Saturday, December 17, 2011
The Gospel of John
An Esoteric Cosmology. Lecture 7 of 18.
Notes of an audience member of a lecture given by Rudolf Steiner in Paris on May 31, 1906:
The rôle of Christianity in human history is unique. The coming of Christianity represents, in a sense, the central moment, the turning point between involution and evolution. That is why it radiates so brilliant a light — a light that is nowhere so pregnant with life as in the Gospel of St. John. Truth to tell it is only in this Gospel that the full power of the light is made manifest.
It cannot be said that modern theology has this conception of the Gospel. From the historical point of view it is considered inferior to the three synoptic Gospels, as being, in a sense, apocryphal. The very fact that its authorship is said by some to have taken place in the second century after Christ has made certain theologians of the school of Bible criticism regard it as a work of mystical poetry and Alexandrian philosophy.
Occultism has quite another conception of the Gospel of St. John.
During the Middle Ages a number of Brotherhoods saw in this Gospel the essential source of Christian truth. Such Brotherhoods were the Brothers of St. John, the Albigenses, the Catharists, the Templars, and the Rosicrucians. All were engaged in practical occultism and looked to this Gospel as to their Bible. It may be said in a sense that the legend of the Grail, Parsifal and Lohengrin emanated from these Brotherhoods and that it was the popular expression of the secret doctrines.
All the members of these different parent Orders were considered to possess the secret. They were the precursors of a Christianity which should spread over the world in later times. In the Gospel of St. John they found the secret, for its words contained eternal truth — truth applicable to all times. Such truth as this regenerates the souls of all who become aware of it in the depths of their being. The Gospel was never regarded or read merely as a gem of literature. It was used as an instrument for developing the mystic life of the soul. Let us, to begin with, leave its purely historical value out of account.
The first fourteen verses of this Gospel were the subject of daily meditation among the Rosicrucians. These verses were held to possess a magical power — a fact well known to occultists. By repeating these verses at the same hour, day by day without intermission, the Rosicrucians began to see in dream-visions all the events recorded in the Gospel and lived through them in inner experience.
Thus in spiritual vision the Rosicrucians saw the life of Christ — nay indeed the Christ Himself being born in the depths of the soul. They believed, of course, in the actual and historic existence of the Christ, for to know the inner Christ is also to recognize the outer Christ.
A materialist of today might ask whether the fact that the Rosicrucians had these visions is any proof of the actual existence of Christ. To this the occultist will reply: ‘If there were no eye to perceive the sun, there would be no sun; but if there were no sun in the heavens, there would be no eye to perceive it. For it is the sun which in the course of ages has formed and built the eye in order that it may behold the light.’ In this sense the Rosicrucians said: — ‘The Gospel of St. John awakens thine inner senses, but if there were no living Christ, He could not live within thee.’
The mission accomplished by Christ Jesus cannot be understood in all its depths unless we realize the difference between the Ancient Mysteries and the Christian Mystery.
The Ancient Mysteries were held in the temple-sanctuaries. The Initiates were the awakened ones. They had learnt to work upon the etheric body and were the ‘twice-born’ because they could perceive truth in a twofold sense: directly, through dream and astral vision; indirectly, through sense-perception and logic. The initiation through which they passed was accomplished, in three stages: life, death, and resurrection. The disciple spent three days in a sarcophagus in a tomb of the temple. His Spirit was released from his body; but on the third day, at the call of the hierophant, the Spirit came down again into the body from the cosmic spaces of universal life. The man was a transformed, new-born being. The greatest Greek writers have spoken of these mysteries with great awe and inspiration. Plato goes so far as to say that the Initiate alone is worthy of the name of man. This ancient initiation has its crowning-point ‘in Christ.’ Christ represents the crystallized initiation of the life of sense. All that was supersensibly seen in the Ancient Mysteries becomes, in Christ, historic fact on the physical plane. The death undergone by the ancient Initiates was only a partial death in the etheric world. The death of Christ was a full and complete death in the physical world.
The Raising of Lazarus may be regarded as a moment of transition from the ancient initiation to the Christian initiation. In the fourth Gospel no mention is made of John himself until after the story of the death of Lazarus. “The disciple whom Jesus loved” is he who passed through the stages of death and resurrection in initiation and who was called to new life by the voice of Christ Himself. John is Lazarus who came forth from the tomb after his initiation; he lived through the death undergone by Christ. Such is the mystic path concealed in the depths of Christianity.
The marriage at Cana expresses one of the most profound mysteries of the spiritual history of mankind. It is related to the saying of Hermes: “The above is as the below.” In the marriage at Cana, water is changed into wine. The symbolic meaning of this miracle is that the sacrifice of water was to be replaced for a time by the sacrifice of wine.
There were ages in the history of man when wine was not known. In the days of the Vedas it was practically unknown. In the ages when there was no drinking of alcohol, the idea of previous existences and of many lives was universally held; nobody doubted its truth. As soon as man began to drink wine, however, the knowledge of reincarnation rapidly faded away, ultimately to disappear entirely from the consciousness of man. It existed only among the Initiates who took no alcohol. Alcohol has a peculiarly potent effect on the human organism, especially on the etheric body which is the seat of memory. Alcohol obscures the intimate depths of memory. ‘Wine induces forgetfulness’ — so the saying goes. The forgetfulness is not only superficial or momentary, but deep and permanent and there is a deadening of the power of memory in the etheric body. That is why, little by little, men lost their instinctive knowledge of reincarnation when they began to drink wine.
Belief in reincarnation and the law of karma had a great influence not only upon the individual but upon his social sentiment. It helped him to bear with the inequalities of human life. When the unhappy Egyptian laborer was working at the Pyramids, or the lowest caste of Hindu building the gigantic Indian temples in the heart of the mountains, he said to himself that another existence would compensate him for labors patiently accomplished, that his master if he were good had already undergone similar tests or that he would have to undergo them in the future if he were unjust and cruel.
As the era of Christianity drew near, man was destined to enter upon an epoch of concentration upon earthly efforts; he was to work towards the amelioration of earthly existence, the development of intellect, of logical and scientific understanding of Nature. The knowledge of reincarnation, therefore, was to be lost for two thousand years, and wine was the means to this end.
Such is the profound background of the cult of Bacchus, the God of wine and intoxication. (Bacchus is the popular expression of the God Dionysos of the Ancient Mysteries, to whom quite a different significance must be attached.) Such, too, is the symbolic meaning of the Marriage at Cana. Water served the purpose of the ancient sacrifice; wine was to serve the purpose of the new. The words of Christ, “Happy are they who have not seen and yet have believed,” refer to the new epoch when man — wholly given up to his earthly tasks — was to live without remembrance of his incarnations and without immediate vision of the divine world.
Christ has left us a testament in the scene on Mount Tabor, in the Transfiguration before Peter, James, and John. The disciples see Him between Elias and Moses. Elias represents the Way of Truth; Moses, the Truth itself; Christ, the Life that epitomizes them. That is why Christ can say of Himself: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”
All life is thus concentrated, illumined, deepened, and transfigured in Christ. He epitomizes the past of the human soul back to its primal source, and prefigures its future to the point of union with God. Christianity is not only a power of the past but of the future. In common with the Rosicrucians, the occultist of our day teaches of the Christ in the inner being of each individual and of the Christ, in the future, in all mankind.