Inner Impulses of Evolution. Lecture 2.
Saturday, May 20, 2017
The Influence of Luciferic and Ahrimanic Beings on Historical Development. The Clear Perception of the Sensory World and Free Imaginations as the Task of Our Time. Genghis Khan and the Discovery of America
Inner Impulses of Evolution. Lecture 2.
Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, September 17, 1916:
Yesterday we tried to characterize the forces that permeated Greece and Rome, in order to obtain an idea of the influences that have been carried over from the fourth into the fifth post-Atlantean age, and we gave some indication of where we have to look today for signs of continued activity of the forces of the fourth post-Atlantean age. I want to ask you now to turn your attention once again to our description of the civilizations of Greece and Rome.
In the way it developed, the civilization of Greece was a source of great disappointment to the luciferic powers. One can, of course, only say these things out of Imaginative cognition, and this will also be true of what is to be presented to you today. The development of Greek civilization was a great disappointment to the luciferic powers because they expected something quite different from it. Think what this means. They had expected the civilization of Greece, the fourth epoch of post-Atlantean times, to bring into being for them all they had striven for during Atlantean times. On Atlantis they had developed certain activities, certain influences and forces, and they had expected to see the fruits of their labors appear in the fourth post-Atlantean epoch. What was it they were really looking for?
To speak of such a matter lets us look right into the luciferic soul. We come to know this luciferic life that continually strives, hoping that certain results may ensue, but that continually meets with fresh disappointment. A logician would naturally ask “Why do not these luciferic powers stop trying? Why do they not see that they must be forever and repeatedly disappointed?” Such a conclusion would be human, not luciferic, wisdom. At any rate, the luciferic powers have yet to come to this conclusion. On the contrary, it is their practice to redouble their efforts whenever they experience disappointment.
What was it, then, that the luciferic powers expected from this fourth post-Atlantean age? They wanted to obtain mastery of all the soul forces of the Greek people, those soul forces that were, as we have seen, directed to carrying over the ancient imaginations of the Chaldean-Egyptian period, and to incorporate them into the creations of their own fantasy. The luciferic powers made it their endeavor to work so strongly on the human beings of the Greek civilization that their imaginations, refined and distilled to fantasy, should fill their whole being. The Greeks would then have lost themselves in a soul world, in an everyday thinking, feeling, and willing that would have consisted entirely of those subtle imaginations that had become complete fantasy.
If the Greeks had developed nothing in their souls but these imaginations refined to fantasy, if these enticing imaginations had come to fill their souls completely, the luciferic powers would have been able to lift the Greeks and a great part of humanity out of human evolution to place them in their own luciferic world. This was the intention of the luciferic powers. From the Atlantean epoch on, it had been their hope to achieve in the fourth post-Atlantean age what they had failed to do in Atlantis. Humanity, at the stage it had then reached, would have been incorporated into the cosmos. They wanted nothing less than to create for themselves a separate world where earthly gravity did not exist, but where human beings would dwell with absolute supersensible lightness, entirely given up to a life of fantasy. It was the hope of the luciferic beings to create a planetary body which would contain those members of humanity who had reached this highest development of the fantasy life. They made every endeavor to lead the souls of the Greeks away from the Earth. Had they succeeded, these souls would gradually have forsaken the Earth. The bodies that still came to birth would have been degenerate. Egoless beings would have been born, the Earth would have fallen into decadence, and a special luciferic kingdom would have begun. This did not come to pass. Why?
This condition did not come about because, mingled with the “self-deifying madness” of Greek poetry, to quote Plato, was the genius and greatness of Greek philosophy and wisdom. The Greek philosophers — Heraclitus, Thales, Anaximenes, Anaximander, Parmenides, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle — saved Greek civilization from being completely spiritualized in a life of fantasy. They kept the Greeks on Earth, providing the strongest forces that kept Greece within earthly evolution. In considering the course of history we must always take into account the forces that lie behind physical reality and are the true causes of all that happens. It was, then, in this way that Greece was preserved for earthly evolution.
Now, the luciferic beings would have been unable to achieve anything at all without the help of the ahrimanic beings. In all their intentions and hope they reckoned on their support. Indeed, it must always be that two forces strive together in this kind of working. Just as the luciferic beings were disappointed in Greece, so were the ahrimanic beings disappointed in Rome and the way it developed. The luciferic beings wanted to lead Grecian souls away from the Earth-planet, and the ahrimanic beings wanted to contribute their efforts to the end that the Roman civilization would assume a particular form. The ahrimanic beings exerted their strongest efforts in Rome, just as the luciferic beings did in Greece. They calculated that a certain hardening would arise on Earth brought about by an entirely blind obedience and subjection to Rome. What did the ahrimanic powers want to accomplish in Rome? They wanted to establish a Roman Empire that would extend over the whole of the then known world, embracing within it every human activity. It would be directed entirely from Rome with the strictest centralization and the utmost development of the rule of might. They sought to establish a widely flung state machinery that would include and make subject to it all religious and artistic life. Its goal would be to stamp out all individuality. Every people and human being would comprise merely some small part of this mighty state machine.
