The conclusion to a lecture given by
Rudolf Steiner, Bern, November 29, 1917:
I consider it my main task today, through such mental pictures as these, to arouse in the consciousness an understanding of how the dead are participating in human evolution. One would really like to say these things today in public lectures, but one cannot, because people do not allow themselves such mental pictures unless they have already gone through something that has been communicated in our groups. By describing life between death and a new birth, particularly in its relation to earthly life, one satisfies or, said better, one is fulfilling the demand of our age. For a relatively long time our age has discarded the ancient, instinctive mental pictures concerning the realm of the dead, and now humanity must receive new mental pictures. Humanity must free itself from abstractions about the higher worlds and not merely speak of a kind of general spirituality; it must come truly to perceive what is at work as spirituality. We must be clear that the dead have not died; the dead are still living on and working in the historical process of human evolution. We must be clear that the forces that spiritually surround us are forces of the higher hierarchies but also forces of the dead. The greatest illusion that future humanity could entertain would be to believe that the social life on earth that people develop among themselves through their feelings and their will happens merely through earthly arrangements, with the exclusion of the dead. This simply is not possible, because the dead are already participating within feeling and willing.
It may be asked how it will be possible in the midst of impulses of the new age to develop consciousness in the right way to perceive this kind of gathering with the spiritual world. The evolution of humanity is proceeding in such a way that man in his physical body with his ordinary consciousness is increasingly cut off from the spiritual world. It was in order that man shall once again, as physical man, find the right access to the spiritual world that the Mystery of Golgotha took place in earthly evolution.
The Mystery of Golgotha is not only a one-time event and, as such, the greatest single event in all of earthly evolution. It is also a continuing event, an impulse that continues to be active. Humanity must do something to allow this force to work on it in the right way. For a long time I have been emphasizing that the task of our spiritual science is connected with the impulse of Golgotha, that spiritual science must exist in a certain way for the impulse of Golgotha to be understood in the right way in our age and in the immediate future. You can be sure that, as an earthly science that has become at the same time the world religion, natural science will gain greater and greater influence. I am often reproached for seeming to be unfriendly to the natural sciences, even in their radical developments, a reproach that belongs to the most old-fashioned prejudices imaginable, because whoever understands the course of the evolution of the earth understands that the natural sciences cannot be proved wrong and that, on the contrary, they will spread further and further. A kind of religious belief in them that now sweeps through the world is not to be halted in any way. It will come. It advances confidently, and it comes “for the blessing of humanity!” The time will not be long, perhaps only a few decades, before all the religious faiths will find themselves unable to save even the most simple, primitive human beings from consciousness of a purely natural existence such as natural science cultivates. This is inevitable.
Something else is also certain, however. Just as the purely natural scientific world conception gradually seizes human feeling (Gemuet), it will be less and less possible for the spiritual element itself to be cultivated by natural science. The spiritual element will have to be brought in just as strictly scientific a way, while natural science will still be recognizing the natural existence. Knowledge of natural existence will become more and more necessary for the fulfillment of those tasks that man in the future will have to undertake between birth and death. Whatever will lift him toward the spiritual world, however, will have to come to him from a spiritual science.
There is now a fundamental impulse in the widest circles to grasp the Mystery of Golgotha. This could be seen in earlier epochs, but it is especially apparent in our own time. Today one can already say that the greatest enemies to grasping the Christ impulse are the priests and clergy of the various religious faiths, no matter how strange this may sound. What keeps humanity furthest from the Christ impulse is the way in which the clergy and the theologians interpret this Christ impulse, because they are far from understanding what it actually is.
