Saturday, March 2, 2019
Gnostic Christianity and Spiritual Science
Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, January 25, 1912:
No one who studies the spiritual culture of the present time will be able to deny that the theme of this lecture is a problem that has engaged the attention of a great number of people, and especially of those who have approached it from the ‘scientific’ standpoint. On the other hand, it seems that a philosophy of the world wherein the problem connected with the name of Christ has no real place is gaining ground more and more. I have pointed out in other lectures that every age, including our own, interprets such fundamental problems as that of the origin of man and the like in the light of those habits of thought, feeling, and perception which hold sway at that particular time. We have also seen that even in the problem of man’s origin, contemporary theoretical ideas and conceptions which arise out of these habits of thought really contradict the genuine results of scientific investigation; whereas the answers given by Spiritual Science to the question of man’s origin — answers which lead back not to external physical forms, but to spiritual forms — agree with the genuine concepts of Natural Science and are in perfect harmony with them. Perhaps in no problem — and this may well be due to the fact that it is one of the weightiest — is this disharmony between the general habits of thought of the present age and the facts which science has had of necessity to establish so apparent as in the Christ Problem. Since the advent of Christianity into world history, man’s capacity to evolve a conception of the Christ Being has of course assumed the forms which were suited to the several epochs, or, in effect, to such persons who concerned themselves with these questions.
Thus in the first centuries after the advent of Christianity we find, in what is known as the ‘Gnosis,’ a development of grand and mighty conceptions of the Being named Christ. The Gnostic ideas were only able to prevail for a relatively short time against the so-called ‘popular’ conceptions of the Christ which later formed the content of the doctrines of the Church. It is very instructive to study, even cursorily, the development of the wonderful Gnostic ideas concerning the Christ during the first Christian centuries. This is not because the concepts which Spiritual Science has to bring forward coincide in many ways with those of the Gnosis. Such a criticism can only be made by people whose immaturity in the realm of Spiritual Science makes them wholly incapable of real judgment in matters of the spiritual life. Modern Spiritual Science, the ideas of which we will try briefly to sketch this evening, is in many respects an advance upon all that was contained in the ancient Gnosis of the first Christian centuries. For this very reason it is perhaps all the more interesting to study it. The Gnosis has of course many aspects, many nuances in its spiritual stream. I will indicate one such aspect, at once the most significant and in the most complete accord with what Spiritual Science has to say at the present time.
The early Christian Gnosis possessed a far deeper and more profound conception of the Christ than all the other doctrines brought forward in Christendom during those times. The Christ of the Gnosis is a Being Who is of the Eternal — the Eternal that is not only immanent in the whole evolution of humanity, but also in that of the Universe, of the Cosmos itself. Our consideration of the origin of man led us back to a form still hovering in spiritual heights, not as yet incarnate in an outer garment of matter. We saw how during the course of evolution, man, proceeding from a purely spiritual form, gradually descended to become the material being we know today. The materialistic doctrine of evolution, in tracing man’s being back through the ages, leads to external, animal forms, whereas Spiritual Science leads us back to forms which more and more reveal the nature of soul and spirit, and finally point to a wholly spiritual origin. In those regions where spiritual man dwelt before taking on a material existence, where he felt himself among other purely spiritual beings and spiritual processes — in that region the ancient Gnosis looked for the Christ Being. To understand this aright it must be said: The Gnosis conceived that while man was developing onwards to the point where his soul and spirit came to be enclosed in a bodily vesture in order to enter material existence, the Christ Being remained above in purely spiritual worlds — as man’s Divine Companion, but Who did not descend with him into the material world.
According to the Gnosis, therefore, humanity passed through a certain evolution within the material world and has to continue its progress therein; whereas the Christ Being remained in the region of pure Spirit while man was passing through his evolution in the world of Matter. Hence even in historical ages the Christ Being must not be sought in the region to which man belongs as a physical being, but in the region of pure Spirit. The epoch we designate as the starting point of Christianity was recognized by the Gnostics to be a highly important moment in the evolution of earthly humanity, for it was then that the Christ — having held back His own development while man had long since descended into the material world — passed from the spiritual into the physical world, in order to work on in that world as an Impulse. Thus — for the Gnostics — when man was still living through primordial evolutionary epochs, he was a spiritual being united with that world in which the Christ was active. Then, at the beginning of our era, the Christ descended into the sphere which had long since been the scene of man’s material evolution.
