Sunday, February 6, 2011

"I am Alpha and Omega": The Book of Revelation and the Work of the Priest. Lecture 3 of 18

Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, September 7, 1924:

Yesterday we looked at the significant turning point that came about in human evolution because from the third Mystery age onwards the human being’s participation in the cosmic world through the act of consecration of man—namely in the Transubstantiation—took place in the astral body, that member of the human being which during sleep, for ordinary consciousness, departs from the physical body and which during the time of separation from the physical body is not receptive to perceptions of the surrounding world.

Let us be clear about how this astral body works in us today. It is the astral body that brings us the thoughts about our surroundings, the thoughts through which we comprehend the world. The moment the astral body departs from our physical and our etheric body, the thoughts about our surroundings are no longer there.

This realization can he supplemented by adding that the ‘I’-organization, the ‘I’ in human beings as they are constituted today, is the recipient of the sense impressions. The sense impressions die away when the ‘I’-organization withdraws from the physical and ether body. You could draw it like this: Here is the human being’s physical body, and here is his ether body. (Plate 2) During sleep the astral body and the ‘I’-organization are outside them. When we are awake this ‘I’-organization provides us with sensations and sense impressions. The sense impressions are not there when we sleep because the ‘I’-organization is not present in the physical and ether bodies and because the ‘I’-organization is not receptive to impressions of our surroundings while we are asleep. The astral body only supplies the thoughts while it is in the physical and ether body. When it is outside these it is not sensitive for the things of the world and does not supply any impressions.

In the third Mystery age, when the human being [the priest] was to come into contact with the divine spiritual beings through the cultic Word by means of all the preparatory exercises, it was this astral body that became receptive to working out the Transubstantiation within itself in the Communion, and through this working out of the Transubstantiation it became receptive for apocalypse, for revelation.

Beginning with our present age, the same kind of process must now take place in the ‘I’-organization of human beings. This ‘I’-organization must be constituted in a way that enables it to experience the Transubstantiation, even though in ordinary consciousness only sense impressions can be experienced through it. It must be constituted in a way that enables it to participate in revelation, in apocalypse, through the Transubstantiation.

The human being can indeed become receptive to this today; the human being can genuinely become a priest if he takes into himself inner pictures that are true spiritual images of the supersensible world. By saying this we have, basically, characterized the inner connection between an esotericism that rightly exists today and that which must live in the soul of the priest. We have characterized what can make The Christian Community become the bearer of an important part of the new Mysteries. We must take account, though, of how the Anthroposophy that is drawing near to human beings today is constituted.

I have often cited a certain image by saying: People today are inclined to accept as knowledge everything that can in any way be supported by external perception, by scientific experiments. They do not want to accept as knowledge what cannot be supported by external perception or by experiment. But people who have this attitude resemble someone who says: Every stone on the Earth needs support if it is not to fall down; therefore the planets in the universe must also be supported so that they do not fall down. That the planets hold each other up in the universe without any supports is accepted as a matter of course today, because this is taught traditionally, on good authority. The fact, however, that anthroposophical truths are such that they do not need to be supported by external observation or by scientific experiments but mutually support and carry one another—this is widely doubted.

As soon as we can accept that anthroposophical truths are valid because one such truth supports another, so that the truths give each other mutual support—when the moment arrives in which we can accept this we can begin to desist from repeating that unfortunate turn of phrase which states: Since I cannot as yet see into the spiritual world, I cannot understand the content of Anthroposophy. When this moment arrives we begin to understand Anthroposophy through the way its truths support one another, and then we can delve more deeply into it.

This task of delving more deeply into the knowledge about the spiritual world given by Anthroposophy is the task that can, and indeed must, lead the priests to their inner path. We need only realize that the disposition, the attitude of soul we enter into, when we honestly take hold of Anthroposophy, is a fitting way of approaching something like the Book of Revelation. The Book of Revelation is unique, but as I allow it to work on me every one of its images, every Imagination, becomes one with my own ‘I’. The moment then comes when this revelation can be not only the experience of the human ‘I’ but also its creation. What we have to do is approach this Book of Revelation in an anthroposophical sense. Today there is no other way of gaining access to it.

Let us now endeavor to grasp a few main points of the Book of Revelation spiritually.