It is not my intention today to say essential things regarding the Christ impulse. We have already compiled a great deal about it in the course of time and will continue to do so. I would like to bring one aspect before you now, because it seems especially important at the present time, namely, that human beings need to perceive that the Christ impulse must, in the most profound sense, be dealt with differently from other historical impulses. People see that this is so, but they constantly make all kinds of compromises. They speak half-truths; they do not have the courage for the whole truth. What one must perceive is that it is impossible to speak about the Christ impulse with the same methods with which one speaks of ordinary history. Significant theologians say that it is foolish to speak of the Gospels being true in an ordinary historical sense, because all that can be offered as historical proof that Christ lived can be written down on a couple of sheets of paper. Well-known contemporary theologians thus acknowledge that it is useless to look to the Gospels if one wishes to deal with them only as historical sources. There is no way of proving that they are presenting historical facts. This is considered to be self-evident today. All that can be produced as historical proof similar to authentic documents concerning other personalities of world history can be written, according to the famous theologians, on a couple of sheets of paper. The real significance of this is, however, that even what stands written on those few sheets of paper is not true in the ordinary historical sense.
Humanity will have to acknowledge the fact that historical sources, such as there are for Socrates or Caesar, are simply not there for the existence on earth of Christ Jesus.
His existence must be grasped spiritually. This is the essence of the matter. Humanity will have to receive in the Mystery of Golgotha something for which there are no physical proofs but which must be grasped in a spiritual way.
Concerning everything else, humanity can always keep searching for historical proofs, but for the Mystery of Golgotha these will never, in the most profound sense, be of any use. Humanity should be urged not to grasp this important event on earth in a physical-historical way but to try to approach it with a spiritual understanding. He who will not grasp the Mystery of Golgotha through spiritual understanding of earthly evolution, without historical documents, will never be able to grasp it. This is the will of the gods, one can say. Regarding the most important event on earth, humanity must exert spiritual activity. The Mystery of Golgotha can always be refuted historically; humanity can understand it only if it rises to a spiritual comprehension of the world.
Only spiritual science as such can speak of the reality of the Mystery of Golgotha. One could say that everything else is out of date. Read the recent book by a theologian, a book remarkable in spite of everything, which develops all the Jesus theories of the new age, from Lessing to Wrede. You will find proof in such a presentation that in this field, history really must take second place, that there must be a new kind of comprehension. This can be found only on the spiritual scientific path.
We must understand this, my dear friends, and now in our time the moment has come when human beings will really be able to experience in a spiritual way the further activity of the Mystery of Golgotha. This is the reason that I have spoken of the spiritual, etheric reappearance of Christ in the twentieth century and that I presented it in my first Mystery Drama. It will be a spiritual experience, however, a spiritual, clairvoyant experience.
There is thus an inner relationship between the Mystery of Golgotha and the necessary ascent of humanity, starting from our time, to spirituality. Truly, from this time on, human beings must rise to a certain spirituality. They must grasp in this coming time that the Mystery of Golgotha can be comprehended further only by spiritual activity, that Christianity must have an essentially spiritual continuation, not just an outer continuation through historical traditions or more historical research. I hope that what I have just said will not be taken in an abstract sense, so that someone will think, if he picks up one or two concepts about the significance of the Mystery of Golgotha, that he has done everything that needs to be done. It so often happens that way. No, one must approach these things fully concretely. One must not only build mental pictures about the Christ and His activity, but one must also be able to find in a certain way the realm of Christ within the earthly realm. Christ descended into the earthly realm, and one must be able to find His domain.
Natural science, if it has someday developed to its highest level of perfection, will offer a picture of the world as it could come to be without the help of the Mystery of Golgotha. Natural science will never of itself come so far during earthly evolution that a physicist or biologist will be able to speak of the Mystery of Golgotha from his presuppositions. All science, however, will gradually, in so far as it deals with what goes on around us between birth and death, become more and more a natural science. Beside this, spiritual science will be drawing its content from the spiritual kingdom.
The question now, however, is to find not just a science but a way to stand within the spiritual realm, so that we do not find only nature. In nature we will never find the Christ impulse. How are we to find a way actually to place ourselves within the spiritual realm, not merely to have knowledge of it? You recognize from what I have been saying that the consciousness of modern and particularly of future humanity will become a merely natural consciousness, a consciousness of entirely natural facts, but that in addition to this another consciousness must be added. An entirely different consciousness must be added. For this new consciousness, the necessity of comprehending the Mystery of Golgotha as a spiritual fact will be, as it were, only the highest peak. The same approach as is needed for the Mystery of Golgotha, a readiness to penetrate through to the spiritual element in things, will have to extend through the rest of life. This means nothing other than that, beyond a purely natural view of things, there must enter human consciousness an entirely different view of things.
