Theosophy and Rosicrucianism. Lecture 1 of 14.
Rudolf Steiner, June 16, 1907 — from the notes of a member of the audience:
The aim of these lectures is to give a survey of what we are accustomed to call theosophy. Theosophy must become a new impulse of culture in an encompassing way. For a long time humanity has been yearning for it, and from many aspects it is called upon to give an answer to the burning questions now advanced by men. At the present time, however, theosophy is to a great extent something which people not only wish to oppose, but something which they look upon as questionable, even as mad, like the dreams of certain fantastic brains.
Of course, if they were to ask these dreamers what THEY seek through theosophy and what they expect from it, their answer would be a rather wide one. Those who have recognized the vital essence of theosophy, which modern people take to be mere dreams, look upon theosophy as something which in a few decades will have an immense significance for human thought and feeling, and for man's will and actions.
There is nothing into which theosophy cannot shed its light as an impulse, nothing into which it is not called upon to shine.
It is a well-known fact that at the present time there are many problems — hygienic, social, or pedagogical problems, or women's suffrage — and even greater is the number of answers supplied to these questions. But if we investigate all these questions and answers in an objective way, we come to the conclusion that modern civilization puts the questions rightly — for they are determined by the conditions of our time — but that our modern epoch is not able to supply the answers to these questions without further ado. One who shuts his eyes and ears to the problems of our time will continually encounter obstacles along his path. A time will come when men will realize that they must face many other problems too: these problems arise out of the inner and outer strife of humanity, out of all the pains and sufferings and out of the shattered hopes in every field. But only theosophy is able to supply an answer.
Ever greater grows the number of people who despondently bow their heads, who fulfill their duty but do not know the reason for their work, and whose nervous state of mind often culminates in despair, and even affects their physical health, ending in neurasthenic conditions.
Let us only allude to these things, for the fundamental idea which should rise up before us is that theosophy is not something which takes hold of the minds of a few lazy people who have nothing better to do, but theosophy must penetrate into practical life.
During the thirty years of its existence, the Theosophical Society of course had to pass through many things and many an illness of childhood, which made people question its significance. But it will extricate itself from these illnesses and show what it is capable of. Spiritual science must become an all-encompassing concern, a universal task, because it must supply the answer to questions which are, after all, the fundamental questions of all existence, and it must point out the way in which modern men should grasp these questions and why religions and sciences exist at all. Whatever we do, and if art, science, and practical activities are to exist at all, we must go back to certain fundamental questions, and these must in some way or other be solved. All religions were attempts to give an answer to such questions, an answer which was always in keeping with the intellectual and cultural stage of different peoples.
Theosophy does not wish to be a religion; it has nothing to do with sects and it does not agitate.
Religion, as you know, is as old as human endeavor. If we gain an insight into the different religions of different nations, we come to the conclusion that all these religions endeavored to supply an answer to the questions: What is, in the first place, man's essential being? Secondly, what is his task and goal? and thirdly, what reaches beyond physical existence?
In regard to these questions a strange epoch lies behind modern humanity, one which called into life many a doubt in religion. Let us ask: How many people are there today who need religion but who are not able to have it? Some of us can look back into times when religion was still a truly experienced life, when it still counted far more, indeed in a much higher measure, than is the case today with single religiously disposed natures. These natures still possess something of that warm feeling which existed throughout thousands of years. The longing, the need, for what we call the spiritual world, or the longing for religion still exists today; indeed, among the most truth-loving natures this longing has even grown. Such a person may say to himself: When I was a child, I still had true faith. But then things changed: I become acquainted with so-called science and with its facts, and since science speaks in quite a different way, for instance, concerning the origin of the world, I seriously began to doubt that which I once believed in my childhood. And there followed a deeply sad mood in life; the soul felt as if it were torn and devastated, and when it looked out into the world, no light was shed upon the inner contrasts. This explains the torn state of mind swaying between religious longing and satisfaction of the soul, and it also explains the tragedy of modern man, But the strife of such souls is perhaps better than the other condition: namely, to ask nothing at all, to lose the habit of asking questions, to become superficial and just allow oneself to be driven along by ordinary life.
Is it the fault of religion that things have come to such a pass? No! It is plainly evident that this is not so, for every religion, even the ancient myths and legends, have means and ways to lead the heart once more toward the spiritual world to reanimate the soul, if the soul is willing.
Who would have thought that such mighty impulses from the ancient myths, which had apparently died out thousands of years ago, leading an almost hidden, unknown existence, could rise to new life, as is the case in Richard Wagner's dramas?
It is not necessary to found a new religion; the time for this has past. What is needed now is a new attitude toward religion, a new understanding of religion! What has changed is the human spirit, the human soul, the human heart!
