Thursday, February 10, 2011
Growing into the Spirit: The Book of Revelation and the Work of the Priest. Lecture 7 of 18
Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, September 11, 1924:
Before going any further in our consideration of the Book of Revelation we must now add a number of points regarding the proper way to read it, points that are, however, more external. We shall certainly then reach our own present time with what we read in this book. First we must look at the spiritual background out of which the Book of Revelation has emerged. Of course I do not mean this in the sense of today's way of explaining a work against the background of its time in a superficial historical manner. Such a method is not applicable in the case of works that have been conceived out of the spiritual world in the way described in the Book of Revelation. We must be clear about the fact that the Book of Revelation came into being in the way it did according to the spiritual conditions of its time and not according to external, historical conditions.
Let us now look at that time of the early Christian centuries, and let us connect it with general cosmic evolution in the spiritual sense.
Looking at evolution taking place behind the scenes of external happenings we see that the year AD 333 is an important one. That year represents the point in time when the ‘I’ entered into the intellectual or mind soul of the human being that had gradually evolved between 747 BC and the beginning of the era of the consciousness soul in the fifteenth century. The year 333 falls in the middle of this period. The development of Greek culture was an important aspect of the era of the intellectual or mind soul, and it continued to have its effect until the era of the consciousness soul. The Mystery of Golgotha took place in the era when the intellectual or mind soul was evolving.
We must understand that the entry of the ‘I’ into the intellectual or mind soul is an immensely significant event. The coming of the ‘I’, which took place around the year 333, had a very profound and serious effect in the souls of those in particular who were suitable for receiving the influence of the spirit. Those who want to participate in the life of the spirit and want to work in the same direction as the life of the spirit must relate the external facts of historical evolution to their spiritual background.
What important external events took place during the period when the ‘I’ was entering into the human soul behind the scenes of external happenings? What light does the entry of the ‘I’ throw on these events? Dear friends, it is at such a point that the human being finds the whole relationship between God and man becoming incomprehensible, insecure, and open to dispute.
One event that happened at that point in time was the important controversy between Arius and Athanasius. With the entry of the ‘I’ into the intellectual or mind soul, ambiguities arise in the inmost soul of the human being, although these remain unconscious for the time being. But they lead to the question: In what way does the divine ‘I’ live in the nature of man? People at that time became uncertain as to what they should think about how the divine relates to the world and to the human being. In this matter Arius and Athanasius differed drastically, and we find that the view represented by Athanasius gained the upper hand in Western Europe, while that of Arius underwent a gradual decline.
Let us now look at this from the spiritual point of view, for this is the most important one if we want to understand the inner meaning and the inner spirit of something like the Book of Revelation. Arius saw the human being on the one hand rising higher and higher and, as it were, having to come closer and closer to the divine; and on the other hand he saw the divine being. In conjunction with these two great cosmic principles he then had to reach an understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha, of the nature of Christ. He wanted to find an answer to the question: How is the human and how is the divine nature contained in Christ himself? Should we really regard Christ as a divine being, or not? The answer he came up with was, actually: No. Basically he occupied the same ground as that which later became the general opinion among the population of Europe, which was that a barrier must be erected between man and God, that the indwelling of God in the human being is not admissible, and that one must place an abyss between God and man.
Without prejudging things let us now return to the time of early Christianity, which in the main has nothing in common with later Roman Catholicism, for as time went on Christianity became decadent in Roman Catholicism. For this reason we must also be clear about the fact that for the sake of humanity’s further development it was essential for the whole controversy to be decided in favour of Athanasius, who saw Christ as a directly divine being, who saw in Christ the truly divine Sun Spirit. Later, though, this view was relegated more to the background because of the aversion to imagining Christ as a cosmic being. Athanasius in his whole turn of mind was predisposed to seeing in Christ a God who was equal to the Father God.
