The Gospel of John. Lecture 7.
Rudolf Steiner, Basel, Switzerland, November 22, 1907:
In such a document as St. John's Gospel everything is significant and important, and it is very accurately expressed. For example, why does the Holy Spirit appear in the form of a dove? If we were to explain all that is connected with this we should need a number of lectures; but we can gain at least an idea of it if we study the evolution of humanity from still another point of view. In our earlier lectures we made a statement which for a natural scientist of the present day would seem to be outrageous: that man was already there at the beginning of the evolution of the Earth, and that he has participated in the whole of the development of the Earth. Of course it must not be forgotten that in former times man was quite differently organized and constituted from what he is today. Even the Atlantean had quite a different appearance from the men of the present day. The difference was still greater in the men of the Lemurian epoch; and still greater in the men of the period when the Sun and Moon were still united with our planet.
In order to enter into the ideas of Spiritual Science on the subject of evolution, we must start out from something that lies close at hand. The human beings now living on the Earth are not all at the same stage of evolution; besides the peoples which have reached a high level of culture there are children of nature who have remained behind in civilization. In present-day natural science the view has developed — and it is held with great tenacity, although new facts speak against it — that the more highly developed peoples have originated from those which have remained behind in evolution; but this view is not in accord with the results of spiritual research. Let us take, for example, the peoples with which we became acquainted when America was discovered. Let us briefly describe an episode which enables us to look into the mental and spiritual life of these peoples. As is well known, the whites had pushed the native Indians further and further into the interior of the country, and had not kept their promise to give them other hunting-grounds. One of the Indian chiefs once said to the leader of the European invaders: “You pale faces have taken from us our lands and have promised to give us others. But the white man has broken his word to the brown man, and we also know why. The pale man has small signs in which are magical beings, and in these he seeks to find the truth. But what he there finds is not the truth; for it is not good. The brown man does not try to find the truth in those little magical signs. He hears the “great Spirit” in the rustling of the trees in the forest and in the rippling of the brook. In lightning and thunder the Great Spirit announces to him what is right and what is not right.” The American Indians are a primitive people which has remained very far behind; their religious views are also very primitive, but they have preserved their belief in a monotheistic Spirit, which speaks to them from all the sounds of Nature. An Indian is in such close touch with nature that he still hears in all its manifestations the voice of the great creative Spirit; whereas the European is so deeply immersed in his materialistic culture that he can no longer hear the voice of Nature. Both peoples have the same origin, both spring from the population of Atlantis, which had a monotheistic faith that originated from a spiritual clairvoyance. But the Europeans have risen to their present stage of culture, while the Indians stood still and then degenerated. We have always to bear this process of evolution in mind. It may be represented in the following way. In the course of millennia our planet changes, and this change makes the evolution of humanity possible. The offshoots, which no longer fit into the conditions, become decadent. Thus we have a main stem of evolution and side branches which degenerate.
If we go back from the point in Atlantis when the Europeans and North American Indians were still united with one another, we arrive at a period when the human body was still comparatively soft, of jelly-like substance. There again we see beings branch off and stand still. These bodies develop further, but in a descending line; and out of them originate the apes. We cannot say that man originates from the ape, but both man and ape spring from a form which was common to both but was quite different in shape from either the present ape or the present man. The branching off took place at the point where it was possible for this original form to ascend on the one hand and to descend on the other and become a caricature of man. We will only follow the theory of the origin of species as far as is necessary to find the connection with what has been said in former lectures.
