Friday, January 17, 2014

Christ — and Paul — versus the Sibyls

Christ and the Spiritual World: The Search for the Holy Grail. Lecture 2 of 6

Rudolf Steiner, December 29, 1913:

If we call to mind once more the thoughts of yesterday's lecture, we can draw them together by saying that the period at the beginning of our era took all possible pains to understand the Mystery of Golgotha out of the treasure of its wisdom, and that this endeavor encountered the very greatest difficulties. We must pause to consider this, for unless we are clear about this inevitable misunderstanding of what came about through the Mystery of Golgotha we shall not be able to comprehend an essential fact of later centuries: the advent of the Grail idea, concerning which we shall have something to say in connection with our subject.
When we recall the beginning of our era and look at its most significant, wisdom-filled current of thought — when we look, that is, at the Gnostics — then on the one hand we can see, in the light of yesterday's lecture, how grandly original were the ideas with which they sought to place the Son of God in the center of an imposing world-picture. But if on the other hand we look at what can be learnt about the Mystery of Golgotha from the spiritual chronicle of the time, then we must say that no real truth can be had from the concepts and ideas of the Gnostics. And this is particularly evident when we consider the various ways in which the Gnostics pictured the manifestation of the Christ in Jesus of Nazareth.
There were some Gnostics who said: “Yes, the Christ is a being who transcends everything earthly and comes from spiritual realms; such a being can remain for only a limited time in a human body, as was the body of Jesus of Nazareth.” These Gnostics had discerned something which today we must emphasize again and again: that in truth the Christ Being dwelt for three years only in the body of Jesus of Nazareth. But these Gnostics went wrong over the way in which the Christ Being dwelt in the body of Jesus. First of all, the mystery of the body of Jesus of Nazareth was not clear to them. They did not know that the  ego of Zarathustra had lived in this body; that the three bodies of Jesus of Nazareth represented in their conjunction an essence of humanity which had never before been incarnated in the flesh on Earth. The whole relation of the Christ to the two Jesus-boys was hidden from these Gnostics. Hence they were never satisfied — or at least their followers were never satisfied — with what they could say about the temporary inhabiting of the body of Jesus of Nazareth by the Christ.
Another question touched on by the Gnostics was the manner of the birth of Christ, the most tremendous mystery in human evolution. They knew well enough that the necessary reason for the appearance of Christ on Earth is connected with the passage through conception in the flesh, but they could not quite see how to bring the mother of Jesus into relation with the birth of Christ. And those who tried to work this out — there were some — were very little understood.
Again, there were Gnostics who because of these various difficulties denied entirely that the Christ had appeared on Earth in bodily form. They formed the idea that it was only a phantom body — what we should call an astral body — which had gone about on Earth before and after the death on Golgotha: it had appeared here and there, but it was not a physical body. Because of the difficulty of conceiving how the Christ could have been united with a physical body, it was said that no such union had occurred and that when people thought He had gone about in a physical body, this was illusion, maya. This notion, too, gained no recognition. So we can see everywhere that the Gnostics tried to master with their concepts the greatest historical mystery in the Earth's evolution, but their ideas were inadequate, powerless in face of what had actually occurred.
Now we must speak of the way in which Paul tried to come to terms with the problem, but first it will be well to grasp clearly how it was that such misunderstandings were inevitable. If with the help of spiritual investigation we ask ourselves a series of questions and try to answer them, the course of events will become apparent to us in — one might say — an abstract form.
For example, we can ask: If the epoch of Christ Jesus was so poorly equipped to understand His nature, would another epoch have been in a position to understand Him? If as a spiritual investigator one enters into the souls of men at different periods of the past, one certainly comes to a strange result. First of all, one can enter into the souls of the great teachers of the ancient Indian civilization, the first of the post-Atlantean culture-epochs. There, as we have often emphasized, we stand with deepest admiration before the comprehensive, deeply grounded wisdom, permeated throughout with clairvoyant vision, of the holy Indian Rishis of that ancient time. We know that the souls of those great teachers were open to cosmic mysteries which were lost to the wisdom-knowledge of later times. And when one tries to enter clairvoyantly, as well as one can, into the soul of one of these great teachers of ancient India, one must say that if it had been possible for the Christ Being to have appeared on Earth among the holy Rishis at that time, their wisdom would have been in the highest degree capable of understanding the nature of Christ. Then there would have been no difficulties; they would have known what it was all about. And since one cannot properly express in abstract words such significant phenomena as those I have just described, let me evoke a picture.