This view of things will come and must come when man learns, just as he now beholds the world of the senses through his sense perceptions, to observe just as consciously the course of his destiny in the world, in great events and small. What do I mean by this? Today man pays little attention to the course of his destiny. Consider some extreme cases, however. I will relate just one to you, which will show you what I mean, and it is only one case out of thousands. One could relate thousands of such cases, countless thousands.
A man leaves his house to go for a walk along a path he knows quite well. It takes him up a mountain slope to a rocky place from which there is a beautiful view. He has often gone to enjoy this view; it is his usual walk. On this day, while he is walking, a thought suddenly strikes him as if out of the blue, “Watch out! Look out!” He hears an inner voice, not as a hallucination but in the spirit, saying, “Why are you going this way? Can you not miss this pleasure just once?” He hears this in the spirit. It makes him hesitate, and he steps off the path to think for a moment. At once a tremendous mass of rock plunges down over the very spot where he would have been had he not stepped aside; it would obviously have killed him.
Now I ask you to consider for a moment what role destiny was playing there. Certainly something was active. The man is still alive. The lives of many human beings on this earth are connected with his life. All of them would have been changed if the rock had killed him. Something was accomplished there. If you try to explain it by natural laws, you will never arrive naturally at the act of destiny that took place there. Certainly you can explain by natural laws how the mass of rock came to be loosened, how the man could have been killed when the rock suddenly fell across his path, and so on. In all that can be said about the matter, however, from the standpoint of natural laws, the laws of destiny are nowhere to be found; it has nothing to do with them.
I have related to you an extreme case, but our lives are composed of just such things, in so far as our lives are a matter of destiny. It is just that man does not notice it; he pays no attention to these things. He does not notice these things as he notices what is conveyed to him through his senses as natural facts. From day to day, from hour to hour, from moment to moment, things happen of which only one example has been given, the extreme case I have just described. Think how often, for instance, you are about to leave your house and are delayed half an hour (one must study even the small things). Such things and similar ones happen thousands of times during our lives. You only see what happens when you have been delayed that half hour; you do not consider what would have happened completely differently if you had gone out as scheduled half an hour earlier!
Quite another realm is thus continually reaching into our lives, the realm of destiny, a realm to which as yet modern man pays no attention, because he casts his gaze only at what has happened and has no interest in what is constantly being prevented from happening in his life. None of you sitting here this evening can possibly know whether three hours ago you may have undertaken something that was then prevented from happening, something that would have kept you from sitting here tonight, perhaps even from still being alive tonight. You see only the thing for which spiritual impulses were already gathered in manifold ways, through which the thing did occur. You do not usually consider with ordinary consciousness that what you do in life is a result of participating spiritual impulses. Once you begin to grasp this fact, once you realize that there is a realm of destiny just as there is a realm of nature, you will find that this realm of destiny is no poorer in content than the realm of nature. Into this realm of destiny, however, which reveals itself, I should like to say, with particular clarity when some extreme incident occurs such as I have just related — becoming obvious to the human intellect — into this realm of destiny works what I was describing earlier this evening. Into the feelings and into the will impulses through which destiny moves are working the impulses of the dead. In spite of the fact that a man who says such things today is still looked upon by the entire “intelligentsia” as a superstitious fool, it is nevertheless true that, with the same exactness with which one expresses a natural law today, one can also make the following assertion: when someone has heard such a voice, it is this or that dead person who has spoken at the behest of one or another hierarchy; furthermore, from morning till evening, and especially from evening till morning, during our sleep, the impulses of the dead are constantly working into us, together with the impulses of the spiritual hierarchies who work in our destiny.
