Thursday, September 1, 2011
Christ and the Spiritual World: The Search for the Holy Grail. Lecture 1: The Gnosis; the original yoga: the union of the Primal Father with Silence; Sophia and Achamod; The Son and the Holy Spirit; the Demiurgos
Rudolf Steiner, December 28, 1913:
Many people who are naturally fitted to receive Anthroposophy in our present age will find it necessary to clear away various contradictions that may arise in their minds. In particular, the soul can be brought up against a certain contradiction when it wants to take seriously the memories of such a season of festival as that which includes Christmas and the New Year. When we take these memories seriously then it becomes clear to us that at the same time as we try to gain knowledge, we must penetrate into the spiritual history of mankind if we are to understand rightly our own spiritual evolution. We need only take a certain thought, and we shall find it on the one hand full of light, while on the other it makes us disturbingly aware of how contradictions, difficulties, must pile up before the soul of anyone who wants to accept in the right sense our anthroposophical knowledge concerning man and the evolution of the world.
Among the varied forms of knowledge that we try to reach through our anthroposophical studies we must of course include knowledge of the Christ; knowledge of the fundamentally important impulse — we have called it the Christ Impulse — which came in at the beginning of our era. And we are bound often to ask ourselves how we can hope to penetrate more effectively, with deepened anthroposophical knowledge, into the course of human evolution, in order to understand the Christ Impulse, than those who lived at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha were able to do. Was it not much easier for them to penetrate into this Mystery, whose secret is specially bound up with the evolution of humanity, than it is for us, at this great distance in time? That might be a troublesome question for persons who want to seek an understanding of Christ in the light of Anthroposophy. It might become one of those contradictions which have a depressing effect just when we want to take most earnestly the deeper principles of our anthroposophical knowledge. This contradiction can be cleared away only when we call up before our souls the whole spiritual situation of humanity at the beginning of our era.
If we try — at first without any kind of religious or similar feeling — to enter into the psychic disposition of man at that time, we can make a most peculiar discovery. We can say to ourselves that we will rely on what cannot be denied even by minds most given over to externals; we will draw on the old tradition as found in history, but we will try to penetrate into that part of it which embraces the purest spiritual life. In this way we may hope to lay hold of essential elements in the evolution of humanity. Let us therefore try to enter quite historically into the endeavors that were made by men, say two hundred years before the Mystery of Golgotha and a hundred and fifty years after it, to deepen their thinking in order to understand the secrets, the riddles, of the world. Then we realize that during the centuries before and after the Mystery of Golgotha a change of far-reaching significance occurred in the souls of men with regard to the life of thought. We find that a large part of the civilized world received the influence of that which Greek culture and other deepened forms of thinking had achieved some centuries previously.
When we consider what mankind had accomplished in this way by its own efforts, not in response to any impulse from without, and how much had been attained by men called “sages” in the Stoic sense (and a good many personalities in Roman history were so ranked), then we are bound to say: These conquests in the realm of thought and ideas were made at the beginning of our era, and Western life has not added very much to them. We have gained an endless amount of knowledge concerning the facts of Nature and have been through revolutions in our ways of thinking about the external world. But the thoughts, the ideas themselves, through which these advances have been made, and with which men have tried to discern the secrets of existence in external, spatial terms, have really developed very little since the beginning of our era. They were all present — even those of which the modern world is so proud, including the idea of evolution — in the souls of that period. What might be called an intellectual laying hold of the world, a life of ideas, had reached a certain summit, and not only among particular individuals, such as the pupils of Socrates a little earlier; it had become popular in a limited sense and had spread widely over southern Europe and other regions. This deepening of thought is truly astonishing.
An impartial history of philosophy would have to pay special attention to this triumph of human thinking at that time.
But if we now take these highly significant advances in the realm of ideas, and on the other hand the secrets bound up with the Mystery of Golgotha, we become aware of something different. We realize that as the story of the event on Golgotha became known in that age, an immense wrestling of thought with that Mystery occurred. We see how the philosophies of the period, especially the Gnostic philosophy in its much profounder form, struggled to bring all the ideas it had gained to bear on this one purpose. And it is most important to let this struggle work upon us. For we then come to recognize that the struggle was in vain; that the Mystery of Golgotha appeared to human understanding as though it were dispersed through far-distant spiritual worlds and would not unveil itself.
