Lecture by R u d o l f S t e i n e r.
Nuremberg, November 13, 1910
If we look back upon the evolution of humanity, if we look back — let us say — as far as history permits it, we shall encounter something very strange. Various phenomena enable us to examine what we thus encounter. Above all (and we shall see today that what we are about to say may be applied to every human heart, to every human soul) we may examine the evolution of humanity with the aid of various documents, traditions, and writings which have been preserved. We shall find in them something very strange and peculiar. If we go back to the conceptions which were formed by the various peoples of ancient times in connection with the origin of the world and of the sources of what is good and moral, we shall find that the conceptions which thus arose are laid down in legends — in myths and legends. We come across such legends and myths in a more or less beautiful, lofty, sublime, or even less significant form among the various peoples of the Earth. A modern man is so very much inclined to consider these myths and legends as poems and to say: They were invented by the peoples during their infancy, because they did not as yet possess the sources of modern science. They have, for instance, formed all kinds of ideas about the origin of the world: the Greeks and their gods, the ancient Germanic peoples and their gods, and, if you like, the American peoples, whose legends have recently been discovered and which are found to correspond with what exists among other peoples. If we learn that among the Central-American peoples Quetzalcoatl and Vitzliputzli play a role which is more primitive but similar to that of other mighty characters created by other races, we shall see that such legends and myths exist among all these peoples ... And, as already stated, a modern man is easily inclined to say: These are poems, fantastic inventions of man's spirit, in order to explain the origin of the various beings of the world and of the various phenomena of Nature!
Among the various documents, there is one which I have already considered with a large number of the friends who are now present. It is a lofty, mighty document: Genesis, the beginning of the Old Testament. At Munich we have already seen how infinitely deep are the contents of Genesis. Several of you have also heard the explanations supplied by spiritual knowledge in connection with the various Gospels, which are, as it were, the last documents of this kind. We find that such documents have been preserved and that they have arisen at various periods of time as we were passing through our preceding incarnations, periods of time through which we have passed during our preceding lives on Earth. Those who advance in spiritual knowledge must learn to realize that they have lived during times when men spoke, for instance, of Zeus, Hera, and Chronos, and so forth, when they spoke of the phenomena of Nature in a different way from the one which is usual today, that they spoke of them in the form of myths, legends, and fairy tales. We must bear all this in mind. We must say to ourselves: How do matters stand with our soul that has taken up these things (most people are not aware, so to speak, of what has been deposited within them) which now come to the fore again?
I shall now describe to you very simply what happens with a person who takes up within him these documents — to begin with, in the form of legends, myths, and poems — and who then penetrates into occult science, into occultism, and who uses occult science as an instrument enabling him to understand them more and more. He will experience something very strange. I will take, for instance, just one case: What will take place within him in connection with the Old Testament?
In the case of the Old Testament, which most modern men read in such a way that they consider it as a very beautiful collection of all kinds of images about the world's origin, he will find that he will gradually say to himself: Infinite wisdom is contained in these things which are rendered in such a peculiar way! And he will gradually discover that the single words and sentences contain things — provided he understands them rightly — to which occult investigation can lead him along entirely independent paths. And his respect for these writings will grow. The most efficacious means, perhaps, of increasing our appreciation of these documents is to penetrate to some extent into spiritual science.
A question may then arise and may be placed before our soul. The human being may then say: How do matters really stand as far as this question is concerned? The ancient documents have been preserved: if we penetrate into them we discover in them the deepest, most significant spiritual meaning. Even if today we cannot feel entirely convinced of the fact that these documents contain, indeed, an overwhelming wisdom, we should persevere in our search and penetrate into them more and more. We shall then see that the wisdom which they contain is indeed overwhelming. It is not we who bring anything into them ... it would be quite ridiculous to say that we bring anything into them. The documents themselves contain this wisdom. Indeed, the greatest discoveries which can be made in the sphere of spiritual science, the loftiest things which can be found again with great effort through occult investigation — all this may afterwards be discovered, for instance, in just one word of the Bible in Genesis. This is very strange, is it not so?
