The Event of Christ's Appearance in the Etheric World: Preparation for This Event Through the Development of Etheric Vision
A lecture given by Rudolf Steiner in Carlsruhe, January 25, 1910:
When someone has concerned himself for a time with the conception of the world presented by Spiritual Science, and then allows the various ideas and thoughts and items of knowledge that he gains from it to work upon him, manifold questions arise, and he becomes more and more of a spiritual scientist by linking such questions — which are really questions of feeling, of the heart, of the character, in short, of life in general — with spiritual-scientific ideas. The nature of these ideas is such that they do not only satisfy our theoretical, scientific curiosity but shed light upon the riddles of life, upon the mysteries of existence, and they bear fruit in the real sense only when we no longer merely reflect about and feel their import, value, and meaning, but learn under their influence to look differently at the world around us. These ideas should warm us inwardly, should become impulses, forces of heart and soul within us. And this is increasingly so when the answers received to certain questions give rise to new questions, when those answers in turn become questions followed by new answers, and so on. In this way progress is made both in spiritual knowledge and in the spiritual life.
A fairly long time will still have to pass before it will be possible to speak of the more intimate aspects of spiritual life in public lectures, but within our own Groups the time when this can be done should be coming nearer and nearer. It is therefore inevitable that new members may be taken aback or even shocked when they hear certain things; but, after all, we should make no progress in our work if we could not pass on to discuss more intimate questions of life on the basis of spiritual-scientific investigation and knowledge. Therefore — although misunderstandings may arise in those of you who have been concerned with the spiritual life for only a comparatively short time — we will consider certain of these more intimate facts of spiritual knowledge again today.
Without doubt an earnest question will arise in us when we think about the idea of reincarnation, of many Earth-lives, not merely as an abstract theory, but when we ponder deeply on the meaning and implications of this fact of the spiritual life. The significant answer given by reincarnation will be followed by new questions and we may ask, for example: If the human being lives many times on Earth, if he returns again and again in new incarnations, what is the deeper meaning of this? — The usual answer is that by passing many times through life we ascend higher and higher, experiencing the results and fruits of earlier Earth-lives in later ones, and thus making progress. But that is still a rather general, abstract answer. It is only through more exact knowledge of the whole purpose of earthly life that we are able to fathom the significance of repeated incarnations.
If a man were to keep returning to an Earth that did not change but remained essentially the same, there would not really be much to be learnt through successive incarnations. These incarnations are important because, as we pass through each of them, we can learn new things, have new experiences on the Earth. Over short periods of time this is not so clearly perceptible, but if, as Spiritual Science enables us to do, we survey long periods, it becomes obvious that the epochs of our Earth differ essentially from each other in character, and that we are continually passing through new experiences. But something else, too, must be realized: that these changes in the life of the Earth itself must be taken into account. If in a particular epoch of earthly existence we neglect the opportunity of experiencing and learning what that epoch has to offer, then, although we return in a subsequent incarnation, we have missed something, we have not assimilated what we ought to have assimilated in the previous epoch. The result is that in the next epoch we are unable to make proper use of our forces and faculties.
Speaking still in a quite general sense, it can be said that in our epoch something is possible on Earth, indeed over almost the whole globe, that was not possible in the earlier incarnations, for example, of persons now living. Strange as it may seem, there is a certain, indeed a great, significance in this. It is possible in the present incarnation for certain numbers of people to come to Spiritual Science; that is, to assimilate the findings of spiritual investigation which are available in the domain of Spiritual Science today. The fact that a few human beings come together and receive the knowledge discovered by spiritual investigation may of course be regarded as of no importance, but people who hold this view do not understand the significance of reincarnation, nor that certain things can be learnt only during one particular incarnation. If they are not learnt, something has been missed and will be lacking in the following incarnations.
This above all must be realized: What we learn today in Spiritual Science becomes part of our soul, and we bring it with us when we descend again into the next incarnation.