Here the question arises: What was the Gnostic conception of this descent of a purely spiritual being into human evolution? It was that a specially developed human individual, described by historical research as ‘Jesus of Nazareth,’ had reached such maturity that at a certain point of time his soul was ready to receive directly from the spiritual world that which as yet man had been unable to receive. The Gnosis, then, speaks of this point of time when the soul of a chosen human being was able to feel ripe enough to receive a Being not hitherto united with human evolution, namely, the Christ. The Gnosis saw this advent of the Christ Being into human evolution portrayed, in the Bible, in the event — whether or not we call it today a ‘symbolical’ occurrence — of the Baptism by John in Jordan. Through this Baptism something of great significance happened to Jesus of Nazareth.
We can understand this Gnostic conception by the following trend of thought. If we truly observe the lives of many men — not by means of modern habits of thought, but with faculties that can probe into the depths of the soul — we cannot deny that there are indeed moments when epoch-making events occur — moments when such men feel themselves at a turning point of their lives, so that they can say: ‘In comparison to my former life and experiences it would seem as if an altogether new being were here.’ Such an event may perhaps occur as the result of some tragedy or deep trial in life. Nobody can deny that in the lives of innumerable human beings there is such a thing as a turning point, a kind of renewal, an awakening of very definite forces in the life of soul. If we think of such an occurrence (according to the Gnostic conception) as taking place at the Baptism of Jesus of Nazareth by John in the Jordan, we have a picture of the breaking-in of something wholly new — not however in the sense of that which, in other circumstances, breaks in upon the human soul as the result of trials in life, but of something that in the whole of human evolution had never yet been united with a human body. What then arose in the soul of Jesus of Nazareth as something wholly new, living as Inner Being within him a life which gave a new orientation to all subsequent culture — the Gnosis called the ‘Christ.’ The Gnosis realized, however, that with this Christ — Who must not merely be looked for as an outer individual man, but as an Inner Essence within an outer man — a new Impulse had broken in upon humanity, an Impulse toward something that had not been there before, for the very reason that what Jesus of Nazareth bore within him for the three years after the Baptism of John had not previously been united with human evolution.
We have now approximately described the ancient Gnostic conception of the Christ in such a way as to render it intelligible, because, as we have seen, its elementary principles are to be found when a decisive change takes place in an individual human soul. What it will be particularly difficult for modern man to understand is that this event is bound up with something of historic significance for the whole evolution of humanity — of fundamental historic significance — for it is indeed the ‘center of gravity’ as it were, of human evolution. This Gnostic conception may be said at all events to present a mighty and powerful picture — whatever we may think of the reality — on the one hand of the Christ Being, and on the other hand of the being of man; for it places man within an evolution where an Impulse from out of the spiritual world has taken immediate hold of the course of historical development. It is not to be wondered at that this Gnostic conception could never become popular. Anyone who has even a little understanding of the conditions of human evolution from the first Christian centuries onwards, of the qualities of the soul of man and the different relationships of social life, will readily admit that such a conception can only exist in minds of a sublimity that can never be general. To realize this we have only to consider the spiritual life of the present day. When one speaks of a conception of this kind most people say: ‘This is an abstraction, nothing but a piece of daring imagination. We, as human beings, need something real and immediate that can take hold of actual life.’ This Gnostic conception is still held to be an abstraction, for today man is very far from realizing that there is a far greater satisfaction in experiencing the true concreteness of spiritual ideas than can ever arise from perceiving the ‘concrete actualities’ of our age. If this were not the case man would cease to aspire, in the realm of Art, after the tangible and the visible, and would no longer lay aside as abstractions those things which must be attained spiritually by means of the inner faculties of soul.