If the holy Rishis of ancient India had perceived in a man the splendor of the wisdom of the Logos, the wisdom that pulses through the world, they would have brought to the Logos their offering of frankincense, symbolizing a recognition of the Divine that works in the realms of humanity. But the Christ Being could find no body at that period; the bodies of that time would not have been suitable for Him. So He could not appear — the reasons for this will be given later — in the epoch when all the means of understanding were present.
If we go further and enter into the souls of the old Zarathustrian civilization, we can say: These souls were certainly not endowed with the high spiritual resources of the old Indian civilization, but they would have understood that the Sun-Spirit had elected to live in a human body, and they would have been able to grasp the significance of this fact in relation to the Sun-Spirit. To speak pictorially again: the disciples of Zarathustra would have honored their Sun-Spirit with an offering of shining gold, the symbol of wisdom.
If we go further still into the Chaldean-Egyptian culture-epoch, we find that the possibility of understanding Christ Jesus would have again decreased; but it would not have narrowed down as far as it did in the fourth post-Atlantean epoch, the Graeco-Latin epoch, when even the Gnosis was not powerful enough to understand this manifestation. It would have been understood that a Star from spiritual heights had appeared and had been born in a human being. This divine-spiritual line of descent from spheres beyond the earthly would have been clearly grasped; and myrrh would have been brought as an offering. And if we enter into the souls of those who figure in the Bible as the three Magi, who come from the East and are the guardians of the treasures of wisdom derived from the three preceding culture-epochs, we find the Bible itself indicating that a certain understanding was present, since these three Magi do at least appear at the birth of the Jesus-child.
One thing that very few people think about today will certainly strike us — that the Bible is in a strange position with regard to the three Magi. For does it not wish to say that here were three men of exceptional wisdom who even at the time of the birth understood its significance? But one might ask — where were the three Wise Men later on? What came of their wisdom in the end? Have we anything that could lead us back to an understanding of the Christ manifestation by way of these three Wise Men? This must be thrown out only as a question. It is one of the many questions which must certainly be put to the Bible, and which will be more significant than all the pedantic Bible criticism of the nineteenth century.
When we come to the fourth post-Atlantean epoch we can say of it: Now there is present a body in which the Christ can incarnate. It was not there in the preceding epochs; but now it is there. In this fourth epoch, however, men lack the possibility of finding their way to a real understanding of what is happening. Indeed a strange paradox, is it not? For the fact that confronts us is actually this: the Christ appeared on Earth in an epoch that was least adapted to understanding Him. And when we look at all the attempts that were made in subsequent centuries to understand the nature of Christ Jesus, we find endless theological wrangling; and finally in the Middle Ages a sharp distinction is drawn between knowledge and faith — which implies a complete abandonment of any knowledge about the being of Christ Jesus ... not to speak of modern times, which up to the present have remained powerless in face of this manifestation.
A truly remarkable phenomenon! The Christ was born in the very epoch that was least adapted to understanding Him. And if in the evolution of humanity the essential thing had been for Christ to work on the understanding of human souls on Earth, then — one must say it — this working would have been in a sad way. One might perhaps call that putting it very strongly; but in order not to be misunderstood I want to say this: To anyone who looks from the standpoint of Spiritual Science at the history of theology in relation to the Christ Event, it must seem as though theology had deliberately set out to place one hindrance after another in the way of understanding the Christ Being. For theological erudition seems to take a course which leads it further and further away from this understanding. That is radically expressed, but anyone ready to enter into this way of putting it will be able to grasp the deeper meaning of my words.
Now, fundamentally speaking, it is certainly not easy to unravel the riddle I have been speaking of, and I avow that in the course of time I have tried to come near it through the most varied ways of spiritual research. Obviously there is not time to speak of these ways now. But there is one way among the many that I should like to mention. It is the way that leads around at the beginning of our era through a very remarkable manifestation of spiritual life, the life of the Sibyls.