We find, however, that there is a certain difference between the Old Testament and all the other legends, myths, and documents. This is a fact which we should bear in mind. For there is a difference. Consider, for instance, the legends of the Greeks, of the ancient Germans, even what is contained in the Vedas of the Hindus, or Persian documents. Take whatever you like — if you compare it with the Old Testament you will find a tremendous difference. This difference appears quite clearly to the unprejudiced investigation of an occultist the more he penetrates into these things. This difference appears in the following way: We shall gradually discover that all the other documents set forth in a legendary form the riddles of the phenomena of Nature, the riddles connected with all these phenomena of Nature, and also with the human being, in so far as he has a kind of natural form of life, in so far as the powers of Nature compel him to do this or the other thing. The Old Testament, however, is the one and only document in which we find the human being described from the very beginning as an ethical soul-being, not merely as a being of Nature. And everything in the Old Testament is described in such a way that the human being is placed within the course of evolution as an ethical soul-being. Every other statement made by modern science rests upon a very weak foundation; it dissolves into nothing if we really observe things. This is the great difference which appears to us. We may therefore say: Everything else in the world shows us that men have obtained mighty revelations from one or the other direction, they have obtained mighty revelations which were expressed in the legendary form of myths and which have arisen out of deep wisdom. We may also say that as far as the Old Testament is concerned the human beings have had certain definite revelations which are connected with the ethical soul-mysteries of man. This is a fact which is, in any case, quite clear.
Another difference appears, however, if we compare the New Testament with all the other documents of this kind. We find in it a spirit which differs entirely from the one contained in any other document, even in the Old Testament. How can we grasp this difference if we approach the question as anthroposophists? We shall realize this difference if we first place another phenomenon before our soul.
Let us imagine, first of all, a man who has never heard anything about spiritual science, who is entirely the product of a scientific or of another so-called sensible education of our modern time, and who has, therefore, never had the chance to permeate the ancient documents with spiritual science. We may perhaps imagine him as a learned person or as an unlearned person — the difference is not so great — we may imagine him in any case as a person who has had no contact with spiritual science and we see him approach these ancient documents, Greek, Persian, Indian, Germanic documents, and so forth. We imagine him approaching these documents, equipped with everything which modern thinking can give him. If he is really unable to feel even a breath of what constitutes spiritual investigation, a very strange thing will appear. There will be a difference according to his more or less greater inclination toward poetry or toward a matter-of-fact mentality, but on the whole we may say that something very strange will appear. Such a man will never be able to understand the ancient documents, he will never be able to penetrate into the way in which wisdom is offered by them; he is simply unable to do it, it is quite impossible for him to understand them. In this sphere, we come across the strangest examples; it may suffice to refer to one of the most recent attempts to explain these ancient documents. A little book has just appeared, which is extremely interesting because it is so absurd. It attempts to explain, as it were, all the myths up to the Gospels, beginning with the earliest documents of the most primitive peoples. It is really a book which is extraordinarily interesting because of its grotesque way, its grotesquely stupid way, of grasping things. It is entitled “Orpheus,” and its author is Salomon Reinach, who is well known in France as an investigator in this sphere, and among scientists he is a characteristic example of a man who has not even had the slightest inkling of the way in which it is possible to penetrate into such things. In this book a definite method is applied to everything, and the author passes sentence upon everything. He sees nothing but symbols, and there are no real beings behind Hermes, Orpheus, etc. These characters are merely symbols and allegories to him ... It is not proper to repeat the explanations which he gives for these symbols; he speaks of them in such a way that it is not necessary to repeat them. Every reality contained in these things can thus be proved to be non-existent ... the reality of Demeter and of Persephone is explained away — he decrees that they do not exist. According to this author, all these names are merely symbols. He follows a method according to which it would be easy to prove to children, eighty years hence, that a man named Salomon Reinach never lived in France at all, at the beginning of the twentieth century, but that the civilization of that time has merely comprised the contents of this book in the name of Salomon Reinach. This could be proved quite well! In spite of all, these things have caused a great sensation. And according to this same method evidence has been produced in Germany to the effect that Jesus has never lived at all. This too has caused a great sensation.