Naturally it is not possible to describe in a few words how the conception of the Christ Being has developed in popular opinion. The immediate conception of Jesus of Nazareth is, however, that he was born in a miraculous way, held loving intercourse with men even in his childhood, and then came forward as the Savior of the whole of mankind. Yet it must be said that side by side with the feelings that have arisen among men towards this loving Savior there has lived, through all the centuries, an echo of the ‘Christ’ idea; that is to say, the conception of a Being Who became incarnate in the man Jesus of Nazareth. Side by side with the outer story of the life of Jesus of Nazareth men have nevertheless looked up to a great and mighty Mystery — in effect to the Mystery of a ‘Super-humanity’ within the personality of Jesus of Nazareth as he lived on the Earth. And this ‘Super-humanity’ was spoken of as the ‘Christ.’ As the modern age approached, men felt themselves more and more incapable of understanding the daring conception of this Christ — this Gnostic Christ, if you will; so that by the Middle Ages we find science venturing no further than the making of statements in regard to the first principles of the outer world — such as material phenomena, and what lies behind things perceptible to the senses as a kind of ‘Natural Law.’ Science did not feel called upon to enter into those factors which have laid hold of human evolution as impulses of the highest spirituality. Thus the problems of the origin of man, and of human evolution in conjunction with the Christ Impulse, became, for the mediaeval mind, problems of Faith; and henceforward Faith takes its place by the side of Science and Knowledge. The latter, so it has been thought, should confine their attention to the lower phenomena of the World Order.
It would be interesting to describe how, from the 16th century onwards, this kind of ‘double entry’ process grew more and more general. Men thought it right that the sphere of Science should embrace only the ‘lower’ order of things, and that all questions of spiritual origins and spiritual evolution should be relegated to the domain of Faith. We cannot, however, enter into this today. Rather is it our task to indicate how by the time of the 19th century the whole course of evolution had led to the complete disappearance of any true conception of the Christ — so far at least as the majority of men were concerned. A further development, as it were, of ancient Gnostic ideas has however preserved, in narrower circles, a deeper insight into the Christ Impulse. But in the 19th century, wide circles (among which we must include the sphere of scientific-theological thought) came to renounce the real Christ Idea, and endeavored to confine attention to the personality of Jesus of Nazareth. He was indeed regarded as a unique and specially chosen personality, one who had possessed the deepest understanding both of the evolutionary laws of humanity and the divine inner nature of man — who had moreover represented them fundamentally in his own being — yet nonetheless a man, albeit by far the greatest. Thus in the 19th century, research into the life of Jesus was substituted for an ancient Christology. It was research that grew more and more incredulous of all that was said to have lived as Divine Substance in the personality of Jesus of Nazareth, and was only willing to believe in the existence of Jesus of Nazareth as a specially chosen human individuality. This kind of thought reached its climax in books like “Das Wesen des Christentums” by Adolf Harnack and other similar works. We need only indicate briefly the most recent results achieved by this really serious research into the life of Jesus. Since we are speaking of such recent occurrences, it is only necessary to point out that the methods employed (in the 19th century) for the purpose of proving historically the events which are supposed to have occurred at the beginning of the Christian era have led to no real result. It would lead us much too far to enter into any details in this connection. But he who studies deeply the achievements of the modern age will realize that it has been attempted to establish the personality of Jesus of Nazareth at the starting point of Christian spiritual life by the ordinary methods of external, materialistic research. He will further realize that the attempt to prove the existence of this personality in the way in which one proves other things has culminated in the confession that the actual existence of the personality of Jesus of Nazareth cannot be justified by external, materialistic research. Not that the contrary statement (i.e., that he did not exist) can be justified either. But there is no justification or proof of the life of Jesus of Nazareth in the sense in which one can prove the existence of an Aristotle, a Socrates, or an Alexander the Great. Not only so, but research into these things has recently taken quite another direction. Read a book like that of William Benjamin Smith and you will see that our age, after much painstaking research into biblical and other documents relating to Christianity, has discovered that these documents cannot, after all, have had reference to those things to which for so long in the 19th century they were believed to refer. People tried to reconstruct the life of Jesus of Nazareth by philological research into biblical and other documents, but these documents ultimately revealed something very different. While the attempts were being made, with scientific conscientiousness and by carefully chosen methods, to construct a ‘life of Jesus,’ it became apparent that when one stands on truly Christian soil, these biblical documents simply do not speak of the ‘man’ Jesus of Nazareth. Thus external research was forced to the conclusion that the documents do not speak of a man (Jesus of Nazareth) but of a God. We are faced with an extraordinary anomaly in our age, for we are told by materialistic research: ‘You are wrong if you believe that Christian documents point to the man Jesus of Nazareth. Rather must you convince yourselves that the Gospels or other documents are referring to a God and that the stories only have meaning and significance when one speaks of a God at the starting point of Christianity.’