Now, from the outset I would like to say that when in these lectures I speak of the Mystery of Golgotha, I do not wish to invest this term with any coloring drawn from religious traditions or convictions. We shall be concerned purely with objective facts that are fundamental to human evolution, and with what physical and spiritual observation can bring to light. I shall leave aside everything that individual religious creeds have to say about the Mystery of Golgotha and shall look only at what has happened in the course of human evolution. I shall have to say many things which will be made clear and substantiated later on.
In setting the Mystery of Golgotha by the side of the deepest thought of that time, the first thing that strikes one is what I expressed by saying: The nature of this Mystery lies far, far beyond what can be reached by the development of thinking. And the more exactly one studies this contrast, the more is one brought to the following recognition. One can enter deeply into the thought-world that belongs to the beginning of our era; one can try to bring livingly before one's soul what thinking meant for those men of Greece and Rome; one can call up before one's soul the ideas that sprang from their thinking, and then one comes to the feeling: Yes, that was the time when thought underwent an unprecedented deepening. Something happened with thought; it approached the human soul in a quite new way. But if then, after living back into the thought-world of that time and recreating it in one's soul, one brings clairvoyant perception to bear on this experience, then suddenly something surprising emerges. One feels that something is happening far, far away in the spiritual worlds and that the deepening of thought is a consequence of it.
We have already called attention to the fact that behind our world lie other worlds — the Astral, the Devachanic, and the Higher Devachanic. Let us first remind ourselves that these three worlds lie behind our own! Then, if the clairvoyant state of soul is raised to full activity within oneself, the impression is received that neither in the Astral world nor in the lower Devachanic world can a complete explanation of the deepening of thought at that time be found. Only if one could place one's soul in the higher Devachanic world — so says clairvoyant insight — would one experience what it is that streams through the other two worlds and penetrates right down into our physical world.
On this physical plane there is no need to be aware, while steeping oneself in that past world of ideas, of anything told concerning the Mystery of Golgotha. One can leave that quite out of account and ask simply: No matter what happened over there in Palestine, what does external history indicate? It shows that in Greece and Rome an infinite deepening of thought took place. Let us put a circle around this Greek and Roman thought-world and make it an enclosed island, as it were, in our soul-life — an island shut off from everything outside; let us imagine that no report of the Mystery of Golgotha has reached it. Then, when we inwardly contemplate this world, we certainly find there nothing that is known today about the Mystery of Golgotha, but we find an infinite deepening of thought which indicates that here in the evolution of humanity something happened which took hold of the innermost being of the soul on the physical plane. We are persuaded that in no previous age and among no other people had thinking ever been like that! However sceptical anyone may be, however little he may care to know about the Mystery of Golgotha, he must admit one thing: that in this island world that we have enclosed there was a deepening of thought never previously known.
But if one places oneself in this thought-world, and has a clairvoyant faculty in the background, then one feels truly immersed in the individual character of this thought. And then one says to oneself: Yes, as this thinking flowers into idea, with Plato and others, as it passes over into the world we tried to enclose, it has a quality which sets the soul free, which lays hold of the soul and brings it to a loftier view of itself. Whatever else you may apprehend in the external world or in the spiritual world makes you dependent on those worlds; in thinking you take hold of something which lives in you and which you can experience completely. You may draw back from the physical world, you may disbelieve in a spiritual world, you may refuse to know anything about clairvoyant impressions, you may shut out all physical impressions — with thoughts you can live in yourself; in your thinking you lay hold, as it were, of your own being!
But then — and it cannot be otherwise if one enters with clairvoyant perception into this sea of thought, as I might call it — a feeling of the isolation of thought comes over one; a feeling that thought is still only thought; that it lives first of all only in the soul, and that one cannot draw from it the power to go out into a world where the ground of the rest of our being — the ground of what else we are — is to be found. In the very moment when one discerns the grandeur of thought, one discerns also its unreality. Then one can see also how in the surrounding world that one has come to know through clairvoyance there is fundamentally nothing to sustain thought.
Then why should thought be there at all? The physical world can do nothing but falsify it. Those who wish to be pure materialists, who refuse to ascribe to thought any primal reality of its own, should really prefer to prohibit it. For if the natural world is the only real world, thought can only falsify it. It is only because materialists are illogical that they do not embrace the only theory of cognition that goes with monistic materialism: the refrain-from-thinking, think-no-more theory. But to anyone who immerses himself with clairvoyant perception in the world of thought there comes this disquieting awareness of the isolation of thought, as though he were standing quite alone with it. And then only one thing remains for him — but it does remain. Something comes towards him, even though it be from a far spiritual distance, separated from him by two worlds; and it becomes apparent — so the clairvoyant soul says to itself — that in this third world lies the true origin, the fountainhead, of that which is in the life of thought. For clairvoyant souls in our time it could be a powerful experience to immerse themselves, alone with their thinking, in the time when thought underwent its deepening; to shut out everything else, including knowledge of the Mystery of Golgotha, and to reflect how the thought-content on which we still nourish ourselves came forth in the Graeco-Roman world.