Let us now try to grasp what this means for the soul. Reference will have to be made not only to a great deal that will already be known to you from other lectures and from your own reading, but to many facts of the spiritual life that are more or less new or still quite unfamiliar to you. It is necessary first to go back, as often before, to earlier epochs in the evolution of humanity and of the Earth. We are living now in the fifth epoch following the great Atlantean catastrophe. This epoch was preceded by the fourth, the Greco-Latin epoch, when ideas and experiences of paramount importance of life on Earth originated among the Greek and Latin peoples. This fourth epoch was preceded by the Chaldean-Babylonian-Assyrian-Egyptian period, this by the original Persian, and this in turn by the ancient Indian. In a still more distant past we come to the great Atlantean catastrophe by which an ancient continent extending over the area of the present Atlantic Ocean was destroyed. This continent of ancient Atlantis was gradually swept away and the solid earth on which we are now living received its present configuration. In still earlier epochs preceding the Atlantean catastrophe, we come to the civilizations and forms of culture developed on Atlantis by the Atlantean races. And these conditions were preceded by still earlier ones.
A survey of what is told by history — it does not, after all, go very far back — may easily give rise to the belief (although this is quite unfounded even for shorter periods) that conditions of existence on our Earth were always the same as they are today. That is by no means so, for there have been fundamental changes — most marked of all in man's life of soul. The souls of those sitting here today were incarnated in bodies belonging to all these epochs of Earth-evolution and they absorbed what it was possible to absorb in each of them. In each successive incarnation the soul has developed different faculties. Although during the Greco-Latin epoch the difference was perhaps not quite as extreme, in the epoch of ancient Persia, and even more so in that of ancient India, our souls were entirely different from what they are today. They were equipped with faculties of another kind altogether in those olden times and lived under entirely different conditions. And now, in order that what follows may be thoroughly understood, we will visualize as clearly as possible the nature of our souls after the Atlantean catastrophe, when they were incarnated, let us say, in the bodies that could have existed on Earth only at the time of the ancient Indian civilization-epoch. It must not be imagined that this civilization was to be found only in India itself — it was merely that in those days the Indian peoples were of prime importance. The forms of civilization differed all over the Earth, but they bore the stamp of the instructions given for the ancient Indians by the leaders of humanity.
When thinking of the nature of our souls in that epoch it must be realized at once that knowledge of the kind possessed by men of the modern age was then quite impossible. There was as yet no consciousness of the self, no ego-consciousness as clear and distinct as that of today. The fact that he was an ego hardly entered a man's consciousness. True, the ego, the “I”, was already within man as a power, a force, but knowledge of the ego is not the same thing as the power or activity. Human beings lacked the inwardness belonging to their nature today, but instead of it they possessed faculties of quite another kind — faculties we have often referred to as those of ancient, shadowy clairvoyance.
When we study the human soul during waking life in those times we find that it did not really feel itself as an ego; an individual man felt himself to be a member of his race or tribe, of his folk. In the sense that the hand is a limb or member of the body, the single “I” or ego stood for the whole community of the racial stock and the folk. Man did not feel himself to be an individual “I” as he does today; he experienced the ego as the folk-ego, the tribal ego. During the day he did not really know that he was a man in the real sense. But when evening came and he went to sleep, his consciousness was not completely darkened, as it is today; the soul was able, during sleep, to be aware of spiritual facts — for example, of spiritual facts and happenings in its environment of which the dream t-day is a mere shadow, in most cases no longer representing their full reality. Men had such perceptions at that time and they knew: There is indeed a spiritual world. The spiritual world was a reality to them, not as the result of logical reasoning, not through anything needing proof, but because every night, even if in dim, dreamlike consciousness, they were actually within the spiritual world. But that was not the essential. As well as sleeping and waking life, there were also intermediate states during which man was neither completely asleep nor completely awake. In those states, ego-consciousness was diminished even more than by day, but on the other hand the perception of spiritual happenings, the dreamlike clairvoyance, was essentially stronger than at other times during the night. Thus there were intermediate states in which men had, it is true, no ego-consciousness, but were clairvoyant. In such states a man was as if transported, entirely unaware of his separate identity. He did not know: “I am a man”. But he knew with certainty: “I am a member of a spiritual world, and I know that it is a reality, for I behold it.” Such were the experiences of human souls in the days of ancient India. And in the Atlantean epoch this consciousness, this life in the spiritual world, was even clearer; indeed very, very much clearer ... We therefore look back to an age when our souls were endowed with a dim, dreamlike clairvoyance which has faded away by degrees in the course of the evolution of mankind.
