Tuesday, March 14, 2017
The Origin of Evil
Supersensible Knowledge. Lecture 4.
Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, November 22, 1906:
It is characteristic of today's literature that it hardly mentions evil. Materialism may appear to have explanations for suffering, illness and death, but does not concern itself with evil. In the animal kingdom one can speak of ferocity and cruelty, but one cannot apply the concept of evil to animals. Evil is confined to the human kingdom. But modern natural science tries to derive knowledge of human beings from investigations of animals, and as all differences are glossed over, evil is ignored. One has to enter deeply into human characteristics in order to discover the origin of evil. One must above all recognize that humanity constitutes a kingdom by itself. Let us now consider this issue in the light of spiritual science.
There exists a primordial human wisdom that penetrates beneath the surface to the essence of things. It used to be preserved within narrow circles to which no one was admitted except after strict tests. The guardian of the wisdom had to be convinced that the one seeking entry would only use the knowledge for selfless purposes. During the last decades the elementary aspects of this wisdom-science are being made public; there are certain reasons why this is happening. It will increasingly flow into everyday life; we are at the beginning of this development.
But what is the connection between human beings' essential nature and evil? Various attempts have been made to explain evil. Some say that there is no evil as such, only an absence of good; evil is supposed to be the lowest degree of good. Others say that just as good is an original force, so is evil. The Persian legend of Ormuzd and Ahriman emphasizes this view more especially. Spiritual science is the first to show that to understand evil one must enter deeply into the nature of human beings, and indeed into that of the whole cosmos. To deny its existence as such is to dose the door to any comprehension of evil. We must look at how human beings evolved in the past and will evolve in the future, and thereby seek to discover the task, the mission of evil in the world.
Spiritual science points to the fact that there are highly developed individuals called the “initiates.” In every age there have been secret schools where it was taught how, through exercises in meditation and concentration, a person could reach higher stages of development. Such exercises lead to insight that cannot be attained by means of the five senses and the intellect. Inner meditative work enables the soul to become free of the senses; something occurs in an individual that is comparable to what happens in someone born blind and whose sight is restored. An inner process takes place through which the spiritual eyes and ears are opened. The whole of humanity will reach this stage, but only after long periods of time. It is essential that those who seek higher development in no way neglect worldly, everyday affairs; the ascetic who flees the world will not attain spiritual vision, for the new clairvoyance is the fruit of the sour s experiences gathered in the physical world. The Greek philosophers have compared the human soul to the bee gathering honey, saying that the world of color and light offers honey to the human soul, to carry it up to higher worlds. The task of the human soul is to spiritualize sense experiences and take them up to higher worlds.
But what is its task once the soul becomes free of the body? Here we touch on a fundamental and significant law: Whenever beings reach a higher stage of evolution, they become the leaders and guides of the beings belonging to the forms of existence they have themselves passed through. When a person has become spiritualized, and no longer needs a physical body, he will attain spiritual leadership and work on a new planet from outside. By then our present planet will have fulfilled its mission and passed over into another embodiment. A new planetary existence will arise, and humanity will be gods on that planet. The human bodily nature, forsaken by the spirit, will constitute a lower kingdom. Human nature is already twofold, consisting of that which will rule on the next planet, and that which will be a lower kingdom. The earth will pass over into a new embodiment, just as it has passed through earlier ones. Human beings will be gods on the next planet, just as the beings that now lead us were human beings on the previous planet. This illustrates how the earth is connected with the past and the future. The Elohim, the creators and leaders of human evolution, were once at the stage we have reached on the earth. On the future planet human beings will have advanced to be leaders and guides.
However, it must not be thought that the same repeats itself; nothing ever happens twice. Never before has there been an existence like ours. Earth evolution represents the cosmos of love; the previous planet the cosmos of wisdom. On the earth love is to develop from the most elementary stage to the loftiest.
Wisdom, though hidden, permeates the foundation of earth existence; consequently, we ought not to speak of a person's physical nature as “lower,” for it is in reality the most perfect aspect of his being. To recognize it one only has to look at the wisdom-filled bone structure, such as the upper thigh bone. Here we find the perfect solution to the problem: how the least expenditure of material can be structured to carry the maximum weight, or think of the wonderful forms of heart and brain. The astral body most certainly is not at a higher stage; it is the bon viveur that continually attacks the wise form of the heart. The astral body will need long ages to become as perfect and as wise as the physical body, though it will do so in the course of evolution. The physical body has gone through a corresponding development; it has evolved from unwisdom and error to wisdom.
Wisdom developed before love; as yet love is far from perfect, but even now it is to be found at all levels of existence, in plant, animal and human beings, from the lowest sexual love to the highest spiritualized love. Untold numbers of beings who have developed the urge for love are destroyed in the struggle for existence. Where there is love there is conflict, but love will overcome the conflict and transform it into harmony.