Thanks to the clarity of its philosophers, however, Greece was not lulled into the luciferic dream, nor could Rome be hardened as these ahrimanic powers desired, because in Rome, too, something was working against them. This was described in the last lecture as Roman ideals, but the legal, political, and military ideals that were then developing could not have withstood Ahriman alone. Within the Roman civilization the ahrimanic powers gathered for a stupendous onslaught. That attempt was like a repetition of their attempt made in Atlantean times, and it developed infinitely strong powers and forces. It was only from another side that Ahriman's intention was hindered. It was, at first, prevented by something that, at first sight, might be regarded as a lower trait in the Roman character, but that was not the case. As a matter of fact, the Romans had need of what I may have seemed to describe in the last lecture with some antipathy. They needed their ruthlessness, stubborn egoism, that continuous stirring up of emotions, to be able to march against the ahrimanic powers. Roman history — I beg you expressly to note this — is not a revelation of the ahrimanic powers. Although they stand in the background, it is a fight against them. If it is all confused and self-seeking, seeming to tend more and more toward a politicalization of the whole world, it is because only in this way could Ahriman's mechanizing be resisted.
All this alone, however, would not have been of much avail. Rome had also received Christianity, which in Rome would have assumed a form that would have given Ahriman a splendid opportunity to achieve his aim since, through the spiritual decline of a Roman rule that had been transformed into a papacy, the mechanizing of culture could have been accomplished. So another external power had to be brought against Ahriman, who works with much more external means than Lucifer. Ahriman, as we have seen, diverted the forces of Christianity to his own service. Another power had to be brought against him. This was the onslaught of the Germanic tribes caused by the migration of peoples in Europe. Through this onslaught on Rome, the mechanizing of the world under a single, all-embracing Roman Empire was hindered. If you will study all that took place in the migration of these peoples, you will find that you can get a true insight into it when you see it from this point of view. Whenever the migration of peoples occurs in the Roman world, Roman history is not thereby brought to an end, but the ahrimanic powers, combated throughout their history by the Romans, are repelled.
Thus did Ahriman meet with his disappointment, as Lucifer had met with his. But they will take up their tasks again in the fifth post-Atlantean age with all the more determination. Here is the point at which we must gain an understanding of the forces that are operative in our age, insofar as such an understanding is possible today.
The fourth post-Atlantean age extends both backwards and forwards from its central point in 333 A.D. It ended about 1413 A.D. and it began about 747 B.C. These are, of course, approximate dates. I have just told you that the disappointment of Lucifer and Ahriman in the forms the Greek and Roman civilizations had assumed has led them to make still stronger efforts in our fifth post-Atlantean age. Their efforts are already at work in the human forces that have been active from the fifteenth century. It does not matter whether something occurs a few decades earlier or later. In outer physical reality, which takes on the form of the “great illusion,” things are sometimes misplaced.
The fact that the Roman civilization could be retained in the evolution of humanity as it was is due to the events brought about by the migrations of the peoples. If Rome had developed in such a way that a great all-embracing mechanized empire had arisen, it would only have been habitable for egoless human beings who would have remained on Earth after Lucifer had drawn out their souls on the path of Greek culture and art. You see how Ahriman and Lucifer work together. Lucifer wants to take men's souls away and found a planet with them of his own. Ahriman has to help him. While Lucifer sucks the juice out of the lemon, as it were, Ahriman presses it out, thereby hardening what remains. This is what he tried to do to the civilization of Rome. Here we have an important cosmic process going on — all due to the intention and resolve of luciferic and ahrimanic powers. As I have said, they were disappointed. They have continued their efforts, however, and our fifth post-Atlantean age has yet to learn how strong these attacks are. They are now only beginning, but they will become stronger and stronger. This age must learn, too, that the necessity to understand these attacks will become ever greater. At the beginning of an age the backward beings cannot work strongly. As yet, we are only in the beginning, and even though it became manifest only later, the luciferic and ahrimanic powers began to exert their forces before the expiration of the fourth post-Atlantean age.
To understand how these powers work in the fifth post-Atlantean age, we must turn our attention for a moment to what is intended for man in the right and normal course of his evolution. It is rightfully intended that he shall take a further step forward. The step taken by humanity in the fourth post-Atlantean age is revealed in the culture of the Greeks and in the political development of the Romans, and it was through the battle with Lucifer and Ahriman that what was intended actually came about. These opposing forces are always such that they fit into the progressive plan of the world. They belong to it and are needed there as opposing forces. But what special qualities are the men of the fifth post-Atlantean age, our own, to develop?