If our souls had remained at the stage of this ancient clairvoyance, we could not have acquired the individual ego-consciousness that is ours today; it would not have been possible for us to realize: We are men. We were obliged so to speak, to exchange our consciousness of the spiritual world for ego-consciousness, “I”-consciousness. In the future we shall have both at the same time; we shall all attain that state in which clairvoyance functions in the fullest sense while ego-consciousness is maintained intact — as can only occur today in one who has trodden the path of initiation. In the future it will again be possible for everyone to gaze into the spiritual world and yet to feel himself a man, an ego.
Picture to yourselves once more what has taken place. The soul has passed from incarnation to incarnation; once it was clairvoyant, then later on the consciousness of becoming an ego grew clearer and clearer and it was increasingly possible for the soul to form its own judgments. As long as a man still has clairvoyant vision of the spiritual world and does not feel himself to be an ego, he cannot form judgments or reason with the intellect. The latter faculty developed steadily, but with every succeeding incarnation the old clairvoyance faded. The states in which man was able to gaze into the spiritual world became rarer; he penetrated more and more deeply into the physical plane, developed logical thinking, and felt himself to be an ego.
We can therefore say that in very ancient times man was a spiritual being, for he lived in direct intercourse with other spiritual beings as their companion; he felt his kinship with beings to whom he can no longer look up today with normal senses. As well as the world immediately surrounding us there are, as we know, still other worlds, peopled by other spiritual beings. With his normal consciousness today man cannot see into these worlds, but in earlier times he lived in them, both during the night-consciousness of sleep and in the intermediate state of which we spoke. He lived within these worlds, in communion with these other beings. Normally, this is no longer possible for him today. He was, as it were, cast out of his home — the spiritual world — and with every new incarnation became more firmly established in this earthly world.
In the sanctuaries for the cultivation of the spiritual life, in domains of learning and in the sciences where such things were still known, account was taken of the fact that man had incarnated in these different epochs of Earth-evolution. Men looked back to a very ancient epoch before the Atlantean catastrophe, when human beings lived in direct communion with the gods or spiritual beings, and when their inner life of feeling and sentient experience was naturally quite different. You can well imagine that this was so in an epoch when the soul was fully aware of being able to look up to the higher beings, knowing itself to be a member of that higher world. In considering these facts we will remind ourselves that we can learn to speak and think today if we grow up among human beings, for such faculties can be acquired only through contact with men. If a child were to be put on some lonely island today and grew up without having any contact with human beings, he would not develop the faculties of thinking and speaking.
This shows that the evolution of any being is to some extent dependent upon the species of beings among whom it grows up and lives. That this has an effect upon evolution can be observed in the case of animals. It is well known that if dogs are removed from conditions where they are in contact with human beings to places where they have no such contact, they forget how to bark: as a rule the descendants of such dogs cannot bark at all. Something does, then, depend upon the kind of beings among which a being grows up. You can therefore imagine that for the same souls to live among modern men on the physical plane is a different matter from having lived at an earlier time among spiritual beings in a spiritual world into which normal vision today does not penetrate. The impulses man developed when living among men and those he developed when living among gods were quite different.
Higher knowledge has always recognized these things, has always looked back to that ancient time when men were in direct contact with divine-spiritual beings. And the effect of this contact was that the soul felt itself a member of the divine-spiritual world. But this also engendered impulses and forces in the soul that were still of a divine-spiritual nature — divine-spiritual in quite another sense from that which applies to the forces of the soul today. When the soul felt itself a member of the higher world, there spoke out of this soul a will that also sprang from the divine-spiritual world — a will of which it might rightly be said that it was inspired, because the soul was living among gods.
Higher knowledge speaks of this age when man was still united with the divine-spiritual beings as the Golden Age, or the Krita Yuga. It is an age of great antiquity, the most important period of which actually preceded the Atlantean catastrophe. Then came an age when men no longer felt their connection with the divine-spiritual world as strongly as during the Krita Yuga, when :they no longer felt that their impulses were determined by their life with the gods, when their vision of the spirit and the soul was already clouded. Nevertheless, there still remained in them a memory of their life with the spiritual beings and the gods.