The characteristic of physical nature is wisdom; the evolution of the earth began when wisdom became permeated by love. As today there is conflict on earth, so there were errors on the previous planet. Peculiar legendary creatures wandered about, mistakes of nature incapable of evolution. Just as love evolves from non-love, so wisdom evolves from unwisdom. Those who attain the goal of earth evolution will bring love over to the next planet, as wisdom was originally brought over into the earth evolution. Earthly humanity looks up to the gods as bringers of wisdom; the humanity on the next planet will look up to the gods as bringers of love. On earth, wisdom is vouchsafed to human beings as divine revelation through beings who were humans on the previous planet. Thus, all realms are interlinked. If there were no plants, the air would soon be polluted. Plants give off life-giving oxygen inhaled by human beings and animals, who in turn exhale carbonic acid that would destroy the air were it not inhaled by the plants. In this respect, the higher depends on the lower for the very breath of life.
This interdependence applies to all stages and kingdoms. Just as humans and animals depend on the world of plants, so do the gods depend upon mortals. Greek mythology expresses this poetically, saying that from the mortals the gods receive nectar and ambrosia, both words meaning love. Love comes into existence through humans, and love is food for the gods. The love engendered by mortals is breathed in by the gods. This may seem very strange, yet it is a fact more real than, say, electricity. At first love appears as sexual love and evolves to the highest spiritual love, but all love, the highest as well as the lowest, is the breath of gods. It might be said: If this is so then there can be no evil. But it must be remembered that, just as wisdom is born of error, so love can only evolve and reach perfection through conflict. However, love will be guided by the wisdom that is the foundation of the world.
Not all the beings on the previous planet attained the height of wisdom. Some remained behind and are at a level of development between gods and humans. Though they still need something from human beings, they can no longer clothe themselves in physical bodies. They are designated as Luciferian beings, or collectively by the name of their leader — Lucifer. Lucifer's influence on human beings is very different from that of the gods. The gods approach what is noblest in human nature; a mortal's lower nature they cannot and must not approach. Only at the end of evolution can wisdom and love be united. The Luciferian beings approach a person's lower nature, the undeveloped element of love, they build a bridge between wisdom and love, thus causing a mingling of the two, with the result that what should remain impersonal becomes entangled with what is personal.
Wisdom was instinctive on the previous planet, as love is instinctive now. On the previous planet, a creative instinct of wisdom ruled, as now a creative instinct of love. Thus, human beings were formerly guided by instinctive wisdom; then it withdrew its guidance, and we became conscious and aware of ourselves as independent beings.
We are toll in the story of Paradise: “... and they saw that they were naked.” That means that human beings saw themselves for the first time; previously they had seen only the external world. They had earth-consciousness, but no self-consciousness. The latter enabled them to put wisdom into the service of the self From then onwards there existed not only selfless love for the surrounding world, but also love of self; the former was good, the latter was bad.
Without Lucifer, human self-consciousness would never have become mingled with love. Thinking and wisdom now became servants of the self; a person could choose between good and evil. But love ought to be directed to the self only in order to place it in the service of the world: The rose should adorn itself only to adorn the garden. That must be deeply engraved in the hearts of those who seek higher development. In order to have a feeling for what is good, we must also have a feeling for what is bad. The gods endowed us with enthusiasm for what is higher; but without evil we would have no feeling of self, no free choice of the good, no freedom.
The good could have become reality without Lucifer, but not freedom. In order to choose the good, we must also have the evil before us; it must exist within us as self-love. When the force of self-love has developed and widened to become love of all, evil will be overcome. Evil and freedom stem from the same original source. Lucifer kindled human enthusiasm for the divine. He is the Light-bearer; the Elohim are the Light itself. Lucifer brought light into human beings by kindling in them the light of wisdom, albeit mingled with the black shadow of evil. The wisdom Lucifer brings is shrunken and blemished, but it penetrates into mortals; he brings external science that serves egoism. That is why selflessness in regard to knowledge is demanded of the esoteric student. Lucifer comes from the old planet; his task on this one is comparable to what the leaven of the old dough means for the new bread. Evil is a good removed from its proper place; what was good on the old planet is no longer so when transferred to ours. The absolute good on one planet brings part of itself as evil to a new planet. Evil is a necessary part of evolution.
One ought not to say that the world is imperfect or incomplete because it contains evil; rather it is complete for that very reason. When a painting depicts wonderful figures of light, together with dark devils, the picture would be spoiled if the devils were removed. The world creator needed evil in order that good could evolve. A good is only good if it has stood the test of evil. For love to reach its highest goal, the love of all, it must pass through the love of self In Faust, Goethe rightly causes Mephistopheles to say: “I am an aspect of the power that always intends evil, and always creates good.”