Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Two Christmas Annunciations

Rudolf Steiner, January 1, 1921:

Let us begin today by considering certain questions connected with this time of festival, with this season which yearly renews the memory of the Mystery of Golgotha, renews also a direct experience of it in our feeling.

We really have three such times of festival in Christian tradition: the Christmas, the Easter and the Whitsuntide festivals. And we may say that, each in a different way, these three festivals bring man into connection, into relationship, with that in which the Christian tradition sees the meaning of all earth-evolution. These three festivals also differ as regards the human soul-forces. Christmas appeals more to the feeling and in a certain sense is the most popular festival, because to understand it requires a deepening of the feeling-life, and because it is the most readily approachable for the large masses of humanity. The Easter festival, which requires that we raise ourselves to an understanding of the real Mystery of Golgotha, of the entrance of a supersensible Being into human evolution, is the most challenging to the human powers of understanding. It is a festival which lifts human understanding to the highest level, and which, although it is also generally celebrated, cannot however be popular in the same sense as the Christmas festival.

The third, the Whitsun festival, establishes a relationship particularly between the human will and the super-sensible world, the world to which the Christ-Being as such belongs. The carrying over of will-impulses into execution in the world is brought to human consciousness through a right understanding of the Whitsun festival.

Thus what we may call the secret of Christianity is given form in these yearly celebrations. The way in which the Christmas mystery touches man can be brought before our consciousness in the most manifold ways; and with the recurrence of the Christmas festival during the course of the years, we have considered the Christmas-Thought from the most varied standpoints. This time let us call to mind something which can become clear to any one who considers the Christmas mystery in the light of the Gospels.

In the Gospels we find a twofold announcement of the birth of Christ Jesus. One annunciation is made to the poor shepherds out in the fields. An Angel announces the birth of Christ Jesus to them — in a dream, or however one may wish to call it. Here we have to do with the perception of this event through inner soul-forces, soul-forces which, in the case of these shepherds in the vicinity where Christ Jesus was born, were in a special condition. And a second annunciation is set forth in the Gospels, the annunciation to the Three Kings, the Three Wisemen from the Orient. We are told that they followed a star which announced to them the advent of Christ Jesus on the earth.

Thus we are shown two ways by which this earlier humanity reached what we may call its higher knowledge. This is another example of something which is never properly grasped in the present age. To-day we usually conceive of human beings as possessing thought and perception, and we imagine this thinking and perceiving, in fact, all use of the inner soul-forces, to have been in all past centuries and millenia essentially the same — only more primitive — as it is to-day. We know from anthroposophical spiritual science how the soul-constitution of man has changed with the passage of time; how differently in ancient times — for instance, seven or eight thousand years after the beginning of the post-Atlantean period, or even earlier — humanity regarded its own life and the nature of the surrounding universe. Moreover we know how this soul-constitution underwent many changes before it became that reasoning analytical faculty existing to-day, which in its approach to the outer world knows only the purely sense-perceptible aspect of things. This evolution takes its starting-point from a certain ancient instinctive clairvoyance and proceeds through the state found in our modern soul-condition, to return again in future to a clairvoyant perception of the world which will be permeated by full human consciousness.

At the time when the Mystery of Golgotha took place on earth the ancient instinctive clairvoyance was already greatly dimmed. Men's souls were indeed differently constituted than they are to-day, although they no longer had the old clairvoyance; gone also were their old wise ways of fathoming the universe. The ancient wisdom-teachings as well as the old instinctive clairvoyance had grown very dim as the Mystery of Golgotha approached humanity. But remnants of both still existed, and we are clearly shown in the Gospels, if we rightly understand them, that this was the case. Such remnants were still present among single favoured individuals. We may recognise as such the poor shepherds out in the fields, who in the piety of their hearts possessed a certain clairvoyant capacity of a dreamlike nature. And we also recognise as such the Three Magi from the East, who are pictured as standing on the topmost rung of human society, and had retained from ancient times a capacity gained from a certain stream of wisdom, giving them insight into the course of world-events. Thus, on the one hand, the poor shepherds could be approached in a kind of dream-experience, in inward perception, by the event of Christ Jesus' birth, while, on the other, the Three Magi from the East developed a science which enabled them, by the study of world-phenomena, the appearances in the heavens, to be aware of significant events taking place open the earth quite beyond ordinary human ken.