This view continued to have its effect, except that it was deprived of its ultimate point in AD 869 by the Eighth Council of Constantinople, which basically destroyed the dogma of the Council of Nicaea by declaring the trichotomy a heresy. Herein lay the beginning of decadence in ecclesiastical Christianity; it meant that for subsequent centuries of Catholic ecclesiastical development it was no longer possible to grow into the spirit.
The revolution that occurred in the human being when the ‘I’ entered into the intellectual or mind soul is certainly colored by this event, but at the same time it also gives that external event an inner significance of its own.
Looking more closely at the historical situation, we have to say that after the year 333 there came times—significant above all for European development—when contact with the culture of ancient Rome was discontinued. We see how the culture of ancient Rome, such as it had by then become, was basically unable to accept Christianity. A grand vista unfolds before us when we study this year 333. It is also the year in which the period begins when the culture of ancient Rome shifted further eastwards from Rome. Christianity fled eastwards from Rome under the Roman Emperor, the Roman Caesar, who wanted to adopt Christianity. It is less important to study the abuse and damage caused by the Council of Constantinople than to try and find the meaning of why there had to be a flight eastwards from the West when Christianity entered Rome. This is immensely significant. Seen from the spiritual world it is so significant and shining an event that by comparison all the damage done by Byzantianism hardly comes into consideration.
One cannot help saying how tremendously significant it is that Christianity had to flee at the moment when, in its external manifestation, it came into contact with the culture of ancient Rome. Nevertheless, after it had fled eastwards under Constantine, Christianity did flourish on the soil of ancient Rome, on the soil of what ancient Rome had been preparing for a long time. But as it flowered it was squeezed into external, secular forms.
We should try to imagine what it means when the apocalyptist turns his prophetic vision toward Christianity preparing itself in Rome, and sees how at the very moment when the culture of ancient Rome declares itself in favor of Christianity, Christianity takes on the ancient Roman forms. This is the aspect we see: On the one side there is the controversy between Arius and Athanasius, and on the other ancient Rome converting to Christianity. But in traveling eastwards, Christianity takes on the form that has been left behind in Rome, the Roman state structure, and becomes, also in the way it works externally, a continuation of ancient Rome.
We will now leave on one side for the moment certain things that we shall have to explain at a deeper spiritual level, and turn instead to history. The apocalyptist foresaw in a grand and powerful manner what history would bring. Although he did not express it clearly, he had it in his feeling life, and it underlay the composition of his Book: He showed how the growth of what was to take place both within humanity and externally in history would need 333 years after the Mystery of Golgotha, and how a strange semblance of development would then take place in Christianity. The soil on which everything was to be prepared that would then take another 333 years—up to the year 666—this soil was that Christian Romanness, uprooted and moved eastwards, and that Roman Christianity which had comfortably adjusted itself to those Roman forms.
Dear friends, call up before your souls once more what we said yesterday about someone still inspired by the ancient Mysteries, such as the apocalyptist, becoming immersed in numbers. You see the apocalyptist contemplating the next 333 years, in which Christianity will seem to be flourishing externally, but in which it will in fact have to develop while shrouded in mist on two sides, driven eastwards in Constantine's day and preserving something old and ahrimanic from the West. Something is being prepared in the womb of evolution, something that had been left over from non-Christian ancient Romanness.
What was this non-Christian Romanness? If we look into the Mysteries, we find that in the greatest, most developed Mysteries the trichotomy, the sacred number three, was deeply significant. So let us have a closer look at what this meant. People thought of being born into the onward flowing stream of heredity; this was how the human being was thought of in, for example, the world order of the secret Hebrew doctrine. People thought of the human being with the capabilities and characteristics he had brought with him through heredity, through his ancestry. People imagined human life as a development going in a straight line with which nothing important interferes except what comes about through the impulse of heredity: You stem from the physical powers of your parents; in you the spiritual impulses of your physical parents are at work. That, essentially, was the doctrine of the ‘Fathers’ in the ancient Mysteries. This is as far as this dogma went, for example, in the secret Hebrew doctrines, but also in other secret doctrines.