If we immerse ourselves in the development of human souls, we shall find in the course of these lectures that human souls have already lived many times upon the physical plane, and that they gradually developed, until they reached the present stage, At first this may sound strange, yet during past lives our souls have frequently heard the deep truths which will be explained in today's lecture.
The teaching of reincarnation will, for instance, be advanced; but your souls have listened, as they are listening to me now, to the Druids who lived and taught particularly in this region. These druidic teachers of ancient times already taught the truth of reincarnation to a smaller circle; they cultivated this primordial wisdom concerning the riddles of life. They went out to those whose souls thirsted for a deeper knowledge. But if these teachers of ancient times had spoken as I am speaking to you now, your souls could not then have understood them, for at that time the human spirit had not yet reached the present stage of development. Logical thought did not as yet exist in the human spirit. Man possessed instead the possibility of grasping truths in the form of images. These teachers therefore spoke in the form of images, and these images are known to us today in the form of legends and myths. If in the past our souls had not heard these teachings, we could not understand the spiritual truths today, when they are taught to us in a new form.
The soul thus makes enormous progress through thousands of years; it continually takes on a new shape, and therefore truth must be presented in a constantly new form; it must ever again be proclaimed anew. Let me give you a second example.
Let us go back into the evolution of humanity as far as the ancient Egyptians, Chaldeans, and Babylonians. When these peoples were the bearers of culture they did not look upon the Sun and the stars as mere physical bodies. Today, when a materialistic astronomer contemplates the heavenly bodies he only sees in them physical bodies, and nothing besides. Even the Earth is to him a physical body in the world's spaces, and man crawls about upon it, like the gnat upon our hand.
But it was otherwise among the ancient Egyptian astronomers. When the ancient Egyptian astrologer looked upon a star, he did not think of a purely physical body, for the star meant to him something quite different than it does to modern men. When he pronounced, for instance, the name of Mercury, he uttered it with veneration. It never passed through his mind to address the physical heavenly body, just as you would not dream of addressing a body made of cardboard. Everything which the eye perceived was at that time the expression of something spiritual. For the ancient astronomer, the physical star Mercury was therefore the expression of the Spirit of Mercury. You must not grasp this intellectually, but with your feeling, for otherwise you cannot understand what lived in the soul of such an astronomer. Everything in the world was to him the expression of something spiritual. He said: Everything is Spirit, and I, as a spirit, am a part of this Spirit.
You should bear in mind this feeling of the sages of ancient times; we should endeavor to understand them, and grasp what they knew concerning the processes which took place in the spiritual spaces. Those who immerse themselves in this feeling know how immensely superior is this conception to our modern materialistic one! It is necessary to understand the sages of olden times; we should find out what they knew concerning that which took place in the spiritual spaces of the universe, for then we begin to notice the tremendous difference between their conception and our modern one, and the enormous significance of those ancient teachings of wisdom! This may seem ridiculous to the materialistic sense of our time, which is only acquainted with the purely physical conception of astronomy — yet it is so.
How did it come about that man has now lost the understanding for the spiritual life which lies at the foundation of all physical existence? Why had this to occur?
Let us turn our gaze to our immediate surroundings. Were you able to compare man's present environment with that which once surrounded him at every step, you would find that at that time man only possessed the most necessary means of subsistence; but he had, on the other hand, more comprehension for spiritual things. This comprehension for the spiritual world had to withdraw in order to give man the possibility to acquire his present dominion over the Earth. Every technical and industrial progress of the present time could only be achieved through a world-conception which had become materialistic, through the fact that the spirit, the supersensible world, withdrew. At the cost of spiritual contemplation man gained, in the course of the last centuries, his rule over the physical world. It is a primordial, eternal law of humanity that capacities acquired in one sphere can only be gained by the withdrawal of others upon another sphere. For instance, man could never have called into life the possibilities of travel and communication had other capacities not withdrawn. The sense for spiritual things had to withdraw, in order that everything which now surrounds us might arise. All that once filled the human soul had to withdraw, to render possible the conquest of the physical world.
Thus we see that around the 16th century men lost the vision of the spiritual world, and we see how the materialistic conception took hold of humanity. Those who believe that they themselves do not live in the very midst of such materialism are greatly mistaken.
It is not the task of spiritual science to deny or renounce things; it does not intend to criticize the bad world of today; but it wishes to indicate the necessity of man's descent into matter. The great horizon of spiritual life had to withdraw from humanity while this descent took place, and this explains why man lost the old way of comprehending spiritual things. The truths exist in their old, earlier forms. Spiritual science can show how those truths can be rendered accessible to modern men. This is its chief aim. Consequently theosophy is merely the instrument whereby the deepest truths can be rendered accessible to the modern human spirit, in order that they may be grasped in their full depth.