I would like to mention something here. You know already about the daimon of Socrates and what Socrates, that wise Greek, said about it, that everything he did, he did under the influence of his daimon. I spoke of this Socratic daimon in my small book, The Spiritual Guidance of Man and Mankind. In my recent book, Riddles of the Soul (see Note 12 ) the second chapter speaks of that learned individual, Dessoir, and you can see what he had to say about such things. I drew attention there to Socrates’ daimon. It was a matter of Socrates' coming to consciousness of something that is active in all human beings. Before the Mystery of Golgotha, certain beings directed what the dead were to carry into human life. These beings lost their power at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha, and the Christ impulse took their place. Now you have the Christ impulse bound to human destiny in the way described by spiritual science. The forces, the impulses of the dead work as I have described into the sphere of our will and feeling. The dead are active, but they also experience strengthening or weakening of their own will. This whole realm is an earthly realm, an earthly realm just like the realm of nature. Since the Mystery of Golgotha, however, the Christ impulse is living within it. Christ is the directing power in this realm that I have described.
One will therefore have to found a science of the Mystery of Golgotha. It will have to be known in the future that, just as the world of natural facts permeates our world, so also a realm of destiny permeates it as the opposite pole. This realm of destiny is still scarcely noticed today. It will have to be studied in the future just as fully as the realm of nature. When one does so, one will know that in this realm of destiny one is bound up with the dead. One will know that this realm, which we have in common with the dead, is at the same time the realm of Christ. Christ descended to earth to unfold his influence through the Mystery of Golgotha in order to share with human beings on earth what we have in common with the dead, in so far as the dead are active in the earthly sphere. (I refer now not to exceptional incidents but to normal cases.)
This must not remain merely an abstract truth, merely a conceptual truth, or perhaps just a “Sunday truth,” to be recalled occasionally “because, after all, something of the sort might possibly be true.” Man should walk through this realm of destiny as consciously as he walks through the realm of his sense perceptions; he should be able to go through the world making use of his eyes and yet also feeling himself to be woven right into this realm of destiny; he should be able to feel that in this realm the forces of Christ are always united with the forces of the dead. If these things were the case, dear friends, humanity would develop in itself a real, concrete, and sensitive life with the dead. One would experience, if one felt this or that or engaged in this or that, that one is united with loved ones who have already passed on. Life would become endlessly enriched.
At the present time we do not altogether forget our departed ones. We hold them in our memory. An intense life — and that will be the only true life, because otherwise life will be slept through in so far as destiny is concerned — will take hold of humanity and will lead one not only to hold the dead in the memory but to the knowledge that when you do this, when you work toward that, when you undertake this, when you succeed in that, this or that dead soul is participating. Our bonds with the dead are by no means severed by death; they continue. This enrichment of life is the prospect for humanity in the future of the earth. In this fifth post-Atlantean epoch, humanity is actually evolving in the direction I have been describing, and truly, humanity will not be able to survive the sixth epoch if people do not begin to feel these things in the right way, unless they take the reality of destiny into their consciousness just as completely as they now absorb the reality of natural occurrences.
We must perceive concretely the connection of the Mystery of Golgotha with the problem of death. This is what I wished to point out today. This is something that is intimately related to what must now enter the consciousness of humanity, because among the many things lost by humanity is the possibility of still experiencing true reality in the feeling and will impulses. Human beings have gradually been lulled into a great illusion, namely, that they can shape this earthly life according to earthly laws. This is the greatest illusion to which humanity can succumb. We find its radical extreme, for example, in the purely materialistic socialism, which arranges everything according to economic laws, in other words, according to purely physical laws. Obviously, materialistic socialism would never accept the idea that when we human beings do the smallest deed among ourselves, the dead are participating. Socialism is the extreme in one direction. At the opposite pole is the extreme of which all so-called idealists now dream, to create, without regard to anything spiritual, purely programmatic organizations throughout the world, both domestic and international, to promote programs through which supposedly all war will be abolished. It is impossible to convince people who cherish such an illusion that they do not thereby destroy what they wish to destroy but rather are burdening themselves all the more with the monster they had wished to destroy. There is plenty of good will in these things. It is simply what must emerge from the materialistic consciousness of this time, what results — I would like to say — as the political peak of the whole essence of the world.