These Sibyls were indeed a remarkable phenomenon, with a prophetic character entirely their own. External scholarship cannot say from which language the word ‘Sibyl’ comes. As soon as we start looking at the fairly detailed knowledge about the Sibyls that external documents provide, we come upon something quite extraordinary, at the very beginning of the Sibylline age. From about the eighth century B.C. onwards we encounter the first abode of the Sibyls, in Ionian Eritrea; from there the first Sibyls sent out into the world their manifold prophecies. And these prophecies, even in the form handed down by external tradition, show that they arose from strange subconscious regions of human nature and soul-life. As though out of chaotic psychic depths the Sibyls utter all kinds of prophecies about the future development of this or that people, telling mainly of awful things to come, but sometimes also of good things. Far removed from anything like orderly thought, the utterances of the Sibyls pour out in such a way that — if they are studied with the means of Spiritual Science — it seems as one listens that every Sibyl is a spiritual fanatic who wants to force upon people what she has to say. She does not wait to be questioned, in the manner of the Greek Pythian oracle; she steps forth, the people assemble, and her utterances about men and peoples and Earth-cycles seem to ring out with overbearing force.
It is remarkable, as I said, that the Sibyls should appear first in Ionia, for Ionia was at the same time the birthplace of Greek philosophy: the wisdom which from Thales and Aristotle on into the Roman epoch is so preeminently an expression of a well-ordered soul life, entirely opposed to anything chaotic. It draws forth from the soul-life all that can be expressed in clear, lucid, light-filled concepts. From Ionia sprang the philosophy of clarity and light, which with Plato — one might say — became the philosophy of the heavenly. And like its shadow appear the Sibyls, with their psychic products emanating from the chaos of the soul, often shedding a true illumination on the future, but also often announcing things which their followers had to falsify in order to make it seem that the prophecy had been fulfilled.
And then we see further how the Sibyls, always accompanying the fourth culture-epoch like a shadow of its wisdom, spread through Greece, through Italy. We hear tell of the most varied kinds of Sibyls, and we see Sibyllism spreading on through Italy, until we come to the time of the Mystery of Golgotha. Then we see how Sibyllism gains influence over the Roman poets; how it even plays into the poems of Virgil; how it is just the intellectuals who try to shape their lives by appealing to the sayings of the Sibyls. How much importance was attached to these sayings is shown by the so-called Sibylline Books, which were turned to for guidance. And again in the external world we see how in connection with the Sibylline sayings great intelligence is chaotically mixed up with arrant humbug. And then we see Sibyllism even gaining a foothold in Christianity. We hear its voice in Thomas of Celano's hymn:

Dies irae, Dies illa,
Solvet saeclum in favilla,
Teste David cum Sibylla.

Day of Wrath, O Day which leads this World-Age into destruction, according to the witness of David and of the Sibyl.

And so right into the time of the development of Christianity many minds were aware of the Sibyls and their prophecies, especially those that bore on doom and destruction and the coming of a new world-order. Hence one can say that through many, many centuries — indeed all through the fourth post-Atlantean epoch and with an influence extending, if only sparsely, into the fifth epoch — the Sibyls are encountered in the history of mankind. Only someone dominated by present-day rationalistic ideas can overlook the far-reaching influence of Sibyllism on the world in which Christianity grew up. As I have often said, the history we are given to read is in many respects a fable convenue, especially where anything of a spiritual nature is concerned. Until quite recent centuries the ideas of all classes of people were influenced much more widely than is generally believed by what came from the Sibyls. Sibyllism is a remarkable, enigmatic phenomenon, occurring as it did in the fourth post-Atlantean epoch.
What really went on in the souls of the Sibyls must be of interest to us, for through spiritual research we must unearth such things from beneath the layer of materialistic culture which covers them nowadays. In this condition they are useless; they must be brought to light and renewed by the resources of spiritual research which are available in our epoch. But attention must also be drawn to the fact that in comparatively recent times the nature of Sibyllism was not forgotten to the extent it is today. We have indeed an important work of art which points to the traditions concerning the significance of Sibyllism. Perhaps we do not always look at this work with an awareness of its significance in this respect, but the significance exists and should give occasion for reflection. I mean the great paintings in the Sistine Chapel, where Michelangelo depicted not only the development of Earth and Humanity, but also the Prophets and the Sibyls. And in looking at these paintings we ought to notice the way in which Michelangelo portrays the Sibyls, and particularly how he contrasts them with the Prophets. In this contrast, if we look at it impartially, we find something which through Spiritual Science we can recognize as having to do with various hidden aspects of the fourth post-Atlantean epoch, during which the Mystery of Golgotha was fulfilled.