Surely this is most extraordinary? Our age has discovered that Jesus of Nazareth must be spoken of as a God! Yet this is the same age and the same kind of research that can see no reality at all in a ‘God,’ that is to say in a purely spiritual Being. What, therefore, has the Christ become to modern research? He has become a poetical image, a figure that has only entered history as a mere ‘idea,’ as an impulse created by the social imagination of man. According to the most modern historical research the Christ has become an imaginary God. To put it bluntly, we may say: Historical research has here arrived at something of which it can make no use; for what is modern research to make of a God in whom it cannot really believe? The only proof it has is that the biblical documents are speaking of a God — whom, however, the modern mind can only relegate to the realm of poetry.
In contrast to these facts, let us consider what Spiritual Science has to say. Here I would refer to my book Christianity as Mystical Fact. The essence of this book has been very little understood, and I have therefore tried, in the Foreword to the Second Edition, to call attention to the point at issue. Human history, world history, is not exhausted by all that ordinary external historical research can describe, or documents reveal, because spiritual impulses, spiritual factors — in effect Spiritual Beings — everywhere penetrate into human evolution. In contrast to this, if we consider the whole mode of historical world-conception that has been inaugurated by Leopold von Ranke and others, we must say: The highest that is attained by historical science is that it speaks of ‘historical ideas’ as if outer, abstract ideas were taking root among peoples and nations in the course of human evolution. This is the greatest superficiality imaginable. Ideas are not the source of development of force or of the unfolding of power. Neither are they what the writer of history understands them to be. The whole human evolutionary process would be meaningless if the ideas which surge into the souls of men were not the expression of impulses from beings who invisibly and supersensibly rule the course of history. Thus behind everything described by outer history there is something attainable only by means of spiritual-scientific, supersensible research. In this book Christianity as Mystical Fact I was able to show the place of the Christian Impulse in the historical evolution of humanity, inasmuch as it proves to be a continuation of all that was previously accomplished for spiritual evolution in the ancient Mysteries. There is little understanding today of what the Mysteries really were in their true nature. All that was accomplished by the Mysteries for the spiritual development of the peoples of pre-Christian times can only be understood by one who, through modern Spiritual Science, is able to look into that evolutionary process whereby the soul can be transformed into an instrument for perceiving the spiritual world behind the physical world of matter. We know that man today — confining himself purely to his inner being, and wholly withdrawing into the intimacies of his own soul-experiences — can rise above himself into a higher condition of his soul-life, where his soul-being lives in a spiritual world, just as the being incarnate in the body lives in a physical world.
The spiritual-scientific study of history reveals the fact that this capacity to rise to the spiritual world through a purely inward development of the soul only entered into human evolution at a certain point of time, and that the capacity did not exist in the remote past. The soul standing wholly upon its own foundations can today, as we have said, rise in full freedom to spiritual vision through its own activity. This was not possible in pre-Christian times, for the soul had then to undergo certain processes which were enacted in the Sanctuaries of the Mysteries. The following is a brief outline of what the leaders of these Mystery temples — spiritual sanctuaries of learning, as we should say today — performed for the soul. The soul was freed from the body by external means, and rendered capable of existing for a certain length of time in a condition resembling that of sleep — and yet again, wholly different from sleep. The researches of Spiritual Science into the sleeping state tell us that the outer bodily being of man remains in the bed while the true spiritual and soul kernel of his being lives in a world outside them. The forces, the true essence, of this spiritual and soul kernel of man’s being, however, function during sleep with such diminished intensity that unconsciousness supervenes and darkness spreads around the being of spirit and soul. The processes to which the soul of man was subjected in the ancient Mysteries were such that through the influence of other, more highly advanced personalities (who themselves had passed through this ‘Mystery Initiation’), a kind of sleeping state was induced. It was a state, however, in which the inner forces of the soul were enhanced and strengthened. The body was left behind in a sleeping — indeed in a death-like —condition, but the soul was able for a certain period to gaze into the spiritual world consciously; that is to say, the soul slept, and within this life of sleep could know the reality of existence as a citizen of the spiritual world. Then when such a soul was presently led back again to the ordinary conditions of life, a remembrance arose of what had been experienced outside the body. This soul, having participated in spiritual life, could then come forth as a prophet before the peoples and bear witness to the existence of a spiritual world and to the immortality of Man. The directions to which such a soul was bound to submit for a long time in order that the final act carried out by the leaders of the Sanctuaries could be accomplished, were given in the Mysteries. When, therefore, the question is asked, ‘What is the source of the ancient Wisdom-teachings of the divine origin and the eternity of the human soul which have been handed down traditionally by peoples all over the Earth?’ — Spiritual Science answers that they emanate from the Initiates. These ancient Wisdom-teachings come to light in strange ways; myths, legends, many pictures and narratives tell of the experiences passed through by the would-be initiate in a kind of living dream in these Mystery Sanctuaries. Indeed, we only understand the mythologies when we recognize their figures to be pictorial expressions of what the initiates of the Mysteries beheld during their initiation. If we wish, then, to understand ancient religious teachings, we must go back to the Mysteries and seek in them for those things which have naturally remained hidden from the profane world. They could only be attained by men who had prepared themselves for initiation by dint of strenuous trials and had, furthermore, learnt to keep the rule of silence — a rule laid down by circumstances into which I cannot enter today.
