Monday, February 21, 2011
A Book of Initiation. The Book of Revelation and the Work of the Priest. Lecture 17 of 18
Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, September 21, 1924:
In addition to the content about which we have been speaking, the Book of Revelation also has an aspect that makes it a book of initiation. This is the way in which it describes evolution in time, the sequence of stages that it will become possible for those to experience who have ears to hear and eyes to see, whereas it will of course pass by those who are earless and eyeless. These various stages are introduced to us through the inner nature of the content which shows us that the Book of Revelation is indeed a book of initiation.
We must realize that as we enter consciously into the world—as our vision expands more and more—those things will disappear which are at present the content of our soul life and which are actually a kind of mirror image of external nature. The physical, sense-perceptible world disappears as we move forward with inner vision, and then gradually, as though emerging out of the background, the spiritual world comes into view from the other side. The apocalyptist shows quite clearly that he has a very intense, correct understanding of how to enter into a relationship with the spiritual world, and this is what has enabled him to discover so appropriately what he has been able to discover in his imaginative visions.
There are, dear friends, two ways of seeing the spiritual aspect of the world. The one is simply to dwell upon the physical, sense-perceptible aspects, getting to know them from all angles with a kind of loving devotion. Through this you learn to recognize it as the work of the gods. You have before you what we mean by ‘nature’ in the widest sense when you look at the physical world not only externally and mechanically but also inwardly and spiritually. We can also imagine, however—and we would be right to do so—that it would be possible to arrive at the same world content in a purely spiritual way, from the inside through one’s own soul. You can then go so far as to say that someone with sufficient inner strength might—even if he had nothing historical to go on—see something at a specific point in world events, something that manifested as a natural phenomenon. It is perfectly possible to begin with an inside view and arrive at the outward conclusion: In such and such a year, when a certain event occurred for humanity, there were earthquakes and so on. Many people have the feeling—whether they are aware of it or not—that it is possible for the human being to get to know the concrete details of the world by beginning from within, and this feeling is perfectly correct. But what is actually happening when a human being enters the spiritual world on the path of Imagination?
We can discuss this in connection with the Book of Revelation, for in this Book we find described the sequence of different stages in which the apocalyptist sees things, and these lead further and further into the spiritual world. First he introduces us to letters, then to seals; then he moves on to something that in human language can only he expressed by something audible, namely the trumpets; and from there he reaches what I described the day before yesterday as the divine love with its counterpart, the divine wrath.
When we understand him rightly, we know he is telling us that what he gives us through the content of the Book of Revelation by means of the letters he has received through Inspiration relates to the physical world. When he moves on to the seals and opens them, this relates to the astral world, the world of Imagination, what can be called the soul world. With the sounding trumpets we enter spiritland. And when we experience the divine love and the divine wrath in accordance with the content of the Book of Revelation, we are entering the inner realm of spiritland.
We must realize that while he is treading this path of Imagination the human being is in the world with his experience, so that his experience is world experience. But he does not notice this in the initial stages. The more his initiation progresses, the more he experiences how whatever takes place with him, through him, in him, is also taking place cosmically. He feels himself more and more to be poured out into the objective content of the cosmos. The apocalyptist hints at this very clearly. We can say, then, that the content of the letters refers to the physical world.
Let us look at the physical world as it appears before us. This physical world only seems to be what we see before us. This physical world would not present all those myriad nuances of color, nuances of heat and cold, and all the other nuances that flow toward the human being from all directions, if we were to think in all that appears to us in the present age only of its physical content and fail to notice that what appears to be physical is actually spiritual. Looking into the soul of a human being such as the apocalyptist, we must learn his soul language, and this soul language must grow so familiar for our own personal spiritual use that we can feel it in our bones, to use an everyday expression.
I should therefore like to introduce you to those parts of the inner soul language of the initiate which he does not always use externally, but which provide the means by which he can inwardly form his inner pictures, his own personal sharing in the spiritual world.