Thus there are pointed out to us two quite definite, but widely differing, modes of knowledge. Let us turn our attention for the moment to what was present as the last remnant of an ancient stream of wisdom in the Three Wisemen from the Orient. We are shown clearly that these Wisemen were able to read the riddles in the movements of the stars. In the existing descriptions we are made aware of an ancient knowledge of the stars whereby access was gained to the mysteries of the starry worlds and wherein the secrets of human events were also revealed. This ancient knowledge of the stars was something quite different from that of to-day. Our astronomy is in a certain sense also prophetic; it can prophesy eclipses of the sun and moon and so on, but it is merely mathematical and mechanical. It only speaks of space and time-relationships in so far as these may be represented mathematically, whereas the ancient wisdom of, the stars perceived in these movements something of higher significance, remote from space and time, taking place in the inner life of man. If we examine the science of humanity in olden times, we find its content essentially one of this wisdom of the stars. Men sought in the stars for a deeper understanding of earthly happenings. For to them the starry world was not the abstract mechanical thing it has become for modern humanity. For them the starry world was something full of life. They felt the presence of an essential Being in the universe, in the case of every planet. By means of an inner soul-language, in a certain sense, they even spoke with the individual planets, as we to-day speak merely from man to man in external words. People were conscious of inward soul-experience which was a reflection of what was going on out in universal space in the movement of the stars. This was a living, spiritualized way of looking at the universe. And man felt himself connected as a soul and spirit with this universe. This wisdom of the world was fostered in schools, in what may be described as Mystery schools, where the pupils were prepared in a careful, intimate and inner way to gain an understanding of the movements of the stars such as might illuminate human life upon the earth.

Of what nature were these preparations? These preparations for a knowledge of the starry heavens and their influences were of such a character that, even then, in the age of instinctive clairvoyance, the pupil was led to develop a more wide-awake life than normally. The large mass of mankind had a kind of instinctive clairvoyance, corresponding to a state of soul which was less wide awake than the one normal for us to-day. In ancient periods of human evolution people were not able to think as clearly as we can now. Geometry and mathematics as we know them could not then exist. The whole of life between birth and death had more of a dreaming character; but just because it was dreamlike it had a far more lively way of perceiving the surrounding universe than does our waking life to-day. And the strange thing was that the pupils of those ancient Mysteries existing 2000 years, or even 1000 years, before the Mystery of Golgotha (such men as the Magi may be counted among the last remaining disciples of this training), were trained in a knowledge which was very similar to our geometry and mathematics. Euclid was the first to give geometry to humanity; but he merely communicated it to humanity in general. What Euclid gave in the way of geometry had already lived in the Mysteries for thousands of years as something communicated only to the most carefully selected Mystery-pupils. It had a different effect then than in later times. It may seem strange and paradoxical, but it is nevertheless true, that what our children learn as arithmetic and geometry was taught in the Mystery-schools to selected individuals who were considered specially endowed and so accepted in the Mysteries.

To-day we often hear reference made to the mysterious matters supposedly taught in the Mysteries. Actually, in their purely abstract content, these mysterious matters are none other than those taught to children to-day. They are nothing else; and their Mystery-character lies not in the fact of their being unknown to us, but in the different way in which at that time they were taught. It is quite a different matter to call upon the reasoning of children through the content of geometry in an age in which, from the moment of awaking until falling asleep again man lives in a wide-awake consciousness, than it was to present these matters to specially selected human beings, whose consciousness was more mature, during the age of ancient instinctive clairvoyance and dreaming consciousness.