Thus the spiritual evolution of man disappears behind the veil of the Mysteries when we follow it back into pre-Christian Ages. In those ancient times the human soul was not yet ripe enough to rise into the spiritual world of itself, supported only by its own inner powers, without the additional act of the temple priests. The purpose of the book Christianity as Mystical Fact was to show that something of great importance came to pass while the events of modern history were taking their course. It was intended to show what is the whole meaning and purpose of human evolution, namely, that at the time of the beginning of Christendom, as a result of all the experiences won through repeated earthly lives and the teachings received from initiates in regard to the spiritual world, man had become mature enough for an epoch when, without external influence and without the methods adopted in the ancient Mysteries, human beings could rise in their own innermost being of soul into the spiritual worlds. This, as we shall see by reference to the Event of Palestine, marked the mighty progress which had gradually taken place through the course of centuries, and which was brought to its fulfillment at the time of the beginning of Christendom. The soul of man had become ripe for ‘Self-Initiation,’ under the guidance of those who knew the experiences which it was necessary to undergo, but without the active cooperation of the leaders of the Temples or Mysteries. All that had been enacted within the Mystery Temples hundreds and hundreds of times, and of which legends, myths, and mythologies have preserved information, stepped forth upon the great stage of world history through the founding of Christianity.
In studying the Gospels, we may ask ourselves: What experiences had an ancient Persian or Egyptian candidate for initiation to undergo when his soul was to rise to direct vision of the spiritual world? Instructions were given with regard to a certain process which it was necessary for him to undergo — a ‘Baptism’ and again a ‘Temptation,’ up to the point where the soul was led out to a vision of the spiritual world — and these were, so to speak, the ritual of initiation. When we compare such rituals with the essential features in the various Gospels we find, in these Gospels, the reconstructed descriptions of the old initiation ceremonies — but with reference to the great historical individuality of Jesus of Nazareth. Then, through what history itself records, we see that whereas in earlier times the candidates for initiation were led into the spiritual world in the seclusion of the Mystery Temples, Jesus of Nazareth reached the point where he was not only able to tell of a spiritual world in remembrance, but where he could unite himself with a Being Who hitherto had not been united with any human individual — with the Christ Being. Thus there is a far-reaching correspondence between the descriptions of ancient Initiation processes and the narratives of the development of Jesus of Nazareth up to the point where the Christ took possession of his soul and continued in possession for three years. In the descriptions of all that Jesus of Nazareth passed through — and the most exact are to be found in the Gospel of St. John — we have that initiation which arises as a result of the mighty, divine-spiritual events underlying history. Innumerable candidates had received initiation before this epoch, but had only reached a point where they were able to bear witness to the fact that there is indeed a spiritual world and the human soul belongs to it. When this world-historical initiation broke in upon Jesus of Nazareth, however, he could unite his inner nature with the loftiest of all Beings, of Whom the previous initiates were able to retain a remembrance. All ancient initiations pointed forward to this event, were conducted in accordance with what was to come.