Today it is once more necessary to draw attention to the Spirit. We should not content ourselves with pointing out the “magnificent progress” of modern times! Spiritual truth is always accessible to us, and we must comprehend it in different ways.
If we turn back to ancient India and Egypt, and to ancient Greece at the time when Christianity arose, we always come across the same ancient truths, in different forms. There were always leaders of humanity who took care that the truths which had paled with the decay of civilizations should, at given times, be communicated anew. All the great founders of religion can be found among such leaders.
Before the dawn of our modern epoch, before the time of Copernicus and the 16th century, care was taken also in Europe to establish the foundation for a new way of proclaiming spiritual truths. Around the 16th century lived certain people who were able to interpret the signs of the times. As early as 1459 a higher spiritual individuality, known in the external world as Christian Rosenkreutz, founded, with quite a small number of men, an occult school for the cultivation of wisdom, of ancient wisdom, but in a form suited to modern men. This is the wisdom of the Rosicrucians, cultivated for the first time around 1459. As stated, this wisdom is nothing new; it is the ancient primeval wisdom, but in a form suited to modern men.
What is the connection between this Rosicrucian wisdom and Christianity? There is no difference between the genuine Christian teachings and those of the Rosicrucians. If we grasp Christianity in its essence, we obtain the theosophy of the Rosicrucians. It is not necessary to found a new religion, but Christianity should be grasped in the way in which the early Christians grasped it. Only a few people still know something concerning the mysteries of the early Christian development. Even official theology has not the slightest idea of this. We come across St.Paul, as a man who had a deep knowledge of the Christian mysteries, who taught those mighty truths which were to guide humanity throughout thousands of years. At Athens, St. Paul had founded a school, whose leader was Dionysios thc Areopagite. Dionysios was a genuine disciple of St. Paul.
The teachings of Dionysios have always remained alive, and they have always been taught, particularly to those who had to bring Christ's living word out into the world. Had men stopped at Dionysios' standpoint, no new form would have been required. But the new era dawned, and with it arose the necessity of proclaiming these truths in such a way that no science could raise any objection against them. This is the aim of the Rosicrucian theosophy. Rosicrucian theosophy is therefore that form of religion which is suited to our time.
Only those who understand Christianity in the right way can have an idea of its living content.
If we were in the position to hear from every side that which Rosicrucian theosophy had to say in connection with true Christianity, we would discover that scientific facts do not contradict these descriptions. The chief thing to bear in mind is that there should be no contradiction between religion and scientific facts, and that these scientific facts should harmonize with religion.
What does the Rosicrucian theosophy wish to give us? The knowledge of higher worlds — that is to say, of the worlds to which man will belong when his physical body shall have decayed. It gives him the knowledge of life, the knowledge of the true nature of death and of human development. In this way, it can give him new strength in regard to religious truths and religious life.
No one should say: I stand firmly upon the foundation of the ancient teachings, and these suffice for me ... What do I care for those who doubt! — No opinion can be more selfish or un-Christian that this! It is still possible today for a certain number of men to live upon the foundation of old religions, but in a not too distant future this will no longer be possible. Those who have an insight into that which great social upheavals throw up to the surface cannot judge in this way. They will realize that it is not possible to quarrel over the fact that theosophy must be proclaimed.
Thinking men know that spiritual science exists in order to supply an answer to the most burning questions, and that it is actually able to reply to all these questions. After all, one can prove or disprove anything, but this is not the essential point: It is impossible to quarrel over a remedy — the essential point is the success which we achieve with it. It is exactly the same with spiritual science. Humanity needs spirituality as a remedy, and it can only recover from its illnesses if this remedy streams into it. It is an evolutionary factor of our civilization, and a giver of life.
Our modern way of living does not suffice, for it is directed exclusively toward physical-bodily things. The aim of theosophy is the health and recovery of Soul and Spirit. Spiritual science is nothing arbitrary; our present time and its problems call for it. All that it tells us constitutes the teaching of those men who were able to make investigations in this sphere.
Spiritual science leads us into higher worlds, into which no physical eye can look, and which contain the causes of the effects to be found in the physical world. It will bring us knowledge of the external part of human nature, of every individual's essential being, the knowledge of the spiritual worlds and their hierarchies.
As we learn to know these, we also learn to know man's mission and significance. What we should endeavor to grasp is the true essence of human nature. We shall learn to know worlds which exist but which cannot be perceived through our ordinary physical senses. Some might say: What you are telling us is very fine, but we cannot really know anything about it. — Fichte has already supplied an answer to this objection. Imagine that you were to enter a world of blind-born men, as the only one endowed with sight, and that you were to describe colors to these blind men ... These men will say: You are telling us nonsense; colors do not exist. But if the blind could be operated on, so as to give them the power of sight, they would be able to experience this world of colors and of light.