Then one should turn one's gaze to other worlds and feel rising over the Devachanic world a star that belongs to a higher spiritual world: the star from which rays out the power that makes itself felt in the thought world of Graeco-Roman antiquity. Then one feels oneself here on Earth, but carried away from the world of today and plunged into the Graeco-Roman world, with its influence spreading out over other regions at that time, before the Mystery of Golgotha. But as soon as one lets the spiritual world make its impression on one, there appears again, shining over Devachan, the star (I speak symbolically), or the spiritual being of whom one says to oneself: Yes, the experience of the isolation of thought, and of the possibility of thought having undergone such a deepening at the beginning of our era — this is a consequence of the rays that shine out from this star in the higher spiritual world. And then comes a feeling which at first knows nothing of the historical tradition of the Mystery of Golgotha but can be expressed thus: Yes, you are there in the Graeco-Roman world of ideas, with all that Plato and others were able to give to the general education of mankind, with what they have imparted to the souls of men — you feel yourself living in the midst of that. And then you wait ... and truly not in vain, for as though deep in the background of spiritual life appears the star which sends forth its rays of power; and you can say that what you have experienced is a result of that power.
This experience can be gone through. And in going through it one has not relied on any kind of tradition, but has quite impartially sought the origin of what took place in the Graeco-Roman world. But one has also had the experience of being separated by three worlds from understanding the root-causes of that Graeco-Roman world.
And then, perhaps, one turns to the men of that time who tried in their own way to understand the change. Even the external scholarship of today has come to recognize that in this period of transition at the beginning of our era some religious-philosophic geniuses lived. And they can best be encountered by looking at Gnosticism. The Gnosis is known in the most varied ways. Externally, remarkably little is really known about it, but from the available documents one can still get an impression of its endless depth. We will speak of it only in so far as it bears on our present considerations.
Above all we can say that the Gnostics had a feeling for what I have just described; that for the causes of what happened in that past epoch one must look to worlds lying infinitely far away in the background. This awareness was passed on to others, and if we are not superficial we can, if we will, see it glimmering through what we may call the theology of Paul, and in many other manifestations also.
Now, anyone who steeps himself in the Gnosis of that period will have great difficulty in understanding it. Our souls are too much affected and infected by the fruits of the materialistic developments of the last few centuries. In tracing back the evolution of the world they are too readily inclined to think in terms of the Kant-Laplace theory of a cosmic nebula, of something quite material. And even those who seek for a more spiritual conception of the world — even they, when they look back to the beginning of time, think of this cosmic nebula or something similar. These modern people, even the most spiritual, feel very happy when they are spared the trouble of discerning the spiritual in the primal beginnings of cosmic evolution. They find it a great relief, these souls of today, when they can say to themselves: “This or that rarefied form of material substance was there to start with, and out of it everything spiritual developed side by side with everything physical.” And so we often find souls who are greatly comforted when they can apply the most materialistic methods of inquiry to the beginning of the cosmos and arrive at the most abstract conception of some kind of gaseous body.
That is why it is so difficult to enter into the thoughts of the Gnosis. For what the Gnosis places at the beginning of the world carries no suggestion of anything at all material. Anyone thoroughly attuned to modern education will perhaps be unable to restrain a slight smile if he is invited to think in the sense of the Gnosis that the world in which he finds himself, the world he explains so beautifully with his Darwinism, bears no relation to a true picture of how the world began! Indeed, he will hardly be able to help smiling when he is asked to think that the origin of the world resides in that cosmic being who is beyond all concepts, not to be reached by any of the means that are applied nowadays to explaining the world. In the primal Divine Father — says the Gnosis — lies the ground of the world, and only in what proceeds from Him do we find something to which the soul can struggle through if it turns away from all material conceptions and searches a little for its own innermost depth. And this is Silence: the eternal Silence in which there is neither space nor time, but silence only.
It was to this duality of the primal Father and the Silence preceding time and space that the Gnostic looked up; and then, from the union of the primal Father with the Silence, as it were, he conceived other existences proceeding: one can equally well call them Worlds or Beings. And from them others, and again others, and again others — and so on through thirty stages. And only at the thirtieth stage did the Gnostic posit a condition prior to our present mentality — a condition so delightfully explained by Darwinism in terms of that mentality. Or, strictly speaking, at the thirty-first stage — for thirty of these existences, which can be called Worlds or Beings, precede our world. “Aeon” is the name generally given to these thirty Beings or Worlds that precede our own.