We know that this is the age of the development of the consciousness soul and that, to accomplish this, a number of forces — soul and bodily forces — must be active. First, a clear perception of the sense world is necessary. This did not exist in earlier times because, as you know, a visionary, imaginative element continuously played into the human soul. The Greeks still possessed fantasy but, as we have seen, after fantasy and imagination had taken possession of humanity, as it did of the Greeks, it then became necessary for men to develop the faculty to see the world of external nature without the illumination of a vision standing behind it. We need not imagine that such a vision has to be a materialistic one. That point of view is itself an ahrimanically perverted perception of sense reality. As indicated before, observation of sense reality is one task incumbent upon the human soul in our fifth post-Atlantean age.
The other task is to unfold free imaginations side by side with the clear view of reality — in a way, a kind of repetition of the Egypto-Chaldean age. To date, humanity has not progressed too far in this task. Free imaginations as sought through spiritual science means imaginations not as they were in the third post-Atlantean age, but unfettered and undistilled into fantasy. It means imaginations in which man moves as freely as he does only in his intellect. That, then, is the other task of the fifth post-Atlantean age. The unfoldment of these two faculties will lead to a right development of the consciousness soul in our present epoch.
Goethe had a beautiful understanding of this clear perception, which, contrary to the materialistic point of view, he described as his “primal phenomenon” (Urphänomen). You will find that this has been dealt with at length in Goethe's writings, and I have spoken of it in my explanation of the primal phenomenon. His is a clear, pure perception of reality and of his primal phenomenon. Goethe not only gave the first impulse for perceptions free of any visions but also for free imaginations. What he has given us in his Faust, even though it has not yet gone far in the direction of spiritual science, and in comparison with spiritual science is still more or less instinctive, is nevertheless the first impulse to a free imaginative life. It is no mere world of fantasy, yet we have seen how deep this world of fantasy really is that develops in free imaginations, in the wonderful drama Faust.
So, over against this primal phenomenon we have what Goethe calls typical intellectual perception. You will find it described in detail in my book The Riddle of Man. This mode of thought must continue to develop. The men of the fifth post-Atlantean epoch, however, must not merely behold reality: they must be able to live with reality. They must get busy, like Goethe, and, working in quite a different way from that of the materialistic physicists, really make such use of their laboratory apparatus that it produces the primal phenomenon for them. They will then have to devise some way of getting the primal phenomenon into practical life. As you know, it is at home in, and holds sway throughout, nature. The intentions of humanity that come from free imaginations will have to be included in this primal phenomenon of nature. On the one hand, men will have to direct their gaze quite selflessly to the outer world to work in it and to gain knowledge of it. On the other, by powerful application of their personalities, they will have to bring it all into inner movement in order to find the imaginations for outer activity and outer knowledge. Gradually, the consciousness soul and its culture will achieve this transformation.
There will certainly be onesidedness in this cultural epoch. That goes without saying. Our cognition will direct its efforts only outwards, as in Bacon, or only inwards, as in Berkeley. We have already spoken of this. The imaginative life welling up from within will not unfold without all manner of disturbing influences. But even now we can point to moments in this development when someone feels this free imaginative life springing up in his soul. In these beginnings it is still in great measure unfree, but we may see how so significant a man as Jacob Boehme, quite soon after the fifth post-Atlantean age began, felt how it was trying to develop in his soul. He brought this to expression in his Aurora, and we can feel as we read it how imaginative life was working within him. It must become free; Boehme still feels it to be a little unfree. Nevertheless, he knew it was a divine creative thing that was working in him. So Boehme was, in a sense, at the opposite pole to Bacon, whose endeavor always directed his attention to the external world. Jacob Boehme, however, was entirely engrossed in the world within, and described this world beautifully in the Aurora:
“I declare before God,” he says because he is speaking of his inner soul, “that I do not know how it comes to pass in me.” He means by this how the imaginations arise in him. “Without feeling the impulse of the will, I also don't know what I have to write.”
This is how Boehme speaks of the uprising of imaginations in himself. He detects the beginning of forces that must grow continually stronger in the men of the fifth post-Atlantean age.
“I declare before God that I do not know how it comes to pass in me. Without feeling the impulse of the will, I also don't know what I have to write. The spirit dictates to me in a great and marvelous knowledge what I write, so that often I do not know whether I am in this world with my spirit, and I rejoice exceedingly that sure and continuous knowledge is thus vouchsafed to me.”
Boehme describes the instreaming of the imaginative world. We can see that he feels harmony and rest in his soul, and he describes how men's souls shall, in the normal and right progress of their evolution, let themselves be taken hold of by these inner forces, which are to grow stronger in them in the fifth post-Atlantean age. But one must take possession of them in the pure inner being of the spirit and thereby avoid devious paths. In the seventeenth century one had to speak of these forces much in the way that Boehme, who spoke as a man completely and utterly devoted to divine righteousness, did.