Our modern conceptions of these things are by no means always accurate. For example, there is a poem to Varuna in Oriental literature describing Varuna as appearing in the air, as wafting like the wind through the woods; Varuna appears in the lightning flashing out of the dripping clouds; in the human heart when the will is roused to action; in the heavens when the sun moves across them. Varuna is to be found on the mountains in the juice of the Soma.

What the juice of the Soma is, modern books profess not to know. To-day in our great learning we agree that we do not know what the juice of the Soma is, although there are people who drink it by the quart, and certainly know it very well from a certain standpoint. But it is a different matter to know these things — from the standpoint of the Mysteries than from the standpoint of waking consciousness in profane feeling.

You can read to-day of the Philosopher's Stone, which was accounted precious in an age when the nature of substance was somewhat differently regarded than it is to-day. Again the historians of alchemy will tell you that the Philosopher's Stone is quite unknown. Here and there in my lectures I have indicated that the Philosopher's Stone is quite familiar to most human beings; they simply do not know its qualities, or why it is so named. But since it is used by the ton, it is very familiar to most human beings.

The facts are simply upon occasion quite different from the concepts we hold of them with our present-day abstract, theoretical grasp of things, so remote from life and reality. There is not even a true grasp of what it might mean to take in the sciences of arithmetic and geometry with quite another soul-constitution than we have to-day, with a mature soul-condition. I have referred to this particular type of Mystery-schooling in my book “Christianity as a Mystical Fact”; but just such important things as these are usually not properly understood, they are not ordinarily understood in their real significance. The fact that the way in which people were approached with things constituted the very kernel of the Mysteries in ancient times is something which should be grasped. And it was thus also in the case of such purely mathematical considerations, the content of feeling and the human fullness of which Novalis still sensed when he felt mathematics to be like great poetry — something which most people now-a-days will not agree with. And it is to such grasping of the world, permeated as it was with feeling, but poured into mathematical mould, that the pupil of the ancient Mysteries was led. And when the pupil of the ancient Mysteries was thus brought to a mathematical understanding of the universe, he developed just such a world-outlook as that possessed by the Wisemen from the East, as they are described to us.

The mathematics of the universe, which have become so thoroughly abstract to us, revealed at that time something really living, because the revelation found completion in what was brought to understand it. Thus what sprang as science from an ancient culture, and was still preserved in its last fragments to the Magi, made possible the one annunciation, through the channel of the teachers of wisdom, through external science, the annunciation experienced by the Magi.

On the other hand, it was possible for the inner experience of the secrets of humanity to develop in human beings who, like the shepherds in the fields, had a special predisposition in this direction. In such cases the inner forces of man had to reach certain heights; then what took place in the world of men became direct imaginative perception, an instinctive, imaginative picture-perception. Thus, through inner vision, the poor shepherds in the fields partook in the annunciation: “God makes revelation of His Being in the heavenly heights, and His peace shall be with all men of good will.” Thus did the secrets of the universe speak to the innermost being of the poor shepherds in the fields, as well as to the utmost heights attainable to human wisdom at that time, to the Wisemen of the East. Thus the great mystery of earthly life was imparted from two different sides.

What did these Wisemen of the East experience? What was the special development brought about in the souls of these pupils through the introduction of mathematics into their soul-condition, when this was found especially mature and ready? Kant speaks of mathematics as being “a priori” truth. With “a priori” he means a truth which is present within us before our external, empirical knowledge, before our experience of it existed. This is mere word-wisdom; nothing at all is said with this “a priori”! A meaning attaches to it only when it can be shown by spiritual science that mathematics is something that rises up within us, that rises to consciousness out of man's inner being.