You see, we may now ask: Why is it not possible today to penetrate into these things without the aid of spiritual science (and it is a fact that it is not possible to do this without spiritual science)? What is the true reason for this? If we wish to understand the true reason for this, we must gain a deeper insight into the evolution of humanity. We must look back a certain while into this evolution of humanity. And as a result we shall really feel compelled to say: Indeed, the science which men possess today, the science which is taught today in the elementary schools concerning the Sun, and so forth, this is something which the ancients did not possess; they did not possess a science which could be grasped with the understanding, with the intellect. This is something to which the human race has advanced little by little. And when our souls were born during earlier incarnations, they were certainly not able to take up this form of science, for this did not exist, this was not as yet incorporated in our civilization. But the more we go back into the course of evolution, the more we shall find (quite apart from the fact of seeking the reasons for this, which have often been explained to many of you here, in this or in that direction) that men possessed a deep wisdom of an entirely different kind from the one of today, wisdom concerning spiritual things, which modern men are unable to express in their scientific form. This wisdom ruled in the souls of men; it lived in their souls. Wisdom was simply there. Particularly the initiated leaders of humanity possessed this wisdom, and if the anthroposophical spirit lives within us, it can be proved historically that a primal revelation, a primal wisdom, was spread over the whole human race upon the Earth, a wisdom which took on this or that form, according to the various stages of evolution. If anyone considers history with a truly anthroposophical spirit he will discover this primal, original revelation. But something else is needed: the ordinary, modern scientific mentality must pass through a preparation if it wishes to penetrate into these documents and grasp their true meaning — I shall now relate a simple fact — a preparation is needed enabling a modern man to penetrate into the spirit of these writings. If he passes through this preparation he will be able to penetrate into the spirit of these writings. This preparation consists in the study of the only documents which can be studied today in a direct and immediate way, namely, the Gospels and the Epistles of St. Paul. If we are filled with an anthroposophical spirit it is possible to approach these documents in a direct and immediate way and to understand them.
Even if we know nothing whatever about Anthroposophy, but if our feelings are filled with an anthroposophical spirit (this can be the case with many people), we may feel that something special lives in the Gospels and in the Epistles of St. Paul. This is indeed a strange fact! And in the case of an occultist another strange thing arises; something quite special will arise in his case. Namely, in the case of an occultist we may find that in accordance with modern prejudices he has, let us say, a certain aversion to approach these Gospels. It is quite possible to be filled with an occultistic spirit and yet to feel an aversion to the Gospels — to say that they are only one religion among many others. No attempt is made to approach the Gospels. It is possible to understand this aversion. But if we do this as occultists, if we have this strange attitude as occultists, we shall find that we cannot grasp what is contained in other documents. Everywhere we shall find something which we cannot understand. We may be content with this, but if we continue to penetrate more and more deeply into these things we shall never reach a goal unless we have passed through a preparation by studying the Gospels. On the other hand, it is a fact that if someone who may even be a well-trained occultist approaches an Oriental or an Occidental document and comes across a very hard nut which he cannot crack ... he will immediately be enlightened about the things contained in other documents if he approaches — even if it is only in spirit — the events of Palestine and if he allows them to inspire him. This is an undeniable fact. A ray of light can go out of the Gospels, and this is an experience which can be made. We must admit that the Gospels and the Epistles of St. Paul are indeed necessary if we wish to go back into earlier times. It is not possible to ignore them, to take no notice of them. Particularly the occultist will always realize this. If he is really able to read the spiritual documents, the Akasha Chronicle, it will not be necessary for him to consult the written Gospels — but he must approach the events of Palestine; he cannot ignore them. Otherwise, certain preceding things will always remain dark. I am therefore not drawing your attention to the records, or to the written word, but to the events in the form in which they have really taken place within the course of human evolution. This is a very important fact.
I wish to throw some light upon this fact also from another side. Let us bear in mind what I have already stated. It is not possible to ignore, as it were, the event of the Christ, and if we wish to understand what has been given to humanity in the form of a primordial revelation we shall always trip up somewhere. I must say the following if I wish to describe the true aspect of things. Let us suppose that a modern occultist investigates the past and that he has no understanding (for it is this understanding which is so important) for the event of the Christ. He disregards the event of the Christ and proceeds to investigate earlier events of human evolution. He will then find that he grows uncertain everywhere, really everywhere. Of course, he can persuade himself that he feels quite certain about these things, but if he is honest he will have to admit that things are not entirely as they should be. Let us now imagine an occult investigator before the time of Christ Jesus, an occult investigator who has reached such a high degree of development in clairvoyance and also in other directions that he is able, even before the Christian era, to survey the whole past in such a way that, had he lived after the event of the Christ, he would have passed through the Christ event in his retrospective survey, a man who is therefore in advance of his time. Let us suppose that he lived five or six centuries before Christ and that he reached the maturity of a modern occultist; that is to say he is able to go back into the earlier events of human evolution by passing through the Christ event. And we may then ask ourselves: How would an occultist who is so much in advance of his time that even five or six centuries before Christ he can go back into the earlier events of human evolution by passing through the Christ event, how would such an occultist have to appear in order to avoid falling a prey to the luciferic and ahrimanic powers? Let us suppose that it would really be necessary for him to pass through the Christ event ... This Christ event, however, has not yet taken place at the time in which he lived. In the case of such a man it appears that he will easily content himself with what he discovers — and he will then speak of all kinds of things which are not quite correct, for it is not possible to speak correctly about things if they are not seen correctly — but otherwise nothing will happen to him. Or else he will reach the point of saying: “There is something amiss, something I cannot find when I turn my gaze backwards. I cannot discover this something which I need along my path.” And he will then have to admit to himself: “Here I begin to grow uncertain. I must find this missing ‘something,’ but it does not exist as yet upon the Earth. It cannot as yet be found within the evolution of the Earth.”