The entire aim in the work of the luciferic and ahrimanic powers in the fifth post-Atlantean age, concerning both the perception of the primal phenomenon and the development of free imaginations, is to hinder these forces from arising in man. The luciferic and ahrimanic powers are working in this fifth post-Atlantean age to disturb these forces in the human soul, to employ them to a wrong end, thus bringing men's souls out of the Earth sphere to establish a new sphere of their own. Many things must work together to disturb the right, quiet, and slow unfolding of these forces. Note well that I say the quiet and slow unfolding, because the entire period of 2,160 years, starting in 1413 A.D., should be used for the gradual unfoldment of the forces I have named, that is, free imaginations and the gradual development of working with primal phenomena. At intervals — by fits and starts, as it were — the luciferic and ahrimanic powers throw the whole weight of their opposition against this right evolution. When we bear in mind that everything is prepared for by the world beyond the Earth long before it happens, we shall then not be surprised to find preparations being made to bring the strongest possible forces of opposition against the normal evolution of humanity.
We have already seen how the luciferic and ahrimanic powers poured what they had developed in Atlantean times into Greece and Rome. Now, in an altered form, they have tried to repeat these efforts before the arrival of the fifth post-Atlantean age. You will not be surprised when I say that for this fifth post-Atlantean age, too, a powerful impetus had to be present bearing along with it the after-workings, in a luciferic and ahrimanic sense, from Atlantis. We know that the Atlantean influences spread out from a region that was called Atlantis even by Plato. Let us make a diagram and imagine Atlantis here, then over here on the right would be Europe and Asia, and here on the left would be America. The old Atlantean forces, including the old luciferic and ahrimanic forces, spread out from Atlantis. Some part of these Atlantean forces, however, was held
back, and it came to work in our fifth post-Atlantean age as luciferic and ahrimanic forces. That is, some part of the good forces, which were good and right in Atlantean times, have been carried over to our time to become luciferic and ahrimanic forces. Only the center was transferred to another region.
Atlantis, as we know, is gone and the center transposed to Asia. You must imagine it on the reverse side of my drawing and the effects of the old Atlantean culture spreading out from it as a preparation for the fifth post-Atlantean age.
Its intent was to lucifericize and ahrimanicize it. It was actually the descendants of the old Atlantean teachers who were now working from a place in Asia. A priest there had been educated to behold — to have a belated vision, as it were — of what the Atlanteans called the “Great Spirit,” and to receive his commands. These the priest communicated to a young man of remarkable energy and strength who, by virtue of this authority, received the name “The Great Ruler of the Earth” from his community. This was Genghis Khan. The Great Spirit, through his follower and through that priest, gave to Genghis Khan the command to summon all the powers of Asia to spread the influence that would lead the fifth post-Atlantean age back into a luciferic form. These forces — and they were far more powerful than the forces established in Greek culture — were all employed to this end. Free imaginations were to be changed into old, visionary imaginations. Every effort was to be made to lull the soul of man to sleep in a dim and dreamy experience of imaginations instead of a free experience filled through and through with clear understanding.
With the help of the special forces that had been preserved from Atlantis, it was the intended purpose to carry an influence into the West that would make its culture visionary. Then it would have become possible to separate the souls of men from the Earth and to form a new continent, a new planetary body, with them. All the unrest and disturbance that came into the evolution of modern man through the Mongolian invasions, everything connected with them that has gone on working into the fifth post-Atlantean epoch — all this unrest, which was prepared long ago — is nothing more than the great attempt that is being made from Asia to bring about a visionary European culture. It would cut it off from the conditions of its further evolution and lead it altogether away from the Earth, just as the East has experienced again and again this feeling of being filled with vision and of wanting to be estranged from the Earth.
Something was needed to counterbalance this tendency. An opposite trend had to be created as a counter-force that moves in the direction of the normal evolution of mankind. The influence of Genghis Khan's priest was intended to bring about a kind of buoyancy and lightness in the human race that would draw man away from the Earth. Over against this, a corresponding heaviness had to come to man from the weight of the Earth; this was provided through the discovery of the Western world. America, with all that it holds, was discovered and thereby Earth heaviness, the desire to remain on Earth, was given to man. The discovery of America and everything connected with it, and the way man carried his life into the many new places of the Earth, all this, when seen in wider connections, shows itself as a counterbalancing force to the activity of Genghis Khan. America had to be discovered so that man might be brought to grow closer to the Earth, to grow more and more materialistic. Man needed weight and heaviness to counterbalance the spiritualization that was the aim of the descendants of the “Great Spirit.”
Along with this normal process whereby the scene of action of man's life was extended to America, we find the other forces, the ahrimanic powers of the “Great Spirit,” intervening again. An influence came from America to Europe, and another came to permeate America from Asia. Thus, normal forces developed through the discovery of America, and also powerful ahrimanic onslaughts. They worked less strongly at first, but will continue to work in our time and on into the future. We must learn to recognize these ahrimanic forces.