Among the old Atlanteans the etheric body was still partly outside the physical body. Today the astral body is still outside the physical body during sleep; it is only during sleep, therefore, that man is now able to conquer the tiredness of the physical body, because his astral body is then outside the physical body and is thus able to work upon it. Further influences on the physical body are now no longer possible, but remnants of these influences can still be seen in such phenomena as reddening with shame, growing pale with fear and terror, etc. But the further we go back in the Atlantean epoch and the more the etheric body was outside the physical body, the more was it in a position to transform and mould the physical body. The mastery of the etheric body over the physical was so complete in former times because the physical was much more mobile and plastic than it is now. At a period in human evolution when the physical body only had the first beginnings of the bony skeleton, the power of the etheric body over the physical body was so great that man was able to lengthen an arm or a hand at will, or to stretch forth fingers out of them at will, etc. This seems absurd to the man of the present day. It would be quite incorrect to think of the Lemurian man as being like the present man. The Lemurian did not walk about on his legs like a man of the present day; he was more or less a being of the air, and all the organs which are now possessed by the man of the present day were then only germinal or rudimentary. He was able to change his shape, to metamorphose himself. It is quite a mistake to imagine that the Lemurians were similar to the men of the present day, more uncouth, perhaps, but still similar.
In the Atlantean epoch also, the human body could still be moulded and its form changed from within by the will. This, as we have already said, was because the etheric body was still partly outside the physical body. The etheric body, therefore, worked upon the outer form, and the beings which did not work in the right way on their body have developed into the animals we now call apes. That was the way in which these caricatures of the present human beings originated; they originated from us, not we from them. We may now enquire: why did the apes split off; why did a part stop at a lower stage as soulless beings (we mean the higher soul, not the astral body)? Man adapted himself to the body, but the apes were unable to do this; their physical body hardened, whereas man was able to keep his physical body soft and plastic.
We have to imagine man at the beginning of earthly evolution in a delicate etheric body, which he continually remoulded and transformed. A clairvoyant would have perceived men at that time in the form of a globe.
The accompanying sketch will help to explain the genealogical tree of evolution. It was fairly late in the Atlantean epoch when the species of animals branched off which later became the present apes. Earlier in the Atlantean epoch certain higher animals branched off; and in the earliest times of Atlantis certain lower mammals. At that time man was at that stage of evolution of a mammal, but mammals stopped at this stage, while man developed further. In still earlier times man was at the stage of a reptile. His body was quite different from the body of a present reptile; but the corporeal development of the reptile has degenerated. Man developed his inner members further; but the reptile stopped; it is a backward brother of man. The creatures which later became the birds branched off still earlier, and earlier than that, man was at the stage represented by the fish at the present time. At that time there was on the Earth nothing higher than complicated fish-forms. In primeval times man was at the stage of the invertebrates, and in the very oldest times there branched off, and have come down in this form to our times, the unicellular beings Haeckel calls Monera, which are brothers of man who branched off in the most ancient times. If we were to elaborate this genealogical tree of man, it would coincide with the one Haeckel describes in his works. We might take over Haeckel's genealogical tree without further ado; the only difference is that Haeckel starts with the development of the lowest animal forms and then carries the development up to man; whereas we see men already in the very first form and consider the animal kingdom only as a branching off at different stages — as degenerated human beings. Man is actually the firstborn of the Earth; he has developed himself further in a straight line and has left the other beings behind at the various stages.
If we observe the time when the birds and reptiles branched off, we see that at that time there were actually physical human forms which looked like the later birds and some which looked like the later reptiles. The seer can look back into that distant time when the spiritual being of man had not yet taken possession of his body; he sees the group-soul of man which floats round the bird-like body. At this point those spiritual beings stop who had no need to descend to the physical plane, and after they had come down to this stage of evolution in the physical world, they developed up again to the spiritual. These are the beings of the astral plane (the world of the Holy Spirit) which kept the air as their kingdom, just as man takes possession of the physical earth as his kingdom. We must conceive of these beings also in the form of the bird, if they are to make themselves physically visible. Hence the writer of St. John's Gospel had to represent the Holy Spirit who descended into the spiritual soul of Jesus and filled it as the Spirit Self, under the symbol of a dove. When we consider this symbol in connection with the evolution of humanity it proves to be very profound.
