The Gospel of John. Lecture 2 of 12.
Rudolf Steiner, Hamburg, May 19, 1908:
The first words of the Gospel of St. John touch, in fact, upon the deepest mysteries of the world. This can be seen when we allow the truths of Spiritual Science which lie at their very foundation to pass before our souls. And we must dip deeply into spiritual knowledge, if these first words of this Gospel are to appear to us in the right light. We must recall to memory much that is well known to those of you who for a long time have been occupying yourselves with the Anthroposophical world conception. But today we shall need to expand certain elementary truths of this conception by penetrating further into various significant cosmic mysteries. We need but briefly call to mind how the human being appears to us between the time of waking in the morning and the evening, when he again sinks into sleep. We know that he is composed of a physical body, an ether or life body, an astral body, and an ego. These four members of the human being, however, are in close relationship only during the waking state. It is quite necessary that we remember that during the night, while sleeping, the human creature is, in reality, entirely different from the same creature during the day, during waking day consciousness, for then his four members are assembled in a very different manner. When he sleeps, the physical and ether bodies lie in bed. The astral body and ego, in a certain sense, are loosened from their connections with the physical and ether bodies and are in fact outside of them — we must understand the word outside in a spiritual, not in a purely spatial sense. Therefore during the night the human being is a creature consisting of two parts, one that remains lying in bed and another part which separates from the physical and ether bodies. Now we must first of all clearly understand that if, during the night, from the moment of going to sleep to the moment of waking again in the morning, the physical and ether bodies lying in bed were completely abandoned by what fills them throughout the day — that is, the astral body and ego — they could not then exist at all by themselves.
Here at this point we must enter a little more deeply into the cosmic mysteries. When we have the human physical body here before us, we should clearly understand that behind what we can see with the eyes and touch with our hands there is a long evolutionary process. It has passed through this process of evolution in the course of the entire development of our earthly planet. To those of you who have concerned yourselves a little with this subject, it is already well known that our earth has passed through previous states of existence and just as the human being has gone from one incarnation to another or, in other words, has passed through repeated earth lives, so too has the earth passed through other life-states before it reached the condition in which we find it today. There are previous incarnations of a planet just as there are previous incarnations of a human being. Everything in the great world and in the small world is subject to the law of repeated incarnations, and before the earth finally became this earth of ours it had passed through a condition of being which we call the “Ancient [Note 1] Moon,” so called because the present moon contains a portion of that ancient planet. So when we speak of the “Ancient Moon,” we do not at all mean the present moon, but a planet similar to the present earth in its earliest stages. Nov, just as there is a period between one incarnation and a new birth in the case of human beings, so also is there a period between the incarnation of this planet of ours which we call the Earth, and that one we designate as the Ancient Moon, and the same is true of that life-condition which we call the “Sun.” A state which we call the “Sun” preceded the Moon-state of our planet, and again this Sun-state was preceded by a “Saturn” life-condition. Thus we can look back on three earlier incarnations of our planet, but not as it is today.
Our physical human body received its very first rudiments upon the ancient Saturn. Upon that ancient planet the very first germ of a physical body was at that time created, but, of course, one very different from the human body of the present. Besides the physical body, nothing that is a part of the human being of today was present on ancient Saturn. Only when Saturn was transformed into the Sun, that is to say, during the second incarnation of our Earth-planet, was the ether body added to the physical body, penetrating and impregnating it. And what was the result? The physical human body underwent a transformation, acquired another form and attained a very different state of existence. During the Sun incarnation of our Earth, the physical body stood at a second stage of its development. But how did it reach this second stage? By becoming an inwardly living body on the Sun, while on Saturn it was still machine-like and automatic. The ether body, which had slipped in, transformed the physical body. Then on the Moon, the astral body slipped into this union of physical and ether bodies. Thus the physical body was again transformed a third time and the ether body a second time. At last upon the Earth, the ego was added to the physical, ether, and astral bodies and having now entered into this threefold union, the ego transformed this physical body again, so that at last it became the complicated structure which it is today. Therefore, what you have before you now as the human physical body is a many times transformed entity, and just because it has passed through four stages of evolution it has its present complicated appearance.