What Rome had achieved in the Church and in the ecclesiastical state was grasped by the ahrimanic influence. While it is comparatively easy to see how the luciferic influence worked on Genghis Khan — we have exact knowledge of the fact that a priest was initiated by the follower of the “Great Spirit” — it is much more difficult to say how the ahrimanic spirit worked. This is because the ahrimanic influence is dispersed and scattered. But you need only study how Spain, strictly Roman Catholic as it was, was fascinated by all the treasures of gold that were discovered in America. What a hold it had upon her! You can observe how strong the specter-like working of the old Romanism still was in such a ruler as Ferdinand of Castile or Charles V, the ruler of the kingdom over which the “sun never set.” Study the reaction of Europe to the gradual discovery and opening up of America and you will see what temptations came from that direction. Taken all in all, it is a history of temptation woven in with a history that runs a normal course.
Please do not go about saying that I have presented the discovery of America as an ahrimanic deed. In reality, I have said the very opposite. I have said that America had to be discovered and that the entire event was necessary to the progress of the world. Ahrimanic forces entered, however, and set themselves in violent opposition to what was happening quite rightly in the normal course of progress. Things are not so simple that we can say “There is Lucifer, and there is Ahriman; they act and behave in such and such a way, and divide the world between them.” Things are by no means so simple as that.
We find, therefore, many forces working together when we set out to listen to them in their field of action behind the physical plane. These forces take possession of other forces. They try to seize the forces in man that have continued on from the fourth post-Atlantean epoch in order to distort them and make them serve their ends. Look at a man like Machiavelli. You will find in him the symbol for the politicizing of thought that begins in the Renaissance. He is a veritable revelation of the whole process. He was a great and powerful spirit but one who, under the onslaught of the forces of which I have told you, brings to a new life again the complete attitude of thought and mind that has its source in the heathen Rome of ancient times. You have a true picture of Machiavelli when you study the history of his time and see him not as a single personality, but as the outstanding expression of many who think in the same way. In him you can observe these forces trying to charge forward with all speed, bringing to their assistance the atavistic — and thus luciferic — forces that have been left behind. Had things gone as Machiavelli intended, all of Europe would have become nothing but a political machine. Opposing the violent onslaught of such forces are the forces that work in the normal direction. Over against a figure like Machiavelli, who was purely political and turned all man's thought into political thinking, we can place another great figure, Thomas à Kempis, who was also Machiavelli's contemporary. He stands entirely within the slow and gradual evolution, working slowly and gradually. He was anything but a man of politics.
So we can follow the several streams in history. We shall find normal streams, and we shall also find currents that flow from earlier times and are made use of by the forces of which I have told you. Many forces work together in history, and it is important to observe and study their connections. A man like Jacob Boehme felt free imaginations rising within him. We can say of such a man that he fortified himself against the attacks of Lucifer and Ahriman through the whole character of his life of soul and succeeded in going undisturbed along the straight path of evolution.
East of Europe, however, in all the culture of the East, we find an untold number of people who suffer greatly under the disturbing influence of Lucifer. His influence is, as we know, to draw man again and again away from the Earth, to draw him right out of his physical body so that he shall perpetually fall into a state where he becomes no more than a vision of himself and is completely soul. That is the tendency that has been grafted onto Eastern Europe.
The feeling of being drawn in the other direction was given to the West. The world of imagination was pulled down into the heavy physical body so that what should rightly be free imagination working merely in the soul becomes instead something that rams the soul down into the organism, thereby causing the organism also to live on imaginations. You can hardly find a more telling description of what I mean than in the words of Alfred de Musset in which he attempts to give us a picture of the condition of his soul. De Musset is one who feels the presence of the imaginative life in himself, but he also feels the onslaught upon this life of imagination, that seeks to thrust it right down into the bodily nature. This life of imagination, which does not belong in the bodily nature but should develop freely, hovering in and existing purely as a thing of the soul, is there taken hold of by earthly gravity and by what belongs to the body. In his book Elle et Lui, which he was led to write from his relation with Georges Sand, you will find a fine description of his soul life. I would like to quote here a passage that will serve to show how he feels himself to be placed within an imaginative life that is the scene of conflict and dispute. He says:
Creation disturbs and bewilders me; it sets me trembling. Execution, always too slow for my desire, starts my heart beating wildly. Weeping, and restraining myself with difficulty from crying out, I give birth to an idea. In the moment of its birth it intoxicates me, but next morning it fills me with loathing. If I try to modify and change it, it only gets worse and escapes me altogether. It would be better for me to forget it and wait for another. But now this other comes upon me in such bewilderment and in such boundless dimensions that my poor being cannot grasp it. It oppresses me, tortures me, until it can be realized. Then come the other sufferings, the birth throes, really physical pains that I am quite unable to define. Such is my life when I let myself be ruled by this giant artist who is in me.
Note the contrast with Boehme, who feels the God in him. With de Musset it is a giant artist.