We will now bring what is written in St. John's Gospel into connection with the earthly evolution of humanity from another point of view. For this purpose we will recapitulate very briefly a conception which was put before the pupils in the Rosicrucian School. At a certain stage in his development the pupil was told the following: — Observe the plant and compare it with man. The plant turns its root downward, to the center of the Earth, the seat of its ego. Its organs of reproduction it turns chastely towards the Sun, toward the light. It opens its flowers in the light of the Sun and lets it ripen the fruit. In Spiritual Science this fertilizing action of the light is described as the touching with the Sun's sacred lance of love. It opens the flowers and brings about the fruitfulness of the Earth. The part which the plants sink into the Earth, the root — this corresponds to the head of man.
Man turns his head to the Sun, to the light; and what the plant turns toward the light, its organs of reproduction — these man turns toward the earth. Man presents the reverse picture to the plant; and the animal stands halfway between the two. We represent the plant as being turned vertically toward the earth, man as turned vertically away from the earth, the animal horizontal — in this way we get the form of the cross. Plato expressed this when he said: “The World-Soul is crucified on the ancient World-Cross.” The Cross is a cosmic symbol that has been placed in the evolution of the world.
A feeling of reverent awe filled the pupil when he was able thus to look into the development of the world. In the plant, therefore, we see a brother from the far-distant past. Originally man, too, was an etheric being of plant-like nature; at that time the substance of man's body was plant-like. If man had not transformed the plant-like substance into flesh, he would have remained chaste and pure like the plant, he would not have become acquainted with passion and desire. But this condition could not be maintained; for had it remained thus, man would not have wakened to self-consciousness; he would have remained in the dreamy life in which the plant still lives today. Man had to be filled with passions and desires; he had to be brought to a life in flesh. His organs were not all changed into fleshly substances at the same time; the organs which express the lowest impulses were drawn last into fleshly evolution, and they are already in a state of decadence. The organs of reproduction preserved their plant-like character longest. Old legends and myths still tell us of hermaphrodites; those were beings who did not possess sexual organs of flesh and blood, but these organs consisted of plant-like substance. Many people think that the fig-leaf which the first human beings had in Paradise is an expression of shame. No! in this story is preserved the remembrance of the fact that instead of fleshly organs of reproduction men then had reproductive organs of a plant-like nature.
And now let us turn our gaze into the future. The organs in the human body which are still lower organs, the organs which were incorporated last in the flesh, will also be the first to fall away again, to disappear, to dry up in the human body. Man will not stop at his present stage of development; just as he descended from the chaste purity of the plant into the sensuality of the world of passionate desire, so will he rise again out of this sensuality with purified substance to a chaste condition.
Certain organs in the human body are degenerating and falling into ruin, others have reached the zenith of their capacity of development, others, again, are only beginning their evolution . The organs of reproduction belong to the first class, the brain to the second, the heart and larynx and everything connected with the forming of the word belong to those which are only in their germinal state. From these last organs will be developed that which will take on the functions of the organs of reproduction and will go far beyond them. They will become voluntary organs in the highest sense. We pointed out, even in the first lecture of this course, that through his speech man produces forms in the air, and that in the future the word will be creative. Man will by then have returned to the chasteness and purity which the plant has preserved; but it will be a conscious chasteness. The occult investigator can also observe that the heart is only at the beginning of its evolution, it is by no means the pump which it is represented to be by the materialistic thinker; it is a mistake to think that the heart is the cause of the circulation of the blood. Strange as it may sound, the movement of the heart is the consequence of the circulation of the blood. In the future, when man has reached a higher stage of evolution, the heart will also be subject to his conscious will. The foundations of this are already there, in the transverse fibers which the heart possesses in common with all voluntary muscles. Man will then create his like consciously by the word; the substance in the human being will then be chaste and purified, and what at a lower stage was stretched out as the chalice of the flower toward the Sun and received the sunbeam as the arrow of love, will at a higher stage of future humanity be again turned toward the cosmos, as chalice which will be fertilized from the Spiritual. This is represented in the Holy Grail, the shining chalice, the attainment of which floated as a shining goal before the knight of the Middle Ages.