If we say, when speaking of our present physical body, that it is composed of the same physical and chemical substances and forces to be found in the minerals out in the cosmos, it must, nevertheless, be quite clear to us that there is an enormous difference between this physical human body and the mineral. Speaking in very elementary terms, we emphasize the difference between the physical human body and the physical body of a mineral — for example, of a rock crystal — when we say that the rock crystal retains its form unless shattered from without. The human physical body, on the contrary, cannot of itself retain its form. It has its form only because and as long as there are within it an ether body, an astral body, and an ego. The moment the ether body, the astral body, and the ego are separated from it, it becomes something quite different from what it is between birth and death; it follows the laws of the physical and chemical substances and forces and decays, while on the other hand the physical body of the mineral remains unchanged.
Something similar is the case with the ether body. Immediately after death the ether and astral bodies and the ego separate from the physical body; then after a time the ether body also leaves this union of astral body and ego and resolves itself into the cosmic ether, just as the physical body disintegrates and goes back into the earth kingdom. There remains behind only that extract of the ether body of which we have often spoken. This remains united with the human being. Therefore we may say that the physical human body is in a certain sense of the same nature as the mineral kingdom about us, nevertheless, we must keep in mind the great difference which exists between the mineral kingdom and the physical human body.
One might say: — Indeed, but you have just stated that on Saturn our physical body was not yet permeated by an ether body, an astral body, and an ego, for they were only added on the Sun, Moon, and Earth. Therefore at that time, in fact — one might say — the physical body had the character of a mineral. That is true, but we have mentioned three metamorphoses of this physical body that one after the other have succeeded that early life-state of the Saturn period. Even the present mineral, which you have before you as a dead mineral, cannot possibly exist with only a physical body. Let us make it very clear that what has been said and must be repeated is true, that as far as the physical world is concerned, the mineral has only a physical body. Here in the physical world the mineral has only a physical body — however, that is not literally true. Just as the physical human body, standing before us, has within it its etheric and astral bodies and its ego which belong to it, so too has the mineral not only a physical body, but also an ether and an astral body, and an ego — however, these higher members of its being are to be found only in higher realms. The mineral has an ether body, but it is to be found in the so-called astral world; it has also an astral body, but it is in the so-called devachanic or heaven-world, and it has an ego, but this exists in a still higher spiritual world. Thus the physical human body differs from the physical body of a mineral in having here in this physical world, in a waking state, its ether and astral bodies and ego within it, while the mineral has not. We know that besides our world there are still other worlds. The world which we ordinarily perceive with our physical senses is permeated by the astral world, and this again by the devachanic world, which consists of an inferior and a superior region.
In comparison with the mineral, the human being is an especially favored creature, because during waking-consciousness he has his other three members within him. The mineral does not contain these members within itself, so we must think of it as not existing wholly upon the physical plane. Think of a human fingernail. You will concede that nowhere outside in Nature can you find this fingernail existing as an independent entity, for if it is to grow, it presupposes the rest of the human organism — it cannot exist without this. Now imagine a tiny creature with eyes that can see only your fingernail, but has no capacity to see the rest of your organism. Such a tiny creature would look out into the rest of space, but would see nothing besides your fingernail. Thus the minerals on the physical plane are like the fingernail and you only perceive them in their entirety when you rise into higher realms. There they have their ether and astral bodies and egos, and here only their physical member. All this we must hold firmly in mind in order that it may be quite clear that in a higher reality there can be no entity that does not possess some kind of ether and astral body and ego. A purely physical being can have no existence; to exist at all it must have an ether and an astral body, and an ego.