The sentence ‘I am Alpha and Omega’ (Rev. 1.8) is only comprehensible if you know that in olden times the sound A [Ah] was not the abstract, separate, meaningless part of a word we feel it to be today, but a sound of sufficient import to have its own name.

Humanity has treated the sounds of speech, which embrace such an immense mystery, in a peculiar manner. Humanity has treated the sounds of speech like the police treat criminals, giving each sound a number, just as criminals are numbered when they are shut up in their cells. By losing their names and gaining numbers instead, the sounds of speech have lost their inner nature. This is a pictorial way of putting it, but it is entirely true.

If we go back beyond those Roman-Latin times when the sounds of speech were given numbers, we come to ages when humanity was fully aware—and in Hebrew this was certainly the case—that it was perfectly appropriate for a sound of speech to have its own name, so that it could be called Alpha—or Aleph in Hebrew—because it was a being, something divine, a supersensible being. When we look more closely at this first sound of what we now call the alphabet we shall have to undergo a kind of spiritual development of concepts before we can arrive at what Alpha really is.

In Anthroposophy we describe how earthly evolution goes back to the pre-earthly, planetary conditions of consciousness known as Moon, Sun, and right back to the Saturn con­dition. In considering the evolution of the world we try to bring forward whatever is linked with the evolution of the human being. In Old Saturn we find the first cosmic human seed which, after manifold transformations through the conditions of consciousness of Sun, Moon, and Earth, has become the human physical body we know today. The human being existed in Old Saturn in a primal seed-beginning.

It is important for those of us who seriously and honestly want to penetrate to the truth in these matters to ask ourselves: What did this primal seed of the human being experience in Old Saturn? Life in Old Saturn took its course in variations of warmth. In differentiations of heat and cold human beings absorbed varying temperatures. They lived in conditions that told them much about the heat and cold of the cosmos and also much about the spirit, but only that realm of the spirit that worked in variations of heat and cold.

Moving on from Old Saturn to Old Sun we find that now human beings lived in a physical body that was differentiated into warmth and air, so that in Old Sun they had an organism consisting of warmth ether and the element of air. There was thus a differentiation within the human beings themselves. The human being became inwardly more rich. Not only are differences in temperature perceived, as in the Saturn condition, but now something appears that could be called an inwardness. Human beings in Old Sun perceived warmth, but they also perceived a kind of inner breathing rhythm within themselves, which in turn expressed secrets of the cosmos, was a mirror image of cosmic secrets.

We can see how the being of man grows richer as it develops from the Saturn condition to the Sun condition of the Earth, and richer again as it develops from the Sun condition to the Moon condition and to the Earth condition. This being of man will grow richer still by developing further through the future planetary conditions up to Jupiter and on to Vulcan.

What was the human being’s relationship to the world in Old Saturn? His relationship to the world in Old Saturn was such that quantitatively he experienced infinitely many variations in temperature, but not very much qualitatively. There was as yet little of the world in the human being. He existed, he was human; you could say he was just human, having nothing much of the world in him as yet. But as he moves forward through Sun, Moon, Earth, up to Jupiter his inner being will more and more become filled with world. His life will become ever more richly endowed with world. Now, here on the Earth, we already have a good chunk of world in us. And when the Earth condition will have reached the stage at which it will dissolve once more, human beings will have a great chunk of macrocosm in them that will have been worked through in earthly images.

We already bear a part of the cosmos in us, only we do not know this with our ordinary knowledge. As we progress onward toward spiritual knowledge through Imagination, Inspiration, and Intuition, our inner experiences will become ever more wonderful and magnificent in our soul. Just consider the human eye as it is known to our ordinary consciousness today. Yet this human eye is a cosmos in every one of its details, wonderful and magnificent like the macrocosm. Even just in the physical body every organ is revealed as a whole wonderful world. When a human being looks around as an initiate, he sees a world down there with elements and up there with stars, with Sun and Moon. When he looks into himself he sees every organ — eye, ear, lungs, liver, and so on — each as a world in its own right. This physical body of the human being is a tremendous weaving and interpenetrating of worlds, worlds that are complete, worlds that are as yet only present in seed form, worlds that are sense-perceptible, half supersensible, and wholly supersensible. As the human being progresses through many evolutions he gathers more and more worlds into himself.

