Rudolf Steiner, Stuttgart, May 20, 1913:
We have tried to throw some light upon the character of our present age as it shows itself in relation to the working of cosmic law. This is a matter that should not be lightly passed over. For when we speak of the spiritual forces, the spiritual influences, of a particular age, these are likewise the forces and impulses which are working in the soul of each one of us. We cannot understand our own souls unless we are able to place ourselves in right relation to these forces and influences of our age, which are at the same time the spiritual forces and impulses of our own souls. In whatever way individuals among you may account for your belief in something that is given in Spiritual Science, it is absolutely true that in the souls of all those who fairly and honestly come to Spiritual Science there lives, perhaps unconsciously, an urge that comes from the genuine spiritual impulses of our time.
In the last lecture I endeavored to show you that at the present time we are living in what one may call the Michael Age. An understanding for spiritual things is now becoming possible for an increasing number of souls. Whereas during the course of previous centuries it was possible to acquire an understanding above all for the things of external natural science, for physical, chemical, and physiological laws, for everything related to external space and time, whereas during the Gabriel Age understanding was awakened for all that went from triumph to triumph in the natural sciences and inclined men to a scientific conception of the world, we are now entering upon an age in which it will be just as possible to understand the things of the spirit.
At no time in human evolution have two successive epochs been so radically different from one another as that which has just run its course and the epoch upon which we are now entering. And never before have souls been more alien to one another than will be the souls of those who incline to what is spiritual and the souls who still adhere to what past centuries have brought. Nor will it be long before those who believe they stand firmly in materialistic Monism will be quite out of date in comparison with those who are earnestly seeking an understanding of supersensible worlds. For since the last third of the nineteenth century a spiritual ‘tidal wave’ from higher worlds has been flowing into our world, and making it possible for man to understand the way in which human and world evolution are spiritually guided.
My dear friends, nearly two thousand years ago the event took place which you all know under the name of the Mystery of Golgotha. Of this Mystery of Golgotha we have often spoken here. We have approached it from many different sides, and have seen it to be the great center of gravity of all human evolution. It has been possible to show quite clearly that without reference to any religious views or creed, but purely out of spiritual science itself, an understanding of this event is possible, and in such a way that one may expect understanding from every shade of current religious belief. We have also spoken at some length about the reasons why certain people are not prepared to accept the Christ Event as the great center of gravity of human evolution. But now we must turn our minds to something else which was mentioned yesterday in the public lecture. (see Note 1)
It might well be that out of prejudice a person wished to know nothing of what took place in a certain small country at the beginning of our era, did not want to trouble himself about what we call the Mystery of Golgotha. Very well, let us even assume that it would be natural for him to imagine the whole course of history in such a way that what happened on Golgotha could be struck out. Let us make that hypothesis. In the course of his study of the evolution of mankind, such a person will nevertheless discover a special characteristic of that age. We spoke of this yesterday. The epoch immediately preceding the Mystery of Golgotha was a time of transition in the attitude and direction of the human soul. From having been directed more to the surrounding world in an external way, man's soul began to be turned within to its own inner nature — and this, quite apart from the Mystery of Golgotha. At the time into which the Mystery of Golgotha was placed, the great transition was occurring from a life in outward surroundings to a more inward life. And anyone can feel this, even if he ignores the Mystery of Golgotha altogether. Mankind was in that time at a turning-point. It is not necessary even to speak of the Mystery of Golgotha, one can point to quite other events to show that formerly man's life had an outward direction, but that afterwards those who are animated by the impulse of the age, by the true genius of the age, begin to make their life more inward.
When anything of this kind happens, it does not happen without being prepared beforehand. I have no desire to quote the trite saying: "Nature, or history, does not proceed by leaps." The expression holds good only within certain limits. Even the blossom is already prepared in the green leaves — although here we have, have we not, a clear case of a ‘leap’ in development? Similarly there was a preparation beforehand for what appears as a sudden incision in human history at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha. When we go deeply into what we can find of the teaching and outlook of the last centuries of ancient Hebraism, we find a spirit — of a Hebrew kind, of course — a spirit of preparation for the Mystery of Golgotha; and not in Hebraism alone, for in other regions of the Earth too we can find such a spirit of preparation.
In Hebraism new features began to show themselves of quite a different order from those that were there formerly. In the sixth century before the Mystery of Golgotha we find an altogether new mode of regarding the world, compared with what we find earlier in the spiritual life of the Hebrews; it marks a new epoch. This reveals itself clearly enough to the careful observer. And if it shows itself here in a different manner — since the old Hebrew people were differently constituted — yet it is the same spirit, expressing itself differently, which prevails in Greek philosophy and even in the Greek art of poetry, in the last centuries before the Mystery of Golgotha. We find it everywhere. One has only to make a serious study of spirits like Plato and Aristotle — yes, and even Socrates — to see that this turning point is everywhere being prepared.