Here is an example: Subdue the lightnings and you will grasp color. That is the language of initiates. What does it mean? The initiate sees how the lightning appears, he sees it flaring up out of the cosmos, he regards it as the spirit glimmering in the universe, and he imagines this lightning becoming more and more suppressed and subdued, milder and milder, so that what he then has is the damping down, the gentle shaping of color. The lightning spreads out, in a way, and becomes a colored surface. This is what an initiate has as an inner picture.
Or perhaps he says: Quieten the thunder, let the thunder grow ever quieter and listen to it modulating, and music will arise. This is how the initiate sees the spreading tapestry of the sense-perceptible as a revelation in one direction, and for him it is entirely realistic to think: Here is the content of the universe in all its colored manifoldness. What I am drawing here in color might just as well be musical sound. (Plate 7, left)
The way in which the content of the universe approaches our senses is like a sense-perceptible, physical veil spread out in the form of our sense-perceptible world into which we first of all weave our abstract, apparent thoughts. If you imagine the blackboard (Plate 7, far left) to be a tapestry spread out in every direction representing the world of sound, the world of color, the world of heat and cold, then it is behind this tapestry that the initiate sees the lightnings striking. They are behind, and what you occasionally see as actual lightning is breaking through this tapestry of the senses from behind, out of the spiritual world. The spiritual world is shining in toward us in every manifestation of lightning. And if we look at this lightning made mild and suppressed until it becomes the even spread of color over the Earth, then we have before us the Earth in its manifestation of color.
Looking up to the sky and the stars, what we see as the starry points—which likewise appear to be emerging out of the spiritual world—is another manifestation of lightning, only here it lives as a permanent phenomenon. The initiate sees all this as an external revelation of what is behind it, so he says: What I should be seeing—and he does see it, when his soul becomes ever more active—is the red rose. It begins to splash its redness upward and downward like gentle lightnings, and as the foreground grows dim, the red reaches backward into the sphere of the Seraphim, just as all musical sound reaches into the sphere of the Cherubim, and everything we touch into the sphere of the Thrones. When we see nature all around us, what we are actually seeing is everything in the physical world as an illusion, for all of it is, in truth, the works of Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones subdued and hushed. Look, dear friends, at how the world of colors appears to us; it is merely the lightning work of the Seraphim evenly subdued. This is what in ancient times was called the maya character of the sense-perceptible, physical world; it was this not-knowing that in reality Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones are everywhere.
Let us now take another step in initiation. Let us move on to the passage where the apocalyptist places the main emphasis on the opening of the seals. What is happening here? It is that the colors in the world are being peeled away, the heat and cold are being peeled away, so that more and more effects arise that are spiritual and that are beginning to resemble the true forms of lightning taking shape. In place of the zig-zag irruption of the lightnings, we now see, as we penetrate through the sensory tapestry, the spiritual world behind it; we see lightnings that move gently. We know the beings living in these to be the servants of the Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones. And it is similar with musical sounds, with heat and cold, with what we can grasp and touch. To the degree that what we see as the earthly tapestry of sense fades away so that behind it this world of lightning-like formations appears, shaping self-contained figures out of the astral fire, expanding more and more—in the same degree do the stars begin to shine down. Like threads of light they can be followed, and star threads, star rays, lights mingle with the things of the elemental world. The earthly unites with the heavenly, and we know that we are entering into the first condition of the second world, where everything is still shining as in nature, where we only guess that behind it there are beings. We perceive at most the elemental beings, we see them to some extent as the functioning organs of mighty, great, and lofty beings. We are entering, you could say, the first region of the Kyriotetes, Dynamis, Exusiai. They are, as it were, still in the background, but they enter into these beings, and as we progress along the path of initiation we gradually reach the point where these Kyriotetes, Dynamis, Exusiai more and more reveal their own essential being. This is bound up with the way the harmony of the spheres begins to play in cosmic sounds. The single notes that sound and only form harmonies and melodies over long periods, that only combine to form melodies in time when time becomes a unity—these are what the apocalyptist calls trumpet soundings. In the soundings of the trumpets we have the pure life of the second hierarchy, whereas the first hierarchy in its mighty greatness is the foundation of sense experience.