You see, I have now painted theoretically, as it were, the portrait of a personality who lived during the 5th and 6th century before Christ, a personality who would have been mature enough to discover Christ Jesus in a retrospective survey, but he could not discover him because Christ Jesus had not as yet appeared upon the Earth. He could not discover Christ Jesus as an earthly fact. A short time ago this theory took on the form of a vivid reality. I experienced it this year during a visit to one of our groups abroad which has adopted the anthroposophical manner of contemplating the world, during a visit to our group at Palermo. As the ship approached Palermo I suddenly realized: “The solution of a riddle will present itself to you, a riddle which can only be solved easily here, at this place, through the immediate impressions which can be gained here.” Soon afterwards I found the solution of the riddle. The personality concerning whom I have just spoken to you in a theoretical manner, immediately appeared in the whole atmosphere of Sicily, I might say, in the whole astral body of Sicily. His presence was an altogether living one. In the whole atmosphere of Sicily continued to live a personality that is very enigmatic in many respects, the personality of Empedocles, the ancient philosopher. This ancient Greek philosopher in fact lived in Sicily during the fifth century before Christ, and even external history knows that he was a profound initiate in many different spheres and that he accomplished magnificent things just here, in Sicily.
If to begin with, we turn, as it were, our spiritual gaze upon this man he will appear to us, from an occult standpoint, in a very strange light. The occult fact which presents itself to us is the following. If we look back upon the development of Empedocles, if we follow his occupations as statesman, architect, and philosopher, if we follow him upon his journeys, if we see him in the midst of his enthusiastic pupils, initiating them into the various mysteries of the world — if we follow him spiritually in this manner, without the aid of external history, we shall discover in him a personality who possessed an infinite amount of scientific knowledge of the kind which is only known to a modern man. Empedocles had an altogether modern mentality, a modern aura, and he was indeed constituted in such a way that he sought to discover the origin of the world. In fact, according to his degree of development and everything which had taken place, he would necessarily have found the Christ in his retrospective survey. But the Christ had not yet appeared. It was not possible as yet to find Him upon the Earth; He was still absent from the Earth. These experiences in particular made Empedocles waver and developed within him a strange desire, and in his case it transformed itself into something entirely different from what takes place in the superficial minds of modern times. This desire transformed itself into the passion to consider the world in a materialistic way. Lucifer approached him. We should try to form a vivid picture of the way in which this took place. Empedocles possessed a modern spirit, but at the same time he was initiated in many different mysteries. He was clairvoyant to a high degree. Let us now imagine vividly that his modern way of thinking made him feel inclined to consider the world from a materialistic aspect; he has, in fact, drawn up a materialistic system which describes the world more or less from the stand point of a modern materialistic chemist, namely, as a combination and separation of elements. The one difference is that Empedocles distinguishes only four elements. He thought that various beings arise according to the way in which these four elements combine. As a result of these thoughts he felt the strong desire to discover in a true and real way what lies behind these material elements, what air and water really contain. If we peruse the Akasha Chronicle today and look into water, air, fire, and earth we shall discover in them etherically the Christ. Empedocles could not find Him, but he felt the tremendous impulse to discover something in air and water, fire and earth, to find out what they really contain. And we can see how this personality is seized by the strong desire to penetrate at all costs into what constitutes the material elements. This desire finally induces him to make a kind of sacrifice. It is not merely a legend that Empedocles threw himself into the crater Aetna in order to unite himself with the elements. The luciferic force, the strong desire to grasp the elements, led him to a bodily union with the elements. The death of Empedocles continues to fill the atmosphere of Sicily, and this is a great mystery connected with this strange country.