In this wonderful work of art we see first the portrayal of the Prophets — Zechariah, Joel, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Jeremiah, Jonah. And ranged with them are the Sibyls — the Persian, Delphic, Erythrean, Libyan, and Cumaean Sibyls. Almost all the Prophets, we find, have to a greater or lesser degree something of the character which strikes us immediately in Jeremiah and comes out with particular significance in Zechariah; they are deeply reflective men, for the most part absorbed in books or something similar, quietly taking into well-ordered minds whatever it is they are studying. In the countenances of these Prophets we encounter the calmness of their souls. Daniel looks like a slight exception, but only an apparent one. He stands before a book which is supported on the back of a boy; he has in his hand something to write with, in order to write down in another book what he is reading. Here there is a slight effect of transition from reading the world-secrets to writing them down; while the other Prophets remain in meditation, calm and relaxed in soul, entirely devoted to the world-secrets. In gazing at them we see — and this must be kept firmly in mind — that they are all absorbed in super-earthly things; their souls are at rest in the spiritual and they are seeking to fathom the emergence of humanity from out of the spiritual. We see that in their thinking they are far removed from their immediate surroundings, far above human passion and fanaticism, untouched by the ecstasy that may spring from these emotions; they are not only beyond human ken, but beyond anything a human being can experience in himself in so far as he is a man on Earth. That is the greatness of this portrayal of the Prophets by Michelangelo.
Then we turn our gaze to his depiction of the Sibyls. Here we have first the Persian Sibyl, close to the Prophet Jeremiah, contrasting remarkably with his meditative demeanor. She raises her hand as though wishing to force on humanity what she has experienced; as though in the style of a bad speaker she wants to add all possible emphasis to her words; as though impelled by the passion of a fanatic to impose with imperious gesture her message on all mankind. Then we turn to the Erythrean Sibyl; we see how she is connected with everything that can accrue to man from the elemental secrets of the Earth. Above her head is a lamp; a naked boy is lighting the lamp with a torch. How could the intention of the painting be more clearly expressed? Here is human passion kindling out of the unconscious soul-forces the message that is to be instilled with all the power of prophecy into mankind.
The Prophets are devoted in their souls to the primal eternity of the spirit; the Sibyls are carried away by the earthly, in so far as the earthly reveals the psychic-spiritual. The Delphic Sibyl shows this particularly clearly; we see how her hair is even blown to one side by a gust of wind, and the same wind catches her blue veil, so that she has the air element to thank for what she imparts. In this gust of wind we see pictured what the Earth wished to reveal through the lips of this Sibyl, with forcibly persuasive power. Then the Cumaean Sibyl! She speaks with half-open mouth, as though muttering; as though stammering out a prophecy from the unconscious, the unknown. The Libyan Sibyl, the hasty one, looks as though she is turning around to grasp something from which secrets can be read — something like that! In these Sibyls everything is devoted, so to speak, to the immediate element of Earth.
Much was entrusted to images of this kind in the days when — as we can readily understand — things could be much more effectively expressed in paintings and other forms of art than they would be in our time, when concepts and ideas are more to the purpose.
What then is the special character of these Sibyls? What are they? What does their prophesying signify? We must penetrate deeply into the mysteries of human evolution if we want to fathom what went on in the souls of these Sibyls.
With this aim in view, let us ask again: Why would it have been so easy for the old Indian Rishis, with their scarcely conceivable wisdom, to understand Christ Jesus? It seems trivial, yet it is true to say: Because they had the necessary concepts and gifts of wisdom, and in the fourth post-Atlantean epoch these were lacking. They had everything for which the Gnostics, and the anti-Gnostics, and the Apostolic Fathers, as they are called, thirsted in vain. They had it all, but in what form did they have it? Not as ideas that had been worked out, somewhat as the ideas of Plato and Aristotle were worked out, but as inspirations, as something that stood before them with the full power of concrete inspirations. Their astral bodies were laid hold of by that which streamed into them from the great Universe, and out of this working of the Cosmos on their astral bodies came the concepts which could have conjured up before their souls the Being of Christ Jesus. One might say that this was given to them. They had not worked it up for themselves; it came as though showered forth from the depth of the astral body. And with wonderful clarity it showered upon the holy Rishis and their pupils, and fundamentally speaking upon the whole Indian culture of the first post-Atlantean epoch. It became more and more narrowed down, but in the second and third post-Atlantean epochs it was still there, and the remains of it passed over into the fourth epoch. But what was this remainder?