One can get a clear idea of what is meant by this Aeon-world only by saying to oneself: To the thirty-first stage there belongs not only what your senses perceive as the external world, but also the way in which your thinking as physical man tries to explain the sense world. It is easy enough to come to terms with a spiritual conception of the world if one says: Yes, the external world is certainly maya, but with thinking we penetrate into a spiritual world — and if one hopes that this thinking really can reach the spiritual world. But according to the Gnostic this is not so; for him, this thinking belongs to the thirty-first Aeon, to the physical world. So not only sense perception but human thinking lies outside the thirty Aeons, who can be looked up to through the stages of spiritual evolution, and who reveal themselves in ever-mounting perfection.
One can easily imagine the smile that comes to a Monist, standing at the summit of his time, if he is asked to believe in thirty preceding worlds — thirty worlds with a content entirely different from anything his thinking can conceive. But that was the view of the Gnostics. And then they asked themselves: How is it with this world?
We will disregard for a while what we have ourselves said about the world in the sense of the early twentieth century. What I am now telling you must not be taken as offering a convincing world-picture. In the Anthroposophy of the twentieth century we have naturally to get beyond the Gnosis, but just now we want to sink ourselves in it.
Why is this surrounding world, including the human faculty of thinking about it, shut off from the thirty Aeons? We must look, said the Gnostic, to the lowest but still purely spiritual Aeon. And there we find the Divine Sophia, the Divine Wisdom. She had evolved in a spiritual way through the twenty-nine stages, and in the spiritual world she looked up to the highest Aeon through the ranks of spiritual Beings or Worlds. But one day, one cosmic day, it became evident to her that if she was to maintain a free vision into the spiritual world of the Aeons, she had to separate something from herself. And she separated from herself that which existed in her as desire. And this desire, being no longer present in the Divine Sophia, the Divine Wisdom, now wanders through the realms of space and permeates everything that comes into being in the realms of space. Desire does not live only in sense perception, but also in human thinking, and in the longing that looks back to the spiritual world; but always as something cast out into the souls of men. As an image, but as an image of the Divine Sophia cast out from her, lives this desire, Achamod, thrown out into the world and permeating it.
If you look into yourself, without raising yourself into spiritual worlds, you look into the desire-filled world of Achamod. Because this world is filled with desire it cannot disclose within itself that which is revealed by looking out into the world of the Aeons. Far, far away in the world of the Aeons — so thought the Gnosis — the pure spirituality of the Aeons engenders what the Gnostics called the Son of the Father-God, and also what they called the pure Holy Spirit. So we have here another generation, as it were, another evolutionary line, different from that which led to the Divine Sophia. As in the propagation of physical life the sexes are separate, so in the progression of the Aeons another stream took its origin from a very high level in the spiritual world: the stream of the Son and the Holy Spirit stemming from the Father. So in the world of Aeons there was one stream leading to the Divine Sophia and another to the Son and the Holy Spirit. If one rises through the Aeons, one comes eventually to an Aeon from whom there arose on the one hand the succession leading to the Divine Sophia, and on the other the succession leading to the Son and the Holy Spirit. And then we ascend to the Father-God and the Divine Silence.
Because the human soul is shut off with Achamod in the material world, it has in the sense of the Gnosis a longing for the spiritual world, and above all for the Divine Sophia, from whom it is separated through being filled with Achamod. This feeling of being separated from the Divine, of not being within the Divine — this feeling is actually experienced, according to the Gnostic, as the material world. And the Gnostic sees originating from the divine-spiritual world, but bound up with Achamod, what one might call (to borrow a Greek word) the Demiurgos, the cosmic Architect.
This Demiurgos is the real arch-creator and sustainer of that which is permeated with Achamod and the material. The souls of men are woven into his world. But they are imbued also with longing for the Divine Sophia. As though in the far distance of the Aeon-world appear the Son and the Holy Spirit in their pure divine spirituality, but they appear only to someone who has — in the sense of the Gnosis — raised himself above everything in which is embodied Achamod, the desire that pervades space.