Moving on from this world in which all the phenomena of sense have become flowing and grand and majestic and are thus no longer only spread out over the things and processes of the physical world but also are the actual expression of the elemental beings at work in the second hierarchy—moving on from this world, we enter more and more into a third region where we no longer perceive anything belonging to nature, not even nature dissolved in elemental beings, but where anything we want to perceive must be perceived spiritually. We enter a region of the spiritual world of which we have to say: Having gone through the sense perceptions of Earth that are dissolving and yet at the same time forming themselves into shapes and that are seized hold of by our expanding sense perception of the stars, we have now learned to recognize—as though in last residues of sense perception—everything that works in the cosmos in the Kyriotetes, Exusiai, and Dynamis in a way that shows them to be inwardly bound to the true substantiality of the stars. The stellar world has transformed itself for us into the beings of the hierarchies. Instead of looking up to the stars through the senses’ illusion we are now living in the world of the hierarchies. Here the hierarchies are still steeped in what I should like to call the dispersed, dissolved knowledge given by the senses.
Now we are entering the third region, where we no longer perceive all the things of the Earth with our senses, where we must perceive the supersensible soul element without any hint of sense-perceptibility. We are entering the region of the actual spiritual world where we first of all get to know it in Angeloi, Archangeloi, Archai. We can recognize these beings in their spirituality, and when a painter or other artist gives them shape he must know that they only have this sense-perceptible shape because they are woven into the soul-spiritual elements, into the beings of the higher hierarchies. If we paint wings on them, for example, we must know that these wings come from the beings of the second hierarchy who lend them their substantiality, and that they receive their head from the first hierarchy who lend them this shape together with its content. We must be absolutely sure of the fact that the only thing we can see in spirit is what belongs to the third hierarchy—Angeloi, Archangeloi, Archai.
What I am telling you now, dear friends, is of the greatest possible historical importance, for if you take on ancient texts that treat intimately of these spiritual worlds, you will be utterly incapable of reading them unless you know that when we enter into the spiritual world it is the lowest hierarchy that we first perceive spiritually, whereas we still perceive the higher hierarchies with ingredients of the sense-perceptible world. You must know that the ancient initiation wisdom, which described these things quite correctly in the way I have been doing, gradually fell into all kinds of errors in times when spiritual matters became decadent. Thus the more worldly initiates of the Middle Ages always described the Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones as being the lowest hierarchy closest to the Earth, so that one ascended via Dynamis, Kyriotetes, and Exusiai to the angels, archangels, and archai. Look at illustrated medieval books. You will not know what they mean and will ask why the angels are seated above the Seraphim. This came about because people no longer understood these matters intimately and could not imagine them quite organically enough. This error arose in particular when the once pure teaching became contaminated by the symbols of the Babylonians during the Jewish captivity in Babylon in pre-Christian times through the contact of the Jews with the Babylonians. This error about the ranks of the spiritual hierarchies then spread further via the Cabala, via medieval Jewish mysticism. If one wants to understand how ideas about the spirit in human evolution have developed, one must know about such things, and in connection with our work on understanding the Book of Revelation this is the right place for such things to be discussed.
So, we go out into the spiritual world. The first beings who come to meet us in the purely spiritual realm are the beings of the third hierarchy. The apocalyptist shows how intimately familiar he is with all this, for in everything he describes he shows angels as being the messengers. The interesting thing is that earthly realms can mirror something of what the angels, as the messengers of the higher hierarchies, bring in. With the angel appearances in particular we enter the realm in which we see how the divine love reigns as the real ingredient of the world to which we human beings belong. First of all we see how the normal Angeloi, Archangeloi, and Archai are in a way embodiments of the higher hierarchies. When we look at the hands, arms, feet, legs, and the rest of the human body we have the feeling: This is the body of the soul-spiritual element. In the same way, when we ascend into the world of the third hierarchy we have the impression: These are angels, but they are like limbs, they are like the bodily nature of the higher, divine spirits; they are bodies made of soul and spirit. We feel, dear friends, that we are in pure spirituality, and with this spirituality in the body of God. It is to this that we ascend.
