Sunday, February 18, 2018
"I Am the Way, the Truth, and the Life"
A lecture given by Rudolf Steiner in Hanover on March 4, 1911:
When in Spiritual Science we learn that man is composed of various members — physical body, etheric body, astral body, ego, manas, buddhi, atman — this is only the merest beginning, and it would be a dangerous fallacy if the belief were to spread that with such knowledge as is given in elementary Spiritual Science concerning the nature of man, his evolution through reincarnation and karma, and the like, we already know everything it is necessary to know about the spiritual life, that this is sufficient for the future progress of mankind. True, these things must be known, but we must learn more and more to look upon Spiritual Science as something which penetrates our whole life and is transformed into practice, not only in respect of high ideals but in respect of every impulse in life, on however small a scale. This transformation into practice cannot be achieved through abstract ideas but only through such knowledge, ideas, and concepts as can grasp the exact way in which these different members of which man is composed work together and interpenetrate in the process of his evolution. We do indeed know something about man when we know of his several bodies and members, but we only learn really to understand him when we are aware of how the different members are interrelated.
Now, it might be contended that this too could be grasped and that then everything would be known, but the truth is that the interpenetration of the different members of man's being changes in the progressive stages of evolution. In ancient Egypt, for example, these members worked quite differently from the way in which they do in the human body today. Knowledge of how the members were interrelated in ancient Egyptian times, therefore, tells us nothing, in reality, about the nature man in our own epoch. Any attempt to transplant the temple-wisdom of ancient Egypt into our own epoch would be neither right nor suitable for today. We cannot speak of these things in the same way as the priest-sages of Egypt spoke of them to their pupils.
This interworking between the members of man's being changes, too, during the life of the individual. It is not the same in childhood as it is in later life. Today we shall consider this interworking as it is in early childhood and then in later years.
You know well that the child's consciousness is different from that of a mature human being. The difference comes to expression in the fact that the child does not, to begin. with, say “I” of itself. The word that is so important for us is voiced only later, when the consciousness of “I” awakens in the child. There are modern psychologists, so-called investigators of the soul, who deny this. They maintain that consciousness of the “I” is already there and it is simply that the child does not bring it to expression. No importance should be attached to such statements of modern psychology. Really foolish things are said — for example, that the human being first learns to think and then to speak. But the reverse is correct. It is through speaking that the human being learns to think. The child's consciousness is quite different. The child would not designate itself by saying, as we do in late years: “I feel," "I wish this or that.” Between the ages of 2½ and 3½ (varying with the individual) something happens in the child which we can easily confirm by looking back into our own childhood. We find that we can remember back to a certain point and then the thread of memory whereby the consciousness of our own deeds is retained, breaks. We know that the “I” existed before this break in memory, but it was not within the sphere of consciousness.
Thus there is the life of the “I” between birth and about the third year, during which the relation of the “I” to the physical, etheric, and astral bodies is not at all the same as it is later on. Occult science reveals that in these first years of childhood the “I” hovers around the body like an aura, and only afterwards penetrates into the human being. In the same measure as the “I” enters, the human being begins to say “I” of himself, to relate thing to himself. Before this happens the “I” works from outside, and when we study the child's organism we realize how much there is to be done. The delicate structure of the brain, for example, has to be built up, and the “I” does this and can only do it as long as it is not inwardly bound up with the organism.
Now, it might be contended that the human “I” is not clever enough to build its own brain, to give it the infinitely delicate furrows and convolutions which enable it to be an instrument for thinking. But this work is not performed by the human alone; in its work on the body the “I” is accompanied and directed by the wisdom of quite other forces. Why can the child-“I” work with such wisdom and yet know nothing of it later on? The reason is that as long as the “I” is outside, is the aura, it is connected with the spiritual world. While the child-“I” is working on the body in this way, the seer can observe that the streams which proceed from it on the one side enter the body and on the other flow upward to the hierarchies, to the Angeloi, Archangeloi, Archai, and so on. It can therefore truly be said that child-“I” is anchored in the spiritual world.
