The Gospel of John and Its Relation to the Other Gospels.
Lecture 6 of 14.
Rudolf Steiner, Kassel, June 29, 1909:
Yesterday we drew attention to the existence of great leaders of mankind as far back as the epoch we call the Atlantean period of human evolution. We know from what was brought forth yesterday that this epoch ran its course on a continent we call Old Atlantis, lying between Europe, Africa, and America; we also mentioned that human life at that time was very different from what it is today, particularly with regard to the nature of human consciousness. Our scrutiny disclosed the fact that the consciousness with which man is endowed today developed only gradually, and that he started from a sort of dim clairvoyance. We know further that the human physical bodies of the Atlantean period consisted of a substance far softer, more flexible, more plastic, than at present; and clairvoyant consciousness reveals the fact that at that time men were not yet able, for example, to perceive solid objects such as our eyes see today in sharp outline. The Atlantean could distinguish the objects of the outer world — the mineral, plant, and animal kingdoms — but only indistinctly, blurred. Just as nowadays in a foggy autumn evening the street lights show a fringe of color, so people of that time saw objects surrounded by a colored border — an aura, as the term is. The auras were the indication of the spiritual beings belonging to the objects. At certain times in the course of the day the perception of these spiritual beings was very indistinct, but at others very clear, especially in the intermediate states between waking and sleeping.
If we wish vividly to imagine the consciousness of an ancient Atlantean, we must think of it as follows: He did not see a rose, for example, so sharply outlined as we do today. It was blurred, hazy, and surrounded by colored borders. Even by day it was indistinct, but it became more so and disappeared entirely in the interval between waking and sleeping. On the other hand, however, he discerned quite clearly what we must term the rose spirit, the rose soul. And the same was true of all other objects in his environment. In the progress of evolution outer objects became ever clearer, while perception of the spiritual beings associated with them grew dimmer. But in compensation man kept developing his self -consciousness: he learned to be aware of himself.
Yesterday we mentioned the period in which a distinct sense of the ego emerged, adding that the etheric body came to coincide with the physical body as the last third of the Atlantean age approached. You can imagine that previously the nature of leadership as well was quite different, for at that time there existed nothing like a mutual understanding among men resting on an appeal to reason. In those days of dim clairvoyance mutual understanding was based upon a subconscious influence passing from one to the other. Especially was there still present to a high degree something we know today only in its last misinterpreted and misunderstood survival, namely, a kind of suggestion, a subconscious reciprocal influence, invoking but little the collaboration of the other's soul. Looking back to early Atlantean times we see that a powerful effect was exercized on the other's soul the moment any image, any sensation, arose in the soul, and the will was directed upon the other. All influences were powerful, as was also the will to receive them. Only scraps of all this have survived.
Picture to yourself a man of that time passing another while executing certain gestures. If the observer were even slightly the weaker of the two he would have felt impelled to imitate and mimic all the gestures. The only surviving remnant of this sort of thing is our inclination to yawn when we see another person yawning. Formerly a far closer tie prevailed between human beings, based on the fact that they lived in an atmosphere totally different from that of today. Only during a heavy rain do we nowadays live in water-soaked air, whereas at the time of which we speak the air was constantly saturated with dense moisture; and in the early Atlantean epoch man was composed of a substance no more dense than that of certain jellyfish now living in the sea and scarcely distinguishable from the surrounding water. That was the way man was constituted at that time, and he solidified only gradually. Nevertheless we know that even then he was exposed to influences not only of the regular guiding higher spiritual beings who either dwelt on the sun or were distributed among the various planets of our solar system, but also of the Luciferic spirits that influenced his astral body; and we have learned, too, in what manner these influences took effect. But we found further that those who were to be the leaders of the Atlantean people had to combat these Luciferic influences in their own astral body. By reason of the spiritual and clairvoyant nature of their consciousness all men of that time could perceive whatever spiritual influences were exerted on them. — Nowadays one who knows nothing of spiritual science laughs when you tell him his astral body shows the effects of Luciferic spirits; but then, he does not know that the influence of these spirits is far stronger than it would be if he took note of them.
“The Devil your good-folk ne'er scent,E'en though he have them by the collar.”