Let us now picture the soul of Empedocles who has laid aside his body by allowing it to be burned. His soul is born again in a later period of time, when the Christ has already appeared upon the Earth. Entirely new conditions now exist for this soul. In the past, this soul has, as it were, sacrificed itself to the elements. Now it is born again. But now it can discover the Christ when it looks back into time. And all the past knowledge concerning the elements rises up again in a new form; the knowledge which this soul once possessed arises in a completely new form. In fact, the personality of Empedocles was born again later, but at the present moment it is not permissible for me to mention his name. If we study the reincarnation of Empedocles in a more northern country, if we observe him as he then lived at the turning point of the Middle Ages and the modern time, and if we compare this character with the Empedocles who threw himself into Mount Aetna, we shall see livingly before us the gigantic impulse which has arisen through the fact that the Christ event has in the meantime taken place upon the Earth.
What thus takes place in the case of this one definite personality applies, however, to every soul, to the souls of each one of you. At the time in which the Christ event was drawing nigh, all these souls looked back with a certain feeling of discomfort into the past, even if they did not feel the mighty impulse experienced by Empedocles. They felt uncomfortable because they had lost their bearings and because the time of the modern scientific man who looks back into the past ... was gradually approaching, and something resembling the case of the men of earlier times begins to spread ... If we go back to earlier times we find that those who have preserved this tradition faced the masses and related to them — let us imagine this vividly — mighty tales which are contained, for instance, in the legends told to the ancient Greeks. But this induced the ancient Greeks to experience the truth of these legends when they were, let us say, in a special condition which was still possible at that time to a greater extent than now, and these legends gave them, as it were, a push enabling them to look into the spiritual world. But the human beings lost this capacity. The inner force enabling them to rise into the spiritual world was lost to the extent in which intellectual knowledge began to develop. You may calculate and find in any little manual when our modern conceptions began to arise, these modern conceptions which children take up, if not with the mother's milk, at least with the school milk! These modern conceptions reach back to a few centuries before our Christian era. This is a tremendous turning-point. And if we wish to go back still further, if we wish to understand the ancient documents, it will not be possible for us to understand them, for now they appear to us merely as poems, legends, and myths. We cannot go back further, and this is something which should really be borne in mind more clearly. More and more it will be the case that people who do not bring with them, as it were, an inherited disposition to understand the ancient documents will be unable to understand them.
The opinion will gradually spread that there is a great field of illusion behind everything which is accepted as science, because the majority of scientists believes that now we fortunately know how the Earth moves round, and that all the explanations of earlier times in this connection are nonsense. This opinion is already prevalent today. We go backwards into time ... The Copernican world-conception arises somewhat later, but even in the case of geometry we cannot go back further than Euclid. And further back, behind all this, a modern man can only see black darkness. He cannot find wisdom and the primordial revelation, he cannot find the path which leads into them. If we really accept this as a fact, something resulting from the deepest anthroposophical studies may then condense itself to a fundamental conviction — and this may take place even in the simplest mind, provided the feelings are sound.
Man must, after all, reach the point of saying to himself: “The form in which I see the world is not its true aspect.” If this were its true aspect it would not be necessary to investigate it. Investigation would not be necessary at all, for the world would immediately appear in its true aspect. Modern investigation, however, does not consider the world in this way. The Copernican system would not exist if men were simply to accept what the senses reveal to them. Even external science contradicts the experiences gained through the senses. If we progress we shall see that we cannot stay by what the senses give us, by what we obtain through the external experiences which we make in the physical world. These must in any case be corrected, even by external science. This fact is perhaps not generally recognized; nevertheless, it is true. As soon as we begin to understand our own being — even if it is only with the aid of ordinary thinking and with what we can learn today — we shall be obliged to admit that the essential point of everything is to have an insight into the illusion created by the senses, for otherwise science would not exist and reflection would not exist. If this is indeed the case, we must discover something which enables us to understand without any difficulty in which direction and toward which goal the world is gradually developing. We shall find the confirmation of this fact if we consider matters a little in the light of Anthroposophy. We may therefore say to ourselves: Once upon a time there was a primordial wisdom; the human beings were constituted in such a way that they received a primordial wisdom, which they could only see in pictures, but nevertheless they possessed such a primordial wisdom, and they have gradually lost the understanding for such a wisdom the more human evolution progressed; men were less and less able to grasp this primordial wisdom. And another fact is quite clear, namely, that they began to lose this understanding to the extent to which science and the intellectual understanding developed. We may now ask: What can have arisen at a certain definite moment?