It were better that I live as I have resolved, committing excesses of every kind in order to kill this gnawing worm, which others modestly call inspiration and I quite often openly call illness.
Almost every single sentence of this quote can be matched with a sentence in our quotation from Boehme. How singularly typical! Remember what I said just now, that normal evolution seeks to progress slowly. We shall have more to say about this tomorrow. Here, as described by de Musset, it is a wild charge; it cannot be fast enough. The picture he gives us as he surveys himself is marvelous. “Creation disturbs and bewilders me; it sets me atremble,” he says, because this will to go faster and faster and comes storming in upon him from the ahrimanic side, disturbing what is still trying to progress slowly.
“Execution, always too slow for my desire, starts my heart beating wildly.” Here you have the whole psychology of the man who wants to live in free imaginations and is distressed and vexed by the onslaught of ahrimanic forces.
“Weeping and restraining myself with difficult from crying out...” Think of it! The imaginations work so physically in him that he feels like crying out when they find expression in him.
“I give birth to an idea. In the moment of its birth it intoxicates me, but next morning it fills me with loathing.” This because it comes from his organism and not from his soul!
“If I try to modify and change it, it only gets worse and escapes me altogether. Better I forget it and wait for another.” Here he wants perpetually to go faster, faster than normal evolution can go.
“But now this other comes upon me in such bewilderment and in such boundless dimensions that my poor being cannot grasp it. It oppresses me, tortures me, until it can be realized. Then come the other sufferings, the birth throes, actual physical pains that I am quite unable to define.” Then, when he beholds this giant artist that works within him, he says he would rather follow the life he has marked out for himself; that is, have nothing to do with this whole imaginative world, because he calls it an illness.
Now take by way of contrast the saying of Jacob Boehme: “I declare before God, I myself do not know how it comes to pass in me.” Here you have an expression of joy and bliss. Confusion and bewilderment, on the other hand, can be heard in the words of de Musset, “Creation disturbs and bewilders me; it sets me trembling. Execution, always too slow for my desire, starts my heart beating wildly.”
With Boehme all is of the soul and, when he wants to write, he does not feel as though a giant artist, who makes him unhappy, were dictating to him, but a spirit. He feels that he is transported into the world where the spirit dictates to him. He is in this world and he is supremely happy to be there because a continuous stream of knowledge is given him that flows slowly and steadily on. Boehme is inclined to receive this slow stream of knowledge. He does not find it too slow because he is not overwhelmed by the swift attacking force I have described to you. On the contrary, he is protected from it.
If time permitted we could present many more instances of ways in which individual human beings are situated in the world process. The examples I have selected are from those whose names have been preserved in history, but in a sense all of mankind is subject to these same conditions in one way or another. I have only chosen these particular examples in order to express what is really widespread, and by taking special cases I have been able to give you a description of it in words. If you will try to make a survey of what we have been saying, you will then be able to understand much of what has come about in the course of evolution.
It would be quite possible in this connection to study many other phenomena of life. If, however, we confine ourselves today to the spiritual life, and moreover to that special region of the spiritual life comprising knowledge and cognition, we shall be able to find in it qualities that are characteristic of modern man, the recognition of which will make many things in life comprehensible. Since it is not possible to say much about the external life of today, owing to the existing prejudices and because men's souls are so deeply bound up with the conditions of the times in which they live, you will readily understand that it is only in a limited way that I can speak of the things that are carrying their influence right into the immediate present. It cannot be otherwise, as I have frequently made clear to you. I would like, however, to indicate certain phenomena of our time that are less calculated to arouse passions and emotions. Let me describe some phenomena that I will select from the life of cognition and feeling. I think you will find them underlying all I have been saying about the forces at work in this fifth post-Atlantean epoch. We will first consider these phenomena in a purely historical way in order afterward to see their relation to these forces.
Let us take first a phenomenon in which we all necessarily feel the deepest interest. The kind of understanding men have of the nature and being of Christ is of great significance, and so we will select examples of various kinds of understanding of His nature and being that lie near at hand. We have first of all a modern instance in Ernest Renan's The Life of Jesus, which appeared in the 19th century and went rapidly through many editions. I believe the twentieth appeared in 1900 after his death. Then we have The Life of Jesus, which is really no life of Jesus at all, by David Friedrich Strauss. Then we have — we cannot say a life of Jesus, but coming from the east of Europe it is a view and conception of Christ that is of deep significance. It is not a life of Jesus but an understanding of Christ that culminates in what Soloviev wrote about Him and His part in the evolution of the Earth. How significant are these three expressions of the spiritual life of the nineteenth century: The Life of Jesus by Renan, The Life of Jesus by Strauss, which is no life of Jesus at all and we shall presently hear why, and Soloviev's conception of the meaning of the Christ event in the evolution of the Earth, for it is true, at any rate, to say that all of his work culminates in the Christ idea.