In the higher Mysteries, however, something else was added. These Mysteries spoke of the human being carrying the impulses of heredity and developing through them. But they also spoke of how during physical existence between birth and death the human being can take in another impulse as well, the impulse that enables him to extricate himself from heredity, to find his way out of this in his soul life. This is the Son-Impulse, the Christ-Impulse. These Mysteries said: The impulses of heredity are within the human being and bring about an evolution between birth and death that runs in a straight line. They come from the Father, from the Father who is the ground of everything. The impulses of the Son, however, do not enter into the forces of heredity. They have to be absorbed by the soul and worked on by the soul, they must expand the soul to such an extent that it becomes free of bodily forces, free of the forces of heredity. The impulses of the Son enter into human freedom—in the way freedom was understood in those times—they enter into freedom of soul, where the soul is free of the forces of heredity. These are the forces that allow the human being to be reborn in soul. They enable the human being to take himself in hand during the life given to him by the Father. All those ancient Mysteries saw the Father Human Being; they saw the Human Being who is the Son of the Father, the Brother of Christ, who takes himself in hand, who takes into himself what is in a sense free of the body, who has to bear within himself a new kingdom that knows nothing of physical nature, that represents an order different from that of nature: the kingdom of the spirit.
In speaking of the Father God in this sense, we would be entitled—although not in the external, materialistic way we do today, but more after the manner of the Hebrew teachings—to speak of natural phenomena that are also spirit phenomena, for the spirit is everywhere at work in natural phenomena. Science as we know it today, in the way it came into being not so very long ago and in the way it works, is only a one-sided science of the Father. We must add to this the knowledge of the Son, of Christ, that knowledge which relates to how the human being takes himself in hand, how the human being receives an impulse that can only be taken in through the soul and that does not come from the forces of heredity. That the human being enters into this is at first without any law, without the force or effectiveness of any law. The effectiveness comes in for him through the spirit, so that in the sense of the ancient Mysteries we have two realms: the realm of nature which is the realm of the Father, and the realm of the Spirit. The human being is carried from the realm of nature into the realm of Spirit by the Son, by Christ.
When we become properly aware of how such contemplations still ruled the apocalyptist and indeed the souls of his contemporaries, then we shall be able to see into his prophetic soul which was able to survey the future in broad outlines. This will enable us to understand how he now saw what came down upon Christianity—degenerating as it was in two directions into a semblance of its true self—round about the year 666.
His prophetic glance now fell on those teachings which were coming into being around the year 666 and which harked back to those Mysteries that knew nothing of the Son: the Mohammedan teachings. The Mohammedan teachings do not know the structure of the world I have just been speaking about, they do not know the two realms, that of the Father and that of the Spirit; they know only the Father. They know only the rigid doctrine: There is one God, Allah, and none beside him; and Mohammed is his Prophet. From this angle, the teachings of Mohammed are the strongest polarity to Christianity, for in them is the will to do away with all freedom for ever, the will to bring about determinism, for nothing else is possible if you can imagine the world solely in the sense of the Father God.
This gave the apocalyptist the feeling: The human being cannot find himself in this; the human being cannot become filled through and through with Christ; if he can comprehend only the old doctrine of the Father, the human being cannot take hold of his own humanness. For such an inwardly rigid and closed-off view of the world the external form of the human being becomes an illusion. The human being only becomes human by taking hold of himself through making Christ alive within himself; he only becomes human when he is adapted to the spiritual order in realms of spirit that are entirely free of nature. He does not become human if he regresses into a view that reckons solely with the Father God.
Now that the ‘I’ has been entering into man since the year 333, there is a danger—so says the apocalyptist—of humanity growing confused about this ‘I’ becoming filled with the Son God, with the Christ. After a period of time that is as long as the period up to then from the Mystery of Golgotha, something begins to rise up, something that threatens to keep humanity down at the level of the beast; 666 is the number of the Beast.