However, in all that has been said today there is in fact a certain contradiction. We have stated that the human being, in the night while asleep, is entirely different from the creature we see during the day when he is awake. By day he is quite comprehensible to us; we have him there before us as a fourfold being. But now let us approach him in sleep and observe his physical nature. Here we have the physical body and the ether body lying in bed — the astral body and ego outside. Thus arises the contradictory condition of having before us a being deserted by its astral body and ego. The stone does not sleep. Its ether and astral bodies and ego do not penetrate it, but remain constantly in the same relationship with it. With the human being, on the contrary, the astral body and ego depart each night and he does not concern himself about his physical and ether bodies, but leaves them to themselves. This fact is not always fully considered. Every night the human being, in his truly spiritual part, takes leave of his physical and ether bodies which he himself deserts. However, these bodies would not be able to exist by themselves, because no physical body, and for that matter no ether body, can exist by itself. Even the stone must be permeated by its higher members. Therefore you can easily comprehend that it is wholly impossible for your physical body and ether body to remain in bed at night without an astral body and ego. What occurs then during the night? Your own astral body and ego are indeed not within the physical and ether bodies, but present in their place there is another ego and another astral body. At this point, occultism calls your attention to a divine-spiritual existence and to higher spiritual powers. During the night, while your own ego and astral body are outside your physical and ether bodies, the astral body and ego of higher, divine-spiritual powers are actually active within them. And the reason for this is the following:
When we consider the whole of human evolution from the Saturn stage through the Sun and Moon periods as far as the Earth, we might indeed say that upon Saturn only the physical human body existed, that there was no human ether body, no human astral body, and no human ego within this physical body. But this physical body, at that time, could have no more existed by itself than the stone today can exist by itself. The physical body of that time could only exist because it was permeated by the ether and astral bodies and the ego of divine-spiritual beings which dwelt within it, and they still dwell there today. Then on the Sun, when our own ether body entered into this physical body, the smaller human ether body amalgamated, as it were, with the earlier ether body of divine-spiritual powers. Even upon Saturn the physical body was permeated by divine-spiritual beings.
If we have now understood this properly, we come to a deeper comprehension of the present human being and we are in a position to repeat and to understand better what has been taught in esoteric Christianity from the beginning. This esoteric Christianity has always been fostered alongside the outer Christian exoteric teaching. I have often pointed out that Paul, the great apostle of Christianity, used his powerful, fiery gift of eloquence to teach Christianity to the people, but that at the same time he founded an esoteric school, the director of which was Dionysius the Areopagite, mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles. In this Christian esoteric school at Athens which was directly founded by Paul himself, the purest Spiritual Science was taught. And now, having brought together the necessary material in the above observations, we shall be able to place before our souls what was taught there.
This school also taught that when we observe the human being standing before us in his waking state, we find him composed of physical body, ether body, astral body, and ego. It is of little importance that the names used were not exactly the same as those used today. Even at that time the stage of evolution at which humanity now stands was already predicated. This human being, consisting of these four members, has not always been as he now appears to us. If we wish to observe him composed of these four members only, then we must not observe him as he is today, but we must retrace our evolutionary steps back to the Lemurian period. It was at that time that the ego became united with the human being composed of physical, ether, and astral bodies. Thus one might truly say that then, in the real sense of the word, the human being consisted of physical, ether, and astral bodies, and ego.
But since that time every human being has passed through many incarnations. What then is the significance of this evolution by means of incarnations? It is that from incarnation to incarnation the ego works upon and transforms the three members of its being. It begins by first transforming its astral body. In the average man of today the astral body is not just as it was in the first earthly incarnation before the ego had worked upon it. In the first incarnation upon the earth the ego, working from within outwardly, transformed certain thoughts, feelings, and passions which originally had been given to men, and from incarnation to incarnation these were changed more and more through the activity of the ego. Thus it may be said that the human being has today not only the four members — physical, ether, and astral bodies, and ego — but through the activity of the ego within the astral body, he has now a member which is the actual creation of the ego itself. In each human being of today, the astral body is twofold; it has one part that has been transformed by the ego, and another part not so transformed. This will continue and a time will come for every human being when his entire astral body will become a creation of his ego. It is the custom in Oriental wisdom to call that part of the astral body which has already been transformed by the ego by the name of Manas; in English, Spirit-Self. Although the human being is still composed of his four members, we can now distinguish five parts: physical, ether, and astral bodies, and ego; and as fifth member, the transformed part of the astral body, Manas or Spirit-Self. Thus we may say that in every human being the astral body contains within it Manas or Spirit-Self, the work of the ego, the product of the activity of the ego.
The human being will continue to work upon himself. The Earth will pass through further incarnations and humanity will acquire by degrees the capacity — which today can be acquired by the initiate — of working also upon the ether body. It is true the average man today is already working upon his ether body and that part of it which is transformed into a product of the ego is called Buddhi or Life-Spirit. He will finally reach the point where, by means of his ego, he will transform his physical body also. That part of the physical body which is transformed by the ego is called Atman or Spirit-Man.