The truths of Spiritual Science are not meant to be easily comprehensible. They are far, far deeper. I have often said that the wisest man can learn much from a child. The child-“I” which hovers like an aura around the head and upper part of the child's body is like a telephone connection with the spiritual world, and in this aura the seer can perceive the weaving deeds of higher hierarchies. To spiritual vision this aura continues up into the realms of the hierarchies. And in the same measure in which the “I” penetrates into the body and man begins to say “I” of himself, yielding as he says it to the illusion that his “I” is enclosed within the limits of his body, in that measure the thread of connection with spiritual worlds is, in a certain respect, severed.
Thus the link between the “I” and the other bodily members is not the same in early childhood as it is in later life, and it may be said that there is also a difference between this “I” while it is working in earliest childhood outside the body, and the “I” of later life. For in early childhood the “I” is creative, productive, whereas later on it loses these creative forces. As the human body is today, we are composed in later life of physical, etheric, and astral bodies, and the “I” which feels itself within these bodies; the spiritual, life-giving forces which were active in early childhood are suppressed. In fact we kill them, and our whole life is a process of killing, of deadening, the living forces which were at work in early childhood. The spiritual forces of the cosmos live and weave during this period of life, and later on our sheaths have a deadening, destructive effect upon these forces.
In human life, two kinds of deeds are in evidence. There are deeds whereby in later life too, these living forces are worked upon and stimulated to new activity, and there are deeds which have a destructive effect upon them. There are deeds which kindle these forces into activity and others which undermine them, destroy them. We perform deeds in pursuance of some moral goal, some ideal toward which we strive because it says to us that as human beings we should have other aims than those to which we are led by our impulses, our instincts and passions. By sympathy, by sharing pain and joy with our fellow-men, we are led to perform such deeds as lead beyond the horizon of our ordinary life to our ideals. But man can also perform deeds which are impelled merely by impulse and instinct. There is a tremendous difference between these two kinds of deeds, and this is inevitable in the present cycle of evolution. It need not always be so in the future, for we can strive to spiritualize even the most inferior, most deeply instinctive actions. Today man eats according to his impulses, but when he learns to regard the plant as being driven as it were by a spiritual force from the center of the Earth toward the Sun, when he learns to look upon the plant as a spiritual being, then he will no longer devour it like an animal, but he will feel that through the plant he is eating he is uniting himself with the spiritual force pervading it with its Sun-nature. Man will gradually came to feel this. But the feeling that even in these instinctive actions, these material deeds, there is something spiritual, is still an ideal of the far future. Today, deeds born of impulse and instinct are still intermingled with deeds performed in pursuit of an ideal.
Everyone will admit that in our life an ideal hovers before us on lofty heights, whereas the deeds we perform in pursuit of this ideal appear very insignificant in comparison with it. Whoever has not felt this has little knowledge of what an ideal is in the true sense. It is necessary for us to feel how widely actions in life on the physical plane fall short of what we conceive as an ideal which hovers high above us. Our thinking and feeling have a far wider compass than our actions on the physical plane. These latter are like a tiny circle, and the ideal to which we aspire is like a big circle. The reverse is the case with the other kind of actions — those that proceed entirely from impulses. There the action is large and the feeling and thinking we apply to it small. The difference between these two kinds of actions is only too evident in life.