That is a very profound utterance in Goethe's Faust; and many a materialistic influence of today would not exist if people knew that we are by no means rid of all the Luciferic influences as yet.
In Atlantis the leaders and their disciples kept a careful watch for everything that excited passions, instincts, and desires, for everything emanating from that quarter which aroused in man a deeper interest in his physical-sensible surroundings than was beneficial for his progressive development in the cosmic scheme. The first duty of one who aspired to become a leader was to practice this self-knowledge, to guard carefully against anything that might arise in him through Lucifer's influence. He had to study these Luciferic spiritual beings in his own astral body most accurately, for by so doing he could keep them at a distance. This also enabled him to perceive the other divine-spiritual beings, the higher, guiding ones, and particularly those that had transferred their own sphere of action from the earth to the sun, or to other planets; and the regions beheld by men corresponded to that from which they had descended. There were human souls, for instance, that had come down from Mars; and when these, in keeping with their development, combatted the Luciferic influences in their own astral body, they attained to a higher degree of clairvoyance, to a pure and good seership, and they beheld the higher spiritual beings of the region from which they themselves had descended, from the Mars region. Souls that had come down from Saturn learned to see the Saturn beings, those from Jupiter or Venus, the Jupiter or Venus beings: each beheld his own region.
But the most advanced among men, those who had survived the moon crisis, were able gradually to prepare themselves to envision not only the spiritual beings of Mars, Jupiter, or Venus, but those of the sun itself, the exalted sun beings. Having come down from the various planets the initiates were again able to behold the spirituality of these planets. From this it is clear why in ancient Atlantis there were institutions, schools, where those who had descended, for example, from Mars were accepted, when sufficiently mature, for the purpose of studying the mysteries of Mars; and that there were other sanctuaries where those who had come from other planets could learn their mysteries. Applying the later term “oracle” to these institutions, we have in Atlantis a Mars Oracle, where the mysteries of Mars were studied, a Saturn Oracle, a Jupiter Oracle, a Venus Oracle, and so on. The highest was the Sun Oracle; and the loftiest of all the initiates was the ranking initiate of the Sun Oracle.
Because suggestion and the influences of will played so important a part, the whole method of instruction was very different. Let us try to imagine the nature of the intercourse between teacher and pupil. Assuming the presence of spiritual teachers who had achieved initiation as by an act of grace, we ask, How did the later neophytes arrive at initiation in the Atlantean age? Here we must imagine first of all the mighty impression exercized by those already initiated — through their whole conduct, their mere presence — upon those predestined to become their pupils. The very sight of an Atlantean initiate was enough to start a sympathetic vibration in the soul of the neophyte, thus disclosing his fitness for the discipleship. The influences that passed between men at that time were entirely remote from objective day-consciousness, and the type of instruction we know today was then unnecessary. All intercourse with the teacher, everything the teacher did, worked hand in hand with men's imitative faculty. A great deal passed unconsciously from teacher to pupil; hence the most important factor, for those sufficiently matured through their previous life conditions, was that in the beginning they should merely be admitted to the sanctuaries and remain in contact with their teachers. Then, by observing what the teachers did and by impressions made on their feelings and sensations, they were trained — prepared, indeed, over a very long period of time. Eventually the harmonious accord between the soul of the teacher and the soul of the pupil reached the point where everything the teacher possessed in the way of deeper spiritual secrets passed over of itself to the disciple. — Such were the conditions in those ancient times.
Now, what was the situation after the union of the etheric and physical bodies had become established? Although the two bodies had come to cover completely during the Atlantean epoch, the union was as yet not very firm, so that by an effort of will the teacher could, in a certain sense, withdraw the pupil's etheric body from the physical. It was no longer possible, even when the right moment had come, for the teacher's wisdom to pass over into the pupil as of its own accord; but the teacher could easily withdraw the pupil's etheric body and then the pupil could see whatever the teacher saw. So the slight or loose connection between the etheric and physical bodies made it possible to release the former, and the wisdom, the clairvoyant vision, of the master passed over into the disciple.