Now, events that happen here on Earth are guided and controlled from the supersensible world. Before the incision entered into the physical life of the Earth which we call the Event of Golgotha, the earlier guidance of evolution sent out a Messenger — at that time still a Messenger of Jehovah — to guide this event. He was the Spirit who prepared the period of civilization up to the time of the Mystery of Golgotha, the same Spirit who is the Leader of our own culture epoch just beginning, the Spirit we have called Michael. Just as Michael gives its character to our age, so did he give its character to the whole civilization which prepared the way for the Mystery of Golgotha. The Power, however, who sent forth Michael from the higher worlds was at that time Jahve or Jehovah.
In those days it was not as it is in our time, when, as soon as one speaks of spiritual things the objection is so easily raised: You often speak of the Folk Spirit or Time Spirit, and of other spiritual facts, but you rarely speak of God. — People do not notice why one does not speak of God — for the reason, namely, that no human concept can embrace that in which we live and move and have our being. Here one also meets with points of view which are, from a certain aspect, very interesting. When I gave a public lecture recently in a certain town, and as the practice often is, questions were sent up to be answered, one man put a very clever question. He asked: “If logically one recognizes an object through the fact that one looks at it as an object and can stand before it, if we cannot have an objective picture of an object which we have in ourselves — like the pupil of the eye, for example — because we cannot look at it, then how does this fit in with the opinion of many mystics that one must remove oneself from God in order to be able to contemplate Him?”
Certainly many mystics have maintained that one must withdraw from God in order to contemplate Him. It was a clever question, but the only answer that can be given is: “You may withdraw from God as much as you please, but you still remain in Him, you cannot get out of God.” Logic may often be very logical but fall short of reality.
In times when men stood nearer to the spiritual they had a feeling of reverence for the Divinity in which we live and move and have our being, the Divinity which it was not even always right to call by name; and for that reason the ancient Hebrews, in order not to pronounce the name, used the expression the ‘Countenance of Jehovah.’ In man, the countenance is what he turns outwards, that by which he reveals himself. It is not the whole of man. One knows a man as he is in his inner being by the features of his countenance, but one does not on that account presume to speak of the whole man when one means his face or countenance.
At that time therefore Michael was called the ‘Countenance of Jehovah’; men preferred to speak of the representative through whom Jahve revealed Himself to mankind as in an external countenance. Even in intimate circles they would rather name the representative than speak of Jahve Himself. Michael was in fact at that time looked upon as the spiritual Regent of the age, as the Messenger of Jahve, as the member of the hierarchies from whom streamed forth the impulse that was to come for the understanding of the Event of Golgotha.
In the intervening centuries other beings from the rank of the archangels have had the guidance of mankind's spiritual evolution, but the being who had the guidance when preparation had to be made for the Mystery of Golgotha is the same being as is now again sending the floods of supersensible life down into the world of the senses. There was a Michael Age then, and a Michael Age is the one that is now beginning. There is, however, a vast difference between that Michael Age and ours which has just begun.
It would take us too far today to describe what kind of understanding men have been able to bring to the Mystery of Golgotha during the period which has elapsed between that Michael Age and ours. There have been deeply fervent souls who out of a more or less intense need for belief have gained a relation to the Mystery of Golgotha and its Bearer; there have been deeply religious natures all through the centuries since the Mystery of Golgotha down to our own time. But the Mystery of Golgotha is a Mystery which, notwithstanding that it took place as a real fact at the beginning of modern times, is yet of such a nature that human souls cannot presume to understand it fully without preparation. New epochs will continually arise which will bring a greater deepening to human souls, and which will have an increasing understanding for what happened in the Mystery of Golgotha. The Event itself stands there as the great turning-point in human evolution; the understanding of the Event will continuously grow and ripen in the spiritual evolution of the Earth. This fact cannot be engraved deeply enough into our minds and hearts.
Let us grasp in a certain metaphysical abstraction what actually took place at that time. We have described it from various points of view; let us now choose a more abstract point of view, but one which, if we allow it to work upon us, can call forth a deep feeling in our souls.
When with ordinary powers of observation and even with scientific observation we study the things around us, we learn to know by means of ordinary thinking and ordinary science the laws of existence in the mineral, plant, animal, and human kingdoms. These laws all culminate in an ideal: to understand life. But life is not to be understood here on Earth. Occultism alone can give knowledge of life; external science can never fathom it. It would be the wildest fantasy to believe that one could ever penetrate the laws of life as one can physical or chemical laws. To do so remains an ideal; it can never be reached. On the physical plane there is never any possibility of giving a knowledge of life. This knowledge of life must remain the preserve of supersensible knowledge.