Now, all deeds of that kind that proceed from impulse have a destructive effect upon the life-forces of the child-“I” and are really the cause of death on the physical plane, whereas all deeds performed in pursuit of an ideal stimulate and rekindle forces which are contained, originally, in the child-“I.” Thus we oscillate between what regenerates life and what brings about destruction in us. When we understand this we shall also realize that as human beings we must seek life-giving forces for our organism. In ancient times these life-bestowing forces flowed down from higher worlds. Together with the old clairvoyance, ideals streamed down into human souls, and these ideals kindled the life-giving forces of which man stands in need. Today, in our present cycle of evolution, man has to pass through the school where ideals which enter the heart of themselves are rarer and rarer. Evolution has now reached the point where the ideals which come of themselves, which are there without effort on the part of the human being, are becoming extinct. They will eventually cease altogether and men will have to live without ideals unless out of their own free will they find the forces to kindle them to new life. The materialism that has overcome humanity arose because man's being had became desert soil for his ideals. Cosmic evolution passes like a consuming fire over the ideals, and the one and only means to prevent utter desolation within man's being and his downfall into sheer materialism is the conscious acceptance of Spiritual Science, which brings the knowledge that man has his origin in the spiritual worlds and that we must penetrate with ever-growing consciousness into these worlds. It will then be possible for ideals again to flow down from these worlds. More and more, human beings will be instinctively driven to Spiritual Science and with full self-consciousness unfold a new idealism which will imbue them with new forces in life. Others will be increasingly unwilling to know anything of the spiritual worlds. The handful of people who strive for Spiritual Science will constantly increase, but the others will have an antipathy against it — an antipathy growing into hatred — and they will contribute more and more toward the destruction of the idealism flowing into the souls of men.
Religious and other traditions still in existence today give rise to ideals unconsciously, but the more man forgets what the religions and philosophies have accomplished, the more will these ideals disappear and die out, and man will succumb to the impulses of his external bodily nature. And if it were said that the ideals will not by lost even if men refuse to accept Spiritual Science, that would be an empty, untrue way of talking.
Thus an affinity is to be perceived between the forces working in earliest childhood and the life-giving forces of idealism contained in human nature. Idealism is a living power in man, bearing within it the impulse to unite with the forces which are at work in earliest childhood. About the third year these forces of childhood cease to be active; thenceforward we kill these life-bestowing forces, and they can only be rekindled when idealism becomes an active impulse in the soul. For three years of our life we have around us that which is the bearer and sustainer of the truly living forces. We should be different beings if, in later life too, the young, fresh forces of life were still accessible to us and if we could permeate them with fully conscious intelligence. We have the creative life-forces of the “I” in early childhood but lose them in later life.
The path of human evolution is that the physical body develops in the first seven years, the etheric body up to the age of 14, the astral body to the age of 21, then the sentient soul to the age of 28, the intellectual- or mind-soul from the age of 28 to that of 35, and the consciousness soul from the 35th year onward. It is the intellectual soul which, from the 28th year of life, permeates us fully with the “I”-consciousness, but the “I” has for long been deadened through our bodily forces, so that the strongest life-giving forces of the “I” and the “I”-consciousness itself do not coincide.
Man would evolve quite differently if his bodily constitution before the 28th year did not develop in such a way as to work with a deadening effect upon the “I,” but if the “I” and the “I”-consciousness were completely in unison and could work in full strength upon each other between the 28th and the 35th years. As the result of yielding to our impulses and passions, and thereby deadening our original “I”-forces, we have pushed these forces back to where they do not belong, and here, from another point of view, we come to understand the temptations of Lucifer and Ahriman. If Lucifer and Ahriman had not been at work and man had not fallen prey to them, the original life-giving forces would remain, and would come to their height when man reaches the peak of his life with the birth of the intellectual soul in which the “I”-consciousness awakens and the forces of feeling and understanding come to their full development. Then all the creative powers of childhood would be able to function. How differently man would stand in life if the forces of Lucifer and Ahriman did not work upon him! He would not maltreat his brain at too early an age and toward the 30th year of life he would have the power, the fully conscious power, to make his brain into an instrument for his intellect.
What Lucifer and Ahriman have brought about must, however, have been rectified when the Earth reaches its end; the whole temptation must be nullified— that is to say, man must have taken into himself forces whereby he will be able consciously to work from his own “I.” The “I”-forces work unconsciously in earliest childhood but have lost their power as the result of the temptation, and it is a goal of the future to develop such lofty idealism that new, life-kindling forces will stream into us and work back upon our bodily nature. Then, through the following incarnations we shall carry in the soul an ever growing idealism which will enable the life-kindling forces to stream into us in greater and greater abundance, so that by the end of Earth evolution we shall have developed such power that in full consciousness we shall be able to let the youthful, childlike forces work actively within us.