Then there occurred the great cataclysm that swept away the Atlantean continent. Mighty elemental disturbances in air and water, terrific upheavals in the earth, gradually altered the entire face of the globe. Europe, Asia, and Africa, which had been dry land only to a very slight extent, arose out of the water, as did likewise America. Atlantis disappeared. Men migrated eastward and westward, and a great variety of settlements came into being. But after the mighty catastrophe mankind had advanced another step. Again a change had taken place in the connection between the etheric and physical bodies: in the post-Atlantean time the union of the two became much firmer. The teacher could now no longer detach the pupil's etheric body by an impulse of will and thereby transmit his power of vision as he had formerly done. Hence initiation, leading to vision of the spiritual world, had to take another form, which can be described somewhat as follows:
The instruction which had been based largely upon direct psychic influence from teacher to pupil had gradually to be superseded by a form slowly approaching what we know as instruction today; and the farther the post-Atlantean age advanced, the greater grew the resemblance to our modern method of instruction. Corresponding to the Atlantean oracles, institutions were now established by the great leaders of mankind exhibiting similarities to the old Atlantean oracles: Mysteries, initiation temples, came into being in the post-Atlantean epoch; and just as formerly those fitted for it were received into the oracles, so now they were admitted to the Mysteries. There the neophytes were carefully trained by means of exacting instruction, because they could no longer be influenced as they were formerly. In all civilizations over a long period of time we find such Mysteries. Whether you seek in the culture we knew as the first post-Atlantean, which ran its course in ancient India, or in that of Zarathustra, or among the Egyptians or Chaldeans, you will invariably find neophytes being admitted to the Mysteries which were something partway between church and school; and there they underwent a severe training calculated to promote thinking and feeling as these apply to events of the invisible, spiritual world — not merely as related to things of the sense world.
And what was taught there can now be accurately defined: to a great extent it was the same as what we have come to know today as anthroposophy. That was the subject of study in the Mysteries; and it differed only in that it was adapted to the customs of that time and was imparted according to strict rules. Today people who in a certain sense are ripe can be told of the mysteries of the higher worlds in a more or less free way and comparatively rapidly. Of old, however, the instruction was strictly regulated. In the first grade, for instance, only a certain sum of knowledge was imparted and all else kept completely secret. Not until the pupil had digested this was he apprised of anything pertaining to a higher grade. Through this sort of preparation, concepts, ideas, sensations, and feelings referring to the spiritual world were implanted in his astral body, a procedure tending at the same time to combat the influences of Lucifer; for all that is imparted in the way of spiritual-scientific concepts refers to the higher worlds, not to the world in which Lucifer aims to stimulate man's interest, not to the sense world alone.
Eventually, when the neophyte had been prepared in this way, the time approached for him to be guided to independent vision, when he himself should see in the spiritual world. This implied the ability to reflect in his etheric body everything he had accumulated in his astral body; for vision of the spiritual world is achieved only when the fruits of study stored in the astral body are experienced so intensely, through certain feelings and sensations connected with the knowledge acquired, that not only the astral body but the denser etheric body as well is thereby influenced. If the pupil was to rise from learning to seeing, all that had been taught him must have borne fruit.
That is why, throughout the Indian, Persian, Egyptian, and Greek epochs the training period closed with the following act. First the pupil was again prepared for a long time — now not through learning, but by means of what we call meditation and other exercises designed to develop inner concentration, inner tranquility, inner equanimity. He was trained to make his astral body in every respect a citizen of the spiritual worlds; and when the right time had come the conclusion of this development consisted in his being placed in a deathlike state lasting three and a half days. While in Atlantean times the etheric and physical bodies were so loosely joined that the former could be withdrawn more easily than in later periods, it had now become necessary in the Mysteries to throw the neophyte into a deathlike sleep. While this lasted he was either placed in a coffinlike box or bound to a sort of cross — something of that sort. The initiator, known as the hierophant, possessed the power to work upon the astral body, and particularly upon the etheric body — for during this procedure the etheric body left the physical body. That is something different from sleep: in sleep the physical and etheric bodies remain in bed while the astral body and ego withdraw; but in this final act of initiation only the physical body remained in place. The etheric body was simply withdrawn from the greater part, at least, of the physical body — from the whole upper portion; and this left the candidate in a deathlike state. Everything that had been learned through meditation and other exercises was now impressed into the etheric body while in this condition. During these three and a half days the neophyte really moved about in the spiritual worlds wherein the higher beings dwell. Finally the hierophant called him back, meaning that he had the power to awaken him; and the candidate brought with him a knowledge of the spiritual world. Now he could see into this spiritual world and could proclaim its truths to his fellow men who were not yet ready to envision it themselves.