We can discern the human being at the beginning of Old Saturn right at the outset of being human, with as yet no world in him. The first thing he felt during the evolution of Old Saturn was that he was a body of warmth; he perceived the dimensions of this body of warmth. Expressed in a diagram we could say that in Old Saturn the human being felt himself to be warmth, but gradually, having at first felt like a kind of warmth mollusc, he noticed something like a collection of different temperatures, and then something like an outer skin, a warmth skin, though somewhat cooler in temperature than the warmth inside. He felt the inside to be somewhat warmer, with manifold variations, while the outer warmth skin had warmth of the least intensity.

We can describe all this in today’s language, but there is something abstract about our language. It lacks the power of enchantment with which to conjure before our souls the magnificence of such images when we look into past aeons right back to Old Saturn. Those who are touched even slightly by these visions will also be touched by the holy awe with which such things were seen in the ancient Mysteries. As late as the chthonic Mysteries of ancient Greece these things were spoken about in a way that recognized the human being of Old Saturn who did not yet possess the skin of warmth; and they knew about this human being of Old Saturn that the first thing he took to himself from the surrounding world was the skin of warmth which imitated the world in its configuration. That was the first thing the human being took on from the world.

When the human being was still a being of warmth, what did his inner experiences look like subjectively in the soul? His inner experience was pure wonderment about the world. The only way you can express what he experienced is to say that it was pure wonderment. Warmth cannot be comprehended as anything other than pure wonderment. Externally it is warmth, internally it is experienced as pure wonderment. It is only because people have become so clumsy in their concepts that they speak about the inexplicability of the ‘thing in itself’ as did old Kant. The ‘thing in itself’ of warmth is wonderment; and the human being of Saturn was just as much wonderment as he was warmth. He lived in wonderment, in astonishment about his own existence, for he was only just embarking on this existence. This is Alpha: the Saturn human being, the warmth human being living in wonderment. And the first thing the human being experienced as world, as the outer housing provided by world, the skin, this is Beta, the human being in his house, in his temple. (Plate 2) The house was the first thing the human being received from the world: the skin—Beta.

If we proceed in this way through the whole alphabet, we proceed through the world. After gradually taking into himself everything that is world and filling his whole being with it, when he arrives at Vulcan having united with himself the whole content of the world, of this great All to which he belongs, the human being will have become the one he was at the beginning of the Saturn condition plus the whole world. He will be Alpha and Omega, man who unites in himself everything that is world. By saying ‘I am Alpha and Omega’ in the way John’s Book of Revelation does, we have desig­nated what the human being will be at the end of the Vulcan condition. At the end of the Vulcan condition the human being, too, will be permitted to say: I am Alpha and Omega.

Let us look at what we have imagined to ourselves as being the beginning, middle, and end of humanity’s evolution, let us look at this in conjunction with the Mystery of Golgotha. In the being who incarnated in Jesus through the Mystery of Golgotha we have—roughly halfway through human evolution—a being in the world who is already at the stage in world evolution that the human being will have reached at the end of the Vulcan condition. We have a being as a god such as man will be as a human being at the end of the Vulcan condition.

What is it to be god as compared to being man? To be god as compared to being man means that in the stream of time the god is that which man will be later on. Do not say that this is tantamount to bringing the god down to the level of man or even making the god out to be man. The god does not become man. For supersensible vision time is simultaneous reality, although this may sound paradoxical. The interval between man and god is demonstrated by what occurred at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha. In trying to comprehend such things one must not directly relate different times with one another, nor beings who belong to different times.

In writings such as John’s Book of Revelation many things are still expressed in the language of the Mysteries, so they can only be understood if the meaning can be extricated out of the Mystery language. It is not surprising that the writer of the Book of Revelation spoke in the Mystery language, for in his day people were still familiar with it. They knew that the sounds of speech are supersensible beings, that Alpha is the human being as a supersensible being at the beginning of his existence, that when you move from Alpha to Beta you move from human being to world, including the divine world, and that when you go through all the sounds of the alphabet to Omega you are taking into yourself the whole of the divine world.