Let us imagine that the highest ideal was once embodied, with its full life-giving power, in one human being. The question then would be: For how long does man allow the child-“I” to work in him unconsciously? He allows it for three years and then, having fallen victim to the Luciferic influence, he begins to deaden and destroy it. Now if before the end of Earth evolution, when men will have acquired the power to work upon themselves in full consciousness — if somewhere about the middle of Earth evolution this ideal were embodied, then in keeping with the forces of karma this high ideal could work only for three years: the ideal would have to descend into the body toward the 30th year of life and work in that body in the same way as the forces which work in us unconsciously during the first three years of childhood. When the intellectual soul awakens it must take root in the human body as conscious soul-force, toward the 30th year. The wise cosmic forces would have to provide for a human body so prepared that toward the 30th year it could receive an “I” containing the forces which reach up to the hierarchies, and able to carry these forces down into a human body. And this “I” would have to descend in full consciousness into this human body, in which it could dwell for 3 years — but no longer.
Only so could this sublime ideal be embodied. A man would have to be there on Earth with a physical body, an etheric body, an astral body, and an “I,” and this “I” would have to depart from the sheaths at about the 30th year and a child-“I” would have to descend, in full consciousness, into these sheaths with forces reaching up to the hierarchies. The embodied ideal was Christ Jesus. And as the members of man's being gradually develop, we so learn to understand the Christ that we say: In Him were working, in full consciousness, those divine forces which work unconsciously in the human being to the third year of life. This Christ-“I,” filled with the full forces of childhood, came down at the baptism in the Jordan into the body of Jesus of Nazareth and worked for three years in a human body. Such was the working of world karma. This Christ-“I” dwelt in a human body for three years, after which the Mystery of Golgotha was accomplished. The power proceeding from the Mystery of Golgotha is able to make men realize that this Christ-“I” is the wellspring and source of those forces which kindle to life the power to create ideals. When the power to create ideals is filled with new life by looking to the highest of them all, when the forces of human feeling and intellect are utterly permeated with this ideal, then it will be as if the Christ Himself were to fill the human soul, and then, in such a soul, the words of St. Paul would find fulfillment: “Not I, but Christ in me.”
When we understand this we also understand something else, namely, that at the time of the events of Palestine the intellectual soul was in its normal stage of development, because it was into the intellectual- or mind-soul that the Christ-“I” was to be received. We realize that in order to understand the Christ we must understand the nature and being of man, and many a passage in the Bible takes on new meaning and significance: for example the words “Unless ye become as little children, ye cannot enter the kingdom of heaven,” that is to say, the region of the spiritual worlds. With full consciousness, such as is ours at the height of life, we must dive down into the forces which were at work in us in earliest childhood. Our intellectual soul, together with the “I” in its development from the age of 28 to 35, must receive into itself these child-forces so that what was accomplished from outside, unconsciously, in early childhood, shall be accomplished spiritually, with full consciousness on a higher plane.
Human beings are distinguishable from the higher animals in that the latter find their equilibrium from the outset. The animal, as climbing, jumping, running animal, acquires the equilibrium its life demands. Man, however, has to learn to find his poise as an upright being. This, too, is work of the “I.” The “I” brings about our state of poise, of equilibrium, whereas the animal acquires its equilibrium through implanted instincts. In man, the “I” creates the equilibrium and points the way to be taken in life. The “I” points the way to man and also gives him his ideas, his thoughts, his knowledge. The animal has instincts; man acquires wisdom and attains to truth through knowledge. Thus we can say: through the work of the “I,” man receives, in early childhood, those forces which give him Life. Through the “I,” man acquires knowledge, which leads him to Truth. Through the “I,” man raises himself into the upright posture and finds the Way. That is what is proceeding unconsciously while the human body is developing in early childhood. The same thing, raised to a higher level and striven for in a spiritual way, happens to man when he permeates his being with the power of Christ. When this Christ Power has become reality in the soul, when the Christ has become a living experience in the soul, when the soul has thereby found the direction of its path, when it knows the Truth of the higher worlds, then this “I” in man can affirm: I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life — while realizing that it is not his personal, earthly “I” which speaks, but the Christ in him.