Whence does it come? It proceeds from the experiences we went through in the spiritual world before birth, or conception. There we lived in the great wide universe. There we experienced what could be experienced before we had bodily eyes and ears. There we had “a priori” experience, when considered in relation to our life on earth. These “a priori” experiences rise in an unconscious way out of our inner being into the sphere of consciousness. Unless modern man has a premonition of this, as had Novalis, he does not know that when he does mathematics, experiences of the time before conception and birth are rising up within him. But for a person with true insight into these matter the mathematical capacity is in itself a proof of man's life in the spiritual world before conception. As far as those are concerned for whom this is not a proof of pre-natal existence, the fact remains that they do not think thoroughly enough about life's phenomena and have no idea what the true origin of mathematics is.

The pupils of the ancient Mysteries who possessed that wise outlook, still extant in its last fragments in the Wisemen of the East, had the clear impression: “When we study the stars and apply our mathematical forms and reckoning to them, we are spreading out again over the outer reaches of universal space what we actually lived in before our birth.” And it seemed to such a pupil of the ancient Mysteries as though he must say: “Now I am living on earth; my eyes look out into universal space and see my spatial surroundings. In these same phenomena of the spatial universe I lived before my birth; there I myself counted from star to star what I now merely copy and symbolize in mathematics. With my innermost forces I moved from star to star, living in what I now merely draw.”

Thus they experienced again all they had gone through before birth, or conception, and consequently it was holy to them. They realized that they had lived in a spiritual world before they walked on earth. This knowledge of the world in which man lives before he descends to the earth was present in its last remnants in the Wisemen of the East, and by its means they knew of the advent of the Christ-Being.

Whence came this Christ-Being? He came out of that time which we live through between death and rebirth, and He united Himself with the life we live through between birth and death. For this reason the science that concerns itself with the world we live in between death and rebirth can unveil such a mystery as the Mystery of Golgotha. And out of this science announcement was made to the Magi of the Mystery of Golgotha, the Christmas Mystery.

As man lives here on the earth and concerns himself with gaining knowledge of his surroundings, with developing impulses for his actions, for his social life, he has still another unconscious experience. He knows nothing of it; but just as he experiences the after-effects of his pre-natal life, so does he also experience what passes through the gates of death and becomes the content of life after death, namely, the forces already present like a seed between birth and death, which only come to their full blossoming in the life after death. These forces worked with great intensity in the ancient instinctive clairvoyance. And they worked in their last remnants in the poor shepherds in the fields because of their special piety. Moreover, it is in these forces especially that we live between falling asleep and awaking, when our souls are outside of our bodies in outer space. The soul then lives as it will live consciously in future when it has laid aside the physical body after death. These forces, which under special conditions can penetrate from the world of sleep and dream into waking life, were once very active in the ancient instinctive clairvoyance. And these the poor shepherds experienced, receiving through them a revelation of the Mystery of Golgotha from a different quarter than that from which the annunciation came to the three Magi.

What does one experience by means of the forces peculiar to man between death and rebirth when, as in the case of the Wisemen from the Orient, they are kindled in the life between birth and death? One experiences what takes place beyond what is earthly. One is borne away from the earth out into the world of the stars where we live between death and rebirth. This was the world into which the Wisemen of the East were led away from the earth out into cosmic space.

And what does one experience by means of the forces which rise up from the inner being of man, especially in the world of dreams? One experiences what goes on within the earth. Here the Tellurian forces, the forces of which we partake because we live in our bodies, are at work. These forces work particularly in what we live through between falling asleep and awaking. Here, too, we are in the outer world, but essentially in that outer world belonging to the earth.

You will say that this is a contradiction of the truth that we are outside of our bodies. But it is not a contradiction. We always perceive only what is external to ourselves; that wherein we live is never perceived. Only people who are especially ignorant about certain subjects, and who are bent on establishing a knowledge consisting solely of phrases, are capable of skipping lightly over such matters with their phrases and of saying, for example, that the point is not to found a science of the spirit upon knowledge gained outside man, but to add to natural science a science derived from man's inner being.