This memory was particularly distinct in ancient India. It was very easy in those days to speak about spiritual things; one could have directed men's attention to the outer, physically perceptible world and yet regard it as maya or illusion, because men had not been having these physical perceptions for so very long. So it was in ancient India. Souls then living no longer beheld the gods themselves, but they still beheld spiritual facts and happenings and spiritual beings of lower ranks. Only a comparatively small number of men were still able to behold the sublime spiritual beings, and even for these men the former living communion with the gods was already much less intense. The will-impulses from the divine-spiritual world had already disappeared. Nevertheless, a glimpse into spiritual facts and happenings was still possible, at all events in certain states of consciousness: in sleep and in those intermediate states to which reference has been made.
The most important facts of this spiritual world, however, which in earlier times had been experienced as immediate reality, were now there in the form of a kind of knowledge of truth, as something that the soul still knew with certainty but which was now operative only in the form of knowledge, as a truth. Men still lived in the spiritual world, but in this later age the realization of its existence was not as strong as it had formerly been. This period is called the Silver Age, or the Treta Yuga.
Then came the epoch of those incarnations when man's vision was more and more shut off from the spiritual world, when his whole nature was directed to the outer sense-world and firmly consolidated in that world; inner ego-consciousness, consciousness of manhood, became more and more definite and distinct. This is the Bronze Age, or the Dvapara Yuga. Man's knowledge of the spiritual world was no longer as sublime or direct as in earlier times, but something at least had remained in humanity. It was as if in men of the present day who have reached a certain age there were to remain something of the jubilance of youth ... this is past and over but it has been experienced and known and a man can speak of it as something with which he is familiar. Thus the souls of that age were still in some degree familiar with experiences leading to the spiritual worlds. That is the essential characteristic of the Dvapara Yuga.
But then came another age, an age when even this degree of familiarity with the spiritual world ceased, when the doors of the spiritual world closed. Men's vision was more and more confined to the outer material world and to the intellect which elaborates the sense-impressions, so that the only remaining possibility was to reflect about the spiritual world — which is the most unsatisfactory way of acquiring knowledge of it. What men now actually knew from their own experience was the material-physical world. If they desired to know something about the spiritual world, this was possible only through reflection. It is the age when man was most lacking in spirituality and therefore established himself firmly in the material world. This was necessary in order that he might be able by degrees to develop consciousness of self to its highest point, for only through the sturdy resistance of the outer world could man learn to distinguish himself from the world and experience himself as an individual. This age is called the Kali Yuga, or the Dark Age.
I emphasize that these designations — the Krita Yuga, for example — can also be applied to longer epochs, for before the Golden Age man experienced and participated in still higher worlds; hence all those earlier ages could be embraced by this name. But if, so to speak, demands are kept moderate and one is satisfied with the range of spiritual experience described, the periods can be divided in the way indicated. Definite time periods can be given for all such epochs. True, evolution progresses slowly and by degrees, but there are certain boundary lines of which it can be said that prior to them such-and-such conditions of life and of consciousness predominated, and subsequently, others.
Accordingly, in the sense first spoken of, the Kali Yuga began approximately in the year 3101 B.C. Thus we realize that our souls have appeared repeatedly on the Earth in new incarnations, in the course of which man's vision has been more and more shut off from the spiritual world and therefore increasingly restricted to the outer world of the senses. We realize, too, that with every incarnation our souls enter into new conditions in which there are always new things to be learnt. What we can achieve in the Kali Yuga is to establish and consolidate our ego-consciousness. This was not previously possible, for we had first to be endowed with the ego.
If in some incarnation souls have failed to take in what that particular epoch has to give, it is very difficult for the loss to be made good in later epochs. Such souls must wait a long time until the loss can in some respect be counterbalanced. But no reliance should be placed upon such a possibility.
We will therefore picture to ourselves that the result of the doors being closed against the spiritual world was of fundamental and essential importance. This was also the epoch of John the Baptist, of Christ Himself on Earth. In that epoch, when 3,100 years of the Dark Age had already elapsed, a fact of salient importance was that all human beings then living had already been incarnated several times — once or twice at the very least — in the Dark Age. Ego-consciousness had been firmly established; memory of the spiritual world had faded away, and if men did not desire to lose their connection with the spiritual world entirely, it was essential for them to learn to experience within the ego the reality of the spiritual world. The ego must have developed to the stage where it could be certain — in its inmost core at least — that there is a spiritual world, and that there are higher spiritual beings. The ego must have made itself capable of feeling, of believing in, the spiritual world.