Let us allow our glance to sweep to the far distant future after the Earth has passed through other planetary forms, other incarnations, after — as occultism describes it — it has gone through the Jupiter, Venus, and Vulcan states of existence. The human being will then stand upon a very much higher level, and will have transformed his entire astral body into Manas or Spirit-Self, his entire ether body into Buddhi or Life-Spirit, and his whole physical body into Atman or Spirit-Man.
Compare this human being as he will appear to us at the end of our earthly course with the same human creature as he appeared at its beginning. In the beginning there was only the physical body, and it was permeated by an ether and an astral body and an ego, but these belonged to divine higher beings who only dwelt within it. At the end of the Earth's evolutionary course, the human being will be entirely permeated by his ego. And this ego itself dwells within the astral body, when as Manas or Spirit-Self it permeates this astral body. The ego then permeates the ether body, which becomes impregnated by Buddhi or Life-Spirit, and the physical body becomes entirely transfused by Atman or Spirit-Man, also the product of the ego. What a tremendous difference between the creature at the beginning of this evolution and the same human being as he will be at the end of it! But by bringing this great difference clearly before our minds, what I purposely called a contradiction — the sleep state — then becomes comprehensible to us. The very form of the explanation in esoteric Christianity makes it entirely intelligible to us. What then is this physical body that we shall have before us when the earth has reached the goal of its evolution? Will it be the present physical body? Not in any sense will it be the present physical body, but what the ego shall have made of it. This physical body, as well as the ether and astral bodies, will be wholly spirit-filled. But they were spirit-filled even before the human being transformed them into spirit through the activity of his ego. Even the stone, as we have said, is today permeated by the ether and astral bodies and ego belonging to it, although they exist in higher spiritual realms.
Thus we see that esoteric Christianity has good reason for stating that the human being cannot yet master what he today possesses as physical body, because he has not yet reached the end of his evolution when his ego will have worked down even into the physical body. He also cannot yet master the ether body. He will only be able to master that when the Earth has reached the Venus state. Thus he cannot yet master physical and ether bodies through his ego. Only when he has developed Buddhi and Atman will he be able to do this. But a physical and ether body of this kind must be controlled in a spiritual way. What the human being himself will some day be able to give to the physical and ether bodies must already be present within them. Those spiritual parts which the ego will at some time give to the ether and physical bodies must be there even now. They were already within the physical body in the beginning when the human creature was in the Saturn Evolution; they were in him when he was on the Sun, and they have continued to remain within him ever since. Thus esoteric Christianity speaks truly when it says: When the human being has reached the summit of his evolution, what is now already within the human physical body, the divine Atman, a divine spiritual being, will then become a part of it. Buddhi also is already within the ether body, but it is the divine Life-Spirit. The human astral body consists, as we have said, of two parts, one of which has been mastered by the human being and another which has not. What, then, is present there within that part which he cannot yet control? It is the Spirit-Self, but a divine Spirit-Self. The real spiritual life of mankind is only present in that part of the astral body in which the ego has already been active since the first incarnation. Thus we have the human being before us.
Let us now look at him in his waking state. What shall we say? The physical body as it appears to us is only the exterior. Within, he is what may be called an atmic being. Interiorly, he is composed of and permeated by higher divine-spiritual beings. The same is true of the ether body. Exteriorly, it is what holds the physical body together; interiorly it is the divine Life-Spirit. And the astral body also is permeated by a divine being, the Spirit-Self. But out of this whole combination, the transformed portion of the astral body alone has been mastered by the ego.
Let us now observe the human being while he sleeps. Here this contradiction disappears at once. We approach him when he is in this state and observe that, as astral body and ego, he is outside the physical body. He calmly abandons it and the ether body every night. Were he to leave the physical body without its being cared for by a divine-spiritual being, he would find it again, but in a shattered condition. A divine-spiritual physical and a divine-spiritual ether are present within the physical and ether bodies and they remain there while these bodies are lying in bed, with the astral body and ego outside. The physical body and ether body are permeated by beings of an atmic and buddhic nature.
