something people were able to observe through the ancient astrology which enabled them to understand it in the right way. At the end of each year, or at the end of a moon cycle of 18 years, or at the end of other periods, there were always holy times that signified the non-conformity, the borderline, between human intelligence and divine intelligence, holy times when the priests in the Mysteries were able to recognize that the gods could find their way to them and that human beings could find their way to the gods.
It was in such times that the priests of old sought to preserve the effective forces of sun and moon in the substances with which they celebrated the act of consecration of man, so that what they had received in the holy times could be spread out over all the other parts of the year when they would need to celebrate. They also preserved what the gods had made out of the earth's substances and forces during the holy times. They kept the water from those times, the mercurial element, so that at other times of the year they would be able to celebrate the act of consecration of man in such a way that it would contain the Transubstantiation in the way the gods themselves had done it in those acts of consecration of man that had taken place in the 'dead times', as they called them, the times that were holy.
Thus in those ancient Mysteries, in times when the cosmic language, not the human language, was current among human beings, people sought to make contact with the gods who then descended into the Mysteries and who on each occasion made holy once more the act of consecration of man. On each occasion, too, an understanding of apocalyptic things was bestowed upon the human beings who celebrated the act of consecration of man. This is how the great truths were taught in those ancient times when being in the midst of the act of consecration of man meant being filled with apocalyptic substance.
The act of consecration of man is the path of knowledge; apocalypse, revelation, is the content of the holy knowledge.
Now we come to the semi-ancient Mysteries, those Mysteries of which at least a faint shimmer remained in historical times. (Of those that I have described as the ancient Mysteries nothing historical remains; they can be researched only by spiritual science.) The time had come when the gods withdrew from human beings and no longer descended into the Mysteries with their own being; but they continued to send down their forces. It was the time when the act of consecration of man was to receive through the Transubstantiation that shining light of the divine that was intended always to illumine the act of consecration of man.
The Transubstantiation was now no longer accomplished through learning from astrological observation of cosmic processes about which substances and forces should flow into the celebration of the Transubstantiation. Now the secret was sought in a different way. The inner nature especially of what the old alchemists called 'leavens' was taken up. A leavening agent is a substance that has reached a specific age while having gone through various stages of bringing about transformations in other substances without changing its own substance. To make an everyday comparison we need only think of how bread is baked. The principle is the same. You save a small piece of your previous batch of dough and add it to the new batch as a leavening agent. Imagine how in the semi-ancient Mysteries age-old substances, having retained their own inner substantiality through the ages while other substances were undergoing transformation, were stored in holy vessels that were themselves ancient and holy objects, venerable objects in the Mysteries.
From these ancient vessels were taken the substances that were the leavening agents with which the Transubstantiation of the old, still holy alchemy was performed. People in those days knew: The initiated priest understands the transformation, the Transubstantiation taking place through the forces preserved in the substances; he knows that they send forth sun-radiance in the holy quartz-crystal vessels. What was looked for in them, the reason they were needed, was that they were seen to be the celebrant's organ of perception for apocalypse, for revelation.
The following was something that took place in those semi-ancient Mysteries: The priest was tested at the moment when he approached the holy place and the ancient leavening agents began to transform the substances in the holy quartz-crystal vessels in such a way that he could see in those vessels how the substances sent forth sun-radiance. The vessel containing the little sun was a monstrance. It was a Host such as can only be recreated in imitation nowadays. The moment when he saw the sun-radiance of the Host was the moment in which he became a priest in his inner being. (Plate 1)
Nowadays in the Catholic church, everyone going to church sees the consecrated Host, for now it is no more than a symbol for what it once was. In those days, however, only those individuals were genuine priests who beheld the consecrated Host in that they saw a sun-radiance in the substances that had been preserved. At such a moment their knowing was open to receive that which is apocalyptic.
Next came those Mysteries of which the Mass of more recent times is a reflection. The Catholic Mass, the Armenian Mass, and other Masses have developed in a very complicated way out of the semi-new Mysteries. Although they have now become external, these Masses still bear within them the full principle of initiation. In the ancient Mysteries the gods were present; in the semi-ancient Mysteries the forces of the gods were present. In place of these there came into the semi-new Mysteries what human beings can perceive when the Word awakens in them, the magical Word, the Word in which inwardness resounds, the Word that penetrates into the depths of understanding concerning the inner being of the sounds of speech. For in the age of the semi-new Mysteries human speech was juxtaposed with the speech of the cultus, that cultic speech of which a last remnant remains in the different religious creeds. In it, everything depends on rhythm, on the inner understanding of the sounds of speech, on the understanding of how the sounds of speech emanating from the mouth of the priest enter inwardly into human hearts. The magical Word, the cultic Word spoken in the holy place was the first way upwards to the gods or, initially, to the forces of the gods.
First age of humanity: ancient Mysteries—the gods descend.
Second age of humanity: semi-ancient Mysteries—the gods send down their forces.
Third age of humanity: semi-new Mysteries; the human being learns the magical speech and in intoning the magical speech begins to ascend to the forces of the divine world.
That was the meaning of all that was intoned in the act of consecration of man during the third age of the Mysteries. It was the time when the element of the Cabeiri provided the contemporary religious cultus living in the Mysteries. The services, the sacrifices of the Cabeiri, which were celebrated at Samothrace, are a part of all that is ceremonial in the semi-new Mysteries, a part of all the ceremonies the priest had to perform.
Imagine the altar of the Cabeiri at Samothrace. The Cabeiri standing on it as external reminders were offering vessels, jars in which were contained, not leavening agents now, but substances which human understanding could find if it was able to delve into the inner spiritual nature of the substance. The sacrificial substances in the jars were set alight, the smoke rose up, and in the ascending smoke the magical speech made visible the Imagination of that which the Word intoned. Thus the path upwards to the divine powers became externally visible in the sacrificial smoke. Then the substances were mixed in a way that had still been taught to, say, Alexander by Aristotle in olden times, so that the holy Imagination signifying the path to the gods emerged from the sacrificial smoke. Then this Transubstantiation, the priestly action, was a proper one. The act of consecration of man had indeed been achieved. The celebrant and the one who received it knew: This is the organ for perceiving knowledge, for when that which flows upwards to the gods lights up in the sacrificial smoke and in the prayer that is ceremonially shaped in magical sequences of words, then, as a gift of grace from above, there comes down the revelation, the apocalyptic revelation. That was the third stage in the evolution of the Mysteries and in what is contained for human beings in the act of consecration of man.
Although these first stages have become decadent, a good many of their external aspects have been preserved. In that moment over there in the now burnt-down Goetheanum when you inaugurated a new priesthood in the movement for a Christian renewal, in that moment a new age of the Mysteries began, a new age for the Act of Consecration of Man and for an understanding of apocalypse, of revelation. Tomorrow we shall begin to speak about what must now stream through your hearts in order to fulfil properly the fourth stage of the Mysteries.