If in the days of Christ Jesus someone had voiced the truth in regard to the conditions then prevailing, he might have said: In earlier times men could experience the kingdom of heaven while they were outside their ego in those spiritual distances reached when out of the body. Man had then to experience the kingdoms of heaven, the kingdoms of the spiritual world, far away from the ego. This is no longer possible, for man's nature has changed so greatly that these kingdoms must be experienced within the ego itself; the kingdoms of heaven have come so near to man that they work into his very ego. And it was this that was proclaimed by John the Baptist: The kingdoms of heaven are at band! — that is to say, they have drawn near to the ego. Previously they were outside man, but now they are near and man must grasp them in the very core of his being, in the ego. And because in this Dark Age, in the Kali Yuga, man could no longer go forth from the physical into the spiritual world, it was necessary for the Divine Being, Christ, to come down into the physical world ... Christ's descent into a man of flesh, into Jesus of Nazareth, was necessary in order that through beholding the life and deeds of Christ on the physical plane it might become possible for men to be linked, in the physical body, with the kingdoms of heaven, with the spiritual world. And so Christ's sojourn on Earth took place during a period in the middle of the Kali Yuga, the Dark Age, when men who were not living in a state of dull insensibility but understood the nature of the times could realize: The descent of the God to men is necessary in order that a lost connection with the spiritual world may be established once again.
If at that time no human beings had been able to find a living link with Christ in their hearts and souls, the connection with the spiritual worlds would have been gradually lost; the kingdoms of heaven would not have been received into the egos of men. It might well have happened that if all human beings living at that crucial point of time had persisted in remaining in darkness, an event of such momentous significance would have passed them by unnoticed.
The souls of men would have withered, gone to waste, decayed. True, even without Christ they would have continued to incarnate for some time still, but they would not have been able to implant in the ego the power that would have enabled them to find the link with the kingdoms of heaven. The event of the Appearance of Christ on the Earth might everywhere have passed unnoticed — as it did, for example, in Rome. It was alleged in Rome that a sect of sinful people were living in some out-of-the-way, sordid alley, that among them was a wicked spirit calling himself Jesus of Nazareth and inciting them by his preaching to all kinds of villainous deeds. At a certain period that was all that was known in Rome of Christ! And you may possibly also be aware that Tacitus, the great Roman historian, wrote in a similar vein about a hundred years after the events in Palestine.
Thus it was by no means universally realized that something of supreme importance had taken place: that the Divine Light had shone into the darkness of Earth and that it was now possible for men to be brought safely through the Kali Yuga. The possibility of further evolution for humanity was ensured because there were certain souls who understood what was at stake at that point of time and knew what it signified that Christ had been upon Earth.
If you were to transfer yourselves in thought to that time you would realize that it was quite possible to live without knowing anything at all of the advent of Christ Jesus on the physical plane — it was quite possible to live on Earth without having any consciousness of this most momentous event.
Would it not also be possible today for something of infinite importance to take place without men being aware of it? Might not our contemporaries fail to have the slightest inkling of the most important happening in the world at the present time? It might well be so. For something of supreme importance is taking place, although it is perceptible only to the eyes of spirit. There is a great deal of talk about periods of transition; we ourselves are actually living in a very important one. And its importance lies in the fact that the Dark Age has run its course and a new age is beginning, when slowly and by degrees the souls of men will change and new faculties will be developed.
The fact that the vast majority of men are entirely unaware of this need not be a cause of surprise, for it was the same when the Christ Event took place at the beginning of our era. The Kali Yuga carne to an end in the year 1899 and we have now to live on into a new age. What is beginning is slowly preparing men for new faculties of soul.
The first indications of these new faculties will be noticeable in isolated souls comparatively soon now, and they will become more clearly apparent in the middle of the thirties of this century, approximately in the period between 1930 and 1940. The years 1933, 1935, and 1937 will be particularly important. Very special faculties will then reveal themselves in human beings as natural gifts. Great changes will take place during this period and biblical prophecies will be fulfilled. Everything will change for souls who are living on Earth and also for those who are no longer in physical bodies. Whatever their realm of existence, souls are on the way to possessing entirely new faculties. Everything is changing — but the happening of supreme importance in our time is a deeply incisive transformation of the faculties of the human soul.