The same argument applies to the above objection. Those who raise it adopt the same standpoint of the blind. No one should therefore say: Such things do not exist ... For no man has the right to speak of “limits of knowledge”, as did Du Bois-Reymond. As many worlds exist as there are organs able to perceive them, and this is an infinite number of worlds! We are unable to perceive them today because we still lack the organs of perception. The world is not only spatially infinite, but also intensively infinite: There is a world for every organ of sense. These worlds are still inaccessible to us, yet they exist — they exist where we ourselves exist. The only thing needed is that our eyes should be opened, for these worlds are in our very midst.
The words of Christ: “Do not seek the Kingdom of God, for the Kingdom of God is in your midst” should be taken literally. Also spiritual science speaks in this sense of the spiritual worlds. There have always been initiates who knew how to enter these kingdoms of heaven. Every religion speaks of these kingdoms. Spiritual science is but the means of disclosing anew this fundamental truth contained in every religion: Whatever we see and perceive 'round about us is but the result and the effect of what takes place in the spiritual worlds. Whatever manifests itself upon the Earth is but the development of that which works and lives in the spiritual worlds.
Official Christianity has long ago lost the capacity of understanding the depths of religious documents. Spiritual science therefore had to take over the task of supplying the key to the forgotten treasures of knowledge, thus offering humanity, which is standing at the parting of the roads, the remedy which it needs. Yet spiritual science does not know fanaticism; it simply relates and clearly sets forth man's being; it indicates his destiny after death, and how his soul develops outside the physical body. It describes that which takes place in the higher worlds; it speaks of the evolutionary stages of the Earth and of the other planets, and it throws light upon the life-path trodden by man so far, and upon his future path. It points to that which man must still pass through in order that he may reach his goal.
We shall try to grasp man's being and the nature of the worlds from which he comes. This is the sphere of knowledge to which spiritual science leads us.
Now, we might object that all this only exists for the so-called clairvoyant seer, who is able to look into the spiritual worlds. Of what use is it to us, for these worlds are not accessible to us!
To this objection we can reply: There are, to be sure, certain methods of training which are only suited to the spiritual investigator, which make the above objection seem justified. But the path of Rosicrucian training is a different one. The clairvoyant eye and the ear of an initiate are of course needed if we wish to penetrate into the spiritual worlds, but our ordinary logic suffices to understand them. All that the spiritual investigator describes to us is accessible to our logical reason; our sound common sense suffices for the comprehension of such things. Those who cannot grasp them simply lack logical power. For the discovery of spiritual mysteries the clairvoyant eye of the spiritual investigator is of course needed, but our ordinary logic suffices in order to understand the things described in Rosicrucianism.
Those who cannot understand these things should not ascribe their lack of understanding to the Rosicrucian training. Their failure does not depend upon the fact that they are not clairvoyant, but because their understanding is not sound and their thought is not consistent. Many people have no idea of logic. There is a modern musician, for instance, who even said that it is a mistake to think over things ... Even our scientists do not think beyond a certain limit. But if we use our understanding in the right way, we are able to grasp spiritual truths and spiritual wisdom, and they can become alive within us. If you keep on asking: Of what use are these things to us? I can give you the following reply: — Nothing can be given to us which is of greater importance than the knowledge of spiritual science! This alone transforms us into real human beings and gives us, even at the present time, a contented heart and a soul that has reached harmony.
With mere words we do not proceed far in this field, for the striving after knowledge is an earnest matter and we must immerse ourselves in the necessities and problems of life. We must endeavor to pass on courageously from one sphere of spiritual life to the other, for this will give us an insight into the whole evolution of the universe and of man, The overwhelming greatness of these events will not only take hold of our hearts but awaken new capacities within us, which render us more capable to face the tasks of everyday life. Direct forces stream out of spiritual science, and these become a treasure which cannot be lost and which transforms us into creative human beings.
You will understand the physical world only if you learn to know the spiritual world. Spiritual science is not meant for cranks, but for the most practical of the practical!
Every form of life is spiritual. Even as ice is condensed water, so matter is condensed spirit. Mineral, plant, animal, or man — each is a condensed form of the spirit.
In this sense, the Rosicrucian theosophy will lead us to understand the spiritual foundations of the world. It does not change us into brooding egotists, but into lovers of life, for it does not despise ordinary life, nor estrange us from our earthly tasks, but it unites us with them. It stimulates us to diligent activity, for it knows that every action, as well as every being, is an expression of the Spirit.
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