The apocalyptist foresaw quite decidedly what was threatening humanity. Christianity was going to collapse in two directions into a semblance of Christianity or, more clearly expressed, it was going to degenerate into a Christianity shrouded in mist. That which was threatening to flood over it in this way is indicated in the designation of the year 666, for the spiritual world the significant year in which what lives in Arabism, in Mohammedanism, sprang up everywhere. The apocalyptist names this year 666 as clearly as can be. Those who can read in an apocalyptic manner understand what I mean. By designating in his mighty words the number 666 as the number of the Beast the apocalyptist was foreseeing what would flood into evolution.
Thus, basically, he foresaw in a revelation everything that then followed. One thing was the streaming of Arabism toward Europe. Another was the way Christianity became filled with a doctrine that could only bring about a failure to understand the human being in his humanness. This arose because the doctrine of the Father was translated into materialism, leading to the assumption more recently that human evolution can only he explained by following the evolution of a sequence of animals up to the human being.
Darwinism surely was a case in point: As the number of the Beast, 666, appeared, the human being could no longer comprehend himself as a human being but only as some kind of higher animal. Surely we are seeing ahrimanic forces of opposition to the Son God at work in the way Christianity has become impregnated with the materialistic form of the Father doctrine. Are not such things still at work now, in our own time? I have often pointed to Harnack's What is Christianity? as an example of recent theological literature. Wherever the name of Christ appears in this book you might just as well replace it with the name of the Father, for Harnack's What is Christianity? is nothing but a doctrine of the Father God and not a concrete teaching about Christ at all. In fact, it is a denial of the Christ doctrine, for in place of Christ it puts a generalized Father God, and it does not make any kind of approach to all that would come under the heading of Christology.
The apocalyptist saw this time approaching, and in its approach he saw in essence something that oppressed his soul: the difficulty about the Transubstantiation—if I may use a human expression that does not quite coincide with the spiritual, but there is no other way of putting it. Dear friends, you are well aware of how you yourselves had to struggle with the difficulty about the Transubstantiation when this movement for Christian renewal was inaugurated; and you know how much you are still having to struggle with the difficulties inherent in understanding the Transubstantiation. Think of the hours we spent discussing this matter of the Transubstantiation over there in the room where the fire in the Goetheanum started. The Transubstantiation encompasses the whole question of Son and Father. You could say that the controversy about the Transubstantiation as it arose in the Middle Ages also contained something of the oppression experienced by humanity in the controversy between Arianism and Athanasianism.
Transubstantiation can in fact only be meaningful if it is founded on a genuine comprehension of Christology that is in keeping with the spirit, a comprehension of the way in which Christ is united with humanity and with the Earth. But because Arianism flooded in, Transubstantiation has always been exposed to being likened to the Father doctrine, which sees the metamorphosis taking place in the substances that are suitable for the Transubstantiation as having to be a part of the processes in nature, of the spirit in natural processes.
All questions connected with the Communion arise from saying: How can that which comes about in the Transubstantiation be grasped in a way that allows it to be compatible with what comes from the Father and is working in evolution and with what comes from the Spirit and is working in the laws of nature? It is not a question of a miracle but a question of the sacrament, which goes in a direction quite different to the trifling matter of a miracle that presented people in the nineteenth and even in the eighteenth century with such peculiar difficulties. One must think of the ordering brought about by the Father and the ordering brought about by the Spirit; and between them stands the Son who in the world of human beings lifts up the realm of nature into the realm of the Spirit. If we place this before our soul we shall find that the Transubstantiation does indeed appear as something that there is no need to see as belonging to the ordering of nature but that is no less possessed of reality, of a spiritual reality, a truly spiritual reality about which one can speak in the same way as one speaks about the reality of the ordering of nature.
The apocalyptist foresaw how difficult it would become for humanity, because of the violence with which the number 666 plays into human evolution, to say: Beside the ordering of nature there is also another ordering, the spiritual order.