Let us now consider the plant and its relation to the Earth. The plant possesses physical body and etheric body only, and for this reason it is only possible for the plant to have the degree of consciousness which man possesses during the night in sleep. The consciousness of the plant is concentrated in the center of the Earth. The plants are so closely bound up with the Earth that they must be regarded as belonging to it, just as the human hair belongs to the human body. The separate plants do not possess an astral body of their own; they are embedded in the astral body of the Earth, which is correlated to that of the Sun. In the higher organism of the Earth we find a process which is similar to the alternation of consciousness in man between sleeping and waking. In consequence of this the plants grow in spring and summer; they germinate, grow, and extend their flowers toward the Sun. In autumn and winter the astral body of the Sun withdraws from the Earth; the astral body of the Earth is then left to itself; it creeps away to the center of the Earth, and the vegetation rests. The seer can observe this relation between the two astral bodies quite well, and as this withdrawal of the astral body results in a stoppage in the vegetation and in outer activity, man had to receive an astral body of his own in the course of his evolution, for only in this way could he achieve a continuous consciousness.
In former lectures we have considered the significance of Christ for the evolution of humanity; we will now pass on to the study of the significance of this Spirit for the cosmic evolution. The beings who at the very beginning of the evolution of the Earth had already the state of perfection which humanity will only achieve at the end of earthly evolution have their seat in the Sun. Christ belongs to these beings as a cosmic force. His astral body, therefore, was united with the astral body of the Sun at the beginning of our present earthly evolution. He had His seat in the Sun. When the personality of Christ came to the Earth, the astral body of this cosmic force of the Christ Spirit sank down to the Earth at the same time, and ever since the incarnation of Christ on the Earth His astral body has been continually united with the astral body of the Earth. Through the appearance of Christ on Earth the astral body of the Earth has received from the Sun an entirely new substance. If at the time of Christ a being had looked toward the Earth from another planet, he would have seen the addition of this new substance to the astral body of the Earth in the change of the color radiating from the astral body. Through the union of His astral body with that of the Earth, the Sun Spirit Christ became the Spirit of the Earth as well. The Christ is therefore Sun Spirit and at the same time Earth Spirit. From the time when Christ walked the Earth He has remained continuously united with the Earth; He has become the planetary Spirit of the Earth. The Earth is His body, and He guides the evolution of the Earth. He accomplished this union upon Golgotha, and the Mystery of Golgotha is the symbol of what took place at that time for the evolution of the Earth.
Four chief races peopled the surface of the Earth; they divided it among them: the white, yellow, red, and black races. But the atmosphere which surrounds the earth is one and undivided. This is referred to in John 19:23: “Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and also his coat. Now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout”. The garments of Christ are the symbol for the surface of the Earth; the coat, on the other hand, woven in one piece, symbolizes the air which, undivided and indivisible, surrounds the Earth on all sides. Here, again, it must be emphasized that this symbol is also at the same time a historical fact.
We are now in a position to understand the following statement of the Master. He said “He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me.” (John 13:18) [Luther's version reads: “He that eateth my bread treads upon me with his feet”] If Christ is the planetary Spirit of the Earth, if the Earth is His body, is it, then, not justified to say that men eat His flesh and drink His blood and tread upon Him with their feet? When this Spirit points to the fruits which come from the Earth, can He not then say: “This is my body,” and when He points to the pure saps flowing though the plants, can He not say: “This is my blood”? And when men walk about on the body of the planetary Spirit, do they not tread upon Him with their feet? He did not say this in a bad sense, but to indicate the fact that the Earth is the true body of Christ. This passage in the Gospel is also to be taken literally, and the remembrance of this great truth is to be preserved to succeeding times through the Mystery of the Holy Supper. The profound meaning of the Holy Supper can only be appreciated by one who is able to perceive the value of this mighty event to the whole of cosmic evolution. He sees the force of Christ spring up in the plants which the Earth puts forth in spring and holds up toward the Sun: he knows that the event of Christ becoming man is not only a human event, but that it is a cosmic event.
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