What is the fundamental premise of Renan's description of Jesus' life? If you want to appreciate rightly Renan's book, to understand it as a document of the times, then you must compare it with the earlier presentations of Jesus' life. Nor do you need to read only the literary accounts of His life; you can also look at the paintings of artists. You will find that the representation of the life of Jesus always takes the same path. In the early centuries of Roman Christianity, it was not only Christianity that was taken over from the East but also the manner in which Jesus was presented. The Greek art of pictorial representation was there in the West, as we know, but the ability to portray the Christ remained with the East. The Jesus countenance that is characteristic of Byzantine art was found repeatedly in the West until, in the thirteenth century, national impulses and ideas began to arise — those national ideas and impulses that later work themselves out in the way I have indicated in these last lectures.
Owing to the national impulse, a gradual change came about in the traditional stereotyped Jesus countenance that had been portrayed so long. Each of several nations appropriated the Jesus type and represented Him in its own way, and so we must recognize many different impulses at work in the different representations. Study, for example, the head of Jesus as painted by Guido Reni, Murillo, and LeBrun, and you will see how strikingly the national point of view steals in. These are only three instances that one could select. In each case there is a strong desire to represent Jesus in a national way. One has the impression that in Guido Reni's, paintings, to a far greater degree than was the case with his predecessors, we can detect the Italian type in the countenance of Jesus; similarly, in Murillo's representations, the Spanish; in LeBrun's, the French. All three painters show evidence as well of the working of church tradition; behind every one of their paintings stands the power of the Church.
Contrarily, you will find a resistance to this far-reaching power of the Church, which we recognize in the art of Murillo, Lebrun, and Reni, in the works of Rubens, van Dyck, and Rembrandt — a resistance to it and a working in freedom out of their own pure humanity. Considering art in respect of its representations of the Jesus countenance, you have here direct artistic rebellion. You will now see that there is no standing still in this progression in the representation of Jesus because the forces that are at work in the world work also right into this domain. We can see how the breath of Romanism hovers over the paintings of the nationally minded LeBrun, Murillo, and Reni, and how in Rubens, van Dyck, and especially Rembrandt, the opposition to Romanism comes to such clear expression in their paintings of faces, not of Jesus alone but also of other Biblical characters. So we see how all the spiritual activities of man gradually take form among the various impulses that make themselves felt in human evolution.
Similarly, you would find that in the times when painting and representative art have given place to the word — for since the sixteenth century the word has had the same significance in such matters as pictorial representation had in earlier times — you will find that the figure of Jesus, of the Christ, is again continually changing. It is never fixed and constant but is always conceived according to how the various forces flow together in writers. Standing there before us as the latest products, let us say, we have the Jesus of Renan, the Jesus of Strauss, who is no Jesus, and the Christ of Soloviev. These are the latest products — and how vastly different they are!
The Jesus of Renan is entirely a Jesus who, as a man, lives in the land of Palestine as a human historical figure. Palestine itself is marvelously depicted. With the aid of the best of modern scholarship it is described in such a way that one has before one the complete Palestinian landscape with its people. Wandering about this realistically rendered landscape and among its people is the figure of Jesus. The attempt is made to explain this Jesus figure on the basis of this landscape and its inhabitants; to explain how he grows up and becomes a man, and to explain how it was possible for such a man to arise in this land. The outstanding character of Renan's description will only be revealed when we compare it with earlier accounts and representations. These take the inner course of the events described in the Gospels and place them in a landscape that is really nowhere in particular. The facts as they are described in the Gospels are simply related over and over again and the landscape in which they occurred is totally disregarded. It is depicted in such a way that it might be anywhere.
Renan, however, goes to work to portray the Holy Land in a realistic, detailed way so that Jesus becomes a true Palestinian in this Holy Land. Christ Jesus, who should belong to all of mankind, becomes a Jesus who lives and walks in Palestine as a historical figure who is to be understood in relation to the Palestine of the years 1 to 33 A.D., that is, understood from the customs, views, opinions, and landscape of the country — a right proper, realistic description. For once, Jesus was to be shown as a historical person and was to be described as any other in history. For Renan, it would have been meaningless to portray an abstract Socrates who might have lived anywhere, anytime, and it would have been equally meaningless for him to portray an abstract Jesus who might have lived anywhere on Earth. In complete accord with the science of the nineteenth century, he sets out to depict Jesus as a historical figure living between the years 1 and 33 A.D., and made absolutely comprehensible by the conditions prevailing in Palestine at that time. Jesus lived from the year 1 to 33 A.D. He died in 33 A.D., just as any other man might have died in this or that year. If he continues to work in the world, it is in the same way any other dead person might have continued to work. Fitted completely into the modern point of view, Jesus was a historical personality accounted for by the milieu in which he lived. That is what Ernest Renan gives us in his Life of Jesus.