If we were to examine what things were like in the third post-Atlantean epoch, we should find that at least those who had raised themselves to the height of their epoch — and proportionately there were many more spiritually developed persons than there are today — had ideas about the interconnections of the super-earthly and the symbolic significance of the starry heavens. They could read world-secrets in the motions of the stars. It is quite certain that the third post-Atlantean epoch, if Christ had appeared on Earth then, would have known from the writing in the stars what relationship it had with Him. But — in accordance with the principle we have often mentioned with regard to the evolution of humanity — it was necessary that the gift of entering into relation with the mysteries of the world through living pictures should recede more and more into the background of the astrality of man. These pictures became increasingly chaotic. That which flowed by this channel into the human soul became less and less authoritative — I am not saying that it lost all authority, but it became less and less authoritative as a means of fathoming the real mysteries of the Universe.
And so two quite different developments can be traced. On the one hand there was the world of concepts, let us say of Plato and Aristotle: a world of ideas which could be called the most attenuated form of the spiritual world, a world which had in it the least of spirit, a world grasped and explored directly by the ego and no longer experienced through the astral body. For that is the distinguishing mark of Greek philosophy: there for the first time the spirit spoke out of the ego, as it can do, in concepts that were perfectly lucid, but far removed from real spiritual life. But the Greek philosopher still felt that his thoughts emanated from the spiritual world, whereas a modern philosopher is by necessity a doubter, a sceptic, because he no longer feels any connection between his thoughts and the mysteries of the world. In modern times there has been a decline in the faculty for saying: When I think, the world-spirit is thinking in me. As I have tried to show in The Threshold of the Spiritual World, it is necessary to gain, through meditation, a little of that confidence in the forming of concepts and ideas which came naturally to the Greek philosopher, because he was able to accept his thoughts as thoughts of the world-spirit itself. Only the outermost fringe of the world-spirit approached humanity through Greek philosophy, but it was a fringe permeated with the actual life of the world-spirit; and this was felt to be so.
The second element which persisted from older times was atavistic, an heirloom, and it persisted most plainly in the prophecies of the Sibyls. Out of the chaos of their inner life they brought forth once more the human soul forces which had worked harmoniously during the second and third post-Atlantean epochs and now gave confused glimpses of the spiritual world.
Let us take a hypothesis which in our present context is perhaps permissible: What would have happened if neither the Christ nor Greek philosophy had come into the world? Humanity would then have had to get along with what it had received as inheritance from the past, and in the fourth post-Atlantean epoch this had reached the stage of Sibyllism. Imagine this developing on its own lines in the West, without the Christ Impulse and without philosophy, and without the science that followed philosophy — then you will have a picture of the spiritual chaos that would have overtaken the West, arising inevitably from all that had been active in the souls of the Sibyls. But forces have after-effects. If with the resources of Spiritual Science one examines this elemental strength, through which the spiritual powers connected with wind and water and fire find expression in the immediate circumference of the Earth, and if one studies how these powers would have found an abode in human souls — especially if one tests the strength with which the spirits of wind and fire, water and earth, would have taken possession of the souls of men — then one can see how harmony and order had faded out of the old way of knowing the world, prevalent during the first three post-Atlantean epochs, and how the forces only would have remained in human souls.
Human souls would have lost the capacity for relating themselves truly to the great phenomena of the Cosmos, but they would have assuredly had a relation with the spirits of wind and water, fire and earth, and particularly with the whole tribe of spectres and demons which would have got loose from their cosmic connections. Men would have fallen quite under the sway of the elemental spirits; their teachers would have been of the Sibylline kind, and the force would have been so strong that it would have persisted right up to the present, and indeed up to the very end of Earth days. And if we ask why this has not happened, and who has brought it about that the force so apparent in the Sibyls has gradually declined, then we must answer: the Christ, who through the Mystery of Golgotha infused the Earth's aura with His Being; thus He destroyed the Sibylline force in the souls of men and has driven it away.