Now, look back to the beginning of our earthly evolution when nothing in the human being had yet been mastered by the ego. Before his first incarnation the ego was not yet united with the three other members, the physical, ether, and astral bodies. These last came over from the Moon, but the ego did not enter them until the Earth period. On the other hand, a divine Ego was present within them. They would not have been able to exist had not this divine Ego completely permeated them. The astral body was permeated by a divine Spirit-Self, the ether body by a divine Life-Spirit, and the physical body by a divine Atman or Spirit-Man.
Let us look back still further to the Moon, Sun, and Saturn evolutions. Upon Saturn, the divine Life-Spirit — which still in the night dwells within the human being lying in bed — had the power to form the human body, as a matter of fact the physical body, into something like a mineral. During the Sun stage, this Life-Spirit transformed the physical body into something of the nature of a plant; and on the Moon it was able to form this body into something that experiences pleasure and pain, but which could not yet say “I” to itself. The physical body passed through these lowest stages.
Now, let us proceed to the real Earth incarnation. Here, by experiencing a further transformation, the physical human body became still more perfected than previously. What had it previously been unable to do? What was yet quite foreign to it? What had the divine Spirit kept within itself? What had it not yet entrusted to the human body? It was the power to express in sound the inner life of the soul. On the Moon, this human body, then at the animal stage, was mute. The capacity to permit the soul-life to express itself outwardly in sounds was still with the Divine. It was not yet entrusted to the body's own being. Although there are also animal creatures today able to utter cries, such sounds are, however, something very different from the human vocal sounds. These animals still exist under quite different conditions from the human creature — they make sounds, it is true, but it is the Divine within them sounding forth. The power to express the inner feelings of the soul in words was only bestowed upon men here upon the Earth. Before this, they were mute; thus this capacity for speech came with life upon the earth.
Let us consider now for a moment as a whole what we have today brought before our souls. The power of speech, namely the Word, was originally with the Divine, and the whole of evolution was so directed that the Godhead first created, as prerequisite, a physical apparatus which only later acquired the power to allow this Word to sound forth out of itself. Everything was thus guided and directed. Like the flower within its seed, the tone-uttering human being, endowed with the Word or Logos, existed already in germ upon Saturn. Sound was concealed within this germ and developed out of it just as the whole plant grows out of the seed in which it has been hidden.
Let us look back upon the physical human body as it existed upon Saturn and ask ourselves: — Whence came this physical human body? What was its primal source? What did it need to carry it through the whole of evolution? — It came from the Logos or the Word. For even as early as the Saturn period this physical human body was directed in such a way that it later became capable of speech, became a witness of the Logos. That you are formed as you are today, that this human body has its present shape, rests upon the fact that the “Word” lies at the very foundation of the whole plan of our creation. The whole human body has been constructed upon the Word and from the very beginning it was so endowed that at last the Word was able to spring forth from it. When, therefore, the esoteric Christian, looking at this physical human body, asked: What is its original prototype and what is its image? the answer was: This physical human body has its origin in the Word or Logos. This Word or Logos was active from the beginning within the physical human body — and it is still active there today when the physical body lies in bed deserted by the ego. During that time, the divine Logos is active within the members thus forsaken by the human soul. If we ask: What was the very first beginning of the physical body? then the answer is: — The Logos or the Word.
We shall now follow evolution still further. Saturn passed over into the Sun period; and then to the human physical body the life or ether body was added. But what must have entered in order that such a step forward could be made? While on Saturn, the physical body was a kind of machine, a sort of automaton, wholly permeated and maintained, however, by the Logos; on the Sun, the life body was added within which the divine Life-Spirit was active. During the Saturn period, the human body was an expression of the Logos; then Saturn disappeared, and this human body was reborn upon the Sun. To the physical body was added the life body, permeated by the Life-Spirit. The Logos became Life upon the Sun, while advancing the human creature to a higher stage. The Logos became Life upon the Sun!