Now let us turn to the Life of Jesus, that is in reality no life of Jesus, by David Friedrich Strauss. I have said it is no life of Jesus. Strauss also works as a highly cultured and learned man. When he sets out to investigate anything, he does so with thoroughness akin to that of Renan in his domain. Strauss, however, does not turn his attention to the historical Jesus. He is, for him, only the figure to which he attaches something quite different. Thus, Strauss investigates all that was said of Jesus insofar as He was the Christ. He examines what is said about His miraculous entry into the world, His wonderful and miraculous development, His expression of great and special teachings, and how He undergoes suffering, death, and resurrection. These are the accounts in the Gospels that Strauss selects for investigation.
Naturally, Renan, too, used the Gospels, but he reduced them to what he, from his detailed and exact knowledge of Palestine, could conceive of the life of Jesus. This approach has no interest at all for Strauss. He tells himself that the Gospels relate this or that concerning Christ, who lived in Jesus. Then he sets out to investigate the extent to which what is related of the Christ has also been living as myth in other parts of the world, for instance, how the story that is told of a miraculous birth and the development of Jesus Christ is to be found in various other folk myths, as is also the Mystery of Golgotha, which is referred now to one god and then to another. Thus, Strauss sees in the figure of the historical Jesus only the opportunity for concentrating the myth-forming activity of mankind into one personality. Jesus does not concern him at all. The only value He has for Strauss is that the myths which are distributed all over the world,are concentrated in this single man Jesus. They are all hung on Him, as it were. These myths, however, all spring from a common impulse. All of them bear witness to the myth-forming power that lives in mankind. Where does this myth-forming power arise?
As Strauss sees it, in the course of mankind's earthly development, from the times of the first beginnings of the Earth to its final end, mankind has and always will have a higher power in it than the merely external power that develops on the physical plane. A power runs right through mankind that will forever address itself to the super-earthly; this super-earthly finds expression in myths. We know that man bears something supersensible within him that seeks to find expression in myth since it cannot be expressed in external physical science. Thus Strauss does not see Jesus in the single individual, but rather the Christ in all men — the Christ who has lived in and through all men since their beginning, and who has brought it about that myths are told of Him. In the case of Jesus it is only that His personality gives occasion for the myth-forming power to develop with extreme force and strength. In Him it is concentrated. Strauss, therefore, speaks of a Jesus that is in reality no Jesus, but he fastens upon Him the spiritual Christ force that lives in all humanity. For Strauss, mankind itself is the Christ, and He works always before and after Jesus. The true incarnation of the Christ is not the single Jesus, but the whole of humanity. Jesus is only the supreme representative for the representation of the Christ in mankind.
The main thing in all this is not Jesus as a historical figure, but an abstract mankind. Christ has become an idea, which incarnates in and through all mankind. That is the kind of highly distilled thought that a man of the nineteenth century is able to conceive! The element of life in the idea has become the Christ. He is conceived entirely as an idea and Jesus is passed by. This is a life of Jesus that is no more than a record of the fact that the idea, the divine, incarnates continually in all humanity. Christ is diluted down to an idea, is thought of merely as an idea.
So much for the second life of Jesus, The life of Jesus by David Friedrich Strauss. So we have Ernest Renan's Life of Jesus. which sets forth the historical figure of Jesus amid the individuals around Him as well as by Himself. Then we have in Strauss' book the “idea of Christ,” which runs through all mankind. In this highly distilled form, however, it remains a mere abstraction.
When we come to Soloviev, behold, Jesus is no more, but only the Christ. Nevertheless, it is the Christ conceived as living. Not working in men as an idea, with the consequence that its power is transformed in him into a myth, but rather working as a living being who has no body, is always and ever present among men, and is, in effect, positively responsible for the external organization of human life, the founder of the social order. Christ, who is forever present; a living being who would never have needed a Jesus in order to come among men. Naturally, you will not find this so radically expressed in Soloviev, but that is of no account. It is the Christ as such Who stands always in the foreground — the Christ, moreover, as the living One who can only be comprehended in imagination, but by this means can be truly understood as a real and actual supersensible being working on Earth.
There you have the three figures. The same being meets us in the nineteenth century in a threefold description. The Life of Jesus by Ernest Renan, completely realistic; realistic history a fortiori; Jesus as a historical figure; a book that is written with all the learning of the nineteenth century. Then came David Friedrich Strauss with this idea of mankind, working on, running through all mankind, but remaining an idea, never awakening to life. Lastly, Soloviev's Christ; living power, living wisdom, altogether spiritual.
A realistic life of Jesus by Renan; an idealistic life of Jesus by Strauss that is also an idealistic presentation of the Christ impulse; a spiritual presentation of the Christ impulse by Soloviev.
Today I wanted to place before you, side by side as three expressions of modern life, these three ways of cognizing the figure of Jesus Christ. Tomorrow we shall see how they take their place among the various impulses that we have recognized as working in mankind.