It will lead to the exact opposite of the desired goal. The important development that must spread over the earth is an understanding of destiny. It is this that must take hold in the making of laws and the forming of political organizations, because it must provide the foundation for the structure of social conditions. Whatever is incompatible with the spiritual evolution of humanity will simply dissolve; it will break down or wear out. This is all closely connected with what the signs of the times are proclaiming today. We have no need here to do political campaigning, if I may express it so crudely; naturally, we would not do that. The demands of the times, however, must be observed carefully by persons who wish to concern themselves with the spiritual evolution of humanity. It must be understood that on the path most commonly traveled today, the Christ will only be lost. He can be won as the rightful king and lord of the earth only through humanity's ascent to spirituality. Of this you may be sure: Christ must not be sought as the various faiths seek Him today, faiths that in a remarkable way have already acceded to every possible compromise in interpreting Christ — here and there they have even agreed on how to celebrate the Christ as a god of slaughter. Christ must be sought where He is to be found in reality, through human beings coming to understand the realm of destiny as a reality in which Christ will be found, as we have suggested today. Only then will an international organization have been created that will signify the spread of real Christianity over the earth.
You have only to reflect for a moment to realize that we have not yet approached this goal. Think what would happen if you were to offer all the people who now talk about wishing to establish peace around the world — and who does not talk about it! — a program to make Christ available to humanity. Then peace would come, lasting peace, in so far as it is at all possible on earth. Imagine what all those organizations (created, I grant you, out of sincere good will) would say if you presented them with such a program! We have even experienced a “peace program” going out from “Christ's representative on earth.” You will not have found within it, however, much of Christ. I know that these things are not taken seriously enough at the present time. Unless they are taken seriously, humanity will not be able to follow a healthy path. Just as it is a necessity that the Mystery of Golgotha be grasped on a spiritual level, so it is also a necessity that human beings understand clearly the signs of the times, that they see in spiritual science something without which even the outer social structure of the future cannot emerge.
In closing, I am obliged to say something to you that I have also had to say to the other groups. It is an unpleasant task. This matter is known to most of our friends; even so, I must make formal statements for the sake of completeness. I do not know whether you are all aware that the most unbelievable slanders are being circulated in the world, tales of a character that one wonders how such a monstrous impulse could invade people's minds. Our spiritual scientific movement must be protected from such — one has to say it — vicious slanders. It is necessary, therefore, for the immediate future, regardless of the fact that help ought to be available to our friends for problems relating to esoteric development, that what have been private conferences in the ordinary sense can no longer take place. It is precisely these private conferences that have given rise to the slanders. This statement in itself would be incomplete, however; a second must follow it, namely, that whoever wishes to — obviously, only whoever wishes to! — may relate quite frankly and fully everything that has been said or done at any time in these conferences. There is nothing in our movement that needs to be hidden, if one speaks the truth.
I am obliged to take these two steps. Give me a little time, however, and I am sure other ways and means will be found by which to allow everyone their spiritual scientific rights. The spiritual scientific movement must not be interrupted, however, by things that have nothing whatever to do with it. It is therefore particularly those who belong most truly and honestly to our movement who must understand that these conferences in the ordinary sense can no longer take place and that I also release everyone from any kind of obligation. Anyone anywhere may make known what he wishes; no one must, of course, but as far as I am concerned there is no restriction, for there is nothing that cannot be told if one reports the reality, the truth. In order that the truth may be established, however, both requirements must be fulfilled. It gives me much sorrow to have to take these measures. I know, however, that the friends who stand closest to our movement will fully perceive its necessity and will be in complete agreement with it.
We need to be conscious now of the seriousness of our present situation. For this reason, such a gathering as this is for me a particularly important, serious event. Especially now, in this catastrophic time, I hope we can be truly permeated by the consciousness that we need to stand together in support of our anthroposophical cause, to stand together in the spirit. Even if for the time being we find we are not able to meet together in space, let us remain together in spirit. This is the wish I would express as I part from you: we have been together in space; now perhaps for a time we must be together only in the spirit.
Source: November 29, 1917