But now, impossible as is a sense knowledge of life, equally impossible is a supersensible knowledge of death. There are conditions of terrible isolation of consciousness in the spiritual worlds, there is such a thing as a temporary immersion as though into a condition of sleep, but there is no death in the higher worlds. Death is impossible in the higher worlds. All the beings we have learned to know as beings of the higher hierarchies have this distinguishing characteristic: they do not know death, they never pass through death. Just as we are told in the Bible that the angels covered their faces before the secret of birth, the secret of Man's becoming, so must they and all other higher beings cover their faces before death. For death is an event that is only possible in the sense world, not in the supersensible.
Among all the beings of the higher worlds there was One and One alone Who had to go through death — we may also say, Who willed to go through death; that is, the Christ. To that end He had to come down to Earth. In order that a being of the higher worlds might be able to accomplish what was necessary for Earth evolution, the Christ had to descend from a world in which there is no death to the world in which there is death.
If such ideas are at first abstract, it is for us to change them into feeling and experience. The full understanding of what I have now described in an abstract way will become a concern of the evolution of humanity. With a certain reverence, together with humility and delicacy, let us approach today the secret of the Mystery of Golgotha.
For what was it that really happened then? It has often been described. The Christ descended from the supersensible worlds into the world in which He has since lived as a hidden Force — a Force however which will make itself manifest from this century onwards. He descended out of a world in which there is no death, into the world of death, and He — this Force — has united Himself with the Earth; from being a cosmic Force He has become a Force of the Earth. He went through death in order to come to life in Earth existence, in order to be within the Earth world. And all through the centuries there has come to expression in souls which were filled with this Impulse the striving of mankind to understand Him. But the nearer evolution approached the close of the Gabriel Age, the more this understanding receded, until today just where there should be understanding, it is sadly lacking, and materialism prevails not only in modern science but consequently in theology too. The real understanding of the Christ Impulse has grown less and less. Materialism has seized upon men's souls and deeply ensconced itself in them. Materialism became in many respects the fundamental impulse of the epoch which has just elapsed. Countless souls died during that epoch who went through the gate of death with a materialistic outlook. For such numbers of souls to go through the gate of death with a materialistic outlook would have been impossible in earlier ages. These souls then lived in the spiritual world between death and a new birth without knowing anything of the world in which they lived. A being came towards them; they perceived Him in that world. They had to perceive Him because this being had united Himself with the Earth, although for the present He rules invisibly in physical Earth existence. And the exertions of these souls who had gone through the gate of death succeeded — we cannot express it otherwise — in driving the Christ out of the spiritual world. The Christ has had to experience a renewal of the Mystery of Golgotha, although not in the same magnitude as before. At that time He went through death; now He had to undergo banishment from His existence in the spiritual world. And thus there was fulfilled in Him the eternal law of the spiritual world: that what disappears for the higher spiritual world arises anew in the lower world.
If it is possible in the 20th century for souls to evolve to an understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha, then it is due to this Event — that Christ, through a conspiracy of materialistic souls, has been driven out of the spiritual worlds, and transferred into the sense world, into the world of man, so that even in this world of the senses a new understanding for the Christ can begin. Hence, too, Christ is still more nearly and intimately united with the destiny of men on Earth. And while in the past man could look up to Jahve or Jehovah and know that He was the being who sent out Michael to prepare the way for the transition from the Jahve Age to the Christ Age — while in earlier ages it was Jehovah who sent Michael, it is now the Christ who sends us Michael.
This is the new and important fact which we must transform into a feeling. As formerly man could speak of Jahve-Michael, the Leader of the age, so now we can speak the Christ-Michael. Michael has been exalted to a higher stage — from Folk Spirit to Time Spirit, inasmuch as from being the Messenger of Jahve he has become the Messenger of Christ. And so when we speak of a right understanding of the Michael Impulse in our age, we are speaking of a right understanding of the Christ Impulse.
An abstract understanding always deals in names, simply in names, and thinks it will arrive somewhere if it asks “What kind of Being is Michael?” and wants to be told that he comes from this or that hierarchy, that he is an archangel, that archangels have such and such qualities. Then it is all defined and people think now they know what such a being is. They do not know it by speaking of Michael in this way. If one wants to understand the evolution of mankind, one must understand that Michael too has evolved: one must understand that it is the same being who paved the way for the preparation of the Mystery of Golgotha, and who now in our day paves the way for the understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha. Then, however, he was a Folk Spirit, now he is a Time Spirit; then he was the Messenger of Jahve, now he is the Messenger of Christ. We speak of the Christ in the right way when we speak of Michael and his mission, knowing that Michael, who was formerly the bearer of the Jehovah-mission, is now the bearer of the Mission of the Christ.