It is a disturbing fact today that the sounds of speech are nothing but trifles as far as we are concerned. What are the sounds of speech but trifles nowadays? You do not know very much if you only know the ABC. Such things are trifles, but they are trifles that point back to a beginning where there were divine, spiritual beings. Our trifling letters of the alphabet are the descendants of what humanity once upon a time recognized as divine, spiritual beings. The whole alphabet was the sum of such divine, spiritual beings. The sounds were gods, resounding toward the human being from all sides, sounds such as A, B, Alpha, Beta: the human being, the human being in his house, and so on. Alpha and Omega: the human being with the entire world. When speaking them, human beings experienced the sounds of speech as that which filled them with spirit.

The last remnant of the divine spirit living in the sounds was still present when the cultus was intoned in the third Mystery age. In the earliest part of that age this was still well understood. When human beings intoned, one after another, the sounds of what is today our abstract, traditional alphabet, they were intoning the cosmic Word. Through what they were intoning they united themselves with all the gods. In the beginning was the Word—this means the same as when Christ says ‘I am the Word’, or ‘I am Alpha and Omega’.

The Book of Revelation is written in the language of the Mysteries, so it uses expressions that harken back to the great times when human beings felt the macrocosm to be a speaking universal All. The sounds of speech, which in olden times denoted the highest spirituality for human beings, have been reduced to trifling shadows today. We must learn to sense what has happened. The sounds are there, but the gods are no longer in the sounds as far as human beings are concerned. The gods have departed from the sounds. Ahrimanic beings are now hidden in a demonic way in the sounds of our speech. The popular myth that the sounds of our speech contain something of black magic if they can be held rigid is not without foundation. This is rightly maintained by a healthy popular imagination, for the divine sounds of the past have become ahrimanized. The gods of old have departed from the sounds and ahrimanic beings have entered into them. If we cannot find the way back in this connection, then even through speech human beings will more and more fill themselves with ahrimanic powers.

These are the kind of feelings with which we must approach the Book of Revelation. Only then will the content it places before our souls be revealed in all its might and greatness. For what is it that the apocalyptist wants? He wants what all those also want who rightly speak about Christ from genuine knowledge.

John wants to present the Christ to humanity. He draws attention to the fact that the Christ is here. He begins the Book of Revelation by saying that the Christ is here. Translated into our language, the first words of the Book of Revelation signify simply: Behold the appearance of Jesus Christ! Look, I want to show you this appearance of Jesus Christ which God has given!

The first thing the apocalyptist does in his own way, in the apocalyptic way, is to point out that the Christ wishes to appear before humanity. But then he immediately draws attention to the fact that he not only intends to announce the appearance, the Imagination, of Jesus Christ, which to some extent presupposes the ability to see spiritually; he also intends to draw attention to the fact that the divine world power which has brought this appearance into the world has also brought a description in words of this thing that it has made visible to the spiritual eye.

These words, that are from God himself, are the interpretation of the appearance of Jesus Christ, and God has sent them through an angel to his servant John. This is how we must understand the beginning of the Book of Revelation.

Actually, two things are in question. Firstly there is the matter of an Imagination, an image of Christ, and secondly there is the matter of Christ’s message. What is spoken of in the second sentence—that which John witnessed and of which he bore record—this is the appearance of Christ and the interpretation of his appearance: Christ in an image and Christ described in words. The apocalyptist’s intention is to place before human beings Christ in an image and Christ in words.

This immediately points to something that was obvious to people of those times but which has meanwhile become entirely lost to humanity. In our poverty-stricken psychology we talk today of a sense perception and of a mental image. And to make the matter as impoverished as possible people say that sense perceptions are brought about by the senses, and that mental images are made by human beings in their mind. Everything is merely subjective; nothing cosmic is left. People put Kantian interpretations on a rich world and forget entirely that the human being exists in the midst of the universe.

The intuitive element of the Word has shrivelled in us into impoverished mental images; the intuitive element of the Word is the second thing emphasized by John, testified to by John. The apocalyptist presents the appearance of the Christ to us as what we might call a perception of the supersensible. We must therefore say:

See the appearance of Jesus Christ, given by God to show his servants what must come to pass in the course of a short time;

I shall explain these words later.
God has put it into words and sent it through his angel to his servant John. John has testified to God’s Word and to the appearance of Jesus Christ, which he has seen.

John wants to give to human beings what he has received from God in the letter and what he has seen.