But now—one would like to call it the most modern deliverance—there is something approaching out of Anthroposophy that can throw light on such a thing as the Transubstantiation. It is through Anthroposophy that we bring to life once more how human beings live repeatedly on the Earth. We show how, by having their field of activity in the external, physical world, they have in them impulses coming from the line of heredity, and how through heredity they are linked with the power of the Father. Seen only externally, there is a great deal in human destiny which is linked with these forces of heredity and which is brought about by the powers of the Father hidden in nature. By acting, however, in a way that brings Spirit into their physical bodily nature which they have brought into being for this present life, human beings also have working in them all the results of their former lives on Earth. These also work in them; these forces, too, are a foundation for their actions.
You can look at something a person does from two viewpoints. It can be an action born of father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, and so on—but it can also be one in which forces harking back to earlier lives on Earth are at work. The latter is an entirely different ordering and it can therefore not be understood on the basis of any science of nature, which is the science of the Father.
It is possible to consider two things which in their underlying reality are the same, though in outer appearance they are different. Look on the one hand at the human being and see how his karma, his destiny, develops as the consequence of earlier lives on Earth; it does this according to certain laws that exist, but they are not the laws of nature. And now look towards the altar, where we see that the Transubstantiation is also not externally visible, for it takes place in the physical substances as a spiritual reality. The same laws are at work in both these processes, and we can bring them together: The one is the way in which karma works, and the other is the way the Transubstantiation takes place. If you understand one, you can also understand the other.
This is one of the mysteries, dear friends, that you in this new priesthood must grasp. This is one of the mysteries under whose light this community of priests must develop out of Anthroposophy. It is one of the inner reasons why this must be.
In saying this, one is also pointing out the immense difficulty that arose, with regard to comprehending the Transubstantiation, from the fact that people could not understand the kind of law which is at work in human karma and which provides the foundation for the Transubstantiation. That year in which the ‘I’ entered the human being, allowing him to achieve freedom in physical life, that year of 333 in which Christianity on the one hand had to flee eastwards, which meant on the other hand that it was fleeing into the arms of ancient Romanness that could never become entirely Christian—that year of 333 not only brought with it the entry of the 'I', but it also had to cast a shadow, a darkness, over the connections between different lives on Earth. This is something that was a part of human evolution.
What would have happened if the ‘I’ had not entered into the human being at that time? Julian the Apostate—who would be better named Julian the Confessor where the ancient Mysteries are concerned—would have won the day. With the teachings of the ancient Mysteries that he had wanted to introduce it could have happened that the ‘I’ entering in from spiritual worlds might have been absorbed by humanity in such a way that it would have been possible to grasp the teaching about karma. (Of course this is purely hypothetical; we are only considering what might have happened.) Humanity, however, had to scale higher barriers and was not able to enter into a comprehension of Christianity so easily as would have been the case if Julian the Apostate had won the day.
Humanity was thus exposed to the rise of the Beast, to the consequences and results of the number 666. As I said, we shall be speaking more about the inner aspects of this over the next few days. So humanity was deprived of teachings about karma but placed into the midst of teachings about the Transubstantiation. This meant that there was nothing in the external world that was analogous to the teachings about the Transubstantiation, for it is teachings about karma that are analogous to the teachings about the Transubstantiation. The power through which the destiny of a human being is ‘made’ in successive lives on Earth is not a power of nature, not a power of the Father—it is the power of the Spirit mediated by the Son. This is the power that is also at work on the altar during the transformation of the Host.
We must certainly inscribe such a thing very deep down in our soul if we are to understand it correctly. If we can raise our soul, our inmost being, to the spiritual impulses that work from earthly life to earthly life, then we can also comprehend what happens at the altar in the Transubstantiation, for it is no different there.
If we look at the consecrated Host with our ordinary understanding we see nothing of what is really happening, just as in the destiny of an individual we see nothing of what is really happening if we look only at what the strength of his muscles and blood achieves in the material sense, by which I mean out of the stream of heredity—I am not speaking of the spiritual forces that are at work in muscles and blood.
These things, dear friends, provide the context, and if we cannot understand them we shall understand neither the Book of Revelation nor the apocalyptist. The impulses we can read quite clearly in the Book of Revelation bring us right up to the present day.