We must also concern ourselves with another inner picture. Everyone who truly wants to become familiar with the occultism on which spiritual life is founded must do this. Look at a human being with his physical body on the Earth, dear friends. You cannot possibly think of this body as living solely in constructive processes, sprouting and burgeoning processes that build the human being. You must also think of the destructive processes in the organism, those leading to secretions. The destructive element that shows the body to be in a constant process of demolition is there for a purpose, which is that the destruction in the physical body enables the spirit to enter and live in these processes of physical demolition. The spirit in the human organism does not live in the constructive processes. When the child is growing, when the physical processes are in the ascendancy, the spiritual element is suppressed, not promoted. Materialists make the perfectly ridiculous assumption that thinking comes about when the human being purifies the sprouting, burgeoning life in his brain and refines and transforms the other life processes. If such a thing were to happen in the brain, this would merely mean a continuation of digestive processes, and the result would be a dim, plant-like inner experience. The spirit is able to enter the brain only because the brain is constantly destroyed, because it constantly disintegrates, because it is, as it were, constantly being riddled with holes by physical processes. Along the path of destruction the spirit finds ways through which it can play a part creatively in the physical. So the physical accepts the processes of destruction. Growth is provided with inbuilt hindrances and impediments.
It is immensely interesting to observe this in detail. For example you can watch how the Fichte individuality came down to incarnate in a poverty-stricken village. You can observe this individuality establishing itself in the physical body and watch the young boy grow. You see how bit by bit hindrances interfered with his growth just a little more strongly than usual—not much, in fact very little, but this is what happened. The boy Fichte grew and grew, but perhaps he would have grown a little more quickly if there had not been a tiny something constantly restraining his growth. It was this restraint exercised on his growth—he did indeed remain small in stature—that allowed the particular nuance of his philosophical gift to develop. Thus does the spirit become effective in the physical. So we must entertain not only antipathy but also sympathy toward the destructive forces; we must be assured that they are acceptable, that we can regard them with love, for in addition to growing, sprouting life there must also be something that exercises restraint.
We must become aware of how the whole world of Angeloi, Archangeloi, and Archai is actually the bodily aspect of the divine spirit, we must see in this weaving, living, blossoming, and working of the Angeloi, Archangeloi, and Archai how the world is woven, how the individual human being is cared for in his soul by his Angelos, how different groups of human beings are moved by the Archangeloi, and how various streams of universal happenings are pushed along from age to age by the Archai. When we see the whole weaving of this wonderful garment as it is woven—which is so beautifully expressed in the Greek myth of Proserpina or Persephone—when we look at this whole garment of the world, we see the divine love flooding and flowing in it like the red blood in the body. Added to this as a necessary adjunct is the stream of the divine wrath that is formed from all the hindrances in world events brought about by beings with a sense of morality, beings with genuinely moral feelings who can only be in harmony with the progress of the world through their morality.
In the divine love we see the divine body in its sprouting and burgeoning. And in connection with weak creatures who nevertheless indicate the way in which the gods want to lead the world, we see something that emanates from the weak creatures; we see the spirit body of the divine spirit interspersed with something resembling products of secretion in the human physical body; something that in human beings is secreted in glands, something that separates itself off. These centers of secretion appear as the vials of divine wrath, woven into the onward progress of the world.