My dear friends, we have been able to follow the path of Michael, a Spirit who has, so to say, ascended in order to communicate a new impulse to mankind; who has ascended, or rather is ascending, from the rank of the archangels to the rank of the archai. His place will be filled by another being who succeeds him.I have spoken here on different occasions of the evolution which Buddha passed through. The puerile objections which are now being made against us (see Note 2) are brought also against our understanding of the Christ Impulse in the world — as though we had ever been one-sided in our representation of the Christ Impulse. We turn our gaze to evolution as a whole and describe what different impulses underlie it, giving to each its due value. Again and again we have spoken of the Bodhisattva who was born as Gautama Buddha and have shown that for us it is truth that he became ‘Buddha’. We have followed his evolution until the time when he received his mission on Mars. And of that mission we have also spoken here.
As long as man dwells on Earth, there is always for each human being, however high he may stand, an individuality who guides him from incarnation to incarnation. The individual guidance of human beings is made subject to the angeloi, the angel beings. When a man from being a Bodhisattva becomes a Buddha, then his angel is, as it were, set free. And it is such angel beings who, after the fulfillment of their mission, ascend into the realm of the archangel beings.
Thus if we really understand how to penetrate ever more deeply into the supersensible evolution which lies behind our sense evolution, we are actually able to perceive at some point how an archangel ascends to the nature of the archai, and an angel being to an archangel being.
My dear friends, what I have said to you about the spiritual background of the world in which we live and in which we wish to take our stand as Anthroposophists — I have not said it in order that you may merely theorize over these things, but that you may transform into feeling and experience what has been expressed in words and ideas. Yes — to be an Anthroposophist in our age means to know the nature of the supersensible world which underlies the sense world of human evolution, to feel oneself in the spiritual world, as physical man feels himself physically in the atmosphere. But we do not feel ourselves in the spiritual world by merely repeating: Spirit, Spirit, Spirit is in us! Just as one has to gauge in a practical concrete way — from the formation of the clouds, from the humidity and other phenomena — the state of the atmosphere of the Earth, so we must ‘feel’ in quite a concrete way the spiritual world into which we are submerged every night when we fall asleep; we must feel and know how there lives in this spiritual world what is now happening as a result of the mission entrusted by Christ to Michael — that is, to the same Spirit of the hierarchy of archangels who in earlier times had been used by the impulse of Jahve for the preparation of the Mystery of Golgotha. That is what is happening behind our physical sense evolution. And to feel ourselves within such happenings in the spiritual world in the same way as we feel ourselves physically within the atmosphere which we breathe in and out, means to have the right consciousness today in relation to the spiritual world.
Try to receive into your whole heart and soul these results of occultism which I have now endeavored to lay before you; try to have a sensitive understanding of them, and to consider what it means now in this age to live consciously in the spiritual events that are taking place around us, to live consciously in that world whither our soul goes every night when we fall asleep and whence we come every morning when we awake. Try to lead the soul into the direct and concrete experience of what is so often abstractly called Divine Providence. For it lies in the true character of our age to do this. Try now in this present time to know and experience as individual beings what men in past ages could only feel in an undefined way as a Providence moving through the world.
Place as a picture before your souls that the task of the previous epoch was to find natural science. At that time the laws of nature were good if they were rightly used by man to build up external world conceptions. But there is nothing absolutely good or bad in this external world of maya. In our time the laws of Nature would be bad and evil were they still to be used to build up a world conception at a time when spiritual life is flowing into the sense world. These words are not to be taken as directed against what past ages have done; they are directed against what wants to remain as it was in earlier ages and will not put itself at the service of the new revelation.
Michael did not fight this Dragon in the ages that are past, for then the Dragon which is now meant was not yet a Dragon; it will become a Dragon if those concepts and ideas which belong only to natural science were to be used to construct the world conception of the coming age. For the monster that will then rear its head among mankind will be rightly seen in the picture of the Dragon that must be vanquished by Michael, whose Age begins in our own time.
That is an important Imagination, — Michael overcoming the Dragon. To receive the inflow of spiritual life into the sense world — from now on, that is the service of Michael. We serve Michael by overcoming the Dragon that is trying to grow to his full height and strength in ideas which during the past epoch produced materialism and which now threaten to prolong their life on into the future. To defeat this means to stand in the service of Michael. That is the victory of Michael over the Dragon. It is the old picture over again, which for earlier times had another meaning and which must now acquire the right meaning for our age. When we are conscious of the part we have to play as men of a new age, then our task can stand before us in the picture of Michael conquering the Dragon.
Let us take this picture and make of it an Imagination. Let us try to understand our times through knowing ourselves to be in a spiritual guidance that is the true spiritual guidance of our age, and that can be the spiritual guidance of every human soul who is sincerely and honestly seeking evolution on the path of spiritual life.
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