Let us now continue further. Upon the Moon, the astral body was added to this human creature. What is the astral body? It appears to the clairvoyant consciousness, even today, like an aura surrounding the human being. It is a body of light, only it cannot be seen in the present state of consciousness. But when seen with clairvoyant vision, it appears as Light, spiritual Light. Our physical light is only transformed spiritual Light, and the physical sunlight is the embodiment of the divine-spiritual auric, cosmic Light which is its source. In the present world there is a light streaming down upon us from the sun. But there is yet another light which streams forth out of our own inner radiance. Upon the Moon, the human astral body still shone for the beings in its environment. Thus upon the Moon the human astral body was united with the physical and ether bodies.
Let us now observe the progress of evolution as a whole. Upon Saturn, we have the physical body as the expression of the Logos; upon the Sun, the ether body is added as an expression of the Life-Spirit. The Logos becomes Life. Upon the Moon, the light-body is added: Life becomes Light! Here we have the story of the evolution of the human body. When the human being began life upon the Earth, he was a creation of the divine-spiritual powers. At that time he existed because within his physical, ether, and astral bodies the Logos was living, the Logos which was Life and which became Light. What now occurred upon the Earth? In the human being and for the human being the ego now entered, and because of this, he was now able not only to live in Light and in Life, but also became capable of observing everything externally, capable of confronting the Logos, Life, and Light. Therefore everything became material to him and he acquired a physical material existence.
Now that we have developed our train of thought thus far, we have approximately reached the point where we shall begin our next lecture, when we shall show how the human creature, born out of the Godhead, has developed into the present ego-being. For we see that prior to this present ego-being, there existed a divine pre-human creature. All that part which has been mastered by the ego is each night torn away from the physical and ether bodies, but the part which from the beginning has always been there within him remains and watches over these bodies when, unconcerned, the soul faithlessly deserts them. This original divine-spiritual being remains firmly implanted there.
All that we have been trying to present in the language of esoteric Christianity, deep mysteries of existence familiar to those who were “servants of the Logos in the earliest times,” all this is presented unequivocally in sublime, clear-cut verses in the Gospel of St. John. One must, however, translate these first words in the right way, in conformity with their meaning. Properly translated, these words give the actual facts which have just been presented. Let us bring these facts again before our souls, in order that we may fully comprehend their value.
In the beginning was the Logos which was the archetype of the physical human body, the foundation of all things. All animals, plants, and minerals appeared later, for the human creature alone was present upon Saturn. In the Sun period the animal kingdom was added, in the Moon period the plant kingdom, and upon the Earth the mineral kingdom appeared. Upon the Sun the Logos became Life, and upon the Moon it became Light; then when the human creature became endowed with an ego, the Logos as Light confronted him. But he had to learn to know the nature of the Logos and learn in what form It eventually would make its appearance. First there was the Logos which became Life, then Light, and this Light lives in the astral body. Into the human inner being, into the darkness, into the ignorance, the Light shone. And the meaning of life upon Earth is this: that men should overcome this darkness of the soul, in order that they may recognize the Light of the Logos.
The first words of the Gospel of St. John are incisive, although, perhaps, very difficult to understand, as many may say. But should the most profound mysteries of the world be expressed in trivial language? Is it not a strange point of view, a real insult to what is holy, when one says, for example, that in order to understand a watch one must penetrate deeply into the nature of the thing with the understanding, but for a comprehension of the Divine in the world, the simple, plain, naive human intelligence should suffice? It is a very bad thing for present humanity that it has reached the point of saying, when reference is made to the profoundness of religious documents: Oh! why all these complicated explanations? It should all be plain and simple. However, only those who have the good intention and good will to plunge down into the great cosmic facts can penetrate into the deep meaning of such words as those at the very beginning of the most profound of the gospels, this Gospel of St. John, words that are in fact a paraphrase of Spiritual Science.
Let us now translate the introductory words of this Gospel:
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was a God (or divine). This was in the beginning with God. Through the same all things were made and save through this Word, nothing was made. In It was Life, and Life became the Light of men. And the Light shone into the darkness, but the darkness comprehended it not.
How the darkness, little by little, comes to an understanding of the Light is recounted later on in the Gospels.
Notes:Note 1. The words Saturn, Sun, Moon, Earth, Jupiter, Venus, and Vulcan when spelt with an initial capital refer to the great cosmic evolutionary periods called “man-bearing periods.” The words earth, moon, and sun, spelt with small letters refer to the planets of our present solar system. —Ed.
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