Within these three worlds we recognize the connection between divine love and divine wrath, and inwardly we receive a picture that fills us with reverence: What is it that happens when the vials of wrath are poured out? It is the divine, spiritual beings who are considering how they can take forward the continuing progress of the world despite the misdeeds of the weak creatures and against the hindrances—how they can transform the hindrances into vehicles of forward-urging, spirit-filled happening, so that the human being in his destructive processes can seize the opportunity not simply to vegetate physically but to press forward in his physical body in a spirit-soul way. The way the apocalyptist shows all this is entirely in accord with initiation. In the Book of Revelation he enters marvellously into the progress of the world, penetrating right down to concrete, physical events—as we saw yesterday and before that as well. At the same time he enters wonderfully into the paths of initiation.
When we contemplate the Book of Revelation thus, it in some ways opens our eyes to the progress of the world, so that we are looking into what we need from the future and can take it into our inner pictures. Further than this, it also becomes a meditation book; it can be used as a book for meditation in a wonderful way; in fact it is marvelous in this respect. When you come to a passage in the Book of Revelation depicting something that seems paradoxical to you, you should stop reading and begin to meditate. Such passages are the places where you can grow in spirituality by absorbing and working inwardly on something that you cannot comprehend with your intellect.
For example when you come to a passage that speaks of a grievous sore (Rev. 16:2), then as an intellectual you will of course say: Only human beings and animals can have sores; what is this supposed to mean; it must be a poetic image. So you read past it. But this is not what it is. The apocalyptist uses the word ‘sore’ because he knows that what is real in the microcosm can also justifiably be imagined in the macrocosm. You will surely discover how what has to do with glands, which produce secretions, leads on to the functions of the divine wrath. In this way the seeming paradoxes in the Book of Revelation are the very thing that helps us make the transition from the merely intellectual processes of soul life—to which people are so accustomed—into spiritual processes.
This brings us to the point where it is so necessary to see things clearly and accurately, especially in connection with the work of the priest. People feel that in today’s times the soul is becoming entirely intellectualized. In reaction to this they want inner heart and feeling and long for it in every realm. Look at the way the religious denominations are objecting to today’s general intellectualism. They no longer want the truths of salvation preached in intellectual terms; they want them to be given form out of the feeling life, out of what is irrational. This longing is surely justified, but if things were to develop solely along these lines, then the result of wanting to have religion merely through the feelings would be the loss of religion altogether.
The same applies to education; this has taken a very peculiar path, which you as priests would do well to note. Education originated in the life of instincts. It worked best where people did not think educationally but did what instinct told them to do. In days gone by people did not teach pedagogically but did what instinct inspired them to do. Only since we have forgotten how to educate instinctively have we begun to talk so much about pedagogy, and all our talk about it proves that we are the worst teachers there have ever been. People usually begin to talk most about something when they no longer have it. In the same sense they began to talk about the Transubstantiation when they no longer understood it or its secret. The often first-rate intellectual discussions in a particular age ought to make us ask what the people in that age are lacking. When the labor question was being most ardently discussed it meant that people actually understood very little about it. This was even more so in the age when human beings invented writing, and when the use of writing turned more and more to the use of printing. It was the age when human beings understood less and less of the divine script speaking out of the stars, out of Sun and wind.
When the members of Arthur’s Round Table were still able to read what was being told to them by the sea splashing up, by the spray of the waves pounding on the cliffs and mingling with the waves of air steeped in light, in that time, when they could read all this like a clear handwriting, there was not the least need to seek the help of some kind of replicable script. What one must do, basically, is to take the sheen of what is visible and deduce from it the fading invisible world of the spirit. Then, when the spirit rises particularly strongly to the surface, one perceives how the sense-perceptible, physical outer symbols recede.
This is what makes us aware that our rejection of intellectualism should not take the form of a shadowy, nebulous feeling life in the soul, but that we can enhance our feeling life in the soul by allowing what is intellectual to metamorphose more and more into something spiritual. Then we shall find that our feeling life in the soul can truly be ennobled through the spiritual content of the revelations that are then objective and no longer subjective.