Thus the ancient teachers of pre-Christian time had been initiated into the profound secrets of the Mysteries. There they had been guided by the hierophant during the three-and-a-half-day period; they were living witnesses to the existence of a spiritual life and to the fact that behind the physical there is a spiritual world to which man belongs with his higher principles and into which he must find his way. But evolution proceeded. What I have just described to you as an initiation existed most intensively in the first epoch after the Atlantean catastrophe; but the union of the etheric and physical bodies grew ever firmer, hence the procedure became more and more dangerous, because man's whole consciousness accustomed itself increasingly to the physical sense world. You see, that was the import of human evolution: men were to become used to living in this physical world with all their inclinations and propensities. This learning to love the physical world was a great step forward for mankind.
In the early part of the post-Atlantean civilization there still remained a living recollection of the existence of a spiritual world. People said: We, the late descendants, can still see into the spiritual world of our ancestors. — They still retained the dim, dull, clairvoyant consciousness and they knew where lay the world which was their true home. They said, All that surrounds us in our day-consciousness is like a veil spread over truth: it hides the spiritual world from us; it is maya, illusion. — They did not accustom themselves at once to what they now could see, nor could they readily understand that it was intended that they lose their awareness of the old spiritual world. That was the characteristic feature of the first post-Atlantean civilization; hence that was the time in which men could most easily be guided to the spirit: they still felt a lively interest in the spiritual world. Naturally matters could not remain thus, because the Earth's mission consists in man's becoming fond of the forces of the earth and conquering the physical plane. Were you able to envision ancient India, you would discover the spiritual life to be on a tremendously lofty level.
A comprehension of what the original teachers revealed to mankind is possible in this day and age only after a study of spiritual science. For others, the teaching of the great holy Rishis is nonsense, foolishness, for they can make no sense out of what is told them there about the mysteries of the spiritual world. From their standpoint they are naturally quite right: everyone is always right from his own standpoint.
In ancient India spiritual vision was enormously extensive, but the use of even the simplest implements was non-existent. People provided for themselves in the most primitive ways. There was nothing like a natural science of any kind — or what is so called today — because everything that could be observed on the physical plane was looked upon as maya, the great illusion; and only by uplift to the great Sun Being or similar beings was the real, the true, to be found. But again, matters could not stop there: among the post-Atlanteans there had to be those as well with the will to conquer the kingdom of earth; and the first attempt to this end was made in the time of Zarathustra. In the transition from the old Indians to the ancient Persians we see a mighty step forward. In Zarathustra's view the outer world ceased to be mere maya or illusion: he showed men that what surrounds them is of value, though he emphasized the presence of spirit underlying all. While the ancient Indian saw a flower as maya and sought the spirit behind it, Zarathustra said, The flower is something we must value, for it is an integral part of the universal spirit existing in all things; matter grows out of spirit.
We have already mentioned that Zarathustra drew attention to the physical sun as the field of action of spiritual beings. But initiation was difficult; and for those who wanted not merely to be told of the spiritual world by the initiates but to see for themselves into the great sun aura, more drastic measures were called for in connection with their initiation. Furthermore, all human life gradually changed; and in the next cultural epoch, the Egypto-Chaldean, the physical world was conquered to a still greater extent. Man was no longer bent upon a purely spiritual science which studies the realm that underlies the physical: he observed the course of the stars; and in their position and movement, in what is outwardly visible, he sought the language of divine-spiritual beings. In this script coordinating visible objects he recognized the will of the Gods. That is the way cosmic interrelationships were studied in the Egypto-Chaldean time. And in Egypt we see arising a geometry applied to external things. Such is the story of man's conquest of the outer world.