The Christ in man is the child-“I,” working in later life as a spiritual power. Therefore the words “Except ye become as little children ye cannot enter the kingdom of heaven” contain the exhortations: Become like little children, become strong, stand upright, learn to find your Way through the Christ within you, become seekers after the Truth, and then, in full consciousness, you will also find in yourselves the Life-kindling forces which streamed into your organism in childhood unconsciously. Think of this child-“I” spiritualized and enhanced — that is what must work in us through all following incarnations. We must live with this spiritualized child-“I” as we now live with our earthly “I.” It is with the Christ-“I” that we shall then be living. In order that this should be possible, the events in Palestine took place.
Thus we see how through what once took place, when the highest human ideal was given an actual basis in life, the way was laid down for man for all subsequent evolution. The Mystery of Golgotha stands at the pivotal point of all existence, and must be regarded as the one and only true guide for all following incarnations. This is the Truth that must become the deepest of all human experiences.
What happens to the forces of the child-“I”? These forces of the first three years are deadened by the egoistic impulses and passions of men. If man had not received at the beginning of Earth evolution a sufficient fund of wisdom and life-force to enable him to hold firmly to his existence in face of these destructive forces, no development would have been possible for him. Through the influences of Lucifer and Ahriman, man gradually deadened these original life-forces, and they could only be rekindled through that unique Individuality Who did not take the ordinary path of human evolution, Who did not succumb to the working of Lucifer and Ahriman, Who entered once and only once into a human body, Who shared all human experiences during the time He was on Earth, and Who stands before all human souls as the sublime Ideal. The Christ had resolved to descend to the Earth, to live for three years in a human body and then to offer Himself in sacrifice on Golgotha.
And now let us ask ourselves this great question: Who then, is responsible for the death of Christ on Golgotha? At a certain stage of evolution we may indeed put this question to ourselves. And the answer to it is: All human beings are responsible for this death! Just as we continually kill the child-“I” as the result of the working of Lucifer and Ahriman in us, so did we bring death to Christ Jesus on Golgotha through having gradually killed the seed of the life-forces from the time when our incarnations began until the Mystery of Golgotha took place. The deepest of all Christian experiences is the knowledge that upon man lies the guilt for the Mystery of Golgotha and that the very constitution of human nature made this inevitable.
Is there a healing force for this guilt in which every human being shares? The things that happen in the world have their effect upon human nature and cannot be resisted. Men have killed the Christ because of the evolution through which they passed before His descent to Earth. We all share the responsibility for Christ's death. We have all loaded ourselves with this guilt, which can be healed only by knowing and realizing it. And through this knowledge Christ will be received into the hearts and souls of men, and human souls who recognize the Christ are those who will be saved. The Christ will pass over with these souls to Jupiter when the Earth has reached the goal of its evolution. Therefore in future evolution, either this consciousness of guilt will prevail and Christ be received into man's consciousness, or, if there are any who reject this, they will be unable to share in the healing forces which are accessible to humanity. They will fall away from evolution for they can no longer participate in it.
Thus we see what it will mean in the future to be a Christian. Only he who bears the Christ in himself in this way is truly a Christian. The Christian is not made by reading and pondering over the Gospels, nor by abstract knowledge. One thing alone makes the Christian, namely the realization: You, as man, have killed the Christ. You must let the Christ live again in you; you must prepare a place in your heart for the Christ.
In Spiritual Science this consciousness can arise independently of any documentary records, for one can become a Christian through learning to know and understand man's nature. The human mind and intellect today can yield the knowledge that the Christ has lived. Let us imagine that all the Gospels were lost, that all documents concerning the Mystery of Golgotha no longer existed, that there were no contemporary narratives, no evidence to support this existence of Christ. Even so there would still be an infallible means for knowing that the Christ lived. This knowledge is possible because the human being is capable of grasping spiritual truths through his thoughts. This ability to grasp spiritual truths through thought reveals the fact that something of the original life-forces unfolds in the intellectual soul. That is why such thoughts are so full of life and power. The thoughts of materialistic science are utterly uncreative; in such thoughts the Spirit is dead.