The Kali Yuga is over and the souls of men are now beginning to develop new faculties. These faculties — because this is the purpose of the epoch — will of themselves draw forth from souls certain powers of clairvoyance which during the Kali Yuga had necessarily to be submerged in the realm of the unconscious. A number of souls will experience the strange condition of having ego-consciousness but at the same time the feeling of living in a world essentially different from the world known to their ordinary consciousness. The experience will be shadowy, like a divination, as though an operation had been performed on one born blind. ... Through what we call esoteric training these clairvoyant faculties will be attained in a far better form. But because human beings progress, they will appear in mankind in their very earliest beginnings, in their most elementary stages, through the natural process of evolution.
But it might very easily happen — indeed, far more easily now than at any earlier time — that men would prove incapable of grasping this event of such supreme importance for humanity, incapable of realizing that this denotes an actual glimpse into a spiritual world, although still shadowy and dim. There might, for example, be so much wickedness, so much materialism on the Earth that the majority of men would show not the slightest understanding, and regard those who have this clairvoyance as lunatics, shutting them up in asylums together with those whose minds are obviously deranged. This point of time might pass men by without leaving a trace, although today we too are letting the call of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, and of Christ Himself, again resound: A new epoch is at hand, when the souls of men must take a step upward into the kingdoms of heaven.
The great event might very easily pass without being understood by men. ... If between the years 1930 and 1940 the materialists were to say triumphantly: True, there have been a number of fools but no sign whatever of the expected great event ... this would not in the least disprove what has been said. But if the materialists were to win the day and mankind were to overlook these happenings altogether, it would be a dire misfortune. Even if men should prove incapable of perceiving them, great things will come to pass.
One is that it will be possible for men to acquire the new faculty of perception in the etheric world — a certain number to begin with, and they will be followed by more and more others, for mankind will have 2,500 years during which to develop these faculties in greater and greater perfection. This opportunity must not be missed. If it were, this would be a tragic misfortune and mankind would then be obliged to wait until a later epoch in order to retrieve the lost opportunity and subsequently to develop the new faculty. This faculty will consist in men being able to see in their environment something of the etheric world which hitherto they have not normally been able to see. Man now sees only the human physical body, but then he will be able to see the etheric body at least as a shadowy picture and also to perceive the connection between deeper happenings in the etheric world. He will have pictures and premonitions of happenings in the spiritual world and find that in three or four days’ time such happenings take place on the physical plane. We will see certain things in etheric pictures and know that tomorrow or in a few days’ time this or that will happen.
These faculties of the human soul will be transformed. And what is associated with this? The being we call the Christ was once on Earth in the flesh at the beginning of our era. He will never come again in a physical body, for that was a unique event and will not be repeated. But He will come again in an etheric form in the period indicated. Men will learn to perceive Christ inasmuch as through this etheric sight they will grow towards Him. He does not now descend as far as the physical body but only as far as the etheric body; men must therefore grow to the stage where He can be perceived. For Christ spoke truly when He said: “I am with you always, even unto the end of the days of Earth.” He is present in our spiritual world ... and those especially blessed can always see Him in this spiritual, etheric world.
A man who was convinced with particular intensity through such perception, was Paul — in the vision at Damascus. But this etheric sight will develop in individual human beings as a natural faculty. In days to come it will be more and more possible for men to experience what Paul experienced at Damascus.
We are now able to grasp quite a different aspect of Spiritual Science. We realize that it is a preparation for the actual event of the new Appearance of Christ. Christ will appear again inasmuch as with their etheric sight men will raise themselves to Him. When this is understood, Spiritual Science is disclosed as the means of preparing men to recognize the return of Christ, in order that it shall not be their misfortune to overlook this event but that they shall be mature enough to grasp the great happening of the Second Coming of Christ. Men will become capable of seeing etheric bodies and among them, too, the etheric body of Christ; that is to say, they will grow into a world where Christ will be revealed to their newly awakened faculties.
It will then no longer be necessary to amass all kinds of documentary evidence to prove the existence of Christ; there will be eye-witnesses of the presence of the Living Christ, men who will know Him in His etheric body. And from this experience they will realize that this is the same being who at the beginning of our era fulfilled the Mystery of Golgotha, that He is indeed the Christ. Just as Paul at Damascus was convinced at the time: This is Christ! ... so there will be men whose experiences in the etheric world will convince them that in very truth Christ lives.