With such a torrent of phrases Darmstadt wisdom-schools may indeed be founded, but one may still remain a mere phrase-maker even when founding schools of wisdom. For rightly understood, the matter is as follows. We may indeed say that, to arrive at the supersensible, the world must be described from within; but we must first get into the inner being and then look at what is external from outside the body, by looking back upon the body. Keyserling's talks concerning observation from the standpoint of the soul do not attempt to enter man's inner being, they merely use phrases.

The fact really is such that when we are in the condition experienced between falling asleep and awaking, we look back, we feel our way back, as it were, into our bodies. We feel what is of the earth in our bodies; for they are of the earth. The poor shepherds in the fields really, felt the revelation of the earth through their bodies when in a dreamlike condition, they perceived what was happening in the form of the perception of an angel's voice.

These are the two absolute contrasts: the Magi with their knowledge of the heavens, and the shepherds with their earth-revelation. And it corresponds completely to the Mystery of Golgotha that the revelation came from two such different quarters. For a heavenly Being, as yet untouched by earth, was descending to it, and this descent had to make itself known by means of the wisdom of the heavens, which knew that something heavenly was descending.

In the shepherds' wisdom we learn to know the earth by feeling our way into its weaving life as it perceived the descent of the heavenly Being. It is the same annunciation, only from another side. Wonderfully unified, we thus see what, although it was one and the same event, was announced in a twofold way to men.

And when we see how humanity received the event of Golgotha, we must say that, in regard to this and other matters, there were only the merest remnants of the ancient wisdom left to man. I have already shown how the Mystery of Golgotha was grasped in the first centuries of Christianity with the help of the fragments of an ancient wisdom known as Gnosis. From then on it became more and more a matter of trying to penetrate into the nature of the event of Golgotha with analytical reasoning powers alone. And in the 19th century naturalism gradually made its appearance in the confessional sphere. The supersensible content of the event of Golgotha was no longer grasped at all, Christ became merely the “wise man of Nazareth”, naturalistically conceived. A new, spiritual grasp of the Mystery of Golgotha became necessary. The fact of the Mystery of Golgotha must not be confused with the way in which human understanding has dealt with this fact.

Now a soul-constitution such as the shepherds in the fields and the Wisemen of the East possessed still existed in its last fragmentary form at the time when the Mystery of Golgotha occurred. But all this changed in the course of human evolution. Everything changes and undergoes metamorphosis. What then became of the wisdom of the Eastern Magi? It has become our mathematics, with its knowledge of the heavens! The Magi possessed a super-earthly science based on sublime recollections of pre-natal life. All this has been shrunken and cramped into our mathematical, mechanical grasp of the heavens, so that we apply nothing but the laws of mathematics and mechanics to their phenomena. What we have in the way of mathematical astronomy is all that still rises up out of our inner being as the modern metamorphosis of what the Magi once possessed.

And looking at our external sense-knowledge, which is merely a perceiving with eyes and ears, we find it to be the externalized inner knowledge of the shepherds in the fields. What could once convey to the shepherds in the fields the inner secrets of earthly existence now permits only of that cold, natural-scientific observation of the outer world which is the offspring of the shepherds' wisdom. The child bears but slight resemblance to its mother. And our mathematics, our astronomy, are the offspring of the wisdom of the Magi.

Humanity had to go through this development. Our scientific researchers, sitting in their laboratories and clinics, have very little in common with the shepherds but theirs is a direct metamorphosis of the shepherds' wisdom. And our mathematicians likewise are in direct line of descent from the Eastern Wisemen. The outer has become the inner, and the inner, outer. And so we have indeed grown remote from the Mystery of Golgotha. We must become aware of this fact. We have become far removed indeed from such understanding. Perhaps many of those who call themselves preachers and ministers of Christianity in the official sense are the most remote from it of all.

The forces of knowledge, faith and feeling that live in man to-day can never penetrate through to the true being of the Mystery of Golgotha. It must be found entirely anew.

The wisdom of the Magi too has become dry mathematics, perceiving the heavens only in designs. It has become an inner thing. But inwardness must take on life once more. What was once outer must be built up again from within.