Let us imagine the whole situation. Let us picture a man of pre-Christian times, who lived under certain conditions. He will have looked out into the world, he will have seen all manner of things, but within his soul there also lived the possibility of seeing behind these things. He still possessed this disposition. Consequently, it was an undeniable fact for him that there is an etheric body behind every flower. This was a fact for him. Gradually he began to lose this capacity. He lost it because it was banished by the intellectual understanding which rules today. The intellectual capacity cannot be united with the other one, for they are two hostile forces. This is an undeniable fact, and every occultist knows by experience that the understanding, or ordinary thought, sears and burns the clairvoyant manner of looking upon things. Even in the course of history, the knowledge based upon the ancient clairvoyance was lost to the extent to which the understanding, or the intellect in the ordinary meaning, has arisen, and the loss of the old clairvoyant wisdom also implied the loss of the capacity to understand the ancient traditions. A few centuries had to pass, and the kind of man I have just described to you had to be replaced by another kind who might perhaps have said: “It would, of course, be a serious prejudice to think the truth can be discovered in the way in which the world presents itself to our senses. Human reason must supplement everything!” Particularly this belief in human reason was the decisive factor; human reason must first pounce upon the phenomena which appear to the senses and then grasp them logically.
Such a kind of man would perhaps have said: “The special advantage of the human being over all the creatures of the Earth is the fact that he is endowed with reason, that he can understand cause and effect as they manifest themselves behind the sense phenomena. He is able to discover this. And his intellect enables him to communicate with other men through the means of speech. For it is easy to see that speech is a child of reason.” And he might also have said: “Reason is, of course, the highest of all things.” Now, if we wish to draw a vivid picture of such a person, we should imagine him saying to himself: “Rely on your understanding and reason, dissect everything with your reason, and then you will surely reach the truth!” Let us suppose that we are actually facing such a man. I have given you a description from a theoretical standpoint, yet this particular type of man has appeared very frequently. A characteristic thinker of this kind was Cicero, who lived shortly before Christ. If you study Cicero you will immediately see that he thinks exactly in this way, namely, that reason is able to grasp everything. It is not true that the world appears as it presents itself to the senses, nevertheless human reason is able to grasp everything! Just in the case of people who lived shortly before Christ we find an invincible faith in reason. They even identify reason with God himself, who rules within things. Cicero adopts this standpoint.
Let us suppose, however, that someone succeeds in discovering the secrets connected with all this. Let us suppose that someone contemplates all this in an entirely unprejudiced way and sees how everything results little by little. How would he then describe the whole period? Let us suppose that one century before Christ a man who is endowed with deep insight contemplates all these things ... How would the whole course of history appear to him? Well, he would say: “We can see two currents in humanity. One is the old clairvoyant power, with a descending course. Reason appears in its place, and it roots out and destroys within the human being the possibility of looking into the spiritual world. A great darkness spreads over the spiritual world. Those who accept the authority of reason will indeed think that their reason can discover what lies behind things. But these people forget the true nature of reason, about which they talk so much. Reason is linked up exclusively with the brain. It is a force which can only use the brain as its instrument. It belongs to the physical world and must, therefore, share the qualities of the physical world” ... Such a man would say: “You may, if you like, rely on your intellect and say that it enables you to grasp what lies behind things, since the things in themselves are not real. Consider, however, that reason itself belongs to these things. You are a physical being among other physical beings, and your reason belongs to the physical world. If you think that reason enables you to discover what lies behind all the other things, you will demolish the foundation under your feet.” This is what he would say, and he would add: “Indeed, men are more and more inclined to use their reason, to rely upon their intellect. They have this inclination. But in doing so, they raise up before them a wall hiding the spiritual world, for they make use of an instrument which cannot be applied to the spiritual world, for it is limited to the physical world. Humanity, however, unfolds in the very direction of developing this instrument.” And if this man had known the real course of events, he would also have said: “If men return to the spiritual world at all, they should not only be able to use their intellect, which can be applied solely to the physical world, but an impulse must arise enabling them to ascend once more to the spiritual worlds, an impulse which drives the intellect itself along this upward path. But this can only take place,” this person would have said, “if something dies within the human being, if something which calls forth in him the firm belief in the exclusive rule of reason perishes. This must die.” In fact, we imagine the human being gradually descending into the material world and developing his brain more and more. If the human being were to depend exclusively on his reason, he would be unable to abandon it, to come out of it. His physical body would then deceive him and persuade him to do away with everything which cannot be grasped by earthly reason. But it is the physical body which dulls man in this manner, because it gradually develops to a very high degree, and man does not realize that he thus remains within the physical world. Try to imagine this and you will see that the human being is then caught as if in a trap. He is quite unable to escape out of himself. Human evolution has so far reached the point of preventing man from going out of his own self, and so he faces the danger of being gradually overwhelmed by his physical body. What can help the human being at all in this case? If just at the time when the intellect reaches this point there arises the possibility of changing the intellect so that the part which blinds it dies, then this part must die. An impulse must arise which is able to overcome once and for all that part in man which can overwhelm him through a blind faith in mere reason. Try to feel the power of this impulse; try to feel that this was the meaning of human evolution! The bodily constitution developed in such a way that it would have overwhelmed man. He would have reached the point of thinking that he must remain within the physical world and yet be able to penetrate through maya, without bearing in mind that he himself lived in this maya through his intellect. This would have taken place had not something arisen which can tear him out of it as soon as he accepts it, and which is able to counteract the fall into the physical sphere. Indeed, its influence reaches as far as the etheric body, so that the etheric body is then able to kill what leads man into a similar illusion. The human being would otherwise have remained imprisoned in this trap.