The supreme mystery of the age in which we are living is the Second Coming of Christ — that is, its true nature. But the materialistic mind will in a certain sense appropriate this event. What has now been said — that all the data of genuine spiritual knowledge point to this age — will often be proclaimed in the years immediately ahead. But the materialistic mind corrupts everything today, and what will happen is that this kind of thinking will be quite incapable of conceiving that the souls of men must advance to the stage of etheric sight and therewith to vision of Christ in the etheric body.
Materialistic thinking will conceive of this event as a descent of Christ in the flesh, as an incarnation in the flesh. A number of persons in their boundless arrogance will turn this to their own advantage and announce themselves to men as the reincarnated Christ. The near future may therefore bring false Christs, but anthroposophists should be so fully prepared for the spiritual life that they will not confuse the return of Christ in a spiritual body, perceptible only to higher vision, with a return in a physical body of flesh. This will be one of the most terrible temptations besetting mankind, and to lead men past this temptation will be the task of those who learn through Spiritual Science to rise in the true sense to an understanding of the Spirit, who try not to drag spirit down into matter but to ascend into the spiritual world themselves. Thus we may speak of the return of Christ and of the fact that we rise to Christ in the spiritual world through acquiring the faculty of etheric vision.
Christ is ever present, but He is in the spiritual world. We can reach Him when we rise into that world. All anthroposophical teaching should be transformed within us into an indomitable will not to allow this event to pass unnoticed but in the time that remains to us gradually to educate human beings who will be capable of developing these new faculties and therewith to unite anew with Christ. Otherwise, before such an opportunity could again arise, humanity would have to wait for long, long ages ... indeed, until a new incarnation of the Earth. If this event of the return of Christ were to be overlooked, the vision of Christ in the etheric body would be restricted to those who are willing to fit themselves for such an experience through esoteric training. But the really momentous fact of these faculties being acquired by humanity in general, by all men, of this great event being understood by means of faculties developing naturally in all men ... that would be impossible for long, long ages.
Obviously, therefore, there is something in our age that justifies the existence and the work of Spiritual Science in the world. Its aim is not merely to satisfy theoretical needs or scientific curiosity. To prepare men for this great event, to prepare them to take their rightful place in the epoch in which they live, and with clarity of understanding and knowledge to perceive what is actually present but may pass men by without being brought to fruition — such is the aim of Spiritual Science.
It will be of the utmost importance to recognize and understand this event of Christ's Appearance, for it will be followed by other events. Just as other happenings preceded the Christ Event in Palestine, so will those who prophetically foretold His coming follow Him after the time referred to, after He Himself has become visible to mankind again in the etheric body. The preparers of His coming will be recognizable in a new form to men who have experienced the new Christ Event. Those who lived on Earth as Moses, Abraham, and the Prophets will be recognizable once again. And it will be known that just as Abraham preceded Christ as a preparer, he also takes over the mission, after Christ's coming, of being a helper in His work. Thus a man who does not sleep through the event of supreme importance in the immediate future gladly finds his way into fellowship with all those who, as the Patriarchs, preceded the Christ Event; he allies himself with them. The whole choir of those to whose level we shall thus be able to rise is again revealed. The one who led mankind downwards to the physical plane appears again after Christ and leads men upwards again, unites them again with the spiritual worlds.
Looking far back into the past, we come to that point of time in the evolution of humanity of which we say: from then onwards humanity descends farther and farther away from the spiritual world into the physical world. Although the following picture also has its material aspect, it can nevertheless be used here. In earlier times man was a companion of spiritual beings and because his spirit lived in the spiritual world he was a son of the Gods. But the soul, descending ever more deeply into bodily incarnation, participated to a constantly increasing extent in the outer world. The son of the Gods within man took delight in the daughters of the Earth, that is to say in those souls who were drawn to the physical world. This in turn means: the human spirit, in earlier times charged through and through with divine spirituality, sank down into physical materiality, became the spouse of the brain-bound intellect, and by it was entangled in the web of the physical world of sense. And now the human spirit must re-ascend along the path by which the descent was once made and become again a son of the Gods. The human spirit which had become the son of man would perish in the physical world if this son of man were not to climb upwards again to the Divine Beings, to the light of the spiritual world, finding delight in times to come in the daughters of the Gods. It was necessary for the evolution of mankind that the sons of the Gods should unite with the daughters of men, with the souls who are fettered to the Earth, in order that as the son of man the human spirit should learn to master the physical plane. But it is necessary that the human being of the future, the son of man, shall take delight in the daughters of the Gods, in the divine-spiritual light of wisdom with which he must unite in order then to grow upwards again into the world of the Gods.