Thus the Mystery of Golgotha emerges from the dark shroud of the Mysteries and enters upon the great stage of world history. So long as man does not believe that at a certain point of time on the Earth the Christ permeated the being of Jesus of Nazareth, so long as he does not believe that mighty forces stream out from this event as an impulse for all later human development — so long will he fail to understand the significance of the Christ Impulse for the evolution of mankind. Only when as a result of all other teachings of Spiritual Science we can acknowledge the reality of a spiritual event such as this can we understand what entered into human evolution through the Christ Impulse. Then, moreover, we shall not set any less value on the Gospels, because we find in them four different rituals of initiation into which the events connected with the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth are woven, but we shall realize that what happened through this event in Palestine is of deep and primordial significance for all the later evolution of mankind. Until that time, the innermost kernel of being, although indeed present in man, had not entered directly into human consciousness. This was what actually happened in the event described as the Mystery of Golgotha. Then began the age when men could know: In this ego there is revealed, in man himself, what he possesses in common with the whole cosmos.
Let us now consider how one who stands on the ground of Spiritual Science must view the mighty stimulus that entered into world history through the Christ Impulse. Man’s being consists of physical body, life (or etheric) body, and of the soul-sheaths; in his innermost nature he bears the true ego, which passes from incarnation to incarnation, from earthly life to earthly life. But he became conscious of the ego-principle last of all. In pre-Christian times he had no inkling of the fact that the deepest, innermost kernel of his being is born from the all-embracing spiritual world and is bound up with it in the same way as his physical body is bound up with the physical world, and his soul-being with the world of soul. The quest for the God and the primordial Divine Being, not in the ‘soul-sheaths’ but in the true ego — this was what Christianity, the Christ Impulse, brought into human evolution. Hitherto man could say: ‘My soul is rooted in Divinity. Divinity is the creative formative impulse.’ Now however he learnt to say: ‘If I would know where the deepest Divinity, permeating all worlds, can be revealed to me, I must look into my own ego; for through my own ego God speaks to me. In my ordinary consciousness He speaks to me when I rightly understand how, through the Mystery of Golgotha, divine forces entered into mankind — when I know that an initiation was fulfilled there as a mighty historical event, whereas previously the initiate was led to the experience of the spiritual world in the depths of the Mystery temples. But above all the God speaks to me when I have made of my soul an instrument of perception in the spiritual world.’
The entrance of divine consciousness that speaks through the ego — that is the essence of the Christ Impulse. And the fact that it was possible for the Christ Impulse to enter humanity was brought about by the ancient initiation principle becoming historical fact. The Mystery of Golgotha is the root and stock. All that will arise in human souls as evolution proceeds to its farthest future may be summed up by saying that a clear knowledge of the Divine-Spiritual — of which man is a part and through which he grows to be independent of all earthly things — flows to him through the ego.
He who can understand certain profound words in the Gospels from this point of view will enter into the mighty process of the ‘education of the human race’ which is being accomplished through the spiritual world. He will see how there was prepared through the ancient Hebrew culture that which later should speak to man through the ego kernel, just as it had spoken to Judaism, but there it was accomplished through the Folk-Spirit. Conditions were different among other peoples, who had only the consciousness that the Divine-Spiritual speaks to the soul-sheaths when man has passed through initiation. It was revealed to Judaism, however, that the evolution of mankind is a continuous process of education, and that in the ego which embraced the whole nation lie the powers to which man belongs in his deepest being. This, then, was the feeling of the Jew: ‘When I, as an individual member of the whole ancient Hebrew people, look up through the line of evolution to Abraham and recognize the Godhead passing on through the generations, I am able to say: the Divine Principle which has fashioned the individual physical nature of man is living in me as It has lived in all my forefathers.’ Thus the individual member of the ancient Hebrew race knew himself to be bound up with the Father of his stock, felt himself one with his Father Abraham. Clearly now rings forth the word of Christianity: All such feeling of the Divine, even when the Godhead speaks of Himself, as “Ejeh asher ejeh” — ”I AM the I AM” — is not as yet that which is revealed to men in its complete form. Only when man senses something that exists in the Spirit beyond and above all the generations has he grasped the Godhead Who works into the being of man. Therefore the right rendering of the words is: “Before Abraham was, I was the I AM.” In his ego man experiences an eternity more fundamental than the Divinity passing down through the generations from Abraham. Look upon that which is not wholly contained or exhausted in the physical being of man, but which lives as the Divine-Spiritual through the generations, through the blood of the generations onwards from Abraham; but beholding this Divine Spiritual, recognize It in the individual human being — not in that which links brother and sister together but in that which lives in the individual, and is discovered by the individual when in the innermost core of his soul he knows himself as the “I AM.” This is the sense in which we must interpret such a saying of Christ Jesus as: “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother and wife, and children, and brethren and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke XIV. 26).