Let us now turn away from such a person who would have spoken in this way when the time of Christ Jesus was approaching, and let us consider the way in which a modern man, or any one of us, would look at things. He would say to himself: If I consider the development of man in an unprejudiced way and see how the intellect, this instrument belonging to maya, has gradually gained strength, I would undoubtedly be on the wrong track if I follow merely the course of the world's evolution. For this is arranged in such a way that if I do not take up within me the impulse which kills that part leading me astray in this direction, I am unable to free myself from the intellect. What must therefore have taken place? I must be able to look back upon a time in which this impulse entered. I must find something within the historical evolution of humanity which brings about the fact that the continuous stream of evolution has been reversed in a materialistic sense. If today I were to look within my own being without finding anything of this kind, what would I then have to find? I would trace in that case the gradual growth of the intellect, until I reached a time, at the beginning of our era, when the intellect began to work ... and further back? There it grows dark; pitch-black darkness rules there, and I shall need something entirely different. Then it will grow light — and here everyone must encounter the Christ! Anyone who is at all willing to believe in the possibility of progress, and that during the following incarnations he will have within him something which will lead him upwards and will prevent his being overwhelmed by maya, must meet the Christ when he looks back into time. Upon looking back, everyone must encounter the Christ. This can give him an impulse leading him upwards.
Let us now suppose that the gospels did not exist, and that we would not need them as anthroposophists. Let us suppose that we do not need the gospels; that all we need is to study the course of human evolution in an unprejudiced way and to say: What would become of every human being if he were unable to look back upon an event which has swung the whole meaning of the earlier course of evolution over to the other side? We simply must encounter the Christ if we go back into the course of evolution! Anthroposophists must be able to find Him, and the clairvoyants will find him under every circumstance. This is a mystery which is connected particularly with Christianity. Documents may be questioned. Indeed, the gospels are not real historical documents. All the clever people, Jensen and others, who decree in a trivially learned manner that the gospels do not exist and who look upon them as mere legends, have a certain justification for doing this, because they depend solely upon their external reason. But if we are anthroposophists we are able to say that we do not need the gospels; we only need the facts supplied by spiritual science itself, and if we go back into time we shall discover the living Christ, as He appeared to Paul in the event of Damascus. Paul experienced in advance what we too are able to experience if we search for the Christ in a truly anthroposophical spirit. Paul was, after all, in the same position of a modern anthroposophist who does not wish to accept the gospels. At his time the gospels did not exist, but Paul was able to go to Jerusalem. Nevertheless, this did not convince him, for otherwise he would not have left Jerusalem. The events described in the gospels did not convince him. It is not necessary, therefore, that the contents of the gospels should convince a modern person. All that is necessary is that he should be in a position to experience, through Anthroposophy, what Paul has experienced, and this experience will then become for him an event of Damascus. He will then have the proof of Christ's existence, in the same way as Paul, without the aid of documents.
Of course, this points to very deep things in human evolution, to extraordinarily deep things in the evolution of man. In a certain sense, every human being, even the simplest man, may experience what the reincarnated Empedocles experienced during the 15th and 16th centuries, who looked back into earlier times and was able to see what he was unable to see before. Before, he had grown so uncertain that he threw himself into Mount Aetna. He cast his glance backwards during the 15th and 16th century, and what he had been unable to grasp in any way during his previous incarnation he was now able to grasp clearly through the Christ principle. And this enabled him to become one of the most remarkable personalities of the later era.