It is necessary that we reconsider the scripture of Christianity in this concrete way. And it is your task as priests — you who want to be priests from the deepest and most honest impulse of your hearts —to bring concreteness back into scripture. For it is a fact that people reading the Gospels in the language of today are dishonest if they say they understand them. What I have just explained to you is what it says at the beginning of the Book of Revelation.

‘The Revelation of Jesus Christ’, we read in one translation, ‘which God gave unto him, to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John.’ This is what is written there, and this is proclaimed throughout the world as the wording of the Book of Revelation. Yet no one can actually imagine what it means. This is the case for the greater part of the Gospels. It is because of efforts to persuade people that there is meaning in a text that no longer represents what was originally written in it that people have gradually come to believe that one should not even try to go more deeply into the Gospels. Indeed, how should one set about doing so? If you read the Gospels in any modern language you no longer understand anything—if you are honest. What you read in the Gospels in these modern languages no longer expresses anything. One must go back to what was originally written, as we did just now for the first two sentences; and we shall do this for other sentences as well.

People also say that for certain passages in the Gospels one must go back to the Greek text. Well, with all due respect to our contemporaries who make such honest efforts to understand Greek, I have to say that in fact no one can understand ancient Greek today because we no longer have in us what the Greeks had in them when they spoke and when they listened. When we listen to someone, or when we speak ourselves, we are nothing but bags of flour. We remain as passive inwardly as the flour in a well-packed bag. This was not so for the Greeks. The consciousness of the Greek vibrated when he listened; he came alive inwardly, and out of this liveliness he spoke. The words he heard and those which he spoke were living bodies, they were alive for him. And look at the peoples of the Orient. There may be decadence in them today, but they are not like Europeans who can no longer inwardly hear anything at all that is alive when they speak or listen. Listen to an Oriental poet such as Rabindranath Tagore, listen to how such people, even in their few important examples, depict the inner weaving and life that can live in language.

Today people think they have language if they possess a dictionary with English words on one side and German ones on the other. They are perfectly happy to put down the German words to correspond with the English ones. They have not the slightest inkling of the fact that one is leaping across a chasm, that one is entering an entirely different world, and that what lives in language should be treated as something divine.

People must become conscious of this once more. Then, inwardly, they will demand to return to what vibrates within ancient communications such as the Book of Revelation that conjures up before our soul the appearance of Jesus Christ. As a mighty appearance, indeed: this will stand before our soul if we can see it as though the whole element of clouds were to draw together suddenly and present us with wonderful splendor, taking on human form and angel form. As if past, present, and future were to well out from the cloud substance, revealing the spiritual substance content of the world which includes within it the human being—this is how the appearance of Jesus Christ is pictured.

The appearance is initially such that we fall silent before it, becoming one with the world and ceasing to exist for our own consciousness. We stand before the appearance in such a way that it alone is there, while we ourselves become nothing.

Then, behind the appearance, we become aware of God who reveals, the Father God who has given us the appearance. Behind the appearance he gives the inspiring words. The words that are the interpretation of the appearance, this is his secret. But the time has come when the secret is given by God to an angel who brings it down to human beings as a message in a letter from God, along the same path taken by the Inspiration from God to human beings.

When the human being has fallen silent, has disappeared, has been absorbed into the appearance, beginning not only to be himself but also inwardly to take in the letter from God, of which he must first break the seals, the seven seals that close it, making it the letter from God that is sealed with seven seals—when this happens, the human being himself becomes what is written in the letter. Then the human being begins to regard what is written in the letter as his own ‘I’-being. Then he stands before the appearance filled with divine ideas, with the divine concept, with the spiritual inner picture of the appearance.

When you imagine the Priest John before the appearance of Jesus Christ, losing his identity in selflessness, when you see him receiving from the angels the seven-times sealed letter from God, when you see arising in him the decision to break the seals and impart the content to humanity—then you have the picture, the Imagination, that stands at the beginning of the Book of Revelation. We must understand what he takes in to be the Word, and that it is as I have described it in the Imagination. This is what the apocalyptist wants to impart. Therefore he says: Blessed is he who reads and hears the Words of the macrocosm, who absorbs and preserves for himself what is written in the book—if he can understand it—for the time has come.

It has come indeed. There is nothing arbitrary about this. It belongs to the karma of the community for Christian renewal that we are now speaking in this connection about the Book of Revelation.


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