In Greece even greater progress was made in this direction. There we see come about the union of soul experiences and external matter. In a Pallas Athene or a Zeus we sense that into the material substance has streamed what first lived in a human soul. It is as though everything which man had made his very own had flowed out into the sense world. But as man became ever more powerful in the sense world and his soul grew more and more attached to it, his alienation from the spiritual world increased correspondingly in the life between death and a new birth. When the soul left an ancient Indian body and entered the spiritual world, there to pass through the requisite development before the next birth, it retained a feeling for the living spirit. Through his whole life the man of that time yearned for a spiritual environment; and all his sensations were kindled by the revelations he had heard concerning life in the spiritual world, even though he was not an initiate himself. So when he passed the portal of death the spiritual world lay open before him, as it were, in light and radiance.
But as the physical world became more and more congenial and men adapted themselves to it ever more readily, the periods between death and birth were proportionately obscured. In the Egyptian epoch this had gone so far, as can be established by clairvoyant consciousness, that in passing from the body into the spiritual world the soul was enveloped in darkness and gloom, in a sense of loneliness, of segregation from other souls; and when a soul feels loneliness and can hold no converse with other souls it experiences a frosty chill. And while the Greeks lived in an age in which, by means of such glorious external beauty, men had made the earth into something quite special, this period was darkest, gloomiest, most chilling, for the souls living between death and rebirth. A noble Greek, questioned as to his sojourn in the nether world, replied, “Better a beggar in the upper world than a king in the realm of shades”. That is not a legend but an utterance actually in accord with the attitude of that time.
It can therefore be said that with the advance of civilization men became more and more alienated from the spiritual world. The initiates who could see into the higher regions of the spiritual world became increasingly rare because of the growing dangers connected with the initiation procedure: it became more and more difficult to preserve life for three and a half days in a cataleptic state, with the etheric body withdrawn.
Then there intervened a regeneration of the whole life of humanity through the impulse already mentioned in the foregoing lectures, the Christ-Impulse. We have described how Christ, the exalted Sun Spirit, gradually approached the earth; we have learned how in Zarathustra's time He still had to be sought in the sun as Ahura Mazdao, and how Moses beheld Him closer by — in the burning bush and in the fire on Mount Sinai. Gradually He entered the sphere of the earth in which a great change was thereby destined to be wrought. The first concern of this Spirit was that men should come to recognize Him when He appeared on this earth.
The salient feature of all the old initiations was the necessity for withdrawing the etheric out of the physical body. Even in the post-Atlantean initiations the candidate had to be reduced to a deathlike state of sleep, that is, a state in which he was devoid of physical consciousness. This implied coming under the control of another ego: it was invariably thus. The candidate's ego was wholly controlled by his initiator, his hierophant. He quitted his physical body completely: he did not dwell in it, nor did his own ego exercize any influence upon it. But the great aim of the Christ-Impulse is that man shall undergo a wholly self-contained ego development and not descend to a state of consciousness beneath that of the ego in order to attain to the higher worlds: and in order to achieve this, someone had first to offer himself in sacrifice so that the Christ Spirit itself might be received into a human body. We have already pointed out that a certain initiate who had prepared himself through a great many incarnations had become able, beginning with a definite period in his life, to yield up his own ego and receive the Christ within himself. This is indicated by the Baptism in the Jordan, as told in the Gospel of St. John.
Here we must ask, What was the real import of this Baptism? We know that John the Baptist, the forerunner who told of the coming of Christ Jesus, carried it out among those whom he had prepared to receive the Christ in the right way. We will understand what the St. John Gospel tells us of the Baptism only if we bear in mind that John's purpose in baptizing was the true preparation for the coming of Christ. A modern baptism, which is but an.imitation of the original symbol, provides no understanding of the question. It was not a mere sprinkling with water, but a complete immersion: the candidate lived under water for a certain length of time, varying according to circumstances. What this signified we shall now learn by delving into the mystery of the being of man.