And now let us try to understand the content of a book such as my “Occult Science” from this standpoint. — The Magi had a real penetration into the starry heavens; they saw what was spiritual there because they had insight into human pre-natal experience. This has become abstract in our mathematics. But the very same forces out of which we develop mathematics can be brought back to life, and intensified as imaginative vision. Then there is born from out our inner being a world which, although we create it within us, we see as the outer world, as though: containing Saturn, Sun, Moon, Earth, Jupiter, Venus, Vulcan. We see the heavens in inner vision just as the Eastern Wisemen externally perceived the secrets of the Mystery of Golgotha. The external has become an inner thing, has become mathematical abstraction; and in like manner the inner must be widened out until it becomes a universe around us, until inner vision leads us to a new astronomy experienced within.

Only by thus reaching out for a new understanding of the Christ can we fill the festival of Christmas with a certain meaning. Has the Christmas festival any meaning for most human beings nowadays? It is a very beautiful custom, scarcely 150 years old, to have the Christmas Tree as a symbol of the Christmas festival. The custom of having a Christmas Tree came into being only in the 19th century. What is this Christmas Tree really? It is not so easy to find its meaning. In making the effort to find it, and by discovering how the Christmas Tree gradually came into use, how it grew from being the little branch, carried on St. Nicholas' arm on the 6th of December, into being our Christmas Tree, we come to realize that this Christmas Tree is also directly connected with the Tree of Paradise.

Human consciousness thus looks back here to the Tree of Paradise, to Adam and Eve. What does this signify? This is one aspect of the way we make the Mystery of Golgotha known to-day. We turn back from the Mystery of Golgotha to the creation of the world, to the beginning of the world. We fail to grasp the meaning of the world's redemption, and instead turn back to the God who created the universe. This is expressed in the gradual disappearance of the real Christmas symbol, of the manger — so sublime a part of the Christmas plays of earlier centuries — and in the appearance of the Christmas Tree which is really the Tree of Paradise.

Thus the old Jehovah-religion again took the place of the Christ-religion; the Christmas Tree is the symbol of the reappearance of the religion of Jehovah. This Jehovah-religion makes its appearance in many shapes and forms to-day. For Jahve was once rightly worshipped as the one and only God in an age when his people felt themselves to be a unified folk, content within their limits, and living in the expectation of some day filling the entire earth. In our age people talk of Christ Jesus, but really worship only Jehovah. For, as we saw during the war, the people of the various nations talked of Christ, but were really concerned with the original God, Jehovah, who lives in the forces of nature and heredity.

On the one hand, the Christmas Tree, on the other, the national gods so remote from Christianity — with these humanity has turned back from grasping the Mystery of Golgotha to lay hold again on something belonging to a much earlier period. There has been a retrogression into the ancient Jehovah religion in the adherence to the nationalistic principle, in the announcement that the various peoples would follow their national gods.

You see, what must be taken into consideration is that in the annunciation, to the shepherds, and in the annunciation that came to the Magi, there is a human element common to all men. For the earth is the common property of all. The earth-annunciation received by the shepherds was one which could make no national distinctions and differentiations. And the Magi, who received a sun-annunciation, an annunciation from the heavens, also received a purely human element. For after the sun shines upon the lands of one folk, it shines on the lands of others also. Heaven and earth belong to all in common. With Christianity, a common human element is roused in all humanity.

This fact is pointed to in the twofold annunciation of the Christmas story. Such matters which were fully understood when man's soul-constitution was an entirely different one, will only be comprehensible to-day with the help of spiritual science.

We should inscribe this into our hearts today when we think of the Christmas festival. Today, in thinking of the Christmas Mystery, we have need to look for a birth. We should not merely busy ourselves with idle talk about the Christmas festival and our own feelings, but should look for what must be born anew in this our age. For truly, real Christianity must be born anew. We need a cosmic Christmas festival for humanity.


Image: Kim Graae Munch

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