This is how matters appear to every human being, without the aid of any document, simply through retrospection. At some later time, all men will be able to look back into an earlier incarnation and they will distinguish exactly the incarnations before and after Christ. What may be felt today instinctively by a simple soul who reads the gospels will arise, later, in the form of knowledge. This is the chief difference between the gospels and other documents: they are the first documents which we must understand. The gospels are a great, beautiful, and mighty point of transition. It we pass through it, light begins to spread, while everywhere else there is darkness.
It is indeed so. Christianity is only at the beginning of its evolution, and a modern man may find that he often loses his thread when he investigates earlier things. But if he returns to one of the events in the life of the Christ he will feel inspired, and it will grow light about him. Even a simple person may experience what occultists discover — namely, he will be able to feel within his soul a reflection, as it were, of what I have just explained. He may feel very depressed owing to his human weaknesses and mistakes and he may admit to himself: “What I am today is the result of all the generations!” But then he would deny this and would have to admit to himself, instead, that he himself has been his own father and his own mother. There is, consequently, something within us connecting us with the rest of humanity, and we may feel very depressed by all human mistakes, weaknesses, and illnesses. Nevertheless, even the simplest soul always has the possibility of rising. These words should not be understood in the orthodox meaning. What is possible for an occultist is also possible for the simplest soul. Such a simple man may feel as weak as possible, but if he begins to read the gospels, strength will flow out of the gospels, because the power of the Word streams out of them and penetrates into the etheric body. The gospels are strengthening words, words of strength. They do not speak merely to the intellect, but penetrate into the deeper forces of the soul. And they are not merely based upon the intellect which exists in maya, but they penetrate into the deeper forces, which can, as it were, console the intellect concerning its own nature. This is the great strength of the gospels; they exist for every one of us, and this is the powerful element distinguishing them from all other documents. This fact, too, may not be accepted, but its rejection would imply that the possibility of human progress is denied altogether.
You see, this points to a fact which cannot be grasped right away. And now you will be able to realize what was needed for the preparation of a person whom I have already set before your soul hypothetically, who announced, one century before our era: “A man must come who will give us the impulse which will bring about the great turning point in the course of events.”
This person was a significant man, and he also underwent the necessary preparation. For a long time, the attempt had already been made, among those who knew things, to bring about the possibility that at least a few people, as it were, should understand the times which were approaching, that they should understand what was being prepared, namely, that, on the one hand, men were being drawn into a snare, and that, on the other hand, through the appearance of the Christ, they could be led upwards again. This was taught prophetically. The man who was chosen to teach this prophetically, more than one century before our era, within the circles of people who were able to understand these teachings, was an initiate of the community of the Essenes, which was closely related to the circles frequented by the Christ. He announced the coming of One Who would lead men upwards again. The man who taught this within the community of the Essenes was a very significant individuality. External history really knows very little about him, but at least a few writers mention the legends referring to him which were handed down traditionally. Thus he is not merely a mythological character, or one who is named exclusively in occultism, He lived a hundred years before Christ and he even instructed one of his five or six pupils to write down his teachings. One of the pupils of this man, who drew attention to the Christ and announced His coming, understood the meaning of his teachings. This man, therefore, had a pupil, who was called Matthew, and he wrote down the mysteries relating to the Christ. The individuality who taught them was Jeshu ben Pandira. He had to suffer martyrdom because he taught these things; he was stoned to death in his own country, and afterwards his lifeless body was hanged. We should not confuse Jeshu ben Pandira with Jesus of Nazareth. Jeshu ben Pandira, the great prophet of the Christ, instructed his pupils to write down what he knew, and these documents then came into the hands of the man who included them, with the mysteries which they contained, into the gospel which is known to us as the Gospel according to Matthew. It is an important, a preeminently important, fact to realize, in the first place, the necessity of the Christ impulse, and in the second place, in an occult historical way, how Jeshu ben Pandira, through the fact that he was first stoned and immediately afterwards crucified, set forth, as it were, symbolically what took place afterwards in the Mystery of Golgotha. Christ was not stoned but crucified, and a wonderful thing took place simultaneously with His death, for at the very moment when His blood streamed out of His wounds something passed over into the atmosphere of the Earth, which brings to those who take up this event in their etheric body when they look back into time, to those who pass through this event and look, as it were, into the grave of the Christ, something leading them into a past filled with light, because they have passed through this moment. But without this experience, darkness spreads over everything which lies before it.
Consider what has been said today. It was my task to point this out to you. This subject, however, is so vast and encompassing that mere indications can be given. Nevertheless, these indications were treated so that if you investigate what you already know and what you carry in your heart, you will find to what a great extent life itself and your own soul prove the truth of what I have told you today.
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