The will of man must be fired by the divine wisdom, and the most powerful impulse for this will be if to those who have truly prepared themselves the sublime ether-form of Christ Jesus becomes perceptible. To a man in whom natural clairvoyance has developed this will be like a Second Coming of Christ Jesus, just as the etheric Christ appeared as a spiritual being to Paul. Christ will appear again to men when they realize that they must use to this end the faculties with which evolution itself will equip the human soul.
Let us therefore use Spiritual Science not merely to satisfy our curiosity, but in such a way that it will make us worthier to fulfil the great tasks and missions devolving upon the human race.
Answer given by Dr. Steiner to questions asked in connection with the foregoing lecture
When light has been thrown, as it has been today, upon mysteries of a more intimate kind, let us not treat them as thoughtlessly as certain subjects are wont to be treated today, but realize that Anthroposophy must be for us something altogether different from a theory. The teaching has, of course, to be given; for how would it be possible to rise to thoughts such as have been voiced today if they could not be received in the form of teaching? The essence of this teaching, however, is that it does not remain as such but is re-moulded in the soul into qualities of heart and character, into an entirely different attitude of mind, making different men of us. The teaching should guide us how to make the right use of our incarnations so that in the course of them we can develop into something quite different.
I have tried not to say a word too much or too little and have therefore given only fleeting indications of matters of great moment. But what has been said is of significance not only for the souls who will be incarnated on the physical plane in the period from 1930 to 1940 but also for those who will then be in the spiritual world between death and a new birth; souls work down from the spiritual world into the world of the living, even though the latter may know nothing of it. Through the new Christ Event, this communion between souls who are incarnated here on the physical plane and souls already in the spiritual world will become an increasingly conscious communion. Active cooperation between human beings in incarnation and spiritual beings will then be possible; this should already have been indicated when it was said that the Prophets appear again among men on the Earth.
You have therefore to conceive that when these great times arrive in the future there will be a more conscious mutual cooperation between men in the physical world and in the spiritual world. This is not possible today because of the absence of a common language. Here in the physical world the only words men use in their languages designate physical things and physical conditions. The world in which human beings live between death and a new birth is quite different from the world immediately surrounding us, and they speak a different language. The Dead can take in only what is spoken in the sense of Spiritual Science — nothing else. Therefore in Anthroposophy we are cultivating something that will be more and more intelligible to the Dead and we are speaking also for those who are living between death and a new birth.
Humanity is passing into a new era when the strength of the influences from the spiritual world will steadily increase. The great events of the immediate future will be perceptible in all worlds. Those, too, who are living between death and a new birth will have new experiences as the result of the new Christ Event in the etheric world. But if they made no preparation in themselves while on Earth, they would no more understand the event than would men incarnated on the Earth, unless these had prepared themselves to respond in the right way. It is essential for all souls now incarnated — no matter whether they will then still be in physical incarnation or not — that through the assimilation of anthroposophical truths they should prepare themselves for these important future events. If they fail to receive into their earthly consciousness what Anthroposophy or Spiritual Science has to give, they will have to wait for a new incarnation in order to have the possibility here on Earth of assimilating the corresponding teachings. For there are things that can be experienced and learnt only on Earth.
Hence it is said that in the spiritual world there is, for example, no possibility of knowing death — and it was necessary for a God to descend into the physical world in order that He might die. Knowledge of what the Mystery of Golgotha is can be acquired in no other world in the way that is possible in the physical world. We have been led down into the physical world in order to acquire something that can be acquired only there. And Christ came down to humanity because it was only in the physical world that He could reveal to men — could enable them to experience in the Mystery of Golgotha — something that, having let its fruits ripen in the spiritual world, carries those fruits onward. But the seeds must be laid down and spread abroad in the physical world.
Silver Age — Treta Yuga — about 15,000 years
Bronze Age — Dvapara Yuga — about 10,000 years
Dark Age — Kali Yuga — about 5,000 years
Our Age embraces a future 2,500 years
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