We must not take such an utterance as any kind of protest against the claims of kinship and love of children, but to mean that the Christ brings into the world the principle of the Divine-Spiritual, which every individual — because he is man — can find in his innermost being. Therefore the effect of true Christianity upon man will be that its innermost mystery is recognized as one which leads out beyond all differentiations among human beings to the ‘universal-human,’ to that which each one can discover within himself. The old Gods were Folk-Gods, Race-Gods, bound up with the various racial characteristics. This was also the case in Indian culture, in Buddhism. The God of Christendom is One Who brings man — above all other distinctions — to what he is as man. Thus all who would understand the true essence of Christianity must realize the spiritual powers and impulses guiding world history to be realities; they must break away from what has hitherto been recognized as ‘history,’ knowing it to be but the outer garment of ‘historical becoming.’ Beings — supersensible indeed, yet as real as the single animal or human being in the sense world — hold sway in the depths of this ‘becoming.’ And the most sublime among the supersensible beings guiding the historical growth of humanity is the Christ, Who for three years — as the Gnosis also knew — worked in the body of Jesus of Nazareth.
Thus Spiritual Science rises to a conception that can begin to make something of the statements of external science. For whereas the latter is forced to acknowledge that we are here concerned not with a ‘man’ but with a Divine Nature dwelling in a man (an admission, however, which it can carry no further) — Spiritual Science leads us again to Beings who are realities. In this sphere, therefore, Spiritual Science knows what to make of the results of modern research. The wonderful thing in the spiritual evolution of the 20th century will be the recognition that the 19th century was on false paths when the life of Christ Jesus was reduced to the mere life of Jesus of Nazareth, and that a science which says ‘Everything proves that in Christ Jesus we have to do with a God’ is beginning to lead into the true paths. The only addition made by Spiritual Science is that people are enabled to make something of these words. This conception, of course, contradicts the materialistic-monistic philosophy of modern times. But the lectures on “The Origin of Man” and “The Origin of the Animal World” [Delivered in Berlin a few weeks before the present lecture] were able to show that Spiritual Science is in full agreement with the objective results of the investigations made by external Science. And now we can say that Spiritual Science finds itself also in agreement with the conclusions reached conscientiously by external research, only we must add that at the point where this external research stands before a query, it is not led on to the conclusions arrived at by Spiritual Science.
During the 20th century something new must be added to the wonted habits of thought. The attitude adopted by man today is that human life and knowledge, as these exist in the physical world, have to regard the outer world as the immediate reality, and that error may arise when incongruous pictures of the world are devised or something is done which does not accord with the outer course of the world, and is therefore designated as evil. Philosophy today insists upon seeking for causes in what is immediately perceptible, and, as a result, the problems of world conception have reached a point where this mode of thought must be entirely changed. This is obvious to all who are able to look more deeply into the spiritual life of humanity. External knowledge has been led in the spheres both of Natural Science and of History to actual disbelief in everything spiritual, to a mere summarizing of outer material reality, and to refute the Spiritual that reveals itself behind sense phenomena. In a certain sense our age finds itself in a position that must be entirely reversed. External materialism and materialistic monism must perforce ultimately lead the soul to a point where, as the result of innate inner resistance, it becomes at home with a conception which hitherto has played a very small part in philosophy. To all quests for the origin of things there must be added a conception which up to now has been ignored. My works The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity and Truth and Science show that this preliminary assumption must be made: The position in which man finds himself in regard to the world is not the true one; he must first pass through a development of his inner life if he is to know the truth in regard to world phenomena and have a true and also a moral relationship to them. The concept of ‘redemption’ must be added to that of mere ‘causal cognition.’ The great task of the 20th century is to bring the concepts of ‘redemption,’ of ‘liberation,’ of ‘re-incarnation’ into their own and add them to all the other concepts of Science. The way in which man faces the world as a knower does not correspond to truth. He only acquires true conceptions and ideas when, freed from his present bearings, he has developed to a higher level, when he has released himself from the obstacles which hinder him from seeing the world in its true form. This is the ‘redemption of knowledge.’ ‘Moral redemption’ is brought about when man realizes that his relation to the world is not the true one, and that he must first take a path leading above and beyond the obstacles towering between him and the world to which he really belongs. The idea of the ‘rebirth of the soul’ at a higher level will arise from all the marvelous results of scientific and historical research. Man will realize, after he has thus formed a photographic image of the world and has conjured up a picture of the mighty scientific and historical course of humanity, that here is something which not only gives him an image of the world, but which is a powerful means of education. He will no longer merely believe that Natural Science portrays a world to him, but its laws will become a means of education. And when Natural Science is not only used for the purpose of portraying the world, but for the purposes of man’s education, so that the human soul is finally released from the standpoint of immediate actuality and works upwards to a rebirth at a higher level — in effect when man knows himself freed from the hindrances around him — he has developed the preliminary conditions for a true knowledge of the Christ Impulse in the world. For then he will realize that he can look back to the age of which Spiritual Science teaches, when man, having existed first in a purely spiritual world, descended into a world of material existence through which he had to pass in order that progress might take place. And further, he will realize that at a certain point, a change must be brought about in order that he may, in turn, free himself from what has entered into him during the course of his material existence. The Christ Impulse has redeemed mankind from sinking into the purely material. Objectively, Christ represents in world evolution that experience which teaches us: The relationship to the world which arises when the soul is reborn and redeemed from its primordial nature is changed, in the vision of the mighty world-process proceeding in humanity, into the realization of Christ’s coming into the world. When the 20th century is able to understand in true earnestness this mighty experience in the inner being of man, it will also grasp the significance of the Christ Event and no longer find the process of the soul’s rebirth at a higher level a stumbling block. And then Spiritual Science will show that the same thing holds good both in historical development and external natural happenings. In philosophy, man has here given himself up to the error contained in Schopenhauer’s phrase: “The world is my Idea.” In other words this means: ‘Around me is a world of colors, sounds, and the like, and this world is dependent on my eyes, and other organs of sense.’ But it is not correct, if one desires to understand the world in its totality, to say: ‘The world of colors is there as the result of the constitution of the eye.’ For the eye would not exist if it had not first been charmed into being by the light. If on the one hand it is true that perception of the light is determined by the constitution of the eye, on the other it is no less true that the eye only exists because of the light, the Sun. Both truths must unite in one all-embracing truth. Thus Goethe’s words are correct: “The eye has to thank the light for its existence. From subordinate animal organs the light calls forth for itself an organ akin to its own nature. The eye builds itself up in the light, for the light, in order that the inner light may meet the outer light.” Just as the eye is formed by the light and the perception of light occurs through the eye, so the inner Christ experience, the inner rebirth of the soul, comes to pass through the Christ Event in humanity, through the Mystery of Golgotha. Spiritual Science shows that before the Christ Impulse entered into humanity, this inner experience could only be undergone as the result of outer stimulus in the Mysteries, and not, as now, in the intimate depths of man’s being through a kind of self-initiation. As it is in regard to the relationship of the world of color and light to the eye, so it is in regard to the inner, mystical experience of the Christ. Man experiences the Christ through his inner being; but the fact that it is possible for him to rise above himself in his soul is due to the entrance of the spiritual Sun into world history in the Mystery of Golgotha. Without the objective Mystery of Golgotha, and without the objective Christ, there could be no subjective inner mystical experience such as will arise in man in the 20th century and will then be accepted in all scientific earnestness.
Thus we may say: The 20th century will produce the preliminary conditions for a real understanding of the Christ impulse, in that it will reveal how truly the Christ Impulse becomes the spiritual Sun, awakening in the souls of men the inner experience referred to by Goethe in the words:
“The man who overcomes himself is freed from the power that binds all beings.”
And inasmuch as we unite to this self-conquest the Mystery of Golgotha, the Christ Event, we can say that only when man overcomes himself shall he so come into his own that the form he has possessed from his earthly beginning is seen to be something from which he has to be redeemed, and that all moral action, all knowledge, are only the result of redemption. Through the idea of inner redemption man will learn to know the meaning of redemption in historical evolution and thus in the 20th century he will come to understand the Christ Event in the light of an extension of the Goethean utterance:
“The man who overcomes himself is freed from the power that binds all beings; in this self-conquest he first finds his own true being, as all humanity can indeed find itself in Christ.”