Recall to mind that the human being consists of physical body, etheric body, astral body, and ego. In the waking state during the daytime these four principles are firmly knit together, but in sleep the physical and etheric bodies remain in bed, while the astral body and the ego are outside. In death, on the other hand, the physical body remains as a corpse: the etheric body withdraws, and for a short time the ego, the astral body, and the etheric body remain united. And to those of you who have heard even a few of my lectures it must be clear that in this moment a quite definite experience appears first: the deceased sees his past life spread out before him like a magnificent tableau; spatially side by side, all the situations of his life surround him. That is because one of the functions of the etheric body is that of memory bearer, and even during life nothing but the physical body prevents all this from appearing before him. After death, with the physical body laid aside, everything the man had experienced during his lifetime can enter his consciousness.
Now, I have mentioned as well that a retrospect of that sort also results from being in peril of death, or from any severe fright or shock. You know, of course, from reports that when a man is in danger of drowning or of falling from a mountain height, he experiences his whole past life as in a great tableau — provided he does not lose consciousness. Well, what a man thus experiences as the result of some danger, such as drowning, was experienced by nearly all who were baptized by John. The baptism consisted in keeping people under water until they had experienced their past life. But what they experienced in this way was, of course, experienced as a spiritual picture; and here it became apparent that in this abnormal state the spiritual experiences linked up, in a way, with the spiritual world in general, so that after being lifted out of the water again, after the baptism by John, a man knew: There is a spiritual world! In truth, what I bear within myself is something that can live without the body. — After baptism a man was convinced of the existence of a world to which he belonged in respect of his spirit.
What, then, had John the Baptist brought about by baptizing in this way? People had become more and more attached to the physical world as a means of mutual contact, and believed the physical element to be the true reality. But those who came to the Baptist experienced their own lives as spiritual: after being baptized they knew that they were something over and above what their physical body made them. Human interest had gradually developed in the direction of the physical world; but John evoked in those he baptized the awareness of the existence of a spiritual world to which their higher selves belonged. You need only clothe this utterance in other words and you have: “Transform your interest that is now directed toward the physical world.” And that is what they did — those who received the baptism in the right way. They knew, then, that spirit dwelt in them, that their ego belonged to the spiritual world.
It was in the physical body that this conviction was gained. No special procedure was involved, as formerly in the initiations: what occurred was experienced in the physical body. And in addition, the experience of the baptism, as carried out by John, acquired a special meaning as a consequence of the manner in which the whole doctrine of the time was received and merged with the soul — the doctrine established by Moses' revelation. After baptism, a man not only was aware of his oneness with the spiritual world, but he recognized the particular spiritual world which was approaching the earth. He knew that what now pervaded the earth was identical with what had revealed itself to Moses as ehjeh asher ehjeh in the burning bush and in the fire on Sinai; and he knew that the word Jahve or Jehovah, or ehjeh asher ehjeh, or I am the I AM, was the true expression of that spiritual world. So through the baptism by John men knew not only that they were one with the spiritual world, but that in this spiritual world there dwelt the I AM out of which the spirit in them was born. That was the preparation John imparted through his baptisms; that was the feeling, the sensation, he aroused in those whom he baptized. Their number, of course, was necessarily small, since few of them were ripe enough to experience all this when submerged; but some discerned the approach of the Spirit later to be called the Christ.
Try now to compare all this with what was set forth yesterday. What the ancient spiritual beings had brought about was love based on blood ties, on physical communion, whereas the aim of the Luciferic spirits was to render each individual dependent solely upon his own personality, his own individuality. Lucifer and the lofty spiritual beings had been working simultaneously. Gradually the old blood ties had loosened, as can be established even historically. Think of the conglomeration of peoples in the great Roman Empire! That was a result of the loosening of the blood ties and of the universal desire, in varying degrees, to find the center of gravity in personality. But another result was that people had lost contact with the spiritual world: they had identified themselves with the physical world and developed a love for the physical plane. As the ego-consciousness had increased through Lucifer's agency, man had proportionately coalesced with the physical world and rendered barren his life between death and a new birth.
Now, the Baptist had indeed prepared something that was of great significance for mankind: he had prepared the way for man to remain within his personality and at the same time find there, after the submersion, exactly what once he had experienced as “gods” at the time when he himself still lived in water, when the atmosphere was saturated with moisture and fog. That experience in the divine worlds was now repeated. In spite of being an ego, man, as a human being, could now be reunited with his fellows, could be led back to love, a love that was now spiritualized.