Why is there this longing in the souls that have been drawn into the world of Achamod? Why, after their separation from the divine-spiritual world, do they feel a longing for it? The Gnostics also asked themselves these questions, and they said: Achamod was cast out from the Divine Wisdom, the Divine Sophia, but before Achamod had completely become this material world, where men now live, there came to her something like a brief raying-out of light from the Son of God; and then immediately the light vanished again. For the Gnostic this was an important concept: that Achamod — the same Achamod that lives in the souls of men — had been granted in the primal remote past a glimpse of divine light, which had then immediately disappeared. But the memory of it lives on today in human souls, however deeply enmeshed in the material world the soul may be. “I live in the world of Achamod, the material world”, such a soul might have said. “I am surrounded with a sheath drawn from the material world, but when I sink into my inner being, a memory comes to life within me. The element that holds me bound to the material world longs after the Divine Sophia, the Divine Wisdom; for the being of Achamod, which lives in me, was once illuminated by a ray from the Son of God, who dwells in the world of the Aeons.”
We should try to picture clearly to ourselves such a soul as this, a disciple of the Gnosis. There were such souls: they are not a hypothetical invention. Anyone who studies history with understanding will come to realise through the external documents that many souls of this kind lived in that period.
We need to see clearly why there are such strong objections nowadays to what I have been saying. What will a thoroughly level-headed man of today have to say about the Gnosis? We have already had to listen to the view that the theology of Paul gives an impression of rabbinical subtleties, far too intricate for a sensible Monist to concern himself with — a Monist who looks out proudly over the world and draws it all together with the simple concept of evolution or with the still simpler concept of energy, and says: “Now at last we have grown up; we have acquired the ideas which give us a picture of the world based on energy, and we look back at these children, these poor dear children, who centuries ago built up the Gnosis out of childishness — they imagined all sorts of spirits — thirty Aeons! That is what the human soul does in its time of nursery play. The grown-up soul of today, with its far-reaching Monism, has left such fancies far behind. We must look back indulgently at these Gnostic infantilisms — they are really charming!”
Such is the prevailing mood today, and it is not easily teachable. One might say to it: Yes, if a Gnostic, with his soul born out of the Gnosis, were to stand before you, he might also take the liberty of expressing his outlook, somewhat like this: “I understand very well how you have become so proud and arrogant, with your ideas of evolution and energy, but this is because your thinking has become so crude and simple and primitive that you are satisfied with your nebulae and your entirely abstract concepts. You say the words ‘evolution’ and ‘energy’ and think you have got something, but you are blind to the finer spiritual life that seeks its way up into that which rises through thirty stages above anything you have.”
But for us the antithesis mentioned at the beginning of this lecture becomes all the sharper. We see on the one hand our own time, with its quite crude and primitive concepts, and on the other the Gnosis. And we have seen how the Gnosis employs endlessly complicated concepts — thirty Aeons — in order to find in the course of evolution the Son of God and the Holy Spirit, and to find in the soul the longing for the Divine Sophia and the Holy Spirit.
Then we ask ourselves: Is it not from the deepening of thought in the Graeco-Roman world that we have gained what we have carried so splendidly far in our thoughts about energy and evolution? And in this Gnosis, with its complicated ideas, so unsympathetic to the present day, are we not looking at something quite strange? Are not these colossal contrasts? Indeed they are. And the contradiction, lying like a weight on the soul, becomes even greater if we reflect on what was said about clairvoyant souls: that they can transpose themselves into the thought-world of the Greeks and Romans, and then see the world with the star of which we have spoken. And mingled everywhere with this deepening of Greek thought we find that other deepening which the Gnosis exemplifies. Yet when we look at this with the aid of what Anthroposophy should give us today, and are yet powerless to understand what the star should signify, separated as we are from it by three worlds — and if we ask the Gnostics: Have you understood what happened at that time in the historical evolution of humanity? ... then, standing on the ground of Anthroposophy, we cannot take the answer from the Gnostics, for it could never satisfy us; it would throw no light on what is shown to the clairvoyant soul.
It is not my wish that you should treat our considerations today as offering an explanation of anything. The more you feel that what I have told you is not an explanation; the more you feel that I have put before you contradiction after contradiction and have shown you only one occult experience, the perception of the star, the better will you have understood me for today. I would wish you to see clearly that at the beginning of our era there appeared in the world something which influenced human understanding and was yet far, far from being understood; I would like you to feel that the period at the beginning of our era was a great riddle. I want you to feel that in human evolution there happened something which seemed at first like a deepening of thought, or a discovery of thought; and that the root causes of this are a profound enigma. You must seek in hidden worlds for that which appeared in the maya of the physical sense-world as a deepening of Graeco-Roman thought. And it is not an explanation of what we have heard, but the setting out of a riddle, that I wished to give you today. We will continue tomorrow.