And so on the ground of Spiritual Science we observe the remarkable fact that men with their wisdom have not understood much about the Christ Impulse: their concepts and ideas have turned out to be virtually powerless in this respect. But the essential thing is not that the Christ Impulse came into the world primarily as a teaching. The essential thing is the character of the facts, the direct impulse that flowed from the Mystery of Golgotha. And this we must look for not only in what is taught or understood, but in what is accomplished for human souls. And one of these deeds, the struggle waged by Christ, who had permeated the Earth-aura, against Sibyllism — it is this deed that I wished to bring before you today.
Thus the Christ had in fact to fulfill the office of a judge. This was misunderstood by those who took it materialistically to imply that Christ would return soon after His resurrection. Human concepts at that time could not reach to an understanding of these things. But in the chaotic ideas of an early return there was the truth that there had been this early manifestation of Christ. He had manifested on ground which (as we shall see tomorrow) had been prepared externally by Paul; but above all He had manifested in the region behind the sense-world where the spiritual conflict between Christ and the Sibyls had been waged. We must pierce the veil that shows us the spreading of Christianity on the physical plane. We must look behind the physical plane at the spiritual conflict whereby the souls of men were freed from that chaotic element which would otherwise have gone on from strength to strength. And this fact is seen in a false light by anyone who fails to comprehend that through this supra-physical deed something of endless value was accomplished for mankind by the Christ. But who were they who achieved at least something, indeed much, towards this comprehension? They were the writers of the Gospels, and Paul, who were endowed with a certain inspiration or revelation from the spiritual world.
We shall have to appreciate from other points of view the emergence of the Evangelists and of Paul. But we can now see how Paul stands in the midst of a world where something is going on beyond the reach of his words, beyond all that he could contribute through his powerful, fiery words towards an understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha. And yet — particularly if one grasps the nature of the struggle waged by the Christ against the Sibyls — one has a feeling about Paul that I would like to sum up in a few concluding words. With Paul it always seems that there is much more between his words than one gets from simply reading them. It is as though the Damascus vision had come to expression through him; as though there penetrated into humanity through him a note which was opposed to the prophetic note of the Sibyls; as though through him there rang out again the note of the old Prophets whom Michelangelo has represented so beautifully in his paintings. As I have said, the Sibyls had something that came from the elementals of the Earth; something that could not have been there if the elemental spirits of the Earth had not spoken to them. With Paul there was something similar, something which external scholarship has noted in a remarkable but quite exoteric way; and this, if one examines it from the standpoint of Spiritual Science, really leaves one standing before a world of amazement.
Paul also, in a certain way, created something out of the elemental nature of the Earth, but in a distinctive region of the Earth. Naturally one can understand Paul quite well in a theological, rationalistic, abstract way if one leaves out of account what I am going to say, for this cannot be explained in terms of external science. One can understand Paul quite well, if one wants to understand him only from the standpoint of ordinary rationalism. But if one wants to grasp what it was that lived spiritually in Paul, in and between his words, and why one feels through his words something akin to the prophecies of the Sibyls, but with him proceeding from a good element in Earth evolution, then one comes to the phenomenon which answers the question: How far does Paul's world extend? What are its boundaries? And the remarkable answer we receive is: Paul is great throughout the world where the olive tree is cultivated. I know I am saying something strange, but we shall see that this strangeness explains itself, in a certain sense, when tomorrow we enter a little into the character of Paul.
Geographically, too, the world is full of secrets. And the region of the Earth where the olive tree flourishes is different from the regions where flourish the oak or the ash. Man as a physically embodied being has a relationship with the elemental spirits. In the world of the olive tree the rustle and movement, the whisper and gesture, are not the same as in the world of the oak or the ash or the yew. And if we want to grasp the connection of the Earth-nature with human beings, we need to pay attention to such peculiar facts as this — the fact that Paul carries his message just as far over the Earth as the domain of the olive tree extends. The world of Paul is the world of the olive tree.

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