That is the mainspring of the Christ event characterized from another aspect. Christ represents the descent to our earth of the spiritual power of love, though even today its mission is only beginning to take effect. If we trace this idea by means of the John and the Luke Gospels we find spiritual love to be the very core of the Christ impulse through which the egos that had been sundered are increasingly brought together again — but now in respect of their innermost souls. From the beginning, men have been able to surmise but dimly what Christ had come to mean for the world; and today very little of it has been realized because the sundering force, the after-effect of the Luciferic powers, is still present and the Christ principle has been active only for a short time. And though nowadays people seek to cooperate in certain external activities, they have not so much as an inkling of what is meant by harmony and accord between souls where the most intimate and important matters are concerned — or at best they vaguely sense it with their thoughts, their intellect, which counts for little.
Truly, Christianity is only at the beginning of its activity: it will penetrate ever deeper into the souls of men, will increasingly ennoble their ego. This has been felt particularly strongly by people of the younger nations: they feel the need of identifying themselves with the Christ force, to steep themselves in it, if they are to get on. One of our contemporaries in eastern Europe, the executor of the great Russian philosopher Solovyev, once said: “Christianity must unite us as a nation, otherwise we shall lose our ego, and with it, all possibility of being a people.” A mighty utterance, emanating as from an intensive intellect for Christianity. But that again proves the need for Christianity to penetrate into the depths of the human soul.
Let us examine a certain very radical case. It will show us that precisely in respect of the innermost life of the soul even the most highminded and noble men are still far from possessing what will one day lay hold on them, when Christianity shall have filled man's innermost thoughts, his innermost ideas and feelings. Think of Tolstoi and of his work during the last decades which seeks to reveal in its own way the true meaning of Christianity. A thinker of his caliber should arouse enormous respect, especially in the West where whole libraries are cluttered up with lengthy philosophical manglings of the same thing that a Tolstoi can say in great and powerful words in a book like On Life. There are pages in Tolstoi's writings in which a certain extensive understanding of theosophical truths is expounded with elemental grandeur, truths, to be sure, which a philosopher of western Europe cannot hit upon so accurately — or at best he must write volumes about them, because what they reveal is mighty. It can be said that in Tolstoi's works there is an undertone we can call the Christ impulse. Engross yourselves in his books, and you will see that what pervades him is the Christ impulse.
Now turn to Tolstoi's great contemporary, interesting if for no other reason than that from a comprehensive philosophical Weltanschauung he attained to the very gates of a life of such genuine vision as enabled him to survey an epoch in full perspective — apocalyptically, so to speak. While his visions themselves are distorted, due to an inadequate background, Solovyev nevertheless rises to clairvoyant perception of the future: he places before us a forecast of the 20th century. And if we read his writings with sympathetic understanding we find there much that is great and highminded, especially in connection with Christianity. Yet he speaks of Tolstoi as of an enemy of Christianity, as of the Antichrist! This goes to show that two men today can be profoundly convinced they are giving their epoch the best there is, can act out of the very depths of their souls, and yet fail to understand each other: for each of them the other is “anti”. Nowadays people do not reflect that if outer harmony, a life permeated by love, is to become a possibility, the Christ impulse must first have penetrated to the profoundest depths: love of mankind must be something very different from what it is today, even in the noblest spirits.
The impulse that was foretold and then entered the world is only at the beginning of its work, and it must be ever better understood. What is it that is lacking, particularly in our time, among all those who cry for Christianity and declare it a necessity, yet cannot bring it within reach? Anthroposophy, spiritual science, that is what they lack: the present-day way of understanding Christ. For Christ is so great that each successive epoch will have to find new means of comprehending Him. In former centuries other ways and forms were employed in the search for wisdom. Today we need anthroposophy; and what anthroposophy offers today for an understanding of Christ will hold good through long ages to come, because anthroposophy will prove to be something capable of stimulating every human capacity for knowledge. Humanity will in time grow into a comprehension of the Christ.
But even the anthroposophical conception is a transient one — we are aware of this; and the time will come when so great a subject, now framed in ephemeral terms, will call for still vaster conceptions.
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