The Christ Event took place at the beginning of the era when the Spirit had fallen away from the course that had been taken by human evolution. And just as in a chemical experiment one can calculate, by mingling the substances, what the outcome will be, so, with clairvoyance, one can calculate from the barren and abstract nature of modern thinking the year in which the Christ entered a human body at the baptism in the Jordan.
Standing as we do in life with Spiritual Science and hearing that we can learn to experience the Christ in ourselves, a feeling of dismay may well overwhelm us in the face of such a sublime truth. The only way of overcoming this dismay is to unfold the right kind of humility.
In the first half of the 19th century men were not as unspiritual as they have become today. There were still many who had some inkling of man's connection with spiritual worlds. One such personality was Immanuel Hermann Fichte, the son of Johann Gottlieb Fichte, whose thoughts lived on in his soul. Immanuel Hermann Fichte brought forward whatever it was possible at that time to bring forward in order to prove the existence of a spiritual world. His writings are unique, and at one place in his writings there is to be found a suggestion, an inkling, of this original guilt in man. He did not, nor could he, reach the point of asserting that in reality all human beings have killed the Christ, but a kind of inkling of this original guilt breathes through his writings. In the first half of the 19th century he asserts that human beings live in darkness with reference to spiritual things. He rails against the worthlessness of the clairvoyance of various visionaries and prophets of his time and says that the day must come when the minds of men must be directed in a way quite different from this to the deep secrets of the spiritual world. Is this not like a premonition of the coming of Spiritual Science? And we may well ask ourselves: Are we really able to fulfill this premonition? We can only hope that this will be possible in some humble degree.
And yet another truth must be written deeply in our hearts. Christ was once and once only in the world, in order that the impulse to ascend to a new spiritual world might be bestowed upon mankind. It is a sacred truth and must so be regarded by us, that Christ could live only once on the Earth. The assertion that He will live again in a body of flesh on the Earth would be comparable to saying that scales must be supported at two points in order to be able to weigh. Everyone knows that a balance must have one pivot only. If it had two pivots points it could not weigh. There could only be one Christ Impulse, and anyone who maintains that He will come again to impart the same Impulse, understands as little of the truth as a man understands of a balance who says that it must be supported at two points. It was only necessary for Christ to give once what He had to give. Therefore man must make greater and greater efforts to acquire knowledge of this Christ Impulse, and through this knowledge the truth will more and more be borne in upon him that since the Mystery of Golgotha the Christ has been united with the Earth and that there lies the source of the power which enables him to find the Christ. Men must first receive the Christ into their hearts and then, for such men, the event of Damascus will repeat itself and they will grow toward a new experience of the Christ. But they will know the Christ in a spiritual way. Christ will not come before them in a body of flesh. The return of Christ is not to be confused with His one and only sojourn in a human body of flesh. It is Spiritual Science which will give men the power to experience the Christ in this spiritual way.
And so we see how Spiritual Science substantiates a saying of Christ, a saying that is sinned against by those who maintain that this Science is un-Christian and that it runs counter to the tradition of the gospels. Christ said “I am with you until the end of earthly days” — which means nothing else than that He lets His revelations, His new Gospel, stream to us continually, thus confirming the words: “I have still much to say to you but ye cannot bear it now.” He spoke these words to His disciples, who were not yet able to receive the full truth of the Gospel. Humanity will, however, become more and more ready to receive Christ's message. The revelation of the new Gospel will not cease. But Spiritual Science must be in the world in order that mankind may have understanding for this unceasing revelation of the Christ. Spiritual Science is here in order to give to men that which in the sense of Christ's utterance was still lacking in them at that time. They could not, then, hear everything that the Christ would fain have said to them, but it was not to be withheld from a future humanity. Christ will in very truth speak to men — and blessed are they who receive His words with understanding.